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Betsy Kneepkens: Should the Cathedral of Notre Dame be rebuilt?

I have never been very adventurous, so I haven’t sought out trips to exotic places. I had found my family life and what all that has encompassed exciting enough.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Five years ago, I heard about a pilgrimage to Europe that was being set up in our diocese. Immediately I found the trip to holy places like Lourdes and Fatima, along with sacred sites in Spain and France, intriguing. I rejected any notion that I would travel, because I had four kids at home with plenty to do. Shortly after I learned about the trip, I called my sister, who was a recent empty-nester, to see if she would be interested in the information. In that instant, my sister said, “Well, let’s go!” I was caught off guard, because I don’t do things like that.

When my sister proposed the idea that we go on this pilgrimage, I dismissed the concept almost as soon as the suggestion was made. Coincidentally, at the same time she encouraged me to go with her, I was pondering a way to sincerely thank a large number of people who had helped my family through a difficult time. It did not take too much for the Holy Spirit to inspire me to see the pilgrimage as a means to prayerfully thank others through my relationship with God.

To make a long story shorter, out of this proposal to go on a pilgrimage and my need to express gratitude, I came up with my “Thanksgiving Pilgrimage” — ten days filled with praying for the intentions of so many kind people, in holy places throughout Europe. This concept seemed to satisfy an urge to respond to kindness in a way that at least partially answered my need to give back.

Many amazing experiences happened in those ten days, but one particular moment is weighing heavy on my heart right now. Toward the end of the pilgrimage, our group was able to go to Paris and spend time at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Not only was I able to tour the facility, I was able to sit in prayer offering up my intentions for all the people I dedicated the trip to. It never occurred to me that the near demise of this 850-year old Cathedral would happen just five years later. Like the rest of the world, I watched sadly as the building burned.

I have reflected much in the past few days about the Cathedral, my experience and what I think should be done with the structure going forward. I believe, architecturally and aesthetically, few buildings are more brilliant. For me, the Cathedral spoke more about the story of our faith than the grandeur of the structure. When I was there, I saw many exhaling their oohs and ahhs, which was a commentary on what a masterpiece the building was. I wonder, however, if the original designers and artisans would have preferred the place be filled with worshipers who inhaled the spirit, the meaning, and the purpose of their work instead.

My stomach ached when I heard the French president say that he pledged to rebuild Notre Dame in five years. What burned down in mid-April was a visible sign of two centuries of craftsmen’s prayers offering up their skills for God’s glory. Five years of construction to return it to its former design, as proposed by the French president, although well-intended, sounds like the true meaning and purpose of the structure have been lost.

For those that have traveled to Europe, you will quickly discover that many churches and basilica have become museums. Group photos or selfies have replaced the purpose of prayer and worship in these buildings. My limited experience there would say, the Cathedral of Notre Dame was not too far from the same rep rposing.

France boasts some 13 million visitors to Notre Dame each year. Instead of 30,000 daily tourists, I can only imagine the building originators would have preferred that Cathedral boasted 30,000 faithful attending Mass each day. Or better yet, instead of the media reporting on images of Jesus’ face in the flames, it would be greater if commentators marveled at the fact that the Body of Christ, soul and divinity, remained present in Notre Dame for nearly a millennium. Now that speaks of purpose!

So should the Cathedral of Notre Dame be rebuilt? For me, this is a difficult question. Should the artisan’s prayers of two centuries be reduced to five years of construction? I can’t say that I support that. Should fear of the economic impact on France be the reason for the rebuild? I struggle to feel comfortable about that notion too.

If few people question the fact that it took less than three days to raise over a billion dollars to restore what many consider a tourist attraction, should we not ask if rebuilding this “memorial” is a wise use of money? I think we should question it.

If the French call the Cathedral of Notre Dame the soul of their country, what does that say when only five percent of French Catholics go to Sunday Mass each week? I think the Church in France needs to answer some very challenging questions first.

If the burning of the building has stirred the hearts of many because they have realized a tangible sign of their relations with God is no longer present, that is hopeful. If the rebuilders’ purpose is to glorify God in a holy way, then further dialogue is optimistic. If contributors realize a greater need exists to serve the poor and vulnerable in France, then holiness may be more rightly ordered.

The burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and its reconstruction is a larger question about our Catholic faith and how we can serve our heavenly Father. This horrific incident cannot just be solved by generous people writing huge checks. Since the world cares about this Cathedral, the world must dialogue about the spirit, the meaning, and the purpose of this worship space going forward.

When we have carefully discerned and listened to the Holy Spirit, the church will know how to rightly proceed. I am not sure that I will be as adventurous as I was five years ago, but if I do I will be eager to see how the church discerned a holy solution to the burning down of Notre Dame.

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

Bishop Paul Sirba: Sacred places, like the burial place of Jesus, make faith come alive

Not quite two years ago, the Holy Land Review published a series of articles on the restoration of the Edicule, or shrine, that encloses the tomb of Jesus within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Since the fourth century, a succession of churches have surrounded this sacred place.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

As we know from the Sacred Scriptures, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and along with Nicodemus took it to a place near the site of crucifixion and laid Jesus in a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried (John 19:38-21).

It was only the second time since 1555 and the first time since 1809 that this shrine built around the tomb of Christ has been opened to reveal the original limestone of the tomb. Scientists and the restoration team exercised extreme care in lifting the marble slabs over what is believed to be the place of Jesus’ burial.

Having studied for a semester in the Holy Land many years ago, the account and testimonies of scientists, archeologists, and Franciscans working on the project fascinated me. I hadn’t realized how many portions of the original stone comprising the sides of the tomb as well as the stone thought to be the resting-place of Jesus’ body were enclosed by the bricks and stone of the Edicule.

I was intrigued by the statement of Professor Moropoulou, a distinguished physicist, speaking as a scientist, but not hesitant to talk about her faith, when she responded to media reports of electro-magnetic disturbances at the moment when the tomb was opened.

She said: “It is a fact, and as a scientist I owe it to myself to declare the facts: Three of our instruments and two of our computers were either disrupted or stopped working. Checks were made, and we had to change some of the pieces.”

She did not speculate further, although as a believer, she said: “I was surprised at the life that filled this tomb” (Holy Land Review Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 2017, p. 35).

Holy places have made an impact on the lives of believers since the beginning of time. We are incarnational beings, after all. Sacred places help us to encounter the divine. We set places “apart,” which is what “sacred” means, to dedicate them to the honor and glory of God. During the Easter Season the empty tomb is venerated, because Jesus was victorious over sin, suffering, and death and the place, the tomb, makes it tangible to us. Jesus is truly risen!

During the month of May, I have the great privilege of celebrating the majority of Confirmations in the Diocese of Duluth. What a gift! Mary’s month, in sacred spaces across our beloved Diocese, young men and women will be coming to a deeper faith as they receive this great sacrament and are sent forth as missionary disciples. The risen Lord continues to invite new followers to proclaim the Good News. Please hold them in prayer.

From the Edicule to our own churches and homes, don’t forget to pray the family rosary this month of May. Our Lady encountered her risen Son with a love that helps set our hearts on fire. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Letter from Bishop Paul Sirba

A letter from Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, updating the faithful on the diocesan bankruptcy, was read in parishes across the diocese the weekend of May 4-5. The letter can be read here

Father Michael Schmitz: How much exercise and fitness are too much?

I’ve recently been more and more interested in exercise and in keeping fit. I am a husband and father and want to be able to play with my kids. You seem like someone who exercises. How do I know if I am placing too much emphasis on being physically fit and when have I crossed over into mere vanity?

Fr. Mike

Father Michael
Ask Fr. Mike

I really appreciate this question. Not only is it a question that I return to for myself quite often, but I have been asked this by many people. I don’t want to give anything away, but I need to be up front with the disclaimer that the final answer will ultimately involve you monitoring your own behavior and interior disposition. There will not be a black and white “do this, don’t do that” answer.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some important cues to pay attention to.

First, Catholicism affirms the goodness of the body. There have been philosophies and religions that have disparaged or minimized the importance of the body (as well as some that have placed too much emphasis on the body). But Catholicism constantly affirms that human beings are composed of body and soul. We are not merely bodies, and we are not merely souls. Because of this, we can accurately say that “your body is you.” Of course, your soul is also “you,” but for the moment it might help to tease out the value of the body.

While the body (as well as the soul) is subject to the wounds of the Fall, it retains an intrinsic goodness. St. John Paul II wrote, “The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible the invisible, the spiritual, and the divine.” The body reveals the person. Your body reveals you. Your body is the “vehicle” by which you learn things, come into contact with this world, and know and express love. The body is the tool that God used to redeem the world. It was precisely Jesus Christ’s willingness to live, suffer, die, and rise in his body that has saved us.

Easter reveals the dignity of the body: your body is destined for resurrection! Along those lines, the way we live in the body will determine our eternity. St. Paul says that we will be accountable for our actions in the body (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). He also noted, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

All of that is to say that the body is good and the body matters. Your body has value.

At the same time, the body does not have absolute value. The body is a good, but it is not an absolute good. This leads us to note that there are other things more important than the body. There are things that have greater value than this body. The First Letter to the Corinthians states, “Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:26). While it is destined for glory, the body is also prone to corruption.

While athletic discipline can be a help towards virtue, there are limitations.

First, there is the limitation of virtues that are naturally developed in athletic training. I always find it interesting when people seem to automatically associate fitness with good character. They will sign their kids up for sports because they “build character.”

While there are many character-building elements involved in physical training (things like hard work, discipline, perseverance, resilience, etc.), there are just as many vices present. While we admire the athlete who has worked hard and demonstrated the “triumph of the human spirit” in competition, athletic training can just as easily foster selfishness, ambition, and unhealthy comparison and competition, as well. If athletics were an unadulterated good, then every professional athlete would be a model of virtue. We know that this is not true.

Second, there are dangers inherent with any good thing that can be made into an ultimate thing. You wrote that you wanted to avoid vanity. That is a good thing to want to avoid. On that point, I know plenty of people who seem vain about the fact that they never exercise. They will boast of this as if it were an accomplishment to sit on the couch. Vanity can creep in regardless of what we choose to do (or not do). In addition, while vanity is possible, those dedicated to athletics are much more prone to far more serious temptations: identity and idolatry.

We have a tendency to define ourselves by our “wins” or our “weaknesses.” I have met many athletes who have not merely given their thoughts over to vanity, but they have actually associated their worth and their identity with their fitness level. I see this all of the time with our college athletes. For each of them, the day comes when they have their last game, their last race, or their last performance. These are college athletes, which means that they have worked incredibly hard and sacrificed a lot of their lives for their sport. And suddenly, they “used to be.” They “used to be” a baseball player. They “used to be” a cross-country runner. They “used to be” an athlete. Who are they now that they don’t have that anymore? A lot of our athletes go through a mini-identity crisis once their time competing at a certain level is taken away. This is a sign that something has gotten out of balance.

Speaking of balance, the temptation to idolatry is always present among really good things. Athletics and physical training are really good things. The problem is that we often have a tendency to make idols out of really good things. Therefore, an athlete will just have to watch to make sure that God alone remains as the Lord of one’s life.

Third, we have limited time in this life. There are so many positive benefits to physical exercise (not the least of which is being able to play with your kids!). There is a mental clarity and alertness that can come with regular exercise. In our over-distracted culture, the ability to be alone with one’s thoughts while on a walk or a run can almost be a daily retreat. Exercise is often time well-spent.

I invite you to see it in that light: you are “spending time.” I believe that physical exercise has more inherent value than most of the things we Americans do with our time, but there will always be a point of diminishing returns. There will always be a point where the benefits are no longer worth the amount of time we are investing in it.

I find a lot of value in the perspective of St. Francis of Assisi. He called his body “Brother Ass.” He did not despise it. He valued his body. His body could defy his will, but he trained it to obey him. St. Francis was aware that “Brother Ass” could revolt against him and get out of control, so he learned to master it. He fed it and trained it as a valuable part of himself. His sense of fitness was incredibly functional. That kind of functional fitness seems like a good thing to shoot for.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]

Press release from the Diocese of Duluth

The Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, and the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, comprised of survivors of clergy sexual abuse, have reached agreement for a consensual resolution of the Diocese of Duluth Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding, which includes the filing of a Disclosure Statement and a Joint Plan of Reorganization, which will be filed in the near future. This constitutes an agreement in principle toward a complete resolution of the Diocese’s bankruptcy.

The Disclosure Statement and Joint Plan of Reorganization will be expressly subject to approval by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota and will require that a Disclosure Statement be approved prior to the balloting for the Plan that will be sent out to the survivors for their approval. The Plan terms have the support of counsel for nearly all of the survivors in the Duluth case, Jeff Anderson and Associates.

The Plan anticipates contributions from the Diocese itself and virtually all of the 75 parishes of the Catholic community in the Diocese, as well as other Catholic entities. In addition to substantial contributions from these parties, the majority of the funding of the Plan will come from the insurance carriers for the Diocese.

The Plan ultimately will distribute approximately $40 million, with more than $39 million funding a Distribution Trust for the benefit of the survivors, upon conclusion of the Court proceedings that require approval of the Disclosure Statement and allow for voting on the joint Plan. It is anticipated this will be a three- to four-month process.

Both the Diocese and the survivors Committee are committed to moving the process forward as quickly as possible, while still fully complying with the legal procedures necessary to obtain Bankruptcy Court approval.

Bishop says 'love of Christ' compels him to proclaim Gospel of life

Preservation of the family, marriage and the unborn were the main themes of the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Washington April 23.

Bishop Olmsted
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix speaks April 23, during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

"Faith in the crucified and risen Christ shields us from two cold and deadly sins: arrogant presumption and cynical despair," said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, the guest speaker. "Neither of which are appropriate in a Christian leader. The enemy of our souls does not care which we prefer."

Bishop Olmsted, who is a consultant to the pro-life committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the matter of legal abortion has defined his ministry, since he was ordained a priest in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1973, the year of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand.

"It is my pastoral duty to proclaim the Gospel of life and the protection in law of the most vulnerable among us. The love of Christ compels me."

Bishop Olmsted also recalled the words of St. John Paul II at a Mass on the National Mall in October 1979: "We will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life."

Speaking of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, recently blocked by House Democrats, Bishop Olmsted asked, "Where does blatant disregard for a child's life come from? From hardened hearts. A child demands love, and love costs."

"Any rejection of bodiliness," he added, "will immediately target two beautiful but demanding and sometimes inconvenient realities: marriage and the human child." Marriage, he said, "stands now in the way of the gender ideology. We Christians will stand for the reality of marriage today in our homes and the public square, even when facing persecution today."

A rapidly lowering birth rate in the United States, he said, means that the warning about contraception in St. Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," has come true, and "the disaster invited by theologians, bishops, priests and laity who protested Paul VI's prophetic letter is upon us," with sexual pleasure separated from procreation. "Enough!"

"Christians are called not to complacency, but to greatness, to have hearts great enough to be filled with God," Bishop Olmsted concluded.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, spoke briefly about President Donald Trump's commitment to religious liberty.

"The president has allowed us Christians, of all denominations, to be very vocal about their faith and to prioritize our faith," he said. "Over the past two-and-a-half years, I think you can see the principles of our faith being manifested." Trump has addressed the annual March for Life rally via a video hookup the past two years.

"I can assure you," Mulvaney added, that he has sat in the Oval Office many times when Trump has admonished foreign leaders and diplomats in saying, "You're not doing enough to take care of the Christians in your country," or has praised them with "thank you for taking care of the Christians in your country."

"I won't lie to you, that that's pretty powerful stuff. To be able to be there, to be part of that, has been very invigorating," said Mulvaney, a member of Opus Dei and a graduate of Georgetown University.

"I'm comfortable as a Catholic, even though I'm working for a president who is not Catholic, that the principles of our faith are alive and well and well respected in this administration and driving many of our policies," he added.

The 1,400 attendees gave a standing ovation to Ted and Julie Sandmann, parents of Nick Sandmann, the Covington (Kentucky) Catholic High School student who was thrown into the center of a national spotlight in January when videos of him and his classmates interacting with Native Americans and others near Washington's Lincoln Memorial went viral.

Also garnering a loud ovation was Abby Johnson, the pro-life activist who runs And Then There Were None, a ministry to former abortion clinic workers, who was recently portrayed in the film drama "Unplanned," which proved to be successful at the box office.

"The critics, they thought we'd make 40 bucks, and we're sitting on $17 million right now," she said. The film, which cost $6 million to make, is her story as a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who eventually rejected abortion to join the pro-life movement.

"I'm waking up every day getting emails from people; who told me they walked into the film pro-choice and walked out pro-life. This is why we decided to do 'Unplanned' -- for the conversion of hearts."

Also speaking were Sister Bethany Madonna, vocations director of the Sisters of Life, and Curtis Martin, the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

The breakfast has been held annually since 2004. The event was established in 2004 in response to St. John Paul's call for a new evangelization. George W. Bush has the only president to address the gathering, doing so from 2005 to 2008. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the breakfast in 2017.

- By Kurt Jensen / Catholic News Service

At Easter the stones of sin, despair, are rolled away, pope says at vigil

As individuals and as a church, it can be tempting to dwell on mistakes, failures and sins that block the fullness of life, but Easter is the proclamation that the Lord is victorious and his love will triumph, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis carries a candle in procession as he arrives to celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

"Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside," the pope said in his homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil.

The gaze of the risen Lord, he said, "fills us with hope for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change."

Pope Francis began the vigil in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing a fire and lighting the Easter candle. A deacon carried the candle into the semi-darkened basilica, lit the pope's candle and began sharing the light with the thousands of people in the congregation. Little by little light filled the world's largest Catholic church.

During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized and confirmed eight adults, who were between the ages of 21 and 60. The five women and three men included four Italians and one person each from Ecuador, Peru, Albania and Indonesia.

In his homily, the pope focused on the Gospel scene of the women going to Jesus' tomb to anoint his dead body. Pope Francis imagined that the women were worried about how they would remove the stone sealing the tomb and said that in an analogous way it is a worry the entire Christian community can experience.

"At times," he said, "it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people."

"In the history of the church and in our own personal history," he said, it may seem that "the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life."

But, he said, "God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness."

The church is built on the risen Jesus, the living stone, he said, "and even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment."

When the women entered Jesus' tomb, they were met by two angels who asked them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?"

Pope Francis said many times Christians keep focused on the dead by giving in to resignation and failure, burying hope and becoming "cynical, negative and despondent."

The "stone of sin" also seals human hearts, he said. "Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away."

"Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God's light from entering in?" the pope asked people at Mass. "Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?"

Easter joy comes when people learn to view their lives as God does, "for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty," Pope Francis said. "In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived."

"Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing," he said. With Jesus, each person can experience a "Passover from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus."

- By Cindy Wooden / Catholic News Service

Faith in the Public Arena: When it comes to politics, everything is connected

Today, people working to advance Catholic social teaching often find themselves in opposing camps, divided along party lines. But the church’s political work is about putting back together what has been torn apart by a highly partisan culture. In his encyclical Laudato si,’ Pope Francis proposes integral ecology as a new framework for reunifying the church’s mission of public engagement.

A schism in Catholic social teaching
Sarah Spangenberg
Sarah Spangenberg
Faith in the Public Arena

Have you noticed how rarely all dimensions of Catholic social teaching coexist peacefully in the political engagement of many Catholics? How often are “social justice Catholics” working at cross-purposes with “pro-life Catholics”? Catholics who devote themselves to protecting the unborn or defending marriage don’t always see eye-to-eye with Catholics who prioritize serving the poor or caring for the natural ecology, and vice versa.

To be sure, the “life issues,” because they typically involve intrinsic moral evils, must have a certain priority in our social and political engagement. But to achieve short-term wins on the life issues, many are prone to dismiss concern over environmental destruction or the well-being of immigrants because those issues do not compare with the destruction of life brought on by abortion or assisted suicide.

Other Catholics emphasize the concrete needs of people in their midst and how to meet them. They are unpersuaded by what seem like moral abstractions — precisely because the life issues are often framed as mere opposition to some immoral action, not as a defense of the human person in light of the web of relationships in which we exist. And yet, isn’t there something common to the two perspectives? Isn’t it the very same “throwaway culture” which now populates our prisons, our landfills, and our graveyards? Our culture’s tendency to discard whatever — or whoever — is old or inconvenient is rapidly polluting both the earth itself and the human community. We need a more integrated way of approaching all the social issues as Catholics.

Principled, not partisan

At the Minnesota Catholic Conference, our policy positions do not fit neatly into the polarized, left-right framework that still dominates the political landscape. Instead, on our bill tracker (, you will find positions opposing assisted suicide and abortion, but you will also find support for clean water funding, and opioid epidemic response, immigrant driver’s licenses, and others.

This is not arbitrary. Nor is it the “mushy middle,” a way of pandering to both the right and the left. Rather, it is reflective of a consistent ethic of life that puts back together what our political culture has pulled apart. American politics have become disintegrated, and even while both parties get it right on some issues, neither has a consistent vision of social life capable of building a truly just society.

In light of these difficulties, we can look to Pope Francis, who offers a new way of looking at Catholic social teaching in Laudato si.’ In it, he proposes “integral ecology,” which means helping the natural and human ecologies to flourish while respecting both.

Integral ecology: a new vision for Catholic social teaching

A vision statement for integral ecology could be the chorus from Laudato si,’ “everything is connected.” When one aspect of our lives is out of sync with Gospel principles, whether in our personal lives or in our public engagement, the whole “spiritual organism” suffers.

It is the same way with the political ecosystem: We cannot address a social problem in a narrow or isolated manner, because our problems arise within a society of broken or disintegrated relationships and the failure, in some instances, to live our relationships with others well. That’s what the tradition means when it refers to structures of sin. And those structures can be dismantled only through personal conversion and addressing how they affect a whole ecosystem of social relationships. To get at downstream effects, we must see the source of the problem “upstream.”

Because of the significance of integral ecology for public policy engagement in the life of the church today, the bishops of Minnesota have approved the publication of a brand-new document by the Minnesota Catholic Conference titled “Minnesota, Our Common Home.” This resource is intended to help all of us grow in cultivating integral ecology within our families, in our daily lives, and in our call to be faithful citizens — all right here, in our home state.

You can download or order your own copy by visiting As you read and pray through this document, we pray you are challenged and encouraged in your call to care for our common home, whether in your own backyard or on Capitol Hill.

Sarah Spangenberg is the communications associate of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Action Alert

Minnesota’s students deserve to attend schools that meet their individual educational needs. Parents, as the primary educators of their children, need to be enabled to enroll their children in the school that they feel best meets those needs. The good news is there is now legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (SF 1872), that will provide families with access to the schools of their choice and ensure we have educational freedom in Minnesota. Let your senator know that you support opportunity scholarships for our kids! It only takes a few minutes to contact your legislators, and it will make a positive difference in the lives of our children. You can visit our action center ( to send your senator a message asking for the support of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (SF 1872). You can also reach them on the phone by calling the Minnesota Senate’s main line at (651) 296-0504.

Father Nick Nelson: The church has definite ideals about music at Mass

I have been writing this column for less than a year, but you can probably tell that I have a passion for the liturgy. But this makes sense. As you “play how you practice,” you become how you worship.

Fr. Nick
Father Nick
Handing on the Faith

I didn’t always have a passion for the Mass. Even when entering the seminary, while the Eucharist as sacrament was important to me, the ars celebrandi, the “art of celebrating the Mass,” was not on my radar. You see, I grew up at your average Catholic parish, so that is what I was used to, and that was what I thought Mass was supposed to be.

But as I studied theology and the liturgical tradition of the church, and more importantly, as I attended beautiful Masses at seminary and in various other places, I realized that what our average parish celebrated on Sundays was not exactly what the Catholic Church had in mind. I’m not saying that what we have been doing is totally wrong or contrary to what the church says. I am saying that it’s not ideal.

Think of this example. It’s your wife’s birthday. So, you can get her a bottle of French Chardonnay or a bottle of Italian Chianti. The Chardonnay is your favorite, and she’ll be OK with it, but what she really loves and wants is the Italian Chianti. If it’s her birthday, and it’s about her, shouldn’t you get her the Chianti? A lot of what we have been doing at Mass is allowed, but it’s been more of what we want or what we think is best, rather than truly offering God what he wants.

Because we do know what God wants. The church is quite clear in some things as to how God wants to be worshiped. I wish to just offer a few examples in regard to music at Mass.

We are to sing the Mass and not just at Mass

The Roman Missal is the big red book that all the prayers are taken from for the Mass. In the instruction for it, which we call the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (at your cocktail parties, you can impress your friends by referring to it as the “GIRM”!), we find guidelines for singing. What we find is that the Mass itself should be sung, not just singing added to the Mass. The parts that primarily should be sung aren’t the opening song and the closing song, but rather the dialogue parts, the Mass parts. In the GIRM we read, “Every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. In choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together” (40).

We are to sing the antiphons proper to each Mass

We are all most familiar with the “four-hymn sandwich,” in which the Mass is sandwiched between songs for four different points in the Mass i.e., the processional, the offertory, Communion, and the recessional. And while hymns are acceptable, the church actually has something else in mind during those processions, namely the antiphons (GIRM 48). Those who go to daily Mass are familiar with the entrance antiphon and the Communion antiphon. Those are usually said by the priest and the people. Well, every Mass has entrance, offertory, and Communion antiphons, and those have been set to music.

Consider the Fourth Sunday of Lent. we call that “Laetare Sunday.” Why? Because that is the first word of the entrance antiphon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, meaning “Rejoice!” So instead of picking a song to sing, imagine hearing that antiphon sung as the servers and ministers process into the sanctuary and immediately understanding why we call it Laetare Sunday. The antiphons are an integral part to the Mass. They bring out the particular theme and attitude proper to each Mass.

There are as many different preferences for music at Mass as there are people. But we must remember that the Mass isn’t about us. It is about God. We don’t go to Mass, and we don’t sing there, to get something out of it or to feel something. If we are concerned about getting something out of Mass, then we are missing the point, because the point of Mass is to glorify God as he wishes to be glorified.

When we realize that the Mass isn’t about us, that is when we are the freest and realize how good and gracious God is, that while it is all about him, he still blesses us during the Mass in so many ways. We do get so much out of Mass, most especially Christ himself! To be clear, we don’t need to start chanting the entire Mass or change our music repertoire overnight, but we should consider and work towards what the church has in mind regarding singing at Mass. Let’s not give God the Chardonnay when he really desires the Italian Chianti!

We are having a Sacred Music Workshop on Saturday, May 4, at Blessed Sacrament in Hibbing. Please consider attending if you are interested in learning more about music. Contact me for more information.

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]

Deacon Kyle Eller: When the accusation of hate is a weapon of hate

“Get used to replying to those poor ‘haters,’ when they pelt you with stones, by pelting them with Hail Marys.”

This quote from St. Josemaria Escriva seems useful these days when it is so easy to lose one’s peace.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

“Hate” is definitely one of the words of the moment, constantly being thrown around. This is often warranted. We have seen a resurgence in racism and other forms of bigotry (for example toward immigrants or particular religious groups). Too many horrors like the recent mass murder of Muslims in New Zealand come too easily to mind.

This truly is tragic and warrants our prayerful efforts at reconciliation and protecting the dignity of every human person, as well as our reflection on the causes, which I believe are to be found in a loss of a sense of God and therefore of meaning.

Yet it seems as if even more often the accusation of hatred is unwarranted. All too often the accusation is itself a form of hatred — a malicious lie meant to silence and demonize those with whom one disagrees.

To cite one prominent example among many, consider the Southern Poverty Law Center. Media darlings, this self-appointed tracker of “hate groups” is cited uncritically in countless articles.

Yet in 2012, a gunman shot up the office of the Family Research Council, wounding a security guard before he was overpowered and mass murder was averted. How did the domestic terrorist select this fairly ordinary evangelical Christian activist group as his target? He found it listed as a so-called “anti-LGBT hate group” on the SPLC website.

The SPLC’s claims that Christian beliefs about homosexuality and marriage don’t alone qualify one as a hater ring hollow with even a brief look at its website. Argue in public for the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about human sexuality or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops position on religious liberty and the SPLC will find a way to lump you in with the neo-Nazis and KKK groups they also track.

Consider one egregious example, its “hate group” label for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Part of SPLC’s indictment is the group’s association with Princeton Prof. Robert George and Harvard Prof. Mary Ann Glendon.

I have followed George for years. Agree with him or not, he’s a paragon of reasoned civil discussion, even traveling the country with his friend, fellow professor, and ideological opposite Cornel West holding affectionate public debates. Glendon is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and an expert on human rights. Both are conspicuous for the way they uphold the dignity of the human person, including those with whom they disagree.

To see in such people something akin to Klan members requires an extraordinary degree of malice or ideological blindness or both. Unfortunately that is now commonplace.

What’s important, of course, is not to hate. But what does that even mean, given we seem to have lost a common definition of the term? One way to think of it is considering how we are to love — love even to our enemies.

Love means recognizing people as being made in God’s image and likeness, as creatures he deliberately willed into being as gifts, and whom he loved all the way to the cross. In human terms, that means willing the good of each person. Their good includes the necessities of a dignified life, such as shelter, food, meaningful work in which they use their gifts to contribute to the common good, safety. It includes the communion with God and other people that is part of human nature — including the rights, duties, and relationships among family, friends, and one’s neighbors. It includes respecting a legitimate freedom to seek the good and live and speak it — those rights of conscience.

That good ultimately includes friendship with God forever in heaven, hopefully right alongside us.

This is what the Catholic Church teaches us to seek for everyone, from the holiest saint to the most notorious sinner.

If hatred is something like the opposite of that, it means things like shunning, no-platforming, and silencing people, or trying to render them social pariahs. It means trying to deny them meaningful work and the necessities of life by making them unemployable or preventing them from operating businesses. It means wishing violence, death, or even hell on them. It means attempting to coerce their consciences. Unfortunately, by this definition there are hateful people of all political persuasions and of every race, sex, age, and religion. But what is striking is how well it describes many of the self-professed “resisters of hate” among us — especially those more accurately described as anti-Christian bigots.

This can be disturbing. I admit I let it bother me more than I should.

That’s why I think that quote from St. Josemaria is so helpful. If we bring ourselves to trusting prayer when confronting these things, we can regain our peace, turn it over to God, and let him work. In that way, we also short-circuit the responses of fear and anger and bitterness that may make it more difficult to love those who wish to be our enemies.

So let’s do as St. Josemaria counsels and “pelt” them with Hail Marys.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]