VFTV: March 14, 2018

HOLY WEEK AND EASTER

“O Lord, I will take my place around your altar, singing a song of thanksgiving and proclaiming all your wonders.” (Ps 26)

As our Lenten journey approaches its destination, we look forward to the wonderful liturgical celebrations of Holy Week and Easter. Monday of Holy Week is always special because of the celebration of the Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass is celebrated at what is called a Stational Mass. A Stational Mass is “a preeminent manifestation of the local Church, present when the bishop as high priest of his flock, celebrates the Eucharist and particularly when he celebrates in the cathedral, surrounded by his college of presbyters and by his ministers, and with the full, active participation of all God’s holy people.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) All are welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Monday, Mar. 26 at 6:30 p.m. for the 2018 Diocese of Crookston Chrism Mass.

If you have never had the joyful experience of joining in the Chrism Mass, I invite you to come this year. Join the representatives from your parish or institution who will come to receive the holy oils which I will bless and consecrate at this unique Mass. I will bless the Oil of the Sick and bless the Oil of Catechumens. I will consecrate the Sacred Chrism. These are the oils used in the sacraments Jesus gave us through which we experience God’s enduring love and saving help. The Chrism Mass is also special for our priests, cooperators with their bishop in the apostolic mission. This Mass is “one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood and signifies the close unity of the priests with him.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) At this Mass each year, our priests recommit themselves to the ministerial priesthood and we pray in a special way for our priests. In so many ways, the Chrism Mass radiates the beauty of who we are, thanks be to Jesus Christ our Savior and brother, and how wonderfully God loves and takes care of us, his children. Consider making the trip to join in this wonderful Mass as part of your Lenten journey.

I hope that you will be able to take part in the beautiful liturgies of the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper; Good Friday, the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord; Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil. In these liturgies we remember in a special way the culminating events of the Lord’s life on earth by which he conquered sin and death and brought salvation to the world. In these liturgies, we “listen with quiet hearts” and meditate on how God “in times past saved his people” and how in the fullness of time he sent his son “as our Redeemer”. We pray that “our God may complete this paschal work of redemption.” (Roman Missal, Instruction opening the Liturgy of the Word, Easter Vigil) We move from hearing Jesus’ words from the cross: “It is accomplished” to the joy of Easter Sunday and hearing our Risen Lord say: “Peace be with you.” Alleluia! The cross of God’s self-giving love in Jesus has become the cross of new life in water and the Holy Spirit. The pain of Good Friday gives way to the joy of Easter Sunday.

What remains, of course, is for each and every person to really receive the gift of salvation Jesus brings. Jesus is always looking for our response to his self-gift of love. He is always looking for our self-gift in return. This involves our turning away from our natural self-involvement and our idols of immediate gratification to live the life of love of God and one another as Jesus taught and lived. “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) In our world, this kind of love will inevitably involve suffering. It is a dying to self and a rising to a new way of life. Indeed, in Baptism we have died with Christ and come to share divine life. However, it takes a life-time to grow in this new life. And so, Easter is “a calling forth of love to be enacted in our fallen world, where the choice to love is a suffering.”

Alleluia. He is risen! I pray that you have a truly joyous and blessed Easter. May you know the presence of the Risen Lord deep within your heart. May we all come to know – even more – the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, whose power enables us to live lives fully engaged in suffering love; that God’s work of redemption might move to completion until God is all in all.

‘Love believes all things,’ and what a wonderful thing we believe!

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

Imagine a spouse asking her/his beloved, “Do you love me?” It is hard to know what the question means because I have not given any context to it. Is this question being raised within a warm morning embrace where the person posing the question knows how the other will answer but just wants to hear the words from their lips? “Do you love me?” “Of course, I love you, with all of my heart.” In contrast, is the question presented in the context of marital conflict, a context where the one asking the question may not only be uncertain of the answer but also afraid to hear what their beloved will say. “Do you love me?” may be followed by “Not right now” or “Not when you act that way” or the even more crushing line “I am not sure I ever loved you.”

When you fall in love with someone else and they with you, you could say that the bond of love is based on both faith and reason. “How do you know he/she loves you?” you may be asked about your future spouse to which you reply with a list of loving behaviors they do for you and with you. They treat you with respect, they want to spend time with you, and of course they tell you “I love you.” These are all things that can be observed but arriving at the conclusion that someone loves you also is based on something else. It is an experience “in your gut” that tells you “this is the right one.” I know someone who, after the first date he had with his future wife told a mutual friend at the time, “She is not the kind of girl you just date, she is the kind of girl you marry.” Yes, there is a faith dimension to the love spouses have for one another.

Pope Francis talks about this love, the love that is based on both faith and reason, as being based on trust. When he writes about the passage from 1 Corinthians, 13:4-7, “(love) believes all things,” he writes about the great trust that develops between spouses. It is important to keep in mind that this trust is not merely between the husband and wife, but also between the husband, wife, and God. If you are living in a sacramental marriage, remember that God is at the center of the relationship. For those who regularly read this column you have heard me quote the title of a book by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “It Takes Three to Be Married” and the three are husband, wife and God.

Just think if every couple trusted not only each other but also trusted that God was at the center of their marriage. If couples believed this, then every interaction they had would be understood as an interaction that includes God. Can you imagine what would be said (and also what would not be said) if couples, during every interaction, trusted that God was listening – was involved in the conversation. Just think if every couple would trust that they could regularly turn to God to understand the way, the truth and the life God wants them to live as a married couple?

I think of a couple who regularly turned to God in prayer when they had a decision to make or a situation to address. I am not talking about something like “what should we watch on TV tonight,” but most things (such as “what should we do this weekend”) were presented to God in prayer. They would pray together, asking God questions about how they should be spending their time, what to do about their children, and how to allocate their money to name a few. They did not expect to literally hear the voice of God in reply. No, they would go ahead and talk with each other and address the situation as most couples do but they based their conversation on their trust in God’s guidance. Their prayer opened them to follow Jesus in all that they did in their family and marital life. And it worked! Their marriage was happy and their children were loving and respectful and they all became great Catholic adults.

It is so easy for couples to rely solely on the trust they have in each other to work things out. And it is a great thing when couples trust each other so that they see each other as part of a collaborative team. But this column suggests that such couples expand their circle of trust to include God. Trust that God is present in your marriage to guide you and enter into prayer to seek the answer God has for you. Go to Mass, receive Eucharist, experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pray with each other in your home, pray with friends who are married pray by yourself. As a couple ask God, “do you love us?,” and know what the answer will be – YES!

Hope is the virtue of being able to see there is a tomorrow

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

I get a kick out of the fact we are such creatures of habit. Even at Mass, as happened on February 4, the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary time here at St. Philip’s and, I dare say, around the world!

The first reading was from the Book of Job (7:1-4,6-7). Here is part of what was proclaimed from all the ambos around the Catholic world: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? He is a slave who longs for the shade. I have been assigned months of misery and troubled nights have been allotted to me. My days come to an end without hope. I shall not see happiness again.”

No hope is offered in that passage from Job. And yet, as the reader ends the reading and says, “The Word of the Lord,” we all respond wholeheartedly “Thanks be to God!” What? How in the world can we be thankful when what we just heard was nothing to be thankful for? It is like we are saying, “Yes! Lord! Give me drudgery, assign me months of misery and troubled nights! I hope I never see happiness again!” And still we proclaim, “Thanks be to God!” We are a funny people and the Church shows she has a sense of humor.

But, of course, the bigger question here is how do we explain the endless spiral of suffering in the world? What do we say to those among us who echo Job’s words of despair in this day?

In the movie, “The Passion,” when Jesus receives the cross upon which he will die, he sighs and leans into it. Actually, Jesus clings to it with all his remaining strength. At that moment his mother, Mary, finds her way to his side and kneels down beside Jesus. He takes one of his blood soaked hands and raises it to her face and says, “Behold, I make all things new!”

Again … what? In that bloody mess called crucifixion Christ makes all things new?

Yes!

The view from the cross changes everything, as long as you know you are on it! Without knowing, it becomes nothing more than a crucible of pain and needless suffering.

The truth is: In our suffering. In our struggle. In all the things the evil one throws at us, there is an even greater power at work; an invitation from the great God of the universe to trust him.

I continue to be blessed, as a priest, because I am welcomed onto the front lines of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, in the lives of so many over my 32 years of priesthood. I have stood in awe holding hands and passing Kleenex as folks stumble under the burdens of life only to rise again. Those seemingly abandoned in defeat come to rejoice in victory and I am graced to witness it firsthand. This is true not only in the lives of those I serve, but in my own life as well. It is in the mystery of life where Christ stands victorious … and we are at his side!

The crosses which hang in our churches, in our homes, around our necks, on our rear view mirrors and on the end of our Rosaries are not signs of defeat, but awesome testaments to victory!

Job was tempted over and over again to give up. People kept coming to him saying, “Think, Job, you must have done something so terribly wrong that you are being treated this way … punished by God. You’ve lost your family, your farm and all your animals!” Today they would have added, “If your life were a country song you would lose your pickup and your dog to boot!”

It gets to a point where Job is so angry at God he even wrestles with God. It doesn’t go well.

It reminds me of when my nephew went out for wrestling for the first time his senior year of high school. We all thought he was going to go on to be an electrician because by the end of the season he could name every light fixture in every gymnasium for miles around! That is not a good thing in wrestling!

Yet, even as Job was being swallowed up by the deepest darkness where hope could not be found, he was faithful. Over and over again, Job tried to understand God’s ways but, over and over again, placed his trust where it first rested, in God.

In the end, Job wins. In the end he has more cattle, more land, more children, more money, more dogs and more pickup trucks than he ever could have wanted. He was in heaven. Eternal life was and is his!

Hope: knowing the best is yet to come.

I want to close with these words from Pope Francis which explain more clearly what the previous paragraphs I have written were trying to say:

“To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, that does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.”

VFTV: February 14, 2018

LENT

We had the interesting coincidence this year of Lent beginning on Valentine’s Day. Maybe you celebrated your Valentine on “Fat Tuesday”, with a nice meal, flowers or chocolates. Regardless, I pray you were been able to start Lent in earnest on Ash Wednesday with a day of fasting, abstaining from meat, Mass and being marked with ashes. It was a time for us to again hear and heed the admonitions: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” and “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

These past weeks, we’ve been hearing from the Gospel of Mark at both the weekday and the weekend Masses. Jesus begins his public ministry by joyfully proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” He calls followers, he teaches, he calms a storm, he heals, he casts out demons. While on the way to attend to the seriously ill 12 year old daughter of the synagogue official, a woman who has been sick for 12 years courageously pushes through the crowd thinking “if I can only touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” She does touch them! She is cured! Jesus, realizing that power had gone out from him, asks “Who touched me?” He finds her to let her know that it is her faith that has saved her. Messengers arrive with sad news: the little girl is dead. They say: “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” Jesus encourages faith and upon arriving at the home, raises up the girl. (Mark uses here the same word for raising that will be used for Jesus being raised from the dead.) As the Gospel continues, the crowds continue to bring their sick to Jesus and Mark tells us, they “begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” Tassels? God had told Moses: “Speak to the sons of Israel and tell them to put tassels on the hems of their garments” and the sight of them “will remind you of all the commandments of the Lord. You are to put them into practice then and no longer follow the desires of your heart and your eyes, which have led you to make wanton of yourselves.” (Lev. 15:37-39)

My friends, “the annual observance of Lent is the special season for the ascent to the holy mountain of Easter.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) By our observance of Lent this year, may each of us prepare a beautiful valentine of love to give God at Easter. How? By prayer and penance. Jesus wants us to approach him with our needs and concerns as did the synagogue official. Jesus wants us to have courage to reach out to touch him for healing as did the woman sick for 12 years. Jesus wants us to bother him with what is bothering us. In our prayer, Jesus wants us to tell him where we’re hurting so that he can heal us. In our prayer, Jesus wants us to know how he is taking our hand and raising us up. In Lent, we need to touch the tassel of Jesus’ garment, seeing how we have not kept God’s commandments and commands. We need to take a good look to see how and where the desires of own hearts and our eyes have led us to sin. By works of penance each day of Lent, we show God our disdain and sorrow for sin and ask God’s help to sin no more. And “During Lent, penance should be not only inward and individual but also outward and social, and should be directed toward works of mercy on behalf of our brothers and sisters.” (Bishop’s Ceremonial) And during Lent, we need to avail ourselves of the healing sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

We have the interesting coincidence this year of Easter falling on April 1, “April Fools’ Day”. If we are conscientious in responding to God’s gift of grace this Lent; if we exercise discipline in prayer and penance these days of Lent, we will not be an “April Fool” this Easter Day, April 1. We will, instead, know and experience all the more the love of God which prompted God to send us Jesus who suffered and died and rose again that we might be forgiven, healed and raised up to eternal life. And our Easter celebration will truly be a beautiful valentine of love for God.

Love bears all things, it ‘coexists with imperfection’

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

Paul ends his exposition on love in first Corinthians with four phrases, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” In marriage, we know that love is to be patient, kind, not jealous or arrogant, is not to be self-centered, and is to rejoice in the good of the other. These are some of the points covered in the first verses of 1 Corinthians, 13:4-7. And then Paul repeats the “all things” phrases pertaining to love and Pope Francis in “The Joy of Love” covers each in some detail. I will begin this column with one of the final points he makes about “love bears all things.” The Holy Father writes, “Love coexists with imperfection.”

When people marry, they are often able to describe a number of things about their beloved that they adore. I was talking with an engaged couple one time. He told me how his future wife was so caring and considerate, was cute and very attractive, was intelligent and could “figure things out” in a way that impressed him. She in turn was just as laudatory: “He is such a good listener and he sends me cute text messages and he is a bright guy.” They also complimented each other on their faith life – they recognized that the other was a firm believer in Jesus Christ.

In a nice way, I asked this couple a question that went something like this, “And what are the things about the other person that bother you?” Now, don’t think I was being “Doctor Downer” and trying to get this couple into a fight, but like many young couples they were so focused on seeing the positive in the other that they never talked about the negative. Many young couples, and for that matter even married couples who have been together for many years, have difficulty with the “touchy conversation” about things that bother, irritate, or offend. If these conversations happen at all, they tend to occur after one party is “fed up” or “can’t take it any longer” and then people lose their tempers, hurt feelings come out, and the situation is ignored and yet never goes away.

What Paul writes is so true, “love bears all things,” or as Pope Francis summarized, “love coexists with imperfection.” Married people reading this column, don’t you agree? I wish I had a way of knowing what each of you readers are thinking right now – especially those who are married. Are your thoughts something like this? “Oh yes, St. Paul is right, I have to bear many things about my spouse.” Or perhaps you are thinking, “The Holy Father is so right, my love for my spouse exists in spite of her/his imperfections.” or even, “Somehow, I am still able to love them even with her/his many imperfections.” If you are thinking something like this, let me suggest that you are missing the point. When I write to have you reflect on imperfections, I write to have you reflect on your own! What are your imperfections that your spouse has to bear? What are your imperfections that, in spite of these, your spouse still loves you?

One thing I have noticed in couples who have difficulty in working through “touchy conversations” is that one or both parties are unaware of the imperfections they bring to the marriage. They are often only focused on the imperfections of their spouse. They are able to list all sorts of personal weaknesses in their beloved but unable to comment or hear about their own weaknesses, challenges or – to put it bluntly – sin. The Holy Father gives wise advice when he tells couples to limit their judgment and watch what they say about the other’s imperfections. At the same time, in humility, we should recognize our own.

When two people marry, they bring all of their strengths and weaknesses into the relationship. They should strive to grow ever closer to reflecting the love of God in their marriage, which means that they should always strive to grow in holiness. Yet, as Pope Francis writes, “love does not have to be perfect for us to value it.” Your love will be perfected when you are in heaven, with God who is love. While here on earth, as you work to deal with your imperfections to help you become a better husband or a better wife, keep in mind that, “love bears all things.”

The issue of abortion and our neighbors to the north

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

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about abortion at a recent town hall gathering in Hamilton, Ontario. He was asked by an audience member where Trudeau and his government stood on the issue of free speech and where he drew the line.

The question arose because of Canada’s Summer Jobs Program which funds placement of students in non-profit and public-sector jobs. The program requires applicants (students!) to publicly agree with the government on the issue of abortion and gender identity/expression among other things.

Pro-life lawmakers are mounting a legal challenge claiming discrimination against Christians specifically and the violation of religious liberty in general.

Trudeau said, “An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.”

The right to an abortion, for any reason, is the law of the land in Canada. It has not been a major issue in Canadian elections and the only political party which is staunchly pro-life, the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, has never had a member elected to parliament.

Abortion is considered a basic human right for women in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

When I served in Warroad and Baudette (on the Canadian border), priests from Canada said pressure was building within the government to criminalize the action of priests who spoke out publicly against abortion and/or same sex marriage rights.

And so the cancer of abortion which eats away at the very soul of any society which promotes it continues to grow. There is little chance of Canada electing a pro-life prime minister given the fact a pro-life position is simply not tolerated.

In the United States, we just marked the anniversary of legalized abortion on demand, 45 years to be exact. And in this time, political leaders who once saw abortion for what it is somehow contorted their views and their souls to justify the killing. A prime example was Senator Ted Kennedy who, during his time in the United States Senate, went from being a powerful defender of life to a crusader for abortion on demand. For Kennedy, it meant votes; for the children, it meant death.

I have shared with readers before the following reply Senator Kennedy wrote to a constituent in 1971 on his own personal and political stand on abortion:

“While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life.

“Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.

“When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

It is hard to read those words all these years later as Senator Kennedy, soon after writing his reply, changed his mind, and, as I said earlier, became a leading crusader for abortion rights to the day he died.

What changed? The science did not change. The species of the child in the womb did not change. The teaching of the Catholic Church of which the Senator was a member, did not change. Jesus Christ’s opinion did not change.

Canada has a pro-life history which she has long ago abandoned.

Many of our Catholic political leaders, like Senator Ted Kennedy, once pro-life, have gone the way of Canada.

America, over 56 million children have died since that black day in January of 1973. That is more than every man, woman and child in these states: Oregon, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Utah, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, Vermont, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana.

We are so much better than this, America. We can treat women with respect, support and compassion while at the same time defending the most basic of all human rights … the right to life.

VFTV: January 24, 2018

V ENCUENTRO

Sunday, Jan. 14, I had the delight of celebrating Mass at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Moorhead, with a good number of our Hispanic faithful. We offered thanks for the gift of faith and offered prayers for the success of the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino ministry (V Encuentro) currently in process and growing in the Church in the United States.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ V Encuentro is a process of prayer, consultation and evangelization to discern ways for us to better respond to the ever-growing Hispanic presence in the Church in the United States and to help our Hispanic Catholics strengthen their Catholic Christian identity and respond as missionary disciples for the entire Church. The V Encuentro process is similar to the process followed in development and implementation of The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America held in Orlando last summer. It involves prayer, identification of leaders, diocesan and regional meetings and a national assembly of delegates.

The V Encuentro national event will be held this coming September in Grapevine, Texas, and will involve over 3,000 delegates from the dioceses of the United States, including the Diocese of Crookston.

I thank all who are involved in V Encuentro. Let us pray that this effort, both locally and nationally, will enliven the Church and help us all be intentional disciples and faithful to our mission to joyfully and eagerly share the faith with others to the glory of God and the true good of our neighbors.

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK

Returning from my annual January retreat with the bishops of Region VIII, I was standing in the baggage claim area of the Grand Forks airport waiting to collect my luggage before going outdoors to see if my car would start after sitting a week in very, very cold subzero temperatures. As I stood there, a young girl left her mother’s side and came over and gave me a hug. She looked up and said “You are our bishop. I’m Susie. I’m in the third grade. You visited our school and blessed us. Thank you.” How nice was that!

Each year I look forward to my visits to our Catholic schools. This year the visits begin again during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 28 – Feb. 3. I will visit St. Joseph’s School in Moorhead on Tuesday, Jan. 30; St. Philip’s School in Bemidji on Wednesday, Jan. 31; and be at Sacred Heart School in East Grand Forks, on Friday, February 2.

Since 1974 we have celebrated National Catholic Schools Week, giving special attention to and thanks for Catholic education. The theme for this year’s week is: “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” It highlights the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to our church, our communities and our nation. Our Catholic schools provide a solid, balanced academic curriculum that integrates faith, culture and life. Our Catholic schools have a 99 percent high school graduation rate with 85 percent of these graduates going on to college. I call it “an advantage for life.” Thanks to all the teachers, administrators and staff of our Catholic schools. Thanks to all you parents who sacrifice to give your young people this “advantage for life” that is a Catholic education.

WORLD DAY FOR CONSECRATED LIFE

Each February, we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life. This year our celebration is February 2 – celebrated in parishes the weekend of February 3-4. In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted this special day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. He attached it to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord/Candlemas Day – the day on which candles are blessed, symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all people. Those consecrated to God by the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience seek to live their Baptismal promises. We are thankful for all who have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be religious priests, brothers, sisters, hermits or consecrated virgins.

In the Diocese of Crookston, we enjoy the witness and ministry of the Benedictine Sisters, Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Mary of the Presentation and the Priests and Brothers of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. May our young people consider dedicating their lives to God in this wonderful way, as a religious sister, brother or priest.

NATIONAL MARRIAGE WEEK & WORLD MARRIAGE DAY

Someone once said that God gifts a person with a particular vocation because he knows that it’s the best way for that person to serve and the best means for that person to attain heaven. Certainly most of the disciples of Jesus in the world today are called and gifted with the vocation of marriage. Every year, National Marriage Week and World Marriage Day give us an opportunity to thank God for the gift of marriage and pray for all who have been called to this wonderful vocation. This year, National Marriage Week is February 7-14 with World Marriage Day celebrated on Sunday, February 11. Please pray during this week for all married couples. You who have been called to this vocation, thank God in a special way and ask him to continue to bless you as you live it. If you want a boost, take a moment to be enriched by visiting this USCCB sponsored website: ForYourMarrige.org. May God help us all work to build a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and family.

Let’s get this party started: Caucusing for human dignity

By Katherine Cross/Minnesota Catholic Conference

It may not be a presidential election year, but Minnesotans will still vote on governor, the state house of representatives, and two U.S. senate seats. These decisions can potentially shift balances of power on both state and national levels.

Yet, many Americans don’t seem to think either party is making good use of that power. According to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2017 American Values Survey, less than one-third of Americans say Democratic policies are leading the country in the right direction, and less than a quarter say the same of Republican policies.

These are not encouraging numbers, but instead of decrying the state of politics, as Catholics we are called to action. You can still make a New Year’s resolution to participate in the public arena, first by getting to know your legislators, and secondly, attending your local precinct caucus.

FULFILLING OUR DUTY TO PARTICIPATE IN PUBLIC LIFE

It is our duty to actively participate in public life (CCC 1915). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that while “participation is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility” (CCC 1914), such as care for the family and faithfulness at work, there are also important steps we can take to influence the public square.

As Catholics, we need to help establish party platforms that promote and defend human dignity. The Second Vatican Council gives us a great starting point to form a platform for human dignity. The teaching document, “Gaudium et Spes,” reminds us, “Whatever is opposed to life itself … whatever insults human dignity … as well as [the treatment of people] as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed.”

Too often, parties and their politicians will focus their efforts on promoting a singular aspect of human dignity, but this narrow vision casts a shadow over the rest of the human person. As Catholics, we must bring the Gospel of Life into these darkened corners, helping our parties and political leaders come to a full recognition and defense of every individual’s innate human dignity.

NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED

You don’t need a long resume of political experience to make an impact. In fact, you’ve already got the job. As a constituent and disciple, it is your job to let your legislators know whether their decisions truly represent you. If legislators never hear from you, they cannot properly do their job.

To be a constituent is no small job, and it may leave you wondering, “Where do I even begin?” Go back to the resolution: get to know your legislators, and attend your party caucus.

Step one: Find out who represents you. Use our “Find your officials” tool (mncatholic.org/actioncenter), but don’t stop there. You can also influence who becomes your legislator and what your party stands for.

Step two: Attend your local precinct caucus the evening of February 6th. During the caucus you get to vote for which candidates the party should endorse, and propose resolutions that can shape the party’s platform. For more details on caucuses, head to mncatholic.org/caucus.

THE POWER OF PRAYER

You may be thinking, party lines are too deeply drawn, there’s no way a conversation with my legislator or my single vote at a caucus can make a difference. If not for the grace of God, you’d be right.

Saint John Paul II reminds us in “Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)” that it is through the light of reason and God’s hidden grace that, “every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can … come to recognize … the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree.”

Therefore, before taking steps one and two, start where everything begins … with God. We must, as faithful citizens, begin in prayer. Pray that Christ’s light of reason and grace enlighten legislators and constituents alike so that we may come to recognize and defend the human dignity of all.

VFTV: January 10, 2018

I hope everyone had a most wonderful and blessed Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Thank you to all who sent me cards and prayers and gifts. There were so many and I thank you all.

Our celebrations came in bunches this year. The Fourth Sunday of Advent and then Christmas the next day; the Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and then the next day, January 1, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God; the Solemnity of the Epiphany on Sunday, January 7, and then on the next day, the Baptism of the Lord.

What a wonderful way to end one year and begin another. We remember the incarnation of the Son of God and the family into which he was born. We celebrate his mother Mary who is also our mother, the mother of God’s family the Church. We celebrate Christ’s first showing forth to the Magi who remind us that Jesus is savior of all the nations and we see him begin his public ministry, a ministry in which he will conquer sin and death and bring eternal life to all who will accept it.

All of these events celebrate hope. Human beings cannot live without hope, we need something to look forward to. As we begin our new year’s journey in Ordinary Time, we look forward to the presence and action of Jesus saving us. In Ordinary Time, “the mystery of Christ himself is honored in all its fullness, especially on Sundays.” (Universal Norms, 43)

Jesus not only shows us the right way to live. Jesus has destroyed the inevitability of sin by sharing his victory with us. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus neutralizes sin’s effects in us by supporting us, guiding us and sweetening our bitterness with unconditional love. May we all know the closeness of Jesus as he visits us and remains with us while we continue our homeward journey this new year.

MARCH FOR LIFE

Every January the national March for Life takes place in Washington, D.C. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the terrible Roe v. Wade decision.

Let us say special prayers this month that respect for life may result in abortion being recognized for the horror it is and be banned in our land and the world over.

We need to continue to do all we can do to end abortion. Although you might not be able to journey to Washington, D.C. for the march, you might consider traveling to our own capital in St. Paul to join in the prayer and witness there, Monday, January 22, beginning at 12 p.m.

PILGRIMAGE

Speaking of journeying, here’s something to consider putting on your calendar. This coming summer, June 27-July 1, we are putting together a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrines and Churches of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A pilgrimage is prayer on the move. The word in Latin is: “manuductio,” which can mean safe passage, but literally is a word formed from two Latin words: “mano,” meaning hand, and “ductio,” meaning to lead. So, literally, a pilgrimage is “being led by the hand” with the purpose of discovering great things.

If you want to do something good for yourself, without having to travel to the Marian shrines in Europe, come join us on this pilgrimage. We will visit a number of places but there are two that I am really looking forward to visiting. The first is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. I have been to this shrine many times and can attest that it is a beautiful and special place.

I am also particularly looking forward to visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here, a wonderful woman by the name of Adele Brise was blessed by appearances of Mary, Queen of Heaven, and miracles followed. In 2010, the Catholic Church officially confirmed the Marian apparitions, and in 2106, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops officially designated this place as a national shrine. I know wonderful things will result from our “being led by the hand” for prayer on the move during the pilgrimage this summer. I hope you will join us.

A new year is here, resolve to rejoice in your family

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

Some people, at the beginning of a new year, take stock of their life – to think about how they spent their time in the previous year and how they are going to change in the new year. And so, before writing this column, I decided to review what I have been writing about in “Praying With the Family.” Last year, for the first column of 2017, I wrote about getting into “spiritual shape” through prayer (by the way, how is that going for you?). Then in May, I began to review Pope Francis’ letter “Amoris Laetitia” or as it is more commonly known “The Joy of Love.” Specifically, I have used nine columns so far to reflect on what the Holy Father wrote in Chapter 4 about 1 Cor. 13:4-7, the “Love is patient, …” passage. I have interrupted the progression of columns on this passage with various other topics due a variety of reasons, but I am making a New Year’s resolution about my column. They say that if you tell others about your resolution you are more likely to carry it out and so I am informing the kind souls who read this column that I will finish the review of Chapter 4 of “The Joy of Love”!

With this resolution in mind, I note that the next verse to be considered is 1 Cor. 13:6, “it (love) does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” Pope Francis ends his reflection on this verse by writing, “The family must always be a place where, when something good happens to one of its members, they know that others will be there to celebrate it with them.” This verse made me think of a family where the children (from their early years into their adult years) were always competitive. They would compete with each other, they would compete in school, later in their work and in other ways with their adult friends. For that matter, their mom and dad were pretty competitive as well and encouraged their children to be competitive. When the family played games with each other, they played to win. There was one game they played that really brought out their competitive juices but what was wonderful about this family was the way they would not just compete with great gusto – but the way they rejoiced with equal gusto. When a brother or sister – or mom or dad – would win they congratulated the winner and celebrated their victory. The same was true for accomplishments in life. Rather than being jealous when their brothers or sisters accomplished something they had not, they would rejoice in the victory/award/recognition that the other received.

To “rejoice in the right” for your family means, in part, that you are excited and happy for them when things go well in their lives. Pope Francis writes, “… we rejoice at the good of others when we see their dignity and value their abilities and good works. This is impossible for those who must always be comparing and competing, even with their spouse [and let me add their siblings], so that they secretly rejoice in their failures.” It is sad to see families where competitiveness leads to bitterness, jealousy, and resentment when a family member has something good happen in their life.

The competitive family that I am writing about in this column would never think to resent the accomplishments of a brother or sister – because at the core of their family is the love of God. They rejoiced in their siblings’ accomplishments because they knew that God rejoices in the genuine happiness of us all. Again, the words of Pope Francis, “When a loving person can do good for others, or see that others are happy, they themselves live happily and in this way give glory to God, for ‘God loves the cheerful giver’ (2 Cor. 9:7).”

If you are accustomed to making New Year’s resolutions, let me present one for your consideration: rejoice in your family. Rejoice in their happiness, in their success, in the way they overcome difficulty, in their victories in life and even during family games. Rejoice in your family and you will live a joy-filled life.

Quotes from the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ to inspire a new year of evangelization

By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization & Justice

Merry (belated) Christmas and Happy New Year! How’s that New Year’s resolution going? It’s not too late to make one if you haven’t yet! My personal spiritual goal for 2018 is to read the entire Bible! If you see me, please ask me how it’s going (I need accountability to stick with this goal!) In this first month of the new year, I invite you to make 2018 one in which you encounter Christ in new ways and in ways that you previously thought to be impossible. Invite and challenge your family members and fellow parishioners to become more fully who God created them to be this year and as we become that person, let’s share that process and experience with others!

In the opening paragraphs of his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”

Encountering Christ is not dependent on one moment, but many moments. Let’s not limit or convince ourselves that there are moments we cannot encounter Christ, or think that we could possibly be “done” encountering him. If we are serious about the Catholic faith and evangelizing, then we must encounter Jesus daily, constantly renewing our relationship with him. At times, making time for Jesus each day may feel like a burden, or even a cross to carry. Let’s shift our thinking to instead see this as an opportunity. If we do this faithfully and joyfully, we will become more fully who God created us to be.

Pope Francis encourages us to allow God to transform and perfect us: “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” Evangelization is the logical consequence of knowing Jesus! I love the simple question that Pope Francis concludes this thought with, “if we have received the love (of Jesus) which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” He is calling us out of our comfort zones and into a life of mission!

The pope points out that this is what humans are made for. We become who we were meant to be as we grow in intimacy with Jesus and give the love we experience in that relationship away in other relationships in our lives. He says, “When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.” It’s often said that it is better to give than to receive. This concept is something that applies outside of gift-giving at Christmas! When we give of ourselves because Christ gave himself to us, we are doing exactly what we were created to do and in doing so we are missionaries.

Renewing and growing in our relationship with Christ compels us to evangelize. We must trust that the grace of God given to us through a life of prayer and the sacraments is all we need to evangelize with courage, but most of all with joy. I leave you with one final thought from Pope Francis: “May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient, or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: ALS and the journey home

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

On Dec. 15, 2017, I was diagnosed with ALS by a doctor in Fargo. On Dec. 28 it was confirmed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It is named after the Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941.

ALS is a disease of the parts of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. Nerve cells that control muscle cells are gradually lost. As these cells are lost, the muscles they control become weak and then nonfunctional.

I am in the early stages of the disease. For me, the initial symptom is a weakness in my shoulders. In human anatomy, the deltoid muscle is the muscle forming the rounded contour of the shoulder. As I understand it, my deltoid is substantially paralyzed.

In English, I have to be creative when putting on a vestment for Mass. Anything over my head or shoulder level is very difficult to do. Just removing a hanger with a vestment on it from the closet is nearly impossible.

I am not able to distribute Communion, even though it does not include maneuvers over my head, the repetitive action involved cannot be done for more than a very few minutes. Lifting a chalice at Mass takes all the strength I have.

The strange thing is, I can still shovel snow like a farm boy or move furniture around or run up steps at the school. All of that will change in time, but that is where it is for now. I will continue to write my column in OND as long as I am able.

The next step for me will be to connect with those who help ALS patients learn a few tricks to help them remain independent for as long as possible. I am eager to begin that process.

There is no way I can respond to all the notes and good wishes I have received from around the diocese. Thank you for your prayers and concern. Staff here at St. Philip’s in Bemidji has set up a CaringBridge account in my name to share any news as time goes by.

My focus, however, is to continue serving as a priest in any way I can for as long as I can. There is no set time frame ALS follows, but there is no cure and medications which presently exist are very expensive and only delay progression for a short time.

As I write this, I am at peace. I know a miracle is on the way … either on this side of heaven or the other side, it is on the way.

My prayer is simply that God will do what God needs to do. God did not cause this or “give it to me” to test me. Yet, I can’t wait to see how God will use the coming months to claim victory even over a disease like this. It will happen. I just hope (as St. Mother Teresa prayed) I don’t get in God’s way!

In closing, I want to share a prayer from a favorite author of mine, Father Henri Nouwen. He was a man who knew suffering and was able to embrace it with all his might:

Dear Lord, I will remain restless, tense, and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace in your house. But I am still on the road, still journeying, still tired and weary, and still wondering if I will ever make it to the city on the hill.

I keep asking your angel, whom I meet on the road, “Does the road go uphill then all the way?” And the answer is, “Yes to the very end.” And I ask again: “And will the journey take all day long?” and the answer is “From morning til night, my friend.”

 So I go on, Lord, tired, often frustrated, irritated, but always hopeful to reach one day the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening sun.

There is no certainty that my life will be any easier in the years ahead, or that my heart will be any calmer. But there is the certainty that you are waiting for me and will welcome me home when I have persevered in my long journey to your house.

O Lord, give me courage, hope, and confidence!

OK ... you can each open one gift before Christmas

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

When I was a child, our family opened presents on Christmas Eve. My mom would prepare her special Christmas Eve meal, Grandpa and Grandma Krejci would come over with their piles of gifts for the three grandchildren, and when we were very young Santa Claus would always arrive (Yes, the real live deal). Anticipation would build for days leading up to Christmas Eve and in our minds, while we understood that Christmas Day was all about Jesus, Christmas Eve was about presents. I remember our parents telling us why we exchanged gifts on Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus – the gift of Emmanuel to the world – and we did eventually appreciate this as we got older. But I have to admit, to our preschool minds, my brother, sister and I would be thinking about Christmas Eve presents with extreme anticipation. So extreme, in fact, that my mom would always plan on “one gift” we could open the night before Christmas Eve. It was always a small gift but something that would keep us busy on Christmas Eve day.

Well, in this spirit, I am here to tell you that I have a gift for everyone in the Diocese of Crookston and, OK, you can open this gift before Christmas. This is a gift for every married couple and for everyone who thinks they might one day get married. It is a gift that one or both parents can share with their children or grandparents with their grandchildren. What could this gift be? The gift is an increase in the presence of prayer in your family life. Specifically, the gift is a series of YouTube videos that explains how spouses can pray with each other and how parents can pray with their children. The episodes contain brief explanations (3-5 minutes) about how to pray in your home. Over the eight episodes you will be introduced to different ways you can pray with your spouse and with your children and, in addition, linked to each video are prayers that you can use at home.

Some of you may be thinking, “What kind of present is that?! This sounds about as exciting as the pajamas grandma always gave us at Christmas.” Perhaps others are thinking, “What kind of present is that?! We already pray as a family.” If you had the second reaction, then you have already received the real gift – the greater presence of God in your lives. One thing I can suggest to families who already pray is that you might want to look at some of the linked prayers for your use.

If you are wondering, “How is praying with my family a present?” remember that prayer is a conversation with God and what a wonderful thing it would be if every married couple and family spent even as little as one or two minutes together in prayer every day? If you are not praying in your home, I suggest that you watch the first episode and use the attached short prayer to begin a regular prayer routine.

To find this present, CLICK HERE where you will see the list of eight episodes and the corresponding prayers for each episode. If you like the Diocese on Facebook (@DioCrookston) you will also begin to receive notices about the episodes over the next few weeks.

I am often asked “What is something we can do to strengthen our marriage, to become more connected as a family, to keep our kids engaged in the faith?” The common answer to all three questions is to PRAY! And remember, you do not even have to wait until Christmas to open this present. OK, watching me in a video may not be much of a present but that is not what is being given away. No, the priceless treasure that you will unwrap with your prayer is a deeper relationship with God and a stronger presence of God in your family. God yearns for us to open our hearts to his grace, and prayer is a great way to do this. Merry Christmas to one and all, and remember to keep “Praying With the Family.”

VFTV: December 13, 2017

“He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh that I may gain the riches of his divinity… He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me?” (St. Gregory of Nazianzen)

I wish each and all a truly blessed and joyous Christmas!

At Christmas, I can’t help but wonder and marvel at the miracle of birth. Many of you as parents have shared with God the Creator in bringing a new human being to life and have experienced the miracle of birth first hand. The joy and excitement you’ve had of seeing and holding a newborn son or daughter for the first time is an experience like no other I’m sure. Mary and Joseph knew the wonder, the joy and excitement of the miracle of birth. What a birth it was! God becoming man; the Creator becoming the creature; the Word made flesh.

At Christmas, we marvel and wonder at the Incarnation, the miracle of the birth of the Son of God becoming man.

“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave coming in human likeness; and found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

The miracle of Jesus’ birth is quite unimaginable for us – but not for God.

“We could never have imagined that the same Lord would become one of us and walk with us, be present with us, present in his Church, present in the Eucharist, present in his word, present in the poor. And this is closeness, the shepherd close to his flock, close to his sheep, whom he knows, one by one.” (Pope Francis)

“The incarnation of the Son of God speaks to us of how important we are to God and of how important God is to us.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

This Christmas, may our hearts overflow with gratitude and joy as we wonder and marvel that God emptied himself and humbled himself to find us when we were lost, to save us from sin and death and open for us the gates of heaven. God redeems through self-emptying love and the world is filled with hope. His grace is at work in us to help us to do the same, to be a gift of self-emptying love so that others might know hope and live life more fully.

‘Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.’

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

Of all the Christmas cards I have ever received, there is one that I keep in my stack of “important stuff” at all times.

The front of the card is a closeup of a manger, filled with hay. A white blanket covers all but the tender feet of an infant. All that can be seen is the hay, the blanket and the pink feet.

God took flesh. God came to be among us and took the most vulnerable form God could: a baby.

Inside the card it reads, “Through a child we can proclaim peace, bring good tidings and declare to the world ‘Our God Reigns!’”

We could all sit and meditate upon that picture for quite some time. It pulls a person in and helps us realize just what God has done, still does, and will continue to do. God took flesh in Christ and Christ takes flesh in us. What an awesome, humbling mystery shared with us by a God of total, unconditional love.

That baby in the manger is the final, great testimony of a God who is determined to convince us of God’s love. God doesn’t need us; God wants us! To be pursued by a God wildly in love with us is what Christmas is all about.

What a risk God takes by gently descending into the womb of a teenage girl in Nazareth. What a risk God takes each time God is pressed into our hand or on our tongue at Holy Communion. To love is to risk. God is the master risk taker! God’s love is relentless! Mary could have said “No!” and we could leave Christ stuffed in a hymnal or spit him out after we receive him at Mass.

What a risk Christmas is!

That manger scene is God’s proclamation to the world that the risk to love is worth taking.

There was no door keeping people out … the barn had no padlock. It was a resting place for the weary traveler; always open, always waiting. So it is with God.

There is a story of a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable (along with her children asking for everything they saw) the woman made it to the elevator with her kids.

She was feeling what so many feel during this time of year: overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, getting that perfect gift for every single person on the shopping list, making sure we don’t forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.

Finally, the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd gathered inside. She pushed her way in and dragged her two kids in with her who were attached to all the bags of stuff they had purchased. When the doors closed she couldn’t take it anymore and stated, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.”

From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him.” For the rest of the trip down, not a sound was heard in the elevator.

May our focus, this Christmas, be on the manger in Bethlehem, on the one with two fragile little bare feet and ten tiny toes. Jesus, the greatest and ultimate gift from God, Emmanuel, has come!

Sadly it seems so very few are waiting or longing to adore him.

Pray that we can clean out the cluttered manger of our own hearts to make room for the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace! We do not want to be the heart that has no room. We do not want to be the heart that is too full of worldly, unimportant chaos and things. May we not force Jesus to go elsewhere.

The humble manger of Bethlehem is not appealing to the world because, in the eyes of the world, it has no glory, no attractions and no luxuries. Amazingly, it is in such a manger that God placed Jesus who, in the words of Mother Teresa: “Wanted the unwanted, washed the wounds of the leper, smiled to the beggar, listened to the drunkard, embraced the little one, led the blind, spoke to the mute, walked with the crippled, befriended the addicted, forgave the prostitute and visited the prisoner.”

Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to serve and not be served. The waves and wind still know his name. Through him, with him and in him, God still stoops down on all fours and washes the feet of us all, sinners though we are.

Christmas is a risky time of year. It is worth the risk when you gaze upon the loveliness of those who gather around your tree instead of obsessing over the stuff under it!

Passing on the plans: The ‘Rogue One’ rebel force needed in the public arena

By Sarah Spangenberg/Minnesota Catholic Conference

As Catholics, we lose a lot of battles in the public arena. Sometimes giving up and opting out appears to be the best option, but it is not. Each of us has a small but crucial role to play in God’s great story of salvation, which often does not look much like earthly victory. The heroes of the most recent Star Wars film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, bring this dynamic to life on the silver screen and provide a profound image of our duty as Catholics in today’s culture and public arena: to be workers, ministers, and prophets of a future not our own.

THE STANDALONE HERO?

In 1977, the film “A New Hope” ushered in the first Star Wars trilogy, in which we followed the scrappy Luke Skywalker as he fulfilled his destiny to become a Jedi. Much of the plot follows Skywalker in his enterprises, showcasing his courage, his quick wit and resourcefulness, and his skills as a pilot and a fighter. Luke, in many ways, is the hero of the story.  

However, what looked like standalone heroism forty years ago had another thing coming last December with the release of “Rogue One.” The film is a sort of caveat, interrupting the plot of “The Force Awakens” (to be continued in “The Last Jedi,” coming out this month) to give viewers a glimpse into what took place before we met Luke Skywalker. Turns out, a lot of other people had work to do before Luke could shine.

PASSING ON THE PLANS

“Rogue One” follows a ragtag group of Rebels on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, a space station strong enough to obliterate entire planets in one strike. Retrieving those plans, stored in an enemy base on a remote planet, would enable the rebel alliance to destroy the weapon and put an end to its destructive power.

To make it happen, each member of the team has a small but crucial role to play. Just how crucial each man’s part is can be seen most dramatically in one scene in which a line of rebels passes the plans along like a sprinter’s baton as Darth Vader cuts them down. The last man standing just manages to slip them through a closing door before meeting his own end. It’s clear in this moment that if one single actor in this great heist fails to execute – even if his only job was to pass the plans from one man to the next – the plan would have failed.

Their mission is successful; the plans are recovered. Tragically, however, the team does not survive to celebrate their victory; the enemy, realizing its defense has been compromised, makes a last-ditch attempt to stop the rebels by using the Death Star to destroy the planet.

Here’s the point: unless these unsung heroes were willing to do their part, even at the cost of their lives, Luke Skywalker may have remained an anonymous farm boy on Tatooine. His role was no more important than theirs.

PART OF SOMETHING GREATER

Especially in the public square, it often feels like we as Catholics are fighting a losing battle. It is sometimes tempting to think when it comes to our political system, well, it seems like change will never come, so why bother?

We must not forget that the work of public policy and advocacy takes the contribution and commitment of many people. It is the work of many years, sometimes many generations. Each one of us is a link in the chain, necessary because we hold together something much bigger than ourselves.

We are charged with passing the baton of faith, handing down God’s plan. In the words of the Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer, “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.”

Members of God’s great mission: it is true we may never see the end results. But if we allow this reality to discourage us, then the sacrifices of those who came before us will have been in vain, and the next generation will be left empty-handed. As the culture around us threatens to silence the truth about God and the human person, we must stand as an alliance of cultural rebels, each one playing our small but necessary part in God’s plan.

VFTV: November 15, 2017

Vocations Awareness Week

After Mass with the Sisters of St. Benedict at the Mount on All Saints Day, I was delighted to be asked to join the sisters for lunch. At table with Srs. Shawn Carruth, Kathy Kuchar and Eileen Mohs, our conversation turned to the reasons a young woman might come to join a religious community. I wondered if it was the attraction of joining a community of committed women that prompted them to join. Or maybe it was the desire for a deeply spiritual and fulfilling life. The sisters shared that it certainly could be one or the other or both of those reasons but the example, and maybe the “nudging” of a good sister or a good priest they knew growing up was most helpful.

Again this November, the 5th through the 11th, we celebrated National Vocations Awareness Week. This is a special time for us to hold out the beauty of consecrated life, the ministerial priesthood, and the diaconate. It is a week for special prayer that the response to God’s call to serve in one of these vocations will be accepted courageously and joyfully. It is a particular time to ask God to give us the sisters, brothers, priests and deacons we need to be God’s church here.

God chooses each of us to work with him in a particular way to spread the Gospel message and help grow God’s kingdom in our world. Each of us plays a key role in giving the good witness of our vocation in the ordinary circumstances in which we live. Not only during National Vocations Awareness Week, but throughout the whole year, by our own prayer, witness, and even “nudging”, we help all who are seeking the answer to the question: “To what vocation is God calling me?” Please continue to pray for vocations. 

World Day of the Poor

Pope Francis has called us to observe the very first World Day of the Poor on November 19. On this day, our Holy Father asks that we reflect on the love Jesus demonstrated for the poor and to look at how we are doing in imitating Jesus in love of the poor. We know people and families who lack access to the basic things they need: food, adequate housing, good education, healthcare, or work, etc. The newest census figures tell us that in the United States, an estimated 43 million people are living in poverty. Pope Francis is asking that on this World Day of the Poor, we do some serious praying and reflecting on how we help the poor. He invites us to think about the contrast “between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.” 

I know that so many in this local church of the Diocese of Crookston are generous in helping the poor. Not only do you support your parishes but you reach out to the poor by generously contributing to the many collections that come each year. There are two particular opportunities this month to give to those who need our help. One such collection is the annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). This collection is being taken up on the World Day of the Poor. Many of the projects supported by CCHD embody the corporal works of mercy. This collection supports the work of groups that empower low-income people to participate in decisions that affect their lives, to be involved in work that helps break the cycle of poverty in their lives. 25% of monies collected in this diocese remain in this diocese to help people here.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, November 25 and 26, we will have our annual St. Mary’s Mission Appeal. I am continually touched by your concern and financial support for the beautiful children of Red Lake Mission. There is no question about it, your generosity continues to provide opportunities to these children that they would never have elsewhere. God bless you.

Happy Thanksgiving Day

I hope your celebration of Thanksgiving Day is truly joyous with family and friends, a warm hearth and a sumptuous dinner. America remembers on Thanksgiving; we remember the courageous spirit of our ancestors who dared to set out for a new land, trusting in God’s abiding care and guidance. They were people of faith and the colonies they founded were communities of faith. They remembered to give thanks to God for the bounty they received and celebrated a Thanksgiving Day meal together with one another and their newfound native friends. At your Thanksgiving Day meal, I invite you to use this prayer of blessing: “O loving Father, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite. We celebrate this Thanksgiving Day with gratitude for your kindness and many blessings. We thank you for the witness and work of the pilgrims who founded this land. In this, our day, we ask for your continued blessing and guidance on America. As we enjoy the fruits of your bounty this day, strengthen our hearts to joyfully reach out to others in love so that all people may share in the good things of time and eternity. We ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Saint Francis has tough words for lawmakers and citizens alike

By Rachel Herbeck/Minnesota Catholic Conference

St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved saint to many, but often a mischaracterized one. Usually shown with animals, the mainstream vision of Francis is tame and gentle. However, St. Francis was an intense and radical preacher, consumed with zeal for the Kingdom of God and intent on relaying the truth to others, including Muslim sultans.

Toward the end of his life, St. Francis wrote a letter to all the rulers and leaders of the people that was not only powerful at the time, but provides us with lessons on how to be better citizens and lawmakers. In the letter, he urges leaders to: not forget the Lord and His commandments or they will be cursed, put aside all cares of the world and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, and to give God praise and thanksgiving or render an account to God on the day of judgement.

St. Francis’ words remind us that, like him, we must enter into the public arena to be of service to our public servants. We must remind them of their obligations and the lofty calling of politics – what Pope Francis called one of the highest forms of charity.

CIVIC LEADERS NEED FRIENDS

For citizens, St. Francis sets an example of a way we can relate to our legislators. He wrote these words because he had genuine care for the people to whom he was writing. He did not see them as far away or above him, but as people with whom he had a responsibility to befriend and call to holiness.

His letter is not a laundry list of policy recommendations. Instead, it reminds leaders of the need to keep the commandments and of the judgment to which they are ultimately subject due to their grave responsibilities.

While it may not be prudent to rush out to remind our legislators about the reality of hell, as St. Francis did, his letter does encourage us to also consider more fully our relationships with legislators. We want to follow the lead of St. Francis and have relationships with our legislators that aren’t utilitarian. As we participate in advocacy, we must not see those in office merely as people who can get us what we want, viewing our interactions with them as solely “transactional.”

Instead, we need to strengthen and encourage those representing us in office. We can be a resource for them in the community, and we can pray for them. We need to remind them why they are doing their jobs, who they represent, and the good that they can do. And then thank them when they do it.

Our support, not just our demands, as constituents can help our legislators make good and right decisions. And though we don’t ask rulers to remind the people to pray, as Francis did, we can ask them to enact policies that uphold human dignity and foster the common good, which creates the conditions for people and communities to flourish.

SERVANTS, NOT MASTERS

For lawmakers, the words of St. Francis are a reminder that they are servants. Servants of the people, but ultimately, servants of God. In a world that is so politically divided and divisive, St. Francis urges lawmakers to remember that ultimate power belongs to God and God alone.

Ultimately, lawmakers and citizens alike can take St. Francis’ words as a challenge to regain a healthy fear of the Lord. St. Francis does not want those in power to forget that while God is a God of perfect love, he is also a God of perfect justice. Pope Francis describes fear of the Lord as “a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur,” an awareness that reminds us that we are “held accountable to the Just Judge.”

Fear of the Lord convicts and pierces our hearts for what is right, because we know of God’s greatness and power as king. As we deal with legislative issues, let us be convicted to think and act with the mind and heart of God. And then, when prudent, offer yourself as a servant to the servants – providing counsel, prayer, and opportunities to deepen their knowledge of and relationship with the broader community so they may act for the common good.

World’s truth given by Jesus Christ, rooted in love

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

As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, we begin “Engagement Season!” Of course it can be an exciting time when love triumphs in a world which seems to deny true, selfless love is even possible.

When the phone calls start coming in to the parish office of couples wanting to set dates and begin the preparation for their big day, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the answer I never want to here. I try to ask the question face-to-face when I first meet with a couple, not over the phone when they call for the appointment.

I don’t think I am alone in this when it comes to my brother priests dreading the moment…the moment after we ask for the correct spelling of their names and then say as I look at the groom or the bride and ask “What is your address?” My heart slumps within me when there is only one address. I fear the couple has been duped by the deception of liars when it comes to the Sacrament of Marriage and the intimate marriage act itself.

As I write, I realize there is no way I can do justice to this topic in one column, but I trust the Holy Spirit will fill in the holes. I humbly ask those who are preparing for marriage to read what I have to say and pray for God’s guidance.

Today, I dare to say 4 out of 5 couples seeking marriage within the Church are now living together before marriage. How did we get here? Some like to blame the priests, “If only you priests would preach about sin and evil we wouldn’t be in this mess!” Where that is true, okay, but be sure such a comment isn’t simply an excuse for failure on the part of others.

I want to ask: Where are the parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family and Catholic friends of those seeking to be married in the Catholic Church? Have they not also heard the truth as to what the Church, in her wisdom, has taught? Don’t they ask “What would Christ think?” and share their concern with their child, grandchild, sibling or friend if they were concerned for their soul?  Have we lost kitchen table morality where our faith and our actions are formed and rooted in the home?

It may seem to make sense on paper that living together before marriage is a wise choice. Why spend money on two different living spaces, for example? Others reduce their love for their beloved to saying “I wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive!” My skin crawls when I hear such a line. To compare a human person to a manufactured chunk of metal with four wheels completely disrespects the dignity of the human person and the gift of our sexuality, the marriage act and the Sacrament of Marriage itself! It is an insult to God, the Creator.

What if I announced I would be presiding at Mass a month before my ordination. I think all Catholics would agree that such a thing cannot happen because I am not yet a priest. A priest can’t do priest things until he is a priest! Well, why is it any different for a couple to publicly show they are doing what a married couple does when they are not a married couple? As a priest, I can’t “just try it out” and take Priesthood for a “test drive.”

Then, of course there is the simple civil reality: the divorce rate is much higher among those who live together before marriage compared to those who do not. A simple fact.

I have had the great privilege of presiding at some deeply moving weddings. Weddings, to be honest, that have made me a better priest.

When the groom is in the front of the church waiting for his bride (whom he has not yet seen that day) and she steps into the main aisle locking her leaking eyes onto his leaking eyes…it is as if time stops and we get a sliver sized peak into the love and joy of heaven.

He looks at her and she looks at him. Guests, family, and priests are nowhere on the radar. The bride and groom simply rejoice in each other while Christ, the Great Priest, smiles.

In that intimate, cherished gaze, they know they are jumping off a cliff and into the strapping arms of the Great Bridegroom of Heaven!

In that cherished gaze, they now see the clear purpose in all they have sacrificed for that moment, for their marriage.

They know with, in and through Christ they have unleashed into the world a love and light no fear or darkness can touch in good times or in bad.

It is in those moments I realize God’s love is unrelenting. Deep within each of us is a longing for that kind of love, try as we may to find it elsewhere, it is only in Christ where it can be found. It is beautiful. As beautiful as the face of Christ himself.

It is hard, as a priest, to walk the fine line of challenging a couple who have no clue why the Church says what it says about dating and marriage. I know my words (even this column) could turn them away or, I pray, invite them to see with the eyes of faith just how great their calling is and how Jesus is there to be their champion.

There still is truth in the world. It is given to us by Jesus Christ and it is rooted in love: selfless, unrelenting, life giving, death defying, unwavering, true LOVE.

“Generous Openness” in Marriage and Family Life: Part II

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

As I continue my reflections on Chapter 4 of Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” you may remember that two columns ago I used the same title as I am for this one but it was called “Part I.” Well, here is the eagerly anticipated Part II! If you are wondering why I use the phrase “eagerly anticipated” you may think that I heard from some readers last month when I interrupted the series on “The Joy of Love” with a column about using the free trial membership of Formed.org for marital and family enrichment. You may be thinking that I used the phrase “eagerly anticipated” because my e-mail inbox was filled with messages from people who could not wait to read Part II. Perhaps, you may be thinking that some readers were even asking me to send them the column early or post it on the diocesan web site or even expressed their displeasure that I waited so long to share the conclusion to the column. Well, no – none of that happened – but I stand by the use of the phrase “eagerly anticipated” because the person who is eagerly anticipating this column is ME! I am eagerly anticipating this column because I get to focus on a wonderful teaching written by Pope St. John Paul II in his magnificent “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World” or “Familiaris Consortio.” If you asked me to share my top 10 non-biblical religious books this one would be at the top of my list.

Recall that, in the Part I column, I shared the pastoral advice of Pope Francis that a day should never end without making peace in the family. Pope St. John Paul II, also with the heart of a pastor, gives advice on how you can create a family that is able to seek and grant forgiveness so that no one goes to bed without peace in the home. St. John Paul tells families that there must be a “generous openness” in each person. He goes on to describe that we need to have a generous openness to “understanding, to forbearance (patience), to pardon, to reconciliation.”

Just think if every family member, every husband and wife, every child and parent, could practice this “generous openness” every day. If every day we would seek to understand each other in our family rather than judge them. If we would be patient with each other rather than expect everyone to do things “the way I want it done.” If we were able to pardon the little things that sometimes we blow out of proportion as well as pardon the big things even though they create sorrow. If we were able to approach each other with a spirit of reconciliation where we both ask for forgiveness as well as freely grant it. Wow – that would be something to see. All families living in this spirit - practicing “generous openness” every day. It would transform the Church and our world. How do we pull this off?

St. John Paul II has the answer to that as well. He writes “…family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice.” From this spirit of sacrifice “generous openness” will come. But when some hear “sacrifice” they think that this is something to be avoided, something that does not sound enjoyable. But not you! Not those who seek to be disciples of Jesus in your marriages and in your families. For you understand that it is through the great sacrifice of Christ on the Cross that we all can experience great joy in heaven. And so, you know that by having a spirit of sacrifice, a spirit which empowers your generous openness, you are able to - with joyful sacrifice - practice understanding, patience, pardon and reconciliation. Oh, what joy we have when we are able to give these gifts to our family. It is the joy we have in loving the members of our family not because of what we get from them, but what we generously give to them. The joy we receive when we give the gift of “generous openness” to our family.