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Father Nicholas Nelson: How to make mental prayer

Friends, during this “stay at home” time, this is an opportune time to develop the habit of mental prayer.

What is mental prayer?

Father Nicholas Nelson
Handing on the Faith

It's the form of prayer in which the sentiments expressed are your own. Mental prayer is accomplished by internal acts of the mind and affections based off of simple mediations. In mental prayer the three powers of the soul are engaged: 1. the memory, which offers the mind material for meditation or contemplation; 2. the intellect, which ponders or directly perceives the meaning of some religious truth and its implications for practice; and 3. the will, which freely expresses its sentiments of faith, trust, and love, and makes good resolutions based on what the memory and intellect have made known to the will.

Why do mental prayer?

It enlightens the mind. It disposes you to practice the virtues. It helps us pray as we should.

How to do mental prayer?

Mental prayer consists of three parts: the preparation, the meditation, and the conclusion.

Preparation

Preparation consists of three acts:

  • Faith, in the presence of God, saying, “My God; I believe that you art present with me, and I adore you with all the affection of my soul.”
  • Humility, with a short act of contrition and of prayer to be enlightened, saying “O Lord, by my sins I deserve to be now in hell. I repent, O Infinite Goodness! with my whole heart, of having offended you.”
  • Finally, pray, “My God for the love of Jesus and Mary, give me light in this prayer, that I may profit by it.” Then say a Hail Mary to the Most Blessed Virgin, that she may obtain light for us, and a Glory be to the Father, to St. Joseph, to your guardian angel, and to your patron saint, for the same end. (These acts should be made with attention, but briefly; and then you go on directly to the meditation.)

Meditation

You can always make use of some book, at least at the beginning, and stop where you find yourself mostly touched. St. Francis de Sales says that in this we should do as the bees, which settle on a flower as long they find any honey in it, and then pass on to another. It should also be observed that the fruits to be gained by meditation are three in number — 1) to make affections, 2) to pray, and 3) to make resolutions — and in these consist the profit to be derived from mental prayer. After you have meditated on some eternal truth, and God has spoken to your heart, you must also speak to God, and first, by forming affections, be they acts of faith, of thanksgiving, of humility, or of hope; but above all, repeat the acts of love and contrition. St. Thomas says that every act of love merits for us the grace of God and paradise!

So you must pray; ask God to enlighten you, to give you humility or other virtues, to grant you a good death and eternal salvation; but above all, his love and holy perseverance. And when the soul is in great dryness, it is sufficient to repeat: “My God, help me! Lord, have mercy on me! My Jesus, have mercy!” And if you do nothing but this, your prayer will succeed exceedingly well.

And, before finishing your prayer, you must form a particular resolution, as, for instance, to avoid some occasion of sin, to bear with an annoyance from some person, to correct some fault, and the like.

Conclusion

Three acts are to be made: in the first, we must thank God for the inspirations we have received; in the second, we must make a determination to observe the resolutions we have made; in the third, we must ask God, for the love of Jesus and Mary, to help us to keep our resolution. The prayer concludes by the recommendation of the souls in purgatory, the prelates of the church, sinners, and all our relatives and friends, for which we may say an Our Father and a Hail Mary.

St. Francis de Sales exhorts us to choose some thought which may have struck us more especially in our prayer, that we may remember it during the rest of the day.

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected].

Betsy Kneepkens: What will this ‘Covid Christmas’ look like?

What will this Covid Christmas look like? Although it sounds like a vaccine is on our way, I think we all can be sure this celebration of the birth of Jesus will look different from previous Christmases. We have been through many holidays already that have been altered by this pandemic. I find it disappointing that we must prepare ourselves for yet another.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I feel strongly we must use this time as a family to identify the good coming out of all the devastation and loss we experienced this year.

I find the most frustrating of all situations for me are the restrictions placed on religious services. Having our family adjust for another Holy Day is maddening. Specifically, few things give me greater joy than a packed church with the faithful singing boisterously and responding in unison to the prayers of the church. I enjoy standing in the back of the church for the Christmas Mass, because I relish seeing every pew filled to the brim, parishioners dressed in their best while seated multi-generationally by families.

What’s not to enjoy when you observe a packed house enthusiastically engaging while loving the Lord? I think going to Mass on special days like Christmas is the apex of the holy presence of God. You have the Eucharist, the word, and “for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20) all occurring at the same time. Unfortunately, with state regulations this year limiting the number of people, prohibiting us from singing in full strength, and receiving the Eucharist with worries of the disease will have to be acceptable but still disheartening.

As a mom, I think it is okay to whine a little, but I know I need to get over that quickly. I can’t control what is happening in the broader world, but I can affect my family’s experience. I plan to play a role in helping my kids see how this Christmas can be made into one of the more significant lifetime celebrations. This year will be easier for me to help bring forth a meaningful culture at our home, because expectations are already pretty low due to what we lost this year. We will overcome all of the negative that this disease tries to impose on our Christmas season.

For instance, our family hasn’t been in the same room since my son’s wedding in June, and that time was limited because of Covid. If we can figure out a way to gather safely, I am confident my children will appreciate each other more. Focusing on making this time as stress-free as possible will also pay great dividends to make this time special. This goal can be easily accomplished by lowering my desire to make everything perfect, which is usually responsible for the chaos.

I know that part of what I want my children to grasp is how much my husband and I appreciated the level of sacrifice they made to keep their parents safe. Throughout the past nine months, they often avoided coming home because they worried about our health. After our pleading to come for the holidays, they plan or have chosen to spend weeks in quarantine, so they know they will be safe to be with us.

For one son, that meant spending 14 days in a small dorm room alone. I am not sure I would have been so thoughtful. Our boys usually are knuckleheads, but these past few months, they showed the level of character and maturity we only hoped to instill in them. As parents, I can’t help but feel honored by their love and respect. In a certain sense, they were challenged with an ethical dilemma, and they choose the sacrificial route. Their actions grew out of the devastation of Covid, and we can be grateful for that.

Also, during this pandemic, we were not in crisis but experienced some financial difficulties. We had all that we needed. We just had to cut back on all the wants we usually can purchase when desired. Although our children did not know the degree of hardship, each, in their way, offered support. Most of our children are still in school or new to their careers, and without lots of means themselves, they still had an eye on others. Their willingness to help when they didn’t have much to give was a beautiful outcome of this pandemic.

Fortunately, the tightening of our belts and eliminating wants was all that was necessary to get over this challenging time. If it were not for the disease, we might not have seen the unconditional generosity they displayed.

Having everyone isolated in different parts of the country has brought a level of connectedness to our family we had not had before. Daily, each member of the family is talking, texting, or FaceTiming. Everyone dialogues about current events, recipes, and advice about whatever is needed at that time. Our family of eight live in six different locations geographically, but this Covid has brought us closer together than when lived in the same ZIP code. I don’t like this disease, but I appreciate all the good that has come from it.

This Christmas, like every Christmas, is the retelling of an important event in history. We tell Christ’s birth story each year, so we never forget how this incident changed the lives of humanity forever.

I don’t like this disease. I want it to end tomorrow. But I love some of what has come from it. This Christmas, if we are blessed to have everyone in the same room, I hope we can tell the story of how Covid made our family better and stronger. Hopefully, retelling our family Covid story each time we get together will help us remember how we were called to be like the hope that was born in a stable 2,000 years ago.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Parishes, schools continue to hold up as Covid-19 cases spike

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The pandemic is still with us.

A significant surge in Covid-19 cases in Minnesota continues to affect the life of the community and the church in parishes and schools, although the effects of Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order, which went into effect Nov. 20, did not directly affect churches and their worship in the same ways it affected some other areas of life.

Diocesan officials urged continued attention to safety protocols that have been put in place to keep parishioners safe and encouraged the faithful to continue healthy practices such as washing hands, remaining home if not feeling well, wearing a mask or face covering when required or recommended, and observing proper social distancing.

Some other kinds of gatherings, such as parish council meetings, have again moved to virtual meetings for the time being.

In anticipation of Christmas Masses under the pandemic, which in normal times are some of the most heavily attended of the year, the diocese also gave pastors some additional scheduling flexibility so that they could take into account the needs of their parishes in providing Masses safely.

In the diocesan schools, decisions are depending in part on the number of Covid-19 cases affecting the student population within a given community, said Cynthia Zook, director of Catholic schools for the diocese.

However, she said the schools, taking into account the varying levels of access to technology, are continuing to offer “face-to-face instruction for those who need that methodology and distance learning for a good percentage of our students who desire or need to stay home. Some schools are trying to provide the youngest students a face-to-face option, as that works best for them.”

She said it’s difficult to predict what happens week to week, but the “strongest desire” remains to provide “in school” instruction, which is made possible by good health and lifestyle choices outside of school.

“Because of the cooperation we are getting from our families, I remain optimistic,” she said.

Zook said the number of cases among students has “been quite low. We have experienced some exposure through family interactions and among acquaintances, but positive results have been very low.”

However, she noted that that situation may change after the Thanksgiving holiday.

In more personal terms, she said the schools communities have “done an extraordinary job” in the midst of challenges and uncertainty.

“I want to acknowledge the great effort our teachers and school staff have put forth to make our plans work so well,” she said.

She asked that as the faithful pray for those affected by the virus they would also include school personnel, who need “our support and God’s loving care as they faithfully provide a Catholic education for so many.

Editorial: Keep up the vigilance on COVID protocols

Earlier this year we experienced the profound suffering of the suspension of public Masses due to the coronavirus pandemic, even including Easter. Some people, particularly those most vulnerable to the virus, are still experiencing the suffering of not being able to be present in our churches. For those of us who are back, it still isn’t “normal” — we’re still wearing masks, still asked to refrain from congregational singing, asked not to gather in some of the ways we’re accustomed to.

After all these months, it’s wearying. But it’s also still necessary.

The Catholic Church across America has in many ways modeled what it means to reopen safely. Church leaders, in consultation with experts in the relevant fields, came up with serious protocols to reduce the risks of disease spread. Nothing in these circumstances can be perfectly safe, but overall it seems that the protocols have helped make things as safe as they can be.

But as we watch the headlines and daily reports and see the number of positive tests for the virus in our state spiking, it should be a sobering reminder of the need to be vigilant. We are approaching our long, cold winter. We’re entering flu season. This is a difficult time of year even in normal circumstances, a time when people can feel isolated and lonely. It’s all the more so given the isolation, loneliness, and fear people have already been trying to manage.

The Holy Mass is always necessary for us — and for the world, whether it knows it or not. But it’s all the more when we’re suffering, afraid, and lonely.

And that’s why even after all these months, even if it’s a pain, we need to follow the protocols and other guidance of church leaders to make sure that coming to Mass is as safe as we can make it.

Deacon Kyle Eller: Essential Catholic truth about marriage upholds society for everyone

The Catholic understanding of marriage as exclusively the lifelong union of one man and one woman open to new life is perhaps the most despised of all Catholic beliefs in 2020 America.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

It’s also true. It’s good. It’s beautiful. It’s rational. It’s loving. It’s life-giving. It’s demanding and challenging. It’s fulfilling. It’s inspiring. It’s realistic.

And it’s necessary. It’s integral to our faith — to our understanding of who God is and who we are, to our understanding of our relationship to God, to our social doctrine, to our defense of the dignity of human life. As for society, it’s a necessary condition for genuine human thriving and social progress, as can be seen by the consequences of its breakdown: an unending torrent of human misery.

In short, this teaching is the exact opposite of all the lies our culture tells about it: that it’s an embarrassing, arbitrary, ignorant, irrational, bigoted, unrealistic, regressive, oppressive relic of a superstitious age long buried.

We know this truth by both faith and reason.

In Scripture, it is not just a few scattered verses, it’s a fundamental theme running literally from the beginning of the Bible to the end, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis and in Revelation the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. That wedding feast in heaven is the culmination of how God has, throughout salvation history, described his spousal relationship with his people. Jesus repeatedly referred to himself as the bridegroom and the church as his bride.

It’s no less clear in the realm of reason, where God has written the nuptial meaning of marriage, of the two becoming one flesh to be fruitful and multiply, into creation itself, stamped right into our bodies. It’s the wellspring of society, its most fundamental building block, and prior to any government or even tribe. It’s where human life is conceived and nurtured.

The complementarity of men and women as a defining characteristic of marriage is so obvious that virtually every society that has ever existed, in every time and place, across cultures and philosophies and religions, held it without even a whisper of a doubt, until about 15 minutes ago, where the arguments against it amounted to “Love Wins” bumper stickers.

This was only possible after decades of propaganda and indoctrination. That’s why this truth “fell” in the popular mind only far down the road of the sexual revolution, after society had already been sold contraception, fornication, divorce, adultery, pornography, masturbation, cohabitation, abortion, artificial conception, each step slowly darkening and entrapping hearts and minds, slowly obscuring the intrinsic relations between men and women, the marital act and marriage, the marital act and procreation, conception and the marital act, children and their mothers and fathers, and marriage and children.

This tsunami has left a vast wake of destruction — children in families shattered into a million constantly shuffled pieces, an endless trail of broken hearts, the destruction of children’s innocence, porn addiction, loneliness, despair, poverty, abuse, cynicism. And that’s not to mention the millions of aborted babies keeping up the pretense it’s all working.

Only the overwhelming cultural dominance of sexual revolutionaries, who run the newsrooms and the movie studios and the courts and so much else, obscures this from our eyes. But if you look, you can’t possibly mistake it. It’s all around us, getting worse every day.

Our teaching on marriage is undeniably demanding and difficult. All of us are wounded and tempted in various ways by the sexual revolution, and virtually all of us have failed our call to holiness in these matters in some way. We are dealing with powerful, pervasive structures of sin all directed at leading people astray.

For people in certain situations, such as those with same-sex attraction or those who have divorced and remarried, the call can be even harder. Harsh judgment on poor sinners just like ourselves should be the last thing on our minds. That’s where Pope Francis’ teaching on accompaniment, on meeting people where they are and walking with them lovingly, step by step, toward a better path, is so good and important.

This church teaching is not directed against anyone. We are caught at night in a shipwreck at sea, and it’s the lighthouse guiding us to life. And that’s why the controversy over Pope Francis’ comments in a recent documentary hurts us so profoundly.

Let’s get some things clear. First, popes don’t exercise their teaching authority through media interviews and documentaries. What he said about “civil unions” is not Catholic teaching. It’s an opinion the pope expressed.

Second, it has been established by the transcript that his words were deceptively edited, splicing together fragments that were not originally together. The longer first part of the quote drew from comments not referring to civil unions but to parents loving their LGBT sons and daughters, who remain part of the family, which is good and needs saying.

The shorter second part of the quote referring to civil unions was drawn from a longer quote in which he reaffirmed, as he so frequently has, the irreformable doctrine of our faith that same-sex “marriage” is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. It was in that context that he expressed his personal support for civil unions, an opinion that appears to contradict what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Pope St. John Paul II, said in 2003.

Among the reasons the CDF said civil unions should be opposed were concerns that it would appear to bless homosexual acts that are sinful, would subject children to situations that deliberately deprive them of a mother or father, and would obscure the meaning of marriage, treating relationships that are not marriage as if they were something similar.

Reaction to the pope’s words — from activists, journalists, politicians, and across social media — would seem to validate those concerns 100%.

There are pastoral situations, probably more prevalent elsewhere in the world but here too, where people need to be admonished not to reject a gay son or daughter. But in 2020 America, it’s far more likely a person will be shunned by family for holding to Catholic teaching on marriage. People continue to lose jobs and businesses over it, get dragged in front of courts and tribunals and HR departments over it, get harassed and bullied because of it, have academic success threatened over it.

So I hope in his pastoral concern Pope Francis will find room in his heart to “strengthen the brethren” who are enduring these persecutions for remaining faithful to Jesus. I assume it was not his intention, but the persecutors have taken the pope’s words as another stone to throw at his flock.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross.

Holy Hour in honor of the late Bishop Sirba

The one-year anniversary of Bishop Paul Sirba’s death is Tuesday, Dec. 1, and to mark the occasion and remember him in prayer, the diocese has announced that each deanery (region) in the diocese will hold a Holy Hour from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba

Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, said that given the pandemic restrictions, the hope is that people will feel free to come and pray for a moment or longer as they wish in a safe way.

The locations of the Holy Hours are as follows:

  • Brainerd: St. Andrew Church, led by Father Daniel Weiske
  • Cloquet: Queen of Peace Church, led by Father Justin Fish
  • Duluth: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, led by Father Anthony Wroblewski
  • Hibbing: Blessed Sacrament Church, led by Father Gabriel Waweru
  • Virginia: Resurrection Church (Eveleth), led by Father Michael Garry

Those who are unable to attend in person are invited to pray from home during the same time period.

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine on him ....

Faith in the Public Arena: Citizens of the heavenly city

By Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

“In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 13).

Early voting has begun in Minnesota. Voting is an important component of representative government. Those chosen for elected office are entrusted to make decisions that should protect the life and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death and advance the common good for all.

Politics, says Pope Francis, is one of the highest forms of charity because it serves the common good. We should be grateful that courageous people step forward, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, to run for public office. That said, it is a tremendous responsibility to be entrusted with the public good, and candidates for office should reflect on their role as one of service and not merely holding the reins of power. In other words, they are elected to do something, not to be someone.

Often, we are asked to clear up confusion about the right way to vote. In many cases, however, we must be candid that those requests are less interested in hearing us enunciate the principles of the Church’s social teaching, but instead they hope we shame their friends, family, and fellow parishioners into voting a certain way. The Church, however, is principled; she is not partisan.

As Catholics apply the principles of the Church’s social doctrine, they will sometimes come to different conclusions about the best policy prescriptions or best candidates. Indeed, many Catholics have strong opinions about different candidates and about which party will best improve the lives of Minnesotans.

Such differences reflect the judgment of people of goodwill and should be treated as such by fellow Catholics. It pains us to see Catholics fostering division among the body of Christ by calling into question the faithfulness of others who vote differently. We are all responsible for our moral choices, including voting, and we must do so in accordance with a well-formed conscience. On the day of judgment, we will all have to answer for how we formed our conscience and informed our vote.

Whenever the results of this election are determined, roughly half the country and half the state will be disappointed. Many will be deeply upset. Here again, the Church must be a voice of reconciliation. We can disagree, but we need not be disagreeable.

For the republic to stay together, we must see ourselves as friends and not as enemies. That has become increasingly difficult, but the Church can and should be a model to the whole community of both legitimate diversity and reconciliation.

Being Christ to one another should be our priority. We are Catholics first and foremost, not Americans of one political stripe or another. We should see all people through that lens and treat them accordingly. The citizenship to which we must be most faithful is the City of God, not the city of man.

Doing so is made easier by recognizing that politics cannot save us. We have one savior, and it is not an elected official or any group of them. It is Jesus Christ. Any time spent around legislators should help foster the detachment we propose — they are a cross-section of the population and suffer from original sin like the rest of us. “Put not your trust in princes ….” (Psalm 146).

Holiness is indeed the best antidote to the troubled times in which we live. Imagine how many problems could be solved if more people sought to conform their lives to Christ and live by his Holy Spirit? Let it not be said that no saints emerged during this time. Grace surrounds us; it is up to us to respond.

Let us cultivate a proper detachment from electoral results. We must keep our eyes fixed on loving God and our neighbor, thus fulfilling our responsibility as citizens of the heavenly city.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Action Alert

Visit the Minnesota Catholic Conference election resources page at www.MNCatholic.org/election. There you will find resources to help you form your conscience, inform your vote, and transform our state including: documents from the USCCB on faithful citizenship, tools to find out what is on your ballot and where/how to cast your ballot, and more.

Father Richard Kunst: A sure way to keep your parish open

Of all the priests in our diocese there is one in particular who you might call our “living history book.” I have had many occasions to listen to Father Dick Partika talk about everything and anything you wanted to know about the history of the Diocese of Duluth. I have always been amazed by all the facts he has contained in his memory, so if he is reading this column he might very well find reason to confirm or correct what I am about to say.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

As I write this, I am half a century old. In these past 50 years, in the city of Duluth, we have had a lot of parishes close permanently. According to my “non-Father Partika” memory these are the names of the churches that have closed during my lifetime: Good Shepherd, Holy Cross, St. Margaret Mary, St. Joseph’s in the Heights, St. Joseph’s in Lakewood, Sacred Heart, St. Anthony, St. Clement’s, St. Jean’s, Sts. Peter and Paul, Holy Rosary Chapel, St. Peter’s, and Our Lady of Mercy.

That is 13 Catholic churches closed, and in Duluth proper there are only 10 that remain. We might say that a dwindling population is the cause of such contraction, but the city of Duluth has not lost 65% of its population in the last 50 years, not even close. It might be more likely that it is a combination of fewer Catholics practicing their faith along with the fewer men answering the call to the priesthood. Either way, both could accurately be called a tragedy.

Every parish closure is also a tragedy. Thankfully, as a priest I have never been in an assignment that I had to oversee a closure; I am thankful for that because I know how much pain and anguish there is for the parishioners. Think of your own parish church and all the memories associated with it, from weddings to funerals to Confirmations and first Communions, not to mention all the other social gatherings that have happened in those sacred walls.

No doubt our Catholic faith is much much bigger than any parish church, but it still hurts to see your place of worship come to an end.

Jesus is pretty clear on our need to pray for vocations when he says, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are scarce. Beg the harvest master to send out laborers for his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). The vocations prayer which was penned by Bishop Dennis Schnurr while he shepherded our diocese was not meant to be a nifty way to conclude our petitions at Mass. No, Bishop Schnurr made it abundantly clear the absolute need we have to pray for more vocations, particularly for priests. Thirteen closed parishes in the city of Duluth over 50 years is the exclamation mark for such a need.

I would implore my brother priests to make sure we keep praying our vocations prayer at each Mass. Do not drop the practice, as our diocese’s future is literally on the line. And I would implore the faithful of the diocese to keep praying for vocations as well, and encouraging them whenever you see a young man who you think just might have the call.

One way of looking at this need is to figure out: When was the last priestly vocation that came out of your parish? There are some parishes in our diocese that have been “rock stars” of vocations, but there are far more other parishes that have not seen a single vocation in years or even decades. That is not a good sign of parish life. All too often I think parishioners just assume that there will be a priest that comes to serve their parish, that they will always be provided for, but that is not necessarily so. Just ask the people from any one of those closed parishes that I listed above.

We as the faithful need to foster vocations to keep our parishes viable and vibrant. We cannot assume that some other parish will produce the vocation we need to keep our parish open. We must beg the harvest master for laborers and then encourage them when we see a potential priestly candidate.

To my way of thinking, the best thing ever said about this issue of vocations and parish life was said by St. Pope John Paul the Great when he was a bishop speaking to seminarians and seminary staff: “If there is a lack of vocations to the priesthood in a Christian community, if they are not born, if they do not come to the seminaries, if they do not reach priesthood, then the community bears a negative witness of itself as a Christian community, revealing its inner weakness, proving to be a poor soil.”

Beg the harvest master for laborers.

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].

Betsy Kneepkens: Enjoying the last moments before the nest is empty

“It goes by really fast.” I could not count how many times older parents shared this advice during my oldest son’s first year. I heeded their warnings and took their message to heart. I always believed the days raising my children would fly by while leaving me with the sentiment of “where did all the time go.”

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

This September marks the beginning of the last year that I will be parenting my youngest child at home before she goes off to college. I’ve read experts’ opinions on how to transition to the empty nest, but I don’t want to waste one minute of this year worrying or working on how I will cope with this upcoming stage in my life. I do know that it will be one of the most difficult transitions I have ever made, but I am willing to put off this mental meltdown in exchange for soaking up as much of this direct parenting experience as I can. I sure hope my daughter can tolerate my constant desire to be engaged in this mother-daughter relationship this year.

I have loved nearly every part of being a mother. I was blessed not ever to need time alone or be overwhelmed by the chaos of children going in six different directions. Although life was messy at times, my husband and I managed to keep what we thought was important very simple. As I reflect, and I will do lots of that this year, there are only four things I disliked about parenting. With some creativity, I was mostly able to avoid those less-than-favorite chores.

I did not enjoy feeding my babies solid baby food. I am without patience when it comes to putting a tiny spoon in what often were clinch lips. I mostly worked around this problem by nursing them until my children were old enough to pick up the food and feed themselves.

I did not enjoy changing linens in the middle of the night when one of my bedwetting children had an accident. I improved this problem by layering the sheets with a plastic crib pad and tearing the wet ones off to a fresh underneath.

I didn’t particularly appreciate helping my children memorize their spelling test words, and I thought that would never end. Technology and my ever-efficient daughter solved this angst for me. She spoke the words into an iPad, the iPad would repeat the word, and she practiced her spelling from there. I wish we had that technology for my other children, because I am sure I would have fewer gray hairs now.

Lastly, I hated teaching my teenagers how to drive. Why is it that driver education instructors have brakes on the passenger side of the car yet expect parents to be the primary teachers with no right side brake? How is that each of my kids couldn’t figure out where the middle of the lane was and that cars are tools, not a source of entertainment? I solved this by pushing off driving lessons until after age 16 and passing on this teaching responsibility to my ever-patient husband.

I embraced, enjoyed, and looked forward to nearly every other parenting activity. The list of my most favorite would be extremely long, so for the sake of brevity, I have picked my top three with hundreds more to follow if asked.

My most favorite family activity was attending Sunday Mass together. I think we are as busy as most families of eight, and nearly every weekend, all that lived at home prioritized Mass attendance as our foundational priority. The most common question asked each weekend was, “When are we going to Mass?” It was the “we” that I loved, and it was the gift of knowing each of us would be celebrating the Eucharist together. There were many moments of tension as we attempted to get everyone dressed and on time for church, but the gift of going as one, discussions afterward, and the meal that typically followed was the best family bonding we could do.

Secondly, I will miss our frequent trips to the cities for sports. As competitive competition goes, most of the action was down in the Cities. Several of my children participated in those sorts of activities. Watching my children compete with different kids was fun, but nothing was more special than the time I was granted with my kids on those long car rides. We recently ended our last travel sporting event, and I took the scenic drive home with a 30-mile detour to soak up every moment of car time together. What I learned from my kids and all that I was able to share with them was worth the price of gold (or should I say gas) and miles on our car. Some think travel sports are a money grab, but having that much time with your teenagers is hard to duplicate in other ways.

Thirdly, the celebrations. When you have six kids, there are so many different life events to celebrate from Holy days, holidays, receiving sacraments, birthdays, and academic to athletic accomplishments. We have rituals, traditions, and special meals for each one of these. We celebrated the first day of school, the last day of school, and feast days. We make a big deal about riding in the front seat of the car at 13 and passing your driver’s license exam. You name it, we celebrate it. I enjoyed pretending like I forgot about the special occasion and then surprising them with having everything taken care of. Since I have never forgotten a special occasion, I think they no longer believe me when I pretend to forget. This supposed forgetfulness is all part of our tradition.

Time has flown by. I knew that next year was going to come, and I am not looking forward to it. I am fine now, but I know that this next stage in life will take some adjusting. I also know that I am still a parent but would be fooling myself if I believe parenting will be the same. My first memory of a child was dreams of being a mother. Indeed, I wish I could have done things differently, and I am sure you will hear about that in further editions, but for right now, I must soak up what I have left.

I am so grateful to my husband and the dear Lord for blessing me with three decades of exceeding joy. I will worry about my emotional state when that time comes, but I am not wasting any time now worrying about how I will deal with this impending change. By God’s Grace, I have a loving husband who, too, will struggle, but I know I won’t be going at this condition alone.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

What’s a Catholic voter to do?

Q&A with Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, first published in the Central Minnesota Catholic as part of “The Big Question” series.

What does the church say about Catholics’ involvement in political life and voting? Shouldn’t the church stay out of politics? Is there any scriptural basis for its involvement?

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins

Pope Francis says that politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it serves the common good. Participating in the political process is an act of loving service or charity (caritas) because it is part of our responsibility to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).

To love our neighbor means to work for his or her authentic good. Part of working for the good of our neighbors – whether they live near or far, and whether we know them personally or not – is enacting policies that protect human dignity and promote the common good.

In the church’s social teaching, this responsibility is known as the “call to participation” in community. A community is literally a “sharing of gifts,” and if we do not participate, we deprive the community of our perspective and the gifts that we have been given to share. Certainly, we do not all have the same responsibility, as we have different gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:12) So, even though you may not be the elected official who votes yay or nay to enact a law, you can use your gifts to advocate for good policies. We can do this by building relationships with our elected officials. Each of us cannot do everything, but we can all do something.

Relatedly, if we find that there are some who are excluded from political life, including voting, then we have a special responsibility to work for their inclusion (Matthew 25). We must work to give a voice to those who have none and prioritize the needs of the poor and vulnerable who often don’t have the resources or organization to bring an effective voice to the public policy conversation.

Voting is one small but important part of the call to participation. In a representative government, it is important to carefully choose those who make important decisions on behalf of those whom they represent and the broader political community. But we cannot reduce the call to participation in public life to voting and be content with checking that box.

Taking part in the political process is an activity of service where people come together to discuss how we ought to order our lives together. It should not be a power game. People who object to the church offering its moral perspective on the issues of the day or the participation of religious people in public life often view politics through the prism of power. In this way, they do not want religious people imposing their views on others who do not share their faith.

Catholics, too, can fall into the trap of viewing politics solely through the lens of power, and not wanting the church to undermine its ability to reach people with the Gospel by causing stumbling blocks for people. But the church calls us to see politics through the lens of service and a community conversation about what serves the common good. Therefore, we cannot sit on the sidelines of these important matters.

When we engage in the political process in the right way with the right principles, our witness will be evangelical and bring people closer to Christ. The political arena is mission territory (Matthew 28:20). That is certainly my experience after almost ten years serving in this position.

What principles/values should we take into account when casting our vote? Should Catholic social teaching be our guide?

We need to FORM our consciences with the right principles, and then INFORM our votes. Doing so will help TRANSFORM our legislatures.

The church does not tell us how to vote in every election. Rather, it provides the principles for shaping our participation in community life. Formed in those principles, we go out and transform the world and restore all things in Christ.

Catholic social teaching is that toolbox of principles. It is not a set of prescriptions or ready-made answers. Instead, it is a mental model for well-formed Catholics to guide their actions. How those principles apply in addressing social problems or when voting is a question of prudence. Prudence is a virtue that allows us to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

Sometimes, Catholics will differ in their prudential judgments, that is, the application of the principles of Catholic social teaching in politics and in elections. That is OK. The key, however, is for Catholics to be operating on the firm foundation of the right principles. To do so, we must form our conscience (conscience means “with knowledge”).

If we fail to form our conscience in the truth of the Church’s teachings, or malform our conscience with the opinions of TV news talking heads, we will not only fail to bring the Gospel into public life, we may do more harm than good.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” identifies two temptations in public life that can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: 1) a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity; and 2) the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. How should Catholics navigate through these two temptations?

First, READ “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” to be rooted in a consistent ethic of life that protects human life from womb to tomb and promotes human flourishing in between.

Not all issues are created equal. But the full spectrum of issues should be part of the voting calculus. An issue may not seem like it affects you or be your issue of preeminent concern, but it likely affects someone else and needs to be considered. That is called voting in solidarity with others.

Further, as Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si,’ everything is connected. For example, if you are concerned about marriage and the well-being of the family, you should also be concerned about economic policies and social supports that help create the conditions for stable family life.

Second, avoid starting with a preferred voting outcome and then working backward to justify it. People can take some portion of the church’s social teaching to justify almost any vote. But we should strive to think with the mind of the church and let our actions and our votes be rooted in the right principles.

What if you feel no candidate for a particular office fully embraces a commitment to the dignity of the human person? How do you decide for whom to cast your vote?

Again, voting is a question of prudence. Catholics can come to different conclusions about the wisdom of various choices. Because we operate in an electoral system dominated by two parties, with candidates chosen by a small group of very ideological activists, we are sometimes not given a choice between two good candidates, but instead we are picking the lesser of two evils. We ask ourselves, “Which candidate will do the least damage to the dignity of the human person and the common good?”

In some cases, a person in good conscience cannot vote for either of the major-party candidates. Voting for a third-party candidate or skipping a vote in a particular race are legitimate options. They are not “wasted votes” but actions taken out of principle and in good conscience.

Not voting altogether because one does not like the options at the top of the ballot seems imprudent. There are many other candidate races on a ballot that merit study and careful consideration. As we have been reminded during this pandemic, major decisions are made at the state and municipal levels, and we cannot ignore those candidates and issues out of disgust at what goes on in Washington.

That being said, some Catholics, such as Dorothy Day, rarely voted. Though one cannot ignore voting and public life, it may reach a point where the refusal to vote is its own form of witness. Voting is important, but it’s not a sacrament. Ultimately, it is a question of conscience. Like everything else we do, how we vote should reflect Gospel values and a commitment to seeking first a kingdom that is not of this world.

What are some do’s and don’ts for Minnesota parishes when it comes to election season?

MCC offers a guide to permissible political activities during election season. It can be found at mncatholic.org/election.

Parishes are often afraid of overstepping permissible bounds and endangering the parish’s tax-exempt status, and therefore avoid any election-related programming. This is a mistake. Parishes have broad latitude to offer non-partisan educational material and events to inform voters.

A few key recommendations: Avoid endorsing candidates explicitly. Similarly, to avoid the appearance of a strongly implied endorsement, do not distribute voter guides from partisan organizations that are not approved by your bishop.

What resources and tools does Minnesota Catholic Conference offer to assist Catholics in having a voice in public policy and advocacy after Election Day?

First, ahead of election day, we are equipping parishes to help Catholics get to know the candidates. This year, for the first time, we are encouraging parishes, with the support of our state’s bishops, to host parish town halls with their state legislative candidates. It is a great way to help inform parishioners about who the candidates are, and where they stand on issues important to Catholics across Minnesota and issues that matter to people in the pew at that particular parish.

We have created an extensive toolkit for parishes who wish to host a townhall. It can be found at mncatholic.org/townhall.

To stay informed year-round, join the Catholic Advocacy Network. Go to mncatholic.org/ActionCenter to register. By joining, you will receive regular updates on what is happening at the legislature, ways for you to bring your faith into the public arena, and action alerts that allow you to send a message to your legislators on issues impacting life, dignity, and the common good.