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Young Canadian indigenous celebrate beloved St. Kateri as ‘one among us’

MASKWACIS, Alberta (CNS) — Young. Indigenous. Committed to the Catholic faith.

Three hundred years after her death, St. Kateri Tekakwitha — North America’s first indigenous saint — has become a model for young people, especially in Maskwacis, a community that includes four First Nations south of Edmonton. Each year they celebrate the saint as one of their own.

Young people from Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish in Maskwacis, Alberta, perform a play based on the life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. It was part of a July 14 Mass and celebration honoring North America’s first indigenous saint. (CNS photo/Andrew Ehrkamp, Grandin Media)

“It’s such a blessing to have a native saint. Most of our people don’t understand or know what is a saint; that’s one of the things we want to have out there,” said Karen Wildcat, who organized the fifth annual St. Kateri Gathering July 14 at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish.

“If they can only come to understand how important that is, that we do have a saint that we can pray to and offer sacrifices and fasting. We could help our community more to know the humble life she lived,” Wildcat said.

Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” St. Kateri was born in 1656 in upstate New York to a Catholic Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief. After her baptism, she lived a faith-filled life until her death from tuberculosis in 1680 at age 24.

For five years now, Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish has been celebrating her life with Mass and a traditional lunch of soup and bannock. This year, kids in costume performed a play based on the life of St. Kateri, a visual display that Wildcat said is crucial for her community.

“For most of our native people, you need to see things to be able to understand. It’s important because she was canonized as our native saint, and she’s for Mother Earth and the environment, and our native people are really sacred about the land and the water and the air.”

Children said they were learning more about the young saint with a background similar to their own.

“She shows respect for everyone,” said Issac Ermineskin, a ninth-grade student who was taught about St. Kateri in his parish youth group and acted in the St. Kateri play with his 10-year-old sister, Bobbi-Ann. “Not all natives like Christianity, but I do.”

What did Bobbi-Ann learn from St. Kateri? “To love others and to be peaceful.”

Many indigenous people can relate to St. Kateri as they come to know more about her, said Father Susai Jesu, who led this year’s Kateri Gathering in Maskwacis.

“The indigenous people begin to feel ‘Wow, she is one among us.’ She went through all kinds of trials of life and she has been a model. They feel affiliated in their blood. She is a part of us,” said Father Jesu, pastor at Sacred Heart, an Edmonton parish with a large indigenous congregation.

Wildcat learned about St. Kateri at a conference in Ottawa nearly two decades ago. The event included a side trip to the St. Kateri shrine in Kahnawake, Quebec. Years later, Wildcat was asked by Mary Soto — the founder of the Kateri Gathering — to help organize the event in Maskwacis.

Miracles and answered prayers continue to be attributed to St. Kateri.

Father Glenn McDonald, a guest speaker at this year’s Maskwacis gathering, said St. Kateri’s intercession alleviated the depression of one of his former parishioners — and helped him heal from his own bouts of eye cancer.

“I asked St. Kateri to help me because I was scared, but I didn’t see how” she was going to do that, said Father MacDonald, who feared he would be blind in one eye. His last surgery was on St. Kateri’s Canadian feast day, April 17.

Father Jesu said he, too, relies on St. Kateri’s intercession. In 2012 he asked for her help in his attempt to get a traditional First Nations drum through customs. Jesu and 12 indigenous leaders from Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, were en route to Rome for her canonization ceremony.

“Kateri was there to help us go through this process and [we] eventually saw her guiding presence there,” Father Jesu said. “We drummed and sang. The whole world was watching it. There were lots of people singing, but nobody had a drum.”

On a larger scale, Father Jesu noted St. Kateri’s canonization continues to help heal the relationship between indigenous people and the church, after years of abuse in residential schools.

“I think Kateri herself, as a saint now, [is] interceding with our Lord Jesus Christ for reconciliation and to feel they are all part of the church. We all belong to one faith as a family of God,” he said.

For Father MacDonald, St. Kateri’s canonization bodes well for a future apology by Pope Francis for the abuse suffered by indigenous people. A personal apology from the pope on Canadian soil is one of the calls to action stemming from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the legacy of the residential schools in Canada.

Father MacDonald said he’s confident an apology will happen soon, noting that St. Kateri — considered a model of holiness — was brought to the faith by Jesuit missionaries, and Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope.

— By Andrew Ehrkamp / Catholic News Service
Ehrkamp is news editor of Grandin Media, based in Edmonton, Alberta.

Alvare: Society needs church’s ‘gorgeous prescriptions for human love’

Americans continue to pursue “this ridiculous path” of “unlinking sex and marriage and kids, while calling what is actually falling apart flying,” said one of America’s foremost Catholic feminist thinkers.

“All the while [they’re] hurtling toward a collision with the ground,” said Helen Alvare, founder of the activist movement Women Speak for Themselves and a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia.

Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Va., speaks July 12 at the Napa Institute conference in California. Alvare, one of America’s foremost Catholic feminist thinkers, said that despite the ongoing fallout from the sexual revolution seen in serial cohabitation and plummeting numbers of marriages, there are signs of hope for solidarity in U.S. society. (CNS photo/Dan Rogers)

“Kids are hitting rock bottom with suicide and opioid use” as serial cohabitation and plummeting numbers of marriages signal the disintegration of a relational society, she said in a talk July 12 at the Napa Institute’s eight annual conference in Northern California’s wine country.

But there are signs of hope in the “huge growth of hashtags, movements … straining toward solidarity,” Alvare said.

“There are opportunities for the church to narrow the gap between our current contemporary situation and the church’s gorgeous prescriptions for human love,” she said.

Movements such as Black Lives Matter, those that work for immigrant rights, and #MeToo demonstrate we live in a “society that wants diversity and solidarity next to each other. I hope we can see these are a reflection of the radical need for solidarity, the need to love — a message we can endorse,” Alvare said.

“Where do we get the first message about solidarity and diversity? I don’t know — Genesis?” said Alvare, referring to the creation of man and woman in the first book of the Bible.

Effective Catholic communication needs to meet people where they are and it must discard “church talk,” arcane terms such as “procreative and unitive,” Alvare said in her keynote address at the July 11-15 Napa Institute conference.

“We have to give plainspoken answers,” for instance, about contraception, said Alvare.

“If you disassociate where God chose to put babies” from a committed marriage, “do you realize what that does to the relationship between you and the man — it severs tomorrow,” Alvare said.

“Contraception severs sex from tomorrow and that’s why we oppose it,” said the law professor. She noted that in reversing the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, the Trump administration lifted 30 paragraphs of her law journal article disproving the factual underpinnings of the mandate.

Alvare’s audience included German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, who was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington; and Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the Catholic Church’s U.S. ordinariate for former Anglicans.

The Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges posed by a secular America, according to its website. Alvare’s talk was inspired by the day’s theme of the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”

There are signs all around that people are concerned about the fallout from the sexual revolution, Alvare said. “The sexual revolution is not itself a reasoned revolution. The people who invented it did not invent it out of reason,” said the married mother of three children, now teenagers and young adults.

“Children are speaking up,” wearing T-shirts “My Daddy’s name is donor,” she noted. “Hook-up” books are a genre of teen literature that talk about how bad it feels, she said.

Both the left-leaning Brookings Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation acknowledge the harms of family instability, she said. “Too many smart academics have pointed out that family structure … is actually the largest part of the social and economic gap between rich and poor, between white and black,” and even between men and women.

Several recent academic studies indicate boys suffer more than girls if raised by a single mother, said Alvare, citing separate works by economists Raj Chetty of Stanford University and David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Autor found that especially black boys raised by a single mother in a poor neighborhood tend to fall behind their sisters by kindergarten and the achievement gap widens as they go through school, Alvare said, surmising “girls are looking at Mom and seeing Mom does it all.”

“Today we are seeing that Americans are not willing to adopt the claim that the sexual revolution was a complete hands down win,” Alvare said. “Nobody thought we would reach the possibility of a fifth justice with as much of the country on our side as we have,” Alvare said.

She was referring to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring.

To counter the falsehoods of the sexual revolution, “the winning argument is relationship,” Alvare said. To say: “You think that is the way to get there, but this is not going to get you there.” That is because, Alvare said, “ultimately our desire is for the love of an infinite God.”

— By Valerie Schmalz / Catholic News Service

Father Michael Schmitz: How do we live well in a world of constant change?

I have a somewhat strange question for you. I’m someone who has a very hard time dealing with change. I like to make sure that the things I have and the relationships I’m in with friends and family are long-lasting, even permanent. It saddens me greatly to think that one day I might not have these relationships.

Thank you for writing and for your question. I do not want to be too abrupt in my response, but I have to warn you, the upshot of all that I’m going to say is going to be, “Deal with it”. (How’s that for a kind and gentle answer? What a grump!)

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

But what I mean is that you are going to have to truly “deal” with the reality of loss. I mean: engage with it. Reflect on it. Ponder what it means to live in this world that is so filled with meaning and with meaningful relationships, and how all of those will come to an end (at least in this life). Too often, we don’t engage with the certainty of loss until it strikes us in the face and pierces our hearts. At least you are asking about this ahead of time. And yet, to have anxiety over a loss that one will have in the future is not going to be helpful. Therefore, knowing that, in the end, everyone you and I know and love will die, how do we live well now?

Also, in your defense, your desire to hold on to the most important people in your life is a sign that we are made to seek healthy stability and long-lasting relationships.

It is worth noting something about our culture that can be seen in what you are going through. We live in a culture that is hyper-mobile and hyper-disposable. I don’t know of any other time in human history when leaving one’s family and closest relationships when one “grows up” was the norm. Of course, almost all people in the United States are here because our ancestors left home and came to the New World, but they often traveled with their family or made plans to rejoin their family of origin at a later date. In our current situation, it is expected that people will leave their hometown and family and all of their friends in order to “start a new life.” This is so strange. It is so incredibly foreign to much of the human experience.

We long for stability. We long for permanence. This hyper-mobility doesn’t do us much good. It leaves us without roots and isolated. Of course, there are exceptions, but an outgrowth of such instability is that we have become more and more prone to disposable relationships. Since we are constantly leaving the relationships that are the most important to us and (hopefully, if we are lucky) forming new meaningful relationships, friends (and even family, it seems) have become more and more expendable. You seem to be indicating that this instability and expendability has affected you.

What can you do with it? The answer will not be to feed the anxiety, but to turn your anxiety into action — to transform your worry into wisdom. Often, anxiety is the result of feeling powerless in the face of some future catastrophe.

But you are not powerless. You can act. You can choose. You can learn. Yes, change and loss are inevitable. Part of maturing is reconciling with the reality of that uncertainty and change. What can they teach you now?

I submit that there are two ways you can act in the fact of the certainty of an uncertain future: live with gratitude and grow in wisdom.

The fact that all of our relationships will come to an end could hopefully help you to appreciate their incredible value. How often do we take other people for granted? If we have people who are close to us, so many of us can assume that that will always be the case. We can see this with many people and their parents. Simply because their parents may have “always been around,” folks can get it into their heads that their parents will always be around. But when you know that your time with them is limited, it can elicit a massive amount of gratitude and hopefully encourage you to live more wisely.

The temporary nature of this world and the relationships in it will hopefully make you wise as well. As noted, this knowledge will hopefully inspire you to spend more time with the people who matter the most to you. In addition, the fact that they will pass away will hopefully also encourage you to not place all of your hope or promise of happiness in another person (or group of persons). Rather, you can place your hope on God who desires a relationship with you. One of the prayers from the Mass asks that we may “deal with the things of this passing world as to hold rather to the things that eternally endure.”

It seems that by “dealing with loss” in a way that grows gratitude and fosters wisdom, one would become more and more engaged with the gifts of this life while always having an eye on the next life.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]

Father Nick Nelson: Does God ‘make’ people gay?

It was recently reported that Pope Francis told a man who identifies as “gay,” that God made him “gay.” According to Juan Carlos Cruz, an abuse victim of a Chilean priest, Pope Francis told him, “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like that and he loves you like that, and I do not care. The pope wants you like that, you have to be happy with who you are.” This was not a direct quote but the recollection of Juan Carlos, and the Vatican did not confirm that the Holy Father actually said it.

But the questions remain, does God “make people gay”? Does God “love them like that”? These are very important questions that must be clarified, because the wrong answer has harmful implications.

Father Nicholas Nelson
Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

So first, does God “make people gay”? Meaning does God intentionally create people with a deep-seated attraction to those of the same sex? Does God create them with that desire, and want them to act on that desire? We have to say “no.” God does not make people “gay.” Because if God did make people with homosexual tendencies, it would mean either one of two things:

1) It would mean that he created another type or kind of human person that didn’t exist at the beginning. This means he has changed the plan for humanity and he didn’t bother to tell us. Divine revelation expressed in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture is clear that God made man for woman and woman for man. This is the plan for humanity, the complementarity of the sexes. In the beginning we read, “God created man in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). And, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). If God now makes people “gay,” then there must be another plan, another set of rules for humanity. It would suggest that God has created a different plan for happiness and fulfillment that didn’t exist at the beginning. But the problem with that idea is that God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t change the plan for humanity.

2) If God didn’t change the plan for humanity, and the original plan of the complementarity of the sexes is still in force, then it would mean that God intentionally makes some individuals to be permanently frustrated. If God intentionally makes some people with homosexual desires, but the plan for happiness and fulfillment based off of the complementarity of the sexes hasn’t changed, then that means that God intentionally created some people with unfulfillable desires. And that is not God. God is not vicious like that. He does not intentionally create people whose fulfillment is an impossibility.

Does God love them like that? Well, God loves everyone. He loves us with our disordered passions (“disordered” means not in accord with the “order” or the plan God built into the world). He loves us when we are in the depths of sin, whether that be homosexual sin or any other sin. But that is different from saying that God loves the disordered desire, or that he loves that we commit the sin.

God does not love that our passions are disordered. That was not God’s design but the result of original sin. He does not love that we engage in sinful acts that are contrary to our human nature. Therefore, he does not love that some people have a strong sexual desire for those of the same sex. He does not love that some people engage in sexual acts with members of the same sex. How could he love something that goes contrary to purpose he made us? How could he love something that harms us?

The infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church is clear that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and that every human person is called to chastity. This includes homosexual persons. This is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2357-2359.

To suggest that God made homosexual persons “gay,” or that God loves them like that is wrong and harmful. It gives those who struggle with same-sex attraction the wrong message. It says they should not trust in grace and they should give up the fight. It tells them that their disordered desire is good and should be acted upon. And like any other sin, this sin only leads us to more emptiness and more pain and more suffering.

The common Christian response is, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I think it’s even more correct to say, “Hate the sin, because you love the sinner.” This is because the sin is contrary to our good. And to love the sinner means you desire their good, i.e. their relative fulfillment and happiness here one on earth and eternal beatitude in heaven. Therefore, we should hate what is contrary — what leads them away from their good.

I am not attempting a comprehensive article on homosexuality, I’m only attempting to shed some light on the supposed remarks of our Holy Father that have caused some confusion. For a more comprehensive volume on the subject, please see “Made for Love: Same Sex Attraction and the Catholic Church” by Father Mike Schmitz.

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome

Father Richard Kunst: If you’re prideful, don’t mess with Jesus

There are a lot of things I am OK at, fewer things that I am good at, and very few things I am great at. But there is one thing that I am super great at: foosball.

You know that table soccer game that is often found in rec-rooms and bars? Well I am super great at that game. When I was in high school, I had access to a foosball table, and I was never far away from it. You might say that I squandered my high school years on foosball, but by the time I got to college no one could beat me.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

I hadn’t played foosball in years until recently, when I was at my sister’s house for a family gathering, when a foosball tournament broke out. No one in my family had a chance; no one even came close. I was the last man standing, and unscathed at that.

I recently brought all of this up at one of the school Masses at Stella Maris Academy, and then I posed this question to the kids: “Do you think Jesus could beat me in foosball?” They all screamed out with a hearty “YES!!” I replied by informing them that there were no foosball tables during the time of Jesus, so do you really think Jesus could beat me? To which they screamed out even louder, “YES!!!”

Why? Because Jesus is God, and you cannot beat God. Amen! Of course we cannot beat God at anything; the last thing in the world anyone should ever want is to have God up against them in anything, because we will always end up the loser, even if it is in foosball.

This interaction with the kids came as a result of the readings we had at that Mass from the First Letter of St. Peter, when our first pope said, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (5:5b). St. Peter was actually referencing a quote from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, which says, “When he [God] is dealing with the arrogant, he is stern, but to the humble he shows kindness” (3:34).

So as Peter says, “God opposes the proud,” and nobody wants God opposing them — not in foosball, not in anything. In fact, if we ponder those words from St. Peter, they are pretty sobering. How do these words apply to us? Well the first thing that comes to my mind is that I am pretty proud of my foosball skills. (Full disclosure: Since I wrote this column, one of my brother priests in the diocese beat me in a game, but I am not saying who.) But I was talking about my skills to make a point in a homily.

There are clear practical examples in our day-to-day life as to how we exhibit being proud. When we talk behind someone’s back and gossip about them, whether it be a coworker, classmate, neighbor, family member, or whoever, in our gossip we are making ourselves out to be better than the person we are disparaging. As I told the kids that morning, if you make fun of schoolmates or do not let them into your circle of friends, you are in essence making yourself out to be better than your classmates, and that is being proud. And if we are proud, God is opposed to us.

Many saints and spiritual authors over the centuries have written about the virtue of humility as the one virtue that ties all other virtues together. If we are not humble, then we cannot excel in any other virtue either. But no words are as compelling as St. Peter’s words, that God actually opposes those who are proud.

Being proud of our country or sports team or even our children and grandchildren is not the same as thinking yourself better than other people. Some pride, like patriotism, is healthy; it is when we start to think that we are better than others that we start to run into serious problems.

So the moral of the story is that you never want God opposed to you in anything, so just be humble.

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. Reach him at [email protected]

Betsy Kneepkens: Admitting when we’re wrong is powerful. Humanae Vitae’s dissenters should do so

Admittedly, I don’t like to be wrong; ask my husband. A while back my son and I had a long disagreement about when I authorized permission for his older brother to leave campus during lunch. I was extremely confident that it was late in his senior year. My younger son believed differently, so he shared incidental evidence over and over again in an attempt to prove I was wrong, and I would not concede.

It was not until that younger son retrieved school documentation with my signature on it that I acknowledged I was wrong. I am horrible with details, so I should have known better than to count on my memory as fact. It is intriguing how evidence can be right in front of me, and I still feel a desire to deny the truth.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I try not to be insistently correct, but the sin of pride is challenging, and I have a fallen nature. I find it mindboggling when a simple “I was wrong” has the power to end negative energy and others’ discomfort, yet people, like me, are often reluctant to set the record straight. Unfortunately, at times, an unwillingness to admit you are wrong can dramatically affect the lives of others, and worse yet the sin of pride can have damaging consequences long term.

You can see times when misjudgment had undesirable consequences at the time and changed the course of history. For instance, the music of the Beatles was rejected by their first production company, because the company was confident they would never make it in the music industry. Even more recently J.K. Rowling was turned down by her first 12 publishers, because her work was not deemed worthy of print.

In both of these cases, the decision makers were arrogantly confident in their judgment, which ultimately came at a high cost to the respective organizations. Other misjudgments had dire outcomes. One of the more notable goes to the owners of the “unsinkable” Titanic, whose confident decision to purchase just 20 lifeboats because you would never need them was later responsible for the demise of over 1,000 travelers. This decision is particularly heartbreaking since the owners knew that the designer of the ship made room for 64 lifeboats, the capacity of which was more than enough to bring all passengers to safety.

This month Catholics celebrate the 50th anniversary of what I think is one of the richest and most prophetic encyclicals of modern times, Humanae Vitae.

Because of the insistent decision of a small group of men, mainly theologians and clergy, Catholics either don’t know this document exists or have ignored the message altogether. The teachings found in this document, however, ought not to be overlooked. Humanae Vitae beautifully articulates the reasons to be faithful to God’s plan for man, woman, the meaning of marriage, the conjugal union, and the fruits of this union.

In a logical and pastoral way, Pope Paul VI explains to the faithful the propose for the church’s prohibition of artificial contraception. The pope also illuminates the importance of respecting God’s design for responsible parenting by managing family planning effectively in accord with the nature of our natural reproductive systems. Pope Paul wants us to know that God has a plan for married couples to manage their fertility and that God’s design of the human person permits that.

These men, confident and dare I say shortsighted, proclaimed in churches and to the media before the document was officially released that the children of God could dissent from this particular teaching. The dissenters focused the conversation on how the faithful could reject this doctrine and paid very little attention on what the encyclical had to say.

In a somewhat unprecedented way, Pope Paul VI included in his writing what the cultural consequences would be if society ignored this message of the church. Unfortunately, these leaders of dissent avoided Pope Paul’s notice of social ills, and nearly the whole world has adopted a lifestyle that ignores God’s plan for the regulation of birth and accepts without question horrific consequences that are now our reality.

In chapter 17 of Pope Paul’s work he proclaimed that ignoring God’s design for marriage and the conjugal union will create suffering. He mentions that accepting artificial contraception will “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality” and decrease the respect for the woman, treating her as an “instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” He went on to say governments will use contraception as a weapon for governing or their authority. Furthermore, Pope Paul talked about how the culture will decide that the individual has the total domain of their bodies to the exclusion of others, their children, and their spouse.

The gravity of these men’s dissenting decisions has had a devastating impact on our culture that is undeniable. We live now with a divorce rate over 50 percent. The number of children born in a single parent home has skyrocketed. Two hundred babies are aborted for every 1,000 children that get to live. Sex trafficking, domestic abuse, pornography, hooking up, sexually transmitted disease, and infidelity are commonplace. Overwhelmingly families are smaller. As a result, support systems are diminishing, entitlement increasing, and loneliness with a high rate of depression plague so many lives. The list sadly goes on and on, all foretold in that teaching written 50 years ago.

That group of men who thought their decision to teach people to dissent from church teaching half a century ago was right have almost all died. There are just a few those individuals still alive, and I wonder if they ever think about the connection of their decision and the suffering people endure. I also think about what sort of impact it would have if those last few men got together to discuss the long-term effects of their decision and if they could have been wrong.

I often contemplate what impact these few men could have on society now if they would go public and proclaim they made a mistake. To me, the evidence is extremely clear. The path these men encouraged went a direction they did not calculate. The good they thought they could bring to the human condition is woefully overestimated. What a bold and courageous statement it would be if these last few living men stood up and said they were wrong and the church was right. I am just left imagining what kind of impact their words would have and the potential to change the course of history.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Father Anthony Craig: How to live the truth of Humanae Vitae

To say that the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae was controversial would be a gross understatement. Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae (“of human life”) on July 25, 1968. It was addressed to “all men of good will” and was subtitled “on the regulation of birth.” The encyclical did not teach anything new but reaffirmed Catholic teaching on the relationship of human persons to God and one another as manifested within Christian marriage. Nevertheless, it became the spark that ignited widespread dissent, especially on its reaffirmation of the constant teaching of the Church on artificial birth control (i.e. contraception).

Father Anthony Craig
Father Anthony Craig
Guest columnist

What led up to this widespread dissent was a perfect storm of social and political factors that challenged man’s dignity. Up until 1930, there was a constant moral rejection of contraception across the board among Christians. There were concerns of over-population stemming from Anglican scholar Thomas Malthus’ book entitled, “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” This work predicted that the world’s population would grow faster than the means to support it.

Malthus himself opposed contraception, favoring rather delayed marriage. Debate began immediately after its publication, especially in Britain. Pressure was laid upon the Church of England to make a response to these concerns. The Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference in 1930 approved contraception, but under strict conditions. When this became public, the Catholic Church also needed to respond to this question about regulation of birth.

The same year as the Lambeth Conference, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Casti Canubii, which reaffirmed the traditional teaching on marriage. It also rejected abortion, eugenics, and contraception, stating: “Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature” (56). Later, Pius XII in 1951 reiterated that couples within marriage could regulate when they had children by having sex during those times when the wife is naturally infertile. This led to a question about the use of the Pill to prevent ovulation and simply extend the infertile period.

In 1963, Pope John XXIII established a commission to study the question of birth control. After his death, the commission was expanded by his successor Paul VI. In 1966, the commission produced a majority report that endorsed artificial contraception and a minority report that did not. These reports were not to be published, but to put pressure on the pontiff’s response, they were leaked to the press in 1967. This attempt to pressure Paul VI did not work.

Humanae Vitae came out in 1968 reaffirming church teaching that within marriage, sex has two purposes. One was procreative and the other unitive. By God’s design, these purposes were to always go together. He acknowledged that couples can use the gift of reason to decide on having more children, but this must ensure that the means they employ be in harmony with God’s plan. While this was meant to reaffirm church teaching, it clashed with the spirit of “free-love” rampant in 1968.

The reaction to the encyclical was widespread, contentious, and immediate. As a result, Paul VI spent the rest of his ten years as pope never to write another encyclical. Despite this reaction, he displayed his courage in regards to this encyclical in his homily on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, 1978.

The homily consisted mainly of the resume of the major documents of his pontificate. He was sitting in front of the altar of St. Peter and reading from his prepared manuscript. He announced the name of each of the various documents that he issued. When he came to Humanae Vitae, he put down the papers he was holding, he looked up, and with an enormous amount of sincerity said, “Humanae Vitae. I did not betray the truth. I did not betray the truth.” Then he picked the papers up and continued his discourse.

Loyal to his memory, how can we be faithful to the truth and not in any way diminish the integrity of the moral principles and teachings embedded in that encyclical?

In this 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, one opportunity to understand better the way a Catholic married couple can remain faithful to the truth is an event this summer entitled “Celebrate ’68.” Natural Family planning is the way a couple can remain faithful to the truth of marriage and family life. Here in the Diocese of Duluth, Northland Family Programs seeks to assist women and couples in their reproductive health by sharing the wisdom found in the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System. The event “Celebrate ‘68” will be at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Crosslake on July 21 at 4 p.m. This event will be filled with live music, dinner, and great speakers. This is co-sponsored by the Diocese of Duluth Office of Marriage, Family, and Life. Thus, it will be a way to faithfully follow God’s plan. This is one way to emulate the courage Paul VI displayed in issuing Humanae Vitae as he was a great herald of the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family.

Father Anthony Craig, S.T.L., is assistant director of the Diocese of Duluth Office of Marriage, Family, and Life.

Sarah Spangenberg: Gaudete et Exultate teaches us to make civic life a labor of love

Holiness in politics? Is that an oxymoron? Not for Catholics. In Pope Francis’ recent exhortation Gaudete et Exultate, he reminds us that the two are indeed connected.


Unfortunately, Catholics in politics and social ministry sometimes tend to fall into one of two errors.

Sarah Spangenberg
Sarah Spangenberg
Faith in the Public Arena

First, there is the activism “of those who separate [the] Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him” (GE, 100). It is thinking that Christianity is all about doing good things. The problem is that it separates Jesus’ commission from the deep prayer which opens us to his grace.

Second is the error of those “who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular,” as if this aspect of the church’s life were unimportant. It is the false notion that we ought to be preoccupied only with “spiritual” things, even to the neglect of our duties (GE, 101).

Both are rooted in the same belief: We must decide to be either spiritual or productive, a mystic or an activist, a citizen of heaven or a citizen of the United States. This is alien to our Catholic faith. “At such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), we can and must be present to minister and to serve others now, and at the same time remain fixed on “the life of the world to come.”

Work and pray

Christ commanded his disciples to be leaven in the world by preaching the Gospel (Mark 16:15), making disciples (Matthew 28:19), and serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:31-46). Therefore, Francis writes, we cannot “love silence while fleeing interaction with others, … want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, [or] seek prayer while disdaining service” (GE, 26). We who are called to the lay vocation cannot excuse ourselves from public life under a false pretense of holiness.

Similarly, the temptation to activism is also real. It is easy to treat the church like “a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism” that marked the lives of the saints (GE, 100). But consider that Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa were among the most influential people in history, yet they also “wasted” the most time in prayer. They worked hard but never sacrificed intimacy with God. Mother Teresa famously said, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy!”

In the Gospels, Jesus himself shows the importance of prayer, regularly withdrawing from the crowds for long periods of time spent in union with the Father. His was not an activism focused on worldly success — what could be a greater (apparent) failure than the Cross? — but a single-hearted pursuit of the Father’s will.

To imitate him, then, is not to be so engrossed in “spiritual” things that we withdraw from the world, nor is it to become so busy that we no longer rest in the Father’s heart. Rather, it is the union of action and contemplation, the “work and pray” of St. Benedict. Amid activity, we must also “recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt relationship with God” (29).

Political life: It comes down to love

How might we apply the teaching of Gaudete et Exultate to political life? First, we should be clear that the goal of our work (at least, the ultimate goal) is not to win every battle in the public square or resort to tactics that seem to promote success. Of course, we should strive to build up the common good, but paradoxically, our true victory is not in success but in faithfulness.

We cannot see the full plan of God, the way he intends to use our “yes,” the unseen battles that are won when we are obedient — even in the face of apparent defeat or even futility. Only prayer can detach us from visible results and free us to seek God’s will with an undivided heart.

Finally, our engagement in politics is a mission, in which our holiness of life is far more potent than mere activity. Ultimately, it comes down to love. We love God by laboring for him, and we love our neighbor by pursuing what is good and just. Francis writes that when we let God fill both our prayer and our public lives, “every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes” (31). Self-sacrificing love: what a vision for faithful citizenship!

Sarah Spangenberg is communications associate for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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 [email protected]

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.