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The Gospel is Peace, and we are its Peacemakers

16 Jul Tim DeCelle

“Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long a continuance, as those occasioned by difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent.” – Jonathan Swift

I have struggled of late to grasp, to strain, to keep what is mysterious and transcendent. I have a bad habit of reading too much. Not too much of just anything, but too much of the dour and polemical pieces that I find too often and easily published online. Such works bring me always crashing back down to earth, back to the cold and brute facts of human ego and violence. I am, unfortunately, thinking of some Christian and Catholic writers.

Peacemakers - Tim DeCelle

Certainly, this is not true of all or even most of those writing about their faith. But a vocal minority has made dominant an oppositional, warfare style of writing. It is all doom and gloom: we are living in perilous times, we must fight the enemy. I am incessantly reminded that we are in a culture war, that we must wage war and win.

   I thought I read something in the Gospels about peacemaking?

If you are reading this, I want to assure you: YOU are not the enemy. Whatever you might read about the battle for values or a clash of cultures, I assure you that you are not the barbarian at the gates of civilization. This kind of language always attempts to draw lines between people, an attempt that falsely divides what should be united.  In fact, the only battle that we should ever speak of is the battle between good and evil, between all of humanity and the forces of darkness. We must resist the temptation to see evil as somehow incarnated in another.

We are in this together. We are made to work together, to live in peace, and to be peacemakers. We are called to transcend the petty bickering and grandstanding about the “valueless” enemy. Before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed that all would be made “one.” This is a “one” united in and through Christ.

It is not a political unity. It is not a unity about who holds what ideology. Socialists and libertarians, liberals and conservatives and everyone in between and beyond—all will be made new in Christ, and not through ideology.

We have and will still have differences of opinions, of ideals, and yes, even values. We are not to abandon truth but rather to live in the image of Jesus is to live as a peacemaker. We are not called to fight for culture but for people. We are their defenders. Through this self-gift, the actual lives and souls of people will be transformed and, from it, the whole world.
– Tim DeCelle


Lipstick, Tattoos, and Embodied Souls

18 May Catholic Tattoo - The Heart of the Matter

Saturday night, downtown Minneapolis is one big Minnesotan hot dish. You are guaranteed to see all sorts of things, from the bachelorette party walking bar to bar, and “that one girl who just shouldn’t have worn that,” to the 55 year old couple leaving the Orpheum all dressed up, to the mentally ill elderly man trying to feed his dog newspaper.

Lipstick, Tattoos, and Embodied Souls - Kari Elsen - The Heart of the Matter

What would this scene look like in Heaven? What we are is much more than what we can see with our eyes; each body walking the streets has within it a soul. We are more than our blond highlights and our “Semper Fi” tattoo, so how do we embrace the fact that we are both body and soul? The truth is that our body is mortal, but our soul is immortal, and what we do with our body affects our soul. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas est (God is Love), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that “Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united…Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness.” This being that both body and soul are good and we need both!

We are physical people; we learn through our five senses and do what we can to “feel good.” Our Catholic faith recognizes this, and this is why we can experience God through the smells of incense, the feeling of chrism oil on our heads, and the taste of the Eucharist. What we do with our bodies affects our souls; we drink too much: we affect our soul, we are promiscuous: we affect our souls. Because we are physical beings, the sins of the flesh are sometimes the hardest to gain control of. In reconciliation we use our bodies to speak words out loud so God can purify our souls, and in this sacrament we experience God’s forgiveness in a physical, bodily manner as well as on the level of the soul.

The next time you find yourself critiquing yourself or others based on the state of the body; remember that you are much more than your body: you are an embodied soul, that is, a soul within a body. Go to reconciliation, gain some new perspective. Because a clean soul is so much more beautiful than the perfected body and you may just find that the state of your soul can radiate more beauty than you could ever know.

– Kari Elsen

Sinners Anonymous: the Cross of Christ

7 Apr

The Church sex abuse scandal exploded onto the front pages in 2001, right around the time I was confirmed. Since then, my adult life has been punctuated by this painful unfolding of the worst kinds of sins, which were sinfully covered up. The Church has been marred to the point that it causes one to ask: how one can be a member of this organization? Think of it: little ones exploited by some priests, who were then protected by bishops, including one who anointed my head at my confirmation.  Am I just holding onto faith from habit? How can I invite others into the Church? Why “rediscover Catholicism,” when some of our leaders who sheltered child rapists, seem to have never discovered Catholicism at all?

I love the Church like crazy. Her churches, her schools, the grumpy old men bringing up the collection, the crazy old lady muttering her rosary; every inch of Her, I love. I want bishops and priests to shepherd us. I believe in the Church as a spiritual communion and the hierarchy and laity working together are the bones and muscle of that spiritual body. I love the Church and I believe She is the surest way to the One who offers salvation to us all, when a new scandal breaks, it hurts me and engages me.

Christ Carrying the Cross - Hieronymus Bosch

Christ Carrying the Cross – Hieronymus Bosch

How do I justify staying and inviting others to return/join? Because, I am a sinner. I am grumpy, moody, arrogant, I drink too much, think about sex too much, and I would rather eat a burger than help the poor. I have never done what some bishops and priests did, but I do sin and I need a home with sinners. Jesus did not come to call the righteous; he came to call sinners and he did a really good job. Look at the people who surrounded Jesus at the beginning of the Church–apostles, prostitutes, tax collectors, Pharisees—all were sinners. And today? Priests, nuns, bishops, laity, and, me: all are sinners. We are like an AA group, a bunch of recovering addicts led by recovering addicts. Fr. Romano Guardini wrote “The Church is the Cross on which Christ is always crucified. One cannot separate Christ from his bloody, painful Church.” Our Sinner’s Anonymous group is carried on Christ’s back.

God calls us into this Sinners Anonymous group. He surrounds Himself with sinners because under all of our sins, God plants and nurtures the good in us. It is in the Church, the Sinners Anonymous, that God makes saints (recovered sinners). God calls some of these recovering sinners to have families, some to join monasteries, some to become priests, and some to wear funny hats and to bear the authority that comes with them. I am not excusing anyone, nor do I deny the need for reform in the Church. I am just trying to explain why I stay and why I am inviting you to join. We all need help, maybe not as much as the child rapists and those who protected them, but we too are called to humble ourselves, to see our addiction to sin, and to find the steps of recovery the Church proposes. I stay because I believe the Church is the best place for the recovering sinners who have always surrounded Christ, and will until the day when God recovers all His sinners and transforms us into saints.

– Terence Sweeney

Red Kettles: Giving Throughout the Year

19 Dec

It’s that time of year again. Bells are ringing and large, red kettles fill up with loose change outside of major retail store entrances across the country. The Salvation Army probably has the greatest foothold on our Christmas alms giving habits simply by being omnipresent during our shopping duties.

There is an irony in this tradition. During the holidays, we are more than willing to empty our pocket change into the hands of someone wearing a red vest. Yet, we rarely do so during the rest of the year when panhandlers or veterans experiencing homelessness ask us for spare change at red lights. So what is it about the red vest and kettle that suddenly allows us to let our guard down and give more openly and charitably?

I would argue our generosity (or the lack of) is built on trust. Having the name “Salvation Army” attached to the act of panhandling seems to make all the difference. We trust them with our money and feel confident that we know where it is going. Yet, I wonder if people know that some of the bell-ringers are themselves the homeless men and women whom our giving is meant to benefit. Would we still give our loose change to the very same person if they approached us at a red light, not with a red kettle and vest, but with a cardboard sign and outstretched hand? Usually we do not. Why? What if they buy booze with the money? Or drugs? This line of thinking gives us an easy out.

Yet, it was Christ who lived among these same poor. He never judged those living on the margins of society for any improper ways and deeds. As Dorothy Day once said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”

Something greater is asked of us, whether we are Catholics or not. Keep dropping spare change into the red kettle. But don’t ignore the fact that that outside of the Advent season, those same folks will be begging for our loose change at red lights. Give generously. Don’t let these folks remain nameless. Christ exists in all people; we must start acting as if this were true.

Red Kettle Donations


-Kevin Bailey

Faith Lives in Community

26 Oct Year of Faith - Seeking the Face of Jesus

Year of Faith - Seeking the Face of Jesus

Faith fascinates. It angers, confounds, and challenges. It is one of the least boring elements of religious life today. It is home to some of the central debates of our times regarding religion and science, the nature of knowledge, and interpersonal communication. If religion may be seen today by some as passé or irrelevant, faith certainly is in vogue.

This year we celebrate a “year of faith.” Some may perceive this as being entirely esoteric, isolated, and personal. In some respects, such a conception of faith and religion echoes the values of contemporary American individualism. Faith, it is said by some, should be a private affair that has no bearing on the larger public sphere. Americans want their faith interesting, but as a way of public life, visible to many, it becomes somewhat less appealing.

I want to suggest something about why faith in practice, as a visible representation of a world as well as local community, is precisely what such individualism needs. American individualism stresses how individuals ought to express themselves by pursuing their own goods and sense of fulfillment. It tends to stress individual difference as a cornerstone of our pluralistic society.

One of the major concerns raised here is that such an individualism loses sight of how communities both foster values within individuals, as well as create larger networks of charity and support for one another. We should not dismiss individual expression as simply a fad – its historical reality is our ongoing reality. Yet, we don’t have to embrace its present state as being fragmented and isolated. We can, in fact, form community around large acts of shared engagement.

Such shared activity could be understood as ritual, as the shared expression of a common set of beliefs and values. Religious faith, as an expressive act, is one of the most substantial examples of such engagement; because, religious faith seeks to transcend above, and not diminish, expressions of individualism.

And this expressive act finds perhaps its greatest representation on the cross. As a Catholic community, we experience this act of sacrificial, self-giving love every time we share the body and blood of Christ at Mass. We do this not just at the level of our local community, but also as an entire body of believers, across space and time. Those who live in such disparate places as the Twin Cities, Calcutta, New York, and Beijing can join together as one body, one community, and sharing and expressing their faith. In a fragmented, isolated, individual world, faith is the antidote to our private sorrows, reminding us of the network of charity to which we belong, and which ultimately belongs to the love of Christ Himself.

-Tim DeCelle

Guilt and Atheism

28 Sep
Georges Rouault’s “Crucifixion”

Georges Rouault’s “Crucifixion”

I once had an exchange with a good friend of mine (we’ll call him Herschel) about the existence of God. Herschel asserted that the scientific method is the highest and/or only way to come to know things. The supernatural realm can’t be claimed to exist because it can’t be tested. After bantering back and forth for a while, I was surprised when he then turned, looked me in the eye, and said, “Isaac, you don’t have to live with this guilt.”

I was taken aback; it was clear we were no longer debating the existence of God anymore. We were psychoanalyzing me. Typically I require a comfy couch, a pillow, and a wave machine before I allow my friends to play shrink. I asked him what he meant, and he said one of the most freeing things about embracing his newfound atheism was being released from the burdensome guilt he carried around from being a Christian. The implication being that since it’s impossible to live up to the Christian ideal, it’s inevitable that every Christian has no choice but to live in the shame. After all, it’s our own sins nailed Jesus to the cross. This leaves no choice—unless Christians were to stop believing altogether.

I thought for a second, and responded by saying that I actually do know how great it is to live without guilt. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. And wouldn’t you know it, I still believe in God. Herschel was operating under a false dichotomy that said to believe in God means to live in guilt, and the only way out was to abandon belief.

Catholics in particular get a bad rap for this. Anyone familiar with the term, “Catholic guilt” has an idea that Catholics tend to “focus” on sin, so to speak, and its consequences more than the average Christian to their own detriment. What I tried to communicate to Herschel was that there’s no reason for even the most sinful Christian to have to be wracked with guilt as he described, and it has nothing to do with lowering standards or manipulating theology. Instead, it has everything to do with love and forgiveness, like any good relationship.

Sure, I sin. All the time. And if all I did was focus on how consistently and convincingly I fall short of Christian perfection, then I would be a sorry sack. Instead, I focus on God and his love and the reason he allowed his son to die on that cross in the first place: not to shame me, but to forgive me. Does that mean I give myself a free pass to sin at will? Absolutely not.  Do I somehow see my sins as less heinous? No. But my sins are nothing compared to that love and goodness. And the fact that he loves me so much, even to die for me, does sound too good to be true. Not because it’s not true. It’s just sometimes we have a hard time believing in things beyond ourselves.

– Isaac Huss

The Banner of the Cross: How God’s Love Transcends our Political Games

27 Aug

Render unto Ceasar by Peter Paul Rubens

Render unto Ceasar by Peter Paul Rubens

Very soon, the leaves will fall, the temperature will ease, and a new season will be here. Unfortunately, we will not only experience the cold of the autumn morning but also the usual chill of the divisive and polarizing atmosphere that is the election season. Every year we are told that “this is the most important election of your life!” It is a statement with the usual hyperbole and is a predictably dire, dramatic plea for your vote. It is assumed that your vote, if not for the “right” candidate, will somehow result in the end of human civilization. Christians will, no doubt, tell you which party Jesus MUST belong to and which party, therefore, you must belong to as well.

This is an attitude that tears at the Christian unity that Jesus so desperately prays for before his crucifixion. We find in John’s Gospel that he prays for his disciples who “do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world,” in order that “they may all be one” (Jn. 17:16, 21). It is an ugly fact that one often sees at election time Christians fighting one another in order to convince each other who the “real” and “true” Christian ought to vote for. This attitude reduces the transcendent message of Jesus into a petty battle over who has the right politics and policies. Who cares about Jesus, then, when you’re on the correct side of the political divide?

This is not, however, the example of Christ. His closest followers, those whom he chose as his personal disciples, contained both Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot. The gulf between their political positions was far more violent and extreme than today’s liberals and conservatives. Yet, Jesus called them not to some greater political message, but rather to a new way of thinking about how we relate to those in the world. The law of love, which crosses all political and social boundaries, is meant to unite all persons under the banner of God’s beautiful love for humanity and not the flag of a particular political party.

Why, then, do we have to choose between two parties or two ideologies? Why are we so compelled by the media and by the fabric of our social structures to fall into one category or the other? Doesn’t Jesus ask us to transcend these flimsy and lifeless political options and to transform the entire binary itself? Doesn’t the life of love and the entire vision of the cross ask us to care more fundamentally about how we relate to God and neighbor in our daily lives? Doesn’t Jesus offer us a new way to think about our engagement with the world? I pray this election season that we may look at Jesus and see not the political battles that swirl about his name but rather the banner of the cross which waves above it all, signaling a new way to change the world.

– Tim DeCelle

Who is Your Neighbor?

19 Jul
Jesus in the Bread Line -Fritz Eichenburg

Jesus in the Bread Line -Fritz Eichenburg

“For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 26

The first question I get after from returning from our annual mission trip is, “So, where did you go? Mexico? New Orleans? A reservation in North Dakota?”

It’s not uncommon to witness a look of surprise when I tell him I was with 100 teens in North Minneapolis serving Ascension Parish and the people within the community. Yes we stay local. The week is filled with repairing fences, painting kitchens and cutting down trees. The evenings are spent in reflection, Eucharistic Adoration and socialization.

I always tell parents when they drop their children off the first day, that they will most likely have a changed teenager coming home to them at the end of the week. It’s an interesting transition as the week progresses, most of these teens on the mission trip are from the Western Suburbs and have no clue that North Minneapolis exists.

I often tell the teens that through this service, you are going to come to realize who you truly are, and who those are around you are as well. This week becomes a lesson in identity. You truly cannot help your neighbor unless you know who you are. If you don’t know who you are, then you do not know who is your neighbor. This mission trip is in proximity helping our neighbor, but it stems to a familial, local and global perspective.

As Catholics we are so incredibly blessed to be tied to one another through the Eucharist- through Jesus Christ. If God is our Father, then that makes us His children. If God is the Father to all, then we have a ton of siblings. Nothing makes our Father smile more than us helping out our siblings.

This is why we help, this is why we go on mission, and this is why we love. We are all one family under the protection and reign of our Heavenly Father. So always remember you are a child of God, and the next time someone needs you, don’t ever forget to serve them as anything less than your brother or sister.

-Kari Elsen

Catholics Thinking Globally Acting Locally

22 Mar

Catholics Thinking Globally Acting Locally

A Swiss bus crash, Syrian military raids, and an ongoing election showdown–these are just a few of the topics to grace the headlines of the papers this week. Such a grim assortment is nothing new in the news, but some days, the last thing I want to do is open the paper and read about the world’s problems. Yet, as I sit with my morning coffee, I reach for the Minneapolis Star Tribune to catch up on the events of the day. Why? No, it’s not that I just have a bleak outlook and like to be gloomy before my caffeine kicks in. The fact is that world news is important, and that means for Catholics too.

  It’s easy to argue that the news is nothing more than a series of depressing events that have no real relevance to our individual lives. I find myself passing over the front page in favor of lighter stories. We can say that we don’t have time amidst our own busy lives, and that the happenings of the lives of people elsewhere are not high on our priority list. There is even the tendency to say, for Catholics, that they should not be caught up in worldly affairs, and thus have no need to keep up to date on the news. While there are important elements in each of these views, all three of them miss the point.

  Insofar as we are human, the news of the world is of great relevance to us, so much so that we have a duty to stay informed. The things that happen to make headlines are not distant facts but realities that should touch the way we live where we are. Catholics are, yes, called to not be too attached to the things of the world, but are also required to be a part of what is happening. The Church teaches that it is necessary to consider those across the globe, even while acting for the good of the local community. This means that we cannot dismiss world events as irrelevant because they are, simply put, part of our world.

  Whether our brothers and sisters around the globe are suffering or celebrating, we have a responsibility to share in it. This is what is meant by the Church’s teaching on global solidarity. Not only that, but the news is our window to engaging with the world. If our sight does not extend beyond our own neighborhood, then it will be a narrow field of vision indeed. So the next time you’re sitting with your cup of coffee, grab a paper and see what’s happening in our world today.

– Abigail Saffert