Browsing News Entries

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Two speakers coming for annual women’s conference

The sixth annual diocesan Women of Faith Conference Feb. 24 at Marshall School in Duluth, centered on the theme “Beyond Me,” will bring in two headline speakers, for the first time including a man.

Father Jim Sichko, a full-time evangelist and preacher who travels the country with storytelling, humor, and music, is one of the Papal Missionaries of Mercy Pope Francis named during the Year of Mercy in 2016 — one of only 100 in the United States. He will be the first speaker, with two talks — “#GiveandReceive” and “Six Steps to Being a Catholic Christian Leader.”

Father Jim Sichko Teresa Tomeo
Father Jim Sichko Teresa Tomeo

Closing out the day will be Teresa Tomeo, host of a daily radio talk show called “Catholic Connection” and a well-known speaker and journalist, who will be giving talks called “Beyond Me, My Selfie, and I” and “Beyond Sunday — Being a 24-7 Catholic.”

Hilaire Hauer, who serves on the planning committee for the conference, said there are some other new twists to the event this year too.

“We are so blessed that women throughout the diocese travel the distance to Duluth to share this experience together, and so we thought we would reserve a few hotel rooms so that those who could would have the chance to make a ‘Girls’ Weekend’ out of it,” she said.

That effort has been assisted by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, who are offering rooms at the new Center for Spirituality and Enrichment at a special $50 a night rate.

This year’s women’s conference will offer ample opportunity for prayer, with perpetual adoration throughout the day and the weekend vigil Mass with Bishop Paul Sirba to close the event. Before that, there will be praise and worship featuring local Catholic musician Eric Cyr, who will be debuting a song he composed for the conference.

Father Sichko’s booking came about in a unique way, Hauer said. “How we came to find him was that our conference committee chair experienced a retreat with him in Kansas City, and she was so moved by that experience that she actually called him directly, and he said yes,” Hauer said. “Praise God for these experiences!”

The conference runs from 7:30 a.m. through Mass, which begins at 4:15 p.m. The day also includes opportunities for confession. Cost is $30, with an additional $10 late fee after Feb. 10. (Materials and lunch are also not guaranteed after that date.)

“We have a high level of interest in the conference and it grows each year,” Hauer said. “It’s exciting to see all that is happening throughout the diocese, and it’s amazing to see nearly 500 women making the day of it.”

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

CRS Rice Bowl is back, asks Catholics to ‘share the journey’

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to “Share the Journey” with migrants and refugees aground the world. Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl offers Catholics in the United States a way to encounter Lent, to encounter the causes of migration and displacement, and to learn about the challenges faced by families around the world in their dioceses, parishes, and homes.

CRS Rice Bowl, the agency’s flagship Lenten program, now in its fifth decade, will begin once again on Ash Wednesday – Feb. 14 – giving Catholics throughout the country an opportunity to encounter the stories of people in need around the world.

“From CRS’ work in more than 100 countries, we know that people do not want to leave their homes, that they do so because they feel they have no other choice,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of church engagement. “Lenten sacrifices contributed through CRS Rice Bowl help give them that choice by providing sustenance and livelihoods in communities around the world.”

Started as an ecumenical effort in the diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1975, CRS Rice Bowl soon spread across the country as it called on Catholics to perform a simple act of Lenten sacrifice — substitute a lowcost meatless meal for more expensive dining once a week during Lent and put the money saved in a cardboard rice bowl.

That concept remains at the heart of the program, even as it has expanded to include broader Lenten faith enrichment through a wide variety of resources available for the millions of Catholics who participate. These include prayer resources, a daily Lenten calendar, weekly stories of hope that introduce families from around the world, and recipes from various countries for meatless meals that can be enjoyed on Fridays during Lent. Funds collected in the rice bowls, which are turned in at the end of Lent, are distributed both around the world and in local communities to combat hunger — 75 percent of every donation goes to CRS programming in targeted countries worldwide, while 25 percent remains in the local diocese from which the donation came, supporting initiatives that help alleviate poverty.

Last year, in the Diocese of Duluth, funds went to Backus Community Center Community Cafe, International Falls; Bridges of Hope Resource Connection Services, Brainerd; Falls Hunger Coalition, International Falls; Fuel Up Forestview, Baxter; Grace House of Itasca County, Grand Rapids; Second Harvest Kids Packs to Go Backpack Program, Grand Rapids; Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, Duluth; Neighbors Helping Neighbors Foodshelf, Nashwauk; Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, Duluth; and Servants of Shelter, International Falls.

But the goal is to go beyond collecting money and spur discussions in churches and around family dinner tables about the meaning of Lent and the daily reality that people living in poverty face.

“We see CRS Rice Bowl as much more than a fund-raising opportunity,” said Rosenhauer. “It is an opportunity for Catholics in America to encounter what Lent means, what poverty means, what resilience means, what hope means.

“We want families to participate together so they can experience the joyous feeling of solidarity that comes from generosity and sacrifice,” she said. “We know from years of experience that CRS Rice Bowl can be life-changing.”

As part of CRS Rice Bowl, speakers from around the world will travel throughout the United States telling their stories of how CRS Rice Bowl-supported programs are changing lives. For Thomas Awiapo, a feeding program in his village in Ghana funded by CRS Rice Bowl brought him as a hungry young orphan to school for food. He stayed for an education, eventually a master’s degree in the United States, returning to Ghana for a career with CRS there. Cassandra Bassainthe, who left Haiti as a young child, will talk about why she returned to her home country to help the poor and vulnerable. Micter Chaola of Malawi and Jacques Kabore of Burkina Faso will share their experiences working in agriculture in their respective countries.

“CRS Rice Bowl does far more than feed people,” Rosenhauer said. “It also helps develop agriculture so that families and communities can support themselves. As we heed the request of Pope Francis and ‘Share the Journey,’ we know that the best way you can help a migrant is to make sure that she doesn’t have to leave home in the first place. That’s what CRS Rice Bowl can help accomplish.”

CRS Rice Bowl materials are designed for families, parishes, educators, universities and dioceses. They are available in print, on the web, and through the mobile app, and in both English and Spanish.

Printed materials can be ordered for groups of 25 or more for free. Call (800) 222-0025 or visit to place an order.

Join the CRS Rice Bowl Facebook group and download the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.

To learn more about CRS Rice Bowl, visit

— The Northern Cross


EWTN host to speak at men’s conference Feb. 17

The seventh annual Men of Faith Conference for the Diocese of Duluth is set for Feb. 17 at Marshall School in Duluth and will feature Peter Herbeck, co-host of the weekly EWTN television shows “The Choices We Face” and “Crossing the Goal,” in addition to the daily radio show “Fire on the Earth.”

Herbeck, who lives in Michigan, is also vice president and director of missions for Renewal Ministries, an organization that seeks to foster renewal and evangelization in the Catholic Church by helping people know the personal love of God. He is a frequent conference speaker and author who has worked in evangelization in the United States and abroad for more than three decades.

Peter Herbeck
Peter Herbeck

Deacon John Weiske, one of the lead organizers of the annual diocesan men’s conference, said the theme this year is “Men of the Spirit.” Herbeck’s talks will involve spiritual formation.

Deacon Weiske said this year seems to be following trends comparable to recent years.

“We anticipate we’ll be around 350 again” for attendance, he said.

But there are some areas he’d like to see improve. For instance, he said while walk-ons on the day of the conference are welcome, organizers would prefer registrations by Feb. 12, and the conference can’t guarantee food after that.

“Last year we had 50 walk-ons,” he said. “Typically we may have about 30.”

He said he would also like those who have come in the past to reach out and invite other men to join them, especially younger men and fathers and sons.

“One of our goals is try and encourage younger men to participate,” he said. “The majority of the men are 60 and older.”

Ages 16 and up are welcome.

In addition to the talks, the day will include daily Mass with Bishop Paul Sirba and opportunities for confession, with at least 15 priests hearing confessions. As in recent years, one of the presentations will be given twice, allowing those attending to split into two groups, with half hearing the talk and the other half having an opportunity to take a break and go to confession.

The conference begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. Cost after Feb. 5 is $40, $25 for students. Register online at

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Bishop Paul Sirba: Lent is nearly upon us — get ready

Our Lent draws near! In the first days of February we conclude Catholic School’s Week, our priests and deacons attend the annual retreat for clergy Feb. 5-9, and we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Scholastica on Feb. 10. Ash Wednesday is Feb. 14. I wonder what the secular world is going to do about “Valentine’s Day,” but in the liturgical life of the Church, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent take precedence. I hope to see ashes on the heads of all faithful Christians on the 14th and suggest you wait until after “Valentine’s Day” to buy your candy and celebrate with a loved one. There should be some great sales.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

The Holy Father’s Lenten message quotes from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12). Pope Francis encourages Catholics and people of good will to experience anew this time of grace with joy and in truth. The quotation the Holy Father chose appears in Christ’s preaching about the end of time, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s Passion would begin.

The pope warns us about false prophets and cold hearts. He alludes to an image in Dante’s description of hell, of the devil sitting on a throne of ice in frozen and lifeless isolation. He asks us to examine our consciences: How is it that charity, which should be the fire of God’s love in us, can turn cold within us?

As Catholics have done for millennia, the Church, our Mother and Teacher, provides the “soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting” for our cold hearts.

The Holy Father says that by devoting time to prayer, “we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.”

Almsgiving “sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.”

Fasting “weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth … it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure … it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God.”

I join the Holy Father in asking all the members of our beloved Church to take up our Lenten journey with enthusiasm. Please attend our Men’s Conference on Feb. 17 or our Women’s Conference on Feb. 24. These have proven to be occasions of grace, mutual support, and learning. You are welcome to come to the Rite of Elect on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral. Your prayerful support of the men and women who are preparing to enter the Church at the Easter Vigil in a moving ritual, and your support is most welcome. Your participation in the CRS Rice Bowl greatly benefits our brothers and sisters in their need.

Pope Francis has asked the entire Church community to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic Adoration over a 24 hour period from Friday, March 9, to Saturday, March 10. In our diocese, this “24 Hours for the Lord” will be held at St. Benedict Church in Duluth. He asks us to be inspired by the theme from Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness.”

Our Lent prepares us to enter into the Paschal Mystery of Easter with great joy and gladness. We resist our cold hearted temptations and open ourselves to the loving mercy of God.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

With Capitol 101, MCC invites Catholics to learn about the legislative process

Last year, the Minnesota Catholic Conference held its first Catholics at the Capitol, a massive event that brought thousands of Catholics to St. Paul for formation in faithful citizenship and a chance to speak to legislators directly. That event is expected to return in 2019.

But that doesn’t mean Catholics are out in the cold when it comes to state politics this year. MCC is instead holding what it’s calling Capitol 101.

“Capitol 101 is another way for Catholics to have an experience of education and empowerment in a more intimate setting,” said Rachel Herbeck, outreach and policy coordinator for the conference. “Just like with Catholics at the Capitol, we hope Capitol 101 will offer a forum for education and action made simple and accessible. We want to give Catholics as many opportunities as possible to connect with their legislators and engage in the public arena as faithful citizens.”

It’s on a significantly smaller scale. There are three opportunities — Feb. 26, March 16, and April 17 — and each will have space for 100 people.

Each of those events will cover the same ground, including an overview of the legislative process, of a Catholic’s role in the legislative process, and of the legislative agenda of MCC, with a chance to hear from a legislator and a chance to pray together for legislators and the state. Following that, there will be an opportunity to meet with one’s own representatives.

Herbeck said one of the goals is to cut through the intimidation people might feel at engaging in the political process.

“So many Catholics are interested in getting involved, but many are intimidated by their legislators and the legislative process,” she said. “It often seems complicated and distant. But we want to demystify the legislative process and show Catholics exactly what their role is.

“Once people take that first step of involvement and meet their legislators, that fear melts away and they see how easy it is to begin a relationship with their legislators. Capitol 101 will give you the tools you need to be involved. Never underestimate how much [good] it does to just show up.”

Capitol 101 is free, although a free-will offering will be accepted, and Herbeck said it’s for any Catholic interested in learning where they fit in the legislative process, especially those who weren’t able to get to Catholics at the Capitol last year.

However, because space is so limited, she encouraged those who are interested to “register right away.” Details can be found at

The Minnesota Catholic Conference also continues to support the work of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s Day on the Hill, which will take place this year on March 13. JRLC is an interfaith organization that advocates for social justice. For more information on getting involved with that event, visit

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Kyle Eller: Christmas story invites us to our own place in the story

My favorite piece of sacred music that we hear in Mass is the Exultet — that long chant, usually sung by a deacon, that is prayed near the beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass. (Having been ordained a deacon less than 24 hours ago, I am eagerly hoping I will have an opportunity to sing it sometime in the future.)

But I also very much like another piece of sacred music that can be sung in a similar way at the night Mass on Christmas Eve. It’s shorter, it’s also very simple, and it’s very beautiful. It’s called “The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and it’s a proclamation of exactly that.

Kyle Eller
Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

The chant highlights the time of the birth of Jesus in relation to a whole host of other historical events. It begins with events from salvation history, including the creation of the world and of the human race, Noah and the flood, the call of Abraham, the Exodus, King David, and the prophesy of Daniel.

But then it moves into other parts of history, things we might be tempted to call secular history. We are told that these events took place in the 752nd year since the founding of the city of Rome, during the rein of Caesar Octvian Augustus. My favorite is the first one given: it took place in the 194th Olympiad.

At the conclusion of all this, the music rises and changes. At this time, we are told, “the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man: The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.”

As the musical climax suggests, the earthly life of Jesus is not just the climax of this song, it is turning point of all human history.

I have sung this several years running now, and I always look forward to it. I find it a beautiful thing to pray, because it is a solid reminder of just how concrete and fact-based the Christian faith is.

Our faith is based on a person: on the living and true God, who not only created the whole world and time and therefore history but stepped into history in human flesh. He was born in a particular time and place into a particular family. He died on a particular day, and rose three days later. He chose particular people and sent them into the world as his witnesses, in the full sense of the word — as people who knew him, loved him, shared life with him. What we believe has been handed down to us through the generations starting from those witnesses, in Scripture but also in person-to-person contact.

St. Peter says as much in his second letter: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

The Christian faith is not a theory about God or the world. It’s not a tale we created to make sense of things. It’s based on the encounter with a God who has revealed himself, in person.

In our politically correct days, this is a bit of a scandal. Many people, even some Christians, are much more comfortable with the idea that all religions are basically the same and equally true, and that the point of them is that we ought to be nice to each other and learn to accept ourselves more or less as we are. This view has little room for truth claims and little need for ongoing conversion or for a savior. It doesn’t really demand anything.

Some may continue to believe in God, but not in a personal way, but something more vague and pantheistic, something like the Force from Star Wars.

The lingering of this kind of belief seems to be a kind of twilight of faith. It’s what is left when people have stopped really believing but cannot completely let go of it.

So I think it is bracing and wonderful to get that Christmas proclamation, and really the whole Christmas season, as a reminder that our faith is something other than this. The “glad tidings” of Christmas are certainly ones of promise and peace and hope. But they are only so because they involve the truth of a God reaching out to us in this tender and merciful way while we were yet sinners.

The same God who came to us this way will come again, in another way, when he will come to “judge the living and the dead.” Have we heeded him when he came as our savior? Have we received his mercy? Or have we decided we don’t need a savior and gone our own way?

I hope we soak in the Christmas story — a true story — as the season begins on Dec. 25. And I hope we do so knowing that the story is still unfolding, and we have a part to play in it, as disciples of the newborn King.

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Now I know why my parents wanted me home for the holidays

My parents deserve an apology, and unfortunately, it is too late to seek forgiveness from my father. When I was 18, I went off to college. I was an adult, paying my way. I was responsible for one person and one person only, myself. Like most older adolescents, my thoughts were, “When I am 18, I am out of here.” In my college years and a few years after that, I found going home to be a last resort option. After that, life was pretty busy and complicated; I found it difficult to manage the distance.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

My thoughts while in college were that I was the third oldest of 13, leaving 10 at home. Who would even notice if I was there? The household was chaotic and disorganized, and my dad, in those days, was rarely home. He went to work early and did not come back until after bedtime. If he is not there, why should I be? I was grown up and mature, what did I need a family for?

My father, in particular, was upset with me. He was extremely disappointed and therefore distanced himself, rarely even speaking to me. My mother would occasionally say something like, “Your siblings miss you.” For me, it wasn’t like I never came home; I came back every time I didn’t have someplace better to go.

Frankly, I just didn’t get my parents’ problem. They knew that I loved them, I called my family many Sundays when the rates were cheaper. I didn’t get into much trouble, and I was working hard in college. I didn’t think they needed me, and I certainly didn’t need them.

Well, it is more than 30 years since I thought I was all grown up. I haven’t reflected much about that time in my life until some recent conversations with my older children. Christmas and New Year’s is fast approaching, and I am trying to make some plans to have my four oldest children come home. Two are out of college and are working as young professionals, and two go to school in St. Louis.

I am not super greedy. I just want a few days when all of my children are home together. I want to go to Christmas Mass with all six of my children at the same time.

What I have to compete with are affordable flights, college schedules, working adult children that have limited vacation days, travel abroad opportunities, and their perception of the cost-benefit of traveling a distance in unknown winter conditions for what seems to them like a brief visit. There seem to be many good reasons not to come home, and I should be satisfied that they are trying. I can’t help but find myself thinking, “They do want to come home, don’t they?”

What I comprehend now but did not understand when I was a young adult is there is this sort of peace parents experience when all of their children are home under the same roof. No matter the age of the child, I sleep more soundly when all of my children are in their beds fast asleep. It does not matter if there are 10 additional people in our home — as long as six of them are mine, the sense of calm is palpable.

I find myself doing things I never thought I would for my children, like taking days off from work before they arrive so the house is tidy. This exercise is particularly funny, because it wasn’t tidy for them when they were growing up. I plan to make the few meals they like and create fun activities to do so they don’t run off and hang out with friends.

Unfortunately, what they think is fun and what I think is fun may be different. They do end up spending time with their friends, and I know they should. I get so excited when they come home, I catch myself treating them more like guests than family.

I want my children to want to be home. I know that if I make any one of my children feel obligated to come back for the holidays, the experience will create a whole bunch of other problems. And I know those attitudes impact those who want to be there, so pushing them beyond desire is fruitless. I extend a warm invitation, listen to their challenges, do what I can to mitigate as many obstacles for them as I can, and accept their decision, even if that choice aches my heart.

Christmas has been and always will be about the birth of Christ. And my family will continue to do faith directed activities each Christmas season, no matter who might show. Perhaps this Christmas I need to reflect more on the challenges Mary and Joseph encountered on their pilgrimage to Bethlehem, which will help me refocus and better accept my children’s pilgrimage back to Duluth or their inability to come.

I know I owe my mother and late father an apology. I wasn’t mature enough to get the more important concept of this holy season. I sincerely understand what my parents felt now and reckon that some of my kids might not be too far from what I was thinking 30-some years ago.

I know I have work to do, because Christmas ought not to be about me and my feelings. I need to find joy first in foremost in the celebration of Christ’s birth and enjoy the union I will get to experience with whoever can make their journey home.

Merry Christmas to all, with the hope of a safe and blessed New Year!

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

Liz Hoefferle: Christmas is a good time to meditate on the great gift — Jesus

Christmas is a great time to think about gifts. From television commercials to Black Friday sales, and from newspaper inserts to lists for Santa, it’s not hard to focus on gifts this time of year.

A dictionary definition of gift tells us that it is “a thing given to someone without payment.” Different than something that is sold, exchanged, or earned, a gift is freely given. We buy or make a gift for someone simply because we care about the person and want to make his or her life better. Giving a gift is an act of love.

Liz Hoefferle
Liz Hoefferle
Handing on the Faith

As we approach this holy season of Christmas and prepare to celebrate the greatest gift of all – the gift of Jesus – perhaps, we can take some prayerful time to reflect upon the significance of this gift and how we can better respond to this gift, which is offered to us each day.

The gift

Through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God has given himself to us in an entirely new and unique way. Our Christmas celebration is about the gift of God’s own life given to us. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Jesus instructs us about this new life through his teachings. “I am the way and the truth and life” (John 14:6).

He gives us a glimpse into this new life through his healings. A woman is cured of her hemorrhage. Sight is restored to the blind. Lepers and demoniacs are cured.

He makes it possible for us to share in this new life through his act of self-sacrificing love on the cross. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25).

Just as Jesus offered this gift to the woman at the well, he also offers it to each of us. “If you knew the gift of God … you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:25).

Accepting the gift

Jesus invites every person to receive this gift, but, as with any gift, his invitation can be accepted or rejected. Acceptance of his offer involves a response of faith and a conversion of heart, leading one to become his disciple.

Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, not only shows us who God is but also shows us the truth about who we are. Made in God’s image and likeness but affected by sin, we are offered Jesus’ gift of grace to be restored to the fullness of who we were created to be.

By saying “yes” to this offer of new life and making the decision to follow Jesus, one becomes a Christian disciple. The disciple of Christ is one who “accept[s] God’s saving grace, liberating truth, and sustaining love for our lives and for all of creation” (“Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us,” 45).

The acceptance of this gift changes the way we live. We learn to live according to God’s will, and we begin to love in a way that far exceeds our own human capabilities. We begin to “live in love, as Christ loved us” (Ephesians 5:2).

Intentional discipleship

Our first acceptance of this life of grace occurs at our baptism. For those of us baptized as infants, the faith of our parents and godparents allowed us to receive this gift of new life, setting us on our journey as Christian disciples.

However, this is a not a gift that is just received once and is over and done with. It is a gift that needs to be continually accepted, every day of our lives. Being an intentional disciple means purposefully accepting and cooperating with the grace offered to us by God each day. This is a gift that restores us from sin, strengthens us in times of temptations, and helps us to love as God loves.

It leads us to desire the things of God and to extend God’s love to our neighbor, building his kingdom here on earth. Accepting God’s gift of grace leads us to ongoing conversion, through which we become more conformed to Jesus Christ. As a result, we begin to live more for God and less for ourselves.

As we grow in Christian discipleship, we see God’s ways more clearly and desire that his will truly be done. We learn more deeply how everything that the church offers – her prayer life, her celebration of the sacraments, her teachings – helps us receive and respond to the gift of new life offered by Jesus Christ.

We also begin to recognize that a disciple of Jesus not only shares in the joy of the new life he offers but also must be willing to unite with him in sacrifice. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

The response of Christian discipleship indicates the acceptance of the gift that God has given to us at the first Christmas and that he continues to offer to each one of us today. As we prepare our gifts for Christmas – the presents we purchase, the meals we prepare, the treats we bake – let us also prepare our hearts to accept the greatest gift that God wishes to give us, the gift of his very life.

Liz Hoefferle is director of religious education for the Diocese of Duluth.

Father Michael Schmitz: When sharing the faith, don’t just rely on the three Ps

I am a member of a parish here in the diocese. I have a co-worker with whom I get along very well who has taken a deeper interest in Catholicism. How do I best direct him to a parish that will make him feel welcome and engage him in a personal way?

Thank you for being so willing to help your friend in his journey to the Catholic Church. The fact that he knows you as a Catholic is to your credit. So many of us live and work in such a way that no one we work with would have any clue whether or not we belong to Christ. You must be living out your faith in such a way that he not only knows it but finds it attractive. Praise God for your willingness to be a public follower of Jesus!

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

That said, I see three issues with the question as you present it: Programs, Professionals, and Procedures.

As Catholics, we can tend to be a bit preoccupied with these “three Ps.” When it comes to sharing the faith or helping someone come to a deeper relationship with Christ and his church, we default to the question about Programs. “Is there a class happening somewhere for people interested in Jesus?” “Where can my friend get ‘plugged in’ in this parish?” “What does the parish offer for those who are on the fence?”

Now, as someone who appreciates the usefulness of Programs (and who has written and filmed a few of them), I need to offer a word of caution. Programs don’t replace people. Jesus never called people to show up to participate in a Program. He didn’t send the Apostles out into the world to create Programs. And the church has not spread across the globe through her fantastic use of Programs. Yet this is often our default.

We next look to the Professionals. We will say things like, “If only we had a priest who was more friendly and welcoming.” Or if your priest is welcoming, we may wish that he was more accessible. “If only my friend could meet Father and spend time with him, I bet Father could answer all of his questions.” If we don’t look to the priest, then we look to the paid staff of the parish to perform this task. We have become a church where we want to give the everyday work of the ordinary disciple to the Professionals.

Of course, our priests have the role of being missionaries themselves, and priests must take that call seriously and actively. And yes, we want the staff of the parish to share themselves with the world beyond the walls of the church building. But as the past four or five popes have been reminding us, the missionary work of the church is not limited to a certain “class” of Christian; it does not belong to the Professionals. It is the work of the average and ordinary disciple to reach out to people and in places where priests and staff cannot.

Because of the truth that reaching out is not the result of a good Program and is not solely the responsibility of the Professionals, we know that outreach is the job of the person in the pew. A problem with this, even when Catholics agree with this and want to live it out, is that the tendency is to ask for a Procedure. “What is the proper Procedure for sharing my faith with my friend?” “What are the steps that I should lead them through?” “Is there a set of questions and answers that I should lead my friend through?”

I acknowledge that we most often bring up these kinds of questions because Catholicism can often seem so “Procedure bound” and so complex that we assume that there must be something like “How to Share Your Faith With Anyone (in Five Easy Steps).”

The response that I offer here is to raise your eyes above the need to rely exclusively on Programs, Professionals, and Procedures. Instead, begin to trust in a fourth P: Personal. Rather than hoping that your friend meets a friendly, welcoming priest or community, why not be the friendly, welcoming Catholic?

Your co-worker doesn’t immediately need a relationship with some random stranger at the parish, they already have a relationship with you. You are their connection to the Catholic Church. You are the one who will give them the sign regarding whether or not they will meet people at the parish willing to allow their schedules and lives to be “interrupted” by a stranger who wants to know Jesus better. If you, who already have a relationship with them, are not willing to share your relationship with Jesus with them, who in your parish will? If you are not willing to make the effort to invite them to brunch after Mass with you and your family, who in your parish will randomly notice the new person sitting in the pew and ask them?

St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica about how he interacted with them. He wrote, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). The model Apostle highlights that he was not going to rely upon Programs, Professionals, or Procedures. He would allow the Gospel to be Personalized through him.

Your coworker already has a connection with your parish: you.

One last note on “sharing your faith.” That sounds an awful lot like giving a lesson on the Catechism. It doesn’t have to be. It can simply be this: Sharing your relationship with Jesus with the people who are interested. But more on that later.

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 Richard Kunst: That long genealogy on Christmas Eve? It’s worth your attention

Hands down the most heavily attended Mass of the entire year in my experience is the vigil Mass (the earliest one) on Christmas Eve. This is the Mass where the ushers have to bring up 50 to 75 folding chairs from the church basement to accommodate all the people, many of whom I have not seen since last Easter.

I like this Mass for all sorts of reasons. (It’s Christmas after all.) One of the reasons is because of the Gospel we read during this liturgy: Matthew 1:1-25. This is one of two genealogies of Jesus listed in the Gospels, the other one being in Luke.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

We all should be familiar with the genealogy. You know the one, it goes something like this, “Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph …” (Matthew 1:6). I love reading the genealogy, but on more than one occasion I have actually been criticized for it. The liturgy often gives us options in the Mass to read a longer version of the Gospel or the shorter one, and this is the case for the Christmas Vigil on Christmas Eve.

I could skip the first 17 verses of this passage, but I never do.

I remember one year a man came up to me and basically said, “Father Rich, why would you read that long Gospel when there are so many young kids? Many of them are crying because they want to get home for their presents.”

There are many reasons why I read the long version!

While Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam, Matthew’s goes back to Abraham. This is significant, because Matthew was writing his Gospel to a Jewish population, so the entire Gospel is one in which he goes to great pains to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah. Matthew starts with Abraham because he is the father of the Jewish people, and in Genesis God promises Abraham that kings would stem from his lineage (Genesis 17:6).

After Abraham, the next big name that Matthew’s genealogy gives most focus to is King David. Matthew mentions Abraham, David, and Christ as the three most significant names to illustrate kingship. In verse 17, the Gospel author divides the genealogy into three units of 14, which is also significant for more than one reason. (If you were to travel to Bethlehem, you would see a silver star that marks the exact spot of the traditional place of Jesus’ birth, and that star has 14 points).

Matthew stresses 14 to show that Jesus is the long-awaited son of David; David is the 14th name listed in the genealogy. More importantly, the ancient Hebrew language assigned numeric values to their words, names, and letters, and the numeric value of David’s name in Hebrew is 14. The number 14 can also be considered significant in that it is a multiple of seven, the number representing perfection and divinity.

Another significant aspect of the genealogy we will hear on Christmas Eve is that there is an inclusion of several women, which was very unusual for the time. (These include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah.) But more unusual is the fact that all the women are gentiles (non-Jews), and three of the four are associated with sexual immorality! This was normally something that would have been hidden or kept out of genealogies, since the purpose of a genealogy was to illustrate someone’s significant ancestry.

Some speculation of their inclusion is that they foreshadowed that gentiles would be included in Christ’s salvific act. Another speculation is that the author wanted to show Jesus came from a regular family line, which includes saints and sinners alike. He was completely and fully human in every way except sin, including his very human family.

There is so much more that can be said about the genealogy portrayed in Matthew’s Gospel. Suffice it to say I hope that you are more attentive to it when it is read this Christmas Eve. It is a beautiful and theologically rich passage, packed with symbolism.

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