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The ‘Wild Goose’ is on the loose: Encountering the Holy Spirit

February 26, 2016

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Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

“Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?”

Not wanting to appear clueless (although I was!), I responded with a strong, “Yes.”

Not wanting to lie to a priest, I quickly changed my response to, “Um, I think so. . . Well, I’m not sure.”

That was nearly 20 years ago.

It was the fall of 1996 and I was a college freshman at Franciscan University sitting in a parlor in the friary meeting with Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka for the very first time. It seemed like such a personal question to be asking on our first encounter, but once you get to know Father Dave, you quickly learn he isn’t shy when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Upon further discussion (and the admission that I had no idea what he was talking about), I realized I certainly had intimate encounters with the Holy Spirit prior to that moment, but I had never heard the term “baptism in the Holy Spirit” before. Thus began my journey of a deeper, more intentional relationship with the Holy Spirit in my life.

Father Dave first taught me it is only by the Holy Spirit that we are able to pray (see Romans 8:26) which completely changed the way I enter into prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit” is how I start all my prayer times now and are the first words off my lips before reading Scripture.

Pivonka-Photo

Father Dave Pivonka, TOR

When I think of Father Dave I can’t help but think of the Holy Spirit because he’s so full of it.” Full of the Holy Spirit, I mean. So when I found out he was developing a series on the Holy Spirit, I was filled with great joy and excitement. Father Dave is one of the most sought after preachers and is an excellent teacher. I have been waiting with eager anticipation for the release of this series since he first made mention of it. The best part is that the series is totally free and easily accessible online.

Leave it to Father Dave to learn that the Celts called the Holy Spirit “The Wild Goose” and come up with a clever, catchy name to grab people’s attention. The title alone made me want to learn more. When I asked him why he decided to do the series, Father Dave said, “The idea was pretty basic, more people need to know about the Holy Spirit. I wanted to do something that would be engaging, beautiful and welcoming. I think that’s what the videos are. The response has been overwhelming.”

Over the course years, Father Dave has taught me about the power and gentleness of the Holy Spirit, but I’m a slow learner. I mean a really slow learner. It’s almost 20 years later and I’m just starting to “get it.” However, I am now convinced of the necessity of a relationship with the Holy Spirit in order to fully live out my faith.

This series in particular has reminded me that the Holy Spirit meets us right where we are at. Gentle or booming; whatever we need. A soft breeze or blazing tongues of fire or somewhere in between. It has also made me a better a hospice nurse. It reminded me that the Holy Spirit will give me the words to speak (see Luke 12:12) during difficult discussions with patients and their loved ones; often I will silently pray, “Come Holy Spirit” during these difficult moments and the words just come. That’s not me. That’s the Holy Spirit.

In recent weeks, I found myself in situations at work where I may have otherwise become frazzled, but was able to surrender those moments to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom and peace. It has revolutionized the way I interact with my patients and their loved ones because I am reminded that I am not the one in control, the Holy Spirit is alive and active; present with me and my patients, always leading the way. For those who are open to it, the Holy Spirit has also given me the courage to pray with my dying patients and their loved ones as they prepare to leave this world and enter into the next.

If you want to live in greater freedom through the power of the Holy Spirit, check out this series. It does not disappoint!

The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

Who: The series is great for newbies or those who already have an established relationship with the Holy Spirit. It is appropriate for teens or adults.

What: A free online series on the Holy Spirit written by Father Dave Pivonka, TOR and produced by 4PM Media

When: Anytime! It’s available online 24/7.

Where: Wherever you have access to the Internet.

Why: To grow in your faith!

How: Each segment includes a video along with reflections, study guide questions and prayers.

Or you can do it the way I do: via Skype. I have a dear friend in Australia. We watch the videos independently and then discuss via Skype. We begin and end with a prayer to the Holy Spirit and in between discuss the study guide questions provided. The videos have rekindled my desire for a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit and have helped me be more mindful of the Holy Spirit in my daily life.

The Challenge: Simply watch the first video called “God’s Love Poured Out.” I’m convinced you’ll be hooked!

Come, Holy Spirit! Enkindle in us the fire of your love!

Gina Barthel is a registered nurse who currently serves in hospice care and is the proud, self-proclaimed “favorite aunt” to 25 nieces and nephews. She is a parishioner of St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael, MN.

 

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Guardian Angels a ‘big fish’ in fish fry bowl

February 23, 2016

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Guardian Angels knows how to fill a plate, Fish Daddy found on his Feb. 19 visit. Courtesy Fish Daddy

Guardian Angels knows how to fill a plate, Fish Daddy found on his Feb. 19 visit. Courtesy Fish Daddy

Catholic Hotdish offers another review from Fish Daddy, who visits some of the hot spots in the Twin Cities for Lenten fish fries. He’s looking at more than the fish — it’s the fellowship, the friendliness and faith that makes this Catholic Lenten tradition shine.

Guardian Angels, Oakdale

If you’ve ever noticed the iconic steepled church on the hill after traveling westward into Minnesota from Wisconsin on I-94, you’ve seen Guardian Angels church. But if that’s all you’ve seen of the parish, like Fish Daddy, you ain’t seen the half of it. The parking lot was my first clue. Not unlike what I might find at a local hotspot. Cars everywhere, long walk to the door. Fish Daddy even wondered if neighbor Best Buy was taking some of the parking spots. More likely to be the other way round. When I saw the line, I had a flashback to concert ticket lines from my college days, where you bring a deck of cards. Prepare to be amazed at the spread the Guardian Angels Men’s Club puts on.

Fish

Guardian Angels serves up a generous helping of fried or baked cod, but it’s far from fish on a dish. My plate was adorned with baby red potatoes with a delicate coating, crisp sautéed green beans with trillion-shaped red peppers, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and — wait, I’m out of room on the plate. The dessert deserves its own sentence: It’s a petite, crenellated toasted tart shell filled with chocolate mousse and a berry. Clearly not your average fish fry. Why? The Chef. John Schiltz, chef-owner of the nearby Lake Elmo Inn, brings his restaurateur skills to the table for the parish, to delicious effect. And when you have the cuisine and élan of the Lake Elmo Inn on your bench, not much is left to chance. (four fish)

Service

From the volunteer who opened the door, to those who rolled out dinner tickets, to the small army of volunteers festooned in Guardian Angels-themed fish dinner shirts, (not fish fry, as their tagline goes) it was clear this was a professional operation. With seating for about 400, there were helpers for coffee and soda, helpers for setting, helpers for clearing, helpers for dishing, a kitchen stuffed with food prep sous chefs, helpers for everything — except making the line go faster. And when that’s your only problem (it was at least a half-hour from door to table, and probably longer the later your arrival), then you have clearly mastered culinary management, and the limiting factor is your inability to open another Guardian Angels location! (three fish: service; one fish: wait time)

Fishers of men

Pastor Father Rodger Bauman was about, chatting with parishioners and nearly lost in the throng, which filled Peter O’Neill Hall and two overflow rooms. After the dinner, the parish prays Stations of the Cross, complete with ASL interpreter. It’s a fitting end to the evening, but you’ll want to return for the Lenten vespers service 7 p.m. March 6. They also have a healing service/sacrament of the sick 3 p.m. Feb 28. (three fish)

Value

A hearty meal for those of us who have fasted on Friday is welcome, and the price matches the presentation. $13 gets those over 13 in the door, and take $3 off if you’re over 65. Youth 6-12 pay $6, and the under 5 crowd is always free. You can take out your fish as well. Yep, there’s a separate team for that, too. (three fish)

Guardian Angels is clearly a big fish in the sea of fish fries. And would you believe Lenten schedules on table napkin dispensers? They’ve also got a snappy website with not only the Lenten and Easter schedule, but events throughout the year. If you’re looking for a feast to break the fast, you only have two more chances: March 4 and March 18; 4:30-7 p.m.. Get there early, and let me know how your card game comes out as well!

Details

Guardian-angels.org. 8260 4th St. N., Oakdale, MN 55128. 651-738-2223

Want Fish Daddy to visit your parish? E-mail CatholicSpirit@archspm.org.

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Hungry for more? Fish Daddy reviews the fish fry at Holy Cross, Minneapolis

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Fish Daddy reviews Holy Cross’ fish fry

February 16, 2016

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Fish Daddy's plate at Holy Cross' Lenten fish fry. Courtesy Fish Daddy

Fish Daddy’s plate at Holy Cross’ Lenten fish fry. Courtesy Fish Daddy

Catholic Hotdish welcomes Fish Daddy, who visits some of the hot spots in the Twin Cities for Lenten fish fries. He’s looking at more than the fish — it’s the fellowship, the friendliness and faith that makes this Catholic Lenten tradition shine. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in Fish Daddy’s column during Lent:

Call me the banquet guest from Luke 14: 7-14. Fish Daddy visits a Lenten fish fry every Friday, delivering a spirited review of a parish or Catholic association Fish Fry. Fish Daddy looks at what makes a fish fry special:

Fish

Fish is the dish. And good fish makes a gathering special. I’ll tell you how I liked it, what came with it on the plate, and how it fills the stomach. Let’s get one thing straight from the start. Fish Sticks does not get you kicked off the island (in Fish Daddy’s eyes, the island is not the place to be anyways — it’s the deep sea), but it does put you up against some fairly strong competition and years of experience in Twin Cities fish fries.

Service

Any good Catholic knows service is the heart of our calling as Christians. Serving fish sticks on a paper plate won’t win you any Julia Child awards, but good service with a smile, and volunteer spirit of the parish bring your servant leadership to the fore in this category.

Fishers of Men

It takes effort to put on a good fish fry, but those who maintain the Lenten spirit of devotion with Lenten devotionals, rosaries, or other faith manifestations during or around the Fish Fry are all that really matters in the Catholic life. Matthew 4:19 says it best.

Value

This is our catch-all area for how we measure the less tangible. Covers items like price, ambience, parking, convenience, bingo or other fundraisers during Lent, or other items — that special something the organization brings to the table.

Want Fish Daddy to visit your parish? E-mail CatholicSpirit@archspm.org.

Feb 12—Holy Cross

Finding Holy Cross in the heart of Nordeast was the easy part. The hard part was standing in line inside Kolbe Center (just east of the church itself) behind dozens, with the aroma of a fresh fish fry hanging in the air. The parish volunteers kept the line moving quickly. Pastor Glen Jensen was greeting everyone in the line, with his trademark cup of tea, bringing the faithful hungry together in spirit. The Kolbe Center at Holy Cross seats about 300, and they needed all 20 tables for the inaugural Lenten Friday weekend.

Fish

Holy Cross served up a heaping plate of fish dinner — two fish (a bit pressed and formed, but tasty), an excellent baked potato, cole slaw with a tang of horseradish, and a side of mac and cheese and a dinner roll. A fine substitute for the baker was two tong-fuls of seasoned French fries. All served on a Nordeast-style plate, with my choice of condiments, and a cookie, along with coffee or water. Pop was available for a small charge, and beer and wine was available for a free will offering. (Two Fish)

Service

Servers were constantly circulating, offering refills on coffee or second helpings. Short on time? Holy Cross volunteers were more than willing to put together a to-go platter for the same price as sit-down. With tables for 10, not only did your server chat you up, your tablemates did as well. (Four Fish)

Fishers of people

Holy Cross parish is replete with Lenten devotions, from their Adoration chapel to Friday Stations of the Cross (6 p.m. for English and 7 p.m. for Polish). In addition to their weekly fish fries through Lent, they also feature soup suppers on Wednesdays, as well as a Cana Dinner. (Four Fish)

Value

Adults $10, Under 12 $2. (Three Fish)

Details

Holy Cross, 17th Ave and 4th St. NE, Minneapolis. Fish fries Feb. 12, 19 and 26, and March 4, 11 and 18. http://www.ourholycross.org.

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Need a Lenten guide? ‘Rediscover Jesus’ a useful reflection

February 9, 2016

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With the onset of Lent, it is a good time to write about a little book (187 pages) by Matthew Kelly called “Rediscover Jesus.” St. Raphael’s parish in Crystal, where I went to Mass the Sunday after Christmas, was giving them out free. I am told many parishes gave away copies of the book in an effort to catechize, albeit minimally, people who only come to Mass at Christmas and perhaps one or two other times per year. A few years ago, I picked up a free copy of Kelly’s “Rediscover Catholicism” after a Christmas day Mass at Holy Family in St. Louis Park under the same premise.

Christmas season distribution for “Rediscover Jesus” makes sense because it gets the book into the hands of readers just in time for Lent. The book is divided into 40 short chapters, offering a useful daily reflection during the six weeks leading up to Easter.

I know serious Catholics who say Matthew Kelly is too remedial or too “pop culture” for them, but I would challenge any Catholic to read all of “Rediscover Jesus” and not find a few worthy topics for serious reflection. Whether you are a graduate student studying theology or a neophyte to the faith, you likely will deepen your relationship with Christ if you take time to think and pray over some of the concepts presented in this book.Rediscover Jesus

Kelly confronts us early in the book with the “Jesus question,” referring to Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus asks Peter and the others “who do people say that I am?” Jesus follows up with “who do you say that I am?” Kelly notes that this isn’t just a question for the apostles, but this is a question Jesus is asking us. Who do we say Jesus is? Are we prepared to answer that question? Can we answer confidently as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”? The question is unavoidable.

A couple chapters later, Kelly cites the C.S. Lewis observation that Jesus is either divine, as Jesus claims, or he is a madman. Jesus cannot be a “nice guy,” as so many have tried to label him. A nice guy doesn’t claim to be God.

Once a reader gets past these foundational opening chapters, Kelly walks us through a variety of other ideas – helping the poor, purity of heart, the heart of the Gospel, making sense of suffering and much more. Depending on your experience and thinking, different chapters will challenge you to varying degrees.

Chapter 30 I found to be particularly challenging. It is called “Blind Spots.” Kelly explains that we cannot see things as they really are. I suppose this is the result of original sin; or at a minimum it is simply the consequence of being a less-than-perfect being. Kelly notes that no matter how sure we are of something, no matter how clearly we think we understand, we have to be open to the possibility of missing something. We have to be ready to acknowledge that we might not have the whole picture, that we could be wrong.

The chapter is a call to humility, which may be one of the hardest virtues to develop. But it is essential for a right relationship with Jesus. Humility is seeing our proper place in relation to God. If we cannot acknowledge our weaknesses or even our possible weaknesses, then we misjudge our dependence on God, our desperate need for salvation, and the necessity of his love. The Blind Spots chapter helps to explain why humility is important and if we take Kelly’s comments seriously we can begin to see ourselves – limitations and all – a little more clearly, which helps us to see God a little more clearly.

If you are looking for some good Lenten reading, then pick up a copy of Rediscover Jesus.

Tom Bengtson is a small business owner. He is a member of Holy Family parish in St. Louis Park. Reach him at TomBengtson@hotmail.com

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A 60-second case for Vikings hope

January 11, 2016

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The way the Minnesota vs. Seattle playoff game ended yesterday brought some surprisingly “religious” reactions from both Vikings and Seahawks players alike. One Seahawk bowed his face to the earth out of gratitude, while one Viking gazed at the heavens with agony and confusion in his eyes. Amazing how a playoff game as crazy as this one can evoke such spiritual energy in people.

The way we Vikings lost, so close, seconds away from a playoff win, surely must have had a reinforcing effect on our recurring memory of football failure which prompts musings such as, “Why can’t Minnesota Vikings eat soup? Because every time they get close to a bowl, they choke.” Yet the players responded to the resurgence of this nightmare with superstition and religiosity.

Will football failure, low football-self-esteem, and repeated treading upon the toes of our “Minnesota-niceness” bother us to the point that we Minnesotans begin to plead with the Lord for vindication?

I would like to suggest that to actually pray for a Superbowl win is not a ridiculous prayer, and is a prayer, if answered, that could both rekindle the faith of Minnesota in God and boost our confidence in the goodness of our identity as a little culture of orderly courtesy in traffic, smiles and greetings to passersby, proud customer service, and strong lifelong friendships.

Don’t just abandon ship and become a Packers fan because you can’t take repeated failure. Failure is purifying. Be proud of who we are. Be confident, and PRAY for a Superbowl win! Be not ashamed to do so, and God may vindicate us, with our help, and maybe a few more good draft picks. Skol Vikings!

Chris Vance, 21, is a seminarian from St. Joseph, West St. Paul, studying at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul.

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Prayer of the Eastside Catholic

December 15, 2015

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In the heartland of America, the mighty Mississippi runs deep

Upon her banks, pioneers and immigrants harnessed the falls of St. Anthony,

Turning water into electricity and wheat into flour.

With work came faith, with flowing water came finest wine

With bread came the Eucharist.

 

Sons of German farmers shaped stone and glass into St. Boniface

Proud Poles built the mighty church of the Holy Crossing

“The” Strong Slavs remembered St. Cyril and dedicated him a church

Descendants of French Voyageurs honored Our Lady at Lourdes

Daughters of Ukraine baked pierogis and shaped the beautiful St. Constantine

The fruits of Lebanon turned cedar wood into St. Maron’s.

 

Today, French African immigrants and hardworking Hispanics join the great

Grandsons of Bavaria and Granddaughters of Italy in a new generation’s

Chorus to praise an ancient Church.

And, at our Lady of Mount Carmel, God’s special children,

Our deaf brothers and sisters,

Honor God not with their tongues but with their hands.

 

Work combined with faith, duty to God and America,

Loyalty to church and family

These values built the Eastside of Minneapolis.

 

May the Eastside of Minneapolis always remember the Lord who made the Mississippi River run

May the Eastside of Minneapolis always honor the Lord who made the mouths of many nations

Worship together one God and join together in the great feast of the Eucharist.

May the Eastside of Mississippi always welcome the stranger with Christ,

And respect the worker who seeks a better life with dignity.

Cain Pence is a native of the eastside of Minneapolis. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a member of St. Boniface in northeast Minneapolis. Pence is a salesman and has travelled extensively throughout all 50 states. The place he loves the most is the eastside of Minneapolis. He wrote this short prayer to honor the Catholic immigrant spirit found alive and well there.

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Pope Francis, St. Junipero Serra and the New Evangelization

September 29, 2015

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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

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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

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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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