A conversation with Cardinal Burke

by Paul Braun | New Earth

Raymond Cardinal Burke, archbishop and the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and past Prefect and current member of the Apostolic Signatura, was in Fargo on April 17-18 to attend the La Bella Serata Gala at the Delta Hotels by Marriott. Cardinal Burke is a former Bishop of Lacrosse, Wis, and Archbishop of St. Louis, Mo. New Earth had an opportunity to talk to Cardinal Burke about the challenges facing rural parishes, the state of the Church in the United States, and other items of interest to the faithful.

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His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke stands in the chapel at Bishop Folda’s residence in Fargo. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

The Fargo Diocese is a mission diocese, with most of our parishes in small, rural communities. You were raised in rural Wisconsin, and know what it’s like to live and work in these communities. How crucial are the rural parishes to these communities and the Church as a whole?

Cardinal Burke – The rural communities are critical. The farmers are working with creation, with plants and animals to produce food, fiber clothing for everyone. They’re working directly with God. Farmers helps us to keep a sense of who we are and where we come from. They help us to have a strong faith in God’s presence. They realize they depend totally upon God, so a good farmer is also a person of deep prayer, asking for God’s help and for the intercession of Our Lady, the angels and saints, especially St. Isidore and his wife St. Maria, who are the patron saints of farmers, especially family farmers.

The rural life movement, which was very strong in our country, especially in the earlier part of the 20th century, was very much connected with the liturgical movement, with the intention to enhance peoples’ life, prayer, and devotion, and their understanding and participation in the sacred liturgy. It is also connected with the development of Catholic Charities and foundations of social works in the Church and their development in this country because the rural community was seen to be at the very heart and life of the people. So, the farmers certainly bring a tremendous contribution to the life of the church in the sense of helping everyone to be more connected with nature as God created it. Of course, the farmers also look to the Church for the intercession they need in order to carry out their work. Today there is a challenge in farming which didn’t exist in the past; so-called vertical integration. There are a number of practices that are used with these very large farming operations and larger animal concentrations that raise moral questions about the soundness of the method of producing the food. Farmers have an added challenge today.

The Church needs to be very close to farmers. I was bishop in LaCrosse, and it used to be heavily populated with small farmers. Now the small farmers are disappearing, and the ones who can survive now are the ones who do organic farming, because they’re able to receive a price for their produce which earns them a living, whereas the other small farmers can’t because of this vertical integration, these huge operations, because they control the production, the processing, the selling, and therefore the food is cheap, but so is the return small farmers are receiving. I tried my best to be close to the farmers, especially the small farmers, because many of them became discouraged, especially when the farm had been in the family for generations and now suddenly the farmer finds that in his or her time everything is going financially to ruin, and they have to give up the farm. That’s a very heavy burden, and actually something that’s not known very widely is the incidence of suicide among farmers, which should be a very profound concern for the Church. So, the Church needs to be very close to farmers and to encourage them, especially to know the moral challenges and economic challenges that they face.

NE – In a larger community like Fargo or Grand Forks, if some families stop going to Church, there are still many others that do take part and help sustain those parishes. That’s not the case in our rural communities. When the younger families leave, it is devastating. How do we reach out to those younger families and bring them back to our parishes?

Cardinal Burke – It is devastating. I saw this repeatedly in my home diocese. There were all of these wonderful little parishes where there were a good number of family farms surrounding them, and these farmers would have a number of children. Now the farms are being sold to these big companies who often times bring in workers from outside the community who are kind of anonymous. I remember one time I visited one of these huge dairy operations in Wisconsin, and I met these workers from all over the globe, and afterwards I asked some of the people in the small town nearby if they were coming to church and they said “We didn’t even know they were there.” It’s a different kind of situation spiritually. So now the parish numbers go down to a certain point, and what’s the local Bishop to do? The parish can’t sustain itself anymore, and the parishes have to be grouped together sometimes, or some have to be closed, and that’s always sad because people have long family ties to these parishes. Their parents, grandparents and themselves have received the sacraments there, some are buried there, and for them now to think there won’t be a parish there anymore is a terrible thing. As a bishop, it was one of the worst situations I had to deal with, these small, formally vibrant community parishes not being able to continue.

NE – So how do we reach out to these peripheries? How do we bring those former Catholics back in?

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His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke and Bishop John Folda converse in Bishop Folda’s residence. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

Cardinal Burke – Every soul counts and we can’t overlook any group, but perhaps today the group suffering more than any others are the rural people whose communities are disintegrating and going through a lot of economic troubles. Of course, when that happens, there’s a tendency not to pass on the faith or its practices. Growing up, we had very strong Catholics in our community that went to Mass and confession regularly, observed the holy days, and there was no question about these because it was part of the substance of our lives. The peripheries can be in your own home, as far as I’m concerned, and it starts there. I am pleased to hear your Bishop Folda is making this a priority here in North Dakota.

NE – Your book, Divine Love Made Flesh, really explains the Eucharist. Was it your intention to write this particular book because we Catholics don’t seem to take the Eucharist and what it represents as seriously as we should?

Cardinal Burke – I will say I derived a great deal of satisfaction writing about the Eucharist. I saw that the Eucharistic faith here in the United States had so badly suffered and that people needed simply to have a basic presentation again on the Holy Eucharist and all of its richness. I tried to make the language as accessible as possible for the reader so the everyday Catholic could read it and benefit from it. The chapters aren’t very long, and some people have used it for Eucharistic Adoration. It was meant to be instructive, but also inspirational. When I was growing up in Wisconsin, about 90% of Catholics attended Mass, and there was a very strong belief in the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. When I was a server at Mass, we had great respect for the Eucharist because this was the body and blood of Christ. As I moved towards ordination, I found there was a great loss of faith in the Eucharist; that many people weren’t going to Mass regularly. If you really believe in the Mass and what it is and its reality, how would you not be at Mass on Sunday? Some people will substitute Mass for a walk in the woods. Well, or course you’ll find God in nature, but in the Eucharist you find our Lord in his true body and blood, soul and divinity, and that’s something altogether different. There are also regular churchgoers who no longer reflect on what they are doing there, and maybe don’t take what’s happening on the altar seriously. Why do you think we use bells at Mass? It’s a way to grab your attention and realize that this is the most sacred moment of the Mass.

NE – Your work for the Vatican brings you to the Church all over the world. What are you seeing? What are the faithful saying to you?

Cardinal Burke – I meet so many people who are profoundly discouraged about the state of society and the world right now, and even of the Church. Things have become so secularized, and when we think of the absurd gender-theory and how this is practically becoming as law in society, it’s very discouraging to people. I wrote a book recently called Hope for the World to give hope to people and say we can turn things around. However, there is a lot to be frightened about. We maybe don’t sense it so much right here in Fargo, but for instance the advance of radical Islam in Europe is a very threatening and concerning situation, and we should be attentive because it could also happen in our country. I know that makes some people uncomfortable, but sometimes we need to feel uncomfortable. If there’s an elephant in the living room, we should feel uncomfortable sitting around and pretending it’s not there. It’s not for our good, but this is sometimes our attitude. People don’t want to look into the eye of a situation and deal with it. We deal with it with serenity because we know that our Lord is with us and he’s going to sustain us through it all, but we also deal with it with honesty. What is the situation and what is the right response to it?

NE – Speaking of that honesty, what do you feel is the state of the Church in the United States?

Cardinal Burke – I can say with all honesty that the state of the Catholic Church in the United States is probably as strong as in any country in the world. There are many signs of hope. I visited the beautiful adoration chapel you have here in Fargo and saw that people were worshipping and praying, and I’m told there are people there 24 hours a day. I also meet so many wonderful young seminarians, young priests and young couples. I talked at the Gala event about this International Center for Marriage, Family and Life, dedicated under the patronage of St. Gianna that will be established here in the United States. This is what excites people. This is what they want… a place where they can honor and celebrate marriage for what it truly is, along with family and the great gift of human life. There were a great number of young couples either married or engaged at the event, so I think there is a lot of hope. However, I think what we need to do is to keep deepening our understanding of the faith, and I encourage any kind of catechesis of young people, but also of adults who, through no fault of their own, have not been catechized and don’t understand their faith, and they’re very hungry to understand it. You have many reasons to be full of hope, and we should take from that hope an energy to try to live more intensely our Catholic life. I knew this about North Dakota, but I could especially see at the Gala the strong pro-life movement here, and that’s a great gift. I’ve been very pleased to visit Fargo. I want to encourage your good bishop, the priests and all of the lay-faithful to realize there’s a lot of hope here, and that you’re spreading hope. One year University of Mary students from Bismarck led the March for Life in Washington, and one year it was your students from Shanley High School here in Fargo, so obviously North Dakota is being recognized. Keep it up!