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Father Nick Nelson: The sources of temptation — the flesh, the world, and the devil

As we begin the holy season of Lent, we find ourselves in the desert with Jesus. The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always the temptation of Jesus in the desert. We are familiar with the three temptations. These three temptations have been traditionally known as the flesh, the world, and the devil. Jesus has fasted for 40 days and is tempted to turn stones into bread. This is the temptation of the flesh. He is tempted to throw himself off the Temple so that the angels can come to save him. This is the temptation of the world. He is brought up high and tempted with the power and glory of having all the kingdoms of the world if he worships the devil. This is the temptation of the devil. The flesh, the world, and the devil are the three traditional enemies of the soul. These three are the unholy trinity, the three sources of temptation.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

The flesh refers to our fallen human nature. Because we are descendants of Adam, we were born with original sin. That was removed at our baptism, but its residue, concupiscence, remains. “Concupiscence” is a fancy word meaning our passions and desires are disordered. They don’t order or direct us towards what is always good for us. We often want things that are opposed to our flourishing. We have a bent towards sin. For example, I want five pieces of chocolate cake instead of one. Or I want to be silent rather than speak up and defend the Catholic faith.

The world refers to all the vanities and seductions of the world. Think of all the commercials and billboards you see. They all tempt and seduce you to wanting the four main things this world offers us, i.e., power, honor, wealth, and pleasure. But they are four things that by definition cannot totally fulfill you.

And then there is the devil. While the devil works through the other sources of temptation, i.e., the flesh and the world, he also works in a more direct way at times. He and his evil demons can suggest ideas indirectly through our senses, especially through what we see and hear. First, they can work through deceptions. Jesus called the devil “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Consider the devil’s first temptation to Eve. “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). No, God said they could eat of any tree, just not that one. Second, the devil also works through accusations. Scripture refers to him as the “Accuser” (Revelation 12:10). Accusation is a more personal lie, such as, “you’re hopeless” or “nobody likes you.” Third, the devil tempts through doubt, especially doubt concerning the Fatherhood of God. “Can you really and fully commit to God? Maybe he really just wants you to be unhappy your whole life.” Fourth, the devil tempts through enticements. In the Garden of Eden, the devil tempted Eve with “a tree that was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6). Finally, the devil tempts by provocation. He plants thoughts or arranges circumstances that will provoke us to sinful thoughts such as lust, pride, vanity, or despair.

It may also be worth considering that if Jesus was a perfect man, how could he have been tempted? St. Thomas Aquinas says that, strictly speaking, Jesus was only tempted by the devil, not by the flesh or the world. Because to be tempted by the flesh and the world means that the temptation is caused by concupiscence. And concupiscence is the result of our fallen human nature, which Christ did not have. All temptation for Christ was always external to him. He never took pleasure in the thought of the temptation (Summa Theologicae, III, Q 41, A 1). Whereas for us, there is the suggestion, which is external to us, but then it can transition to the delight that we take in the temptation. The temptation has moved us and therefore moved internal to us. So, temptation is different for us than it was for Jesus and our Blessed Mother, who was without concupiscence as well.

Now, why was Jesus tempted in the first place? Aquinas gives us four reasons. First, that he might strengthen us against temptations. St. Gregory the Great said, “It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted … in order that by his temptations he might conquer our temptations, just as by his death he overcame our death.” Second, that no one, no matter what state of holiness he has reached, may falsely believe that he is free from temptation. Third, that we may have an example of how to overcome temptation. Fourth, to fill us with confidence in his mercy. “For we do not have a high priest, who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was similarly tested in all things, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

“Finally,” St. Paul tells us, “Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:11- 13).

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: In a culture that won’t forgive, we must forgive all the more

One of the most striking characteristics of American life in recent years may be its growing mercilessness.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Having difficulty forgiving others is an old story, one nearly all of us of every age wrestle with at some point. Someone wounds us, we know we should forgive, and it sounds good in theory, but like so much of the walk of virtue, when it comes to the actual doing, it’s harder than it sounds. The anger and hurt prove more insistent than we expected, and maybe in our worst moments, even though deep down we know better, we’re tempted to make excuses and try to convince ourselves forgiving is not really so necessary after all.

That’s a normal spiritual struggle for fallen humanity, one we have to work through with God’s grace.

What I’m talking about is something else, a more weaponized version of that. I’m talking about situations where unforgiveness is not seen as a human failing and part of our spiritual combat but rather as something practically holy and virtuous in itself — unforgiveness embraced as a good. I’m talking about institutionalized unforgiveness of whole classes of people whom we attempt to write out of the human community, as beyond mercy, beyond consideration, as people practically subhuman.

At its worst, I’m talking about ideologies that seem to hold the entire concept of mercy and forgiveness in contempt, in the name of a warped vision of justice.

While granting that social media in general (and Twitter in particular) are sometimes like a free, all-you-can-eat buffet of people saying outrageously absurd and offensive things, and that usually such content is better ignored, I nevertheless offer, as emblematic of what I’m talking about, what a Hollywood screenwriter posted on Twitter in the wake of the controversy involving Catholic high school students in a confrontation at the March from Life.

The writer posted a still image from a short video clip of a student — the same photo you have surely seen if you have read any media coverage of the controversy — and then wrote, “Plus side: A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one ever need forgive him.”

Now, literally every sentence of that, on its own, is morally repellent. From a still frame pulled from a short video clip he has extrapolated to a sweeping, comprehensive judgment of a teenage kid’s entire character, past, present, and future, despite having never met him, and based on this has declared him forever outside the scope of mercy. And in the writer’s mind, that’s the “plus side,” whatever that could mean.

Taken together, it’s as if the goal was to find a reason to declare the accused irredeemable, and by doing so to free others to hate him forever without feeling bad about it.

This is how totalitarian ideologies of the past centuries — the Soviet Union and its “class enemies” or the French Revolution and others with their “enemies of the people” — talked about those they exterminated in the name of their concept of justice.

That kind of language is becoming popular here, nowadays, too, sometimes even within the church.

Our faith offers the opposite worldview to the one that writes people off forever, that seeks not to forgive, and that rejoices in the notion that reconciliation is impossible. Our faith teaches us that when we, whom God made out of love, chose instead to be his enemies, he loved us so much anyway that he took on human flesh and let us nail him to a cross in order to reconcile us to him and bring us back into communion.

Saints and even everyday Christians down the centuries have, by his grace, imitated him, forgiving their own persecutors and murderers or even the murderers of their children, and not despairing for the conversion and the salvation of even the worst of sinners.

Our faith calls us to be ministers of reconciliation and considers the church a symbol of the unity of the whole human race. It gives us an anthropology in which we human beings, at the core of our being, are made for communion with God and with other people, a vision of the whole world as one human family, where no one is an accident or expendable, and where every broken relationship represents a loss.

We forgive others because we know (or ought to know) that we need forgiveness too. We forgive others because we know (or ought to know) the limits of our judgment on another person’s heart. We forgive because we’re made for communion, and mercy is a necessary condition of it in our fallen world.

And even if we don’t care about any of that, even if all we have is self-love, if we are thinking clearly we forgive because to fail to do so is to put ourselves in a prison of our own making. Even the pop psychologists have that much right. If we want freedom and healing from hurts we have suffered, forgiveness is a necessary part of it.

It saddens me to think of a world in which people seem eager to be permanently divided. We may not be able to talk them out of it. But at least we should beware the danger ourselves, and be even more the kind of people who forgive.

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

Father Michael Schmitz: What should you do for Lent this year? A guide

With Lent on its way, I never know how to choose a “thing.” Do you have any suggestions for how to pick something to do for Lent? That’s a great (and perennial) question. I have personally had a tough time choosing the right thing in the past. How does a person know what they should give up or take up when it comes to their Lenten discipline?

It might be helpful to spell out what the church envisions for us during Lent before we look at the specifics.

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

The church only asks for two particular disciplines from us: fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. As you might know, the church defines “fasting” in a very mild way: one full meal and two small meals that together are not larger than the one full meal. “Abstinence” simply refers to avoid meat. I wanted to note this because it is worth recognizing that the church does not actually require very much from us at all in this regard. If you think of it this way, a person in the United States could be fasting and still consume more food than most of the world does on a daily basis.

Because of this, we can see that the “key” to Lenten disciplines that the church offers us is not based on a degree of difficulty. There is a strange stereotype applied to Catholics that we are overly rigorous and driven by guilt and a belief that we have to earn a place in God’s heart. How far that is from the truth! And we can see this demonstrated in these Lenten requirements. They are so simple and undemanding that no one could ever honestly draw the conclusion that the Catholic Church is preoccupied with self-denial and strictness.

We can see that the church does not demand much from us during Lent. There is also the traditional practice of either “giving up” or “taking up” additional disciplines during this time. These disciplines are meant to be a way to deepen our faith, hope, and love in preparation for the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter and our celebration of the Resurrection. In other words, they are meant to assist our deeper interior conversion (turning away from sin and becoming more like Jesus).

I invite you to embrace this particular vision when it comes to what you choose for your Lenten “thing.” What will help you the most to turn away from sin and become more like Jesus? Sometimes this involves giving something up (denying yourself a legitimate good in order to make space for Jesus), and sometimes it involves taking something up (adopting a spiritual practice that helps you grow closer to Christ and actively help those around you).

Notice this: The goal of the Lenten practice is not merely to “become more disciplined” or “do the really hard thing.”

When deciding what to do for Lent, many people find that they will either pick something that was too easy (and almost negligible and forgettable) or something so difficult that they ended up continually failing to live it out. Even if they did keep the discipline throughout Lent, it might have merely ended up being a “white knuckle” situation where they just held on as long as they could and the whole thing just ended up becoming a personal challenge of self-control that didn’t lead them any closer to becoming like Christ in any significant way.

This is what I believe about this tactic: The error most of us fall into when choosing something to do for Lent is not really either choosing something “too easy” or choosing something “too difficult.” There are times when the very best thing for a person to choose during Lent is very easy to accomplish, and there are times when the discipline will be very difficult. The key is to understand the difference between “arbitrary” and “necessary.”

The primary issue that most Catholics face when picking a Lenten discipline is that it bears no intrinsic impact on their life. They might give up sweets or snacking because it is what people do. They might decide to read the daily Mass readings each day because it is what they’ve done for the past few years. That’s not bad, but it doesn’t ask the question: What do I need? As long as the Lenten discipline does not arise from a real need in a person’s life, it will always have an optional and artificial character to it.

But when people truly begin to know themselves, they start to understand what is keeping them from drawing closer to Jesus. They begin to recognize the obstacles in their lives that make it difficult to hear and obey the voice of God. They begin to notice what has been fragmenting their attention and their hearts. And they begin to realize that real conversion is going to involve addressing these obstacles in a real way.

For example, there are a decent number of people who give up social media for Lent. That can be a very good thing. But it is not a good thing because it is difficult. It is a good thing for the people who have recognized that their attachment to social media is the obstacle that steals their time and attention away from allowing Jesus to be the Lord of their lives. They may have recognized that social media scatters their focus and robs them of the interior peace that Christ is calling them to. They might also have noticed that a preoccupation with social media is making it harder for them to be present to their family members or friends (or has become a way to avoid being present to their own thoughts and feelings!).

If they have arrived at this conclusion, they might also conclude that fasting from social media is no longer “optional” for them this Lent. It has become apparent that they need this particular fast. It is intrinsically connected to the vision that God has for them. By fasting in this way, they are doing something that is necessary and not merely arbitrary.

How about you this Lent? What are the obstacles that are present in your life that keep God at arm’s length? What are the things you could give up or take up that directly correlate to turning from sin and becoming like 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. Reach him at [email protected]

Father Richard Kunst: 50 words for snow? We need more words for love

When I was a kid, I remember hearing about “Eskimo kisses.” I suspect most readers have heard of that term. My understanding was that an Eskimo kiss was the action of rubbing your nose with the nose of someone else.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

Now, I never gave any thought as to whether that was really true or not; do indigenous people in the northern part of the northern hemisphere really kiss by rubbing their noses together? I have to say, I have my doubts, but who knows. It would seem to me to be a very unfulfilling way to show and receive affection.

Another thing I remember hearing about our neighbors to the way, way north, is that they had a whole bunch of words for snow, like 50 of them. Now that makes sense to me. After all, one of their greatest realities in life is snow, so I can imagine that they have different words to explain wet snow, light snow, sticky snow, fluffy snow, and the list could go on 50 times! “Eskimo kisses” I am not sure of, but a lot of different words for snow certainly makes sense.

What might be true of the Eskimo language certainly is not true of ours. What is the biggest reality to humans as a whole? Even to the Eskimos the biggest reality in life is in fact not snow but love.

It does not take much thought to realize that this is true. We all want to be loved, and if our heart is not made out of hardened snow, we all love someone. Ninety-nine percent of all songs of any genre are about love. Our movies and television shows all have aspects of love included in the storyline. Commercials get us to buy things for the ones that we love, or to help protect what we love.

We humans were created for love. It is truly the greatest reality of our existence, and yet we have a problem in that we only have one word to express this most important of realities in English. Stop and think of how many things we use that little word for: I love Johnny Cash, I really do, but I love my mom, dad, bacon, and God too. See where I am going with this?

This can pose a problem in how we understand the scriptures. The topic of love is everywhere in the Bible, but the three short letters of John in the back of the Bible stand out in their focus on this little word. Per word, I am sure the word “love” is used more in those short texts than in any other part of the inspired word. Here is one short example from the First Letter of John: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. The man without love has known nothing of God, for God is love” (4:7-8). Clearly, the sort of love St. John is writing about is our love of God, who is the very definition of love.

Perhaps the most widely misunderstood use of the word “love” in the Bible comes from my least favorite wedding reading. We have all heard it many times, so much so that it has unfortunately become a cliche, though it is an incredibly beautiful reading. It is that famous passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians, when Paul says “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong …. Love is patient, love is kind ….”

It is important to know that St. Paul is not talking about romantic love. Not even close! He is talking about how we treat people who we might not even know or like. It has more to do with the person at work who you just can’t stand than it has to do with a romantic love interest! When young couples come to me for marriage prep, I practically ban that reading from their options to choose from, because it’s not what they think it is. (If they do pick that reading, I do take the opportunity to explain it to them.)

When the Bible was written long, long ago, much of it was in a language that today we call biblical Greek. In this ancient language there were three different words for love to express different realities of the word. These different words for love may be the topic of a future column, but suffice it to say, while it is a far cry from the supposed 50 words for “snow” in Eskimo language, it still brought more clarity to the real meaning of love.

Our takeaway from all of this is to not assume that every time the word “love” is written in the Bible it is referencing romantic love. Rather, it is referencing a much more demanding form of love.

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Protecting children from the hidden danger inside our homes — porn

As a teenager, working and socializing in downtown Chicago, I learned through habit and culture the things you needed to do to keep yourself safe. Every circumstance included a series of choices, and you learned where to go and where not to go. You discovered ways to walk with purpose so as not to appear vulnerable, and sadly you were taught not to make eye contact with someone in a situation you think could be harmful.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

It was not unusual to ignore car alarms going off in large garages, because all personal property in the public area was considered a potential target for theft or vandalism. As long as you understood the norms, you disregarded petty crimes, because there was no way law enforcement would have the time to deal with every situation.

Basically, you discovered you could live safely as long as you kept your eyes open, your head forward, and looked for a way out of any circumstance. I understood northern Minnesota came with other sorts of challenges, but I am grateful I don’t have to live at the same level of vigilance. Good old common sense in public areas seems to be enough to keep safe in the Northland.

When we did not have children, we rarely locked our home or car doors. We left things in our yard, and we would walk at night, not too late, without too many worries. Mainly we were lazy but felt safe.

However, when I had children, my world changed. I have been a hypersensitive safety mom. Sometimes I drive my children crazy. Perhaps it comes from my upbringing, but I worry endlessly, it seems, and I require my children to take measure that sometimes may be considered extreme.

I have “briefings” before they go places and “debrief” after they return. This examination includes my adult children. I cover things that they should watch out for, instruct them on ways out of situations and behaviors to identify as dangerous. We lock our doors at home and have deadbolts on some interior doors. We have an alarm system which is set when we are home and when we are not. The children that are still at home have cell phones so that I know where they are and whom they are with. I felt confident that I was doing a decent job keeping my children out of harm’s way.

I believe the circumstance I could most control, my home, was adequately covered. I have determined over the past six months that this is no longer true, and that the greatest threat to my children’s safety is something I willingly allow in my home. I pay for this threat each month, and I haven’t done a great job of protecting my children from that hazard.

Through personal experience, I have learned that the Internet, surely one of the most impressive inventions of modern times, comes with severe threats which ultimately can rob and destroy our family and the most important thing we have, our soul. The Internet in all its greatness can cause so much painful havoc, all while other family members are clueless until your loved one’s heart is deadened by the decay.

I know that my children understand more about the computer than I do.

I know about pornography, and I knew that that trash existed on the Internet. I foolishly believed that access to pornography was there for those looking for it. My husband and I have always maintained and taught our children the dignity of the human person and the beauty of the spousal union as ordained by God, and we insisted they recognize that everyone is a God-created person that cannot be objectified and used for personal ends.

Accepting these truths as a cornerstone of our faith and foundation, I have learned, does not keep my family safe from being exposed to this garbage.

Those in the business of objectifying persons — who hook people into an addiction of earthly gratification — appear to be shrewd and immoral. In the past six months on three occasions, I unknowingly and unwittingly opened sites that contained pornography. One came as an apparently benign email from what likely was spam, and two others came from inadvertently pressing some advertisement on a page that otherwise had safe content.

Panicked, I immediately discovered that closing those windows was difficult, and I couldn’t ask my children for help. I needed to solve the problem, all while not exposing myself to the images that would remain planted in my memory.

The only way I could get rid of the site was to shut the whole computer or iPhone down, no easy task for someone who is freaking out.

This lesson was simple for me to understand. If I could be exposed unintentionally and without any desire to view pornography, I must also stop denying that other family members could expose themselves in the same way.

The producers of this evil see their work as a business. The goal is to make as much money as possible, no matter the means. Just like cigarettes, the younger your customer, the easier it is to hook them. The earlier they capture these kids, the longer they have that person consuming their product and therefore the more money they make.

Most people who do this kind of work are brilliant marketers who have come up with wicked ways to get teenagers to their sites. They hide them in applications, games, and websites that youth tend to use most often. So young people may not be looking for this trash, but it is placed there for them to come upon.

Adolescents, whose brains are not yet developed, get tricked into looking, more than likely unintentionally, and quickly fall into the temptation without realizing this evil is lurking to deceive them.

A bigger problem, of course, is our culture refuses to acknowledge the evil pornography indeed is. The very nature of porn robs those who view it of rightly ordered love. Persons become objects for one’s gratification, and sacred intimacy slowly becomes unnecessary and unattainable. Intimate acts eventually become a lesser form of the spousal union, because the partner can never live up to the artificial fantasy that is portrayed online. Addicted individuals seek more and more until the real act of union is unsatisfying.

Allow this evil to be the acceptable norm, and one can easily see how our inability to relate to others, as a person, becomes impossible. In a nutshell, love can only happen between people and not things. If other people become objects, we are now incapable of love, and thus love is disordered. Disordering love is Satan’s master plan to steal God’s adopted children from him. Normalize this behavior, and the Deceiver has the upper hand, leaving pain and suffering in his path.

As parents, we must keep our family safe. Most of us have done this by protecting our children from those that can enter from the outside. But we can no longer rest with that level of security. We must involve ourselves from the dangers that prowl inside our home, those instruments we willingly invite in.

This matter is happening at an epidemic pace, and awareness and acknowledgment is the first level of protection. To be part of the solution, the institution Christ entrusted with the sacred meaning of love, the Catholic Church, will be addressing this crisis the first weekend of March on Clean Heart Sunday. Our church is raising the red flag that there is a robber of souls in our homes, and we must protect our families from this villain.

I too must get better. There are organizations like Covenant Eyes that help parents filter this trash from our homes. They also help us figure out the new ways these pornographers get at our children, which is changing on a regular basis. We must supply ourselves with the weapons to combat this invasion.

I now know I must become as hypersensitive about threats from within my home as I have been from outside. I can no longer live in denial. I must step up as a parent and protect my children. I encourage you to do the same. Together as a faith family we must battle for the future of our loved one’s soul.

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

Editorial: Build your faith — go to the men’s conference or women’s conference

Every year the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth are blessed to have two great, day-long conferences, one for men and one for women. March is the month for them this year, and we wanted to remind you one last time.

These conferences have some things in common. They have an engaging national speaker. They have opportunities for Mass (usually with the bishop) and confession. They are supported by a host of volunteers and led by people who have experience.

Perhaps best of all, they offer a chance for fellowship with other Catholic men or women who love their faith and are seeking to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. The youth and young adults of the diocese often connect through things like camps and retreats. This is one place the adults gather.

There is strength in this. It’s really a great gift.

If you haven’t been there in a while, it’s time to check it out again. If you’ve never been there, now is your chance. It won’t come around again for another year.

But what if you’re a regular? Pray about who might be a good friend or family member to bring along this year. The blessings of these kinds of event multiply as they’re shared. You might also consider the possibility that there may be someone in your life for whom this will be a turning point and a new, deeper walk with God.

Hope to see you there.

Bishop Paul Sirba: Meditate on our redemption — from Jesus’ perspective

What would happen if the whole physical universe, with its billion and billions of galaxies and stars, rested on only one point like an immense overturned pyramid? Can you even imagine what pressure that point would have to bear? Do you remember as a child when we would “hog pile” on someone? (I am not recommending this.)

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

How about the whole moral universe? If you were able to calculate or quantify the sins of every man, woman, and child that ever existed and could come to rest on one man, what would that be like?

We believe that happened to Jesus Christ. “The Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus took upon himself, though he was sinless, the sins of us all. The cross he bore to Calvary was because of the sins of humanity.

Though our present culture rarely if ever refers to sin or our culpability for it, our faith does. In fact, the reason our Lord entered into human existence was to save us from our sins. As Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., wrote: “Sin and iniquity are too vague and general words. We should give a proper name to them. Jesus took upon himself all the hatred, the violence, the oppression of the poor and the defenseless, all the lust, the pride, the envy, the falsehood. And who can think that no one of these sins is present in his or her life?”

This Lent, while our church undergoes her purification, let us not scapegoat anyone else, but rather examine our own consciences and repent of our sins. We do so every Lent not to crush ourselves with guilt but so that we might give over to the Lord the sins he was willing to bear in order to save us. “He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus willingly did this so that we might be made whole.

If sin has little meaning, why did Jesus do what he did? The Christian takes sublime consolation in believing that God loved us so much that when we were trapped in our sins and had no way out, he sent his Son to buy us back — the unexpected rescue.

As we consider what we should be giving up this Lent, how about adding to the mix trying to meditate on our redemption from God’s perspective? I mean, forget self a little more and begin our Lenten journey thinking and praying about what Jesus did for us. Reflect on things from Jesus’ perspective.

Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to take upon himself the sins of us all. Not only did he endure the physical suffering, so he knows intimately well our own physical sufferings and illnesses, but also he knows our emotional, psychological maladies. He experienced in his human nature the darkness, loneliness, rejection, mockery with an intensity that we cannot fathom. He did so out of love. What was that like for him?

How merciful is God? Why does he go to such great lengths in order to save us? What was it like for Jesus to endure all of this for us? In spending time with Jesus this Lent, how do I grow my relationship with him? What is he asking of me? How do I surrender more to Jesus?

Lent is rich with graces. It is the perfect preparation, once again, for our Easter.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Betsy Kneepkens: Which children are really ‘sheltered’? Those who don’t know about Jesus

Some have suggested that my husband and I have sheltered our children.

I cannot deny the fact that we intentionally made decisions to shield our kids from potentially harmful situations or incidents that would negatively impact the foundation we were trying to provide them. I am not just talking physical circumstances but emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, as well. We worked hard not to expose them too early to specific experiences where the visual scenes would forever plague their memory. Often — I mean very often — my children did not participate in activities that were commonplace for other children.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Now, any parent with more than one child knows that each child needs to be treated differently based on the kind of kid they are. A child’s aptitude for responsibility, patience, intellectual curiosity, moral development, and other characteristics must always play a part in what is allowed for one child and maybe not the other. With that said, our allowances were rarely adjusting down, but instead, some of our children waited longer for a privilege to be obtained.

Some of the more simple examples of our “sheltering” would be not allowing our children to sit in the front seat of the car until they turned 13 and believing that PG-13 did mean PG-13. It included not letting our children own a cell phone until they were at least midway through their freshman year of high school and deciding that dating as a couple was a potential privilege at 16. We don’t have cable — or television in their bedrooms, ever. If they went out in the evenings to a friend’s house, we called the parents, and on dance nights, they were prohibited from spending the night with friends of the opposite gender.

Most importantly, Sunday Mass was never trumped by anything or any situation, and prayers we say at home, like grace before meals, were prayed no matter where our family found itself. Indeed, these are just sort of guideposts for our children, but one can get the idea of what it is like in our household.

Now we did not allow our children to participate in scenarios that were life threatening, like walking in a dark alley late at night, but we did see great value in exposing our children to people from all backgrounds. Opening our children to make a connection with individuals who live differently than us was essential to their healthy development and their call to be disciples. We discussed worldly events, whether exciting, disappointing, or sometimes dangerous, so that they might hear a different side than what would otherwise be shared in the media.

As a family striving for faithfulness, we were careful to share the good and beautiful about our Catholic faith and the ugly and truthfulness of the human failing of our church as well. We welcomed others in our home that came from other faith traditions or no traditions at all. We explored the differences and were able to articulate why we knew that Jesus was indeed the way, the truth and the life.

Often, when others commented that my husband and I sheltered our children, the remark was not intended to be flattering. The perspective was frequently critical, with the potential of encouraging us to be a bit more “progressive.” Perhaps we are stubborn, but their comments had little if any impact on our ways of parenting.

I share this because during this past year, I encountered three different individuals, unknown to each other, who as I got to know them better, came from what I would call a “permissive” sort of upbringing. Each of these people were young adults in their mid-twenties. In different ways, they shared that their parents essentially allowed them to make their own decisions on faith and morals. All three of them were obviously still alive, but they had fascinating and yet risky life encounters. From my limited perspective, it appeared they were paddling through life, but their oars were not rowing in any particular direction.

I think our culture would say these twentysomethings were not sheltered as children. Yet through lengthy discussions, I found a very interesting common denominator between all three individuals. They each heard the name Jesus, and they knew the Bible was a book, but they claimed not to know anything about either.

Of course, upon my discovery of this information, I was blown away. I would not have been so perplexed if they didn’t believe in who Jesus was or what the Bible teaches, but not to even know anything about them was mind-boggling for me. The most excellent story of all time is the story of our salvation through Christ, and they never heard it. Our Savior’s arrival was significant and changed the course of history, not just for believers but for all of humankind. Every person that is granted formal education has a right to know this information.

My initial reaction was, “How can our society not believe children are overly protected if they have been denied the opportunity to know who Christ is and what the ‘Good News’ is all about?” Therefore, I am pretty confident these individuals were sheltered, because in all three situations I had the privilege of sharing the truth of Christ and observing their reaction.

In each of these cases, these young adults wanted to know more. They were overwhelmed by a desire to pursue a more in-depth understanding, and they were perplexed by the fact that this reality was withheld from them. From my standpoint, how is denying a child the knowledge of Christ not considered by our culture as sheltering a child?

In a few short weeks, we will be blessed with the reminder that Lord came and changed the course of history like no other event before or since the birth of Christ. As faithful, we need to take to heart the gift that someone did not shelter us from this truth. Sadly many young people have been poorly served by parents who believe they are being “progressive” to withhold the greatest story of all time from their children.

I will gladly claim the title of being a “sheltering” parent if those who give me that label include the information of our willingness to share the truth of who Christ is and what he has done for every person who was, is, and will be. Merry Christmas to all, and tell everyone who has not been gifted with the story of Christ, the truth of existence, even if you will be persecuted for doing it!

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

Father Richard Kunst: Inviting ‘Christmas and Easter Catholics’ back to Mass should be our main goal

I like to bring humor into classes I teach and homilies that I preach, because I think humor is a good way to get through to people about the importance of faith.

As I look back on my ministry I remember many times when certain points of humor were particularly well received; one was several years ago, right before Mass started at my parish of St. Joseph’s in Gnesen (the prettiest parish in the Diocese of Duluth, if you ask me). St. Joseph’s is a small, rural parish, so there tend to be other critters in the area besides humans. It was during Advent when someone inadvertently allowed two dogs to sneak in the door. They were good-sized dogs, and they ran up and down the aisle of the small church, which caused a bit of a stir with the parishioners. After the dogs were finally corralled and let out, I told the congregation that I can tell Christmas is getting near, because I hadn’t seen those two dogs since Easter.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

The crowd loved it. The point, of course, was not to call holiday Mass-goers dogs but to make light of the unfortunate reality of so many people who only go to Mass once or twice a year.

For priests, there is a “threading of the needle” when it comes to how we react to these people who show up to Mass on Christmas and Easter. Speaking only for myself, I find it exasperating, and I wonder how these people even have the gall to come those days. That at least is my deep inner thought. Shaking their hands before and after Mass, I am tempted to say not-so-nice things, but that is only a temptation, which I would be very wrong to actually carry out. This speaks more to my own broken human nature and definitely should not be the way we respond to the “Christmas and Easter Catholics.”

The church has to be able to meet people where they are in their faith journey, and as Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” All faithful Catholics need to be welcoming, loving, and open to our brothers and sisters whose faith is weaker, and this is especially the case for me and my brother priests. Our primary objective should never be to shame the people who come only during the holidays; our primary objective should be to make sure they come back next weekend and the weekends after that.

We, as Catholics, have the greatest thing going; we have Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and our desire should be to make sure that is shared with our fellow Catholics. Granted, outside of family and friends other personal circles, most people do not have the opportunity to influence people. This is where the “threading of the needle” comes in for us priests.

For many years I have admittedly done this poorly. At the end Christmas and Easter Masses, I would tongue-incheek announce the weekly Mass times as a unsubtle hint to the infrequent attenders. I would do this with an unfortunate tone that only the regular Mass attenders would find humorous.

This sort of approach never achieved the true desired outcome, which was getting these folks to come to Mass more often. Recently I have still been addressing it, but in a much more upbeat and welcoming way, and sometimes I still announce our Mass times! But it is all in the tone, and I have to admit that it has been working. Over the past few years, I have had small numbers of people come back after my invitation, which has been the point all along.

This problem of the infrequent Mass goers is far from being only an American problem. Pope Benedict XVI, while he was cardinal, addressed the phenomenon in a book-length interview by Peter Seewald. In the book, titled “God and the World,” the future pope said this: “I have nothing against it, then, if people who all year long never visit a church go there at least on Christmas night or New Year’s Eve or on special occasions, because this is another way of belonging to the blessing of the sacred, to the light. There have to be various forms of participation and association; the Church has to be inwardly open” (442).

So this coming Christmas Eve, when you see someone in your spot in the pew who you vaguely remember from last April, don’t get upset with them. Welcome them, and if you have the courage, invite them back to that spot next Sunday as well.

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

Father Ryan Moravitz: The story of Mallory Norrell and her family needs to be shared

By Father Ryan Moravitz
Guest columnist

Craig and Lori Norrell already had three children who were all in their pre-teen or teen years. Life was good. But Lori had a deep sense that God wanted more for them. She started praying for Craig to be open to reversing his vasectomy, as she was sure God had greater desires for them as a family.

Mallory Norrell
Mallory Norrell

Then Craig went on a retreat during the spring of 1998. Lori prayed for him the whole time; in fact, she had been praying for seven years that they would somehow miraculously have more children. It was during this retreat that Craig’s heart was touched by God to reverse the decision he had made, and, knowing he was being called to be faithful to God, Craig followed through.

After a year of saving money (insurance won’t pay for a reversal) and being told multiple times by his doctor that the reversal only has a 50 percent chance of success, Craig reopened his life and his marriage to the possibility that God’s heart may have more children in mind for them. One year later, with great joy, Brianne was born, and Mallory followed within the year — Irish twins as they say. Neal was born six years later.

It is their story as a family, which includes their three oldest (Ryan, Candice, and Kyle), that I am inspired to share with you.

You see, as I write this, it was one year ago yesterday (Nov. 7, 2017) with her family, medical team, and four beloved priests around her praying the Hail Mary, that Mallory, at the young age of 16, gently went to the loving, heavenly embrace of her Savior after a ten-and-a- half-month battle with cancer.

Their entire story all seems so heroic and dramatic to me. And indeed, it is. I’m not talking about a drama like Hollywood, but a Passion-of-Christ- like drama. One of trust, tragedy, and redemption.

Yesterday, Nov. 7, the Norrell family and I gathered with some of Mallory’s friends at her gravesite in Embarrass. We prayed a Chaplet of Divine Mercy, read Scripture, and told a few stories. Mallory loved all three of those things, as she was a fun, loving, and holy kid … who faced both life and death with Jesus.

Mallory brought a lot of joy to life. She loved hockey, “Lord of the Rings,” praying, reading, hunting, being with people, Camp Survive, adoration, and Mass. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. While Mallory was in the hospital, she would often look up puns. And as her mom lovingly recalls, after sharing a pun with smiling eyes and a grin, Mallory would say, “I’m so punny.”

I often think of how much St. Peter would have missed out on if he had not abandoned himself to fully following the Lord: walking on water, witnessing and performing miracles, the crucifixion, Easter morning, being crucified in Rome. He would have been spared the agonies but missed the beauty.

Craig and Lori Norrell, and their family, are a witness like St. Peter. They could have been spared the agony of experiencing the death of their beloved daughter and sister but would have missed the beauty of a saintly young woman. They chose life, and indeed life has been given!

Mallory’s story is one of heroic virtue. She encountered Christ in so many beautiful aspects of life. She also faced illness, suffering, and death in a way that bore witness to many who encountered her. She lived the motto she embraced from St. Padre Pio: “pray, hope, and don’t worry.”

Mallory Norrell lived this in a way that has evidence to say she is a true Servant of God. This deep, abiding, heroic trust in Jesus is a grace God gave her through her parents’ deep and abiding trust in Jesus. There are so many good, holy families living in God’s loving will. You experience the fruit of his abundant love daily. Thank you! You, like the Norrells, bear witness to the generous Mercy of Jesus.

I believe stories like Mallory’s and her family need to be shared more often. So, I decided to share it with their permission. The dream of Mallory has been in the heart of God for all eternity. I am so grateful Craig and Lori allowed the dream in God’s heart to come true and be shared with us all. We are so grateful for Mallory.

Mallory Norrell, pray for us as you approach the throne of our loving Savior, that we might live lives, as you said yourself, “worthy of heaven.”

Father Ryan Moravitz is vocations director for the Diocese of Duluth and pastor of St. Lawrence, St. Joseph, and Holy Family in Duluth.