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Novena for a Rebirth of Chastity and Purity July 18-26

July 16, 2018

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Join the Marriage, Family and Life Office in praying a novena for chastity and purity in the world. We will begin this novena on Tuesday, July 18 in preparation for the USCCB’s NFP Awareness Week and complete the novena on the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne.

The prayers for the day on each day of the novena will be posted here daily at CatholicHotdish.com and the complete novena may be found at archspm.org on the event’s page.

Mary, our Mother, perfect model of purity and chastity, pray for us.

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For the Love of the Game: Where Fraternity and Faith Meet

May 17, 2018

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Eddie Rosario

Fr. Ubel with Puerto Rico native and Twins Left Fiedler, Eddie Rosario

By Father John Ubel

Like all grade school students of my era, I was taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Of course I assumed then that he touched foot on what is now American soil. I would later learn that Leif Erickson and Viking explorers were likely the first Europeans to set foot in North America proper, landing on the northern tip of Newfoundland around the year 1000 A.D. But Columbus did anchor near San Juan, Puerto Rico for two days in November 1493 A.D. on his second voyage, and when I gazed upon the tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon, known as the discoverer of Florida, in the Catedral de San Juan Bautista, suddenly the travails of the early explorers felt real. By appointment of the Spanish Crown, he was its first Governor in 1508-09.

Traversing the streets of old San Juan is reminiscent of many old European cities, with El Morro, the massive six-story 16th century fortress dominating the old city. The morning of our Cathedral visit coincided with the arrival of a giant cruise ship in port. The narrow streets were packed by 9:00 a.m. Our “tour guide” from the parish staff was José Lara Fontánez, who clearly loves his Cathedral as much as I love ours. We had mailed 345 pounds of medicines, to be distributed to the needy in San Juan and beyond. The island wide power outage delayed the post office pick up by a day or two, but they arrived safely. On top of that, I was delighted to present a gift in the amount of $25,000 to be used for Cathedral restoration, following Hurricane Maria. Ten minutes into our visit, my phone rang–it was Premier Bank. I gave authorization for the immediate transfer of funds and we all cheered when the transfer was final. What a thrill for me! I received a heartfelt thank you note from the rector, Fr. Benjamin Perez Cruz, who invited me to visit again in 2021 for the 500th anniversary celebration of the Cathedral!

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

Fr. Ubel presents gift check to the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

With a typical high of 85 and low of 74, it is not difficult to plan for the day, unless it rains! And it did briefly, but powerfully one day. The cab driver lamented– “You see this? When it rains, the roads become a river!” And trust me, when the sun re-appears, it’s like a steam room! In its infancy as a territory, Puerto Rico relied heavily on its sugar crop, but by the mid-20th century, that shifted to manufacturing and tourism. Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship in 1917 and Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952. There are signs that tourism is slowly, very slowly coming back. I suspect this is one reason why Major League Baseball was intent on keeping its commitment to this two-game series. They added LED lights to the stadium (just as we did here at the Cathedral!) and repaired the significant damage to the artificial turf in Estadio Hiram Bithorn, built in 1962 and named after the first Puerto Rican who played in the Majors for the Chicago Cubs in 1942.

The scoreboard was reminiscent of the old Met Stadium. It was “no frills” baseball without the constant images flashing across giant video screens. Instead, we were treated to strolling musicians in the stands, with people breaking into dancing and singing right in their seats between innings. Cowbells, whistles and a cacophony of sounds seemed ever-present. It was a completely different feel in the stadium. We sat directly behind a friendly family– Mom, Dad, their identical twin sons aged about 12 or 13 and grandpa. They were all smiles during the game, though ironically the “twins” inexplicably sported Indians gear! On the first night I enjoyed fresh squeezed lemonade and a hot dog, and on the second night, felt ambitious an opted for a piña colada. If it had any alcohol, it was the weakest drink I’ve ever had– but it was tasty!

Back at the hotel after the first game, our group visited with a man at the neighboring table who worked for Major League Baseball. We began discussing the various charitable outreaches being made during the series. When I noted our own outreach to the Cathedral, he was genuinely appreciative. Not five minutes later, into the restaurant walked Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. After a few minutes, the Commissioner himself approached our table! He asked how we were enjoying our experience, and before long he invited us to a private event the next day unveiling a memorial marker in honor of Roberto Clemente, a national hero in Puerto Rico who tragically perished in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972 while on his way to provide disaster relief to Nicaragua. The entire visit was a wonderful experience of faith, fellowship and baseball, with a few surprise extras. The incredible support of the good people of the Cathedral parish truly made it an unforgettable visit.

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The Last Jedi and the Renewal of an Institution (Spoilers)

April 18, 2018

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by Christopher Menzhuber

Christopher Menzhuber

The tension between authentically renewing institutions and destroying them has been around as long as institutions have been with us. Many people would agree the Church -as an institution- should be in a constant state of renewal yet few would agree on what that means. The root of such disagreement lies in our understanding of what Jesus came to do: establish a Church or destroy religious institutions altogether?

For those who believe Jesus came to destroy institutions, “Christ … appears as the revolutionary of love, who pits himself against the enslaving power of institutions and dies in combat against them (especially against the priesthood),” writes Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) describing this view while criticizing it in his book Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. From this perspective, organized religion is seen as an obstacle that must be removed before faith can freely animate a community of prophetic individuals to follow their individual consciences and fully realize the power of love in the world. In short, it is thought that if the kingdom of God is to prevail, the institutional Church must end.

In the most recent installment of the Star Wars saga, “The Last Jedi” released December 2017 and grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) echoes this sentiment about his own Jedi religion. “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end.” By creating tension between a would-be reformer and the Jedi as a religious institution, director Rian Johnson may be depicting a galaxy not-so-far away as he explores the dynamic of renewal in the Star Wars universe.

Master Skywalker embodies the perspective that organized religion suppresses faith. Reflecting on their legacy of mistakes, Luke has come to see the Jedi as proud usurpers of the Force, which does not rely on the Jedi to exist. “To say that if the Jedi die the light dies is vanity,” he tells Rey. In another important scene, Skywalker attempts to destroy the sacred Jedi relics exclaiming “I’m ending all of this,” an action that would erase all memory of the Jedi and liberate the Force from the Jedi’s confining traditions.

Over and against this perspective is the young protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has been inspired by the legends of the Jedi, and maintains the hope that by being formed in the tradition of the Force she can bring light to the galaxy and find some inner illumination. “The galaxy may need a legend.” she says. “I need to know my place in all of this.”

Does the film espouse one view over the other? The moral character of both perspectives gives us some more insight. Luke, embittered by personal failure, is moving toward self-destruction. Moreover, we also learn he has closed himself off from the Force, and has actually never even read his own Jedi Bible. Drawing a real life analogy to the Church one can see in him the Christian archetype who has grown cynical, who has abandoned the life of prayer, and who despite significant education remains ignorant of his own tradition. Under the pretext of reform this person undermines the very things that give Catholicism its distinctiveness like the sacramental priesthood, moral teaching, and authority of the magisterium, the result of which is tantamount to destroying the memory of the Church.

Rey appears in sharp contrast to Luke: idealistic and energetic; perhaps a little naïve and proud; she wants to be a part of the venerable Jedi tradition. Her scant knowledge of the Jedi is accurate but woefully incomplete. When challenged about what she really knows of the force she stammers only bits and pieces: “Lifting rocks and getting people to do what you want.” Think here of people who grew up without any real religious formation but hear God calling them in a world incapable of providing meaningful answers. They long for the adventure that comes from accepting a truth which places demands upon them and calls forth acts of courage. Far from viewing the Institutional Church as confining, they embrace the ancient but ever-growing Catholic Tradition because it connects them to the greatest story ever told.

While the movie appears to relish the conflict between perspectives, it also seems to tilt in favor of preserving institutions when we catch a glimpse of the salvaged Jedi texts suggesting the Jedi tradition will continue. Rey is acknowledged as a Jedi and her rudimentary grasp of the force turns out to be exactly what the rebellion needs. Luke rediscovers his faith and it sets him on a path seeking forgiveness which “is the heart of all true reform,” writes Benedict.

Overall, “The Last Jedi” takes a more thoughtful departure from its predecessors as it embarks on its own journey of renewal. Whether you can see in it a comparison to what’s happening in the Church or perhaps read it as a metaphor for the renewal of the franchise itself, you may find “The Last Jedi” has an interesting portrayal of the tension between authentically reforming an institution versus destroying it. And if you find those themes to be interesting, you will probably enjoy the book “Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today,” by Catholicism’s own Jedi Master, Benedict XVI.

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Glimpses of God in the everyday world

December 15, 2017

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By Christopher Menzhuber

If we believe God knocks on the door of every heart, . . . would He be working through Kesha and her new song Praying?

“I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees praying.”

In her first song to be released in almost four years the pop artist Kesha urges a nameless person who put her “through hell” to pray and change. Given the superficiality of Kesha’s other hits, “Praying” could be one more declarative ballad about triumphing over one’s enemies along the lines of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” or Queen Elsa’s “Let it Go”. But the emotional song also seems to contain the deeper religious message that interior peace comes with forgiving our enemies. And surprisingly, the music video reinforces this message in a couple of remarkable ways.

In the video we watch Kesha being brought from a kind of spiritual death to life, with the climactic moment unfolding at the summit of Salvation Mountain, a giant slab of painted clay in California topped with a Christian cross and dominated by the giant words “God is Love.” Kesha struggles out of fishnets and outruns monsters to arrive at the sunny peak, where she kneels down to pray.

“Sometimes I pray for you at night,” Kesha sings of her offender as she approaches the cross. It’s a lyric she described as particularly important to her in an interview with Zach Sang and it expresses she is willing the good of the other, which is at the heart of a Christian understanding of love. Then she respectfully touches the cross, which puts her in touch not only with other great men and women who have discovered peace through forgiveness, but Jesus Christ who asked his Father to “Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

It is therefore entirely fitting, that of all the many possible symbols of human goodwill, it is the Christian Cross that makes an appearance at the moment of forgiveness. The cross is the ultimate sign and source of self-sacrificing love. Furthermore, by connecting the cross to her moment of forgiveness “Praying” conveys the high cost of forgiving our enemies and even how it lies beyond our own power. “Some things only God can forgive.” Kesha sings.

If to Christian ears it sounds a little obvious to say we should forgive our enemies, it is far from being so in our contemporary culture which seems to be growing increasingly fascinated with Karmic redress. Many people seek satisfaction by blaming someone or some odious group– fill in your own worst enemy – for the problems and suffering in the world. Zach Sang even expresses his own incredulity at the idea of forgiving one’s enemies. “Every time I disliked somebody or I feel like somebody’s done me wrong or hurt me, all I do is wish – I wish bad things upon them, but that’s not the move?”

Kesha’s spirituality is likely too pantheistic to be considered Christian, but what she has done is made a powerfully emotive piece of art with a keen Christian message. The gritty style of the video will not appeal to everyone and the many symbols used probably have several interpretations. But the simple truth is that if more people prayed for their enemies –strengthened by the cross – the world would be a more peace-filled place.

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Travels to Tanzania are inspiring

December 4, 2017

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Father Michael Skluzacek, center, during Mass while on his trip to Tanzania. Courtesy Father Michael Skluzacek

By Father Michael Skluzacek

The Mass for the dedication of a new church is one of the most inspiring liturgies there is. I recently had the great privilege to concelebrate the Mass of Dedication for the new church of St. John the Baptist in Ngujini, Tanzania.

I traveled to Tanzania in early November with four other pilgrims: Renée Hosch from St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, Father Cory Rohlfing and Laura Stierman from St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi, and Molly Druffner from St. Michael in Stillwater.  Molly is the Director of Partners 4 Hope Tanzania, and serves as a missionary in Tanzania with her family.

Ngujini is an “outstation,” served by Father Dr. Beda Kiure of Immaculate Conception Parish in Bwambo. In April 2016, Molly Druffner came to St. John the Baptist in New Brighton and did an appeal for funds to build a church at Ngujini.  Parishioners at St. John the Baptist responded with overwhelming generosity, and work soon began on the church.

Over the next 18 months, parishioners set to work in building a beautiful church that seats more than 200. Villagers of all faiths pitched in to help, and the project became a unifying force and source of pride for the entire community.

As the new church neared completion and the date was set for its dedication, Bishop Rogath Kimaryo of the local Diocese of Same (Sah’may) decided to name the church St. John the Baptist in honor of the people of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. As gifts for the new church, I brought over several altar cloths from the New Brighton St. John’s, as well as three chalices given by Knights of Columbus.

During the liturgy, when those chalices were brought out, and the altar cloth was placed on the newly anointed altar, I was deeply moved by the significance of our two parishes being united in the Eucharist. Every time that Mass is celebrated at Ngujini, St. John’s in New Brighton will be present there, through the sacred furnishings that adorn the Body and Blood of Christ.The Body of Christ that is the Church is present in the Body of Christ really and truly present on the altar.

When I was on sabbatical in Tanzania two years ago, I baptized three baby boys at an outdoor Mass at Ngujini. Now, on that very site stands a beautiful new church.

I was asked to give a speech at the end of the dedication Mass. I extended the greetings of the people of St. John’s in New Brighton to the people of St. John’s in Ngujini. I spoke of how we will always be united in Christ whenever the holy Mass is celebrated.

As I was speaking, three little boys, about 2 ½ years old, approached the sanctuary with their parents. The boys squirmed and wondered what was going on, but I realized that these were the three boys I had baptized two years ago. I saw in their parents’ eyes the gratitude and the love that unite God’s holy people through the saving grace of the sacraments.

 

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The most important non-profit in our household

November 27, 2017

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By Father Paul Jarvis

When we Jarvis kids grew up as exiled Minnesotans in early-60s Hartford City, Indiana – 3M exiled my father to Indiana, and the deal was we had to go with him – we discovered that Hoosiers in that part of Indiana celebrated holidays a little differently than Minnesotans then. And today.

Instead of going trick or treating once on Halloween, we went twice – including the day after. Ahem, we also soaped people’s window screens if we got Bible tracts from them.

Good Friday represented time off from school, public or parochial school. But it wasn’t exactly the kind of time off we kids wanted. We spent much of the day in church just sitting in silence.

4th of July wasn’t simply a time for fireworks. I remember going downtown the Blackford County Sourthouse to sit and be bored by a bewigged orator pretending to be Thomas Jefferson or another revolutionary. The worst, or the best, part of the event was guessing how long it would take the guy with the scratchy white wig, powdered cheeks, in layers of wool clothing in Indiana’s 90-something degree 100% humidity weather to pass out while reading the Declaration of Independence. While effecting an English accent in a Hoosier twang.

In pre-Beatles Indiana, Easter was just how a kid imagined Jesus celebrating it … with not just one hunt for treasure. But two. Like Mary and Joseph hiding around the house baskets of chocolate eggs, peeps, jellybeans, my parents hid the baskets in places a second grader could get his hands to.

Following the basket hunt was the one we Jarvis kids really looked forward to: an Easter egg hunt with real money taped to the candy eggs. Just like Jesus must’ve gone on.

Since I was the younger and dumber Jarvis brother, I would mindlessly follow after older brothers … surprisingly not finding any eggs. But just as Mary must’ve dropped an egg or two in front of Jesus so he could actually have some eggs to count afterwards, my mom surreptitiously dropped eggs around me. And like Jesus, I got the eggs with more valuable shekels.

We in Indiana also celebrated Christmas twice. On Christmas Eve, we – I mean my dad – would cut down our Christmas tree at the tree farm. And with “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Special” and “The Little Drummer Boy” playing, we’d all gleefully decorate it. Then we went off to eat at the only restaurant open in Hartford City … I believe it was a Chinese restaurant … where our dad would try to blind us with movie camera lights possessing the power of the sun. Christmas home movies only show us squinting.

Gorged and antsy, we returned home and opened the gifts we had given each other. Then came midnight Mass, where I pretended to be praying, with sleeping head held in my hands.

The following Christmas morning, we celebrated Christmas a second time. With Baby Jesus now safely in His crib, we kids scrambled to tear into gifts that St. Nicolas had brought us. The nuns at school always insisted on us calling the gift-giving Saint by his proper name. Not his nickname, “Santa Claus.” Sr. Mary Joseph Marie would rhetorically ask, “You wouldn’t call me “Sis” would you?” “No, Sister Mary Joseph Marie,” the class robotically responded. Of course, “Sis” is exactly what we would whisper when outside of wimple-range.

During Kennedy’s presidency, we Minnesota exiles did something that would seem very weird to today’s younger Minnesotans. We waited to go Christmas shopping until we saw the Christmas decorations and lights go up around town. And they wouldn’t go up until about a week or two before Jesus’ birthday. This was perhaps late for our Protestant friends, but way too soon for our Catholic nuns. It being still penitential Advent and all.

Looking around today, two weeks before Christmas is way, way, way too late. Holiday decorations start prompting Christmas buying aright around Halloween.

There was something wonderful in celebrating the holidays the Hoosier way though … besides getting twice as much candy on Halloween. For us kids, the shorter build up to Christmas helped intensify the excitement around Christmas gift-giving and gift-receiving.

The shorter period would also dramatically cut down the amount of junk mail Hartford City, Indiana households would receive at Thanksgiving and Christmasgiving time.

Then, as now, every household would receive heartfelt appeals to help this or that non-profit. The Jarvises certainly received a lot, but not two months’ worth …

… requests from the March of Dimes, Jerry Lewis’s MD effort, UNICEF, St. Jude’s, the Heart Association, the Red Cross, missions that allowed the give to name a pagan baby, the USO, Salvation Army, ad infinitum. But today, if you give to even just one charity, your address is sold to a baker’s dozen of other non-profits.

I have a friend today who gets roughly 10 requests a day to be generous. Multiply that times roughly 60 days … and that’s a lot of letters to recycle.

One day, Sr. Mary Joseph Marie called all of her classroom’s impressionable students into church, and brought out our patron saint’s statue, St. John. She silently handed out a simple holy card – this was back in the day when we Catholic kids collected them like our Protestant friends collected baseball cards.

Dramatically, she held up a huge stack of donation non-profit donation requests, and fanned herself as if weary from holding up so many.

With her other hand, she raised the holy card of St. John. She remained silent for a while, looking at us. One by one.

Then she asked – rhetorically – “Which of these non-profits (she probably said charity, now that I think about it) are organizations that help out a lot of folks outside our parish, and probably pay their presidents tens of thousands of dollars a year (remember, this is early 60s Indiana)? And which non-profit helps your family members from the moment they were born and baptized to the moment they have their funerals? With First Communions, with Confirmations, with Weddings, with Ordinations, with Sick Calls and weekly Sunday Masses in between? Which helps your school and catechism classes tuition?” To make a finer point of it, “And which non-profit is always there for your family – I mean, really there for your family? In fact, it IS your family?”

To not make too fine of a point, the good Sister helped us out by looking sideways at the holy card. The answer was obvious even to us second graders.

And the implication was just as obvious – we kids were to make the case for “our parish” at home during a time of giving and giving thanks.

She didn’t pick on any raised hands responding to her rhetorical question. But just to make sure the point got through, she had us kneel and pray before our parish’s patron saint’s statue. And if you looked closely, you could see a different set of Thanksgiving and Christmas contribution envelopes fanning out from a parish patron’s base.

As we left church, the class’s eraser-clapping, nerdy brown-noser asked Sister Mary Joseph Marie whether we could take an envelope home to mom and dad. Just like Ingrid Bergman in the “Bells of St. Mary,” she knowingly smiled at me and said, “No need to, Popo, I am very, very sure your parents already have some.”

We Indiana parishioners always considered our parish to be the most important non-profit in our household. It was there for us, like no other. Better still, we were simultaneously its charitable recipients.

The Salvation Army red kettle was nice for our – now remember these are pre-ecumenical days – fine for our Protestant friends. I’d even pray that they responded with St. Nick-level generosity to all the non-profit requests they no doubt got. But our Catholic parish was not only “our parish.” It was our non-profit.

Sister Mary Joseph Marie didn’t need to say it explicitly, but we understood that focusing our giving on our parish was the best use of the golden talents God had given us. (Matthew 25:14-30)

Early 1960s Indiana ways may seem very strange to us today. But as I see Catholics increasingly indebted by Happy Holidays commercialism, Halloween costumes become decidedly creepier and costlier than bedsheets with two holes cut out of them, and many a Catholic sending numerous checks to non-profits they know barely anything about and headed by million-dollar execs … they really, really, really make sense to this repatriated Minnesotan.

~ Fr. Paul Jarvis, Senior Associate Pastor of St. Bridget Parish Community, Minneapolis.

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Meeting halfway in marriage

October 9, 2017

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Dan Steger

By Dan Steger

I work as a salesman for a Twin Cities company that makes graphics and signage for use in retail stores. My biggest customer is based in New York City, where I call on them about once a month.

Usually this involves a series of short business meetings, but on a recent trip I catered in lunch for the entire department, a group of about 30 people. As we tucked into our lobster rolls and sodas, the room buzzed with a number of small conversations. Lobster rolls, I knew from 15 years’ experience, are a real crowd-pleaser!

At one point, one of my longtime close contacts asked me from across the large conference room table, “Dan, do you have any big vacations planned for this year? Like – where did you go last year? Bosnia or something?”

I smiled. People always struggled to remember the name. Or maybe it was the geography? “You mean Croatia. No, nothing like that this year. That trip was to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. This year we’re going to Wisconsin.”

At this I was met with wide-eyed stares from a number of those in the room. “Thirty years?” asked a young woman of about 30 years herself. “You’ve been married 30 years? That’s amazing. What’s your secret?”

By now the room was very quiet, and all eyes were on me, a situation with which I was not entirely comfortable. Although a career salesman I am fairly introverted and prefer talking with people one-on-one or in small groups.

“Well, I can answer that with a story, but you may regret asking as it’ll take a few minutes.”

“Go for it. We’re all ears.”

“OK, this happened on our wedding day, just before the ceremony itself. My wife and I are both Catholic, and we married in a big, old neo-Gothic, or neo-something, church in St. Paul, Minnesota.” When in New York I am always careful with place names, adding MINNESOTA and waiting for a sign of recognition. People often nod pleasantly but indistinctly.

“It’s a traditional church in an older part of the city, and I was a parishioner, largely because my father grew up there and my grandparents were still members, attending Mass every day.

“We wanted a Mass, not a civil ceremony, and in this parish there were certain rules about weddings. They were on Saturdays at 10am, period. You want a 5pm wedding? Try 10am instead. And this was fine with us. Neither of us were, or are, super-devout, but we wanted a traditional, classic Catholic ceremony and loved the family ties to the place. The church was beautiful, and was decorated for Christmas. We were happy to be flexible about the rules.

I still had everyone’s attention at this point but knew I’d have to move from this church talk to the “good part” or I’d lose them.

“So it’s just before the ceremony is to begin, and I’m in the sacristy – backstage, so to speak – and I’m terrified. Sweating bullets. The prospect of being in front of a hundred or so people really made me nervous, and that was on top of the significance of the rite itself.

“The priest approached me. Father Patrick Lannan. He was the textbook priest. Irish, hugely round in stature, ruddy complexion, gregarious. He’d known my grandparents for years, and treated me like we were old friends, although we were barely acquainted. I was 25 and frankly just an occasional churchgoer. But he didn’t seem to mind that at all. He clasped his hand on my shoulder, and believe me when I tell you I remember this like it happened yesterday. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Danny, you don’t look like a groom. You look nervous.’

I said this in my best attempt at an Irish accent. Fr. Lannan didn’t speak in one but I used it for dramatic effect. Not really my style but I was going for broke. It seemed to work, judging from the smiles in the room.

“’That’s because I AM nervous, Father.’

Looking around the table I saw that I had everyone’s attention. Most had finished lunch but none were leaving. Generally people stayed 5 or 10 minutes for these lunches, or simply grabbed their sandwich and headed back to their desk. Lunch in this office was not a leisurely affair.

“’Sit down. I’m going to tell you how to get on in married life.’

“At this point I was struck by two things. The first was the irony of a 60 year old celibate priest telling me how to succeed in marriage. But I’d been a Catholic all my life and was used to advice from priests about all kinds of things. And second, frankly, was irritation. I was in the middle of a full-on nervous breakdown and this guy wants to have a fireside chat? But dutiful lad that I was, I sat. And there was no saying NO to Fr. Lannan, that much I knew.

“He sat back in his chair and said, ‘People have problems because they want to meet in the middle on things.’

“He paused to let this sink in but I found this chestnut very odd. I thought meeting in the middle was kind of a tried-and-true way to make relationships work.

“He continued. ‘The problem is that if you go halfway, and your wife goes halfway, you will never meet at all.’

“I was totally confused at this point, and very anxious that it might be 10:00 and there we were chatting in the sacristy while a church full of people sat impatiently waiting for things to start.

“’The problem is that your idea of halfway, and her idea of halfway, are not half way at all. They’re short of that. They’re 40% or something. But if you make it a point to go 60%, and she does the same, you might just meet in the middle after all.’

“At this point he stopped, and smiled at me, and waited for my response. It took me a couple seconds to realize he was done. I was still waiting for the punchline, for some profound, poetic nugget; for the heavens to open and for angels to sing. But he was done and all I had was this bizarre mathematical formula. Forty per-cent. Sixty per-cent. What? My memory of my reaction is crystal-clear: I thought this was the dumbest piece of advice I’d ever heard.

“But Fr. Lannan suddenly stood, looking very satisfied. I stood also, not quite sure what to say. ‘OK, Father. That’s great. Thanks.’

“He nodded in total agreement. He looked me in the eye, put his hand on my shoulder again and said, ‘NOW you look like a groom. Let’s get you married.’

“So that was my piece of advice, this bit about always going more than halfway. At the time I didn’t think much of it. In fact, in the following days I forgot it altogether. But how many times do you think I’ve thought of it in the 30 years since? Hundreds of times. Countless times. Might’ve been the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

I suddenly became self-conscious, realizing that my story was done yet I still had the attention of the entire room. In awkward situations like this I usually made a dumb quip, and this no exception. “There you have it!” I said, upbeat. “Lobster rolls and life lessons! Probably more than you bargained for today.”

Another of those present, a woman with whom I’d done business for years, piped up: “That was an awesome story, Dan. I will remember that.”

I smiled and thanked her. People nodded, either in agreement or just to be polite, I wasn’t sure. One by one they stood, collected their things and filed out.

Father Lannan’s advice really summarized a couple key truths about success in marriage, at least from my experience. First, it’s human nature to overestimate one’s own contributions to relationships. Countless times I’ve found myself thinking I’d really gone that extra mile for my wife, only to admit to myself later that – as Fr. Lannan had said – I’d only gone 40% of the way. And second, marriage is work. Hard work. It’s hard to dig deep and swallow your pride sometimes in order to find harmony with your spouse. It takes patience, and confidence in yourself and your partner, to put aside the disagreement of that moment; to step back and see the bigger picture. I often think of the Rolling Stones lyric:

You can’t always get what you want.

You can’t always get what you want.

But if you try sometime,

You just might find,

You get what you need.

Dan Steger is a salesman and freelance writer. He and his wife Andrea have been married 31 years. They have two adult children.

 

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Behold, I am the hostess (in training) of the Lord

June 8, 2017

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While my Mama is ever learned in the gentle art of making others feel welcome, her natural flair for hospitality has not passed along very easily to her youngest child. Sure, I’ve always received complimentary coffees and extra bathroom towels with deep gratitude. But my linear-minded self tends to error on the side of modest (and sadly stingy) hospitality. Less food means less waste! My guests can’t expect me to stay up past my usual bedtime, right? And nobody scrubs floors in college apartments anyways…  Striving for simplicity has left my hostess abilities pitifully lacking, much to the chagrin of my poor guests.

Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson

The saving grace for any future visitors of mine was at hand when I accepted an invitation to the Behold Retreat. This beautiful day sparkled with speakers, resources and lovely surprises for young women in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The talks I heard at Behold cast a warm new light on the welcoming domestic churches which my Mama and countless others have always beautifully kept.

A theology of hospitality began to unfold as wife and mom Justina Kopp and Sister Eileen Leon spoke from their unique vocational experiences. These women shared a foundational cornerstone long upheld by the Church to make sense of many a thing: God is the perfection of beauty, truth and goodness. Every beautiful thing, from cathedrals and sunsets to clean homes and joyful families, points us to God. A sacramental worldview opens our eyes to the divine dimensions of life which cannot be seen at a mere surface glance. Understanding the purpose of beauty strengthens our spiritual eyesight — but the real joy in seeing beauty anew is sharing that vision of goodness with others!

Since hospitality happens to be all about ‘”the other,” Dia Boyle put our renewed appreciation of beauty to work with her talk on “the others” we encounter in the domestic Church. She explained that the home can be an instrument for beauty because home is the place where we are most influential. Members of a home naturally return to this physical structure out of need. Whether those necessities are rest, resources or relationships, homes ideally meet the needs of those who dwell there. We become people of influence through words and actions we extend toward friends and family in this ordinary place called “home.”

Now people of faith can certainly be influential showing extraordinary love in abysmal conditions, as St. Teresa of Calcutta and countless others have taught us! But knowing what we know about the good, true and beautiful God, couldn’t most of us put a little more effort into creating homes that point others to him? There’s a difference between houses filled with “stuff” and homes that only contain what is beautiful or useful. Rather than trying to impress others with wealth or false appearances, a beautiful home can be an instrument for blessing others.

Warm spaces with cozy lamps and flickering candles invite people to linger. Guests will hope that conversations last longer in a place that is smells fresh and feels clean. And company will always stay later if dessert is served! With this encouragement to remain together, our investment of time yields a harvest of influence. My worries about hospitality becoming an occasion for vice were soothed by the wise words shared this day, because a clean space, plentiful meal and lovely home will always lead our hearts and minds back to our perfectly pure, generous, and beautiful Father.

These beautiful musings from the Behold Retreat explained the theology of hospitality I have long encountered but never understood. Lovingly decorated Christmas cookies, freshly laundered sheets and tastefully selected paintings are the little things which give way to big truths. Hospitality brings us back to our fundamental need for relationships, with Christ and our neighbors. And if warm coffee cake and fresh flowers help us point others to God, then goodness truly is beautiful!

Kate Anderson is a young Catholic with an old soul who spends her days in the Twin Cities learning about banks. 

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A family shares story of mother’s deportation — and what it took to get back

May 18, 2017

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Lorna and Javier in 2017, choosing not to show their faces — and to use only their middle names — to protect their identity. Courtesy Lynda McDonnell

Lorna and Javier in 2017, choosing not to show their faces — and to use only their middle names — to protect their identity. Courtesy Lynda McDonnell

“We were all sleeping. It was like six in the morning. You could hear someone yelling. They came in, took my mom, took several other people. I didn’t know much of immigration at that stage in life. Never knew that they would come and do that to a person… We thought somebody did something wrong and that’s why they were there. We thought they would let my mom go eventually, but that wasn’t the case.”

Jesse was 14 and about to start high school when immigration agents pushed into his family’s home that summer morning in 2005.  His mother Lorena was a 34-year-old cleaning woman and the single mother of 12-year-old Teresa, seven-year-old Javier and Jesse.  Their experience sheds light on how deportation of undocumented immigrant parents may affect their estimated 4.5 million citizen children.

Because Lorena’s children are U.S. citizens, they were not arrested with her. Two friends agreed to care for them, but no one had money to hire a lawyer to argue Lorena’s case. So after spending two months in detention, she was flown to Honduras, the country she left at 17 to find work in America and help the impoverished family and infant son she left behind.  She considered getting a passport and ticket for Javier, her youngest, but decided that would only fracture the family further.

“In my mind, I am coming back,” Lorena says. “I wanted [that] they stay together.”

She had struggled to make a life in America without family to support her. The children were the family she created, but their fathers had left her and provided little help.

“When are you coming?” the children asked whenever she called. “One day,” she promised. “Soon.”

The journey back to Minnesota was long and dangerous, but within a week of arriving in Honduras, Lorena was headed north. “I need to coming back because I love my kids and my kids they need me.”

Meanwhile, two friends living in different Twin Cities’ suburbs shared the job of caring for Teresa, Javier and Jesse. One took them during the week, the other on weekends. They alternated the arrangement every six months to ease the burden. The frequent switching of homes and schools led Jesse to fall behind in school. Eventually he quit altogether.

“At first I was doing okay,” he says. “Then I slowly started not having stability, moving from house to house.  I ended up cheating myself out of an education because I would never have that stability or finish the school year in one school. I was constantly moving.  I would have to start all over with certain credits.”

Arrested crossing the border in California, Lorena was sent to a detention center. She worked there to buy phone cards and call the children so they could hear her voice. Her friends and the children wrote letters pleading that immigration officials let her come home to them. But there was no money to hire a lawyer and argue for a humanitarian visa. After nine months in detention, she was flown again to Honduras. Now a felon, she was banned from ever returning to the U.S. But she would not abandon her children.

In phone calls, Jesse often blamed his mother for her absence. “What crime do you have?” he asked angrily. “Why do you leave us?”   Teresa excelled at school, but Jesse struggled and Javier often misbehaved. “I didn’t have to listen because they weren’t my mom or dad,” he says.

Lorena’s second trip through Mexico and across the border was even more harrowing. She was held for ransom in Mexico and walked two days across the Arizona desert, guided by a coyote and relying on crackers, tuna and two gallons of water to survive. They passed the bodies of immigrants who had died in the desert.  But staying with the bodies, waiting for help, meant risking dying themselves.

Finally, 16 months after she left, Lorena arrived one cold winter morning at her friend’s house. There were tears and celebration, but also damage that could not be undone. Still angry, Jesse refused to leave her. Javier’s face had lost its boyish brightness. He looked older, angrier, and resisted going to school, fearing that men in uniforms would take her away again. At 19, he still mistrusts authority. “I thought cops were bad, anything with authority was bad. It’s been that way, even now.”

Twelve years later, both sons are working, and Teresa will soon graduate from college. Jesse understands the risks his mother took to return to them. Javier is convinced that he’d be in jail if his mother had not returned. “Not letting her down. That’s the main thing.”

Lorena still cleans houses and guides her children with a strong example and clear messages: Trust in God. Work hard. Help others. “I pass[ed] a lot of bad things to come back to you,” she tells them. “We need to do good things.”

With deportation threats increasing, the children’s worries about losing their mom have returned. Lorena worries more for younger families. “My kids growing up. They don’t need me. But what happens with the other women with the little ones?

“Don’t think for the parents. Think for the kids,” she urges. “You deport the parents from the kids. What do you think will happen to those kids? Do you think it will make a better country?”

Lynda McDonnell

Lynda McDonnell

Lynda McDonnell is a writer and journalist and a member of Incarnation/Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Minneapolis. Her blog – A Pilgrim’s Way – and other information can be found at  http://www.lyndamcdonnell.com

Editor’s note: To protect the family’s privacy, family members’ middle names are used in this account.

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A doctor’s experience: the evil of abortion

November 8, 2016

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In this election season, in an attempt to help us vote informed by Catholic principles, I emailed a video YouTube link from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that defends religious freedom to friends and family (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpPh6ymIhjg). In follow-up responses, the topic of abortion came up for discussion. The word “abortion” wasn’t mentioned in the video, but it was implied by references to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are being forced by the U.S. government’s Health and Human Services mandate to provide insurance coverage for abortion and contraceptives in their health care plan. The Little Sisters do not want to be forced to support the abortion industry.

By way of introduction, I have been a practicing Minneapolis physician now for 28 years. Here is my medical background and experience with abortion.

I have always been driven to get at the root of things. In medical school I was intrigued and driven to find out and see with my own eyes exactly when human life begins. I wanted to see cells and molecules divide … and molecules combine. I was amazed by what we are able to see with current technology! One great day in medical school, I witnessed human conception taking place on the big screen: egg meeting sperm — the tremor — exquisite combination of maternal and paternal DNA — tremor — and the subsequent division of a brand new one-celled organism into two, then four, then eight, 16, 32, 64, 128, … into a morula, blastocyst, and on and on until a human heart is beating only 18 days after conception. Yes! Life is defined as consisting of both growth and cell division. Fact: Human life begins at conception. All scientists now agree with this truth.

Another truth I learned later: Abortion is a grave evil. This surgical (or chemical) procedure intentionally destroys a human life. Of the many factors leading to the escalating violence in the United States, I firmly believe the current violence is directly linked to abortion on demand—legal in the United States until baby is full term or the mother is 40 weeks pregnant. Abortion is a grotesque killing of a baby and a silent killing of families. Abortion kills a vulnerable human life growing inside the protective womb of the mother. The surgical procedure is the most evil technique I have ever seen. Yet, the U.S. Supreme Court thinks women should have access to it for all nine months of pregnancy.

I think we can do better for women and for families. We are doing much better at Abria Pregnancy Resources where I am now medical director. I review daily prenatal ultrasounds from the Abria clinic office (across from Planned Parenthood on University Avenue). Women are counseled, supported, cared for and loved at Abria instead of being rushed into killing their child at the mega Planned Parenthood right across the street.

As a pathologist at St. Paul Regions Hospital, I would work alongside surgeons and guide their surgeries while patients were anesthetized nearby in the operating room. Depending on what I determined from microscope/imaging/staining techniques from tissue surgeons submitted to me during procedures, surgery would proceed in the proper direction. During surgery, we (surgeon and pathologist) consulted. I would describe tissue: malignant or benign, cholesterol plaques, absence of stones, ischemic bowel, etc. I also received various other tissues after surgeries.

One of the most common surgical procedures was abortion. My job then was to carefully reassemble the baby body parts to make sure nothing was left behind in the woman’s body by the aborting surgeon. Most babies were seven to eight weeks old and it was easy to identify body parts. I literally had to put the baby body back together to see if all baby pieces were there. There were also many much larger babies (12 to 28+ weeks). If I couldn’t account for all body parts, the surgeon would have to go back in and recover them in order to try to prevent life threatening infection in the mother. Baby parts were left behind routinely. I had to notify the surgeon the same day when pieces were missing. This was an eye-opening, sad experience. I was unable to prevent the killing already done as tissues came to the lab. I was 25 at the time — assembling dead baby parts will always be part of my experience. It is a grisly business and our tax dollars pay Planned Parenthood millions of dollars annually to fund this ongoing horror. You must know abortion is a grave evil. I have had to work up close to abortion in the industry, using my medical gifts to minimize the harm to women resulting from abortion. Imagine touching dead babies for weeks on end. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 voted to legalize abortion. It was the worst legal decision our country has ever made — the worst decision ever for women, for sure.

Later, as a private medical practitioner, I saw thousands of women who suffered latent effects of the abortions they had. I’d treat them for severe depression or anxiety, asthma, diabetes, back pain, or abdominal pain for weeks. I diagnosed and treated thousands of cases of herpes, warts, and chlamydia also.

When trust was developed, women often could open up and tell me they still felt great regret, anger, or anxiety and suffered sleepless nights over one or two or three abortions from their past. They were miserable. I also had thousands of young women in to see me telling me their boyfriends, families, or husbands were forcing them to have abortions. They were afraid from the pressure and were often rushed through the abortion without being informed of other options. Most of my patients were also on contraceptives of some sort that failed. Many were on the pill, and many were using the IUD or Norplant. I’d see them every year for a Pap smear, and also three or four times a year for either a bladder infection or depression flare-up.

The common theme I heard from them is that they felt depressed and used by boyfriends in their life. Since they were deemed “chemically infertile” by contraception, there was no fear of pregnancy among their male partners who would often take advantage of them. Women were too weak and/or afraid to say “no” to sex. This was extremely common in women college students. They felt “used” instead of loved — yet, they still wanted their prescription for the pill … . Contraceptives lead to abortion as casual sex is encouraged by doctors, schools, media, culture. Contraception hurts women by enslaving them to lives of sex without love. The more contraceptives prescribed to women, the more sexually-transmitted infections, false relationships, failed classes, anxiety and abortions. Guys get what they want in college and high school and dump the women off at Planned Parenthood for morning-after pills, RU486 or whatever.

We do have an amazing, beautiful alternative to contraception: Natural Family Planning (NFP). It is equally effective to the pill in postponing conception (99.4 percent) and respects the beautiful dignity of a woman’s body without the artificial steroid hormonal side effects of the pill, increased risk of cervical cancers, breast cancer, hypertension, migraine, stroke, etc.  I taught NFP in my previous medical practice and now my daughter Callie teaches it with her husband Tim Doran.

Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote a beautiful, short encyclical in 1968 (15 pages) titled “Humanae Vitae.” In it he predicted with 100 percent accuracy what would befall women should contraception become widespread. Every prophecy has come true. Look it up online. It’s an easy read.

One prophecy: “Man may lose respect for the woman and may consider her a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer his respected and beloved companion.” Another: “Conjugal infidelity” would increase; divorces would increase. Another: General lowering of morality. Another: Governments may force women to use contraception. There are more, and all have come true today!

My medical experience has led me to believe that contraception is one of the worst things to force on women. Why are so many Planned Parenthood clinics in black neighborhoods?  Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger called our black brothers and sisters “human weeds.” Yet the contraceptive philosophy continues to enslave women and keep them depressed and sick. It has enslaved women in other countries, too. Vulnerable women use contraception and are routinely used and abused. Contraception has taken away women’s freedom, not supplied it. Ask any women in college. I have seen it in my dear patients. When I have taught them NFP for marriage preparation, it’s amazing how happy they look during follow-up clinic visits. Confidence is returned. Shoulders back up. Dignity restored.

We must be willing to be politically incorrect, labeled self-righteous, etc., to protect those who have no voice. We need women like Helen Alvaré—a beautiful woman, lawyer, teacher and mother who is morally courageous.

I have found that the most vocal proponents of abortion have either had or paid for abortions themselves. These victims of abortion need our compassion, love, understanding, and support, not cold judgment.

In the meantime, we must fight this grave evil without resting, until our growing love supplies every need and reaches to embrace every vulnerable unborn child.

The basic building block of society is the family. Once the family is destroyed, the rest of society will be destroyed. My beloved father Tom Olson told me this and the reality never left me. He was a strong opponent of abortion not only for the baby, but for the damage in the couples he was counseling for marital difficulties. He and my mother left the Democratic Party because of its abortion platform. Interestingly, in the United States, rates of depression have risen dramatically in the last 50 years. (See “American Journal of Psychiatry” and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) That’s the same time the pill has been around — 50 years. Women are much more likely to have a mood disorder (depression/anxiety) than men; however, men suffer from this disease at epidemic rates as well. One of my dear male patients is on hospice care now for major depression/suicide risk.

Let us be courageous and stand up with real strength. Let us take on the courage of St. Thomas More, King Henry VIII’s foe, who died for the sake of truth and moral courage in defending God’s plan for marriage and family.

We need to talk truths in this election — as hard as they are. I need you all to know how gravely evil abortion is. I am an eye witness. On the scale of evils, abortion ranks right at the top. As current medical director of hospice in Rochester, Minnesota, I have learned much. For example, my/our time on this earth is very short.  I now live like this is my last year.  When I go before our heavenly Father, I don’t want to tell Him that I never spoke up for His most vulnerable.

Dr. Nancy T. Miller, a parishioner of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, serves as medical director of hospice in Rochester, Minnesota, and as medical director at Abria Pregnancy Resources in St. Paul. She is a wife, mother and grandmother. You can reach her at doctor@Mantlehealth.com.

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