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Deacon Kyle Eller: How to handle ‘sagging or fainting faith’

A book that often comes to mind these days is “Lord of the World,” by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, an English convert to the faith. Written in 1907, it depicts a vision of the end of the world — one of the oldest novels of the genre, yet prophetic enough and contemporary enough that both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have cited it.

The part that sticks with me is not usually the big set pieces of the story — the rise of the Antichrist and the final confrontation and culmination of history — but its depiction of a widespread apostasy, with many losing their faith. Early in the book, we see the church (and especially the book’s main character, a priest) struggling to combat this. Despite his best efforts, one of his brother priests gives in and quits. So do staunch Catholic families, leaving not shouting in anger at some perceived evil or triumphing at finding something they believe is better but with a sad sigh.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

It’s not even their falling into serious sin. (“Now they’re not all knaves,” one priest tells the main character. “I wish they were; it would be so much easier to talk of it.”) It’s not because some powerful argument has been marshaled against the faith that no one can refute.

It’s rather a sense that the world and its science and technology and especially its worship of humanity itself, along with public opinion that treats faith as silly, becomes just mesmerizing and so all-encompassing that it’s hard to see past it to what is really real.

Sometimes our world seems to look a lot like that. Certainly all of the causes mentioned play a role. Lots of people get caught up in sins they don’t want to give up and their faith becomes a casualty. Scandals in the church, and especially sins of the clergy, present a challenge to faith for many people. The world is certainly full of sneering contempt for faith, even if its arguments are, if anything, getting lamer.

And finally, obviously, our technology and self-worship are certainly shiny and mesmerizing. Many of us live in a world that is more virtual than real.

Our faith is so deeply precious — it is a “pearl of great price,” like in the parable of Jesus. Our faith has everything to do with our eternal destiny, whether we become what we were made to be, and even our joy and happiness in this life.

So what can we do to protect that faith amid all these dangers?

Let me offer a few suggestions:

Pray for faith: Did you know that faith is a divine gift, as well as a human act? It is. Rely on that fact. Pray, — earnestly, like the widow begging the unjust judge in another of Jesus’ parables — for the gift of faith. It is a traditional and pious practice to pray frequently for “final perseverance” in the faith — to keep it until death, which is what really counts.

Keep in mind that faith here is not a feeling, it is assent of our mind and will to God and what he has revealed. It’s God’s grace that enables our will to make that assent, and it’s not dependent on how we’re feeling that day.

God wants to answer this prayer for us. He wants us to be saved. So visit him in the Blessed Sacrament and spend an hour in prayer, and then another and another. Look with hope for him to act.

You know who else wants to help? The Blessed Mother and all the saints. Ask them for help.

Go to confession: Another obstacle to faith is sin. We all have them, but the more we fall in love with those sins, the more our hearts become enslaved to them and turn from God. The cure is turning the other way,back to the God who loves us and restores us in this sacrament. Make a good, prayerful examination of conscience and go to confession. You may be surprised at what a difference it could make.

Frequent Communion: Arguably the greatest English writer of the 20th century, J.R.R. Tolkein, was a daily Mass Catholic, and he memorably wrote a letter giving this advice to his son: “The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect.”

This might be the opposite of our inclination. In our struggles, we might think we don’t belong at Mass. The opposite is true. Jesus gives himself to us to sustain and heal us. Let him. If you’re struggling, get to daily Mass.

Study your faith: This is advice I got in confession once a few years ago when I was going through a struggle, and I found it helpful. Perhaps one reason is that the world, for all its mockery and derision of faith, is woefully and often willfully ignorant of it. If we’re not ignorant, it becomes a lot easier to see the world’s mockery for the hollow sham it is. So get a catechism and read it. Open up your Bible, with the help of a good, faithful Bible study. And feel free to mix in a few good apologists — people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. The actual arguments people make against the faith aren’t really new, and smart people have been answering them for 2,000 years.

Unplug: Living primarily in a virtual world is bad for the soul. Yes, technology in our gadgets and social media can bring many blessings. I’m a big geek myself, having been in many ways a creature of the Internet since the 1990s. But over the years, through experience, I have become certain that when it begins to occupy too big a place in life, I need deliberate time away from it. If you’re struggling with faith, turn off the screens for a few days. Take a walk. Look your family members in the eye. Read a book. Go to a concert in the park. Whatever. But get into the real world and real life for a while. The wind in the trees and the starry skies do wonders for my faith.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at keller@dioceseduluth.org.

Editorial: Political divisions should call out the best — not the beast — in us

Our region was in the national spotlight again in June as national politics took center stage at the Duluth Port Authority and then Amsoil Arena in the form of a roundtable discussion and then rally with President Donald Trump.

The events in Duluth went off relatively well — emphasis on the “relatively.” There were only a couple of arrests and no serious violence. Certainly the majority of people for and against the president spoke their minds with civility and a sense of “Minnesota nice.”

Some didn’t. Obscene gestures and shouts and harsh accusations flew in both directions. A beloved local restaurant faced a boycott for allowing the “wrong” TV network to film on location. In social media posts, you could find the shocking sentiments we have sadly grown accustomed to — the kind of mentality that says “punch a Nazi” or run down protesters in the roadway.

This brought home, literally, the growing sense of division and — to be frank — hatred and the threat of violence that increasingly hang over our national conversation.

So it’s worth calling to mind that fostering deliberate hatred, even of our enemies, is a sin. Our call as disciples of Jesus Christ is to love our enemies and to build genuine peace and reconciliation with each other and to overcome evil with good. And that call is the same even if it seems at times like the whole world is moving in the other direction.

Among our Catholic family in the Duluth Diocese we have brothers and sisters on both sides with strong feelings about the president and the current state of the nation, alongside plenty of people with mixed feelings. No doubt there are momentous issues at stake, and our responsibility to the common good demands we speak the truth with clarity and courage.

But in a world that is so busy shouting, perhaps the best way to stand out is to speak without shouting. In a world that seems to want to talk itself into political violence, we must reject that false solution. In a world that gives no quarter to the enemy, we have to work with God’s grace to show what it means to love even in the midst of disagreement.

The times should call out the best — not the beast — in us.

1.5-mile Corpus Christi procession draws 400 in Brainerd

For the feast of Corpus Christi June 3, nearly 400 members of Brainerd’s Catholic parishes took Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament “right through the heart” of the city in a Eucharistic Procession from St. Francis Church to St. Andrew’s Church.

“As we walked, we prayed the decades of the rosary,” said Father Daniel Weiske, pastor of St. Andrew, in an email to The Northern Cross. “We also had three stations along the way at which we prepared temporary altars for adoration, for the proclamation of a Scripture reading related to the Eucharist, and for singing songs in adoration. We ended with Benediction in the church.”

Brainerd procession
About 400 Catholics from the Brainerd area processed through the city streets with the Blessed Sacrament for about a mile and a half on the feast of Corpus Christi June 3. (Submitted photo)

At the end, the CCW of St. Andrew had a lunch prepared.

“It was beautiful to see people along the route, at their homes or at the bars and other establishments, come out to see what was going on,” he added. “It offered a chance to answer questions and, again, make known that the Lord is near.”

The story drew front-page coverage and an online video in the Brainerd Dispatch, the local daily newspaper.

He said the local clergy are unaware of the last time such a procession had gone through the public streets in Brainerd, but inspiration had been budding for a while. Father Weiske had hoped to do it for a few years himself, he said, and St. Andrew’s started a procession around its property for Father Timothy Lange’s first weekend Mass after his ordination and made it an annual event.

Father Weiske said another inspiration was the massive Eucharistic Procession in Duluth many parishioners had experienced a few years ago, marking the 125th anniversary of the Duluth Diocese’s founding, and a similar Marian procession held last fall in the Brainerd area.

“We held that procession in honor of the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances and message at Fatima,” he said. “The hundreds of people who took part last October loved the event and were eager to hold another procession. The answer as to when was easy: the church asks us to hold a Eucharistic Procession every year on the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord.”

“This is a very public way to very honor Jesus truly present in the Eucharist, to unite our area parishes in adoration, and to let people know that Jesus Christ and his church are alive and are still here,” Father Weiske said.

He said he was happy with the turnout on a “busy and beautiful summer afternoon” and at the number of people volunteering and providing services.

“I was certainly very happy to have front-page coverage in our local newspaper, as we did for our Marian procession,” he added. “Our public witness and prayer had an effect. Christ was made known.”

As for parishioners? Father Weiske said they “loved it and want to do it again.”

And they should get their chance. He said the parishes plan to keep it as an annual event.

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Bishop Paul Sirba: Humanae Vitae’s anniversary something to celebrate, embrace

This July 25 will mark the 50th anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae. Though 50 years have gone by, the encyclical remains prophetic. I pray you find time to read it.

Humanae Vitae has proven again and again to be remarkably prescient. It is also incredibly positive.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

Humanae Vitae is pro-environment: It is in harmony with Pope Francis’ recent teaching about integral human ecology. It respects the human body and the earth. Today there is much concern about the environment and the “footprint” we are leaving on it. Yet not many are questioning the use of chemical contraception that not only pollutes the waterways and has deleterious effects on wildlife, but also affects our bodies. Natural family planning, on the other hand is totally natural. It respects our nature, helps us appreciate the incredible gift of our sexuality, and has no side effects.

Humanae Vitae is pro-woman: The teaching of St. John Paul II and the theology of the body, which builds on Humanae Vitae, teaches the beauty of our human sexuality, affirms the feminine genius, and reminds everyone that the woman or the man is never to be used like an object, but to be loved as a human person created in the image and likeness of God. We are beloved daughters and sons of Almighty God. This should speak especially to those who are calling for an end to sexual harassment, for fair treatment of women in the workplace, for an end to human trafficking, and for healing for those caught in the addiction of pornography.

Humanae Vitae is pro-life: It emphasizes the goodness of the child as a gift of God and not a possession, a commodity, a burden, or a “problem.” It is especially important to emphasize that all things medically possible are not necessarily morally acceptable. Many procedures today, like in vitro fertilization or the commodification of human embryos, is against the inherent dignity of the human person meant to be conceived in life and love.

Humanae Vitae is pro-marriage: In an age of social communication where we are engaged in seemingly endless social media and virtual worlds, Natural Family Planning demands that couples talk to each other personally, face to face. This wonderful benefit of NFP opens communication about fertility and God’s gift of human life between husbands and wives. It strengthens relationships. Couples who use NFP and fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation blow divorce statistics of the general population out of the water. Compare a less than 2 percent divorce rate to one over 50 percent. That is incredibly hopeful and positive!

Soon to be canonized Blessed Paul VI’s teaching on human life is not a “no” to what we believe about life and love but a “yes” to God’s gift of life, love, gender, and human sexuality, and a way forward for our world, which is seeking for meaning when questions arise about: Who am I? Why am I? What is life? Where am I going?

Please check out our Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for further offerings this year to strengthen your marriage and family life, to learn more about NFP, to address infertility problems, to get help for troubled marriages, to seek mentoring new couples, and to find prayers for families. Plan to attend our own Father Anthony Craig’s presentation July 21 at 5 p.m. — “Celebrate 68” at Immaculate Heart Parish in Crosslake.

Blessed Paul VI, thank you for Humanae Vitae, and pray for us!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Bishops end border visit, call reunification of children urgent

In less than 48 hours, a group of Catholic bishops saw the faces of triumph and relief from migrants who had been recently released by immigration authorities, but ended their two-day journey to the border with a more “somber” experience, visiting detained migrant children living temporarily within the walls of a converted Walmart.

During a news conference after the second and last day of their visit July 2, they stressed the “urgent” need to do something to help the children.

Mass at border visit
A family listens during a July 1 Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in San Juan, Texas. The bishops who celebrated the Mass were on a fact-finding mission to learn firsthad about the detention of immigrants, mostly Central Americans, at the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

The separation for some of the children began shortly after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in early May that if migrants wanted to take their chances crossing the border illegally with their children, they faced the consequence of having them taken away — and he implemented a policy doing so.

Widespread outrage in the weeks following led to President Donald Trump essentially rescinding the policy in mid-June. But the stroke of the pen could not automatically reunite the children and parents who had been and remain apart.

“The children who are separated from their parents need to be reunited. That’s already begun and it’s certainly not finished and there may be complications, but it must be done and it’s urgent,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, celebrated Mass in Spanish with about 250 children, including some of those in question, at the detention facility on what once was the loading dock of the Walmart superstore.

“It was, as you can imagine, very challenging to see the children by themselves,” Archbishop Gomez said during the news conference. “Obviously, when there are children at Mass, they are with their parents and families ... but it was special to be with them and give them some hope.”

He said he spoke to them about the importance of helping one another.

The visit to the facility known as Casa Padre capped the bishops’ brief journey to the border communities of McAllen-Brownsville near the southern border. Casa Padre, in Brownsville, gained notoriety earlier this year because it houses children separated from their families, as well as unaccompanied minors in a setting with murals and quotes of U.S. presidents, including one of Trump saying, “Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”

The facility is run by Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit that operates it under a federal contract. In the afternoon, the bishops toured the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border processing facility in McAllen, where children are also detained.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, along with Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Rockville Centre, New York, also were part of the delegation July 1 and 2, led by Cardinal DiNardo, and were present at the Mass at Casa Padre.

The building houses about 1,200 boys ages 10 to 17, said Bishop Bambera, and though the care they receive seems to be appropriate — it’s clean, they have access to medical care, and schooling and recreational facilities — it was clear that “there was a sadness” manifested by the boys, he said in a July 2 interview with Catholic News Service.

“We can provide the material environment to care for a person and it’s provided there, but that doesn’t nurture life. That takes the human interaction with the family or a caregiver,” he said.

Though many of the boys held there are considered “unaccompanied minors,” some were separated from a family member they were traveling with, said Bishop Bambera. And when you see them, “those boys bear clearly the burden of that” separation, he said.

Bishop Bambera said the boys listened intently during Mass and seemed to have a particular devotion and piety, one not seen in children that age. During Mass, “I saw a few boys wiping tears,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo said at the news conference that the church supports the right of nations to protect their borders. But having strong borders and having compassion are not mutually exclusive, he said. A solution with compassion can be found, he said.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores, who heads the local Diocese of Brownsville, accompanied the delegation, which on its first day paid a visit to a humanitarian center operated by Catholic Charities.

Bishop Flores said there’s a need to address the “push factors” driving immigration from Central America, a place where people are fleeing a variety of social ills, including violence, gangs and economic instability.

The U.S. border bishops have frequent communication with their counterparts in Mexico and Central America on variety of topics, he said during the news conference, but the problems driving immigration to the U.S. are complex.

He said he has spoken with parents in Central America about the danger of the journey but recalled a conversation with mothers in places such as Honduras and Guatemala who have told him: “My son will be killed here, they will shoot him and he’s 16. What am I supposed to do?”

“These are extremely complex and difficult situations,” he said. “This is a hemispheric problem, not just a problem on the border here.”

Cardinal DiNardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”

He said the bishops gathered had floated around ideas for possible solutions and one of them included what’s known as family case management, which connects the family with a case manager and someone to provide legal orientation.

But almost exactly a year ago, the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Trump administration ended such a program. Proponents had argued that it kept families together and had a great success rate in having adults show up to court dates.

Archbishop Gomez said the Catholic Church was willing to help speed along the process of getting children back to their parents and to stop it from happening to others.

“I think if we want something from the administration, [it] is family unity,” he said, because “that’s essential for the human person. Whatever it takes, we’re willing to help.”

In an earlier interview with CNS, Cardinal DiNardo had said that no matter what the outcome, the bishops’ delegation had started out with the simple goal of supporting and being a presence for the migrants and the communities along the border caught in the middle of drama.

“I’m not on a visit to indict,” he said. “I’m not on a visit to solve all problems.”

It was sentiment he repeated while closing up the news conference and the 48 hours that had clearly had an emotional effect on the bishops who participated. The bishops were not looking for villains during the trip, he said.

“Our visit is a pastoral visit. That has to be kept in mind,” he said. “We have had a full two days and they’ve been a very beautiful two days, and, in some parts, painful, but very, very beautiful.”

The bishops also had taken part in a mission, he said, handed on from the highest rungs of the church: to “share the journey” with migrants and refugees, referring to a campaign by Pope Francis and charitable Catholic organizations such as the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services calling on Catholics and others of goodwill to build bridges of understanding and hospitality with migrants and refugees.

“Pope Francis has invited us all on a journey with the migrant and refugee and we’re glad we’re part of the trip,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

— By Rhina Guidos / Catholic News Service

Clergy assignments

Bishop Paul D. Sirba has announced the following clergy assignments, effective Wednesday, July 11.

  • Father James Bissonette, pastor of St. James, Duluth, to pastor of St. Raphael, Duluth, and St. Rose, Proctor.

  • Father Drew Braun, pastor of St. John, Grand Marais, and Holy Rosary, Grand Portage, to pastor of St. John, Duluth, and St. Joseph, Gnesen.

  • Father David Forsman, pastor of St. James, Aitkin; Our Lady of Fatima, Garrison; and Holy Family, Hillman, to pastor of St. James, Aitkin; Holy Family, McGregor; and Our Lady of Fatima, McGrath.

  • Father Elias Gieske, pastor of St. Joseph, Crosby, and St. Joseph, Deerwood, to pastor of St. Joseph, Crosby; St. Joseph, Deerwood; Our Lady of Fatima, Garrison; and Holy Family, Hillman.

  • Father Seth Gogolin, pastor of St. Cecilia, Nashwauk, and Mary Immaculate, Coleraine, to pastor of St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, and St. Augustine, Cohasset.

  • Father Richard Kunst, pastor of St. John, Duluth, and St. Joseph, Gnesen, to pastor of St. James, Duluth.

  • Father Steven Langenbrunner, parochial vicar at St. James, Duluth, to pastor of St. John, Grand Marais, and Holy Rosary, Grand Portage.

  • Father Kuriakose Nediakala MCBS, pastor of Holy Family, McGregor, and Our Lady of Fatima, McGrath, to return to his religious community in India.

  • Father Joseph Sobolik, pastor of St. Raphael, Duluth, and St. Rose, Proctor, to pastor of St. Cecilia, Nashwauk, and Mary Immaculate, Coleraine.

  • Father Jerome Weiss, pastor of St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, and St. Augustine, Cohasset, to retirement.

Bishop Paul Sirba: Priests, too, ‘bear this treasure in earthen vessels,’ so pray for them

Christ Jesus offered himself for us. From his wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of life for his people.

This June, not only are the clergy moves announced in the Northern Cross, but the Holy Father has designated June 8, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, as the day of sanctification of the clergy.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

What I appreciate about the message and the timing announcing the sanctification of the clergy is the relational dimension of the announcement. If your parish is one that is directly affected by the transfer of a new pastor, there may be some added incentive for you to pray as well.

Pope Francis calls us all back to our initial encounter with Our Lord. He says, “In fact, all of us ‘have had in our life some encounter with Him’, and each of us can make his own spiritual remembrance and return to the joy of that moment ‘in which I felt that Jesus was looking at me’” (Pope Francis, Homily at Santa Marta, April 24, 2015).

I guess I’d like to state the obvious. Priests are not cut out of any cookie- cutter mold. Each one of us is unique and distinct. We have strengths and weaknesses, we have virtues and vices.

As I mentioned in my Chrism Mass homily this year, Catholics (and non- Catholics) many times expect that because priests preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the sacraments, they should automatically, by the Sacrament of Orders, be perfect themselves — not so much! We are human.

Pope Francis described himself as a sinner, I do too — me, not him. Our priests, please God, frequently or regularly go to the confessional box. We have sins for which we need to be accountable, but accountability does not mean we are fair game for gossip.

Mr. John Sondag wrote a piece for The Catholic Servant on “Criticizing our Priests.” He had, I think, some very important things to say. He said, “Some parishioners want their priests to be heroes, but not every priest can be a hero, because heroes are persons who do great things that are out of the ordinary, and most men are not that extraordinary. Yet, our Lord chooses ordinary men to sanctify, teach, and guide His flock, and that’s the mystery of the sacraments. Our Lord uses ordinary things — bread, wine, oil, water, ordinary men — to manifest His presence and grace in the world. It’s really the same principle as the mystery of the Incarnation: God (Who is spiritual) becoming man (Whom we can see, hear, and touch).”

God shows His power working through our human weakness. He uses vessels of clay to manifest His power — a treasure in earthen vessels.

Quoting from Pope St. John Paul II’s letter to priests in the year 2000, many times the frailty of priests has made it hard for the people of God to see in them the face of Christ. “Here in the Upper Room why should this amaze us? Not only did the betrayal of Judas reach its climax here, but Peter himself had to reckon with his weakness as he heard the bitter prediction of his denial. In choosing men like the Twelve, Christ was certainly under no illusions: it was upon this human weakness that he set the sacramental seal of his presence. And Paul shows us why: ‘We bear this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it might be clear that this extraordinary power comes from God and not from us’” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

During the time of St. Augustine, the Church had to wrestle with the idea of the Donatists in the fourth century. They believed that the sacramental power of the priest was only valid when the priest was in the state of grace. The Church ultimately condemned this position, saying that even a priest who is in the state of mortal sin could validly administer the sacraments — ex opere operato — when he intends to do what the Church intends.

Obviously, we all want to be, along with our priests, in the state of grace. We want to be holy and perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. But God’s hands are not tied even by the lives of offending priests. Infallibility is not dependent on impeccability (being without sin).

I was encouraged by a woman religious in my seminary years that God would use me and my brothers in the seminary in a unique way. We would relate to our people in a way unlike any other. God chooses men to maximize his reach. We are different, unique, strong and weak, saints and sinners. God uses a variety of persons to be instruments of His grace.

My dear people, please continue to pray for our priests. Pray for our seminarians. Let us all resolve to be more united with Jesus and His Sacred Heart, to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. May the Lord keep us all in his charity and lead all of us, shepherds and flock, to eternal life. Amen.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Handmaids coming to the Diocese of Duluth

Father Ryan Moravitz announced at Holy Family Church in Duluth this weekend that the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus are coming to the Diocese of Duluth and will be taking up residence at the former Holy Family rectory.

The Handmaids come with the blessing and invitation of Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba.

"With thanks to Almighty God, I am delighted to welcome the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus to
the Diocese of Duluth!" Bishop Sirba said. "... Please join me in welcoming the Sisters to the Diocese of Duluth."

Father Moravitz said in a live Facebook video Monday that to start with there will be four sisters moving to the diocese, and their official move-in day is Aug. 17. In the video, some of the sisters can be seen working alongside parishioners in preparing the site. It will be made to accommodate up to six sisters.

The charism of the Handmaids is "to live in imitation of Mary as handmaid, virgin, bride, and mother
in the diocesan life of the Church, carrying out the New Evangelization in parishes." They are know for their work in parishes.

For more information about the handmaids, visit https://www.handmaidsoftheheartofjesus.com/.

Holiness means being loving, not boring, pope says

God calls all Christians to be saints — not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness.

"Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality, or joy," the pope wrote in "Gaudete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), his apostolic exhortation on "the call to holiness in today's world."

ExhortationPope Francis signed the exhortation March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and the Vatican released it April 9.

Much of the document was written in the second person, speaking directly to the individual reading it. "With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you," he wrote near the beginning.

Saying he was not writing a theological treatise on holiness, Pope Francis focused mainly on how the call to holiness is a personal call, something God asks of each Christian and which requires a personal response given one's state in life, talents and circumstances.

"We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer," he wrote. But "that is not the case."

"We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves," he said.

He wrote about "the saints next door" and said he likes "to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile."

Pope Francis also noted the challenges to holiness, writing at length and explicitly about the devil just two weeks after an uproar caused by an elderly Italian journalist who claimed the pope told him he did not believe in the existence of hell.

"We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech, or an idea," the pope wrote in his exhortation. "This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless, and end up more vulnerable" to the devil's temptations.

"The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy, and vice," he wrote. "When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families, and our communities."

The path to holiness, he wrote, is almost always gradual, made up of small steps in prayer, in sacrifice, and in service to others.

Being part of a parish community and receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, are essential supports for living a holy life, the pope wrote. And so is finding time for silent prayer. "I do not believe in holiness without prayer," he said, "even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotion."

"The holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures," he said, before citing the example of a woman who refuses to gossip with a neighbor, returns home and listens patiently to her child even though she is tired, prays the rosary, and later meets a poor person and offers him a kind word.

The title of the document was taken from Matthew 5:12 when Jesus says "rejoice and be glad" to those who are persecuted or humiliated for his sake.

The line concludes the Beatitudes, in which, Pope Francis said, "Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy": living simply, putting God first, trusting him and not earthly wealth or power, being humble, mourning with and consoling others, being merciful and forgiving, working for justice, and seeking peace with all.

The example of the saints officially recognized by the church can be helpful, he said, but no one else's path can be duplicated exactly.

Each person, he said, needs "to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity."

The exhortation ends with a section on "discernment," which is a gift to be requested of the Holy Spirit and developed through prayer, reflection, reading Scripture, and seeking counsel from a trusted spiritual guide.

"A sincere daily 'examination of conscience'" will help, he said, because holiness involves striving each day for "all that is great, better, and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day's responsibilities and commitments."

Pope Francis also included a list of cautions. For example, he said holiness involves finding balance in prayer time, time spent enjoying others' company, and time dedicated to serving others in ways large or small. And, "needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride, or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness."

Being holy is not easy, he said, but if the attempt makes a person judgmental, always frustrated, and surly, something is not right.

"The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity, and bitterness," he said. "The apostles of Christ were not like that."

In fact, the pope said, "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor."

The exhortation included many of Pope Francis' familiar refrains about attitudes that destroy the Christian community, like gossip, or that proclaim themselves to be Christian, but are really forms of pride, like knowing all the rules and being quick to judge others for not following them.

Holiness "is not about swooning in mystic rapture," he wrote, but it is about recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the poor, and the sick.

Holiness is holistic, he said, and while each person has a special mission, no one should claim that their particular call or path is the only worthy one.

"Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred," the pope wrote. "Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned, and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia ...."

And, he said, one cannot claim that defending the life of a migrant is a "secondary issue" when compared to abortion or other bioethical questions.

"That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian," he said.

Pope Francis' exhortation also included warnings about a clear lack of holiness demonstrated by some Catholics on Twitter or other social media, especially when commenting anonymously.

"It is striking at times," he said, that "in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying."

Saints, on the other hand, "do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others."

— By Cindy Wooden / Catholic News Service

Divine Mercy celebrations in the diocese

The Feast of Divine Mercy is Sunday, April 8. The schedule for the Diocese of Duluth for 2018 is:

  • Aitken, St. James Church, 299 Red Oak Drive, (218) 927-6581: 1:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.; confession 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., holy hour 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.; Divine Mercy Chaplet; Mass 3:15 p.m.; spaghetti dinner after Mass.

  • Cloquet, Queen of Peace Church, 102 Fourth St., (218) 879- 6793: 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Divine Mercy Chaplet, prayers, no confessions.

  • Coleraine, Mary Immaculate Church, 10 Corey St., (218) 885-1126: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; adoration, rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, readings, homilies, confession, Benediction, reception in social hall.

  • Duluth, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, 2801 E. Fourth St., (218) 728-3646: 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.; 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. exposition, confession; 3 p.m. Divine Mercy Chaplet, Benediction.

  • Ely, St. Anthony Church, 231 E. Camp St., (218) 365-4017: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; adoration, confession, meditations of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross, veneration of St. Faustina relic, prayers, Divine Mercy Chaplet.

— The Northern Cross