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Deacon Kyle Eller: Praying the Jesus Prayer has been a gift for me

For many years, whenever the subject has come up, I’ve said that my favorite prayer is the Jesus Prayer. There are several slight variations on it, but the one I pray most often is one of the wordiest versions of it: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

We have a weekly day of Eucharistic Adoration in one of the parishes I serve, and almost every week I am there for the last hour before celebrating Benediction. Several months ago, as I was sitting there wrestling even more than usual with anxiety and distraction, I felt as if the Lord gave me one of those little nudges he sometimes does: “You always say the Jesus Prayer is your favorite prayer. Maybe you should pray it.” 

So I did, and I was so grateful for the peace that followed that evening and for weeks after. Since then, I have tried to be more deliberate in making that a daily part of my prayer life, and I have encountered it in a number of different contexts, such as church leaders and friends mentioning it and a Catholic writer I admire writing about it in a recent issue of Magnificat. 

So, I wanted to share with you some of the things I find so beautiful about it, in case you might find it a beautiful devotion too. 

The Jesus Prayer as I try to pray it formally is a devotion more associated with the Christian East, where it is repeatedly prayed as you follow the knots of a prayer rope, somewhat akin to the way Western Christians repeat the Hail Mary on the beads of a rosary. But while in the rosary we engage our minds and hearts and imaginations in meditating on a particular mystery in the lives of Jesus and Mary, in the Jesus Prayer, it’s not really about that kind of meditation. Rather, one tries very simply to place oneself in the presence of Jesus, speaking to him, and just invoking his name and his mercy. 

The words of the prayer are simple and short but unfathomably rich, beginning with the heart the prayer, which is the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus. Devotion to the name of Jesus is deeply scriptural — St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians that “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (2:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “the name ‘Jesus’ contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him” (2666). 

Put simply, when we prayerfully call his name, Jesus, true God and true man, comes to be truly present with us. Just saying his name prayerfully is a form of prayer we can pray at any time, even in the midst of the greatest grief and trial, even if we are overcome with weariness. This is why there are devotions in both the Christian East and West centered around the Holy Name. 

Variations of the Jesus Prayer also nearly always include the title “Lord,” a prayer of adoration and confessing his divinity, as well as the title “Son of God.” I like the version with “son of the living God,” echoing St. Peter’s profession of faith in Matthew 16. 

After invoking the name of Jesus and his presence within us and confessing him as Lord and God, what is the natural response of the human heart standing before the all holy? Surely if we know ourselves and are honest, the response is humility and repentance. Think of how Peter responded in one of his first encounters with Jesus, after the Lord performs a miracle: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). 

The Jesus Prayer reflects this with great simplicity: we simply and humbly ask for mercy. 

As the Catechism notes (2667), in this call for mercy, the Jesus Prayer echoes two deeply moving passages of the Gospel. We are like the tax collector in the Temple in Jesus’ parable recounted in Luke’s Gospel, who despite his sins (and unlike the self-righteous Pharisee praying nearby) “went home justified” because he humbled himself, confessed his sinfulness, and asked for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). And we are like the blind man Bartimaeus, who sat by the roadside begging for Jesus for mercy in the form of restoring his sight, something no one else could do for him and he could not do for himself (Mark 18:46-52). 

These passages suggest for us the grand scope of what we mean by God’s mercy. Think of how we refer to mercy when we speak of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. God’s mercy embraces both our need for forgiveness for our sins and, at the same time, all of our other needs and cares of this life. That’s the mercy we ask for in the Jesus Prayer. 

All this (and no doubt more) is embodied in this simple prayer and these simple motions of the heart in God’s presence: adoration, love, humility, trust. The idea of sitting down and praying this prayer intentionally is that, by God’s grace, over time it becomes ingrained deeply in our souls and becomes the constant prayer of our hearts. 

There is a lot of anxiety and distraction in the world. If that is something you’re seeing in your life, or if you are looking for a simple devotion to help you grow closer to Jesus, maybe consider adding this to your prayer life. Block out some quiet time with Jesus, praying with great simplicity and sincerity: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

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

Ask Father Mike: What can I do to get more out of Mass?

I don’t like going to Mass. I had to go when I was a kid, and I never got the point. But I also realize that it could just be me; I could be the one missing something. What can I do to get more out of Mass? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

I’m glad that you have written, and I’m grateful that you have asked this question. I have to tell you, we were one of those “front pew” families when I was growing up. According to my mom, it wasn’t because we “got it” better than other families or because we were holier than anyone else. Far from it. In fact, I think that one of the primary reasons we sat in the front is because we were always late to Mass. (I don’t mean “sometimes ….” When I say “always,” I mean that the priest could tell that he was late for Mass if the Schmitz family was already there when he got to the front of the church.) 

We sat in the front because Catholics are so hospitable that we always leave the front pews for visitors — and for the late families, I guess. 

My mom says that, when she and my dad were new parents, some more experienced moms and dads had told them that if you want your kids to pay attention, then bring them to the front so that: a) they can see what’s going on and b) they will be on their best behavior. 

I think that it kind of worked. I mean, there were no shortage of times when we had to be escorted from our spot by one of my parents for one reason or another, but overall it was probably a good plan. 

Even though I hated going to Mass as a kid, there still were a couple of things that my parents instilled in me (and in all of us) growing up. 

The first is that Sunday Mass is not optional. This was huge. We were all in sports, and as we got older, we were all relatively good at sports. Yet, no matter what, if we were traveling with our team or traveling on vacation or had any number of other things going on over the weekend, Mass was absolutely and without question going to be a part of our plans. 

I know that I did not appreciate that at the time. At the time, it was annoying. And I have known many people who have said exactly what you said about how this affects your willingness to go to Mass as an adult. They claim that their unwillingness to go to Mass as adults comes from the fact that they had to go to Mass as children. 

I see that, but what if we applied that same logic to any other thing we “had to do” while growing up: Someone might say, “I no longer eat vegetables because I had to as a kid.” Or, “I no longer brush my teeth because my parents made me brush my teeth when I was little.” Or, “I don’t wash my hands after using the bathroom because my parents would always make me do that when I was younger.” 

If we were to say any of those things now, it would be more than a little immature and foolish. So let’s not say that about the Sunday Mass requirement. It would be better to say that you just don’t like clean teeth or you just don’t see the point in brushing them regularly. 

Maybe you don’t see the point in going to Mass. I understand that. That would make sense to me. I think about those years while I was growing up in the front pew. And what was I taught? “Be quiet. Watch.” 

That’s it. When it came to going to Mass, we were almost all of us simply told that to be a good Catholic you have to be there, you have to be quiet, you have to watch. If that is the case, no wonder we might not see the point! Show up, be quiet, and watch someone else pray … and maybe someday it will all matter to you? 

There is one thing that we need to make absolutely clear: There is a massive difference between “watching” and “worshipping.” 

Think of your favorite sport or event. Would you rather watch the concert or your game from your couch on the TV? Or would you rather be in the stands live? Would you rather be in some far-off seat in the nosebleed section or right there on the sidelines? Would you rather be sitting on the bench or out on the playing field? 

My guess is, if you love the music or the sport or the game, and you have the skill and the opportunity, you would rather be out there. 

The same is true when it comes to the Mass. For too long, we have been so busy teaching people what NOT TO DO during the Mass that by the time we could tell them what their role is, they’ve already checked out. But when you were baptized, you were anointed a priest, prophet, and king or queen. 

You were anointed a “kingdom priest,” and a priest who is one who offers the sacrifice. All of the faithful exercise their kingdom priesthood when they unite their prayers with the ministerial priest who is uniting all of their prayers with Jesus, the One, Great, High Priest. When we go to Mass, we are there to offer the sacrifice to the Father with the priest at the altar and Jesus the High Priest. You have a job to do! 

And this job accomplishes something. At every Mass we pray, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” And that is what happens: The Father is glorified, and the world is sanctified! When you pray.., when you offer the sacrifice with the ministerial priest, those two things are accomplished in reality. 

I like to think of it this way: When you exercise your kingdom priesthood, the Father is just that much more glorified and the world is just that much more sanctified. Something happens that wouldn’t happen if you weren’t there. Your priesthood is needed, because this world needs your presence and your prayers. 

This is the point of going to Mass each Sunday — not to simply “Be there. Be quiet. Watch,” but to unite your prayers with the ministerial priest and Jesus the High Priest, to truly worship God, and to participate in the salvation of the world. 

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. 

Bishop Daniel Felton: An autumn smorgasbord of plenty for October

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

As we celebrate this autumn season of harvesting, I am mindful of gatherings in October that feature a smorgasbord. The Swedish tradition of smorgasbord is a buffet of plenty with many small dishes. My article this month is going to be a smorgasbord of plenty, featuring a number of delectable delights. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

New Bishops School 

In late September, I attended the New Bishops School in Rome. All new bishops from around the world gather to be schooled by Vatican officials on a variety of Church processes, procedures, issues, and priorities. Because of COVID, this gathering has been put on hold for the last three years. However, this year we were able to gather. There were 180 bishops in my class. Most of us were ordained in 2020-22. The previous week, 150 had gathered for this same school. That means that there were 330 bishops appointed around the world in that time period. This alone was a wonderful feature of the week together, as I was able to interact not only with my brother bishops here in the United States, but I made friendships with bishops from Canada, Australia, Poland, Peru, and Brazil! It reminded me of how myopic we can be with our sense of Church. Truly we are universal in our nature. The last day of school we spent two hours with Pope Francis in a conversation on a number of matters related to our ministry as bishops. Pope Francis was healthy, energetic, and very engaging in our session with him. 

Priest Conference 

All of the priests of our diocese will gather for our annual Priest Conference this month. It will be a time of learning, prayer, socializing, and hopefully a lot of joyful laughing. Father Jon Vander Ploeg, director of spiritual formation at St. Paul Seminary, will be with us as we explore detachment, surrender, discernment, and trust in the Holy Spirit. Please pray for all of us to be open to where the Holy Spirit wants to touch our minds and hearts in this time together. 

Diaconate ordination and Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary 

Jacob Toma will be ordained to the Order of Deacon (transitional deacon) on Oct. 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This is a powerful way for our diocese to embrace this special feast day and the significant place of Our Lady in Jacob’s journey to the diaconate. Many of our 11 seminarians will assist in this ordination, all of them a witness to the fruit of our Vocational Prayer. We commend Jacob and all of our seminarians to our patroness, Mary, Queen of the Rosary and ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen! 

Respect Life and Rosary Month 

Traditionally, in the month of October, we renew our commitment to embrace the value and dignity of all life from the womb to our natural death. The praying of the rosary speaks so deeply into our respect for life, as we praise Mary as a mother and as we embrace the fruit of her womb, Jesus Christ, the Lord of life! In our post Roe v. Wade world, this connection between respecting life and praying the rosary becomes even more urgent. We also pray for those participating in 40 Days for Life as a witness to putting into practice that which they believe in faith, hope, and love. May Mary, our Mother and Queen, lead us in undoing all of the knots that prevent us from celebrating the gift of life, from the day that we are born until the day that we die. 

As we have reached the end of our smorgasbord, we simply pray our after-meal prayer: “We give you thanks, almighty God, for all your benefits, who lives and reigns forever and ever. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen” 

P.S. I am thankful that I was out of the country when the Vikings beat the Packers in the opening game! 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

The capitol shakeup and the questions that need asking

By the Minnesota Catholic Conference 
Inside the Capitol 

Historic turnover within the State Legislature presents both an opportunity and responsibility to make an impression on a new cohort of lawmakers. All 201 seats in the Minnesota Legislature are up for election this year. Minnesota Catholics must take advantage of this opportunity to transform the Legislature into a lawmaking body that places the common good over partisan rancor. Filling that tall order begins by forming our consciences and informing ourselves about the candidates who seek to represent us. 

This year, there are more candidates than usual to get to know. Redistricting following the 2020 census has led to 51 retirements in the House and Senate — the largest turnover since 1972. Many legislators were no longer going to be representing their current communities, while others decided they did not want to challenge a current colleague for their new district seat. 

Many of the Aug. 9 primaries pit an incumbent against a newcomer who often represents positions that are further to the left or right than their predecessor. This deeper entrenchment along party lines creates the potential for a very polarized Legislature in 2023. 

These partisan dynamics and the opportunity to engage a Legislature full of new faces is a calling for Catholics to build relationships that help advance the common good. 

Fortunately, we are given a rich tradition of Catholic social teachings that are centered on creating the conditions for all to thrive. As Pope Francis has said, “good Catholics meddle in politics by offering the best of themselves.” Therefore, we have a responsibility to engage with those who are seeking leadership roles in our democracy but must do so as principled, faithful citizens — that is, the “best of ourselves” — rather than as partisans. 

Minnesota Catholic Conference’s election resource page is chock-full of everything you need to get to know the principles of our faith and learn how to meet and get to know your candidates. 

You can download a free candidate questionnaire that addresses many issues currently impacting life, dignity, and the common good here in Minnesota. You can then mail or email these questions to your candidates or even just keep the questions in mind for when your local candidates come by knocking on your door. 

Another great way to get to know your candidates and to help your neighbors is to host a town hall at your parish. We have created a do-it-yourself townhall kit that will step you through everything you need to know. 

Those striving to represent us must first know that we are present and why we propose what we do, grounded in principles reflective of the way God ordered us as persons and our proper relation to others and creation. We must take this opportunity to ask the questions that can help us get to know the candidates, and perhaps more importantly, we can help them understand why Catholics stand for life, dignity, and the common good. 

Find all your election resources at www.MnCatholic.org/ElectionResources

Father Mike Schmitz illustrates pro-life position with ‘gunshot-wound’ analogy

By Katie Yoder 
Catholic News Agency 

Abortion is like a gunshot wound, Father Mike Schmitz says — it requires immediate attention. 

“If an overweight person comes into the ER with a gunshot wound, you’re not going to say, ‘OK, we need to get you on a regimen of diet and exercise,’” the popular podcaster priest recently told the New York Times Magazine. “It’s like: ‘No, you’re bleeding out. After this gets taken care of, we’ll address the underlying health issues.’”

The Minnesota Catholic priest made his comments in an interview published Sunday, where he challenged the idea that “pro-life” only means “anti-abortion.” Instead, he said, it stands for something more: supporting women and babies — both before and after birth. 

“In our diocese there are multiple women’s care centers that, yes, they’re pro-life, meaning anti-abortion, but they’re all about providing options for women afterward who are in crisis pregnancies,” he said. 

The Catholic Church is not only against abortion but also for life, he said. 

“People say things like you mentioned: ‘You only care about having the baby born. You don’t care about what happens after the birth,’” Father Schmitz responded to staff writer David Marchese. “Actually, no.” 

“There are all these services that the church and members of the church are providing to help take care of moms and children,” Father Schmitz said. 

Father Schmitz is no stranger to the life issue. Earlier this year, he addressed the 2022 March for Life in Washington, D.C. But he spends most of his time in Minnesota, where he serves as a chaplain at the University of Minnesota Duluth and as the director of youth ministry for the Duluth Diocese. Among his many projects, Father Schmitz is perhaps best known for his wildly popular podcast, “The Bible in a Year (With Fr. Mike Schmitz).” 

For this reason, the magazine headline heralded him as a “Catholic podcasting star.” 

Marchese asked the priest to address several hot-button issues and followed up with the gunshot-wound analogy, saying that “I don’t quite follow why it’s not the mother’s life that needs the urgent care.” 

“I wouldn’t argue that,” Schmitz responded. “I would agree that the person in the midst of that is in a crisis. That’s real.” 

He pointed to a local example. 

“That’s one of the reasons why, at least in our town here in Duluth, we’ve had students who graduated from UMD who have started these women care centers,” he said, “because they’re like: ‘I’m pro-life, and when I mean pro-life, I don’t just mean anti-abortion. I mean, let’s help moms. Let’s help their children. Let’s help them get through the crisis so that they can start living not in crisis mode.’” 

At another point in the interview, Father Schmitz responded to the argument that a woman has a right to abortion because it’s her body. 

“But there’s also another human being involved in this,” he said. “That human being also has the right to bodily autonomy. That’s why they call it the right-to-life movement.” 

Marchese asked Father Schmitz about his approach to engaging with people on more difficult teachings concerning issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and gay marriage. 

Father Schmitz said that, first of all, he listens. 

“With the big questions — and those are big ones — rather than say, ‘Here’s the answer,’ I’ll ask, ‘OK, where are you at with this?’” he said. 

He said that he considers any conversation a win if he gets across the message that “God cares for you.” 

In difficult situations where a woman might seek an abortion, or someone says he or she is attracted to members of the same sex, Father Schmitz pointed to the importance of the “Christian message.” 

“You are good. You matter. God knows your name, and he’s entered into the brokenness so that you don’t have to be there alone,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be the thing that defines your life.” 

God’s unconditional love for each person, as he or she is, changes hearts, he said. 

“If I say he can love me now, it’s not just a matter of a feeling of this affection. It’s letting that love change me,” Father Schmitz said. “When I say that, I’m not saying those desires are gone or that I’m no longer pregnant. What I’m saying is, OK, if God has my permission to love me as I am right now, that means I don’t have to walk in shame. That means I’m not walking alone.” 

He concluded: “When it comes to the big issues, the question is still the same, and the answer needs to be given: Does God have your permission to love you as you are right now? Yes or no?” 

Pro-life leaders criticize attorney general’s pregnancy center alert

By Barb Umberger 
Catholic News Service 

Minnesota pro-life leaders denounced a consumer alert issued by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison criticizing the state’s crisis pregnancy centers. 

The impact of Ellison’s statement is to besmirch the good work of pregnancy resource centers and put people on notice that he has a target on their back, said Jason Adkins, executive director and general counsel for the Minnesota Catholic Conference. 

Adkins stressed that pregnancy resource centers “should be truthful about what services they offer and what they do not,” adding that “not all of them have medical staff, nor do they hold themselves out as having such resources.” 

Many of these centers focus on connecting women with housing and providing an environment where they can access clothing and other support, he said, noting that the attorney general’s alert is “a solution in search of a problem.” 

Ellison’s alert states that “many so-called crisis pregnancy centers may pose as reproductive health care clinics despite not providing comprehensive reproductive healthcare to consumers,” and some don’t provide any health care services at all. 

It says the centers are “private organizations that attempt to prevent or dissuade pregnant people from accessing their constitutionally protected right under the Minnesota Constitution to a safe and legal abortion.” 

Executives at Minnesota pregnancy resource centers — described by Ellison as crisis pregnancy centers — and leaders in the pro-life movement disagree with the way these centers are described in the alert. 

Vaunae Hansel, president of the nonprofit Elevate Life, that provides training and resources to a network of 37 pregnancy resource centers in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, said the alert is not factual and encourages people with questions to visit a local pregnancy resource center and ask about its services. 

Hansel took issue with most of the alert, except for one phrase which said the number of crisis pregnancy centers may, in fact, outnumber abortion clinics in Minnesota by about 11:1. That may be possible, she said. 

Adkins said he thinks Ellison hopes to generate complaints against pregnancy resource centers, impose penalties, and provide excuses for lawmakers to try to cut Positive Alternatives Grant funding, a state program that provides funding to some pregnancy resource centers. 

John Stiles, deputy chief of staff and media spokesperson for the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General, said several reasons prompted the attorney general’s alert. 

Ellison has issued other consumer alerts, including those addressing technology-related scams or warnings to be wary of door-to-door sales, he said. And the office has heard from some consumers who have concerns about “misrepresentations that some of these crisis pregnancy centers make.” 

Because crisis pregnancy centers are unregulated under Minnesota law, the attorney general wanted to use the power of his office to let people know that they should be careful and ask exactly what services are provided and which are not, Stiles said. 

But above all, the timing was prompted by national attention “suddenly focused on the right to abortion by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision,” Stiles said. 

Abortion remains legal in Minnesota under the state constitution. 

On July 28, Ellison said he wouldn’t appeal a separate ruling in Minnesota that struck down most of the state’s restrictions on abortion as unconstitutional, saying the state was not likely to win an appeal and had spent enough time and money on the case. 

Brian Gibson, executive director of St. Paul-based Pro-life Action Ministries, said Ellison’s consumer alert was “horribly disingenuous and harmful to these amazing places that help out so many in need.” 

“He was supposed to be defending laws that would help protect women who are going for abortions, and he failed miserably in doing his duty there,” Gibson said. “And now he’s attacking the very places that offer real, concrete help, generously helping women all the time, helping families.” 

Tens of thousands of people have been helped by crisis pregnancy centers over the years, Gibson said, and tens of thousands of babies’ lives have been saved “and he’s attacking them without knowing what they do.” 

Last year, Elevate Life affiliates offered educational and, in many cases, medical services including ultrasound and pregnancy testing, to more than 7,500 clients, Hansel said. The organization’s values align with the Catholic Church’s, but it is not directly connected with the church, she said. 

Hansel also takes issue with Ellison’s consumer alert claim that these centers do not counsel or provide accurate information about available abortion services. 

“We provide medically accurate information on all of their options, including abortion,” she said. “We encourage all of our centers to use the Minnesota Department of Health’s piece ‘If You’re Pregnant.’ We don’t refer for or provide abortions, but we do provide medically accurate information from the Minnesota Department of Health on abortion and abortion procedures.” 

The consumer alert also states that more than 95% of pregnancy centers do not provide prenatal or wellness care to “pregnant consumers, and a majority do not even provide prenatal referrals.” Hansel said that is not true. 

“Every one of our centers provide referrals for prenatal care,” Hansel said — and usually three referrals, so women have a choice. 

Umberger is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. 

Misunderstanding of pregnancy centers’ mission seen as a reason for attacks

By Barb Umberger 
Catholic News Service 

Angela Franey, executive director of Abria Pregnancy Resources, said recent vandalism at the organization’s St. Paul location and dozens of similar attacks on pregnancy centers around the country reflect recent anger and misunderstanding around the issue of abortion. 

She also believes the damage also stems from a misunderstanding of the mission of Abria and other like centers. 

Abria’s staff love and help women, she said, and provide a variety of information so they know they have options.

“We never tell them what to do,” she said, but instead, offer them information to help make a fully informed decision. “And we respect their ability to do that,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. 

Attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers, like Abria, as well as churches have taken place across the country since early May, when a draft opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was leaked. 

The court’s June 24 decision in the Dobbs case ultimately overturned Roe v. Wade, which had legalized abortion nationwide. The new ruling allows states to decide their own laws regarding abortion. 

To date, there have been about 40 such attacks on centers and churches, and Jane’s Revenge has claimed responsibility for many of them. Described as “a militant, extremist, pro-abortion rights group,” it was formed shortly after the leak of the draft opinion. 

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, there also have been calls nationwide to crack down legislatively on pregnancy care centers that some believe deceive women. 

When Abria was targeted by vandals Aug. 1, it was the first time the center had been attacked. That morning when Franey entered the back door of the center about 7:30 a.m., she found a softball-sized rock in the hallway that appeared to have been thrown through glass in both front doors. 

Looking at the front of the building, she saw in red spray paint the words: “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you.” 

No one has claimed responsibility for the actions, Franey said, which were reported to and were being investigated by the police. 

Abria remained closed Aug. 1 as staff cleaned up. But the center opened as usual Aug. 2. 

“It’s safe now and no one was hurt,” Franey said. “Our goal is to make things safe and secure again, to pick up the pieces, to meet the challenge face to face and continue to overcome these things with good, because that’s what we do.” 

Abria, which also has a location in Minneapolis, offers lab-quality tests, ultrasounds performed by trained medical personnel, medical consultation, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. 

Non-medical services include pregnancy and parenting education, personal support services, life coaching, material assistance, referrals to community resources, and more. All at no charge. 

If women choose life, Abria helps make it possible, Franey said, with baby supplies, education, and referrals to community resources. If people knew Abria’s mission, Franey does not believe individuals would turn as much to violence. 

Abria receives some funding from the Catholic Services Appeal Foundation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and none from the government. About 90% of its funding comes from individual donors, Franey said. 

More recently, vandals attacked a western Massachusetts pregnancy center that provides women facing a crisis pregnancy with free diapers, wipes, baby clothes, strollers, and car seats. 

Early Aug. 18, vandals spray-painted “Jane’s Revenge” on benches located outside of Bethlehem House in Easthampton, near Springfield, along with the same message left at the St. Paul center: “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you.” 

Bethlehem House, which receives support from the annual Catholic Appeal of the Diocese of Springfield, also offers free pregnancy resources, including referrals for employment, health care, and educational services. Families receive assistance until the baby is 18 months old. In addition, Bethlehem House offers post-abortion counseling. 

Umberger is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. 

Editorial: Economic challenges invite us to pull together

The difficult economic situation Americans have been facing for many months now doesn’t show any sign of a quick end in sight. Costs are high on the necessities of life — food, transportation, housing. There is a sense of uncertainty about when or if it might get worse before it gets better. 

Put that in the midst of fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic as people grapple with increased anxiety and mental illness and addiction, and alongside increased crime and violence and the strange cultural moment we’re in, and all the rest, and things can feel a bit precarious. 

When that happens, the temptation is to turn inward, to keep our heads down and “take care of our own” and leave others to fend for themselves. 

While those feelings are understandable, our faith would suggest doing the opposite. If times do, indeed, get tougher, it will be more important than ever for us to be ready to help each other and to pull together. 

Our faith teaches us that we are both individuals and creatures that necessarily exist in relation to others. Yes, we have our own needs and responsibilities and rights, and yes, even our communal existence begins close to home, with our families and parishes and neighborhoods and expands out from there. 

But we should never lose sight of the fact that we exist in relationship, and that we do have obligations to each other. Hard times in particular call us not to close in on ourselves but, with trust in God’s providence, to step out in faith and perform the works of mercy, helping those in our midst who are most in need. 

Father Richard Kunst: We have to pray for those who have abandoned the faith

Up until COVID-19 hit nearly three years ago, I had been regularly serving meals at the local Union Gospel Mission here in Duluth. Two to four times a month I would go downtown to what seemed to be a totally different country to help those who were in need. Time and time again as I would leave the meal shift, I would ponder the reality of just how different a world it is for the people I served compared to the world I lived in just a few miles away. 

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

I can honestly say that serving at the UGM was some of the most rewarding work I have done in my ministry. Many of the people that came there for meals were just down on their luck, but most of them were either addicts or suffering from some mental illness. Despite that, I was always treated with respect and maybe even a bit of reverence. I always made sure that I was wearing my Roman collar when I went to serve, because I wanted the people to know that I represented Christ and the church to them. And I have to say that most of these people had a deep faith, even if their beliefs were a bit skewed. 

Juxtapose this with my own family experience. I hesitate writing this, because it is a bit personal, and I do not want to make people in my own family upset, but in the spirit of calling a spade a spade, I have many nieces and nephews who are starting their own families. I have more great-nieces and nephews than I can count. And the vast majority of them have not been baptized. Though their parents were all brought up in the faith, the faith is not surviving to the next generation (with few exceptions), even among my own family, which I find heartbreaking. 

Now, here is something sad and shocking at the same time: In the big picture, I would rather be among the Union Gospel Mission crowd than large swaths of my own family (whom I love dearly). There is a scene in the Gospel that appears both in Luke and in Matthew in which Jesus calls out the disbelief of three cities. The small villages Jesus names are Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, in which Jesus states that most of his “mighty deeds” were done. He says, “Woe to you Capernaum … if the miracles worked in you had taken place in Sodom, it would be standing today. I assure you, it will go easier for Sodom than for you on the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:23-24). 

There is a message here that might be easy to miss, one that might even be a bit disconcerting, because it affects so many people. Jesus is making it quite clear that God is more tolerant of sin than he is disbelief. There is no name more associated with sin in the entire Bible than Sodom and its twin city Gomorrah, yet Jesus makes the point that at the time of judgment they would be better off than cities that simply did not believe despite having all the reasons to believe. 

When I would go down to the Union Gospel Mission to serve meals, I knew that many of those people lived lives of sin and vice, but I also knew that most of their sins were likely sins of weakness, as opposed to sins of malice. We all sin, and hopefully our sins are mostly out of weakness. Human nature is prone to sin because it is a fallen nature. Sins of malice are hopefully not as common, but sins of weakness easily become traps that are difficult to escape; they become our vice. 

When I see people in my own family and others who were brought up in practicing Catholic homes and then grow up to start their own families and not even baptize their children, let alone go to Mass, it fills me with sadness and frustration. On one hand, I think we have done a bad job in catechizing our young about the importance of baptism and faith, but on the other hand people inherently know the importance of both if they were brought up in the faith themselves. 

Everyone reading this column has people in their families who have abandoned the faith. It is important to pray for them, and when appropriate encourage them in the faith in a way that does not come across as being judgmental — re-evangelizing the baptized, as it has been called. Seeing so many of my nieces’ and nephews’ kids not given the opportunity to have a sacramental life is tragic to me. As much as I love them, I would rather be in the group of my old friends down at the soup kitchen. 

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].

Father Nicholas Nelson: Changes coming in the formation process of future priests

In 2016, the Catholic Church issued new universal guidelines for the formation of priests. These guidelines would mean significant changes to seminaries and dioceses as they form young men for the priesthood. Each country was then tasked with taking those guidelines and developing a new “Program of Priestly Formation.” This would be the sixth edition of the Program of Priestly Formation (PPF 6) in the United States. The PPF 6 was promulgated on Aug. 4, 2022. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

The formation of priests is something that all Catholics should be interested in. I know that many of you are very invested in vocations to the priesthood through prayer and finances. You write cards to the seminarians, you send money, you are praying, you are talking to young men and encouraging them to consider the seminary. I know you get excited when you hear of a young man going to the seminary, especially if he is from your parish. 

I know all this because you tell me so. As director of vocations for the Diocese of Duluth, I thought I would use my column this month to talk about the changes that we see in PPF 6. And while a lot of details still need to be straightened out, and we need to see how this plays out in practical terms, there is still much I can write about already. 

The first change to note is that the church will no longer speak in terms of academic phases such as college seminarian, pre-theologian, or theologian, or a seminarian in philosophy or theology, or a man in minor seminary or major seminary. The church wants to speak of “stages.” There are four stages now, and they are sequential. Every man needs to meet specific objectives before moving on to the next stage. The first stage is the propaedeutic stage, followed by the discipleship stage, followed by the configuration stage, and finally, the vocational synthesis stage. 

The propaedeutic stage is meant to be a pre-academic stage. This is altogether new. In PPF 5, men would immediately be taking a full load of classes. In PPF 6, the most they can take is 12 credit hours. The focus is on human and spiritual formation. The men are to grow in greater self-knowledge and learn to pray to God in a relational way. This stage is to be no less than 12 months and is to have a component that strengthens the man’s relationship with his diocese. The goal of this stage is to strengthen and heal what may have been wounded and to give them the solid foundation needed before the more formal formation begins. 

The discipleship stage is basically the old philosophy level. This is the majority of a man’s time at college seminary or what we used to call pre-theology for those who are entering formation already having a college degree. 

The configuration stage is basically the old theology level. After completing his philosophy degree or its equivalent, a seminarian would study theology for four years. This stage, as the name suggests, is about the seminarian configuring himself to Christ the high priest. Formation includes learning to do what priests do on a day-to-day basis. Instead of discerning, “Am I called to be a priest?,” a man has the understanding, “I am called ….” 

The vocational synthesis stage, as is the propaedeutic stage, is altogether new. After and only after the previous three stages are completed, including all theology classes, a man may be ordained a transitional deacon. He now begins the vocational synthesis stage. He minsters as a deacon for a minimum of six months in a parish. This stage allows the man to transition from seminary to the priesthood and integrate himself into the fraternity of priests in the diocese before ordination to the priesthood. 

I could mention a number of the questions that arise and follow from the new Program of Priestly Formation. I will mention two. One, we will no longer see deacons in the seminary. They will finish their seminary time and then be a deacon back in the diocese. Therefore, does the requirement of six months as a deacon following seminary mean that a man will be ordained a priest in December? There is discussion whether a seminary can squeeze four years of theology into three and a half, so that he could finish seminary in December, be ordained a deacon, and then be ordained a priest in June. This all still needs to be seen. 

Second, how soon will we begin to actually speak of these stages in our everyday usage concerning vocations? People intuitively grasp “college seminary” and “major seminary.” It will take awhile for people to understand what we mean when we say “discipleship stage” or “configuration stage.” Most likely, we will have to add that the man in discipleship stage is at the college seminary. This year for the vocation poster, we will begin to use these stages to indicate where a man is in regards to his formation. 

Finally, and most important, please continue to pray for, encourage, and financially support our seminarians. This fall, we will have five new men entering the seminary! We may even have one or two more enter in January too! We haven’t had a new class that large for years. God is providing laborers for his vineyard! 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected].