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Father Richard Kunst: Why does Father wear pink during Lent?

You can buy almost anything on the online auction site Ebay, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Due to pressure from the Catholic Church, Ebay clamped down on the buying and selling of saints’ relics. Unfortunately, there are enough loopholes for people to be able still sell such sacred items on the auction website. There have been a number of great things over the years that I have purchased for my parish on this online auction, including the beautiful candle stands we use for the altar, but about 10 years ago I bought a Mass vestment on Ebay that has become an ongoing joke among my parishioners.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

Most priests own their own set of vestments, and because we use the colors purple, green, and white so often, I dare say that most priests have more than one chasuble (the name of the outer vestment worn by priests at Mass) of each of those colors. The other liturgical color that is used, but not nearly as often, is red, which is worn at Pentecost, Good Friday, and for any martyred saint’s feast day.

The color that is used most rarely is rose. The liturgical color rose is only used twice during the year, Gaudete Sunday, which is the third Sunday of Advent, and Laetare Sunday, which we will celebrate in March as the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Now here is the joke about my Laetare Sunday chasuble: It is pretty old, maybe from the 1950s, when Mass was always celebrated “ad orientem” (with the priest facing the same direction of the people), so the decoration on the vestment was only on the priest’s back. Since I do not celebrate the Mass “ad orientem,” I purposefully wear my vestment backwards, so that the decoration can be seen by the congregation. But more significant is that my vestment really is not rose, it’s Pepto-Bismol, or as my parishioners always call it, pink.

They don’t know this (until now), but whenever I am reassigned to another parish, I will be donating this Ebay purchase to the parish as a parting gift.

All this aside, what is the point? What exactly is Laetare Sunday, and why do we celebrate it? This fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare because of the first words from this liturgy’s introit, “Laetare Jerusalem” — “Rejoice, Jerusalem.” During the first several centuries of the Catholic Church, Lent was celebrated for only 36 days. Eventually four days were added before the first Sunday of Lent to make the season a complete 40 days. This is how we got Ash Wednesday, which occurred for the first time in the year 714 A.D.

Laetare Sunday marks the middle of the Lenten season, although technically the very middle of Lent is the Thursday before the fourth Sunday. Nevertheless, on this fourth Sunday, representing the middle of Lent, the church encourages us to be a little more lighthearted. The lighter color of rose (not pink) and the addition of flowers permitted in the sanctuary for the only time in Lent are meant to encourage the faithful in their penance. The church is telling us not to lose heart — our penances are half over; Easter is coming.

The Advent counterpart to Laetare Sunday, as already mentioned, is known as Gaudete Sunday, and traditionally it served the same purpose. In early centuries, Advent, like Lent, had more of a penance theme to the season. On the third week of Advent, the church wanted the faithful to have a lightened break to the penance, so the colors of the vestment and Advent candles were brightened for that one day of the season. Advent, of course, is no longer considered to be a season of penance, but the church has kept the ancient tradition of changing the colors.

So later this month, when I once again don the old rose colored chasuble that I got on Ebay, I would ask my parishioners to kindly be liturgically correct and say nothing about my pink vestments. It may be a little “ratty” compared to my other vestments. Just remember it is my gift to you whenever the good Lord or the good bishop assigns me to another parish!

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

Deacon Kyle Eller: How do we discern God’s will in our lives?

I suspect some of the deepest, most important questions most Christians have are ones they are somewhat afraid to ask or perhaps never even think to ask: How do we discern God’s will in our lives? How do we know what God wants of us? Can we even know that?

These are really good questions.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

God is always calling us. Literally at every moment, with each tiny, seemingly insignificant event that takes place and each little choice we make, God, in his providence, invites us to follow the path of love and life. Our primary vocation, whether we are married or single, lay people, clergy, or religious, is holiness, and holiness depends so much on seeking God’s will for us and embracing it. My confirmation saint, St. Maximilian Kolbe, put it very simply: “Christian perfection consists in the union of our will with the will of God.”

To be sure, God’s will is mysterious and, in its fullness, far beyond our comprehension. But since God does not command the impossible, and he commands us to do his will, it follows that we can know it at least well enough to obey him. I love the image of Blessed John Henry Newman, in his hymn “Lead, Kindly Light,” that we may not see the “distant scene,” but the “one step” God lights for us is enough.

We know some things about God’s will for us with great certainty, and they are not trivial. We know God wants us to follow his commandments — to do good and avoid sin. We know he wants us to carry out the daily duties of our state in life as faithfully as we can. We know he wants us to forgive and to love our neighbor. We know he wants us to spend daily time with him in prayer.

This covers important territory, including many of those daily moments. It forms the necessary foundation for deeper discernment. Without them, how could we hope to hear God clearly in greater matters?

But what about those other questions, where we may find ourselves agonizing, longing to know God’s will and yet unsure of what it is? Often these are life’s biggest moments — major decisions, major crises.

I would classify myself as a beginner here, and many wiser and holier people than me have addressed this question, but for what it’s worth, here are some of the lessons that I have learned through the process of discerning a call to be a deacon.

One important lesson is one I already mentioned: Discernment usually doesn’t happen all in a moment. God often makes his will known to us over time, lighting the next step or two but not the whole journey. As we learn to be content with that, we grow in faith and hope. We learn to trust God and not just our own judgment. We begin to better distinguish our passing desires from his abiding call. There is a peace in this.

I thought about diaconal ministry for years before entering formation. Then I spent years discerning it in formation. Not until several months before ordination did I come to feel a certainty that it was God’s call. But at each step, I knew what I needed to know — I felt God wanted me to stay in formation that next month, that next year.

The second lesson is related to that first one: Discernment is not a static process, where we just sit still and wait. We discern in motion.

Sometimes people have the impression that discerning God’s will is just a matter of sitting in the quiet church praying and listening. Certainly it is absolutely essential to do that. But along with that, we take small steps in the direction we think God might be calling us and see where he is in it. That’s one of the ways he makes his will known.

In deacon formation, this is built in. Over the years, more things related to the ministry get added, like making pastoral visits to people, reading at Mass, serving at Mass, leading prayer, assisting with sacramental preparation, practicing the preparation and delivery of homilies.

I found that often the most fruitful of these things were the ones I found most uncomfortable — the ones most out of my experience and confidence. Amid the human nerves and self-doubt, I was delighted to find a spiritual consolation and joy, too. One of God’s beautiful surprises in the wake of ordination is how much joy I find in things I wasn’t even sure I would like.

We can practice this in the questions we’re discerning. Take a small step in the right direction. Then pray about it. Then, when the time is right, take the next step.

We also don’t discern alone. For deacon candidates, the church is also discerning — is this man called? I don’t think I will ever forget the moment at the ordination when the church, in the person of the bishop, said that my classmates and I had been chosen for this ministry. Who could ever feel truly worthy of that?

In other kinds of discernment, it may look different, but the principle applies. As we pray and take small steps as God lights them for us, we should seek counsel. Depending on the situation, it could be from trusted pastor, a spiritual director, or prayerful, holy friend.

I’m still a beginner at discernment, but I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned thus far, because as I have come to appreciate, discernment never ends. Ordination was a conclusion to one part of discernment but the beginning of an even greater one. How is God calling me to live out this ministry? I won’t know the full answer to that question until this life ends.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]

Women’s conference speaker: ‘It costs nothing to be kind’

The sixth annual Women of Faith Conference Feb. 24 at Marshall School had almost an embarrassment of riches, with two dynamic speakers — Father James Sichko and Teresa Tomeo — and a registration record of more than 500 women from across the Diocese of Duluth and beyond.

Father Sichko went first. A priest of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, he was appointed by Pope Francis during the Year of Mercy to be one of a select group of papal missionaries of mercy. He now travels the world as an evangelist and missionary, taking no salary and living off the generosity of the people he meets.

Teresa Tomeo
Teresa Tomeo

A gifted singer and storyteller, his two talks featured songs, stories, and poetry, as well as a lot of interaction, including answering the phone of one woman when it rang during his presentation and taking numerous selfies with them to add to his collection of them, which includes everyone from Pope Francis to Nancy Pelosi to a homeless man named Kyle.

In his first talk, Father Sichko promised to explain how to fill Mitchell Auditorium even more thoroughly with two words that he said are the essence of the Gospel: #BeKind.

He gave three ways to do that: “stop being jerks,” “hold your tongue,” and “be positive when someone comes to you with a request instead of negative.”

To illustrate the first point, he told a story of a travel nightmare and how he ended up sitting and complaining to his neighbor about the situation without realizing he was speaking to the president of the board of the airline. “He listened. He didn’t get defensive,” Father Sichko said. “… And that’s what Jesus does with each of us.”

By “hold your tongue,” Father Sichko gave a particular emphasis to the sin of gossip. “Pope Francis speaks about that constantly,” he said.

The principle, he said, is to “honor the absent.”

“If you’ve got something to say, say it to the person,” he said. He encouraged the audience not only to avoid participating in it but to object to gossip when they hear it.

Father Sichko’s second talk included a Q&A and several moving stories covering a number of topics, including stewardship — which described as “the act of organizing your life so God can spend you” — and listening to the Holy Spirit to let him take you out of your comfort zone. That, he says, begins by listening in prayer. “If your Bible is in good shape, you’re not,” he quipped.

Tomeo, a quick-talking Italian American who lives in Michigan and is known for her daily Catholic radio show broadcast on 300 stations and her twice-weekly TV show on EWTN, “Catholic View for Women.”

She said an experience traveling in the mountains in Italy and watching a young couple take selfies the whole time while never really experiencing the mountains was part of the inspiration for her latest book, “Beyond Me, My Selfie, and I.”

She said the technology can be good, and she uses it herself, but while it seems to make us more connected, often it doesn’t. “We are still so isolated, even more isolated from each other,” she said.

She told her own experience of growing up Catholic but becoming a pro-choice feminist with one foot in the secular world and one in the Catholic world. She said she was driven by ambition to be a successful broadcaster, and during years of work as a broadcast journalist in Detroit says she had achieved all of those goals by her 20s.

She said her husband’s coming to a deeper faith (he is now a deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit), marital struggles, and the experience of losing her high-profile reporting job helped bring her to a deeper lived faith.

It also helped her learn that God has a plan and it’s always the best plan. “We may not believe it at the time, but it is so, so true,” she said.

She now has spent 16 years in Catholic media.

“It’s because I’ve surrendered the gifts and the talents that I have to God,” she said.

Tomeo also addressed the #MeToo controversies of the past several months, arguing that they demonstrate the truth of the church’s teaching on contraception. She noted that Blessed Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, had predicted widespread immorality and objectification of women as a consequence of contraception.

Tomeo’s second talk was on becoming a Catholic who goes “Beyond Sunday,” living a life of faith each day. She discussed some of the cultural challenges, such as Joy Behar’s recent comments on national television suggesting people who believe God speaks to them have a mental illness.

She urged those in attendance to have the courage to pass on the truth to those in their lives.

This year’s women’s conference, as usual, included opportunities for confession, Mass with Bishop Paul Sirba, and vendors. Eucharistic Adoration was also available through the day.

Herbeck makes connection at annual men’s conference

Peter Herbeck, an evangelist with Renewal Ministries and a well-known Catholic TV and radio host, now lives in Michigan, but he is originally from New Ulm and made a quick connection with the 340 men who turned out for this year’s diocesan Men of Faith conference Feb. 17 at Marshall School in Duluth.

He was even joined for one of his talks by his daughter, Rachel Herbeck, who works for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Peter and Rachel Herbeck
Peter Herbeck, the main speaker at the annual men's conference, was joined by his daughter, Rachel Herbeck, who works for the Minnesota Catholic Conference and became the first woman to present at the men’s conference. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

He began the first of his four talks with “identity and destiny,” reminding the men that they are beloved and chosen of God, sanctified by the Spirit, and bound for glory.

“The most important thing we can know is who God is and what God thinks of us,” he said. Knowing this in one’s heart can bring identity, confidence, and peace, and a path away from addiction, porn, alcohol and the other things people do in search of what the world cannot fill.

As evidence that the world is not enough, he offered the example of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who despite his historic accomplishments fell into addiction and depression before encountering God.

“Not even 22 gold medals and the adulation of the world” could fill his soul, Herbeck said.

Herbeck, in keeping with the recent men’s conference practice, gave his second talk twice, allowing half of the audience to have an opportunity to go to confession. In it, he painted a stark picture of the challenges of our times, quoting Pope St. John Paul II that these days are part of the “final confrontation” with antiChrist and Pope Benedict saying that humanity is pushing God to the horizon.

“What could be more fundamental than what is a person, what is a man, what is a woman, what is a marriage?” Herbeck asked.

He said a fundamental value emerging in the culture is a kind of self-created freedom in which we define who we are. But this is in contradiction to the truth, he said. That there is a design and meaning to creation, and defining truth on our own is a kind of idolatry.

He made clear that this battle is not against other people. “Our enemies are spiritual forces, not other people, no matter how much they disagree,” he said.

But he also said the church in the West has been “so weak and so cowardly” in the face of it.

“How many Catholics are genuflecting to everything that’s going on?” he asked.

“If men don’t stand up, our wives and our children are going to be in deep trouble,” he added.

He shared a story from his own life as evidence that turning to God can make all the difference. His father was a World War II veteran and a good man, but his alcoholism had damaged the family. However, his adult sister had an experience in prayer that led her to bring her mother and siblings together to recommit to Jesus. Soon after, Herbeck’s father came to him and asked for help, and the whole family found renewal and healing, with all seven children coming back to faith.

“It was the most transformative experience of my life,” he said.

He urged the men to lead their families in prayer and trust Jesus to be with them, knowing Jesus wants to heal mind and heart. “It’s fundamentally a spiritual battle,” he said.

Herbeck’s third talk was about “winning the battle at home.” He shared personal stories of his own marriage and parenting, and he was joined during part of the talk by his daughter, Rachel, who talked about her difficulties with the faith growing up and how she and her father persevered.

“Faith in our family was always personal, but it was never private,” she said.

In his final talk, Herbeck told stories from his mission work and how God was working in it. He urged the men to bring the Gospel to the people they meet each day, just by learning how to share simply what Jesus means to them and asking God to create openings with people they knew who might be suffering or in need.

“Then count on Jesus to be there,” he said.

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

An interview with George Weigel

On March 12, St. John the Evangelist Church in Duluth, fresh off hosting the daughter of St. Gianna Molla in October, will host another distinguished guest: George Weigel, who is a distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and public Policy Center, author of three volumes on the life of Pope St. John Paul, and a distinguished conservative Catholic intellectual and media figure.

The event at St. John’s will focus on St. John Paul II. It will begin with Mass at 6:30 p.m. and be followed by Weigel’s presentation, based on his latest book, “Lessons in Hope,” the third of his volumes on John Paul.

Weigel agreed to be interviewed by email in advance of his appearance this month. The interview follows:

George Weigel
George Weigel

The Northern Cross: Would you tell our readers a bit about what you will be speaking on in Duluth? I understand from Father Kunst that it is related to your newest book, about your personal friendship with Pope St. John Paul II.

Weigel: Yes, that’s right. I’ll be talking about “Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II,” but also about the pope and his legacy. “Lessons in Hope” is a book, of stories, quite different in that sense from the two volumes of my John Paul II biography, “Witness to Hope” and “The End and the Beginning,” so I hope the talk (and the book) will help people come to know John Paul is a more personal way.

TNC: Is there an anecdote from that friendship you would be willing share to give readers a flavor of what you will be talking about?

Weigel: In March 1996, John Paul said to me, in respect of other biographical efforts, “They try to understand me from outside, but I can only be understood from inside.” That idea — learning a saint “from inside” — will help frame my remarks. I’ll also be introducing the audience to some of the remarkable cast of characters that surrounded John Paul II, and helped form his “inside.”

TNC: It’s now nearly 13 years since Pope John Paul went to the house of the Father. Those days were so full of powerful, memorable scenes: his last gestures, the large, peaceful crowds, the cries that he immediately be recognized a saint. I’m sure they must often come to mind for you. Now, more than a decade later, is he remembered and revered as you imagined he would be? Or to put it another way, how do you see John Paul’s place in the church as a member of the Church Triumphant?

Weigel: He’s obviously a venerated figure all over the world. Unfortunately, his insistence on the great Catholic “both/and” — truth and mercy, revelation and reason, love and responsibility — is being forgotten in some parts of the church. And it doesn’t seem as if the senior diplomats of the Vatican have learned much from the most politically consequential pope in a millennium, which is a real shame. As for John Paul’s place as a member of the Church Triumphant, I’m sure he’s a powerful intercessor for many people — as well as a continuing model for priests and bishops.

TNC: St. John Paul’s long, fruitful pontificate left a great body of teaching, and many of the issues he dealt with not only remain with us but sometimes have come dramatically to the fore. I’m thinking, for instance, of his Theology of the Body and the meaning and “language” of the body in an adequate Christian anthropology, and how this relates to gender ideology and the definition of marriage; or of his great teachings on the family in light of contemporary ecclesiastical debates about pastoral outreach to those in irregular situations; or of his great encyclical on moral theology in light of debates over the meaning of Christian conscience. What, in your view, are some of the most important things John Paul’s teaching has still to offer us in 2018?

Weigel: The Theology of the Body is the most coherent Catholic response to the cultural tsunami of the sexual revolution ever articulated, and ought to be a much larger part of catechesis and marriage preparation, although it’s already had an effect on both. John Paul’s social doctrine, with its emphasis on the imperative of a vibrant public moral culture for both democracy and the free economy, has a lot to say to contemporary American discontents. And then there is Veritatis Splendor, the great encyclical on moral theology, which tried to re-ballast a Western world collapsing into moral subjectivism; that’s still a huge issue, and there is much still to learn from Veritatis Splendor. I’d also cite his encyclical on faith and reason, which ought to be read by every Catholic educator today, as we try to keep Catholic education, especially Catholic higher education, from imploding into the incoherence you see on so many campuses today.

TNC: Many believe that Pope John Paul II changed people’s expectations of the papacy, because of his great gifts of charisma and communication and his willingness to travel the world and evangelize and be a public figure. Pope Francis is also a pope who seems to embrace that kind of a role. (In fact, some who are younger may not recall that there was a pope with “star power” before Francis.) How would you compare and contrast the way they live out that aspect of their ministry?

Weigel: The pope has been at the center of the world Catholic conversation — and the world’s perception of the Church — at least since Pius IX (1846-1878), and perhaps since Pius VII (1800-1823). There are obvious advantages to this, but there are also disadvantages. The pope cannot and should not be the protagonist of everything in the Church. We all have our roles in the Body of Christ, and we all have a responsibility to live as missionary disciples. Both John Paul II and Francis have insisted on that.

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Bishop Paul Sirba: Fill the seats for our holiest celebrations of the year

Why are there empty seats at the Olympics? Don’t you wonder? After spending billions of dollars on new venues for the premier event in amateur sports, how is it that there are so many empty seats? It seems the price of Super Bowl tickets always skyrockets, March Madness looks packed for the Big Dance, and even our high school basketball and hockey tournaments seem to do better with attendance. What’s up with the Olympics?

Organizers say they have sold more than 90 percent of available seats. Some blame weather and transportation snafus, and some people would rather watch things on TV. A spokeswoman said: “We can’t control the people who don’t show up.” Also, for an Olympic movement that still makes billions of dollars in revenue, does attendance really matter?

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

In the realm of the spiritual, we are about to enter into the holiest of the celebrations in our liturgical year. Olympic athletes deny themselves many things in order to win a medal or just for the glory of participating in the Olympic Games. We are shooting for eternal life with Jesus. Shouldn’t we be marking our calendars for participating in the most important and amazing encounter with Jesus Christ in the world?

Holy Week is ordered to the commemoration of Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection, what we call the Paschal Mystery. To use the language of Pope Francis, we accompany Jesus Christ in the mystery. We enter into the scandal of the cross with Jesus, and we experience a foretaste of heaven at Easter.

As clergy we have the privilege of shepherding the faithful into the sobriety of the Eucharist these holy days. An antidote to the sense of noise in the culture is silence. Silence bears communion. “Silence mediates the kiss of the Holy Spirit,” said St. Bernard of Clairvaux. We unplug and meditate on the love of God for us sinners.

How do we get people to the empty seats in our churches if they have no desire? The mystery of pain is a possible door for the Gospel to enter. While pain can lead people to hate God — curse God and die — pain can also be a vehicle for leading people to God. “Where pain is, pastoral ministry should be lodging,” Deacon James Keating has argued. Instead of a deeper retreat into technology, drugs, pornography, or whatever else, our invitation, witness, encouragement, and accompaniment can lead our brothers and sisters to Jesus.

If our training for our spiritual Olympics includes prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Lenten missions, confessions, acts of mercy, Stations of the Cross, and fish fries, our Holy Week is the finish line and goal. It is the celebration of victory!

The Mass of Chrism is celebrated on Monday, March 26, at the Cathedral at 5:30 p.m. The Mass is a sign of unity and communion of priests with their bishop. All of the faithful are invited. Check your parish schedules for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. These celebrations offer us a real experience of the work Christ accomplished of human redemption and the perfect glorification of God the Father through His Paschal Mystery. All are invited, and please God every seat will be filled for the banquet of the Lamb of God!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Bishop Sirba joins effort to support ‘Dreamers’


Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba joined his brother bishops from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in urging the faithful to support a bipartisan and humane solution for Dreamers.

Following is the action alert from the USCCB:

Please participate in the Call-in Day to Congress on Monday, February 26, 2018! Your advocacy is critical to help the nearly 1.8 million Dreamers, young people who were brought into the United States by their parents as children. They may face deportation as soon as March 6, unless Congress reaches a bi-partisan deal to protect them. Please follow these easy steps to help:

1. Please call 855-589-5698 to reach the Capitol switchboard, and press 1 to connect to your Senators. Once you are connected to each Senator’s office, please ask the person on the phone to deliver this simple message:

“I urge you to support a bipartisan, common-sense, and humane solution for Dreamers:
Protect Dreamers from deportation and provide them with a path to citizenship.
Reject proposals that undermine family immigration or protections for unaccompanied children.
As a Catholic, I know that families are not “chains,” but a blessing to be protected.
Act now to protect Dreamers, our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

2. Please call 855-589-5698 a second time to reach the Capitol switchboard again, and press 2 to connect to your Representative. Once you are connected to the Representative’s office, please ask the person on the phone to deliver the same message as above.

After completing your call, please go to to learn more about Dreamers and find other ways to voice your support.


Betsy Kneepkens: Giving kids a Catholic education is a critical support to raising them in the faith

Since writing a monthly column for The Northern Cross I have dedicated one month, usually February, to an issue related to Catholic schools. I have a huge heart for Catholic education, because I know that the faith formation I received in Catholic schools played a major role in developing my inclination to seek Christ when it comes to others, myself, and life situations. I am confident that the moments in my life in which I have experienced the greatest joy, gratitude, and appreciation have been when I have been attentive and intentional about following that inclination. I can’t help desiring the same sort of opportunity for my family, and for all children, for that matter.

For the first time in 50 years, I am not attending, working at, or having children attend Catholic schools. I do have two sons at a Catholic university in St. Louis, but they are so far away I find it difficult for me to claim that as being involved. My passion for Catholic schools has not wavered, and in so many ways I can be even more objective and supportive of these institutions from an outside perspective.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I know that many Catholic parents of young children agonize over the decision of what school they will send their little ones to. I also know, sadly, that the vast majority of parents in our diocese don’t have a choice of a Catholic school, because there is no Catholic school near them. However, for those who do have a choice, they discover that a Catholic school setting is an excellent way to start their children’s formal educational process.

Through my personal observation and by means of my children’s experience, I would strongly advocate that there is a significant advantage to sending your young children to an educational environment that shares the values you have in your Catholic home. Providing a sound foundation more readily allows a child to build strong character traits which will be essential as they battle the secular imposition of an ungodly society.

Most Catholic school administrators acknowledge that when parents do look into our parochial schools, attracting them to those first few years, pre-K to end of elementary, is not terribly difficult. There is a willingness by parents to establish a firm foundation, and they easily see the value of doing so.

Who could pass up a young child able to pray the rosary or recite a reading at a mid-week school Mass or observing the concern these young people express when collecting money for programs like Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl project? I think these ever-present experiences provide the reasons parents choose Catholic schools, even over the strong academic habits and discipline that is inherent in the parochial school culture. When parents compare these sort of attributes with the local secular school, Catholic schools shine brightly every time, and I get it.

As a parent whose children have all gone through nine years (Kindergarten through eighth grade) of Catholic education, I would like to challenge parents who are considering removing their child from the Catholic school to attend a secular middle school. I know the vast majority of our Catholic schools only go up to fourth or fifth grade, but I believe this needs to change.

Catholic schools largely help a child discover the best version of themselves. Fully discovering their purpose is impossible without figuring out what God is calling them to. Although the early years support and develop a tenderness of heart for others through Christ, the challenges of living those lessons out begin to become more difficult during those middle school years.

Many of my friends who have transitioned their children to a public middle school when they still had an option for a Catholic school environment would often share their reasons. Most often I heard that they no longer wanted to shelter their child because they knew they would have to go to a public high school eventually.

I hear those friends’ reasoning, but my experience would say the longer you can keep a child in a Catholic school, the greater amount of skills you can equip your son or daughter with in order to face the inevitable. Our children live in a godless, anti- Christian culture, and without the proper tools, they can easily succumb to the influences of that culture. Furthermore, if I had chosen a secular elementary for my little ones, I would be sure to consider a Catholic middle school to aid them when they might need it the most.

Now that my youngest is in high school, I can see the product of that formation in my older children as they went from high school to college. Middle school years were difficult, and that time of their life presented opportunities to understand, develop, and use the virtues necessary to combat life’s evils. Perhaps my children would be considered “sheltered” in our Catholic school. I found that giving them as much exposure to formal Catholic thought and responses has best prepared them for this nearly anti-Christian culture.

With four of my six children through high school, I can’t help but be cognizant of the many times our children were presented with immoral opportunities that could have had disastrous results. My children have been far from perfect, and I can fill a newspaper with stories of those imperfections, but I can say that the skills they received in those middle school years linger in their thoughts when posed with the difficult choices. Parents need support to raise their children in this world. Some may call it sheltered, but I call Catholic middle school education additional reinforcement to help my kids become the best version of themselves as intended by our Creator.

From a parent of many years of parenting, if you have young children in our Catholic school system, keep them there. If you your Catholic school doesn’t have a middle school, do what you can to see that this changes. If your child attends a secular school and there is a choice of a Catholic school, please take some time to call the school to find out all the wonderful things they have to offer your child. For the sake of a more holy world, let’s grow our Catholic schools in this region.

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

Lenten practices

Lent runs from Feb. 14 to April 1. Ash Wednesday (Feb. 14) and Good Friday (March 30) are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards. If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection. More information on fast and abstinence can be found at

Deacon Kyle Eller: How should we respond to ‘prayer shaming’?

I’m not sure exactly when I first encountered the phenomenon of “prayer shaming,” but I do remember how deeply it offended me. I still find it one of the most disturbing turns our culture has taken in the past few years. (And that’s saying something.)

If you pay attention to current events, you have encountered it too. According to the Internet, pundits, and many politicians, we are now supposed to be upset when someone says victims of some tragedy are in her “thoughts and prayers.”

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

The idea is that saying we’re praying for someone means we’re not “doing something.” The implication is that saying we’re praying is just putting a pious face on indifference or even an opposition to solving problems.

The most common place this comes up these days is mass shootings and the issue of gun control, although I have seen it in other contexts too, perhaps the most unlikely of which was a conservative Christian Facebook friend dismissing prayer (in contrast to military solutions) as a response to terrorism.

There are many things wrong with this. Most egregious is that treating prayer as an ineffectual waste of time is blasphemy, used as social pressure to enforce practical atheism. It is an attempt to coerce everyone to act as though God did not exist or face the consequence of being considered a rube at best or monster at worst.

Another obvious problem is the harsh personal judgment prayer shaming involves. I have no doubt there are hypocrites who claim to pray in order to appear as though they care about things they don’t care about. But I wouldn’t accuse someone of that without overwhelming evidence. Does disagreeing about gun control really qualify? I suggest obviously not.

Just in the interest of full disclosure on that subject, I’m very open minded about it. I’m not a big gun guy, although I have training and experience with them. I don’t for a second think that guns are the main cause of (or solution for) mass violence — it seems beyond dispute to me that the disease is a deeper crisis of meaning and communion. At the same time, treating symptoms can be worthwhile, and I’m open to the possibility some particular gun regulation could help.

There are intelligent and good faith people and rational arguments on both sides of that important debate. Pretending, instead, that everyone on the other side is some inhuman monster contributes nothing but bullying and character assassination. To do this by attacking prayer, one of the noblest and deepest responses of the human heart, makes it even more toxic and destructive.

The question remains: How should we, as Catholic Christians, respond to prayer shaming?

The glib but true answer is that we should pray more and act more effectively. The two go together.

Sometimes prayer is all we really have, but usually God calls us both to prayer and to action. St. James tells us, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).

And while God does sometimes work miracles, most of the time he works through secondary causes, like us. If my child is sick and I pray for healing, I know from the outset that it’s likely he will work through a doctor, and when that happens, we rightly thank both God and the doctor.

In fact, this is one of the reasons our prayer is so important: It’s essential to making our action fruitful. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “without me you can do nothing” (15:5). As countless spiritual writers attest and countless saints’ lives demonstrate, it is through prayer — through the interior life — that our actions really become effective.

So putting prayer and action in opposition to each other is a fatal mistake likely to sap our action of its vitality and effectiveness. Those in a position to act for good have all the more reason to pray. Acting with God’s help is far better than acting without it.

We need God’s wisdom, too. This is all the more true when it comes to problems that are deep and difficult and seemingly intractable, and solutions are complicated and murky and partial, full of subtle trade-offs and unintended consequences. Many of our deep problems are like that, despite the fact that we live in an arrogant time, when many people seem to approach the world like overgrown high school sophomores, who have their surefire “simple, obvious solutions” no one before them was smart enough or good-willed enough to try.

Coming to God in prayer demands the opposite approach — the humility of not having all the answers and recognizing part of the problem is in me, in my own limits, my own brokenness, my own pride.

And of course the truth is that God does act, usually mysteriously, in his providence. Sometimes the Berlin Wall does really fall without a shot fired. Why wouldn’t we ask him to come to our aid in these problems, in his time and in his way? Why wouldn’t we want to stay close to him and discern where he is acting?

So yes, it’s glib but true. Our response to prayer shaming ought to be that we pray more and therefore act more effectively. The two go together.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]