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Bishop Daniel Felton: Our diocese has 44,000 vocation coordinators — including you

As I am writing this article, I am also packing my suitcase to leave for Rome. I will be attending the diaconate ordination of Daniel Hammer on Sept. 30 at St. Peter's Basilica. Cardinal Wilton Gregory will be the principal celebrant at the ordination. It is a great privilege for me to represent the Diocese of Duluth at the soon to be Deacon Daniel's ordination celebration. And you have to admit, with his first name being Daniel, he is going to be a great deacon! 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

Daniel cites the move his family made to Brainerd and his parish community of St. Andrew as being significant factors in his call not only to the transitional diaconate but hopefully in June as a priest. Many priests would claim that their home parish experience played a major part in their discernment of being called to the priesthood. This includes their parish sacramental programs, Steubenville trips, the celebration of the Mass, parish social events, pastors, and the many ways the parish supports and fosters vocations. 

Even though Father Nick Nelson is our vocations director, in my mind we have over 44,000 vocation coordinators in our diocese. Each of you as parishioners is responsible for calling forth men from your parish to the priesthood. Studies show that it takes at least five people telling someone that they would be a great priest for that young man to begin hearing the voice of God speaking to them through those five invitations.  

God continues to have a great purpose and mission in mind for His Diocese of Duluth. God will always give us all that we need to fulfill His plan for us — including enough priests. We have plenty of potential vocations to the priesthood in our diocese, we just need to keep extending the invitation to those we think have a vocation to be a priest.  

We also need to keep praying that they will respond yes to God's call. For many of us, we have memorized our diocesan vocation prayer. That is a good thing, as long as it doesn't become so routine that we are just saying and not praying the words. 

Let us pray for Daniel Hammer as he is ordained a transitional deacon. Let us pray for all of our seminarians pictured below. You will notice that there is an empty space without a face. Just remember, that empty space might be filled with the next young man that you tell he would be a great priest.  

Who knows, you could be that fifth invitation that makes the difference! 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Advocates say the public is with them on payday lending reform

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Supporters of payday lending reform, including representatives of the Diocese of Duluth and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, held a press conference in Duluth Aug. 17 to announce polling showing that an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans support their proposal — a 36% cap on interest rates — or even stricter limits.

Ryan Hamilton, government relations associate for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, addresses the media in Duluth Aug 17 in support of payday lending reform. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Officials for Minnesotans for Fair Lending, a nonpartisan campaign focused on the issue, say that in 2020, the most recent year with accurate data, the average interest rate on payday loans in Minnesota was a whopping 208%, based on self-reported statistics from the payday lending industry to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. 

Speakers at the press conference described situations in which the global pandemic, coupled with rising costs for basic necessities, put pressure on vulnerable people who get stuck in escalating debt. 

“That financial duress can drive a family into the arms of a payday lender,” said Ryan Hamilton, government relations associate for the Minnesota Catholic Conference. 

Then with the high interest rates, the loans are so expensive they cannot be paid back. 

Hamilton said that the mere agreement between a lender and customer doesn’t make excessive interest rates right. “Minnesotans oppose this form of modern day usury,” he said. 

Speakers said it’s a problem throughout the state. 

“It’s a trap!” said Patrice Critchley-Menor, director of social apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth. 

She said payday lending “impacts our neighbors” within the boundaries of the Diocese of Duluth. For instance, in Duluth alone last year, 3,929 loans went to 348 borrowers, who paid $117,088 just in fees and interest. The average loan amount was $445, and the average interest rate was 226%. 

She said the poor should not be seen “as potential profit centers.” 

“When we focus our greed on those most in need, we are broken, and it’s going to take all of us to repair each other,” she said. 

Meghan Olsen Biebighauser, economic justice organizer for Minnesotans for Fair Lending, said efforts at the state Legislature to impose a 36% interest rate cap, a measure taken in 18 other states and the District of Columbia and already in place to protect military service personnel, have not yet been successful, to the point that even some cities, like Moorhead, are taking their own action. 

In nearby states, a South Dakota referendum passed with more than 75% of the vote in 2016, and Nebraska passed a referendum with 83% of the vote a little over a year ago. 

Asked about the difficulty getting the measure passed here, she said, “The payday lending industry in Minnesota has deep pockets.” 

However, polling presented by the organization, which was conducted by Emerson College Polling, suggests popular support isn’t an issue. The polling showed a dislike of the payday lending system throughout the state, across party lines, with common descriptors being “predatory,” “loan sharking,” and “scam.” 

The poll found that 60% of Minnesotans supporting limiting interest rates on payday loans to 36%, and that of the 15% who oppose the measure, the most common reason is that they believe 36% is too high. 69% of respondents favor increased regulation. 

Hamilton said the Minnesota Catholic Conference has been advocating on the issue for more than a decade and standing for policies that will truly strengthen families. 

Citing Pope Francis, who called families the fundamental building block of society, Hamilton said we have to make sure the family is supported or at least “held harmless.” 

“Minnesota can be a place where we have fair lending practices,” he said. 

First diocesan Family Camp draws more than 100

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The first diocesan Family Camp, organized by the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life, was held at Big Sandy Camp Aug. 13-15 with about 20 families (more than 100 individuals) in attendance.

Photo courtesy of Betsy Kneepkens

“I think that it was successful in accomplishing the goal, which was to bring Catholic families together enjoying life as family, without the burdens of the outside world,” said Betsy Kneepkens, who directs the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life, and led the event on site.

She said Catholic families from around the diocese got to know each other and that the various aspects of the weekend — prayer, Mass, and play — seemed to be successful. “People just continually shared how grateful they were that this opportunity was given to them,” she said.

The camp was “intentionally non-structured,” with even most of the planned events being optional, but the goal was things of interest for the variety of ages present: swimming, Catholic trivia, praying the rosary around the bonfire, laser tag, and even a special episode of “Old Fashioned Catholics,” a YouTube show by Nic Davidson and Kevin Pilon, filmed on site.

There was even a ping pong and Foosball championship for the older kids present.

A variety of lodging options, including RVs, tents, and the camp’s lodges, were available, and Kneepkens said there is room to grow for what she hopes will become an annual event.

“We’re working on a date for 2022 and hope to get that out soon,” she said.

The event was supported by “a kind benefactor” and by the United Catholic Appeal, keeping costs relatively low.

Father Richard Kunst: God’s name is important — treat it with respect

The very first thing we do when we meet someone is ask them their name. We do this simply to start a relationship with that person. It is the most basic thing to know about another person; it is how we start social interaction.

Father Richard Kunst

In the Old Testament, a lot of things happen prior to the third chapter of Exodus, a partial list being the fall of Adam and Eve; Noah and the great flood; the tower of Babel; the stories of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the story of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers only to save them from famine decades later; and then the birth of Moses. All of these are very important, to say the least, but in the third chapter of Exodus we are presented with an event that we might call the watershed moment between our human species and our Creator. It is a story you are familiar with, though you may not be aware of the monumental nature of that story.

Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law when he notices a burning bush, which was not being consumed. Drawn into this strange sight, he comes closer, only to hear the voice of God telling him not to come any nearer. The voice from the bush proceeds to tell Moses that he has been chosen to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt when Moses askes the all-important question: “When I go to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers have sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What am I to tell them?” (Exodus 3:14).

Everything that happens in the Bible before this is obviously important, but it is only here that we learn of God’s name, so that we can initiate a proper relationship with him. It is with the revelation of his name that true intimacy with him can happen. And his name? “God replied, ‘I am who am.’ Then he added, ‘This is what you shall tell the children of Israel: I AM sent me to you’” (3:15). The name “I am who am” in ancient Hebrew is YHWH, or in our modern way of speaking “Yahweh.”

As you may know, the name Yahweh became so sacred to the Hebrew people that they refused to even utter it. They believed that we as a sinful people are not worthy enough to so much as say the name of God, so they came up with alternative names, most prominently Adonai. The ancient Greek equivalent of Adonai is the familiar Kyrie, which translates into English as “Lord.”

So here is the question: When we hear in the second commandment that we are not to take God’s name in vain, what exactly does that mean? If we exclaim “Oh, my God!” for some trivial or insignificant reason, are we, in fact, violating the second commandment? Dare I say this is an important question, since we are speaking of God’s commandments?

To answer this question, we need to look at the etymology of the word “god.” I have to come clean and tell you that I looked this next part up. From what I have found, the word “god” derives from the proto-Germanic word “gudan,” which is based on the root of the word “ghau,” which means “to invoke” or “to call.” So to be technical, the word “god” is what God is, it is not his name. In the Judeo-Christian world, the name of God remains YHWH or even Adonai/Kyrie/Lord. So when the commandment commands us not to take the name of God in vain, are we violating it by saying something like, “Oh my God it is hot out!”? Technically speaking, no.

In saying this we have to understand that there is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, so to exclaim “Oh, my God!” is not a technical violation, but it is a violation of the spirit of the command, because in our culture we interchange the word “god” for what God is and his name. We don’t differentiate the two in our day-to-day life in 21st century United States.

All this being said, if it is your practice to use the phrase “Oh, my God!” in a trivial matter, then I would suggest you try to change that habit, because even though it is not a technical violation of the second commandment, it is trivializing God’s name as we use it in our own era. We need not be like the ancient Hebrews who did not dare utter the name, but we shouldn’t be flippant about how we use the word “god” either, since our Creator deserves much more reverence than what we usually give him.

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: The history of Communion in the hand

A little-known papal document written in 1969 is titled “Memoriale Domini: Instruction on the Manner of Receiving Holy Communion.” In this document, Pope St. Paul VI reaffirms the one and a half millennia practice of receiving Communion directly on the tongue yet opens up the possibility of receiving a dispensation for receiving Holy Communion in the hand.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

What brought about the necessity of St. Pope Paul VI writing this document? In the years following the Second Vatican Council, Holy Communion began to be distributed to people in their hands. This was mainly done in the countries of France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany and it was done without the permission of the church. Until then, Holy Communion could only be received directly on the tongue. The Vatican and the Holy Father intervened a number of times, telling the cardinals and bishops and priests to stop it, but they continued to disobey.

In the late ’60s, seeing that it was continuing despite his objections, Pope St. Paul wrote all the bishops of the world, asking them what they thought of Holy Communion being received in the hand and if it should be allowed. Overwhelmingly, the bishops responded that no, it shouldn’t be allowed, and that the faithful would not be in favor of the change.

Based off this survey, Pope St. Paul VI on May 29, 1969 wrote Memoriale Domini. In that instruction, he published the results of the survey of the bishops and decided that the traditional manner of receiving Holy Communion would remain, that of the priest placing the host directly on the tongue of the communicant.

He said, “A change in a matter of such importance, which rests on a very ancient and venerable tradition, besides touching upon discipline can also include dangers. These may be feared from a new manner of administering Holy Communion: they are 1) a lessening of reverence toward the noble Sacrament of the altar, 2) its profanation, or 3) the adulteration of correct doctrine.”

He goes on to say, “From the responses received it is thus clear that by far the greater number of bishops feel that the present discipline should not be changed at all, indeed that if it were changed, this would be offensive to the sensibilities and spiritual appreciation of these bishops and of most of the faithful.”

But then, there was a big “but.” For those places where Holy Communion was already being given to people in their hand, it was possible for those places to apply for an “indult,” a special dispensation, from the Vatican that would allow their people to receive in the hand.

For a country to apply for the indult, the following was necessary: 1) Communion in the hand had to already be presently in that country; 2) the bishops of that country had to have two-thirds majority vote in favor of Communion in the hand; 3) Communion in the hand should not be imposed in a way that would exclude the traditional manner; 4) the way of introducing this must be done tactfully; 5) Communion in the hand should not cause the person to think it is just ordinary bread; 6) one must be careful to not allow profanation or any fragment to fall.

The fateful meeting for the United States took place from May 3-5, 1977, in Chicago. Bishop Romeo Blanchette tried to stop the conference from pursuing Communion in the hand immediately. He made a motion that they take vote as to whether it was the prevailing custom already. Remember, that was the first condition. If it wasn’t prevailing already, then it was a dead issue. Cardinal Joseph Bernadine, the conference chairman, explained that this motion could be overruled, which would prevent the bishops from voting on whether or not it was prevalent. The bishops overruled Bishop Blanchette and therefore passed over even considering the first necessary condition for Communion in the hand.

After a heated debate, the bishops voted, and Cardinal Bernadine admitted that they didn’t get the two-thirds vote. However, he decided they should poll the absent bishops and received the two-thirds majority necessary. These bishops were not at the meeting, not part of the discussion, and they didn’t have the opportunity to vote secretly. Their votes should not have counted.

Nevertheless, they sent their request to Rome, and on June 17, 1977, the United States received the dispensation.

What do I want you to take away from this history of Communion in the hand? First, you are allowed to receive Holy Communion in the hand. You aren’t doing anything wrong if you do. But secondly, I want you to realize that Communion in the hand started as an abuse, with no prior approval. Realize that the “ordinary” way to receive Holy Communion is still on the tongue. It is only by a special dispensation that a person is allowed to receive in the hand. In fact, bishops have the right to reject that dispensation and require people to receive on the tongue. There are currently some bishops who have done that.

Also, we must ask: Have St. Pope Paul’s fears come true, that of “loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine”? Just consider the Pew Study from 2019 in which only a third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence.

Finally, consider receiving Holy Communion in the ordinary way!

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].

Editorial: Heed the call of Pope Francis on Afghanistan

“As Christians this situation obligates us, to intensify your prayer and practice fasting. Prayer and fasting, prayer and penance. This is the moment to do so. I am speaking seriously: intensify your prayer and practice fasting, asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness.”

Pope Francis made this appeal a few days ago for those suffering in Afghanistan in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country after 20 years of war, the swift takeover by the Taliban, the chaotic attempts at evacuating American citizens and others in danger, and a suicide bombing in the midst of it that killed still more American service men and women.

For us, as American Catholics, this call may echo exactly what has been in many of our hearts. This is the apparent end, with an outcome no one wanted, of the longest war in American history, entered into after terrorists, their leaders hiding out in Afghanistan, murdered thousands of innocents in terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., 20 years ago this month, on Sept. 11, 2001 — that terrible, traumatic day.

This sad bookend cannot help but provoke reflection on all that has happened over those two decades, what it all accomplished, and at what staggering, enormous cost, especially the human costs. This war and the others that came in its wake have been the subject of intense disagreement and strong feelings, and after all that, we may feel left with few clear answers.

We are rightly concerned for what all this will mean for the people stuck in Afghanistan. We grieve the suffering and death that seem all too likely to come, and which we can do little now to stop. Our country should do all it can to help those who are able to escape.

So we should, as Pope Francis urges so seriously, turn to God in prayer and penance, begging his mercy and forgiveness and that he will bring his peace both to that war-torn place and to our own troubled land.

Betsy Kneepkens: Hoping an upcoming 21st birthday is uneventful

A family timeline works a bit differently than most other timelines. It seems that you place memories and celebrations based on milestones parents and children reach. Your engagement, wedding, anniversaries, the birth of your children, baptisms, first Communion, confirmation, and for me, your children’s wedding are all significant milestones. You acknowledge events like the first haircut, first tooth loss, your first day of school, high school, college, or your kids’ first day of employment, be it a paper route or a manager of a small department.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Nearly all milestones are reasons to celebrate for the Kneepkens, which often meant a meal out at a restaurant. We have eaten out a lot.

Describing events is not based on dates but instead categorized like this: “Shortly after my oldest was born, we sold our tent,” or “When my youngest went to kindergarten, we finally decided to paint the walls in our home.” That is how we put in context the “when we did this” in our lives.

Most of these memories that fall on this timeline are moments of celebration and call for ways to gather everyone together. There are a few events that we anticipate that come with a bit more anxiety. When your son or daughter gets their driver’s license would be one example that can come with a certain amount of angst. We have had our share of accidents within days and even hours after getting that little piece of paper that allows them to drive parentless. As exciting as it is for a teenager, it’s not always a thriller for parents or their pocketbooks.

We have a milestone coming up that my husband and I are not super excited about: the 21st birthday of our fifth son. Not much comes with being 21 except the privilege to consume alcohol legally in every state. Now, we have had four other 21st birthdays before now, but the culture has changed so dramatically that this already scary time has some additional worries. As parents, we decided not to consume alcohol or have alcohol in our home as we raised our children. Like most parents, we have no idea if our children consumed alcohol illegally when they were not living with us, but traditions surrounding turning 21 years of age in our culture can be frightening.

Our son, who will be turning “of age” soon, lived with us this summer. With a full schedule of work, internship, and COVID restrictions, much of his free time he spent with us. We had conversations with all our children about how friends often handle 21st birthdays. We shared our concerns for risk and really how unnecessary it is to manage their “milestone” in a way that would pose safety concerns. This time, our discussion included additional warnings directly resulting from how our society responds to each other. This additional dialogue was sad and pathetic but necessary.

When I was younger, I am sure there were things I said and did that I regretted. There are situations that I look back on and realize that, by today’s standards, would be considered inappropriate. My views on multiple topics have evolved significantly, and I continue to mature.

In the past, people were gracious enough to point your indiscretions out, and you could seek forgiveness. There seemed to be little desire to capture your inappropriateness to display to the world your erring ways. Instead, when you expressed remorse, there was respect between parties to keep your shortcomings between the two of you. Unfortunately, today, you can ask for forgiveness, but you will likely not receive that benefit. In many cases, you are shamed, labeled a bigot, and in too many cases, your hope of eventual good standing is eliminated. And worse yet, loved ones who support you are given the same treatment.

I say this because when people drink too much alcohol, they often say and do things out of character. Those who struggle with filtering comments in a more palatable way for their listeners when sober have additional difficulty filtering when intoxicated. Often when a young adult sees consuming alcohol legally as a rite of passage, parents not only have to worry about their physical safety, they have to think of how their behavior and words, although unintended, can affect the remainder of their lives. As absurd as this sounds, this is today’s reality.

It is my opinion that too many people are not watching out for the best interests of others and find joy in watching others fail.

During the time we had with our fifth son home this summer, we had many discussions on a variety of topics. It is exciting to see him mature into an adult and see how his views evolve over time. I am most impressed with his willingness to read and use multiple resources to seek out truth.

However, as we were preparing him to return to college and experience his eventual 21st birthday, we shared our concerns for his safety. We also had no other choice than to give him a reality check on the impact that a one-time mistaken statement or action could have on the rest of his life. He has returned to school, and we continue to guide him and hope he listens as his birthday approaches. It is my husband’s and my desire that this 21st birthday milestone is one of the more uneventful notches in our family’s timeline.

Being a parent is one of the most gratifying gifts God can bestow upon a person. If given the opportunity to collaborate with God in this way again, I would sign up immediately and perhaps hope I would have been blessed with more children next time. However, the nature and challenges of parenting seem to increase daily. I would simply like to wish my son a happy 21st birthday, have a family meal, a few presents, and call this milestone good. We don’t live in a world like this anymore.

As parents we must be attentive to the world around us because those times of simplicity and trust have gone nearly by the wayside. Being a parent is a vocation that comes with many milestones of joy, and being one step ahead of the world around you helps you, hopefully, have even more. Happy safe and uneventful 21st birthday, my son!

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

Deacon Kyle Eller: Are we losing our taste for freedom?

“The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.”

Pope St. John Paul II wrote these six words in his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, but I’m sure I read them quoted somewhere else first, early on in my conversion. For me it was an idea so powerful and illuminating that it has embedded itself in the way I look at the world ever since.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

In context, the Holy Father was talking about evangelization. He has just finished asserting the right to religious freedom for all people and especially for the liberty of the church to carry out her mission to bring the Gospel to all peoples. But then he turns his gaze toward the way the church conducts herself in that missionary work, addressing people “with full respect for their freedom.”

We can and vigorously should propose those things God has revealed for the salvation of the world. We teach it, we defend it, we try to show its beauty and truth and invite people to partake of it. But we don’t impose it on them, attempting to coerce or force it on them, because to do so would violate the freedom God has endowed them with and the dignity of the human person.

Freedom has been on my mind a lot lately, I think mostly because of the crazy spectacle of folks practically lusting for the ability to tell other people what to do and raging at the very notion people should have certain freedoms even if it entails some of them possibly making bad choices.

I know, of course, that this is human nature. Jesus alludes to it when he tells the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.”

But these things are growing so aggressive and so widespread that I find myself wondering if people even believe in freedom anymore, or if the “land of the free” has in the end just lost its taste for freedom.

It’s no small matter. As the church’s teaching on religious liberty makes clear, it’s rooted in the very nature of the human person as God has created us. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, coming to God is “the end and purpose of life.” It is the most consequential decision anyone ever makes. In a real sense, eternity hangs in the balance.

And yet even (or perhaps especially) here, freedom is essential. We are rational creatures, endowed by God with the capacity to believe, to choose, and to love, and those capacities find their great glory in carrying out this high vocation of seeking the truth about God and personally adhering to it. The right to do so freely is connected with the duty to do it wisely and personally.

Total freedom doesn’t apply to every sphere of life, obviously. The New Testament unmistakably upholds the legitimacy and necessity of both church and civil authority with power to command those subject to them when it’s necessary for the common good. We couldn’t have a society worthy of the name if people could steal or murder or drive 100 mph through a residential neighborhood with impunity. And we could hardly be faithful to God if ministers were allowed stand in the pulpit and deny the creed.

But so often I find myself wishing more of a “propose, don’t impose” approach were our social norm. Wouldn’t life be better if our first instinct were to convince rather than to coerce? Wouldn’t that show more respect? Wouldn’t that be more in keeping with human dignity and with our own best traditions? Wouldn’t it turn the temperature down on things? Wouldn’t it be less likely to provoke?

I think so. And while we may not have much control over what others do, as followers of Christ, maybe our small contribution can be to model that spirit for our own part.

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

Bishop Daniel Felton: As autumn arrives, blessings on students, teachers, and all of us lifelong learners

Autumn is my favorite season of the year! The crisp air of eventide, the beginning of the football season, the brushstroke of colors on trees and bushes, and the harvesting of crops are all hallmarks of an approaching autumn season. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

However, the greatest testament that that we are moving from summer to autumn is the numerous media pictures of children and grandchildren beginning their first day of another school year. Photos capture the beaming, smiling faces of elementary children, with backpacks on their shoulders, as they ready themselves for the school year; pictures of middle school students show not so much a smile as a grimace; and by the time we get to the high school back-to-school picture (if a mom is lucky enough to get one) we see nothing but faces of frowns and pleas not to take anymore pictures … ever. 

In the midst of another new school year with its twists and turns, challenges and blessings, I pray this blessing upon our students and teachers: 

Lord God, 
your Spirit of wisdom fills the earth 
And teaches us your ways. 
Look upon students. 
Let them enjoy their learning 
and take delight in new discoveries. 
Help them to persevere in their studies, 
and give them the desire to learn all things well. 
Look upon teachers. 
Let them strive to share their knowledge 
with gentle patience and endeavor always 
to bring the truth to eager minds. 

(Catholic Book of Blessings) 

I pray for all of our students from pre-school to college who are beginning a new school year at home or in school. I pray for the multitude of students in our parish faith formation programs. I am particularly mindful of the over 1,500 students we have at one of our Catholic school sites throughout the diocese. 

In the 21st century, Catholic schools are not only to provide a very good academic setting, but even more so, are meant to be Schools of Discipleship. As such, our Catholic schools must help students to discover a deep personal relationship with Jesus, to follow Jesus as they are taught the scriptures and catechism, to worship Jesus in the Mass and other prayer and devotional experiences, and to equip students with the tools and skills to witness to Jesus as they call others into a relationship with the Lord. 

Now the amazing thing about Schools of Discipleship is that the learning never ends. It is a lifelong learning process. We may graduate from a high school or college with a diploma in hand. But when it comes to being a student in the School of Discipleship, graduation day will be our passage into eternal life, which is the culmination of our learning how to discover, follow, worship, and share Jesus with others. 

I think it would be fascinating for all of us, no matter our age, to post a picture of ourselves as we begin yet another year of discipleship education and formation. When it comes to getting a picture of your relationship and knowledge of Jesus Christ, are you smiling, grimacing, or frowning? Does the discipleship picture look any different than last year’s picture (or for that matter a picture from 20 years ago)? Did you quit growing with and learning about Jesus a long time ago? 

If so, remember, the life-long School of Discipleship has open enrollment, and with the change of seasons, now may be a good time to engage once again in learning how to discover, follow, worship, and share Jesus with others! 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth.

Father Mike Schmitz: How can I get more out of Mass while wrangling with kids?

As a parent, I find it really difficult to get anything out of Mass when I have to wrangle and take care of my kids through it all. Sometimes it seems like it would just be better to stay home; I don’t get anything out of it, and it seems like they don’t either. I usually end up feeling defeated. What should I do? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you so much for sharing your situation and this question. You have just described the experience of probably every single Catholic parent who has ever brought their children to Mass. You show up stressed, you sit there stressed, every time your child makes a sound it adds to the stress. In addition, having to take them out of Mass is a challenge in and of itself. When do you take them out? For how long? When do you come back? If your parish even has a cry room, many parents treat it as a play room, so you feel like you can’t even go there. I completely understand why you would be tempted to believe that it is all just a waste of time. 

But if we understood one thing clearly, I believe that it would change everything about how we approach the Mass. 

I will ask people this question all of the time (so much that I start to wonder if they are sick of my asking). It is this: What is the heart of religion? For many of us, we might say that the most important part (or the heart) of religion is the creed — what we believe. While the creed is incredibly important, it isn’t the heart of religion. Others might argue that the heart of religion is morality — how we behave. That too is very important, but it isn’t the heart. 

I would maintain that the heart of religion is worship. The creed and morality direct and serve worship. What we believe about God and what constitutes a good life is oriented towards the act of worship. In every world religion, worship has been the central and most important action a people could participate in. 

Worship is the thanks, praise, and honor we give to God. And for virtually all of human history, the heart of worship has been sacrifice. What is that precious and valuable thing that one is called to offer to God out of love? Of course, the Bible makes it clear that the sacrifice that God desires is a humble and contrite heart. But this heart of contrition and obedience is expressed through the concrete action of offering a valuable sacrifice. 

So, if the heart of religion is worship … and the heart of worship is sacrifice, then we realize that going to Mass (the most perfect form of worship we have been given) has nothing to do with what I get out of it. In fact, it is the opposite. The point of the Mass is all about what I can give. 

The primary gift (sacrifice) that we offer to God the Father is the once for all sacrifice of the Son. When the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, we offer him to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why the “high point” of the Mass is not the moment of transubstantiation (the miracle by which the bread and wine become the Body and Blood), nor is it the moment of Communion (although there is no greater moment of vulnerability and unity with God than this). The high point of the Mass is when the priest elevates the Eucharist, and, speaking to the Father, prays, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever.” And all of the people say, “Amen!” 

This is the moment the sacrifice is offered! This is the heart of the Mass! 

So what does this have to do with wrangling children in church? Everything. What is every parent doing by bringing their rowdy children to Mass? They are making a huge sacrifice. Every parent who didn’t get a moment to reflect or to pray or to listen to the readings or the homily is making a sacrifice. Every parent who had to fight with their children to get everyone in the car and on the way to Mass is making a sacrifice. Every parent filled with anxiety over whether or not their children will behave is making a sacrifice. 

And what is the point of Mass? To offer the sacrifice. What every parent can do is take all of the sacrifices they are making for their spouse, for their children, for their parish and unite them to the One Great Sacrifice of Christ. Even if a person is distracted, they can offer the distraction (that’s a sacrifice). Even if they are frustrated, they can offer the frustration (that’s a sacrifice). 

Get this, even the people who can’t hear anything because someone else’s children are making a fuss and causing a ruckus don’t have to be upset. They get to offer that as a sacrifice. If the people next to you at Mass smell, or sing poorly, or look at you out of the corner of their eye, nothing to worry about and nothing to lament. All of those are opportunities for sacrifice. And sacrifice is the heart of worship. 

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.