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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.

Christmas greetings from Bishop Daniel

A Christmas message from Bishop Daniel Felton

Dear Followers and Friends of Jesus,

May I take this occasion to wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas! The birth of the Son of God into our world is THE game changer for all eternity. It is in the birth of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that the Kingdom of God is at hand. In the person of Jesus, we have the real opportunity in our everyday lives to touch, embrace, and embody divine life, love, mercy, hope, and joy. In response, we join the angels in singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will!”

The mystery of the incarnation is so deep and wide that it will take us days and weeks to begin to fathom that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17). We will ponder this great Christmas mystery through the octave of Christmas, the 12 days of Christmas, and then through Christmastide to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

May we be bearers of the Christmas Christ to all whom we encounter and accompany in this holy season of Christmas. May God bless you with the Christmas gifts of good health and abundant joy!

+Daniel

Suzanne Lott is first consecrated virgin for the Diocese of Duluth

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The Thursday after her consecration, the joy set in for Suzanne Lott: “I’m espoused to Jesus, and that’s forever!”

Suzanne Lott, the first consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Duluth, stands with Bishop Daniel Felton at the conclusion of her consecration Mass. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch)

Lott became the first consecrated virgin in the history of the Diocese of Duluth Friday, Oct. 29, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth, in a Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel Felton.

What is a consecrated virgin?

Consecrated virginity is an ancient vocation in the church, but one that was uncommon for centuries until being renewed in 1970. According to the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, there are about 250 in the United States and only 4,000 in the world.

“A consecrated virgin is a woman who, after renewing her resolve to remain a virgin is dedicated to Jesus forever,” Bishop Felton said in his homily. “The consecration of virgins goes back to the early days of the church, when some women felt called by God to give themselves entirely to him, to be concerned only about the things of the Lord, as the Apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7. Through a rite of consecration, you will be betrothed to Jesus this day as your divine spouse. As a bride, you will serve to be a sign of Christ’s presence in the world, his bride the church.”

“Consecrated virgins are committed to seeking intimacy with the divine spouse in all things,” he continued. “Your life is lived in prayer and penance for clergy, the church, and the world. Using the gifts God has given to you, you will serve Christ in and through the church, with a particular connection to the home of the Diocese of Duluth. Consecrated virgins do not wear a habit or take a new name as religious sisters or nuns do, but today Suzanne will receive a ring, as a symbol of her spousal union with Jesus Christ.”

Lott said that while women religious make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live in community, consecrated virgins live in the world and are financially responsible for themselves. Their virginity is permanent, but it comes in the form of a resolve that is consecrated.

Bishop Felton, in his homily, told Lott, “You have renounced marriage for the sake of your love relationship with Christ. Your motherhood will be a motherhood of the spirit, as you do the will of Jesus and work with others in a spirit of charity so that a great family of children may be born or reborn to the life of grace in Jesus Christ, in and through you as a consecrated virgin.”

At her consecration Mass, Suzanne Lott hugs Stephanie Winter, one of her attendants, with her other attendant, Sara Scheunemann, a consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Green Bay, standing by. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch)

Receiving the call

Lott, 38, said she grew up in Duluth and was raised Catholic but fell away from faith in the tenth or 11th grade, when she dropped out of religious education. She returned to the faith and was confirmed as an adult in 2008, and she said it was then that she began learning more about her faith and about who God is.

“In 2009, at Ash Wednesday Mass, I went to Mass and there heard God say that he loves me,” she said. “And that was a big kind of conversion moment. That was the first time I saw God as a person and having a relationship with him. And that just continued to grow, just started to look for ways to learn about my faith.”

She also came to understand that while her faith is personal, it is not private.

“That was hard for me to just kind of open up and share my faith,” she said. “But then after that moment of hearing that God loves me and seeing it more as a relationship, I started to have relationships with other people, like faith relationships, sharing faith and hearing their stories.”

That year she began meeting with a spiritual director and discerning the more common call of religious life. She visited a few religious orders and joined one in 2012, staying for a year but discerning that was not where she was called.

It was a confusing time, she said, still feeling called to give her life to Jesus but also being at peace that she wasn’t called to the order she had joined. Consecrated life came up a few times, but she didn’t know much about it.

In 2014, she spent several weeks with another order, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. “That was really good, really healing,” she said. “But I left that kind of at peace that I wasn’t called to religious life.”

Later that summer she went to an informational conference on consecrated virginity, and her desire to be espoused to Jesus grew stronger. On March 25, 2015, she made a private vow of virginity to God.

“A priest friend of mine had been meeting with Bishop [Paul] Sirba that day and mentioned the vow to him, and he said if she’s interested in a public rite, she should talk to me,” Lott said.

They started meeting that summer, the beginning of a formation process that continued until the bishop’s death in 2019.

There is no standard formation process — and certainly none in the Diocese of Duluth, where there had never been a consecrated virgin — so Lott met with Bishop Sirba monthly. The U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins has a book with information, and reading and discussing it with the bishop was part of it. The process also included elements similar to what clergy in formation go through — an application, references, and a psychological exam.

Lott said the process took longer than she expected, but when Bishop Felton arrived, things moved quickly. She said she introduced herself to him at the deanery Mass, he had already heard about her, he gave her his cell phone number and made it a priority. After two meetings the date was set.

In his homily, Bishop Felton said that things were already ready to be done when Bishop Sirba was here. “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,” he said.

Life as a consecrated virgin

The life of a consecrated virgin is one of prayer and penance while living in the world. It also involves service to the church.

 Suzanne Lott receives a veil from Bishop Daniel Felton as one of the symbols of her consecrated virginity in the Diocese of Duluth Oct. 29. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch)

“Preserve the fullness of your faith, the steadfastness of you call, the single-heartedness of your love,” Bishop Felton counseled in his homily. “Be prudent and watch. Keep the glory of your virginity uncorrupted by pride. Nourish your love of God by feeding the one body of Christ. Let your thoughts be on the things of Jesus. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God. Make it your concern to pray fervently for the spread of the Christian faith and for the unity of all Christians. Pray earnestly to God for the welfare of the married. Remember also those who have forgotten that God’s forgiveness always extends to them in the fullness of charity.”

He noted her service, volunteering at her parish of St. Benedict in Duluth, her employment at St. Raphael in Duluth and St. Rose in Proctor, and also her work at Calvary Cemetery.

Lott said first and foremost the vocation is prayer and penance for the diocese, clergy, and the community. That includes praying the Liturgy of the Hours and participating in daily Mass.

The service can vary, she said, depending on the consecrated virgin. In addition to volunteering at St. Benedict, she has also assisted with things at the diocese, such as preparing for the Chrism Mass, and she likes working with children. But she’s still learning how things will look going forward.

Lott said she hopes her history-making consecration will help more women become aware of the possibility of this vocation or religious life.

“I’m excited about that,” she said.

Seminary’s preparation year helps men discern vocation more deeply

By Susan Klemond 
Catholic News Service

As Dominic Wolters takes this year to prepare to fully participate in priestly formation at St. Paul Seminary, he’s growing spiritually and discerning more deeply — and he isn’t missing his Twitter feed that much.

In this undated photo, Jordan Danielson, left, of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, and Peter Specht of the Diocese of Duluth, participate in some classwork as part of their propaedeutic year at the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. (CNS photo/courtesy The Catholic Spirit)

Wolters, a recent University of Minnesota graduate discerning priesthood in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, along with 15 other seminary aspirants, are the first to go through the seminary’s new propaedeutic year. While fasting from their phones and computers they are focusing on human and spiritual growth, discernment, and living in community in St. Paul.

“If you told me three years ago, ‘Hey Dominic, I think you’d be a great fit to live in a house with a bunch of other guys, talk about your feelings, and not use your phone,’ I’d have probably looked at you like you were crazy,” said Wolters, 22, whose home parish is St. Casimir in St. Paul. “But now that I’m living in the house with these men, I really couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing.”

The St. Paul Seminary program is a response to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy’s 2016 call for a “propaedeutic” preparation stage before traditional seminary formation to foster healthy and holy priests.

It seeks to “help aspirants discern where God wants them to grow and detox from the culture,” said Father John Floeder, the seminary’s director of the propaedeutic year and human formation.

He emphasized the year is designed to help its participants grow in a joyful holiness.

“We want to accompany them, to help them in becoming the man and ultimately the priest [God] wants them to be,” he told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “Too often, priestly training can be seen as just skill acquisition rather than authentic and integral growth.”

“Propaedeutic” means “to teach beforehand.” The seminary’s program is facilitated by priests, psychologists, and theologians. The participants range in age from 22 to 29. Six hope to study for the archdiocese, and the others are from five other dioceses.

Some of the men are new to seminary formation, while others are taking a break from seminary academics to discern their call more deeply.

Away from academic demands, aspirants have space to work on their growth together and continue discernment, Father Floeder said.

“The year is to really help ground them and to help them be able to do some real interior work and human work but without feeling like they’re on a conveyor belt being moved toward priesthood,” he said.

To apply for the program, men must have a college degree and be sponsored by their bishop and diocese. Program acceptance requires “extensive vetting,” Father Floeder said, including a full psychological assessment.

Unlike seminarians, whose work includes studying for academic credit, the propaedeutic year participants attend the seminary’s Catechetical Institute as well as sessions on human growth, intellectual life, spiritual growth, and discipleship.

They develop habits in daily prayer and Mass while living in a former parish convent in St. Paul. Father Floeder and two St. Paul Seminary transitional deacons live with the aspirants and share community life.

Secular culture, through social media and technology, can be an obstacle to growth for young people today more than in previous generations, Father Floeder said.

To better hear God’s voice and also form and sustain good habits, aspirants give up their smartphones and computers during the week, and typically only use them on Saturdays.

Wolters said not having his phone constantly available can be inconvenient, but the “media fast” has helped his discernment and prayer life. Many of the men have shared they’d rather not have access at all.

Life without media-related distractions has “really kind of pushed us to encounter each other, to engage with each other on a much deeper level than we might initially do right away,” Wolters said. “It’s the sort of thing that’s both challenging but also deeply enriching and just very bracing.”

The men’s life offline is full, with morning and evening prayer, a daily eucharistic Holy Hour and Mass, along with spiritual, human, and intellectual formation sessions. Afternoons include unscheduled time for reading, prayer, or outings. They also grocery shop, do chores, and prepare some meals.

Community recreation includes board games and arm-wrestling tournaments. They see family and friends during the year and plan to go home for the holidays.

Aspirants meet regularly with their spiritual director and with Father Floeder, and they also minister to Latino Catholic youth and young adults in Minneapolis.

The propaedeutic year helps men identify the priority in their relationship with God and prepare to enter serious formation, said Jeff Cavins, an executive fellow at the seminary, who is giving sessions on Scripture and discipleship.

“Men sign up for seminary, but often they haven’t addressed the first question, and that is not ‘are you called to be a priest?’ but ‘are you called to be a disciple?’” he said in a seminary video. “If you try to prepare to become a priest without being a disciple, that could just be a job for you.”

Wolters said he hopes to minister as a priest, but he’s learning about life in Christ in any vocation.

“In many ways,” he said, “this year is focused on providing roots of faith, giving us a strong foundation for whatever state in life God might be calling us to.”

Klemond writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.