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To spend or not to spend? That is NOT the question.

Inside the Capitol

State legislators are debating what to do with a massive budgetary windfall – an approximately $7.7 billion surplus. The news of the surplus prompted the governor and legislative leaders from both parties to voice their spending and tax cut proposals.

Democrat legislative leaders voiced support for investments in programs that improve the economic circumstances of all Minnesotans and emphasized a refusal to cut taxes for “big corporations and rich individuals.” Other Democrats noted that the surplus showed government was “underfunded.” Republicans expressed a different view, sounding a note of caution about the speculative nature of budget forecasts while at the same time calling for a focus on statewide tax relief.

Getting to the right solution is made more difficult when the issues are framed wrongly. Both sides are starting from a partisan stance that forces groups within the state into a zero-sum game over something we all helped to create. But the real question is, what is the purpose of economic success and abundance?

For that answer we can turn to the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church, which helps us place this extraordinary surplus in context. “Riches fulfill their function of service to man when they are destined to produce benefits for others in society” (CSDC 329). The Compendium goes on to say that spending is directed to the common good when there is precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources. In the redistribution of resources, “public spending must pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose” (CSDC 355).

The family is the cornerstone of society. When families are fragmented, children suffer, and we all face the long-term consequences of that suffering in the form of delinquency, crime, addiction, poverty, and more broken families, for which the state often picks up the tab. So rather than indiscriminate tax cuts or more social programs that are never enough and speak more to symptoms of the problem than root causes, why not get to the heart of the matter: strengthening families?

The root word of economy is the Greek word “oikos,” which means “household.” We need to start directing our resources toward families: making it easier to get married, stay married, have children and bear the cost of raising them. Concretely, that means things like a child allowance, paid leave programs, school choice, housing supports, addiction counseling, and yes, tax cuts, too. The needs of families are endless and need creative solutions that don’t fit into binary partisan or ideological boxes.

The leaders of our state’s divided government may not agree on the best way to make use of our wealth, but both Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders pointed to the surplus as an “opportunity.” It is upon this common ground that the Minnesota Catholic Conference will endeavor to help legislators ensure that the fortifying families is at the center of their decisions.

Action Alert

Pray for our lawmakers that they may be guided by the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity as make decisions in this time of abundance. In addition to prayer, contact your legislator to discuss how we can make 2022 the year Minnesota begins making family economics the starting point for all decisions about distribution of our state’s financial resources.

Year in Review: Stories from 2021 in the Diocese of Duluth 

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

The Year of Grace 2021 was another eventful one in the Diocese of Duluth, as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, presenting many challenges for the church and her members. However, as we review the year, it’s clear that at least one joyful story in our local church certainly deserves top billing over the pandemic. 

Here are the top five stories from 2021 as compiled by the staff of The Northern Cross. 

No. 1: A new bishop for Duluth 

More than a year after the sudden death of Bishop Paul Sirba in late 2019 left the Diocese of Duluth waiting for a new bishop, our prayers were answered April 7 with the announcement that Pope Francis had named Father Daniel Felton of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., to the post. Bishop Felton became the tenth bishop of the diocese with an ordination and installation May 20.

Bishop Daniel Felton shows the decree from Pope Francis appointing him bishop of Duluth to Archbishop Bernard Hebda and his other co-consecrating bishops at his ordination and installation Mass May 20. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch.)

In a homily for Vespers the evening before his ordination, he made this plea: “In this moment, tonight, I’m going to ask you to do something. In this moment tonight, I’m asking you to join me. And I’m asking you to join me, let’s reach out and grab on to the wings of the Holy Spirit. Let’s grab on to the wings of the Holy Spirit as we shout in this moment and in this time, ‘I am all yours. I am all in.’ And as we grab on to the wings of the Holy Spirit, the wings of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is going to lift us up, and we are going to take flight. I have no idea where we’re going. I have no idea where we’re going to land.” 

In the ensuing months, the new bishop has energetically embraced his new ministry, including ordaining Father Trevor Peterson and Deacon Scott Padrnos shortly after his arrival (he was also present for Deacon Daniel Hammer’s ordination in Rome) and driving thousands of miles on both scheduled and impromptu visits to parishes and schools and also frequently reaching out to the faithful through video messages. 

One fruit of his meeting the faithful of the diocese is his discernment of what he describes as a hopeful “dawning moment” in the local church, as the faithful of the diocese begin to step out of the darkness of the diocesan bankruptcy and the death of Bishop Sirba and again prepare to step forward in mission by listening to the Holy Spirit and to each other. For more on the “Let’s Listen” initiative, see his column on page 2. 

No. 2: Pandemic still hangs on 

Along with the whole world, the Diocese of Duluth continued experiencing challenges relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The year began hopefully, with the first vaccines becoming available in late 2020 and the number of cases beginning to drop, to the point that in the spring and early summer things began to feel almost normal. 

Although the annual men’s and women’s conferences were again canceled, the diocese was able to hold some of its camps, including Camp Survive and its first ever family camp. The Sunday Mass obligation that had been dispensed since March 2020 was reinstated July 1. 

However, there quickly followed subsequent waves, with the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19 sending cases soaring again. As a result, many in-person events have again been canceled or postponed. Schools have largely remained in-person, and public Masses and the other sacraments have remained available, with suggested guidelines in place to help keep attendance as safe as possible. 

Amid the debate over vaccines, Bishop Felton urged the faithful to receive the vaccine while also noting that receiving the vaccine should be voluntary and not mandatory. 

No. 3: Catholic high school moves forward in a big way 

Plans for Stella Maris Academy — the diocesan Catholic school spread across three campuses in Duluth and offering elementary and middle school education — included a high school from the beginning, but it took longer than expected. Early in the year, the school announced that it would be finally opening its high school in the fall of 2022, with plans to make room at one of the existing campuses. 

However, over the summer, a sudden opportunity made a big improvement to those plans, when The Hills Youth and Family Services property, a former Catholic orphange adjacent to the school’s St. John’s campus, unexpectedly became available. 

The hefty $4 million price tag was raised entirely through private donors in the space of about a week, a purchase offer was accepted in August, and the sale was finally completed and announced in October. The site comes with ample space, 140 acres, an equipped gymnasium, a cafeteria, a chapel, and other things a Catholic school would need. 

“Many people have been working hard and praying for a long-term, viable place to welcome students to high school in the Fall of 2022,” the school’s new president, Andrew Hilliker, said in a news release. “This property is bringing our efforts and goals to a very real and meaningful place. Our students will feel the benefits of this for years to come and we are forever grateful for the opportunity.” 

No. 4: First consecrated virgin from the Diocese of Duluth 

In October, Suzanne Lott became the first consecrated virgin consecrated for the Diocese of Duluth in the church’s history, in a Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary — one of less than 300 in the United States. 

Consecrated virgins live a life of virginity, but unlike women religious, they live in the world and are financially responsible for themselves. Their virginity is permanent but comes in the form of a resolve that is formally consecrated. They live a life of prayer and penance and service to the church. 

Lott had a big moment of conversion in 2009 at the Ash Wednesday Mass where she “heard God say that he loves me.” She made a private vow of virginity in March 2015 and had been in formation with Bishop Paul Sirba until his death. Bishop Felton met with Lott and concluded the consecration, telling Lott in his homily, “And so Bishop Sirba is here today, and I truly do believe that I have a co-consecrator of you this very day as we call you forth in prayer as a consecrated virgin.” 

No. 5: Bible in a Year 

The year 2021 began with a joyful surprise (see editorial, page 10) when a new podcast led by the Diocese of Duluth’s Father Mike Schmitz shot to the top of the Apple podcast charts and stayed there for 17 days, remaining in the top 5 even into February. The Bible in a Year podcast from Ascension Press won a gold award from the w3 awards and a People’s Choice Podcast Award in the religion and spirituality category. 

The unexpected hit drew regional, national, and international media attention and was promoted in the big, bright lights of New York City’s Times Square from Dec. 19 to Jan. 6. 

The podcast is available for free from Ascension, and on YouTube, Spotify, and many other places where podcasts are found. For the new year, Ascension is also offering a Spanish language version. 

Parishioner turning 108 still lives at home 

By Father Richard Kunst 
For The Northern Cross 

The priesthood affords me the opportunity to meet so many different people, which is a great part of working in ministry. Every so often I get to know a person who really makes an impact on me, a parishioner whose story is uniquely impressive. My current assignment as pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in the western part of Duluth has one such person.

Father Richard Kunst poses with Agnes, a parishioner who has been a member of St. Elizabeth in Duluth for more than 100 years. (Submitted photo)

Allow me to introduce you to Agnes, who will turn 108 on Jan. 15. Her family has asked me not to use her last name, because she still lives at home alone, and they feel more comfortable with a certain level of anonymity. 

To put her age into some historical perspective, she was born before the outbreak of World War I. The year of her birth coincided with the very first electric traffic light which was erected in Cleveland, Ohio. It was also the year Babe Ruth started his professional baseball career with the Boston Red Sox. 

When I first heard of Agnes, I was shocked to hear that someone her age was still living in her home and not in an assisted living facility, so I had to go meet her, and I have to say, Agnes is pretty impressive. 

Though she still lives alone, her son Ed and daughter-in-law Gloria travel from Stone Lake, Wis., every week to stay with her for a few days in the house Agnes and her husband John purchased in 1942 for $3,400. Every time I have visited her, she has been sitting in the same chair, surrounded by family pictures hanging on the wall, and across the room from her chair is a framed letter from President Donald Trump that Agnes likes to point out: the president sent her the note on the occasion of her 106th birthday, back when she was younger! 

I asked Agnes if she has been a member of St. Elizabeth for her entire life, and she said, “Only since I was three” — that’s 105 years — although she did, in fact, receive all the sacraments at St. Elizabeth. 

The first priest she has memories of was Father Pirant, who she says was very stern and rigid. She was confirmed at the parish in 1926 by Bishop Thomas Welch, who had just been named Duluth’s third bishop. 

In the 105 years she has been a member of St. Elizabeth, she has been much more than just a parishioner sitting in the pews. Agnes was very active and successful in helping raise the funds for the current church building, which was erected in 1957. She tells the story of all the different events she helped head up to raise the money, including rummage sales and bake sales. Laughing, she says, “We sold potica by the slice!” 

She also took her once a month turn in keeping the church clean and for many years served funeral luncheons. She said her whole social life was wrapped around the life of St. Elizabeth, and she is well remembered for that. Every parishioner who has been around long enough knows who Agnes is, and they are pretty proud to have her around still. 

When you have the opportunity to converse with someone who has reached such a ripe age, there are some basic questions that seem so appropriate to ask. When I asked her what she attributes her longevity to, she did not miss a beat with her quick answer, “hard work.” What invention most impacted your life? “The wash machine! That Maytag was a miracle. Up to that point I used a wash board.” 

I asked her what her earliest memory was, and she struggled with that one a bit. She said, “Playing games I suppose, but I do remember very well when my younger sister died of diphtheria.” That, too, was 105 years ago. 

Other than being hard of hearing, Agnes is as sharp as a tack, quick as a whip, and has a great sense of humor. My last question for her was another typical one: I asked her what sort of future she envisions for herself, and she laughed, saying, “For now it isn’t very long.” 

I find myself bragging about Agnes fairly often, because I don’t think too many of us priests have a 108-year-old parishioner, let alone one who still lives alone in her home. Agnes is a great, faithful Catholic who loves to receive the Eucharist every time I visit her; her Catholic spirituality is abundantly visible, and her life is a sign of God’s grace in a particular way by the sheer number of years God has given her. 

Happy 108th, Agnes, and many more! 

Betsy Kneepkens: Dealing with Post Joy Stress Disorder

Only four of our six children made it home for Christmas. In all fairness, our entire family was together for a family vacation during Thanksgiving. We didn’t do anything Christmassy, but everyone understood that it was our family celebration for the Holidays.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I am learning that having all your adult children in the same room and at meals is the best family celebration you could have. It seemed to me that my family genuinely enjoyed each other. They dished out some teasing and laughed at a series of childhood memories, like when I made them wear lifejackets in hot tubs. The kids took a sincere interest in each other and were good about ensuring the activities could include Mom and Dad. Not every moment was perfect, but it was dang near close. With no children at home full-time, this family vacation has helped me and my husband cope with this new lifestyle without children.

My husband and I enjoy activities we used to do before kids, and we are amused working together on the household chores that we dished out to the children for so many years. On occasion, some of the boys have come home to help us with projects we can’t do alone. Or maybe we could do them alone, but it is a great excuse to have a visitor for a day or two. We are finding ourselves purchasing recreational items or creating space that we might not use ourselves but would be attractive to children so that home isn’t such a boring place to be.

My husband and I are about six months into this life alteration. I am adjusting but discovering an interesting phenomenon I am labeling as PJSD, Post Joy Stress Disorder. (PJSD is not a real syndrome like PTSD, and I do not want my inference to make light of the serious condition PTSD causes trauma victims. My situation is nowhere near traumatic, but I am dealing with sentiments I haven’t had before, nor expected.)

PJSD is the feeling experienced when I encounter events I have done multiple times before, but this time without my children. My reaction includes but is not limited to moist eyes, heart palpitations, situational avoidance, and flashbacks. As I go through the motions, I feel my throat in my stomach and at times, the moment that would have otherwise been joyful lacks the past feelings. I assumed, which was a terrible idea, that when I finished raising my kids, my husband and I would have grandchildren to fill that void. Well, I was wrong about that.

The first time I encountered these feelings was the Sunday Mass after my last left for college. Sunday Mass was a huge deal for our family, as I have written before. Ninety-five percent of the time we went as a family, and if it was impossible to figure out how to go together, at least one of us would attend Mass twice, so no one in the family ever went alone. Our child-filled pew was part of our prayer to God, “In our full lives, God, you are always our priority!”

My husband and I still attend Mass together and take time to praise God. However, the energy and orchestration necessary to make this happen each week is no longer there. When I glance past my husband, I see the empty pew. Even after six months, it does not feel right. I experience a sense of loss at not needing to tame an unruly bunch of toddlers or teenagers (equally challenging) while doing all I can to be present to our Lord. Our attendance these days is so uncomplicated and straightforward that the graces we did receive for all the hard work do not seem possible any more. I found joy in this church orchestration and now I miss that joy.

All of our children played sports their whole lives. The one sport every child played was basketball. This activity was a family affair. Even the youngest would watch from the stroller. In early December, I had reason to enter a gym where a basketball tournament was happening. Parents, grandparents, and hundreds of young players with uniforms on were running around the gym. I heard the sounds of basketball pounding the floor, little voices saying, “Mommy can I have some money to buy a treat,” and scoreboard buzzers going off. Parents were chattering about how that was a bad call or if those refs don’t signal a foul, someone will get hurt — watching some coaches yelling at their players for underachieving and others praising their kids for trying their best. Although I savored the experience last month, my throat was in my stomach. It seemed like I was watching from the outside in, and I wanted to yell to the parents, “Enjoy this, it ends.” Instead of thinking that my reaction was irrational, I realized that this was just PJSD and accepted that life was different now.

Typically, we get the Christmas tree out shortly after Thanksgiving, and we work as a family team to put it up, the boys begrudgingly, and my daughter with tremendous enthusiasm while being a tad frustrated at her brothers for not being more eager. Without kids at home, it took us weeks to get the boxes from the garage. We finally moved on to it because we realized it would be Christmas if we waited for the kids to help. My husband and I put up the tree and decorations together, which was fun. However, if you think I am the only one suffering from PJSD, my husband could not get himself to put the angel on top of the tree. He knows that has always been our daughter’s job. So, the angel sat until our daughter, returning home, was able to put the angel on the top of the tree.

Because of PJSD, I seem to be more attentive to observing young parents with small children as they struggle with the chaos that comes with parenting. Most parents have heard the saying that times go by really fast, and before you know it your children are grown. I want to say to parents of young children that this joy you get to experience will end before you know it. Try to forget the craziness and be present in this moment of happiness because you will do similar events someday without your kids, and the best part of that experience will have grown up and moved away.

Most importantly, don’t avoid activities or situations because your kiddos make them complex and chaotic. Instead, embrace that condition, because you can’t recreate it when they are grown. PJSD is real for me, and the Feast of the Holy Family reminds parents, especially those parents with young children, that God has planted joy in every situation with our children, and sadly we might not realize it until that time has passed.

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: Trusting Jesus in the midst of suffering

It must have been February 2007 when I made my first formal silent retreat in a hermitage at Pacem in Terris in St. Francis. Looking out the window of my hermitage at the oak trees in the winter woods and praying, I found myself meditating, as I often do, on how God loves and holds in existence each of his creatures, every tree and plant and squirrel and bird, and me and you.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

And as I did so, my heart kept being drawn to the broken ones, and God’s love for and intimate knowledge of them.

During that same retreat, I felt inspired to take on an unusual Lenten penance — to give up worry, which for me is no easy feat. I had a particular little “arrow prayer” to pray whenever I caught myself worrying, taken from the Divine Mercy devotion: “Jesus, I trust in you.”

And my heart was moved by praying with what is still my favorite Psalm, Psalm 131, with these lines in the breviary: “O Lord, my heart is not proud / nor haughty my eyes. / I have not gone after things too great / nor marvels beyond me. / Truly I have set my soul / in silence and peace. / As a child has rest in its mothers arms, / even so my soul.”

Later that month, the reason for these inspirations became clear to me. My infant daughter Anna began having noticeable seizures, and when we took her to the doctor, we got the terrible news that it was something very serious, the mitochondrial disorder that would eventually take her life at the age of 14 months.

I don’t know where to begin to describe what happened from there. We spent the next weeks essentially living in a NICU room in Rochester after complications from anesthesia following a surgery for Anna’s feeding tube. My little girl was attached to so many monitors it looked like a spaceship cockpit.

I was, even then, a very knowledgeable pro-life Catholic, able to quote chapter and verse of Evangelium Vitae, and yet when the doctors came in and started talking about end-of-life issues, it was as if I suddenly had amnesia. Everything I knew vanished from my mind. I only regained my bearings after talking to my pastor at the time and to the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

I witnessed miracles there. My little girl fought to get off the ventilator and made it out of the hospital, made it home to spring and summer days and even another winter. So many people offered us so much support and love that I’m still grateful and a bit embarrassed by it.

Daily life caring for Anna involved endless syringes of unusual medicines and supplements pumped into her feeding tube, long nights listening for the pulse oximeter to go off letting us know Anna was having trouble breathing, and various appointments with different specialists and physical therapists, some of whom loved to just hold that beautiful girl with her peaceful blue eyes.

It was hard, and beautiful, and one of the best and worst times of my life as we helped Anna carry her cross. I learned so much from the privilege of loving her and caring for her.

I don’t know how many times I prayed, “Jesus, I trust in you.” With every insurance question or complex decision or foul-up at the pharmacy or sleepless night or scheduling hassle I entrusted myself to divine providence, believing that God’s plan is the best plan, praying for a miracle that would let my child have the earthly healing I longed for while also offering my acceptance of God’s will should he want to take her home to him, trusting that whatever happened would be for Anna’s good and for our good.

It turned out that by grace I had a comparatively easy time doing this, abandoning myself to God’s providence through Anna’s life and illness and all the trials that came with it — right up until the night she died, on the feast of the Epiphany.

That has been a much longer, much harder process. Sometimes when I go on retreat, even at my pre-ordination retreat at Pacem in Terris, or when I come to these January anniversaries, there are tears as I have to walk through it with God again and process it.

This year, as I come to that anniversary in the midst of different sufferings, I find myself seeing that struggle in a new light, as something again that God, in his loving providence, has allowed for my good. Maybe it’s not supposed to be easy, and it was easy while Anna was with me only because those were the only baby steps I could handle then.

And maybe it’s to remind myself and every other sufferer in the world — that’s all of us — that God remains faithful and present with us even in the midst of it, whether we find the going supernaturally easy and full of consolation or almost impossibly hard.

Because the truth remains the same. As St. Paul put it in his Letter to the Romans: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

Jesus, I trust in you.

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

Father Richard Kunst: Even the weird Bible passages are pertinent to us

There is some really weird stuff in the Old Testament, and sometimes it shows up in the readings at Mass, more often in the weekday readings because there are obviously more of those than Sundays. It is easy for priests, who preach every day, to skirt past these readings and focus on the Gospel, because even we wonder what the heck to say for some of these passages.

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

Even though we are well past it now, the last couple weeks of ordinary time tend to give us some doozies to hear at Mass, like the book of Daniel, which was written fairly late for the Old Testament. Daniel was written during a time of great persecution of the Jewish people living in Palestine around 160 years before Jesus was born. It was written with the purpose of comforting the Jews who were going through this ordeal. But the narrative of the story from the book dates back to an earlier persecution of the Jews during a time period we call the Babylonian Captivity, which happened in the sixth century before Christ.

The book is named after a young, wise Jewish man who was taken to Babylon and happened to have interaction with the Babylonian leadership, often interpreting dreams and visions that the kings of Babylon were having. One such dream, taken from the second chapter of Daniel, was that of King Nebuchadnezzar, who dreamt of a massive statue made out of all sorts of material.

As the dream unfolds, he see that the head of the statue was made of gold, the chest and arms were of silver, its belly and thighs made of bronze, its legs iron, and the feet made of iron and tile. I told you it was weird. The king, desperately wanting to know what the dream means, calls on the wise Daniel to interpret.

I will not bore you with the entire meaning, but suffice it to say each material the statue was made of represented a new kingdom. The head of gold was King Nebuchadnezzar himself, and each king that followed him was inferior until the divided kingdom of “tile and iron” was destroyed.

It is what comes next in the dream that pertains to us today. After the divided kingdom is destroyed, the sacred text says, “In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).

We are living the dream, baby! King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, whether he knew it or not (or whether Daniel knew it or not), was about the church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The Catholic Church was born at the height of the Roman Empire’s power, and it has been living ever since.

Do you know how many empires, kings, queens, and armies have tried to destroy the church over the past 2,000-plus years? A lot of them. They are all gone, but the church is still here and will be here until the end of human history. And when the history of man finally comes to an end, the church will still continue, because the church on earth is only one part of the church.

One of the traditional titles given to the church on earth is the “Church Militant.” That is because we continue to battle our way through this world in order to get to heaven. But the church is not only here on earth; the traditional name for church in heaven is the “Church Triumphant,” because that part of the church has won the battle and reached its heavenly goal. The church in heaven is just as much the church as is the church on earth, so all of our deceased loved ones who are with God are members of the church too. It is the one organization that we do not forfeit membership of upon our death! That is pretty cool if you really give that some thought. Dying interrupts all sorts of things, but it does not interrupt our membership in the Catholic Church.

So in these often weird passages of the Old Testament, we still see how they pertain to us, and when Nebuchadnezzar’s dream ended with the prophesy of a new kingdom to be established that will live forever, know that we are all living the dream!

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: Getting Jesus’ early years right

We are still in the Christmas season, and the infancy narrative events for the liturgical year don’t end until Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple on Feb. 2. Looking at Jesus’ early years, it can be hard to put all the events of the infancy narratives together, especially because they are told by two different evangelists, and neither of the two speak all the events. For example, St. Matthew speaks of Jesus birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, King Herod seeking to kill the baby Jesus, the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt, and their return ultimately to Nazareth. But St. Matthew doesn’t mention the shepherds or Jesus’ circumcision or presentation in the Temple. St. Luke on the other hand, speaks of the birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the shepherds, Jesus’ circumcision and presentation in the Temple, and return to Nazareth. But he speaks nothing of the Magi or King Herod, and the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt. So how do we put all these historical events into one timeline?

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

The following makes the most sense to me.

In the year 7 B.C. (Dionysius Exiguus, sixth century B.C., who computed the year of Christ’s birth, was off by a few years!) Joseph and Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is Joseph’s native town, to register for the census that Caesar prescribed for the entire world. At Bethlehem, they find lodging in a less-than-ideal place, because there was no room where people normally stay. This was most likely in something like a cave off the back of a house, the cave part being the area in which the animals would stay. It was there that Mary gave birth to Jesus.

The dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity teaches that Mary always was a virgin, before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. St. Augustine said, “It is not right that He who came to heal corruption should by His advent violate integrity.” This birth was also pain free for Mary, who was immaculately conceived. St. Thomas Aquinas says the fact that she “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him a manger” gives evidence of her pain free labor. A mother giving birth in the normal way wouldn’t be able to “wrap” and “lay the child in a manger” herself.

After eight days, Joseph brought Jesus to the local synagogue for his circumcision. After 40 days, the requisite time for a Jewish mother’s confinement, they took the six-mile trip north to Jerusalem. It was at the Temple of Jerusalem that Mary completed the ritual purification according the Law and during which Jesus was “presented.” Mary, being the Immaculate Conception and having given birth without the violation of her virginal integrity, didn’t need to be purified. Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t need to be redeemed despite being the first born. Aquinas said they partook in these rituals for three reasons: One, because they were still under the Law; two, they didn’t want to give scandal; and three, as an example to others. In fact, notice that Jesus wasn’t ‘redeemed’ as the Law stipulated, but rather the opposite. He was “presented” to God. He wasn’t taken back from God by his parents but rather given to God.

After the presentation in the Temple, the Holy Family returned to Bethlehem. At this point, they acquired better lodging. They found a house to stay in, and Joseph found some work to do in order to provide for the family. Scripture speaks of a house at this point. Then within a year of Jesus’ birth, the Magi, seeing Jesus’ star come from the East, made their way to Jerusalem and then ultimately to Bethlehem. I believe that this star wasn’t just a natural phenomenon, like a comet or the coming together of Jupiter and Venus, but rather a miraculous phenomenon. St. Matthew speaks of the star “going before” the Magi and “coming to rest over the place where the child was.”

Within the next year or so, probably late 6 B.C., King Herod realizes that the Magi, who were warned by angels, were not coming back to him. He is furious and afraid of the newborn king and sends soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the boys two years and younger. Joseph is warned in a dream to take his family to Egypt. They make the trip of at least 140 miles to get to Egypt. They find a home, Joseph finds some work, and they spend a couple of years there.

In 4 B.C., King Herod dies, and an angel tells Joseph that he can return to Israel, but not to Bethlehem, because Archelaus, who is just as bloodthirsty as his dad Herod was, reigns there. So, the Holy Family continues on to Nazareth where Jesus will grow up, live, and work until he begins his public ministry at the age of 30.

This chronology is not without difficulties, but according to the scriptural evidence, I believe this order of events best incorporates each of the infancy events. Every year during Advent and Christmas, I love to reflect over these events. They are true historical events. They really did happen. When we think about them, we can’t help but wonder and be in awe of God’s goodness and providence throughout history! Merry Christmas!

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].

Bishop Daniel Felton: Let’s listen — Part II

In the last issue of The Northern Cross, I talked about the upcoming Let’s Listen sessions.

Recap of Let’s Listen Part I
Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

The background to Let’s Listen is centered in what I believe is a dawning moment in our diocese. It is beginning to dawn on us that we can once again mobilize to the Mission that had been entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit. This Mission is simply bringing people to Jesus Christ, who is the healing and hope that we seek in our personal life, the life of our parishes, and the communities in which we dwell. To step forward into that Mission, we must discuss and discern what is the “next step” that the Holy Spirit is calling us to in our mobilizing to Mission.

As we discern our next step in the Holy Spirit, let us turn to the example of the steps taken by the two disciples walking the road to Emmaus. At the very beginning of their journey, Jesus joins them along the way and asks what they are talking about. Not recognizing Jesus, the two disciples begin to share their hurts and despair with Jesus. Jesus listens to them intently and deeply, and then, having listened to their story, he responds with his relational presence revealed in his person and the scriptures. Slowly, the disciples begin to discover a sense of hope and healing. At the end of the journey, Jesus celebrates the Eucharist. It is then that it dawns on them that it is Jesus who has been walking with them along the way and that as they receive his body and blood in Communion, he is the source of their healing and hope.

“Let’s Listen” is the name that is being given to the journey that we are going to walk on the road to Emmaus in our own time. The first step of this journey is to gather people throughout the diocese to talk about what is the hurt and pain that we carry within our hearts these days as we walk our own road to Emmaus. As we share and listen to the pain and hurts of one another, we will pray for Jesus to join us along the way as he asks us: “What are you talking about?” As we share our hurts and pain with Jesus, slowly we will begin to discover a dawning sense of hope and healing. It is in the sharing among ourselves and with Jesus that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us the next step that we are to take as a diocese as we mobilize to Mission — not our best guess or inclination but a true discernment of the call of the Holy Spirit.

On to Let’s Listen — Part II

At the present time, our Let’s Listen planning group is meeting with the deans to discuss how best to proceed with the Let’s Listen sessions in each deanery. The format of these sessions will be simply to pray to the Holy Spirit, to listen to participants respond to two questions, and to listen not only to one another (which is hugely important) but also to the

Holy Spirit speaking to us through one another. The two questions of discussion and discernment: 1) What is hurting or in need of healing in your personal life, parish, and community? 2) What is healthy or hopeful in your personal life, parish, and community?

The primary format for the Let’s Listen sessions will be small to medium size groups of people that will meet in person with a facilitator. There will also be opportunities for virtual gatherings, written submissions, and individual interviews that seek to ensure that as many people and perspectives are heard as is possible.

The Let’s Listen sessions will take place this winter into spring. It is my desire by Pentecost 2022 to articulate what was heard in the Let’s Listen sessions, what we discerned the Holy Spirit saying to us, and concretely what does this mean for the mission and vision of our diocese moving forward.

For now, as we walk our own road to Emmaus, let us lovingly acknowledge the Lord Jesus who is walking with us every step of the way and helping us to discern the next step entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit as disciples of the Lord on mission.

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth.

Editorial: Bible in a Year a good resolution for the new year 

As the calendar page turned over to 2021 a year ago, one of the major surprises was that the No. 1 podcast in America — not just religious podcasts but all podcasts, going head to head with This American Life and National Public Radio and Joe Rogan — was the Bible in a Year podcast from Ascension Press and the Diocese of Duluth’s own Father Mike Schmitz. 

Many people locally and across the country followed the podcast, based on Jeff Cavins’ Bible Timeline, throughout the entire year. 

As the year closed, Ascension has announced a Spanish language version and promoted the podcast in Times Square in New York City. 

If you’re still looking for a New Year’s resolution and you haven’t already gone through the whole thing — or maybe even if you have — consider giving the podcast a try. Father Schmitz’s inspiration, as he described it to The Northern Cross last year, was being surrounded by the world’s noise and distraction and catastrophe and the need to be rooted in something eternal, like the Scriptures. 

It’s all too obvious that those conditions still apply to many of us. Consider foregoing “doomscrolling” and giving it a listen. It’s available wherever podcasts are found, but for a simple way to get started, simply visit Ascension’s website at media.ascensionpress.com/all-bible-in-a-year-episodes

Ask Father Mike: Sin isn’t a necessary evil; aim to know goodness well

Editor’s note: Father Schmitz is off this month. This reprint column appeared in the Jan. 2015 edition of The Northern Cross.

Question: Do you really believe that sins are the measurement of your passes to heaven? I don’t think so. Sins are necessary to life. How would you know that good is good if you do not experience sin? It gives balance to life.

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Answer: That’s an interesting question. It reminds me of a magazine for kids that I used to read. Do you remember “Highlights for Children”? It was usually in doctor and dentist waiting rooms and had any number of short stories and games for kids to play.

My favorite thing in “Highlights” was a little comic strip called “Goofus and Gallant.” They were two young boys, and one was the embodiment of bad manners and selfishness (Goofus) while the other was an example of good manners and noble behavior.

There would always be something like, “Goofus makes his dad clean up after supper, while Gallant says, ‘I’ll do the dishes, mom!’” The idea is that children are learning the difference between good and bad behavior through comparing and contrasting the behavior of these two boys.

This is clearly one way that we learn things in life. There are plenty of lessons that we learn as we go through this world by way of comparison and contrast.

We say things like, “This lemonade is sour.” In comparison to what? Well, possibly in comparison to something that is not sour (like water) or something that is sweet (like orange juice). We can know things like color based on the light spectrum. This variety adds zest to life and helps us distinguish one thing from another.

But difference in taste or color is not the same thing as difference between good and evil. In fact, this goes back to ancient Christian theology. In Catholic theology, evil is not a “thing” in the same sense that good is a “thing.” In fact, it is more accurate to say that evil is either a distortion of or the lack (privation) of a good. We have evil when something good in itself is either distorted, misused, or taken away.

Therefore, something like blindness isn’t a “thing”; it is the lack of a good (sight). One doesn’t need to know blindness in order to know seeing. Or take the case of someone using the truth to hurt another person. Here, one would be misusing a good thing (truth) for an evil purpose, but a person wouldn’t need to experience this in order to know the goodness of truth.

‘Necessary’ doesn’t mean ‘good’

We recognize that evil is a “necessary” part of life in the same sense that we recognize that sickness is a part of life. These things don’t add anything to living. In fact, they mostly serve to take away from our experience of life. They are “necessary” in that we experience them, but sin and evil are not necessary for us to understand the good.

Consider a couple of brief examples.

When it comes to beauty, a person could be raised (in theory) completely surrounded by beauty. Imagine if all of the music and art and entertainment they were exposed to was consistently in accord with the nature of real beauty. They would not have to be simultaneously exposed to ugliness in order to know beauty.

A person exclusively engaged with those things which reflect beauty would actually come to know beauty in a way that someone who was also exposed to ugliness could not. They would certainly be able to recognize ugliness when presented with it, but they wouldn’t need to know ugliness in order to know beauty.

This is the motivation behind the U.S. Treasury Department’s work to train people to be able to spot counterfeit bills. One might imagine that, when training people to recognize counterfeits, they would study all of the different ways a bill could be forged. But this is not how the government does it.

They have found that the single most effective way to train people to know when they are looking at a counterfeit bill is to study genuine bills. They know what “real money” looks and feels like to such a degree that they are able to instantly recognize a fake. They did not, in this sense, need to experience the bad in order to know the good. They just needed to thoroughly know the good.

Or consider parenting. A good parent would certainly vary in the kind of love they gave to their child. At times, their love might be gentle and soothing. At other times, it could be more demanding and less flexible. There would be a great variety of expressions of love that the child would come to know. But the parent would not also have to abuse and use the child in order to “give balance” to their parenting. In a similar way, sin does not “give balance” to life.

Sin adds negatives

It seems shortsighted to say that we wouldn’t know that good is good if we didn’t experience the opposite.

There are virtually an infinite number of goods in this world. The more fully we are exposed to, experience, and come to know these goods, the more full life becomes. Sin merely adds pain and dullness to life, not color.

Lastly, sin isn’t necessarily the measurement of one’s “pass into heaven.” On the contrary, love is the measure.

First, the love God has for us in creating us and redeeming us. Second, in the love we have for him by choosing to obey him. We choose to love God when we choose to respond to his grace with faithfulness.

In the end, sin isn’t the test; love is.

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.