Seek first the kingdom as an antidote to the political climate

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Faithful citizenship requires transcending the ideologies and partisan divides of our time and working primarily for the salvation of souls, not for short-term political gain on high-profile issues.

Though Christians can make prudential alignments with various candidates or parties to achieve specific goals, we should not conform to them or become beholden to them. Rather, we should form our consciences, inform our political activity and votes, and transform the parties and our state.


A political arena not characterized by virtue or respect for the common good has left people angry and looking for leaders who speak to their core concerns. One temptation for Christians in this context is to give their full allegiance to one of the fragmented programs offered by parties and politicians – neo-liberal, neo-Marxist, or populist.

Each program speaks to authentic social concerns in some way. But each also offers a strange mix of secular morality clothed in bastardized Christian vocabulary. The result is grotesque: revivals of racism and nativism, increasing attacks on First Amendment freedoms, and the cancerous spread of a throwaway culture that can rationalize disposing of the most vulnerable in our midst – among other things.

These developments, while disturbing, should not surprise us. Politics reflects culture, and as our nation becomes more secular, people’s horizons will inevitably shift from the eternal to the temporal. Political ideologies are so appealing because they promise a perfect world, here and now; they identify an enemy, offer simplistic solutions to destroy it, name the saviors, and promise renewal and lasting prosperity.

But because they place all their hope in this world, they cannot tolerate dissent of any kind; everyone who does not subscribe fully to their agenda is an obstacle to progress. Here is where we find ourselves today: locked in an uncompromising power struggle between “left” and “right,” with little room for compromise or dialogue, because to do so would mean compromise with the “devil.”


Catholics can look to some of the saints as leaders who modeled faithful citizenship. Their lives demonstrate that the Gospel never loses its potency to transform human life and society, in whatever age or circumstance. Times may change, but the principles do not.

One such witness is Archbishop Oscar Romero (he will be canonized Oct. 14). He was murdered for condemning injustices in his native El Salvador and for constantly exhorting the perpetrators to repent or face the judgment of God.

Though criticized as being a “political” (that is, partisan) bishop, his witness was rooted in a truly Gospel-centric vision of Our Lord’s care for the poor and the responsibility of the Church to proclaim the kingdom of God. He condemned ideology, corruption, and violence on all sides and instead stood for the dignity of the human person, especially the poor.

Likewise, Servant of God Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s, was criticized for her refusal to take sides in the Spanish Civil War. Communists were killing clergy, religious, and lay Catholics by the thousands in Spain, and many allied (not imprudently) with the Franco regime, but Dorothy refused to be complicit in violence as a means of resolving social and political conflict.

Instead, Dorothy built farming communes and houses of hospitality for the poor, advocated non-violent social change, and promoted economic democracy rooted in a system of widely distributed property. Not content with either party, she rarely bothered to vote.

These two figures courageously fought against injustice and worked for a better world, but the Church ultimately honors them because they witnessed to a vision of Christian social concern that extends far beyond party lines. Their goal was to bring about the kingdom of God by making the world, as Day famously said, a place where “it is easier to be good.”


In today’s context, there is so much focus on specific outcomes – ending abortion, ending poverty, protecting migrants, saving the environment – that we sometimes lose a vision of the whole and fall into the trap of an uncivil politics that dehumanizes others and ends in more anger.

But Christians should refuse to be co-opted by the parties in this dis-integrated political dynamic. It undermines our Gospel witness. We ought to vote and work for social change but do so motivated above all by the love of God and neighbor, with Catholic social teaching as our foundation, while also maintaining a healthy detachment from specific political outcomes.

God is ultimately sovereign over human affairs. This reality should free us from the need to win every battle in the short-term. The temporal order is passing away, and our priority is the Gospel command: “seek first the kingdom and his righteousness …” (Matt. 6:33).

VFTV: October 3, 2018


I spent a delightful evening with our permanent deacons and their wives on Thursday, September 4. St. Joseph’s Parish, Bagley, hosted us and provided a scrumptious supper. Deacon Mark Krejci, Director of the Office of Formation in Discipleship, which encompasses ministries to marriage and family, life, adult and youth formation and the formation of permanent deacons, shared with us the work of the Blue Ribbon Committee examining marriage preparation in our diocese, or, as we are calling it, marriage formation.

It has been 50 years since Pope Blessed Paul VI restored the permanent diaconate in the Church. There are now 27 permanent deacons incardinated in the Diocese of Crookston. The United States now has 18,000 permanent deacons. That is 40 percent of the total number of permanent deacons in the world. Recent studies of deacons in the United States note that they are very happy in their lives and ministry. They feel challenged too in trying to balance their responsibilities for family, work, and ministry.

Over the years, there has been a growing involvement of wives in the diaconal formation process. Today, a deacon’s wife begins to share more of herself in ministry with her husband and often on her own a well. Some of her greatest joys are in these moments. Our gathering in Bagley afforded me the opportunity to thank our deacons and their wives for their great service to you, God’s people here, and to all whom they wonderfully serve.

A few days later, at Mass on September 8 – the birthday of Mary, our Blessed Mother – I was privileged to celebrate the Rite of Admission as five men were officially recognized and welcomed as Candidates for Holy Orders. The Rite of Admission urges the candidates to cultivate their vocation in the years to come through prayer and study and works of charity. We, as the People of God, are asked (and so I ask you) to support them by prayers and love. 

Our new candidates are: Mr. Brent Hoffner (St. Mary of the Lake, Detroit Lakes), Mr. Dennis Ouderkirk (St. Joseph, Moorhead), Mr. Trevor Pikula (Sacred Heart, Frazee), Mr. Jeffrey Reese (St. Patrick, Hallock), Mr. Robert Thom (St. Joseph, Moorhead). We thank them and we thank their wives. Without the permission of his wife, a married man cannot become a permanent deacon. So thanks to you too: Peggy Hoffner, Lisa Ouderkirk, Christina Pikula, Laura Reese, and Karen Thom.


In 2002, the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) produced the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. At our June 2018 meeting, a third revision of the Charter, with an updated preamble, was approved. From its first publication in 2002, continuing to the present, each and every year, first under the direction of Bishop Balke and now under my direction, the Diocese of Crookston has made the Charter its own, faithfully following its practical and pastoral steps to make effective the goal of a safe environment for children and young people and of preventing sexual abuse of minors by clergy. In accord with the Charter, each year an independent audit is conducted to see how we are living up to our commitment in following the Charter. This year’s onsite audit was conducted by the firm of Stonebridge Business Partners of Rochester, New York. I am happy to report that this year’s audit has been completed and once again, as in each and every year, the Diocese of Crookston has been found to be in full compliance with the Charter.

July 1 was the beginning of a new year of Safe Environment Recertification for staff members and volunteers working in all the parishes and institutions of the diocese. Recertification for all our seminarians and deacons will be in December; for our Review Board Members in January; for all priests and myself in March.

As our faith formation classes begin, so does our safe environment education for all young people, kindergarten through 12th grade. Seeking the safety, well-being, and spiritual formation of all our children and youth, we make use of the Circle of Grace program. In this program, adults help children and youth recognize God’s love and understand that each of us lives and moves within a Circle of Grace. This holistic approach helps children and youth identify early on when they are uncomfortable with a situation and includes ways to seek the help of a trusted adult.

Our commitment to a safe environment for all children and young people  and preventing sexual abuse by clergy remains firm. With the recent revelations regarding Archbishop McCarrick and the report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, we bishops know that more work must be done, particularly regarding the responsibility and accountability of bishops. As is evidenced by the recent meeting of the president of the USCCB, Cardinal DiNardo and company with Pope Francis, that work has begun and we will see it through to completion.

We continue our sacrificial fasting and prayer. I have asked Mrs. Mary Dahl, Director of the Office of Worship, to post prayer resources on our website. I invite you individually, in groups, or as a parish to avail yourselves of them. They include prayers for holy hours, a Novena for Healing of our Church, Litanies, etc. Visit to access these resources.

May our loving God guide our efforts and all our safe environment work for the good of our children and young people, for the good of family life, for the good of us all and for the Church and world.

‘Humanae Vitae’ as a guide for a holy marriage: Part III

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Formation in Discipleship

For the third part of this series, let me begin with a review. In the first column, I wrote about Pope Blessed Paul VI’s explanation that Catholic marriage is to be total, not something that is merely one part of a person’s life, but the center of life for the husband and wife. In the second column, I wrote about his explanation that Catholic marriage, if it is to be total, must be faithful and exclusive. Married couples are to – with their behavior, emotions and attention – be centered on loving their spouse and their family. Other things are not to be more important than the marriage no matter how much you love your job, your parents and siblings, your hobbies or whatever else interests you in life. They all have a place, but nothing is to be more central to life than your spouse and your children.

This brings me to the next part of Pope Blessed Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae” that I want to highlight. The Holy Father wrote that married couples are to freely take on the responsibilities of living this total, faithful and exclusive commitment to a sacramental marriage. In paragraph 9, he writes that married couples are to, “... freely and in full awareness assume the duty of the marriage bond.”

Without a doubt, the Church teaches that the Sacrament of Matrimony, given to us by Jesus, calls us to a holy duty of love. You are to love your spouse by making your life a gift to your spouse, and they, in return, make their life a gift to you as well. When a couple exchanges their consent on the wedding day, they are pledging to each other, before God, that they will take on the duty of being a Christian spouse – without conditions or reservations, and with a commitment to living God’s plan for married life.

The Church, in her wisdom, recognizes that not all people who appear before the Church to get married, really do so with freedom and full awareness. This is why the Church grants annulments. Some couples never enter into a sacramental marriage because, on the day of – and often leading up to their wedding day – one or both people did not enter marriage with a total, faithful, exclusive, and free commitment.

I know someone who thought he had met the woman of his dreams. They seemed so right for each other from the start in so many ways. They married, had children, but all along the way something was not right. Over time, their relationship deteriorated, and they decided to divorce. I do not have space to go into all the details which led to this decision. In the end it was sad for the couple and for their children and at first something the spouses could not even explain. “How did we get to this point?”, my friend would ask. When he pursued an annulment, the answer emerged. In the process of the ex-couple and some of their friends and relatives providing recollections of what their dating and engagement was like, all began to understand that she never freely and fully committed to living the sacrament of marriage. Again, not enough room for details, but from the beginning she never freely committed to living the sacrament of marriage.

I suspect that many couples who have been married for a number of years will say that they did not completely understand the duty of marriage referred to by Pope Paul VI. But, at the time of their wedding, both freely committed to God that they would seek to grow in their understanding. At the time of their marriage, these couples entered the sacrament with a 20-some-year-old understanding of total, faithful, exclusive and free and then through prayer, the practice of the faith, and living marriage in a total, faithful, exclusive and free manner, these couples grew into deeper communion with God as they lived their sacramental marriage.

Pope Blessed Paul VI begins his teaching in “Humanae Vitae” by describing these key elements of marriage: total, faithful, exclusive and free and with the next column, I will comment on one more. For now, keep in mind that these elements are not independent, they are all mutually related and are all part of the holy duty of sacramental marriage.

Seriously? Too much religion at the royal wedding?

By Fr. Don Braukmann/Retired Priest of the Diocese of Crookston

Although it seems longer, it has been just under four months since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married. No, I didn’t get up in the middle of the night to watch every “magical moment” live, as it happened. I know some of you did!

Yet, I watched the highlights and listened to a commentator on a cable news show who made the oddest statement. He was speaking about the message shared by Episcopal Bishop Michael Bruce Curry at the wedding.

The commentator said, “It seemed to me the Bishop talked too much about religion and not about the royal wedding.”

At first, I chuckled to myself, dismissing the comment as a joke, but there was no laughter from the group gathered on screen. Then I was quickly reminded just how far our culture has fallen into the pit of godlessness. The commentator was dead serious!

Judge for yourself. Here are excerpts of the message Bishop Curry shared at the royal wedding. They are words of power and delivered with the same. He was speaking to the royal couple, to all in attendance, and to the whole world:

“Just tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all.”

“He didn’t sacrifice his life for himself, or anything he could get out of it. He did it for others, for the other, for the good and wellbeing of others, that’s love.”

“This love, this is the way of Jesus. And it’s a game changer.”

“Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way. Imagine our neighborhoods and communities when love is the way. Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way. Imagine our world when love is the way. No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that. Poverty would become history in such a world as that.”

“We would treat one another as children of God, regardless of differences.”

“We would learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. There would be a new heaven, a new earth, a new world. A new and beautiful human family. The very dream of God. Love is strong as death!”

Yup, obviously too much religion at the royal wedding, wouldn’t you say? It is like saying there are too many flowers in the world.

I have friends living their Catholic faith every day, who are told by parents or friends, “You are too religious! You go to Mass every weekend. You pray on every day ending with ‘Y’. You think what the Pope has to say matters. You go to Reconciliation and prepare your kids to receive Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, in the Eucharist! You are too religious!”

The college kids who recently left our communities will be accused of the same, loud and clear, if they dare to live what they believe and believe what they live.

Humanity seems to have slipped into a terrifying blindness, an abyss, really. We cannot say something is right or wrong … or that there actually is something called “truth.” Truth is subject to the latest political breeze and the latest poll. Age-old truths are redefined or tossed aside to make sure political victory carries the day.

There is too much religion, so we can reinvent the definition of when life begins; when life has value; when it is or isn’t convenient. We have children being shot in our schools, abortion mills in Fargo and St. Paul, people awaiting execution in our prisons and those abused by a priest or parent or relative or stranger.

Too much religion?

I have a terminal illness (ALS) so, believe me, there is no such thing as “too much religion!” But there is another truth: every person reading this column has a terminal disease … our next breath is not guaranteed.

Folks, there is a hell; Jesus said so. There is right and wrong; Jesus said so.

Our sanctuary and refuge over it all is the love, forgiveness, patience and compassion of Jesus Christ, the great lover of humanity who loved us to death.

Too much religion? Nonsense.

The time to counter infidelity with holiness is now

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

The latest round of revelations related to clerical corruption, abuse, and sin are yet another inexcusable abomination that soils the garments of the Church. They severely compromise the integrity of our Gospel witness as heralds of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. Even more, they undermine our moral witness in the public arena, and our ability to serve as a voice of conscience in political life. 

Confronted with this grim reality, we can despair at the potential for a generation of lost souls, and lament the continued, unchecked disintegration of a social order that needs the Church more than ever. 

Or, we can remember that the best argument for the good news and claims of the Church is not her clergy, but her saints. In times of great crisis, the Lord in his faithfulness raises up a new generation of saints for his name’s sake. Infidelity must always be countered by deeper fidelity.

Truly, we have all the means of holiness available to us. As St. Paul reminds us, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:39). 


In 1873, upon the opening of a new seminary in Birmingham, England, Blessed John Henry Newman delivered an eerily prescient address entitled “The Infidelity of the Future,” cautioning that even one instance of clerical infidelity would have tremendously harmful effects on the witness of the Church.

An increasingly widespread dissemination of the news would make the examples of clerical infidelity known to the masses.  And modern, secular persons, he says, nurtured in a mode of thought in which faith is understood to be both inherently irrational and corrupting of the work of reason, would be looking, quite naturally, for more reasons to disbelieve, or to push religion further into the private sphere.   

Coupled with an immense store of malicious curiosity directed at Catholics, Newman asserts that “[i]f there ever was a time when one priest will be a spectacle to men and angels it is in the age now open upon us.”

This reality is inescapably more evident today in the age of social media and fake news, filled as it is with curiosity, pride, and gossip. That’s not to say that the news or those reporting it are bad. They are not.  In general, we should be grateful to the media, bloggers, and law enforcement when they put a spotlight on corruption and crime from which bishops have failed to protect the faithful. 

But Newman’s caution speaks to the reality that the Church makes bold truth claims and has the audacity to proclaim Christ crucified and risen. Unfaithful clergy undermine the credibility of the proposition – the good news – and in fact make the often-spurious claims of the Church’s opponents more reasonable to the masses, particularly in the public arena. 

As Pope Benedict XVI noted on his voyage to Fatima, “. . . the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies but arises from sin within the Church.”


As Christians today, the abuse, scandals, and sins of others can make trying to live out the countercultural good news seem like an impossible calling, precisely for the reasons Newman identified.  We can look like fools in the eyes of the world.

Unfortunately, some will find the failures of clergy to be their excuse not to sacrifice this life for the sake of the kingdom. They ask themselves: If bishops won’t engage the spiritual combat, master themselves, and wage constant war against sin in the clergy and among their flock, then why should the people in the pew take up their own cross?

On his Fatima voyage, Pope Benedict offered this response: “The Church … has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice. Forgiveness does not replace justice. In a word, we need to relearn precisely this essential: conversion, prayer, penance and the theological virtues. This is our response, we are realists in expecting that evil always attacks, attacks from within and without, yet that the forces of good are also ever present and that, in the end, the Lord is more powerful than evil, and Our Lady is for us the visible, motherly guarantee of God’s goodness, which is always the last word in history.”    

The times are challenging, but we know that when sin abounds, grace abounds even more. We must counter infidelity with greater fidelity, and be credible witnesses of the Gospel, especially when others fail.

VFTV: September 12, 2018


“There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them …” (Mt. 5:1)

As another year of school and faith formation begins, we ask Jesus to continue to teach us, both young and old, all that we need to learn. May he continue to send us the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom that we might have life and have it to the full. As our young people return to school and fill our faith formation classes, we thank all who will teach them this year. We thank you and ask God’s guidance for all our teachers.

Catholic education is a movement from contemporary experience to Christian interpretation where the encounter with Jesus explains and interprets the experiences of life. (cf. John Shea, “The Spirit Master”) The task is one of “helping the student achieve a synthesis of culture and faith and a synthesis of faith and life.” Catholic education is an examination which puts all of life under the light of the Gospel and faith. Pope Francis says, “Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star that never sets.” May this new year of learning truly be an awe-inspiring journey for all.


Speaking of young people, I was reading an article the other day expressing concern that, in the wake of recent reports concerning misconduct by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the report of the Pennsylvania grand jury, people, especially young adults and millennials, might be tempted to leave the Catholic Church. They feel their trust in Church leadership has been shattered, and so decide to leave the Church, preferring to pursue their relationship with Jesus “on their own.” We need to encourage them to stay. As the saying goes: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

We pray in the Nicene Creed (composed at the conclusion of the Council of Nicaea, in 325) that we believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and, toward the end, we include that we believe in the holy Catholic Church. We do believe in the Church given to us by Jesus because he knows we need her. When some aspect of the Church disturbs us, so much so that we are tempted to leave her and go “on our own” in our relationship with Jesus, we need to remember that it is within the Church that we find the true Jesus.

History has known many different depictions of Jesus, other gospels written and other so called “revelatory writings” all purporting to present the true Jesus. For example, there is a Gospel of Peter, a Gospel of Thomas, a Gospel of Philip; an Infancy Gospel of James; an Acts of Andrew and an Acts of John. It was the Church that discerned, in the Holy Spirit, that these writings did not present a true picture of Jesus and his saving work, so they were not included in the Bible. Then there were the great Christological debates in the early centuries of the Church. It took the Church, in various councils, to weed out those notions about Jesus that were not true, not what he taught his Apostles, notions that were heretical. We humans can make mistakes. The real Jesus is not one made up by someone’s preconceived or mistaken notions. The famous spiritual writer, Romano Guardini made the point this way. He posed the question: Who can protect Jesus from us? Who will keep him free of the cunning and violence of our own ego which does everything to avoid really following Jesus? His answer: the encounter with Jesus must not be left to subjective religious experience; “rather, there is a place assigned for it that is built correctly, in which he can be seen rightly and listened to, and that place is the Church.” (in Jesus of Nazareth, Gerhard Lohfink, S.J., p. 18)

So, when things are wrong in the Church and we feel disillusioned, disheartened, frustrated and angry, we need to pray for God’s help and do all that we can to make things better. As Bishop Robert Barron says, don’t run from the Church; fight for her.

‘Humanae Vitae’ as a Guide for a Holy Marriage: Part II

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Formation in Discipleship

Continuing a series of columns on “Humanae Vitae” in this, the 50th year since its publication by Pope Blessed Paul VI, I turn to a section in paragraph nine where he describes the love found in a true sacramental marriage as “faithful and exclusive.” The Holy Father writes that married couples “conceive” their love in this way from the wedding day and remain so until death. No one gets married planning on getting divorced.

The faithfulness of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband is beautiful and needs to be nurtured and sustained through a common faithfulness to God’s plan for married life. Pope Blessed Paul VI reminds us that marriage is a unique bond because it is to be a life-long commitment of two becoming an exclusive “one.” My wife Julie and I were recently surrounded by about 2,800 people who were in such exclusive, faithful marriages while, in the same city, we came across about 100 people who were advocating the opposite.

Let me first describe the 2,800. Julie and I attended the 2018 National Diaconate Congress in New Orleans at the end of July. This gathering celebrated the 50th anniversary of the permanent diaconate in the United States. We heard that, of the total attendance, about 2,800 deacons and their wives were present. Julie and I met many couples from all over the United States and we had the pleasure of going out to dinner with people who were complete strangers, yet united with us through the presence of the diaconate in our marriages. There was an immediate connection with everyone in the room, and true joy arose from the gathering during Mass, while listening to speakers and during conversations and other times of fellowship. Gathered in New Orleans were deacons who were faithful to their vows of holy orders and, at the same time, they and their spouses reflected the love of “faithful and exclusive” married Catholic couples.

After the final full day of the gathering, Julie and I had reservations at a restaurant in the French Quarter of the city. After a delightful meal, we strolled down Bourbon Street. What was once the historic center of Jazz in New Orleans, is now pretty much one bar after another. Still, we wanted to have a New Orleans tourist experience, so off we went. When we arrived on Bourbon Street, known for its raucous Mardi Gras celebration parades, we saw that there actually was a parade coming down the street. Of course, if you are going to do the full tourist thing, you have to see what the parade is about, so we walked in its direction. When the parade was close enough for us to read the signs announcing the “organization” that was marching, we saw that the parade was in “celebration” of a national swingers convention being held in town. By “swingers” I am not talking about people who like Tarzan movies or were there for a playground equipment convention. No, these people were promoting a swinging lifestyle. This lifestyle holds that even if you are married or in an exclusive relationship, you can still have sexual relations with other people. Their signs extolled the “virtues” of this lifestyle (I do not want to repeat what was written), and they vigorously waved them about as they were dancing and drinking down the street. As you can imagine, their signs did not promote the concept that marriage should be “faithful and exclusive.” After quickly walking past the parade (there were only about 100 people), Julie and I talked about the contrast between the swingers’ parade and the joy we experienced from the couples at the gathering of deacons and spouses. Referring to the swingers, Julie said, “It was like they were having to work so hard to show people they were having a great time.”

The deacons and their wives effortlessly revealed love because they were following God’s plan for marriage. They sought to live a faithful and exclusive love centered in the love of God. These couples understood that by living as faithful, exclusive couples, committed to a union where two become one, they were setting themselves on the path toward true peace and harmony in marriage. They agreed with Pope Blessed Paul VI who wrote that a faithful and exclusive marriage is not only a natural part of marriage, “... but also that it is a source of profound and lasting happiness.” Why is this so? Because a faithful and exclusive marriage points us toward the eternal love of God, the source of true happiness. Married couples will not find this true happiness “swinging” down Bourbon Street. They will find it in faithful commitment to a Christian marriage as it was created by God. This is what Pope Blessed Paul VI teaches in “Humanae Vitae.”

I am indebted to my parents for living, but to my teachers for living well

By Fr. Don Braukmann/Retired Priest of the Diocese of Crookston

I may have shared before that I was not a big fan of school … at any level! My “nap rug” was too thin in kindergarten; a true crisis, no doubt.

Although I had good and kind teachers in first and second grade, I would have much rather been home on the farm where every day seemed like a new adventure.

Going into third grade, I was nervous. You know how kids talk; I was convinced either one of the two teacher options that year would find me in a torture chamber. I ended up in Mrs. Haapasaari’s class. (I had to mention her name because I like to sit back and picture how you, the reader, are pronouncing that name! It is pronounced “hop-a-sorry.”)

I swore she was 8’ 9” (give or take) at the time, and knew a well-disciplined classroom was priority one. There were over 30 kids in the class; she had no choice.

I quickly learned in Mrs. Haapasaari’s class that she did not rule with an iron fist but, instead, she ruled the class with finger nails that could sear through skin like an arc welder’s tool. Of course, I exaggerate a bit … actually, a lot!

I remember seeing her in the local grocery store one Saturday and I stood in frozen silence. Mrs. Haapasaari actually came out in public? Bought groceries? Wore blue jeans? Could talk to my mom about “normal” things? Uffda!

After the “trauma” (again, I am being sarcastic) of third grade, my fourth grade teacher was the mildest, kindest teacher I ever had. I don’t know how she did it with so many in the classroom, but she was consistently cool and calm.

One of the two greatest teachers in my life led me through fifth grade. I don’t know what it was about her, but she made learning exciting. I still didn’t “like” school but she made it so much more painless. She opened doors of knowledge and let me step through them. Her name was Mrs. Holland and although she has gone home to heaven, she is not forgotten.

Come sixth grade, it seemed like homework exploded and put a damper on my home life! It was in sixth grade we had to use the “SRA” reading curriculum. I don’t know what “SRA” stands for but it was competitive! Theresa, a classmate, flew through the levels like a breeze. Each level had a different color corresponding to it. I struggled through the yellow, green and purple levels always keeping an eye on Theresa’s progress. I was determined to catch her!

Yet, at the end of the series, there I was at brown and Theresa was at the head of the class, at the highest level … AQUA! As I write, my blood pressure rises just a bit, funny how that works after all these years.

High school was a whole new experience. I still struggled to get out of bed before the bus arrived, but it was a new adventure and I began to find myself, in a sense, academically. The second of the great teachers I was blessed to encounter was Mrs. Dorholt.

She taught English, a subject I struggled with (thanks to Theresa!). Somehow Mrs. Dorholt even made “Macbeth” fun. Well, “fun” may be a bit strong of a term, but I was captivated. I remember, at graduation, giving her a gift of appreciation. It was a necklace that I ordered from some cheap magazine but thought it was the best gift ever. Now, 40 years later, I remember the color: vomit green! She was too kind to break out in laughter and, to this day, I have never asked her what she actually thought. Ahhh, the 70s!

Then, it was off to college at the University of Minnesota in Crookston for two years and then to St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, and the rest is history, as they say.

Teachers. They change lives, in my experience, always for the better! I have several teachers in my family. My oldest sister, who is well into her 70’s, still substitutes most days of the week in New York Mills or Perham. I could not be more proud of her or the rest in the family who sacrifice so much for the children whose lives they will touch forever.

We remember our teachers. Some may have caused anguish, but most invited us to embrace the expanding universe of knowledge.

To all the teachers heading back to the classroom, thank you! And remember: “The best teachers are those who show you where to look … but don’t tell you what to see!”

VFTV: August 22, 2018


On Sunday, August 12, I was delighted to join the faithful of Sacred Heart Parish, East Grand Forks, to celebrate Mass for their 125th anniversary. In “Paths of Light, A History of the Diocese of Crookston,” the very first line for the chapter on Sacred Heart, East Grand Forks, says: “The first recorded service in East Grand Forks was a Mass held in July 1883 by Father Jacob Shirra in the public-school house.” How wonderful that in each subsequent generation the greatest gift Jesus left us – the Holy Mass – continues to be the center of Sacred Heart Parish and the center of the all the Church’s life.

As we joined for Mass, we celebrated with all the saints of previous generations from East Grand Forks. We remembered them. We prayed for them and with them, asking their intercession for help on our own pilgrimage through life. As the psalmist says: “Age to age shall proclaim your works, O Lord, shall declare your mighty deeds.”

We wish all of Sacred Heart Parish God’s blessings throughout the year as they celebrate their 125th with a number of special events.


The Gospel passages from the last few Sundays have been taken from the Bread of Life Discourse of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus has been reminding us that he is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. “I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever …” (Gospel for Sunday, August 19, the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time). The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15 provided a wonderful example of the truth of what Jesus tells us. When the course of her earthly life was finished, the Blessed Virgin Mary “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things …” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 966, citing Lumen Gentium, no. 59). Mary experiences immediately what we will experience eventually. When we die, our soul (spirit) continues on and our body is laid to rest on earth to await the coming of Christ at the end of time and the resurrection of the body. At that time, our bodies will be raised, transformed to be like Christ’s risen body, and reunited with our souls (spirits). We shall live happily forever as Jesus promised.

On the Solemnity of the Assumption, we join with faithful throughout the world to give thanks to God that when Mary’s life on earth was finished, she – soul and body – was taken up into heaven. By celebrating her assumption into heaven, we are filled with hope as we see what we will become at the end of time. May Mary, our Mother, intercede for us as we journey to that day.


Recently, Pope Francis directed that the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty be “reformulated so as to better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point that has taken place in recent times.” In directing this change, Pope Francis freely quotes both Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, showing the development of the Church’s thinking. Pope Francis gives numerous reasons why, in our day, the death penalty is both cruel and unnecessary.

1) The Holy Father says there has been the development of a clearer awareness of the respect due to every human life and an increased understanding that a person’s dignity is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes. As Pope St. John Paul II noted, “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.”

2) Pope Francis notes that our situation today differs from times past when political and social situations made the death penalty an acceptable means for protecting the common good. As the pope says, today, due to the “development of more efficacious detention systems that guarantee the due protection of citizens,” we are aware that the death penalty is inadmissible and, therefore, must call for its abolition.

Pope St. John Paul II says, “Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals (even someone who has done great evil) the chance to reform.”

3) Finally, Pope Francis says the death penalty is to be rejected “due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error.” All of this, the Holy Father notes, is in keeping with the teaching of the Gospels. By the new formulation, he says, it is his desire “to give new energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creations of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.”

The challenge for us, of course, is to do what we can to engage in the dialogue and help create the conditions to end the death penalty.

‘Humanae Vitae’ as a guide for a holy marriage: Part 1

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Formation in Discipleship

In my previous column, I noted that July marks the 50th Anniversary of “Humanae Vitae.” I concluded that column by promising a series that will dig into the teaching of “Humanae Vitae” as a guide for a holy marriage. This is the first installment of the series; thank you for reading along.

I was recently reading something that made me say, “Hey Julie, have you heard this?!” Julie is my wife, and she regularly hears me say this when I am reading something incredible or shocking. The thing I shared with her was a news item in a magazine where a couple was entering a “part-time” marriage. They decided that they would live as husband and wife on the weekends but consider themselves single during the week. Now I am not talking about a married couple who must be separated for work during the week – no, this was something else. This couple believed that they were “married” on the weekends and “single” during the week. They lived apart (in the same town), went about their weekday lives without any expectation of contact, and then came together on Fridays after work and spent the weekend together. Their rationale was based on the idea that if they each had their own “me” time during the week they would be able to sustain their marriage at a time when so many of their friends were getting divorced.

I am sure you do not need me to quote “Humanae Vitae” to know that this is not what marriage is meant to be, but let me quote Pope Blessed Paul VI anyway: “Then, this (marital) love is total, that is to say, it is a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations.” (HV 9, emphasis added). Without a doubt the couple in the news story did not generously share everything! No, they only shared Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday while Monday through Friday afternoon was selfishly reserved for themselves.

It would be easy to dismiss the couple as an aberration and think if you are married or expecting to be married one day, you could never be so self-centered as that “weekend couple.” Good – I am glad you dismiss that idea – but now reflect deeply on the words: “generously share everything.” If every married couple lived by these words, there would be peace and joy in every marriage.

There are three parts to this phrase: an adverb (generously), a verb (share) and a noun (everything). Sorry for the grammar lesson, but each word of that phrase written by Pope Blessed Paul VI is a gem combining into rich treasure that can guide every marriage to holiness. When we get married we are to involve “everything.” Every day, every item, every emotion, every part of our being. We are to “share” this with our spouse which turns into a mutual gifting of oneself to the other. The husband makes a total gift of himself to his wife and the wife makes a total gift of herself to her husband. But the attitude you have in your soul is the key to the gift of sharing everything: “generously.” We do not partially share, we do not reluctantly share, we do not resentfully share everything! NO! We “generously” share to reflect the generous love of God who created us out of an act of love. Generosity in our marital sharing of everything is meant to reflect the love of God to our spouse. When both husband and wife – in a spirit of generosity – share everything, they become a “living icon” of God’s love in the world. Thus, everyone can see an iconic image of God’s love in the married couple who “generously share(s) everything.”

If every couple would “generously share everything” in their marriage, they would be filled with “rejoicing” every time they lived as a gift to their spouse. Why? Because they would reflect love which comes from God. What a beautiful way to live in marriage as described in “Humanae Vitae.”

In my next column, I will bring out one more point, but for now, let me again say, happy anniversary to the Church and the world for Pope Blessed Paul VI’s gift of this holy teaching.

Who would have guessed this is where we both would be?

By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji

I met Cindy soon after arriving in Greenbush to serve the people of Blessed Sacrament Church and St. Aloysius of Leo in 1996.

Eight years earlier, Cindy was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. Not only was it the generic brand of MS, which attacks the central nervous system, but it was the far more rare and destructive brand of the disease called “Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.” Just 15 percent of those who have MS have this version of the disease.

Cindy explained to me early on how she had a vision of sorts after being diagnosed. She was in high school and on a particular day attended a lyceum in the gymnasium. Everyone was excited, first, because they were getting out of the school routine and second, because God was the featured speaker that day!

In this vision, Cindy tells the story of how God calls her up onto the stage. She was so eager to meet God she could barely contain herself. As she told me the story she said, “I know I was looking good in front of my classmates. My hair was perfect. I had on a great dress. I looked like a million bucks!”

When Cindy got to the stage, God gave her a gift, a wrapped package. She wasted no time in shredding the wrapping and when she tore the box open, inside was a message: “You have multiple sclerosis.”

In an instant her hair drooped, her dress was tattered and she felt ugly. Her world had collapsed as those words shot like lightning in her mind: “You have multiple sclerosis.”

During the eight years I served as Cindy’s pastor, I watched as she fought with all she had to keep walking and then fought to continue feeding and dressing herself. During this time, her marriage collapsed and in so many ways – although loved by many, including a large family – Cindy had to face what seemed like a demon within her alone. Yet, in Cindy’s eyes, she was never alone. She would be the first to tell you how God sustained and strengthened her. As the disease claimed one bodily function after another, Cindy’s faith seemed to grow stronger and stronger.

She was in her own home the entire time I served in Greenbush (1996-2004) and spent time each Tuesday in adoration. She hosted a prayer group in her home and remained fully engaged in life with her children, siblings, community and parish family.

In January of 2016 she moved into the care center in Greenbush where she still resides today.

We spent a lot of time talking during those years. She didn’t know it at the time, but she had become, in truth, my spiritual director! She reminded me often how earlier in life, before MS, how having a nice tan and losing ten pounds were her main concerns. All that had changed in one visit to the doctor’s office.

From those powerful talks back then to our relationship now, Cindy remains a gifted spiritual director in my life. I remember the day she told me how she “thanked God” for her MS because it made her totally dependent upon God. To this day, Cindy states with a clear mind that she would never trade MS for the world’s definition of good health. “Good health” for her is being right with God.

Cindy is still able to slightly move her left hand and head; she can still talk up a storm although her voice is hoarse.

Who would have guessed all those years ago that Cindy would be walking me through a similar disease. Whether it is her MS or my ALS, the letters used to describe these crosses really don’t matter. They are not “gifts from God” but they are opportunities heavily laden for God to do what God always does … bring victory from defeat and resurrection from the darkest of nights.

She longs for heaven; to discard the body and be free. I am not there yet in my journey. Cindy is showing me the way through her example of profound and undisturbed faith.

Cindy wrote a prayer she has given me permission to share. It is entitled “Happily Ever After.”

I don’t always like the things I have done. Doing right for you is not always fun.

You are my God, the only one. You redeemed my sins by giving your son.

You said to obey my mom and dad. The times I didn’t, I wished I had.

“Love your neighbor” is one of your laws. Loving myself I see all the flaws.

Forgiving others that hurt me you command; not seven, but seventy-seven times is your demand.

Merciful forgiveness is mine for the asking. In your grace I could be basking.

All this I know, for I’ve heard it from Thee. “Happily ever after” is eternity.

Is Kavanaugh a Catholic judge, or a judge who happens to be Catholic?

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

President Trump has selected Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court left by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Unless something damaging emerges from his background, Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed.

Judge Kavanaugh has highlighted the importance of his Catholic faith in his personal life. But he will likely indicate in his confirmation hearing that his faith convictions do not and should not have an impact on his judicial decision-making. He will stipulate that when deciding cases, it is his responsibility to say what the law is, not what it should be.

His nomination raises the question whether there can be such a thing as a Catholic judge? Or is good judging merely a matter of technical skill, like fishing, where one’s religion has no role in the task?


The Church (in the United States) does not support or oppose candidates for office, including judges. Catholics can, however, turn to Church tradition for guidance in arriving at their own conclusions about the merits of candidates. Here, as on many topics, St. Thomas Aquinas provides remarkable wisdom.

As a judge’s main responsibility is to apply the law to specific cases, the interpretive methods a judge uses to identify the applicable legal rule are paramount. According to St. Thomas, judges should judge according to the law as written, noting that the act of judging is nothing other than rendering a decision about what is just (ST II-II, q. 60, art. 5).

The written law is an attempt to codify acts that are just by their nature or by agreement among persons. Quoting St. Augustine, St. Thomas highlights that once a legislator establishes the law, “judges may judge no longer of them, but according to them.” In other words, ignoring the written law usurps the legislator’s role in determining what is just when the written laws are created.

But, St. Thomas continues, “[j]ust as the written law does not give force to natural right, so neither can it diminish or annul its force, because neither can man’s will change nature.” Therefore, “if the written law contains anything contrary to the natural right, it is unjust and has no binding force.”

In cases of unjust laws, or those laws that when observed perpetrate an injustice contrary to nature in their effects, St. Thomas says that “judgement should be delivered, not according to the letter of the law, but according to the equity which the lawgiver has in view.” Here, St. Thomas transcends all the contemporary legal debates about, for example, “originalism,” “textualism,” “legal realism,” and the “living constitution.”

Depending on their judicial office, judges are not necessarily mere legal technicians – umpires calling balls and strikes, in Chief Justice Roberts’s famous analogy. Judges can also be agents of equity. To do justice means that a judge must, on occasion, correct inequity, whether it is perpetrated directly by a statute, or in its effects.

To do so effectively, however, means the judge must have the character, knowledge, and wisdom to be an agent of justice and equity. The judge’s equitable power is not an invitation to lawlessness.


So where does that leave Judge Kavanaugh? Is he a Catholic judge, or a judge who happens to be Catholic?

Liberal senators and activists committed to preserving the abortion license, and intuitively grasping that judges, inevitably, impose normative values on legal rules, will grill Judge Kavanaugh about his Catholicism, because they fear it will threaten cherished legal victories related to, among other things, abortion and same-sex marriage.

Conservatives will howl that this is an impermissible religious test for public office. But a judge’s religion, personal convictions, and background are relevant if a judge is required to authoritatively render judgments to achieve justice. Supreme Court nominees are wise to skillfully sidestep them, but the questions, rightly directed, are not out of bounds.

These questions should not, however, descend into bigotry, and politicians who overstep the bounds of civility or respect should be held accountable.

Judge Kavanaugh, like the other Catholics who have served on the Supreme Court, will have to forge his own jurisprudence and reconcile his faith commitments and role as a judge. A Catholic judge serves with virtue and does not perpetrate injustice in rendering decisions. But there is no specifically “Catholic” theory of legal interpretation, and no prescribed Catholic handbook for being a judge.

Still, Judge Kavanaugh and other Catholic jurists may consider rediscovering the wisdom of St. Thomas to transcend yet another false either/or dichotomy in contemporary politics.

VFTV: August 1, 2018


The Diocese of Crookston’s St. John Paul II Camp has come and gone. This year was our second time holding two sessions of the middle school camp. In previous years, registration would open; sign up would begin, and almost immediately all the slots would fill up. In response to the many, many requests from parents whose youngsters so wanted to attend but couldn’t get in, there are now two camps a summer.


On the final day of St. JPII Camp, I have the opportunity and delight of celebrating Mass with campers, camp staff and the parents who have come to collect their sons or daughters. Before the closing Mass, campers have an opportunity to take the microphone and say a few words about what was meaningful to them. Some mentioned making new friends, or the fun they’ve had. But what is mentioned most often as profoundly impacting the young camper, is the evening which includes the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the four-corners prayer experience – a time when the young people, if they wish, can speak to a staff person from the heart about their journey. When it all comes together, the young people who attend St. JPII Camp are blessed with a true, genuine, heart-felt faith experience. One of those not-to-be-forgotten faith experiences where they encounter Christ Jesus who touches their hearts in a deep and lasting way. At the microphone, they say they want to return next year. They say they want to return as a staff member. They tell the parents that if there is one thing they as parents do, it should be to send all their kids to JPII Camp.

You parents, of course, are the first and best teachers of your children in the ways of faith. I am happy that our St. JPII Camp continues to be of help to parents and of assistance to young people. I offer my thanks to those who make these JPII Camps possible: our diocesan staff, the faith formation and religious education volunteers, and the young people who volunteer as staff members. All the middle-school students who attend attest that they do a fantastic job in this great labor of love. But, most of all, thanks be to God who continues to draw our young people close to him. May the St. JPII Camp experience continue to bear good fruit in the faith journeys of our young people.

Happy 50th anniversary: Why isn’t the world celebrating?

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Formation in Discipleship

This month marks the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” which is held up by some as a prophetic witness by Pope Paul to the goodness of following God’s design for sexual life. On the other hand, it is completely ignored or ridiculed by others as being “out of touch” with the modern world. It’s teaching about the role of sexual union in marriage and the moral approach of fertility is largely ignored by the Church – the people of God – with various surveys indicating that over 95 percent of Catholic married couples in their child-bearing years use artificial birth control.

Why do so many Catholics ignore this teaching? No doubt many go along with a society that argues that sexual behavior is up to the individual, can be indulged in at any time, and that one or both parties use artificial birth control to avoid pregnancy. Along with this view is the idea that sexual morality should be left up to the individual and/or couple and Catholic leaders should not weigh in on what happens “in the bedroom.” And so, the “drug store artificial means” of birth control is used by almost everybody and few acknowledge that God has a plan for sexual union, that it is only to be part of marriage and it is meant to be open to life. As Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia noted at a recent commemoration of the document’s 50th anniversary, “... good and decent people today are blind to this good news.”

Why are so many Catholics blind to the “good news” God has for love, marriage, and sexual union? My answer will upset some of you (please feel free to let me know). The reason so many Catholics have ignored living the guidance given by Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” is they do not truly understand the teaching because the Catholic Church has not adequately taught “Humanae Vitae” and followed up that teaching with readily available and affordable Natural Family Planning (NFP). Of course, there are many in the Diocese of Crookston and around the world who have worked their entire lives to share the teaching in good and holy ways – but it has not been enough to stem the “tidal wave” of secularism. The Church has failed to successfully teach and follow “Humanae Vitae.”

This is so sad because “Humanae Vitae” is a beautiful teaching meant to explain a “total vision” of what it means to be human – a person created in the image and likeness of God – and given the gift of sexuality which “reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God who is love” (HV 8). Married couples are called to celebrate the gift of conjugal (sexual) love and “responsible parenthood” and see these as part of their holy vocation. In this vocation, when living in faithfulness to God’s design, married couples will experience freedom in its most sacred form.

Why are all Catholics not celebrating the 50th anniversary of this great teaching? Rather than writing about what has kept the Church from embracing Blessed Pope (soon to be St.) Paul VI’s teaching, let us as a Church reverse the trend. There are many in the Church who are doing this in good and holy ways and so allow me to join the effort, starting with a series of columns which will dig into the beauty of this wonderful teaching. This series will NOT be a theological review of “Humanae Vitae” but will instead show how the encyclical can be used as a guide for marital life. And let me beg the indulgence of my Catholic brothers and sisters who gave up on following God’s teaching for marital sexual life or never tried it in the first place for all sorts of reasons – please stick with me through this series of columns and see what happens. There will be no judgment here, just a series of proposals. I will be so bold as to guarantee that married couples who faithfully follow God’s plan for marriage as so beautifully described by Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” will experience a holy and happy union. Please don’t take my word on this, listen to a person who will be declared a saint October 14.

The Supreme Court and this moment in history

By Father Don Braukmann/Parishioner, St. Philip, Bemidji

Since I was 13 (1973) I have been waiting for this time in American history. As I put pen to paper, President Trump is about to nominate a Supreme Court justice who will tilt the judicial philosophy of the court to the right.

I wish my dad was alive to see this time. Legalized abortion on demand changed his political allegiances dramatically. He, more than anyone, shaped my political views which, today, stand outside the purview of the donkey or the elephant.

Of course, nothing is certain once a judge gets on the court. Just ask Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush with their appointments of Sandra O’Connor and David Souter. However, there is a great deal of confidence that Trump’s nominee will be pro-life (at least on the abortion issue) and help change the shape of the abortion debate dramatically.

It is no secret to readers of this column as to my opinion of President Trump. I have never considered the president to be pro-life. In fact, I believe his antics as president have hurt the pro-life cause far more than helped. His actions – from the denigration of women to his sophomoric tweets and outbursts – do not portray what it means to be pro-life … respecting the dignity of every human person. Worse, he shows no remorse. Such behavior doesn’t invite those open to a discussion on the issue of abortion to consider the pro-life perspective when he is our mouthpiece.

Yet, the fact is, we are where we are: on the verge of having a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade which brought us abortion on demand in 1973. Even with a (hopefully) pro-life majority on the court this will take time … time we need.

I have written earlier on how the reality of overturning Roe v. Wade is just the first step in defending the lives of the children in the womb. The abortion law of each state prior to 1973 will be the law of that state. This means, in Minnesota, abortion would be legal and would only be restricted with new legislation. This is the same in most states.

Let me get to my point. Are we in the pro-life movement ready? We have been the dog chasing the car for all these years … what if we actually catch the car?

This is where I feel present political leadership is certain to fall off the rails.

If abortion ends, will we in the pro-life movement be there with the finances needed to assure women’s health care and support? Will those who want to see welfare reform be ready for the certain increased costs of supporting the new lives among us? Will WIC (Women, Infants and Children), just to name one such program, be bolstered, or dissolved in the name of balancing a budget?

Will we be ready to spend what is needed and do what is needed in our education system to empower our children with the knowledge and skills to care for themselves? Or will we leave them to fend for themselves and bloat the welfare rolls all the more?

Will those who claim to promote family values fix the immigration policy in this country and stop dragging children from the arms of their parents?

The list goes on.

This is my fear … that those with the loudest voices and clearest actions are promoting anything but the dignity of every human life.

As Catholics, we are about to celebrate the anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” which, in 1968, articulated the strongest pro-life message to date in the Catholic Church. He was clear that the objectivization of women and our sexuality would lead to the chaos we are presently in.

I hope we are ready. The bullying, name calling, prejudice and pornographic talk must end.

What does it mean to be pro-life? If we are not clear and consistent and united … the pro-life message will fall on deaf ears … actually, correct that, our message will be heard loud and clear: “Have your baby! You are on your own!”

From Mother Teresa once again:

America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men.

It has shown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society.

It has portrayed the greatest of gifts, a child, as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.

Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.

‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ teaches us to make civic life a labor of love

By Sarah Spangenberg/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Holiness in politics? Is that an oxymoron?  Not for Catholics. In Pope Francis’ recent exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate”, he reminds us that the two are indeed connected.


Unfortunately, Catholics in politics and social ministry sometimes tend to fall into one of two errors.

First, there is the activism “of those who separate [the] Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him” (GE, 100). It is thinking that Christianity is all about doing good things. The problem is that it separates Jesus’ commission from the deep prayer which opens us to his grace.

Second is the error of those “who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular,” as if this aspect of the Church’s life were unimportant. It is the false notion that we ought to be preoccupied only with “spiritual” things, even to the neglect of our duties (GE, 101).

Both are rooted in the same belief: we must decide to be either spiritual or productive, a mystic or an activist, a citizen of heaven or a citizen of the United States. This is alien to our Catholic faith. “At such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), we can and must be present to minister and to serve others now, and at the same time remain fixed on “the life of the world to come.”


Christ commanded his disciples to be leaven in the world by preaching the Gospel (Mk 16:15), making disciples (Mt 28:19), and serving Him in the least of our brothers and sisters (Mt 25:31-46). Therefore, Francis writes, we cannot “love silence while fleeing interaction with others, … want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, [or] seek prayer while disdaining service” (GE, 26). We who are called to the lay vocation cannot excuse ourselves from public life under a false pretense of holiness. 

Similarly, the temptation to activism is also real. It is easy to treat the Church like “a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism” that marked the lives of the saints (GE, 100). But consider that Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa were among the most influential people in history, yet they also “wasted” the most time in prayer. They worked hard, but never sacrificed intimacy with God. Mother Teresa famously said, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy!”

In the Gospels, Jesus himself shows the importance of prayer, regularly withdrawing from the crowds for long periods of time spent in union with the Father. His was not an activism focused on worldly success – what could be a greater (apparent) failure than the Cross? – but a single-hearted pursuit of the Father’s will.

To imitate him, then, is not to be so engrossed in “spiritual” things that we withdraw from the world, nor is it to become so busy that we no longer rest in the Father’s heart. Rather, it is the union of action and contemplation, the “work and pray” of St. Benedict. Amid activity, we must also “recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt relationship with God” (GE 29).


How might we apply the teaching of “Gaudete et Exsultate” to political life? First, we should be clear that the goal of our work (at least, the ultimate goal) is not to win every battle in the public square or resort to tactics that seem to promote success. Of course, we should strive to build up the common good, but paradoxically, our true victory is not in success but in faithfulness.

We cannot see the full plan of God, the way he intends to use our “yes,” the unseen battles that are won when we are obedient – even in the face of apparent defeat or futility. Only prayer can detach us from visible results and free us to seek God’s will with an undivided heart.

Finally, our engagement in politics is a mission in which our holiness of life is far more potent than mere activity. Ultimately, it comes down to love. We love God by laboring for him, and we love our neighbor by pursuing what is good and just. Francis writes that when we let God fill both our prayer and our public lives, “every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes” (GE 31). Self-sacrificing love: what a vision for faithful citizenship!

There is freedom in letting God be God so we don’t have to be

By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington

As I shared with you a few months ago, I have ALS. I won’t try to spell it but it is also called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” after a professional baseball player who died from ALS in 1941.

In short, ALS is a muscle debilitating disease for which there is no cure. It is also fatal as, in the end, it attacks the diaphragm and/or the heart. I was diagnosed this past December, and because of the disease’s progression, Bishop Hoeppner has given me permission to retire from active ministry July 1.

At this point, I intend to continue writing this column, although it may take a slightly different direction in tone as I face what lies before me.

I was ordained on March 15, 1986. It is an odd date for a priestly ordination (usually they are in late spring) because Bishop Balke suggested moving up the ordination date after hearing my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Dad would not have made it to the original ordination date of May 31. Bishop suggested March 15 and that was the plan.

On March 3, my Dad suffered a massive stroke and died. His funeral was on March 6, and my ordination went ahead on March 15.

Needless to say, those were emotional days!

Over the past 32 years, there have been a lot of “emotional days.” As with everyone’s life, there were highs and lows. Highs when serving Christ was easy and fulfilling, and other times when my human frailty kept me from being the priest Christ intended me to be.

Through it all, Christ was and is faithful. Even when the brokenness of humanity tarnishes the beauty of Christ’s bride, the Church, he remains vigilant, awaiting the prodigal ones to return.

St. Philip’s in Bemidji, where I have lived the past seven years, has served as bookends, in a sense, to my vocation. In the fall of 1979, while a college student at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, I attended my first TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) here. It was during that weekend I realized the call I had been avoiding was real. 10 months later I was in the seminary!

I was not from the Diocese of Crookston (my hometown is New York Mills, in the St. Cloud Diocese) so upon entering the seminary I had to jump a few hoops to commit to Crookston. It was the example of Bishop Balke, Monsignor John Stearns, Monsignor Mike Patnode and other priests from Crookston whom I had come in contact with through TEC who were key in helping me realize the Diocese of Crookston was HOME.

The greatest joy of these years has been standing in awe of the faith of so many I have come to know in the parishes I have served.

The greatest sorrow has been, as I mentioned above, my own frailties that fell far short of the man I was called to be.

The greatest lesson I learned was how God cannot be outdone in generosity and that all things do work out, in the end, for the glory of God!

Over these years, as you well know, I have done my best to raise my voice for the voiceless child in the womb along with all those who are forgotten by society.

These are difficult days for me on that score as I feel the reputation of the pro-life movement is being smeared by leaders who claim the pro-life mantle yet act and speak in ways that are anything but pro-life. I know others reading this disagree sharply but I ask myself daily when I listen to the news, “What would Jesus think?”

In the end, I praise God for God’s mercy in my life. “Mercy,” as one definition states, is “kindness we don’t deserve.” I also praise God for the incredible people I have met and still love over these years.

I used to “play Mass” often as a kid. I have been humbled by Christ’s invitation to do the “real thing” over 11,700 times!

For now, it is ONWARD! Time to let God be God so I/we don’t have to be. Makes life a whole lot easier!

My conversation with ‘Colin the Catholic’ regarding my previous column

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage, Family & Life

In my previous column, I wrote about the role of conjugal (sexual) love within the Sacrament of Marriage, how sexual intimacy was created by God to be part of the sacrament. At the end of the column, I suggested that the world would be a better place – with less divorce, marital affairs, premarital sexual encounters, fewer abortions, etc. – if we would follow God’s plan. An acquaintance of mine, I will call him “Colin the Catholic”, asked me about this statement, wondering what evidence I had for my claim. What follows is an edited version of the conversation with some additional questions I have added – call this artistic license – so that I can make a final point. So, my conversation with Colin went something like this:

Colin the Catholic: I read your OND column. Thanks for tweeting it out because I don’t get the paper, so I depend on twitter for the OND. Don’t you think your column was a bit far-fetched? I mean, that list you had about all the things that are bad and suggesting that everything would be better if people would follow the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex ... where did you come up with that?

Deacon Mark: Colin, I did not make up this list, a prophet predicted this would happen even before it did.

CC: A prophet? Like some Old Testament guy? Which prophet are you talking about?

DM: Pope Paul VI was the prophet and he predicted the world’s current predicament regarding sexual morality back in the 1960s when he wrote something called Humanae Vitae.

CC: Oh that! That’s where a pope for the first time said that birth control was wrong, but no one really believes that anything is wrong with birth control, do they? I mean, OK abortion of course, but the rest of it is accepted as OK.

DM: Well Colin, you are not right when you say that the pope taught that birth control was wrong for the “first time.” In the Bible, and going all the way back to the early Church, we have regularly taught that artificial approaches to regulating birth are wrong. Pope Paul VI addressed the new technologies of birth control in a specific fashion for the first time because such things as the pill and IUDs were just being developed and really, for the first time, people were questioning whether pre-marital sex was even wrong.

CC: Well, the teaching is out of date, look at the overpopulation in the world and all of the starving people in places like Africa. The only way they are going to get out of poverty is by having fewer babies and they need birth control to do that.

DM: That is such an old argument. When I was a kid, science magazines were saying the world was going to run out of food by the year 2000 because of overpopulation. There is also something else you imply in your argument – that we in the “developed world” should be telling the people in African countries that they should not be having so many children. There are even some aid agencies that will only help feed the poor in other countries if those countries adopt certain birth control laws.

CC: All I know is that these poor countries need to have fewer children because too many kids go hungry and that is just not right.

DM: I agree with you that it is not right – we have enough food to feed everyone we just do not have the will to get them the food! I am glad your ideas were not around when my mom grew up. Her family was poor, and my mom talked about how she was hungry. She was also one of the youngest in her family of eight, so with your way of thinking – if a family is poor they should not have many children – my mom would not have been born.

CC: Well, sorry, I didn’t mean for it to get so personal. But in the end, what is wrong with a couple using birth control? If they think it is not the right time for a child, there is nothing wrong with using the pill or other means to prevent a birth.

DM: You think that, what I will call the “drug store” approach to birth control, is OK, but it seems to me that you do not really understand what Pope Paul VI explained to the Church and the world in Humanae Vitae. It is too bad that the Church has not been more successful in getting the word out, because Humanae Vitae celebrates God’s plan, the natural plan, for marriage. The “drug store” methods use artificial means to attempt to control fertility which creates an artificial plan for marriage. Plus, the “drug store” methods allow society to treat sexual relations as just one of many pleasurable activities that couples (married or not) can do with each other.

CC: I don’t really know what is in Humanae Vitae, can you explain it to me?

DM: I will attempt to explain this in my next column.

Religious liberty and constructive freedom past and present

By Jason Adkins/Minnesota Catholic Conference

Almost 40 years ago, in June 1979, Pope John Paul II traveled to his homeland of Poland, and within nine days ignited a human rights revolution that continues to shape the Church and the world today.

Against an atheist humanism that dictated that man is no more than matter and that his life has no cosmic significance, Pope John Paul II reminded his fellow Poles of their great dignity as made in the image and likeness of God.

The lessons from those “Nine Days in June” continue to be relevant as the Church in the United States observes Religious Freedom Week from June 22-29 against the backdrop of a renewed atheist humanism that imposes its own creed, has its own rituals, and demands conformity – all in the name of freedom, of course.


The communism that John Paul II fought against, and the prevailing form of liberalism today about which he warned us, are both variants of atheist humanism – the project of fostering individual liberation (autonomy) and mastery over nature to relieve pain and suffering.

Though communism seems to be undergoing a rehabilitation in the West, especially among the young, it is liberalism that poses the bigger threat to religious liberty and constructive freedom.

The liberal project of fostering individual autonomy and overcoming the limitations of nature (death, illness, pain, etc.) through scientific mastery are undoubtedly the highest cultural and political values today.

Our culture promotes creative self-expression (particularly in the realm of gender and sexuality), consumerism, convenience, and every form of physical and psychological therapy in order to improve one’s life and ease pain.

This false humanism is perpetrated through legal means behind the veil of neutrality and pluralism, giving it an air of irreproachability. Yet it is anything but neutral. It is an imposition of a new orthodoxy, namely, that man lives by bread alone – or, in today’s terms, by the newest food fad, sex, on-demand entertainment, and technology that allows you to swipe right or add a filter to create your own reality.

Matter is all that matters, and it is yours to shape as you will. You can supposedly make your own happiness – your own truth.


The Church and her members propose a deeper freedom not attainable on Like Pope John Paul II in Poland, the Church today proposes constructive freedom, which is the ability to respond to God’s call consistent with one’s conscience formed by moral truth.

The Church promotes political, religious, and economic liberty so that people can live the constructive freedom to which they are called by God.

Atheist humanism, based as it is on a false understanding of human fulfillment, cannot tolerate alternative accounts that reveal true liberation. Therefore, it suppresses alternatives, particularly that which is proposed by the Catholic Church. The Church reminds all persons of their dignity as sons and daughters of God, and of the higher calling to constructive freedom that goes along with that dignity.

Those who do not embrace atheist humanism’s worldview, however, are publicly shamed, trolled, and even forced to choose between the truth and their livelihoods.

Hence, religious sisters are forced to provide contraception to employees, Christian adoption agencies cannot operate according to their convictions about marriage, Christian ministries are sometimes forbidden to serve the homeless or immigrants, and pregnancy resource centers must refer people for abortions.

These coercive forces of atheist humanism must be confronted – confronted with the truth about God and man, along with a better proposal to foster the flourishing of all persons (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) that is consistent with their dignity and spiritual destiny.

Though liberty in all its forms is important, religious freedom is at the cornerstone today of the Church’s proposal for the good of society (aka Catholic social doctrine), as it provides the space for constructive freedom.


If we take secular, liberal regimes and their defenders at their word – that they prize pluralism, social peace, justice, and the common good – then they should be continually exhorted and reminded of the cornerstone importance of religious liberty.

Religious liberty is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It is the freedom to do as we ought, not to do as we want – a freedom that fosters the common good.

If secular states are what they claim to be, then they should protect and promote constructive freedom in the name of pluralism and the common good, not use secularity as a mask of neutrality to impose atheist humanism.

Otherwise, as Pope John Paul II noted, politics and democracy devolve into “thinly disguised totalitarianism.”

VFTV: June 13, 2018


In my last column, I mentioned the Church’s mission to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world (Mk. 16:15). Under this umbrella, the Church speaks of two specific sacraments of mission: Matrimony and Holy Orders. Both “Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed towards the salvation of others, if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the people of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1534) How blessed and privileged we are in this local Church that two young men will receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders this month: Deacon Nate Brunn was ordained a priest on June 9, and Mr. Michael Arey will be ordained a deacon on June 16.

Bishops receive the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders. Christ Jesus, through his apostles, has made their successors, the bishops, sharers in his own consecration and mission.

“Marked with the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders, bishops are stewards of the grace of the high priesthood …” (Lumen Gentium, 26, 27). Bishops, in turn, hand on in varying degrees a participation in this apostolic ministry. And so, I was pleased to ordain Deacon Nate Brunn to “serve to build up the Body of Christ” as a priest. At ordination, he, like all of our diocesan priests, made a promise of obedience and respect to me and my successors for, as an ordained priest, Father Brunn will be a co-worker and collaborator with me, the bishop.

“Even though they do not possess the fullness of the priesthood and in the exercise of their power are subordinate to the bishop, priests are nevertheless linked to the bishop in priestly dignity. By the Sacrament of Orders, in the image of Christ the eternal High Priest, they are consecrated to preach the Gospel, to shepherd the faithful, and to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament.” (Lumen Gentium, 28)

I am also so pleased that I will ordain Mr. Michael Arey to “serve to build up the Body of Christ” as a deacon of the Diocese of Crookston. At ordination, he too will promise obedience and respect to me and my successors as all deacons of the Diocese of Crookston have done. As an ordained deacon, Mr. Arey will be a co-worker with me and with our priests. A deacon “receives the laying on of hands (Holy Orders) not unto priesthood but for a ministry of service.” Strengthened by sacramental grace, deacons “have as their service for the people of God, in communion with the bishop and his college of presbyters, the ‘diakonia’ [service] of altar, word, and charity.” (Lumen Gentium, 29) As a minister of the altar, he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the Sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood. He will exhort and instruct the faithful, preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying and conduct funeral rites. He will do charitable works in the name of the bishop or pastor in such a way that those whom he serves will recognize Christ Jesus.

Mr. Arey will be what is called a “transitional deacon” for it is his intention to continue his studies and in one year’s time, God willing, be ordained to the priesthood.

At each Confirmation, I always say a few words about vocations and the first word is to ask you to keep praying for vocations. We are thankful that God has heard our prayer and is giving us Father Nate Brunn and soon-to-be-Deacon Michael Arey to “serve to build up the people of God” here, that is, to help us grow in holiness and fulfill our mission to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. Please continue to pray for our young people, and for all who serve in Holy Orders: for Father Brunn and Mr. Arey, for all our deacons and priests, and for your bishop too.


Speaking of vocations, each summer, here in the Diocese of Crookston, we are fortunate to have the Office of Vocations host a camp for young men, ages 16 and older. Esto Vir is an opportunity for young men interested in looking at the possibility of serving God and God’s people as a ministerial priest. “Esto vir” is Latin; in English it means “be a man.” Esto Vir is run by priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Crookston. It affords a wonderful opportunity for like-minded young men of faith to join together for prayer, fellowship and fun, and to learn about what it is to be a man ordained a priest. Esto Vir will be held from August 7-9 at Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp near Fosston. It is free of charge. I encourage all parents and grandparents to discuss this camp with their sons and grandsons. For more information, visit