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Pope Francis sends money for Mexico earthquake relief

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has given money to the earthquake relief effort in Mexico to help survivors and victims’ families in the worst hit areas of the country.

The Vatican said on Thursday that an initial contribution of 150.000 dollars would be sent through the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

The money will be divided between emergency relief efforts in the dioceses worst hit by the earthquake. The 7.1 quake on Tuesday caused at least 250 deaths and widespread damage in the capital and surrounding areas.

The donation, which is intended to show the pope’s solidarity and spiritual closeness to those affected by the disaster, is a small part of the financial support being sent to Mexico through many bishops conferences and Caritas organisations.

(from Vatican Radio)

Spotlight on first American-born martyr in Church’s history ahead of his beatification

(Vatican Radio) Father Stanley Rother, the first American-born martyr in the history of the Church is being beatified in Oklahoma City on September 23rd. The U.S. priest was gunned down in Guatamala in 1981 shortly after taking the heroic decision to return to his mission parish in the Central American nation despite knowing his name was on a death list there.

Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda is the author of a biography about this American martyr, entitled, ‘The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run.’ She spoke to Susy Hodges about Father Stanley’s life, his mission and why it made such an impact on her.

Listen to this interview by Maria Scaperlanda: 

A U.S. Catholic writer and blogger, Scaperlanda was involved in collecting documentation for Father Stanley’s beatification cause.  She described how the priest grew up in a farming family and was used to being very “hands-on” when it came to tilling the land and fixing whatever was broken and he used those same skills to help the people in his mission parish in a remote area of Guatamala.

“Heart wrenching” decision

Asked about Father Stanley’s decision to return to his parish in Guatamala following a stay with his family in his native U.S. despite the death threats made against him Scaperlanda said it must have been “really really difficult ..... and heart wrenching” for him.  She likened it to Jesus’ mental torment in the Garden of Gethsamene shortly before his arrest and crucifixion.

“The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run”

Scaperlanda explained how the title for her book about Father Stanley “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run” was taken from the priest’s words in a letter he wrote shortly before his return to Guatamala where he wrote that “a shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.”

“A great model for all Americans”

By choosing “to stand with his people” Father Stanley is “a model of faithful discipleship,” she said. He was an “ordinary man” who did “an amazing thing” and as such “can teach us to live holy lives.” This first U.S.-born martyr is “a great model for all Americans,” she said. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: if you want mercy, know that you are sinners

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said Mass on Thursday – the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist – in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.

In remarks following the Readings of the Day, which included St. Matthew’s own account of his conversion and calling into discipleship, the Holy Father focused on the three stages of the episode: calling, feasting, and scandal.

Jesus had just healed a paralytic, when He met Matthew – a tax-collector, hence a figure despised by Jewish authorities and considered a traitor to his land and people – sitting at the customs desk.

Jesus looked at him and said, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed Him

Recalling Caravaggio’s famous depiction of the scene, Pope Francis spoke of Matthew’s “sidelong look” with one eye on Our Savior and the other on his purse: a look that was even stand-offish, if not outright aggressive. Then, there was the merciful gaze of Jesus, which communicated such overwhelming love that the resistance of the man who wanted the money, “fails”: Matthew got up and followed Him.

Click below to hear our report

“It is the struggle between mercy and sin,” Pope Francis said

Jesus’ love was able to enter into the heart of that man, Matthew, because he “knew he was a sinner,” he knew “he was not loved by anyone,” and was even despised. It was precisely “that sinful conscience, which opened the door to the mercy of Jesus.” So, “[Matthew] left everything” and went on a new journey with Our Lord.

This is the encounter between the sinner and Jesus:

“This is the first condition of salvation: feeling oneself in danger. It is the first condition of healing: feeling sick. Feeling sinful is the first condition of receiving this gaze of mercy. But let us think of the look of Jesus, so beautiful, so good, so merciful. And we, too, when we pray, we feel this look upon us; it is the look of love, the gaze of mercy, the gaze that saves us. Do not be afraid.”

Matthew – like Zaccheus – feeling happy, invited Jesus to come home to eat. The second stage is indeed “the party” – one of festivity. Matthew invited friends, “those of the same trade,” sinners and publicans.

The Pope said this recalls the words of Jesus in Chapter XV of Luke’s Gospel: “There will be more feasting in Heaven for a sinner who converts than for one hundred just men who will remain just.” This is the feast of the Father's meeting, the feast of mercy. Pope Francis said that Jesus is profligate with mercy, mercy for all.

Then comes the third moment: that of scandal

The Pharisees saw that publicans and sinners were at table with Jesus, and said to His disciples, “How is your Master eating with publicans and sinners?” Thus, Pope Francis noted, “Always a scandal begins with this phrase: ‘But how come?’” He went on to say, “When you hear this sentence, it smells,” and “scandal follows.” They were, in essence, scandalized by “the impurity of not following the law.” They knew “the Doctrine” very well, knew how to go “on the way of the Kingdom of God,” knew “better than anyone how things ought to have been done,” but “had forgotten the first commandment, of love.” Then, "”hey were locked in the cage of sacrifices,” perhaps thinking, “But let's make a sacrifice to God, let us do all we have to do, “so we are saved.” In summary, they believed that salvation came from themselves, they felt safe. “"No,” said Pope  Francis. “God saves us, saves us Jesus Christ”:

“That ‘how come?’, which we’ve heard so many times from Catholics when they saw works of mercy. How come? Jesus is clear, He is very clear: ‘Go and learn.’ He sent them to learn, right? ‘Go and learn what mercy means. [That’s what] I want, and not sacrifices, for I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners.’ If you want to be called by Jesus, recognize yourself a sinner.”

If you would receive mercy, recognize yourselves as sinners

Francis exhorted us, therefore, to recognize ourselves as sinners, not guilty of “sin” in the abstract but guilty of “concrete sins”: so many “we all have committed them,” he said. “Let us look on Jesus with that merciful glance full of love,” he continued.

While still dwelling on the scandal, he noted that there are so many:

“There are so many, many – and always, even in the Church today. They say, ‘No, you cannot, it’s all clear, it’s all, no, no – those are sinners, we have to turn them away.’ Many saints have also been persecuted or suspected. We think of St. Joan of Arc, sent to the stake, because they thought she was a witch, and condemned her. A saint! Think of Saint Teresa, suspected of heresy, think of Bl. [Antonio] Rosmini. ‘Mercy I desire, and not sacrifices.’ And the door to meet Jesus is recognizing ourselves as we are: the truth [about orselves], [that we are] Sinners. And he comes, and we meet. It is very beautiful to meet Jesus.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: "Church will apply firmest measures against those who abuse minors"

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reiterated his pledge to combat the evil of clerical sex abuse affirming that at all levels, the Church will continue to respond applying the firmest of measures to “all those who have betrayed their call and abused God's children.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

He was addressing members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors gathered for their Plenary Assembly.

The Commission is an institution that was established by the Pope to propose initiatives that ensure that crimes that have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church.   

In prepared remarks and after having listened to the greetings of Commission President, Cardinal O’Malley and other members of the Commission, Pope Francis said “I wish to share with you the profound pain I feel in my soul for the situation of abused children, as I have had occasion to do recently several times”. 

Painful experience for the Church

Describing the sex abuse scandal as a terrible evil for the whole of humanity, the Pope said it has also been a very painful experience for the Church: “We are ashamed of the abuses committed by holy ministers, who should be the most trustworthy”. 

“Let me say quite clearly that sexual abuse is a horrible sin, completely opposite and in contradiction to what Christ and the Church teach us” he said. 

Recalling the fact that he has had the privilege of listening to the stories that victims and survivors of abuses have wanted to share, Pope Francis observed that meetings such as these continue to nourish the personal commitment of all involved in the Commission to do everything possible to combat this evil and eliminate it. 

The Church to respond at all levels with the firmest measures 

“That is why, I reiterate today once again that the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the firmest measures against all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God” he said. 

The Pope stressed that the disciplinary measures must apply to all those who work in the institutions of the Church, but he pointed out that “the primary responsibility lies with Bishops, priests and religious”: those who have received from the Lord the vocation to offer their lives to serving the Church and this includes “the vigilant protection of all vulnerable children, young people and adults”. 

“For this reason, the Church irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of "zero tolerance" against sexual abuse of minors” he said.

The Pope recalled his Motu Proprio entitled “As a Loving Mother” that was promulgated on the basis of a proposal by the Commission and in reference to the principle of responsibility in the Church. He said it addresses the cases of Diocesan Bishops, Eparches and Superior Generals of religious institutes who, through negligence, have carried out or omitted acts that may have caused serious harm to others, whether individuals or a community as a whole (see Article 1).

He said that over the last three years, since its establishment the Commission has consistently emphasized the most important principles guiding the Church's efforts to protect all vulnerable children and adults, thus fulfilling the mission entrusted to it as a "consultative function in the service of the Holy Father", offering its experience "in order to promote the responsibility of particular Churches in the protection of all minors and vulnerable adults" (Statute, Article 1).

Pope Francis said he was delighted to learn that many particular Churches have adopted the Commission’s recommendation for a Day of Prayer, and for dialogue with victims and survivors of abuses, as well as with representatives of victim organizations. 

“It is also encouraging to know how many Episcopal Conferences and Conferences of Superior Generals have sought your advice regarding the Guidelines for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults” he said. 

Value of sharing best practices

He emphasized the value of sharing best practices - especially for those Churches that have fewer resources for this crucial work of protection – and encouraged the Commission to continue its collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples “so that these practices may be inculturated in the different Churches around the world”.

Lastly, Pope Francis praised the many initiatives that offer opportunities for learning, education and training promoted by the Commission as well as the fact that a presentation made last week to new bishops has been so favorably received.

“These educational programs offer the kind of resources that will enable Dioceses, Religious Institutes and all Catholic institutions to adopt and implement the most effective materials for this work”.

The Church: a place of piety and compassion 

The Pope concluded his address highlighting the fact that the Church is called to be a place of piety and compassion, especially for those who have suffered. 

“For all of us, the Catholic Church remains a field hospital that accompanies us on our spiritual journey. It is the place where we can sit with others, listen to them and share with them our struggles and our faith in the good news of Jesus Christ. I am fully confident that the Commission will continue to be a place where we can listen with interest to the voices of the victims and the survivors. Because we have much to learn from them and their personal stories of courage and perseverance” he said.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis receives Italian Antimafia Parliamentary Commission

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday met with the Italian Antimafia Parliamentary Commission in the Vatican.

In his prepared remarks to the group, the Holy Father began by recalling 3 high profile figures killed by the mafia, Magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed 25 years ago and Servant of God, Rosario Livatino, killed on September 21, 1990.

Corruption

The Pope, during his address underlined how “corruption always finds a way to justify itself, presenting itself as the "normal" condition, the solution for those who are "shrewd", the way to reach ones goals.” The Pope went on to say that, “it has a contagious and parasitic nature, because it does not nourish what good produces, but how it subtracts and robs.”

Authentic Politics

Authentic politics, said Pope Francis, “the one we recognize as an important form of charity, works instead to ensure a future of hope and to promote the dignity of each person. It is precisely because of this, he added, that it sees the struggle against mafias as a priority, since they steal the common good, taking away peoples hope and dignity.

Fighting mafias, the Holy Father continued, means not only repressing them. “It also means reclaiming, transforming, building, and this entails two levels of commitment.”

The first is the political one, through greater social justice, because mafias, he said,  put themselves forward as an alternative system in the area where rights and opportunities are lacking: work, home, education, and health care.

Economic commitment

The second level of commitment, said the Pope is the economic one, through the correction or removal of those mechanisms that generate inequality and poverty everywhere.

This dual level, political and economic, noted Pope Francis, presupposes another no less essential element, that is the construction of a new civil consciousness, the only one that can lead to true liberation from mafias.

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Audience: Never lose hope, never lose heart

(Vatican Radio) “Wherever the Lord has planted you, stand firm in hope; never lose heart”. Those were Pope Francis’ words at his General Audience on Wednesday as he continued his reflections on Christian hope. This week the Holy Father focused his attention on teaching the virtue of hope, offering his guidance and encouragement especially to young people.

Listen to our report:

Don't give in to negativity

He told those present in St Peter’s Square, “never to yield to the negativity that tears things and people down, but keep building, try to make this world conform ever more fully to God’s plan.”

Never despair, he added, build on who you are; if you're on the ground, get up. If you're sitting, get up and go. If boredom paralyzes you, fill your life with good works.”

The Pope continued by saying that, “God does not disappoint: if he has placed hope in our hearts, he does not want to frustrate it with continued frustration. Everything is born to bloom in an eternal spring.”

Be peace builders

Pope Francis invited Christians to use their “God-given gifts of mind and heart to help our human family to grow in freedom, justice and dignity.”  “Peace, the Pope said, is in the midst of men, do not listen to the voice of those who spread hate and divisions.”

Jesus, the Holy Father underlined, “gave us a shining light in the darkness: defend it, protect it.

Speaking to the pilgrims present, Pope Francis encouraged them to dream, and concluding his catechesis, he said, “live, love and believe!  And with God’s grace, be beacons of hope to all around you.”

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Faith in the Public Arena: Gender ideology is colonizing — not cultivating — student minds

Our schools should be places where children are trained to pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful — or, at the very least, equipped to honestly and rationally engage with objective reality. A school should be a place of education, not ideological instruction.

But a “transgender toolkit,” approved on July 24 by the state’s School Safety Technical Assistance Council (SSTAC), is a clear instance of that vital mission being flipped on its head. The recommendations of the toolkit, advertised as a means of combating bullying, instead distort reality and impede real education.

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

The falsehoods of gender ideology — essentially, the view that gender is unrelated to biological sex and can be chosen at will — are not fit to be disseminated anywhere, least of all in our schools. The council’s decision to distribute this toolkit to public schools throughout Minnesota reveals that state bureaucrats are more concerned about colonizing students’ minds than forming them to seek the truth.

Ideological colonization

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has drawn attention to what he calls “ideological colonization,” or the imposition of secular values on religious societies through threats or incentives.

We typically think of ideological colonization in places like Africa, where Western nations and NGOs attempt to impose contraception and abortion on countries in exchange for development dollars. But Pope Francis has also linked it to gender ideology being taught in the classroom.

The pope told the Polish bishops in 2016 that gender theory is the “exact opposite of God’s creation,” and that this “sin against God the Creator” is an example of “ideological colonization” funded by powerful institutions.

“Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex. And why do they teach this? Because the books come from those people and institutions who give money,” the pontiff said, calling the situation “terrible.”

The transgender toolkit is a clear instance of ideological colonization in our own backyard. Through the threat of lawsuits against schools, well-funded activists work to enact anti-bullying measures that are instead vehicles for making disordered views of the human person and human sexuality normative in the broader culture, all the while punishing those who dissent.

Denying reality

We all agree that public schools should be places that are welcoming to all students, regardless of personal challenges that they bring to the classroom. Persons struggling with gender dysphoria or who identify as transgender should be treated with compassion and sensitivity, and reasonably accommodated.

These steps should be taken to create an environment where students can participate in the pursuit of truth, unhindered by things that might hold them back, such as bullying or fear and anxiety. But the advance of gender ideology in the mask of anti-bullying programs undermines the heart of the educational enterprise by injecting a false vision of reality into the language and culture of schools. It requires students and faculty to speak and accept actions in contrast to plainly observable fact, namely, that boys are boys and not girls (or some other thing), and vice versa. As First Things editor R.R. Reno notes, gender ideology forces students to accommodate themselves to lies knowing that truthful words will be punished.

Gender ideology has no credible scientific basis. It requires people to perpetrate falsehoods and is a clear example of the triumph of the subjective will taking precedence over objective reality; it has no place in a setting serious about intellectual inquiry.

Our response

When we see gender theory imposed by public officials, or perpetrated in schools, we have the responsibility to respond, proposing instead the reality of our created nature and the beauty of sexual difference — man and woman, made for each other and made for life.

If the Church is to be a field hospital, as Pope Francis calls us to be, prospective patients need to know that things like gender theory that are peddled by the culture as elixirs of happiness are really poison, and that there is a place that offers healing and hope.

In addition, we must continue to assert that the facts of objective reality and the task of pursuing the truth of things should guide our public discourse and our education system. Otherwise, our discourse becomes mere sophistry and our public policies become tools of oppression and exploitation by those in power.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Betsy Kneepkens: Camp Survive’s transformations are best seen up close

Every August I look forward to the same bus ride: I get to chaperone middle schoolers from the east side of our diocese to Camp Survive.

I see this as a privilege, and I am left wondering why others are not vying for this job. Few situations place you in the midst of adolescents at a time when they are most real. For many, this week is the first time away. For others, they go without knowing anyone else. And still others think they have everything all figured out. The one-and-a-half hour bus trip is an annual education in the lives of young people, and I love every second of it.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneekpens
Faith and Family

A little background on Camp Survive. This week-long church camp is held in McGregor each year. The effort is organized by our Department of Youth Ministry and is probably the most sought-after activity the Diocese of Duluth offers. The 205 open spots fill up in ten days without any formal advertising.

Also, the camp staffing is by trained high school camp returners who serve as junior counselors or prayer team participants. Youth ministers, as well as several priests and seminarians, are responsible for the senior leadership. Whether it is campers, junior counselors, or prayer team members, there are always considerably more young people interested in being part of this particular event than space will allow.

For the past several years I have been the “go to camp” bus chaperone. I greet the campers and families, collect permission slips, and make sure everyone is accounted for. I watch the gentle goodbye hugs and words of affection from the parents as the kids enter the bus. I observe more children being nervous than excited. We begin the bus ride with a prayer, and the parents wave as we leave the parking lots.

Most of the middle schoolers are quiet, anxious, and difficult to engage in conversation. Several of the more reserved students select the first few seats so they can sit alone. I do my best to engage these kids, asking questions about their parish and if they have any experience with this camp before. The students that sit in the front of the bus are typically first-time camp-goers.

I know what fun lies ahead of them at camp because all six of my children have had at least one Camp Survive experience. More importantly, I know what sort of transformations occur at camp, and I can hardly wait for that same thing to happen to these middle schoolers who are so apprehensive as travel the highway to McGregor.

This year my experience was significantly different. Instead of being the “go to” bus supervisor, I was the “go home” chaperone. This new role positioned me perfectly to see the amazing work of the Holy Spirit. The bus arrived on time to pick up the campers, but the entire camp looked like a ghost town. I made my way to the lodge’s large conference room. Once inside, I came upon 300-plus young people finishing Mass.

As the priests were processing, the youths were bursting with praise and worship, making it obvious no one had any intention of leaving anytime soon. The song ended, but the campers did not. These young people continued to sing praise from the tops of the lungs, all the while signing the song and moving to the beat. The best way to describe this is these kids had joy in their hearts, and that happiness was rooted in the Holy Spirit. It was the most glorious sight.

Right before the (much delayed) departure, I witnessed endless hugs, high fives, and “let’s keep in touch” comments by campers from other parts of the diocese who were not taking the bus home. As the driver managed to navigate the large vehicle around the tall pine trees to the main highway, no one needed me to help start a conversation. They talked about their small groups and how cool their leader was, they exchanged adoration and Mass time experiences, they laughed about the jokes they played on each other and how their first impressions of some people were all wrong. They talked about coming back next year, some as campers and some as leaders. It was obvious to me that if these young people did not have an affection for the church before camp, they certainly do know.

These campers were stinky, and they just glowed with the love of the Lord. They were fed at camp, but with a lot more than s’mores. They tasted the beauty and richness of our church. Camp Survive sets that bar high, opening up these children to all that is good and true about our Catholic faith. Any parent that greeted their child after camp can sense the change in their kid. They are bubbling with excitement and are confident about the faith their parents are handing down to them. They are open to more and will take more if given to them.

This is not the first time these sorts of life-changing experiences have happened at Camp Survive, it is just the first time I observed this in the multitudes leaving camp. My children have always returned with a transformational experience. I have tried to take this opportunity to elevate the experience they had into the faith life of our family. I think it would be prudent for our larger faith family to get a better understanding of what happens at Camp Survive so we can continue to feed these kids at this level.

It is beyond words to explain the connection these young people made with Christ, but it is obvious they are have the capacity to go deeper. What should our parishes look like so that this transformation continues to happen? What adjustment must be made so that this energy and truth can be the foundation of every parish?

The future of our parishes is already here, and they are preparing themselves. When we continue to embrace these young people, they will be part of the catalyst which will continue to evolve our parish communities. I am convinced these youth are an important part of the Holy Spirit’s work, which is intended to further enrich and renew the splendor of our church.

Next August, it will be the first time I will not have one of my children on the bus to Camp Survive. Sadly, they have outgrown the camper age. I am hopeful they will be selected to be a prayer team member or a junior counselor, but that leaves them off the bus.

I feel strongly that I should not have to retire from my bus chaperone duties simply because my children have grown up. The education and joy I receive from this experience brings me so much hope for our church, but it also helps keep part of my aging heart young. Next August, I would put my money on being on that Camp Survive Bus.

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

Bishop Paul Sirba: Camp Survive was an opportunity to consult with young people

The energy was palpable. The welcome was hearty and sincere. The enthusiasm was contagious. Where else can you experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit in a forum with hundreds of young people, junior counselors, a prayer team, and some extraordinarily dedicated chaperones in a beautiful setting? Camp Survive is the place.

The Diocese of Duluth, under the leadership of Father Mike Schmitz and Heather Serena and their collaborators, have been hosting Camp Survive at Big Sandy Camp and Retreat Center for years. This work of the Lord continues to bear great fruit.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

I had the opportunity to go to camp this year with an added mission. In response to the invitation of Pope Francis and in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Young People and discernment, I thought I would bring the questions posed in the synodal document and ask our young people, youth ministers, and local youth experts to see what they would say. What a wonderful opportunity for consultation!

How would you respond to questions like: How can we help the young people hear and respond to the call to become disciples of Christ in this world? Or: We can often underestimate the potential of youth — how do we change our mindset? What are the ways in which we can engage them and help them offer their gifts to building of the Kingdom and making the world a better place? What are the roadblocks? How can we as a Church walk with them? Listen to their voice? In John’s Gospel, when Jesus was asked by his disciples where he was staying, he replied, “Come and see.” That has not changed — Jesus still invites — he looks at you and invites you to go with Him. Pope Francis asks you — “Dear young people, have you noticed this look toward you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey?” What is it you most need today from your Church? At a parish, diocesan, and universal level?

The responses to the questions will help me frame a response to be prepared for the Synod and our Holy Father. The Diocese of Duluth and our young people will make a difference in the discussion the universal Church will be having with Pope Francis in 2018. The gift of Camp Survive will continue to help our young people grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and form the intentional disciples of the future. Or rather, form the intentional disciples of the present!

One of the many great takeaways for me was the power of Eucharistic Adoration. It was the most frequently mentioned response to the question: What did you most like about camp? Another very important lesson for me was the importance of the good example and witness of each successive generation on the one before. I mean, the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders greatly valued the example of the junior counselors, who esteemed the witness of college students, who learned from slightly older adults on up.

We have a trajectory which supports the faith of others and makes it credible. It also needs to be formed at an ever earlier age. Some young people are making decisions about whether to remain in the faith by the time they are entering junior high. Twelve-yearolds are asking why they didn’t hear about something when they were six. Also, few if any read newspapers.

The seeds of faith are being nurtured and sustained by Camp Survive, TOBIT, confirmation retreats and youth programs, religious education programs, and schools, but we must respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the ever-changing needs of our young people. I do believe we are on the front end of the New Evangelization in the Diocese of Duluth.

Our words of wisdom to the Synod will help us and the universal Church fan into flame faith in Jesus Christ, who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Father Michael Schmitz: Let’s renounce our sins, not just confess them

Question: I’m not sure what to do. I’ve been praying and I’ve been to confession (repeatedly), but I seem to commit the same sins. Even worse, I know that Jesus promised that we would receive a closeness to God when we call out for him, but I haven’t experienced that.

Answer: Thank you so much for writing. I think that your experience sounds a lot like most people in the church. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean “most people who don’t care about getting close to the Lord” in the church. What you described is what most people who are showing up and who long to be closely connected with God are experiencing every day. We want God so desperately, but we don’t seem to be able to experience his presence and his power. So what do we do?

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Well, it sounds like you already know what to do: prayer and the Sacrament of Confession. But it might be possible that you could enter into the Sacrament of Confession in a way that will be much more profitable for you. (Actually, I know that you could, but I thought that I would say it in a more “Minnesota Nice” way.) And it is going to involve approaching your sins and the Sacrament of Confession in a different way.

That being said, am I implying that you aren’t genuine in the confessions you are making now? Not at all. I have no idea what level of genuineness you are at. And God is so good that he can even take some pretty lame and half-hearted confessions of sin and do miracles with them. Very few of us are truly sorry for our sins because of our purified and perfect love for God. Many times, we approach confession because we know it is something we need to do or because we fear the reality of hell. If either of those are your primary reasons for going to confession, please keep going! God is so good that he will take even the minimal amount of contrition and respond with his mercy. Do not avoid confession simply because you aren’t perfect. (That would be a little ironic, wouldn’t it?)

But we can definitely grow in our approach. The first area is our awareness of sin and how it relates to the Sacrament of Confession.

Consider the words you use when you go to confession. Along those lines, what do you call the sacrament? Many of us call it the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a good thing, because it is the end result: We are reconciled to God and to his church. I often refer to confession as “reconciliation.” But remember: That is the result. Forgiveness and reconciliation are words that describe what God does. But what is our part in it? What do we do? We confess. And what do we confess? We confess our sins.

It might sound strange that I am belaboring this point. But I have found that many people come to the Sacrament of Confession to tell a story rather than confess their sins to almighty God. We will say things like, “Bless me, Father …. I’m really working on my temper lately and being short with my kids.” Or people will say things equally ineffective like, “I am struggling with selfishness (or anger or lust or pride, etc.).” I say that this is “ineffective” because I am not confessing my sins, I am merely “sharing” what I am “working on” or “wrestling with.”

Are these sins being forgiven, even if we haven’t “worded it right”? Absolutely. But you will not see a change as a result. Why not? Because a person who confesses in that way is often not interested in a change. They merely want to be forgiven. I’ve been there. Maybe we all have. Many of us have shown up to the Sacrament of Reconciliation because we knew that we needed forgiveness or because we knew that we needed absolution before we could receive Holy Communion. That is a good thing! But that is not a life-changing thing. We confessed and received forgiveness, but we did not change. Why?

Because we did not renounce the root of the sin.

See, every turning to God requires us to turn away from something that is not of God. I know that I have gone to confession many times, honestly turning to God, but without intentionally and firmly turning away from my sin and my attraction to sin. I have gone to confession because I wanted mercy, but not because I wanted a real and lasting change.

This is where renouncing our sins comes into effect. Rather than saying, “I’m working on anger,” it makes a real difference when we say, “I am guilty of acting out in anger” or “I am guilty of the sin of anger in the following ways ….” It goes even deeper to say, at the end of the confession of this sin, “In Jesus’ Name, I renounce the sin of anger.” One could also say, “In the Name of Jesus, I renounce the root of the spirit of anger in my past/in my heart/etc.”

Believe me, this could make all the difference in the world in your life with Christ. You have been showing up and praying and asking for mercy. You have received it. (Again: God is so good that he does not hold back what we ask for!) But you may have not renounced the lies that you’ve become comfortable with. You may not have renounced the attraction or dependence you have towards the sins you commit. You may not have named and renounced (in Jesus’ Name) the sins you have asked him to forgive. Once you get into the practice of renouncing these lies, wounds, and sins (even outside the Sacrament of Reconciliation), you will experience an awakening in your spiritual life that you may have never known before.

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 fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.