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Pope Francis, St. Junipero Serra and the New Evangelization

September 29, 2015


An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

William Wordsworth in his poem “The Virgin” called Mary, the Mother of God “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” By the grace of God the Blessed Virgin Mary was our wounded humanity’s lone exception to St. Paul’s statement that, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Regardless, God’s mercy endures for all of us sinners who strive daily to preach the Gospel with our lives.

God’s great and tender mercy is the message of the Gospel Pope Francis is emphasizing as the bridge between truth and love. Like a marriage, the Christian life is not one of perfection this side of heaven, but in being open and honest to living the truth – as God has revealed and as the Church has taught – in love, with the mercy of God that consummates or unites the two as one.

This is precisely why Pope Francis chose to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary whom he declared to be a holy man and great evangelizer of the American West within, at times, an unjust system of Colonialism. After all, our baptismal call to Christian holiness or becoming a saint has never been about perfection or impeccability, but instead striving each day, however imperfectly, to grow in Christian virtue by choosing God’s will over our own in loving God and our neighbor as our self.

When meeting with the Native Peoples in Phoenix, Arizona, before coming to California in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II acknowledged that there were serious negative and unintended effects of Colonialism: abuse by Spanish soldiers against Native women, diseases Europeans brought over which many Natives had little immunity toward and died, and forms of evangelization which were much more aggressive than the Church would consider proper today. But, not Father Serra, whose great good John Paul II said was in bringing the Gospel message to the Peoples of the Americas.

For example, in seeking to protect his Native converts, Father Junipero Serra (at age 60) took two years to travel from Carmel-Monterey, California, to Mexico City and back, to obtain from Viceroy Bucareli the first “bill of rights” for the Native Peoples – a 32 point representation.

Thus, on September 23, 2015, outside the eastern lawn as the afternoon sun was beginning to descend toward the western sky high above the grand dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Patroness of the United States), God’s mercy was displayed in our Nation’s capital amidst the great excitement of Pope Francis’ first visit to our beloved country when the Vicar of Christ celebrated the first-ever Mass of Canonization on U.S. soil, by officially declaring once and for all that Fr. Junipero Serra, OFM, STD – “Apostle of California” – was a saint.

No matter what happens in the future: whether a majority of California’s political environment succeeds in removing Father Serra’s statue from the “Hall of Nations” in Washington, D.C., or whether so-called academics rewrite California history to their own bias, nothing can change the fact that Father Serra has been declared a saint – something that Serra Clubs around the world and many Catholics, including Native American Catholics, already knew.

In fact, it was a Native American Catholic from California (Andy Galvin), a descendant of the Ohlone Tribe (to whom Father Serra ministered) and current curator of Mission San Francisco (Mission Dolores), who — proudly wearing his native eagle feather shawl —joyfully processed up to Pope Francis carrying the ornate Caravaca cross reliquary containing a first-class relic (piece of bone) of our Church’s newest saint – Junipero Serra – during the canonization ritual of the Mass.

In canonizing Father Serra on his pilgrimage to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis made clear that even though the Church as Christ’s Body is made up of sinners, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In doing so, his Holiness affirms that Catholics can truly look to St. Junipero Serra in the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) as a humble servant and witness for the New Evangelization teaching us to “always go forward and never turn back!”

St. Junipero Serra – Pray for us!

Father Allan Paul Eilen is pastor of St. Patrick in Oak Grove. This essay originally appeared in the parish’s bulletin.

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Pope’s concern is much deeper than most environmentalists’

September 24, 2015

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

People assume President Obama and Pope Francis share similar concern over environmental issues, but I think an important difference motivates these two world leaders.

The president advocates for tougher green laws because he wants a cleaner world. Like most environmentalists, he wants cleaner water, cleaner air and cleaner soil to drink, breathe and cultivate. Pope Francis wants those things too, but he really wants much more. He wants us to grow closer to God.

While Pope Francis is worried about the environment, he is much more worried about our souls. The Pope isn’t worried about climate change because of what it will do to our land and oceans, but because of what it says about our relationship with God.

Pope Francis explains in Laudato Si’ that all things are connected. He explains there is a relationship between humans and nature; if we don’t know how to treat each other, then we won’t know how to treat nature.

The fix to our current deplorable situation, Pope Francis writes, isn’t so much the adoption of renewable fuels as it is about placing God at the center of our being. Although you would never know it from reading the media accounts, the majority of Laudato Si’ is advice for getting our relationship right with God.

When the pope laments the polluted environment, it is because he recognizes it as a symptom of a culture that has seriously damaged its relationship with God. And while the symptom is alarming enough, the Pope’s real concern isn’t the symptom; it’s the cause.

If we can restore that relationship, we will find the environmental issues less pressing. If we can get ourselves right with God, it will follow that our relationships with each other, and with nature, will improve.

Thomas Bengtson is a local small business owner and writer. You can contact Bengtson by visiting his website.

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Knocking us out of our comfort zones

July 8, 2015


Pope Francis is shown praying at an Austro-Hungarian cemetery for fall soldiers of World War I in Fogliano di Redipuglia, northern Italy, Sept. 13, 2014. The pope in his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," released June 18, said all cr eation is singing God's praise but people are silencing it. CNS

Pope Francis is shown praying at an Austro-Hungarian cemetery for fall soldiers of World War I in Fogliano di Redipuglia, northern Italy, Sept. 13, 2014. The pope in his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” released June 18, said all cr eation is singing God’s praise but people are silencing it. CNS

Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato Si'” is addressed to all people who share our common home, the earth. Not that it will be well received by all people. Specifically mentioned in many passages, religious conservatives may well wonder why the Pope of all people, has made so free as to weigh in on Climate Change, Economics, the Free Market, and Private Property. Those on the “left” will find the Pope’s linking the degradation of our earth, and her rights, with the degradation of the unborn and the elderly, and their rights little more than a political bait and switch, gaining an international audience and ear on the subject of eco-conversion, and finding the Pope quoting Pope Benedict and other Popes as often as he brings forth something of his own, as for example in section 217 when he calls for an interior conversion as an answer for solving our eco-crisis. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” (Benedict XVI, Homily for the Solemn Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry, April 24, 2005)

Indeed one could call this encyclical co-authored. So many other bishops from around the world and past Popes are cited, John Paul II and Benedict the XVI especially, it truly represents the mind of the church, past and present, and often reads as a tutorial on the traditional longstanding Thomistic understanding of the common good, and private property. But old teachings applied to fresh new situations can yield much insight, and especially self-discovery.

Promoting Dialogue and Mutual Responsibility

The purpose of the encyclical is to promote dialogue between men of all faiths and political persuasions about how best to care for the earth, and for each other in the safeguarding of the earth’s precious resources. It is evident that the Pope’s eyes are on the poor, whose livelihoods are most at risk in the exploitation of the resources in the developing world, and in the gearing of economies to big businesses, which not only box the smaller producers out of the market, but create infrastructure and products with profit in mind, and not the long view of the well being of local economies, watersheds, and communities. It is a personal note to each citizen of the earth: a call to “Dare to turn what is happening to our world into our own personal suffering.” (Section 19) It is something that many on the left have been doing for a while, but the Pope calls even them to a deeper ecological consciousness and friendship, as he links our maltreatment of the earth to our maltreatment of human beings, the deterioration of nature with the deterioration of our culture.

It is a simple and almost fatherly reminder to become students of Nature. It is the cyclical order and pattern in nature herself that provides the whys and wherefores for recycling and composting and re-using. As more and more of the world’s population is becoming city-dwelling, it is often easy to forget the closed circle of fertility that occurs in natural ecosystems, as the Pope reminds us of in section 22, plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.” The industrial system does not emulate this model, found in nature. The Pope is suggesting we stop buying into the “modern myth” which presupposes unlimited material growth as undeniably good for us all, and which gives the industrial system a pass in the name of that myth, despite the waste and injustices, which such a system incurs in its process. He is asking us to question this system, and to use our modern talents and ingenuity to devise new means of production that place the long term good of both the earth and its inhabitants at their core, rather than profit. “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption.” (Section 23)

The Problem of Over-Consumption

Specifically the Pope draws attention to several issues in which human over consumption has contributed to. Among them: water pollution and waste, Climate Change, extinction of various species, loss of marine and forest ecosystems of the world, and also mental pollution (brought on by the modern “technocracy”.)

Speaking to people of Christian faiths, he explores Genesis to show that God’s gift of reason, which sets man apart from His other creations, is not to encourage domination on the part of human beings, but rather stewardship. God’s words to Adam and Eve in the garden, charging them to “till and keep” creation, refer not to domineering exploitation, but to working it and keeping/protecting it. “(The creation accounts in Genesis) suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” (Section 66) The Pope points to sin as that which causes the ruptures in these three relationships, both inward and outwardly.

In Section 95 the Pope quotes the New Zealand Bishops who suggest that the over consumption of the developed world is a sin against the 5th commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” It’s a sobering thought. One that is backed up by big guns, the likes of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis quotes him in section 206, when he urges us to vote with our food dollars for a more eco-friendly world: “Purchasing is always a moral-and not simply economic-act.” (Caritas in Veritate 2006)

Reminding us of our universal solidarity with all men and creatures on this planet, the Pope has some important reminders about private property: “If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. “ Section 95 And “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” (Section 93). This may prove to be something of a shocker to many politically conservative Christians. Which brings us to perhaps the crux of this encyclical and why it’s proving to be so pesky to so many. This letter suggests that there is really no distinction and separation between what we do financially and what we do morally, that our consumption is a civic act, not a private one. It suggests that our Religious beliefs and our environmental actions are interconnected more that we might care to think, that the action of buying mass-produced Chinese goods in a big box store which underpays it’s workers, and contributes to massive amounts of material waste, flooding lives with goods that are not needed, and often discarded after a few uses, that this may not indeed be the action of a Christian.

Any time the church seeks to infiltrate the part of our lives spent outside of the pews, it gets pesky. Things get uncomfortable. At rock bottom, we like our lives to be neatly separated into Tupperware containers, faith and worship over here, shopping over there, what goes on in our bedrooms in this box, and what we eat over in this other one. In his encyclical the Pope is reminding us of the interconnectedness of things. Our relationship with the earth is connected to our relationship with our fellow human beings, and vice versa. What we believe in church affects where we should shop, and what we should buy. It is not simply a matter of looking into the companies that produce the goods we buy, we ought to ask ourselves how we can better pursue a path of simplicity, and in this, we can be inspired by people of other faiths and political persuasions, who have chosen to invest in time to contemplate and renewable energy sources, and lifestyles which involve less consumption as a whole.

Technocracy and the “Modern Myth”

One of the most interesting critiques of the encyclical is the one of modern technology. The Pope points out that over-mechinization has not only unemployed a great deal of humanity, it has also furthered our ability to dominate nature while at the same time separating us farther from it. “Technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.” (Section 107) He points to the fruits of the Technocracy as bitter indeed. Already they are clearly seen: “ environmental degradation, anxiety, loss of the purpose of life, and of community living.”(Section 110) The fragmented knowledge imparted in this modern technocracy that we live in, often leaves us with no clear sense of the whole, nor any means with which to answer deeper questions of philosophy and ethics, which underpin the whole of our existence on earth. Life in a technocracy also lends itself to a frenetic pace, we are constantly “connected” electronically, and consequently never really in one place wholly, for any amount of time, a fraction of ourselves somewhere else via text, or twitter, or any of the other social media outlets. #Half There Anywhere. In response to the technocracy the Pope advocates a big SLOW DOWN, a recovering “of the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” (Section 114) He reminds us to reacquaint ourselves with reality, and its limits. Limits, which our over-consumption and our use of technology in the pursuit of our wants have obscured.


The free market is profit driven, and is governed by wants rather than needs. This is why, the Pope points out, it is insufficient to leave to the “invisible hands” of the free-market the job of governing the economy and solving the eco-crises we find ourselves in today.

The Dignity of Work

One of the ways  to self govern our impulse toward over consumption is developing a vivifying understanding of work. If more people choose to do more for themselves, and not rely on the expensive and elaborate system of distribution of goods and food that we find ourselves in in the developed world, there would be less of a burden placed on local economies, many of which, (in developing nations), export commodity crops to their detriment. “We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” (Section 128)

Global Eco-Initiatives and Oversight

Some global goals that the pope sets are:

  1. Sustainable and Diverse agriculture
  2. Renewable Energy
  3. Efficient Use of Energy
  4. Better use of Marine and Forest Resources of the World
  5. Universal Access to Drinking water. (Section 164)

Regarding Energy:

  1. Favoring Production with maximum energy efficiency
  2. Diminishing the Use of Raw Materials
  3. Removing from the market products which are less energy efficient or more polluting
  4. Improving transport systems
  5. Encouraging construction and repair of buildings aimed at reducing energy consumption and pollution. (Section 180)

He makes it very clear that there needs to be global authority (with the claws and teeth necessary to enforce the laws) to hold nations and states and businesses accountable with regard to eco-abuse. The responsibility is Universal, but the developed world, being as it has helped itself to more of a piece of the global resource pie, has a responsibility to contribute more to these efforts at accountability.

Personal Responsibility and New Paths of Simplicity

While making it very clear that the actions of concerned individuals will not be enough to stave off further ecological disaster, and coming class and resource wars, he does encourage us to follow the example of St. Therese of Lisiuex, performing little acts with great love, in solidarity with our fellow man and with the earth we co-inhabit. Using less energy, avoiding plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, recycling, composting, using public transportation or carpooling whenever we can, planting trees, turning out lights when not using them, all these things “reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. They benefit society, often unbeknownst to us for they call forth a goodness which albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.” (Sections 211, 212)

In the end, Pope Francis reminds us that “though capable of the worst, (we) are also capable of rising above (ourselves), choosing again what is good and making a new start…I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours.” 

It is hoped, that in following paths of greater simplicity we will be freed up to respond to the poverty our heedless actions have caused in our neighbors, our planet, and in our own hearts. Listening to and deeply considering the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si’” will help carve out a space in us internally, and in our lives externally, which love will fill.

Chiara Dowell farms with her husband, Shane, at Little Flower Farm near Skandia and worships at St. Peter in Forest Lake, and St. Mary and St. Michael in Stillwater. 

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A convert faces the confessional

July 6, 2015


Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Most converts shrink from the idea of confessing their sins to a priest. Most Catholics, too, I suspect. Who doesn’t shrink from the confessional? A French philosopher once said it would do us all good to go about proclaiming our vices and weaknesses in the same loud voice we use to brag about our accomplishments and our virtues.

Well, here was my opportunity.

I was an odd convert. It was for confession that I had become a Catholic, among other attractions. I knew that the Protestant way was too easy. For me, at least, it was too easy to imagine a God who was not watching me too closely when I sinned or listening too closely when I asked for forgiveness. So, I had the double disadvantage of taking my sins more lightly than I should and not ever being quite sure I had been forgiven.

I was drawn to the idea of confession ever since I read the autobiography of the great psychologist Carl Jung, in which he admits that all he really did for people was to listen to them tell their story. When I thought about that, I realized that we have all experienced the power of someone else’s presence. Think of the times you were quietly depressed, all by yourself, and maybe not even really aware of how sad you were feeling until someone came over to you and asked you how you were doing, and you burst into tears. The presence of a sympathetic human being brings emotions to the surface, and in telling our story our inarticulate, half-understood thoughts and feelings become understandable to us because we are forced to utter them in words.

I knew that Jung was right and that the Catholic practice of confession must be keeping a lot of Catholics off psychiatrists’ couches. The Catholic way offered the sinner accountability, a palpable rite of forgiveness and the healing that comes of utterance.

When the time came for my first confession, I who had longed for the confessional found myself balking in terror. It wasn’t easy, at the age of 60, even to face a lifetime of one’s sins, let alone telling them aloud to a priest. With furious embarrassment I imagined holding up everyone else in line while I took forever to unburden myself, then emerging from the confessional, all eyes on this big sinner who took more than her share of time.

So it was with great relief that I learned I could make an appointment to see a priest in his office. I was more than willing to abandon my romantic image of myself as a mantilla-shrouded penitent kneeling in the cool anonymity of the confessional at dusk. The thought of that anonymity had been comforting, but in my mind, it hadn’t ever been sufficient. Disguise my voice? Go to a different parish to confess, where I am unknown? Best just to face the priest, look him in the eye, and face the humbling reality of my sinful nature.

So I found myself one afternoon sitting before a priest, Kleenex in hand, sobbing my way through my misspent life, while a pair of quiet, gentle, nonjudgmental eyes gazed at me in sympathy.

All of it? Am I truly forgiven for all of it?

There was someone in the room with me to say, yes — all of it. It’s God’s free gift. And, by the way, here’s your penance.

Penance! I had forgotten about that. And I learned about making amends, which would show God and my fellow creatures that I meant business, that I believed however falteringly in the possibility of Christ’s command to “go, and sin no more.”

It wasn’t long before I understood that for continuity I needed a single confessor. I needed someone who would come to know me, know my persistent failures, help me with my struggles, cluck sympathetically, “Yes, that again.” But most importantly, I confess (it becomes a habit), I couldn’t imagine broadcasting my sins among all of our priests. The idea of every resident priest knowing a portion of my depravity was more than I could bear. How this thought exposed and embarrassed my vanity!

I chose a confessor and came to meet with him for reconciliation every month or two. After the first few euphoric visits I began to feel discouraged. I heard myself confessing the same old sins over and over. What was the matter with me? Wasn’t I serious about reforming?

My confessor counseled patience and self-forgiveness. I thought he was being too easy on me. That was the whole thing about this Catholic God. He was too loving! He was a pushover for a penitent tear or two. But over the months, in wrestling with my resurgent demons, I gained insight. The battle lines were mostly drawn, and I was forced to recognize the true power of the old, ingrained habits I was struggling against. I took the measure of my enemy and it soon became apparent I needed to fight harder, and smarter.

It was also discouraging to discover I was more sinful than I thought. In preparation for reconciliation, I used various guides to the examination of conscience, and I discovered the looming reality of sins of omission. Here was a bottomless pit of potential sin. How ever could I do all the things love and conscience told me to do?

Yet, in a small way I began to do some of the things I was now aware I had been neglecting. Sometimes, truly, seeing is doing, and struggle is subverted. I learned that freedom from sin is not just a matter of avoiding doing wrong. It is also filling our lives with right actions.

There have been great benefits to my regular appointments with my dark side. Confession is the mark of my commitment to fearless self-searching, to conscious effort to become the person I want to be and to seeking spiritual guidance in this process of self-transformation.

And it works.

As in any struggle to change, it’s easy to feel I’m not getting anywhere until one day I notice that the view from my window is different, and it’s because I’m standing in a new place.

Each time I go to reconciliation, I am reminded that I have God’s unfailing forgiveness and support, the Church’s unfailing support, and the support of one wonderful holy person whose eyes are love. Once I even blurted out in the midst of my confession, “I can’t believe there’s a person whose job it is to do this — that alone is enough to make me believe in God!”

I have become more forgiving of myself because of confession. After all, I have a priest commanding me in the name of God to forgive myself! This is a sacrament of repeated forgiveness, of palpable, embodied forgiveness. I find myself again and again in the presence of this God who is just love, and whose love is truly unconditional. It makes me want to ease up on myself — and others, too.

I am returned again and again to my community. I am reminded that I am not alone in my troubles, and that my sins do not harm me alone, that reparations are in order, that I am important to the community and my good works are needed. I leave with a lightness of spirit, a feeling of having been released, filled with hope for the future and a sense of my place in the great and interconnected human brotherhood. (I also feel this way when I leave the dentist.)

I’m not much better at resisting sin, but temptation seems to come around less often, probably because I’m much better at throwing myself into the path of grace. As a convert, I am dazzled by the profusion of channels of grace in the Catholic Church. Channels and rivulets and cascades and waterfalls of grace! Of these, reconciliation is a wide river I drink from, an anchor point, a regular return to God embedded in my routine life, and it is one of the greatest gifts of the Catholic tradition. It is God inviting me to turn back toward him again and again, over and over, until one day I never turn my face away at all.

A few centuries again, when every self-respecting Protestant middle-class family had servants, it was well known among these families that if you wanted an honest, hard-working servant, you hired a Catholic.

And people knew why, too: Catholics had to face the confessional.

Virginia Chase Sanderson is a retired college instructor of literature and writing who lives in Minneapolis. The essay is based on a talk she gave at St. Stephen in Anoka.


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Hope amid upheaval

July 2, 2015

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The Cathedral of St. Paul, cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

The Cathedral of St. Paul, cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

I woke up the morning of June 15, and in typical morning fashion I scrolled my newsfeed. The first story I came across was the news that both Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché had resigned. I then read the comments that followed. Some were of those who had been advocating (and hoping) for resignation, and others were from those who felt they were mourning the loss of their shepherds.

I then began to examine my own conscience.

“What opinion do I have of this situation? What opinion should I have? I work in the trenches of the Church daily. My co-workers, our parishioners, the teens I serve — they will be talking, and Michelle, you need to be ready. You need an opinion — and a good, well-articulated one! What will you say if you someone asks you if it was right that they resigned?”


Michelle Neitzke

After some self reflection, I realized I didn’t have all the answers I wanted. I want to believe that truth will have its reign, that justice will be made known and that mercy will follow. I want to trust the decision of the bishops who resigned and that they were cooperating with their consciences. I want to trust that the Holy Spirit will appoint the right bishop to serve our archdiocese.

As of yet, those were the only conclusions I could come to. I resolved that this situation was, in a way, beyond me. I want answers just as much as the next person, but as of now, I still remain a spectator.

The questions that became pertinent to me were: How do I minister to the faithful who may be confused or hurt? How do I as a faithful daughter of the church, speak hope and truth to a local church that is bruised and hurting? How do I show them that I have trust and faith in the Church, the hierarchy, and the office of the episcopate, but yet at the same time realize the humanity and frailty of those who are appointed?

How do I show them that the church is constant, strong and as history shows, capable of enduring a storm? How do I tell of a God, who is full of mercy and who weeps with those who weep, a God whose heart beats with love and that bleeds with compassion for his children?

And yet, I know the world is watching, and local Church is asking:

Will the archdiocese recover?

Where do I place blame?

Can the Church withstand this?

In times turmoil, angst and scandal it is easy to look to the outside for answers and consolation. The answers do not come from the outside, but from the inside, and not even within those who hold offices in the Church, but in the Church herself, and how she prevails against the cursory and transient epochs of her time here on earth.

I believe that there is hope amidst upheaval and that the Church will endure.

The church can withstand this — but not because of the actions of man, but by the power of Christ and what is promised to us. The Church is not merely an institution — who is certainly subject to the struggle and sins of her human members — but a body of believers, who groan and travail until our final sanctification.

She exists now, and there at the same time.

She is in time, but rooted eternity,

is immanent, yet transcendent.

Suffering, while at the same time gloriously triumphant.

A shelter for its members, but is not contained by her walls.

She is ever ancient, and ever new.

And until the end of time, she will remain so.

And she will prevail.

I have promised and I will do it, says the Lord.

I really do believe this. I realize to many the beliefs I hold and the life I live is one of wonder. I have spent six years studying theology. I’m in my 20s and I have chosen to work for the Catholic Church, and so far, I have dedicated my career to it.

Many people unabashedly ask me, “Why would you work for that Church? The Church that can’t stay out of the headlines, and has many times been wounded by its own members?”

My answer to them is the same as it is to those who are angry, hurt and confused by the current events in our archdiocese.

The Church is a human body, but also a mystical body — mystical because its head is the one who is Glory Himself. Our Church is a pilgrim, susceptible to the failings of its members but never defeated by them. Imperfect now, but perfect then, and continually holding on to the promise of restoration and renewal. Christ will not abandon his church and the Holy Spirit will not be quenched. Renewal and sanctification are not far off possibilities but obtainable realities.

Hope is not mere sentimentality but a virtue, which certainly requires humility and trust. Hope demands that we trust not in ourselves, but in the power of God. Hope is not weak, but rooted in an expectant faith. Hope believes that God will deliver what he has promised. We hope in the glory to come, but are also aware that this glory can be present here and now, just as the sun  peeks rays of its light, God will show his glory through cloudy and dim circumstances. He will make things new.

My prayers are with the Church, and those who are confused, suffering, hurt and lost.

My hope is in Christ.

Michelle Neitzke is the director of senior high faith formation at All Saints in Lakeville.

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Rosemount pastor: Ease Nepal’s suffering with CRS donation

May 12, 2015

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Nepalese military personnel remove debris in Kathmandu, Nepal, in search for survivors after an earthquake struck May 12. The magnitude-7.3 quake hit a remote mountainous region of Nepal that day, killing at least 19 people, triggering landslides and top pling buildings less than three weeks after the country was hit by its worst quake in decades. CNS photo

Nepalese military personnel remove debris in Kathmandu, Nepal, in search for survivors after an earthquake struck May 12. The magnitude-7.3 quake hit a remote mountainous region of Nepal that day, killing at least 19 people, triggering landslides and top pling buildings less than three weeks after the country was hit by its worst quake in decades. CNS photo

Editor’s Note: Father Paul Jarvis shared the following with parishioners of Christ the King in Minneapolis after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal April 25,  prior to another major earthquake hitting the nation May 12. Father Jarvis is pastor of St. Joseph in Rosemount, but is transitioning to a new assignment as pastor of Christ the King, beginning July 1.

At the Request of Archbishop John Nienstedt, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is taking a special collection to fund Catholic Relief Service’s work in Nepal May 16-17.

Twenty-five years ago, I was studying Tibetan culture, religion and language in Kathmandu Nepal. I met some wonderful people who were of Newari, Sherpa, Tamang, Nepali and Tibetan background. They were truly as beautiful and cultured as the country they inhabit.

Back in the early 90s, Nepal ranked among the world’s poorest. Since then, they have suffered greatly with the killing of the entire royal family by the crown prince, a long-lasting civil war, the civil war’s mass migration of war refugees into the capital — and the overcrowding that comes from such migration. The new democratic republic seems to be just as inept as the monarchy before it.

And then came the recent devastating earthquake!

Matters went from terrible to catastrophic. Not mentioned in the news reports you’ve seen is the extent of damage to the cultural centers that have been a significant draw for tourists. Will tourists come in the future?  How will trekkers trek without trails?  Without quaint villages and their temples and lodges?

One of the many things we Catholic Christians can take pride in is the Catholic Relief Service (CRS). When I was a seminarian CRS Fellow in Cambodia (2003), I saw first-hand how CRS works with local populations in solving local problems with local ways and local wisdom. CRS is not your typical international aid program that foists Western solutions upon people in developing countries.  CRS believes that the best solutions come from the people being assisted.  This is truly unusual aid thinking.

CRS also has an extremely low administrative overhead. Again, this is because they focus on hiring talent from within a country, and not well-paid Westerners.

Lastly, CRS is known to be “the first in with food.” No aid agency gets food to those in desperate need faster. CRS enjoys utmost respect from its fellow aid agencies.

Our diocese is supporting CRS in its aid efforts in Nepal. All parishes have been asked to take a second collection for Nepal aid relief, which will be used by CRS to bring food relief to remote areas of Nepal in addition to the capital.

I have communicated with all my friends in Nepal — they’ve survived the earthquake, thank God, and have joined others in a collective national response to the crisis.  They tell me that as bad as it is in the capital, it is far, far worse in the remote areas.  Entire villages have been destroyed, and there are no roads for them to get to centers of assistance. CRS and other agencies will have to helicopter the aid in.  And this will be very expensive.

I know I am biased. I consider Kathmandu to be one of my home-away-from-homes. And I admit to my past association with CRS.

On the other hand, this connection may be of benefit in my plea. I’ve heard directly of the devastation from friends through Facebook, and the catastrophe is real. I can also vouch for CRS.

Please be generous. I have heard that CTK parishioners are very generous with their charity.  I hope you will be with this dire situation in Nepal.

You can do your own research on CRS here: Try googling “Catholic Relief Service” and “Catholic Spirit.”

Namaste (Nepali) and Tuchenang (Tibetan),
Father Paul

With local collection already planned for Nepal, second earthquake boosts need

Help Earthquake Survivors in Nepal and India

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“Don’t let the bedbugs bite”

May 10, 2015



By Fr. Paul Jarvis

I think I know how moms – and dads – feel after they tuck in a kid at night:


Lately, I’ve been trying to take as many opportunities to visit my mom in this the final leg of her journey.

I especially like the ritual of tucking my mom into bed at night.  A ritual I know she enjoyed when I was kid in Hartford City – a good-night ritual I drew out as long as humanly possible.

As lights were turned off.  As sheets and blanket were drawn up under my chin.  As my footy-pajama’ed feet and legs shook in pure joy:

Mom: “Good night”

Kid: “Sleep tight.”

Mom: “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Kid: “Don’t accept any wooden nickels.”

Then after a kiss, she leaves … only to sneak back later to watch me sleep.  I know this because I watched her watch me through my barely opened eyelids.

Heavenly! This must be what Heaven is like.

Although my mom has Alzheimers, she still knows who her husband and kids are.  And so when we Jarvis kids visit our mom, we don’t really expect there to be much of a dialogue.  We mostly just sit, perhaps watch some TV, patiently answering the same question again and again, and let our mom softly scratch our arms – as she did when we were kids, nestled into her hug in our living room.

Then it’s bed time.  As I now lean over and tuck her in, she says “Ohhhhhh, how I love you, Popo.  I really, really do!”  I love you too, mom, I say.

Me:  “Good night.”

Mom:  “Sleep tight.”

Me: “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Mom:  “Don’t accept any wooden nickels.”

Then – and this is the best part, something every parent has experienced and treasures – this childless bachelor sits nearby in the dark, beside his sleeping loved one.  Just watching over her.  Watching her breathe.  Watching her listen to the drone of the nearby WCCO radio.  Watching her enter dreamland.

I have no doubt that many of us during the recent May Crowning of Mary imagined the St. Joseph School eighth grade girls crowning not just Mother Mary.  Not just giving our celestial mother flowers.  But imagining our own moms being crowned and gifted with flowers.

This Mother’s Day, I urge you to be a mom (or dad) to your mom.  Of course, remember the flowers.  But make sure you re-enact the ritual you treasure from your childhood.  Perhaps reversing the roles, as I do now.  That ritual, that crowning will be worth more than a gazillion flowers.

Fr. Paul Jarvis, Pastor of St. Joseph Church in Rosemount

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Divided by sin, but still united in pursuit of goodness

March 23, 2015



By Anthony Gockowski

In his homily at Mass during the 2015 Archdiocesan Men’s Conference, Father William Baer made one thing clear: Local news can be monotonous and dull. Covering the mundane events of ordinary life can be a drag. But the mission of The Catholic Spirit is, and always has been, to spread the good news, not the bad. Sometimes the good news is boring.

While preaching to a crowd of more than 1,300 men gathered at the University of St. Thomas, Father Baer said, “Now there’s probably a journalist here from The Catholic Spirit, and he’s going to take a few photos and write a nice story. But at the end he’s going to say, ‘And they all went home.’ You can be sure, if he uses this phrase he’s just filling up space because he has nothing else to say.”

There are two points Father Baer is making here, ad hominems aside. First, when it comes to events like the men’s conference, The Catholic Spirit has, admittedly, published a similar story with a similar photo and a similar ending.

Second, the conclusion to St. John’s account of the division in the crowd is wildly misunderstood, especially by knuckle-headed journalist folk like myself. The point of the phrase, “then each went to his own house” (John 7:53), is not to say that after an hour of bickering the Pharisees made up and returned home peacefully. Rather, each went his separate way. Division conquered. It was an appropriate point to be made given the theme of the conference: conquering sin. Men, and the Church, are divided by sin. This is the point of John’s phrase, “then each went to his own house.”

But now to the first point. The Catholic Spirit often covers annual stories. We sometimes don’t have anything else to say because we aren’t given new stories to talk about. It is difficult for a journalist to write a new story when he is given the same material every year. We can’t expect different stories if we’re not having different events. The story on the men’s conference will always be the story on the men’s conference. Should we cover it, or let it go unnoticed?

Writing a new story on an old event requires taking a different angle. I think Father Baer gave me that angle: We are divided by sin. He was expecting me to write something nice and warm-hearted. Maybe I could have said something about the toasted breakfast burritos, the warm coffee and the jolly company. Maybe I could have made an observation on the fathers and sons in attendance.

Maybe I could have commented on Jeff Cavins’ energy and charisma. Maybe I could have talked about Archbishop John Nienstedt’s words of encouragement. But all of this would just be the same story we read last year.

This year, I saw something different; I have something else to say.

I saw an archbishop worn out by scandal. I saw the gloom in the faces of men addicted to porn. I saw fathers stuff their faces with burritos while their sons slept at home. I saw a crowd of seminarians worried about the future of their archdiocese. I saw young men sleep through Father Simon’s hopeful preaching. I saw men more interested in free Butterfingers than any material the booth fair had to offer. I saw men walk out while their bishop spoke.

I heard men talk about troubles at home. I heard men worried about their alcoholism.

I heard a man tell a friend he no longer loves his wife.

And some did not go home, at least not right away. They went to the bars and drank to their hearts’ content.

The whole Church is divided by sin. But in this darkness and suffering, there is hope. We can conquer sin.

Father Richard Simon, a priest from Illinois and host of radio show “Father Simon Says,” spoke at the conference. The topic was conquering sin. In his talk, he reminded the men of this archdiocese of the purpose of life.

“We don’t exist to be happy,” he said. “We exist to love.”

Happiness is fleeting. Sin and suffering seem to control our lives. But we have to remember that we can’t fully understand this suffering from our perspective. Father Simon put it nicely: “We look at a mother holding a sick child in her arms and we see suffering. God sees love. When we finally see as God sees, we shall see that the suffering was not suffering. It was love. We will know that no tear went unnoticed and no prayer went unanswered.”

This message is particularly important for our archdiocese. The wounds of scandal have opened us up to a world of love. Wounded, we will never stop loving. As Father Simon said, “You’re doing fine if you get up again. Now go to confession!”

Sometimes, to return to Father Baer’s comment, when a journalist says something else, people get upset. But I have always thought that the job of a Catholic journalist is to be honest. And an honest approach to sin is never a pretty story. This is why we write good news. This is why some of our stories look the same, because goodness does not change.

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Months from sainthood, St. Therese’s parents already patrons for a local Catholic family

March 11, 2015

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Photo courtesy Annie Reddy

Photo courtesy Annie Reddy

By Maria Wiering

People constantly mispronounce the name of Annie Reddy’s 4-year-old daughter. Yes, it’s an uncommon name outside of France, but, after all the anticipated press, it’s likely to climb the Nameberry charts this year.

It’s Zelie – and it doesn’t rhyme with “jelly.”

It’s pronounced ZAY-lee, and it’s the nickname of Thérèse of Lisieux’s mother, who is slated for canonization in October with her husband and Thérèse’s father, Louis.

The Martins, Blessed Azélie-Marie (1831-1877) and Louis (1823-1894), married in 1858 and reportedly will be the first couple to be canonized together.

Zélie was a lace-maker, and Louis made watches. Both of them had aspired to the religious life – Zélie to the convent, and Louis to a monastery. Both were rejected, Zélie for poor health, and Louis because of his lack of Latin. The couple had nine children – seven daughters and two sons – but only five daughters would survive infancy. All five became religious sisters; four of them, including Therese (the youngest) became Carmelites at Lisieux.

Known as “The Little Flower” and popular for her autobiography where she described her “little way” to Jesus, St. Therese was canonized in 1925 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1997, one of only four women doctors.

Light in the darkness

St. Therese has always been one of Annie’s patrons; her middle name is Therese. She was the saint Annie turned to during what she called “a pretty dark time” in her life.

Five years ago, Annie discovered she was pregnant. She wasn’t married, had never intended to be, and hadn’t imagined herself as a mother. She vacillated between adoption and raising her daughter, finally deciding on the latter.

“She was going to be my adventure in life,” said Annie, now 29 and a parishioner of St. Paul in Ham Lake. “I thought forever it was going to be just me and this baby girl.”

As part of that bond, Annie named her daughter Zelie Luella for Zélie and Louis Martin, names familiar to her from reading St. Therese’s writings.

“St. Therese kind of walked me throughout life, including that dark time,” Annie said. “I wanted her (Zelie) to have a name that was part of me.”

At the time, Annie didn’t realize the Martins were on their own path to sainthood. Pope John Paul II declared them venerable in 1994, and they were beatified in 2008. On Feb. 27, the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes announced the couple would be canonized together in October, during the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Both miracles attributed to the couple involved the healing of children.

Annie believes the saints’ prayers helped her parents guide her during her pregnancy and early motherhood. “They never judged me,” she said. “I think somehow Zelie Martin was interceding for me and my parents, and for this little girl to be in our lives.”

Vocation to marriage

Those prayers may also have had a role in her falling in love with her now husband, Ryan. The two had known each other since eighth grade, but Annie admits that before Zelie, she wasn’t the kind of woman Ryan would have wanted to marry.

“It’s one of those things were God breaks down your walls with children,” she said.

“She prepared me for intimacy with another human being. She taught me to be selfless and break down those dark areas in my life. Ryan wouldn’t have married me if it wasn’t for Zelie … . I just didn’t have it in my character to be married at that time, and Zelie really pulled that out of me.”

Annie had tried to name her daughter in a meaningful way, but hadn’t realized at the time how significant her name would truly be, she said. “I think that’s the work of Zelie Martin in bringing me to the vocation of marriage and family life,” she said.

The Reddys’ family has grown since their 2013 wedding; a year later, they had a son, Ezekiel.

Annie was thrilled when she heard the news of the Martins’ upcoming canonization, and she would love to witness the event in person, with her daughter. “Nobody really understands the name, so we try to tell her about it,” Annie said. “We would love for her to see that production (the canonization) go down.”

A few days before Annie heard the news about the Martins’ canonization, Zelie asked her mother if she could be St. Zelie. Annie thinks the idea came from The Way of the Shepherd Catholic Montessori in Blaine, where Zelie goes to school, but it was music to her ears. She’s convinced her daughter has transformed her life. “Now I’m working on sainthood,” she said.

Pope plans to canonize St. Therese’s parents during family synod

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“Missionary Impulse”

November 4, 2014



By Susanna Bolle

It was not long after arriving at the Proclaim Catholic Mission’s Conference that I found myself deeply moved. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by many young adults and families who have said “yes” to the radical call to serve God by proclaiming the Gospel in foreign missions. You see, I’ve flown to the famous land of the po’ boy to visit my brother, his wife, and their five beautiful children who have responded to the “missionary impulse” that the Lord inflamed their hearts with. My brother and his family were convicted of the message in Luke 18:22 to “sell everything you have and give to the poor…then come, follow me.” They have chosen to completely surrender their lives to the Lord and follow his call for their family to proclaim the Gospel in foreign lands, to “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3). If you would like to learn more about Family Missions Company, or donate to the Bolle family’s fundraising efforts, please visit the Family Missions Company website.

I have come to the FMC conference to learn more about the “missionary impulse” which Pope Francis describes in Evangelii Gaudium. Pope Francis states, “If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, ‘those who cannot repay you’ (Luke 14:14). This missionary impulse is necessary-but it is not comfortable. In Evangelii Gaudium even Pope Francis admits this, “an authentic faith-which is never comfortable or completely personal-always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.”

Upon reflecting on my weekend with Family Missions Company, I am convicted of the Lord’s voice in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” The Lord must knock at our door, because he cannot enter unless we let him in…and he desires to enter our home not only to share a meal with us, but to bring us out. It is my prayer that when I return home from Louisiana, I will have the courage to open the door of my heart to Christ. That I will respond to the beating of the missionary impulse and allow Christ to bring me outside of myself so that I can fulfill the call of Pope Francis’ message and “leave this earth somehow better than” I “found it.”

Bolle is the Administrative Assistant for the Office of Evangelization & Catechisis of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

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