Browsing News Entries

Latin American bishops urge action to save burning Amazon rainforest

"Crying out to the world for solidarity," leaders of the Latin American bishops' council urged international action to save the Amazon rainforest as massive fires continued to burn.

Fires burning in the Amazon rainforest are pictured from space by the geostationary weather satellite GOES-16 Aug. 21. Leaders of the Latin American bishops' council urged international action Aug. 22 to save the rainforest as massive fires continued to burn. (CNS photo/NASA, NOAA handout via Reuters) 

"We urge the governments of the Amazonian countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community to take serious measures to save the lungs of the world," said the statement Aug. 22 by the top officers of the council, known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM.

"What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue, but is of global reach," the bishops said. "If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers."

The Amazon produces 20% of the world's oxygen, according to scientific measurements.

Brazil's space research institute, which is responsible for satellite monitoring of the Amazon, had reported that the number of wildfires, common in July and August, had reached a record number already in 2019, with 72,843 fires spotted.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, Aug. 21 and 22 released satellite imagery showing how smoke from the fires had created "a shroud that is clearly visible across much of the center of South America."

French President Emmanuel Macron called on world leaders to place the fires at the top of their agenda as they meet in France for the Group of Seven summit starting Aug. 24. Attendees will include President Donald Trump, Macron and the leaders from Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said publicly that he believes nongovernmental agencies -- including Catholic-backed agencies such as the Land Pastoral and the Indigenous Missionary Council -- are behind the illegal burnings because they have opposed his call for development of the rainforest. The organizations have strongly denied the allegations.

In its edition released Aug. 23, the front page of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, led with two articles about the Amazon fires. The first, titled "The Amazon must be protected," included general coverage of the fires' scope and the alarm launched by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. A second article reported on the CELAM statement under the headline, "Save the forest to save the world."

In their statement, the bishops noted that the upcoming October Synod of Bishops for the Amazon will discuss the plight of the indigenous living in the area as well as the deforestation of the region. Sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.

"Hope for the proximity of the Amazon synod, convened by Pope Francis, is stained by the pain of this natural tragedy," the bishops said. "To the brethren indigenous peoples who inhabit this beloved territory, we express all our closeness and join your voices with yours to shout to the world for solidarity and pay attention to end this devastation."

And while the deforestation of the world's largest tropical forest and the violence against the indigenous population there have been a great concern to the Catholic Church, the upcoming synod also has caused apprehension for the Bolsonaro government.

In February, the Brazilian government was forced to deny that it was spying, through its intelligence agency, ABIN, on more "progressive" bishops and priests working on the synod.

The government's Institutional Security Cabinet, known as ISC, however, admitted it was worried that the meeting would be used to criticize the Bolsonaro administration's stance on environment and indigenous rights.

"There are no general criticism of the Catholic Church. There is the functional concern of the Minister of State Chief of the Institutional Security Office for some points of the synod's Amazon agenda that will take place at the Vatican in October this year," said an ISC statement at the time.

The CELAM bishops, quoting Pope Francis from his homily at his papal inauguration in March 2013, requested to "please ask all those who hold positions of responsibility in the economic, political and social fields, all men and women of goodwill: (to) be guardians of creation, of the design of God inscribed in nature, guardians of the other, of the environment; let's not let the signs of destruction and death follow the path of our world."

The declaration was signed by Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, of Trujillo, Peru, CELAM president, as well as the officers of the organization.

 - By Lise Alves / Catholic News Service
Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

"So many funerals," says El Paso priest who comforted grieving kin

Father Fabian Marquez was the right priest at a very wrong time.

Father Fabian Marquez encourages a woman during a vigil service for Andre Pablo Anchondo at Perches Funeral Home in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 15. Anchondo died along with his wife Aug. 3 as they protected their 2-month-old baby from the mass gunman at Walmart. Achondo was buried the next day following his funeral Mass celebrated by Father Marquez. (CNS photo/Ivan Pierre Aguirre)

He was among several priests in El Paso, Texas, summoned to help out where they could in the hours following the brazen Aug. 3 assault at a Walmart store in the Texas border town that left 22 dead and dozens of others wounded.

Father Marquez's role was to go to an elementary school in the city that had been set up as a "reunification center" for the loved ones of those who might have been in harm's way during the massacre.

And as for how many "hours following" the rampage? Father Marquez, by his own count, was there for 48 hours.

It fell upon him to console family after family when police told them that a spouse, child or parent was among the dead.

As a result, Father Marquez has celebrated many funeral Masses, even of Catholics who were not members of his church, El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) just outside El Paso in Sparks, Texas, where he has served as pastor for the past four years.

When reached by Catholic News Service Aug. 16, he was hours away from presiding at the funeral Mass of Andre Anchondo. He and his wife, Jordan, were killed -- allegedly by Patrick Crucius, according to police -- as they were shielding their infant son, Paul, just 2 months of age, from the hail of gunfire.

Asked what was going to make Andre Anchondo's funeral different, Father Marquez replied: "The difference with this one is, after having so many already -- I've been to so many funerals -- we get to experience and share with the family the loss of a young man, a young man who showed us the greatest sacrifice, the greatest love. The message I sent yesterday (is) there is no greater love than to give your life for one's friend -- and that's basically what he did. He protected his wife and his young child."

Yet there was one thing that links Anchondo's funeral to those of the other victims. "The tragedy," Father Marquez said. "It's very tragic because anybody who died in this massacre in El Paso had to go this way."

Beyond the circumstances of the married couple's murder, the Anchondos received even more glare in the national spotlight when President Donald Trump, visiting El Paso the week following the massacre, smiled in photos with the baby and flashed an incongruous thumbs-up.

Anchondo's family is "a family that's grieving, that's hurting. A loving family, a caring family," the priest said. "When we're with them and we see not only their pain and suffering for their son, but the family is so focusing on forgiveness, focusing on being better people, that the death of their son helps us to come together as a community, as a faith community, as a city and a nation, instead of promoting hate, but promoting more love."

Father Marquez said he has been bearing up fairly well in the two weeks since the mass shooting.

"It's been hard for all of us. Hard for all of us to see this tragedy come to our society. It really shook us. The shooter came to our city to divide. But we're stronger than ever. We've united in prayer, united in faith. We are stronger. El Paso strong," he told CNS.

"With Christ, everything has been stronger. It's been long days. Ministering to people, journeying with people, praying with people, but very rewarding to see that in the midst of our tragedy, God is with us. It is truly a blessing to see that God is with us as we journey together in this tragedy."

At Father Marquez's parish, where he says it is "standing-room only" in the 325-capacity church for all four weekend Masses, "we were very vulnerable. We were not ready for something like this. We never felt it would happen in a community that is so welcoming, so loving, so caring, so willing to give their best to anyone who comes to our city, who lives in our city. We are always a community that welcomes the stranger," he said.

Parishioners at the overwhelmingly Hispanic parish had grown more wary of stricter immigration policy and enforcement over the past two years.

"My community, we're all concerned. Everybody's concerned about what's been happening. It couldn't have happened at a worse time -- Mexican people being targeted by a shooter in our community to take the lives of our loved ones," Father Marquez said. "It creates more fear, it creates more anxiety, and (those are) the feelings my parish community is experiencing."

Regardless of the fears and anxieties affecting its members, he loves his parish.

"My parish is a beautiful, vibrant community that is willing to sacrifice its own needs for others. We do live the Gospel to serve God, to serve others, to give the best that we can for our community, not just for us but the entire city of El Paso," Father Marquez said.

"We go out in search of that wounded sheep and they care for them, they nurture it and they celebrate. They also believe than when we help the poor and help the sick, we help Jesus," he added. "We try to be a good example of that to others."

Father Marquez said he received many supportive messages from parishioners for his role in counseling grieving kin, but said he thought to himself, "I'm only doing my job. I'm only doing what a priest needs to do."

That job has not ended. Before the day would turn to night, Father Marquez was headed to the wake service of another massacre victim, 63-year-old Marge Reckard, before a funeral the following day.

"That one is also very special, because this is a couple. The husband, Tony, has no family. They both have no family in El Paso. Our family is going to be with him. The funeral has been opened to the community to join them, to share with them," Father Marquez said.

"We're going to go as a church, we're going to be there with him and pray with him, and for his wife. The venue has changed. It was going to be at a very small funeral home, it's been moved to a much bigger funeral home so the people of El Paso can be with him."

 - By Mark Pattison / Catholic News Service

Planned Parenthood decides to withdraw from Title X program

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced Aug. 19 it is withdrawing from the federal Title X program over the Trump administration's "Protect Life Rule" barring these funds from being used for promoting or providing abortion as family planning.

Planned Parenthood employees stand outside the facility during protests in St. Louis May 31. (CNS photo/Lawrence Bryant, Reuters) 

Planned Parenthood called the rule a "gag order" on its operations that needed to be lifted. It said Aug. 14 it would withdraw from the program if it did not get "emergency judicial relief" in the form of an injunction from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the new policy from taking effect. The San Francisco-based court did not do that.

The administration "is trying to force us to keep information from our patients. The gag rule is unethical, dangerous, and we will not subject our patients to it," Planned Parenthood said in its Aug. 19 statement. It will no longer receive $60 million of the $286 million allocated annually through Title X.

Pro-life groups' reaction to the Planned Parenthood decision was swift.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national Susan B. Anthony List pro-life organization said: "Today, Planned Parenthood showed its true colors by prioritizing abortion over family planning, refusing to comply with the Protect Life Rule and dropping out of the Title X program."

President Donald Trump's policy "is a huge victory for the majority of taxpayers who reject taxpayer funding of abortion," she said. "The Protect Life Rule does not reduce family planning funding by a single dollar, it simply directs taxpayer funding to family planning providers who stay out of the abortion business."

March for Life echoed Dannenfelser's statement, saying: "Planned Parenthood, our nation's largest abortion provider, today made a choice not to separate its abortion operation from Title X services, and in doing so declined Title X funding."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Population Affairs, the Trump administration's "Protect Life Rule" is based on the most accurate interpretation of the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, which enacted Title X. Section 1008 of this act states that "none of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning."

HHS said the rule requires "clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning. This separation will ensure adherence to statutory restrictions, and provide needed clarity for the public and for Title X clinics about permissible and impermissible activities for Title X projects."

After Trump's May 2 announcement on the new Title X rule -- which included an expanded "conscience rule" to protect health care workers who oppose abortion and sterilization -- 20 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and several advocates of legal abortion, including Planned Parenthood, filed suit. They sought an emergency stay on the rule.

On July 11, the 9th Circuit in a 7-4 decision said that even as court cases challenging it proceed, the rule could take effect. The ruling let stand the court's June 20 decision lifting injunctions blocking enforcement of the rule.

On July 15, HHS announced it would begin implementing the Trump administration's rule.

"Women have the most to gain from this news" about Planned Parenthood is withdrawing from Title X, said Dannenfelser.

"With community health alternatives vastly outnumbering Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide, on average, these health centers would see an additional two clients per week. This is a huge win for women's health," she added.

- By Catholic News Service

Father Nick Nelson: Should the Catholic Church allow married priests?

One Saturday in Hibbing, I was having a cup of coffee and getting ready for the vigil Mass when I heard a knock on the rectory door. When I opened the door, standing there was my former homiletics professor, Father Michael. He was at the church for a wedding of one of his students.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

I invited him in for a cup of coffee, and while we were talking, he reminded me of something he wanted to apologize for. This is something he remembered, but something I had forgotten. I must have repressed it deep in my memory because it was so traumatic for me!

This is what happened. During his preaching seminar, we seminarians were required to give a number of practice homilies. After one of my practice homilies, he said, “Nick, good thing you are going to be a priest and not married. I could just hear you saying to your wife (in a robotic, stiff voice) ‘Hey, ba-by, How-are you-today? I-real-ly-love-you.’” Apparently, I had been very monotone and expressionless during the homily.

I was so offended when he said that to me. It probably was the most offended I have ever been. You see, I had always thought that I would have been a great husband and father. I just realized that God wasn’t calling me to marriage, but to the priesthood.

So, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the celibate priesthood. First, celibacy is not absolutely essential to the priesthood. In fact, there have been and currently are married men who are priests. In many of the Eastern Rite Churches, married men are able to be ordained. However, where there are married priests, you must be married before ordination. You cannot get married following ordination.

But the Roman Catholic Church, while allowing exceptions, has always valued celibacy as an important part of the priesthood. It has been the general norm throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because the priest is meant to be alter Christus, another Christ in the world, and in persona Christi, acting in the person of Christ, especially administering the sacraments.

Jesus was celibate. In his human nature, he was totally given over and consecrated to God, and being celibate was the constant sign of that consecration. The priest is best an image of Christ in the world when he lives chaste celibacy as Christ did.

Celibacy and marriage mutually affirm each other — two sides of the same coin. They are both necessary. With some married and some celibate, the Body of Christ gives the full witness of Christ in the world. Marriage is a sacrament, a sign, an image, a symbol not only of Christ’s love for the church but of the ultimate marriage in heaven. The intimate communion, the comprehensive union, that husband and wife experience on the best of days, is a snapshot of the communion we hope to have with the Blessed Trinity in the life to come.

It’s important to note that the real marriage is in heaven. Marriage on earth is the image of the real thing in heaven. So we need that sign of what is to come. Therefore, marriage on earth is so good.

Celibacy, on the other hand, reminds us that marriage is only a sign or symbol of the real thing. It isn’t the end in itself. The celibate priest or sister reminds us that the real thing is still to come. The celibate says, “Marriage is great, but I’m going to hold out in anticipation for the real deal in heaven.”

It saddens me when people flippantly say “priests should get married,” because they don’t see the great gift of celibacy, the great witness that it is to the world. It means they are looking at reality in a very earthly, worldly way, and not in a supernatural, faithful way. Because celibacy only makes sense if there is a God and heaven to come.

Often, they think they are advocating on my behalf — that I’m at home every night alone, petting my cat (I don’t actually have a cat), wishing I could get married. Even in the seminary, while discerning the priesthood, I never desired to be a married priest. I had a desire for marriage, but I either wanted to be a celibate priest or to be married and do something else, such as own my own business. I already saw the wisdom in the church having her priests remained celibate.

There is something extremely fulfilling about being celibate. St. Paul says, “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33).

Our sexuality is very integral to our persons, and to say I am willing to sacrifice a wife and children for God and his people is a very significant thing. A celibate priest truly consecrates himself to God, and knowing you are given over to God in such a radical way is a blessing. Because when a man says yes to God in this radical way, when he is willing to make this sacrifice out of love for God, God rushes in with grace upon grace allowing the man not only to persevere, but to thrive in this vocation!

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: Sending fifth son to college — where did the time go?

 A few shorts weeks ago, I was able to enjoy a picnic lunch with some old friends that have four kids under the age of six. As it happens with lots of little children, the parents appeared frazzled trying to keep their tots under control while holding a conversation with other adults.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

All I could say to them is, “Cherish this; time goes by really fast.”

I heard my parents say this numerous times, and now I find myself saying it every time I come across a young couple with kids. What I know now that I did not understand then is that when parenting you can be consumed by the feelings of exhaustion, stress, and unruliness. When these conditions happen, you lose essential time just being your kids’ mom and dad. I know I am guilty of such.

In a few short weeks, I will be sending my fifth — yes, fifth — and last son to college. Where did all that time go, or better said, what did I do with all that time? I have just one daughter left at home.

From the time I had any memories, I dreamt of being a mother of many children. Looking back, I now realize I obtained the larger family dream but wasted too much time organizing and scheduling their events. Being just a mom and dad, present with them, may have slowed things down for us. Unfortunately, it is too late to make up for that time I wasted running 100 miles an hour.

It is not fair to my son, but I refuse to look at him as a college student. He is an emerging adult, and I am struggling to let him go there. Right now, I am trying to cram in little memory moments for “us” to hold on to.

My son is a trooper, and he is mildly cooperating — bonfires, wiffle ball games, and walks along the Lakewalk. I’m not sure how much tolerance he will have for me trying to do this for his remaining weeks.

Having him be the fifth to go off to college, I have grown systematically better at suggesting what he needs to get done and when. I have often had to remember that even if it is my fifth orientation or fifth roommate selection process or fifth grad party, it is still his first. I know these kinds of details are essential to him, but I would rather spend that energy grasping at what’s left of our mother-son bonding time.

The easiest part of this college ordeal is getting the supplies my youngest son needs to set up his dorm space. The first lesson learned over the years is that whatever is packed for college will have to be brought home, and if he is not sure if he is going to use it, do not send it.

More is less. Items he will need, like bedding, laundry baskets, and towel sets, are purchased as birthday and Christmas gifts from the time he was 16. The slow accumulation of needed supplies keeps the pre-college bulk cost down and the stress of last-minute shopping to a minimum. For our first son we packed a couple of carloads. My motto now is if it does not fit in the trunk of our car, the item is unnecessary.

I have learned to expend little time and money acquiring material supplies for my college-aged children. Universities are equipped for almost everything a student would need, so I now consider essential things like a change of underwear.

Without having to worry about material stressors, my husband and I have used that time preparing our son for the inevitable college “experience” that you can’t pack in the car.

Looking back, my husband and I were a little naive when we sent our first couple of boys off to college. What we did do was underestimate the impact the culture would have on oldest children’s long-term worldview. Rightfully at that time, we worried about sex, drugs, and academic floundering, and it seems, from what we can tell, they managed those pitfalls reasonably well. What we did not prepare them adequately enough for was the battles of differing ideology.

We now know that part of our job as Catholic parents is to make our son aware of the strong leaning found on nearly every campus around the country. We need to help him navigate this reality and give him the tools to keep an open mind but also question those leanings using logic and reason. We need to prepare him to stand up for himself even at the peril of being called intolerant and lacking compassion or being perceived as narrow- minded.

Some of the more recent college “norms” that our son will become more familiar with are things like “safe spaces,” “my truths,” and preferred pronouns.

My fifth son’s perspectives on life come more from a logical, or reasoned perspective than a feeling point of view. In the current state of college culture, we have shared with him that he is going to struggle with how they address things. Logic and reason are a sound way to seek the truth, but for many on college campuses, that method is old-fashioned. We hope we have instilled ways to be a compassionate listener while standing the ground of reason.

We hope when he sees things like safe spaces, he realizes we are spending money for him to be uncomfortable and challenged. He might not feel “safe” when they question his thinking and therefore question his character, but the only safe space he needs to concern himself with is the place where he spends his life into eternity.

When the college introduces the notion of “my truth,” we hope our son understands that individuals do not own truth, that truth exists outside of ourselves. We do want him to seek truth throughout his life, but we want him to understand the only thoughts he can own are his perspective. If an academic authority encourages him to find “his truth,” he needs to realize that sort of thinking lacks reason and is counter to Catholic intellectual thought. God is Truth, he created truth, and that is not malleable by individual ownership.

Undoubtedly, he will be confronted with well-meaning individuals who will ask him for his preferred pronoun. On this issue, I know my son will struggle. We have explained to him that he needs to remain patient and loving. We are trying to encourage him to use opportunities like this to evangelize and propose the truth of God’s plan for male and female that is quite literally stamped into our DNA. As parents, we are still working on helping him share the Good News without creating a wall between him and those who disagree with him.

The days are numbered, and it is less than a month until we need to pack the trunk and send our last son on his way. Just merely typing this brings tears to my eyes and a lump in the throat.

With each son we sent away, the dynamics of the family have changed. My fifth son has been a glorious gift, secure in his conviction and deeply in love with his faith. I have admired his love of Christ, and he has inspired me to understand you must will the good of another even if you are put down or marginalized for it.

He is such a humorous young man and fills the house with unexpected thoughts that I can’t even imagine what our home will be like without him. With just a trunk full of college supplies, it won’t take long for us to say our goodbyes, and he will be on his next phase of life. I will, however, spend the 10-hour ride home thinking about how time went by so very fast and try to use my time a bit more wisely with my youngest child.

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

Father Richard Kunst: If you are a crank or grump, read this

Both the Old and New Testament make it pretty clear that we are to love our neighbor, but nowhere in the Bible does it say that we have to like everyone. We are to love everyone, because every person is created in the image of God, but it is impossible to like everyone.

Father Richard
Kunst
Apologetics

There is nothing sinful in not liking someone, and since we all have different personality traits, it is inevitable that some people will just rub us the wrong way. How we deal with that can be sinful of course, but not liking someone in and of itself is not a sin.

In saying this, I have to confess that there is a whole segment of the population I do not like. I do not like grumpy people. You know the type: people who never seem to be happy, people who have a negative outlook on almost anything and everything. There are a whole lot of people like that in the world, and when I speak of these people, I do not mean people who suffer from depression; that is a whole other matter. I simply do not like people who always seem to be unhappy and have a negative outlook on life.

And I am not the only one who doesn’t like grumpy people! Children are never drawn to a cranky person, but they are intuitively drawn to a happy and joy-filled person. There is nothing attractive about “Debbie Downers,” so please stay away from me if this description hits a little close to home.

What makes cranky, grumpy people even worse is if they are Christian. Those are the worst, because there is no room for anything else other than joy in Christianity. Sure, there will always be pain and suffering, but people who really get the “Christian thing” will always be joyful, even in the midst of adversity. The Catholic Church has never canonized a negative, grumpy pessimist; all saints have been joy-filled.

There is one particular passage in the Bible that most drives home the point that Christianity and crankiness do not mix well, and it is in the Gospel of John. The setting is the Last Supper, which means it is the day before Jesus was crucified, and he says this to the remaining Apostles: “As the Father loves me, so also I love you …. I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (15:9,11).

It is the first part of this quote which is actually mind-blowing. The basic Baltimore Catechism definition of the Holy Trinity is that the Trinity is three Persons in one God relating to one another in love. We cannot fathom the love the persons of the Trinity have for one another, because we are finite creatures, so our ability and capacity for love is greatly limited. God, who is infinite and without limit and without sin, can love beyond our comprehension.

With this in mind, here again are the words of Jesus: “As the Father loves me, so also I love you.” Mind blowing. God the Son loves us in the same way God the Father loves God the Son. As you are reading this, think of the person in your life whom you have loved the most. No matter how much you have loved that person, it does not even come close to how much God loves that person, and every person.

Jesus follows up these amazing words with, “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you, and your joy might be complete.” God wants us to be joyful, he wants our joy to be complete! Nothing will give joy more than knowing that we are loved by someone, but to know that we are loved by God in the same way the persons of the Trinity love one another is the cause of complete and utter joy.

So cranky, grumpy Christians are people I do not want to be around. To be a cranky Christian is to not take these words of Jesus seriously. How can we be negative on life if we believe and appreciate what Jesus is saying?

One of the greatest mystics in the history of all Christianity was the Spanish poet St. John of the Cross. This is how he put it: “Anyone who complains or grumbles is not perfect, nor even a good Christian.” So don’t be that person!

If you feel a little uncomfortable by this column, that’s probably a good thing. Be happy and joy-filled, because God loves us more than we comprehend.

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

Father Michael Schmitz: Can we have a sense of humor about God?

The Catechism defines blasphemy as “directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God — inwardly or outwardly — words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one’s speech; in misusing God’s name.” My issue is that humor about God would seem to be blasphemy by this definition, even if it is not done out of hatred or anger towards God. This is particularly hard for me, because humor is an important part of all my close relationships, and it is very hard to have a meaningful relationship with the Lord if I have to exclude many kinds of humor from it.

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you very much for your email and question. I am moved by your depth of thought and eloquence in expressing your question. It is clear you have put a lot of thought into not only this question, but in your investigating and interiorizing the faith.

I see a couple of questions rising to the surface in your question.

I initially wanted to examine the nature of humor. C.S. Lewis has a section in his book “The Screwtape Letters” where he discusses the various kinds of humor and how most levels of humor are less harmful than many serious people think they are. I would look at the way that most humor turns on incongruity or apparent paradox, and how we are more often laughing at the incongruity than we are at the content of the joke. But that still doesn’t get us very far in this discussion.

The expression “failing in respect toward him in one’s speech” is the key phrase here. Taking a look at it in light of what I think you are asking regarding jokes and being able to laugh with God, the crux would seem to come down to the definition of “respect.”

You and your friends can joke around and make fun of each other because there is implicit and explicit respect in your relationship. If there weren’t, the words you say to each other would be considered spiteful or rude or even cruel. But the context of the conversation is between people who have a good relationship and who respect each other. It is only because you respect each other that the ribbing and teasing is actually funny.

Expand this to parents. Parents have a natural and spiritual authority over their children. Therefore, children are to respect and obey their parents. Is it possible to love, respect, and obey someone in authority over you and still be able to joke around with them? It seems to be entirely possible. And it often happens.

There can come a time when sons and daughters joke around with their parents, even to the point of poking fun at their quirks or something silly their parents once did. (“Remember that time Mom fell into the lake trying to get into the boat? And how Dad couldn’t pull her into the boat, so he just called out instructions to her while she swam to shore?”) This is only funny if there is a healthy and loving relationship between parents and children.

More than this, humor, joking, teasing can even be something that grows and enhances the relationship; just think of the good that can come from sharing mutual laughter about our mutual family. But, once again, it is only an actual “joke” to the extent that genuine love and respect are present.

Now, when it comes to the Divine Being Who Is Lord of All, is it possible to have a sense of respect and a sense of humor?

Note that while we can make the analogy between the relationship we have with our earthly parents and our relationship with our Heavenly Father, God is still, well, God. Because of that, it would be wise to venture ahead with care.

Too many people dismiss the seriousness of this point by merely jumping to the “God can handle jokes about him” posture. Yes, God can “take it.” But that is not the issue. The issue is whether love, obedience, and respect are present in our speech and actions regarding God and all that belongs to him.

God is owed all awe and respect possible. There is no way that we could ever truly understand the depth of respect and reverence we owe to God. When I stop to think of the times when God revealed himself in the Old Testament, any temptation to reduce God to “buddy status” seems like absolute foolishness. The children of Israel begged Moses to be the one who spoke with God on their behalf because they were so struck with fear, awe, and reverence when God’s presence descended on Mount Sinai. Any half-hearted reverence on our part reveals that we have no real idea who God really is and who we are in relation to him.

Yet “relationship” is the key word. This same God of the Universe is also the Word Made Flesh who dwelt among us, so that we can be in real and personal relationship with him. He desires to make all people on earth his children, and he desires that his children come to him in loving trust as their Abba (“Dad”) in Heaven. And real relationships involve all of the elements of, well, real relationships. This would seem to necessarily involve humor.

God made humor. Satan did not. Satan can only distort the good of humor. Like any other good thing that God has made, learning to properly use this gift is essential to its flourishing. Therefore it seems to me that there can be, even with God himself, a good and joyful balance between a sense of respect and a sense of humor.

So, is there room for laughing with God?

Yes. There is room for this because a healthy relationship with God must be a real relationship. And a real relationship often (if not always) involves sharing what a person actually thinks, including what one finds odd or silly or incongruous. Of course, there is a limit. Not everything that one finds funny has a place in every relationship. The determining factor is knowing the reverence we owe to God and striving to make sure that our language always reflects the respect we owe him.

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.

Bishop Paul Sirba: The family is God’s gift to creation

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has a prayer intention for each month of the year. For August, the pope’s intention is: Families, Schools of Human Growth. That families through their life of prayer and love, become ever more clearly “schools of true human growth.”

Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

Human growth means our growth as human persons made in the image and likeness of God. We are not objects or products but persons, a unity of spirit and matter, soul and body, capable of knowing, self-mastery, and freedom. We enter into and are in relationship with other persons — with God.

We are made to live in community. The family is God’s gift to creation. A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. To quote the Catechism, “This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated” (CCC 2202).

Pope Francis has called us to live according to our dignity as persons of mercy. He has challenged us to grow in virtue by being merciful. There are so many ways for families through their life of prayer and love to be schools of true human growth. Parents may teach their children by charitable actions in which we come to the aid of our neighbors in their bodily and spiritual needs. From feeding the hungry, to clothing the naked, welcoming the immigrant, defending the unborn, instructing, advising, consoling, forgiving, and patiently forbearing with our neighbors, the possibilities for loving are endless.

Before all of the “back to school” ads take hold of us in preparation for September, let us pray and love as our Holy Father has asked us to do during this month of August.

Some practical opportunities for a family tune-up include Camp Survive, which is being held Aug. 5-9. Please pray for our young people. Another is the first annual Diocese of Duluth Catholic Family Camp at Sugar Lake Lodge, which will be held Aug. 25-31. This is time for your family to rest, recharge, spend quality time together, and have opportunity for daily Mass and Adoration. Please see our website for more information.

We celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation, on Thursday, Aug. 15. Because she belonged to Christ, Mary lived in the Holy Family and the family of the Church as mother and our queen. She is the greatest disciple of Jesus and helps us in the task the Holy Father has placed before us. Her place in heaven, body and soul, gives her a privileged vantage point from which to help us in our human and spiritual growth.

A most beautiful prayer from the Byzantine Liturgy sums up not Mary’s absence but her presence in our human and spiritual needs. “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death” (CCC 966).

Continue to enjoy these summer days in Minnesota with your family. God bless you!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth

'Positio' for Father Flanagan's cause presented to Vatican congregation

The sainthood cause of Father Edward J. Flanagan took a step forward July 22 with the presentation of the "positio" to the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, along with a letter of support from Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas.

Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Neb., watches Omar Gutierrez June 18, as he ties a ribbon on one of the boxes of documents detailing the archdiocese's investigation for the sainthood cause of Irish-born Father Edward Flanagan, who founded Boys Town in Nebraska. The effort to have Father Flanagan canonized took a step forward July 22 with the presentation of the "positio" to the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, along with a letter of support from Archbishop Lucas. (CNS photo/Susan Szalewski, Catholic Voice)

The "positio," or official position paper, is a summary of the volumes of records that were sent to the Vatican by the Archdiocese of Omaha in 2015 and makes the argument that Father Flanagan demonstrated heroic virtue in his life, and thus worthy of being declared venerable by the pope.

Archbishop Lucas met with Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect of the congregation, to personally endorse this step toward the eventual beatification and canonization of Father Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town.

"It has been a privilege to offer my support for the cause of Father Edward Flanagan at each stage of this process," Archbishop Lucas said in a statement. "I was able to share with Cardinal Becciu the encouragement offered to all of us in the church during this challenging time by the virtuous life and work of Father Flanagan."

The Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion is what is officially known as the "actors" for Father Flanagan's cause for canonization. The league has devotees of this cause in 20 countries and has over 40,000 worldwide followers on Facebook.

"On behalf of the league, we thank Archbishop Lucas for making this personal commitment to launch the review of the 'positio,'" said Steven Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League. "The archbishop's visit to the Vatican speaks volumes to the importance of this cause for the Catholic Church."

When the Irish-born priest's cause was officially opened in 2011, he was given the title of "servant of God." The next step was the collection of documents about his life and ministry and the gathering of testimony gathered from dozens of witnesses who knew of his ministry. This is the material submitted to the Vatican in 2015 and now presented to the Congregation for Saints' Causes.

There are three more phases to pass through before Father Flanagan can be declared "venerable." First, the cause must be approved by the historical consultants of the congregation, then by the theological consultants and finally by the bishops and cardinals who are members of the congregation.

If the case for Father Flanagan's heroic virtue is upheld through the three stages, the congregation then would make a recommendation to Pope Francis that Father Flanagan should be declared "venerable."

In general, two approved miracles attributed to the intercession of the candidate are needed for sainthood -- one for beatification and the second for canonization.

- By Catholic News Service

Appeals court says Title X rule can take effect while suits proceed

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced July 15 it would begin implementing the Trump administration's "Protect Life Rule" to bar Title X funds from being used for promoting or providing abortion as family planning.

On July 11, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 7-4 decision said that even as court cases challenging it proceed, the rule can take effect. The ruling of the San Francisco-based court let stand its June 20 decision lifting injunctions blocking enforcement of the rule.

An emergency stay had been sought by some abortion rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood, and by 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

"We are greatly encouraged to see the 9th Circuit rule in favor of allowing President Trump's Protect Life Rule to take effect while it continues to be litigated," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

"A strong majority of Americans have consistently voiced their opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion -- it is even unpopular among Democrats and self-described pro-choice Americans," she said July 15. "Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund."

Represented by the Thomas More Society, a pro-life law firm based in Chicago, the Susan B. Anthony List has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the Protect Life Rule and the federal government in the cases brought against it.

Dannenfelser noted that the nearly three decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld similar regulations and is optimistic the Trump administration's rule will prevail in the courts.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, also welcomed the news the rule
can take effect.

"Abortion is neither health care nor family planning and therefore should not be funded by the Title X program. This regulation helps to get taxpayers out of the abortion business, without cutting resources for those in need, and is a victory for all Americans," she said.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, also praised the action by the 9th Circuit.

"Implementing the Protect Life Rule makes sense when you consider all the funds misused by abortion vendors to sell abortions to unsuspecting women," she said. "Planned Parenthood has violated the spirit of the Title X family planning program for years by collecting millions of dollars while they marketed abortion."

Hawkins added, "Pregnancy is not a disease cured by abortion, and ending the connection between abortion and family planning is a victory for common-sense health care."

According to the HHS Office of Population Affairs, the Trump administration's Protect Life Rule is based on the most accurate interpretation of the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, which enacted Title X. Section 1008 of this act states that "none of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning."

HHS said the rule requires "clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning. This separation will ensure adherence to statutory restrictions, and provide needed clarity for the public and for Title X clinics about permissible and impermissible activities for Title X projects."

"Planned Parenthood and others want to use public Title X funds to support their abortion services in blatant disregard of Congress explicitly and statutorily excluded abortion from the scope of Title X projects and funding," she added.Americans United for Life's president and CEO, Catherine Glenn Foster, said in a July 16 statement that under the rule, "no physician in America is being stopped from referring a patient for an abortion -- they just can't demand taxpayer funding to do so."

In a poll commissioned by Students for Life of America and conducted by The Polling Company/Woman Trend, 18- to 34-year-olds by a 3-to-1 margin said they preferred that their tax monies go to Federally Qualified Health Centers -- a government designation for centers that provide comprehensive health care services to underserved communities -- rather than to Planned Parenthood.

The Protect Life Rule's restrictions are like what President Ronald Reagan put in place in 1988. Planned Parenthood of New York City immediately challenged the regulations, claiming the denial of public funds violated their constitutional rights of free speech because the rules included a prohibition on abortion referrals.

In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 the government had the right to establish rules that fund only family planning programs that do not “encourage, promote or advocate abortion.” When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he reversed the regulations.

- By Catholic News Service