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Bishop Daniel Felton: Let’s listen — Part I

It is hard to believe that I have been the Bishop of Duluth for over half a year. In that time, I have put almost 17,000 miles on my vehicle as I have traveled numerous times back and forth across our diocese visiting parishes, schools, priests, deacons, and parishioners. Literally, the first seven months have been quite the trip! 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

In my wanderings, I have encountered a deep faith among so many people in our diocese. The last five years have been challenging times for our diocese, with bankruptcy proceedings, a listing of priests who abused minors, the clustering and merging of many parishes, and on top of all of that a pandemic. However, given the heritage of our diocese, we have always faced adversity with a deep sense of faith rooted in our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

I believe that it is in this faith that we are experiencing what I call a “dawning” moment. We are stepping out of our recent dark times into a dawning light. It is not full daylight, but it is more light than darkness. In this dawning light, we can move from the hurt of the darkness into hope and healing light. Literally, it is beginning to dawn on us that we can once again mobilize to the Mission entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit. 

This Mission is simply bringing people to Jesus Christ, who brings healing and hope in our personal lives, the lives of our parishes, and the lives of the communities in which we dwell. As we step forward into that Mission, we must discuss and discern the “next step” that the Holy Spirit is calling us to as we mobilize to Mission. 

Discerning 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. 

We must walk the road to Emmaus in our own time, and begin to share our hurts and hopes to realize Jesus in our midst. As a diocese, we will soon begin an organized discernment effort called “Let’s Listen.” The first step of this journey is to gather people throughout the diocese to talk about 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. This will not be our best guess or inclination but rather a true discernment of the call of the Holy Spirit. 

In recent times, you may have heard of the invitation of Pope Francis for all dioceses throughout the world to gather in a spirit of synodality. As a diocese, we are preparing for listening sessions throughout our diocese to discern our next step in the Holy Spirit — a process that addresses the invitation of Pope Francis in a way that will best meet the needs of the Diocese of Duluth. I believe “Let’s Listen” will be our best local expression and embodiment of synodality, which simply is to gather people together to share their Emmaus experiences of hurts and pains with one another and with Jesus as the source of healing and hope. 

“Let’s Listen” is led by a committee representing every deanery of our diocese. You will soon hear from them. 

For now, let us step into this dawning moment in our personal lives and in the life of our diocese. Let us embrace the invocation of the psalmist, who proclaims, “Awake, lyre and harp, with praise let us awake the dawn” (Psalm 108:2). 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth.