Browsing News Entries

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Father Richard Kunst: Tolerance is not a virtue

As readers of The Northern Cross, you might be in a better place to see this than I am, since I do not get many opportunities to see what parishes other than my own are doing. But I am picking up on a vibe that there is a new (old) trend getting popular again, and at a very fast rate. A little over a year ago I re-introduced the St. Michael Prayer to be said at the end of all Masses in my two parishes. I have to say that addition was very well received by parishioners, but more and more I am hearing of priests all over the place doing the same thing. 

Father Richard Kunst

It is obviously a great thing, but it speaks to something else which is not so great. You see, there is no concerted effort to start up this old practice again, but priests and laity alike are starting to see the stark need to combat evil that seems to be more pervasive in recent years. Pope Leo XIII initiated the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the beginning of the 20th century because he had a premonition that the century would be so plagued by the demonic, and of course he was right. Our time seems no different. 

There always has to be a balance between acknowledging sin while at the same time acknowledging God’s mercy; God is always merciful to those who want his mercy, but just because God is all merciful does not mean we should tolerate sin, especially with how “societal sin” has been developing in recent years. The more we tolerate certain societal sins, the more they will become broadly accepted. 

Here is a case in point that we have all lived through in recent years. Pretty much 20 years ago I vividly recall the topic of homosexual marriages being brought up at my parish’s youth group. The response from the teenagers was one of dismay that we would even talk about it. In fact I remember one of the kids saying, “Why are we even talking about this? This will never happen!” 

That was 2002. Now fast forward 10 years to 2012, when the state of Minnesota was having a vote on legalizing homosexual marriages or keeping it illegal. Another vivid memory I have was Bishop Paul Sirba repeatedly telling us priests that this issue was the fight of our lifetimes, that this was going to define our time as priests. I hate to say this, but Bishop Sirba was wrong. In the span of 20 years, homosexual marriage went from unthinkable to now, when you are considered a bigot by many for supporting marriage as only between one man and one woman. 

In Catholic weddings, the nuptial blessing, which occurs after the Lord’s Prayer, says, “O God, by whom woman is joined to man and the companionship they had in the beginning is endowed with the one blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away by the flood.” In other words, as an institution, marriage went unchanged through human history, up until now. It was a societal sin that became so accepted that is now seems “blasphemous” to question it. 

In a similar fashion, there have recently become new threats to traditional values, this time targeting children. It wasn’t that long ago that if a man dressed in women’s clothes and gave undue attention to children, he would be arrested or sent for psychological help. But now there is growing acceptance for drag queen shows in which children are encouraged to dance in suggestive ways with the grown men. Similarly, what has been called “drag queen story time,” in which these troubled men will read story books to toddlers, is becoming more common. In fact, this was just recently a daily occurrence at a local zoo during their fall festivities. The more we tolerate such activity, the more normalized it will become. 

Another, more egregious example is the transgender movement’s targeting of children. People are rightly scandalized by the fact that more and more minors are having surgery to permanently alter their bodies attempting to change their sex. But this is a fast growing industry in which millions of dollars are made by the hospitals for such “services.” It hardly seems like a week goes by where there is not a news story of a hospital or doctor performing these surgeries. 

Another area of this is in abortion. One side of the political spectrum is calling the other side extremist for supporting the reversal of Roe v. Wade, all the while pushing for abortion to be legal for any reason all the way up to the point of natural birth. It was not long ago when the mantra of the “pro-choice” movement was “safe, legal and rare.” Not anymore. But the more we tolerate this mindset the more it will become the norm. 

God’s mercy is always available, but that does not mean that God ignores societal sins. At the start of the golden calf story in the book of Exodus, it says, “The Lord said to Moses, go down at once to your people whom you brought out from the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved” (Exodus 32:7). 

There is clearly a rapid cultural decline in the world. Things once considered unthinkable are now just part of the landscape. As Catholics and people of the Gospel, we have to have the courage to muster our voice so as to speak up against such decline — with courage, but always with love and charity. St. Michael the Archangel pray for us! 

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

Betsy Kneepkens: Pondering the parishioner who walked out of the abortion homily

I was sitting toward the back, and she was close to the front row. As the priest got to the third sentence of the homily, the woman grabbed her purse, stood up, entered the aisle, turned around, and walked out. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Many priests acknowledge Respect Life Month by covering the issue of abortion in a homily during October. Some priests have been beaten up enough that they avoid the topic from the pulpit. On occasion, I have heard the life issues covered a couple of times a year, but that usually happens when you include daily Masses. 

From my perspective, there is no other social issue that better matches the Gospel call to love and serve the innocent, poor, and marginalized than the topic of abortion. I am not saying the issue isn’t messy and challenging. I am saying that as Catholics, if we can’t get this right, it is pretty hard to find the justification to make any other justice issues significant. 

It was not the first time I saw someone get up from their pew. However, it was the first time I felt so compelled to know why. Admittedly, I tried to focus on the Mass, and what happened was none of my business, but I was distracted by this person’s actions. I wondered what her intent was. 

In Minnesota, there currently are practically zero restrictions on abortion, meaning there is a no longer parental notification in cases of minors seeking abortion, no 24-hour waiting period, no requirement to give procedural education to the mother, no state inspection of the facility, no limits on when the unborn can be terminated, including the moment before birth, which names just a few Minnesota “de-regulations.” From my perspective, there has never been a more critical time to inform Minnesotan Catholics about matters concerning abortion. 

I find it reasonable to listen to what the church says on the topic. If one disagrees, the situation is an excellent opportunity for people to hear opposing viewpoints, which I strive to do, because how do we remain confident in what we believe to be true without exposing ourselves to a strong argument against it? If we don’t listen to each other, we will make coming together on anything impossible. 

Since Roe was overturned, there seems to be constant coverage of pro-abortion, pro-choice, and “reproductive health” news, which no one can avoid. Most people know the church’s stance on abortion, but I think it is rare that a priest speaks directly from the pulpit on the subject. Essentially, the relentless news which covers the advocacy for woman’s access to terminate her child is battled against in 10 minutes a year by our parish priest, who is sharing an opposing message from the pulpit. The priest is our spiritual father. If he doesn’t speak about this to us, who is left doing it? 

I know the proper response to a situation when someone appears to “protest” at Mass is to ignore the problem. I tried to, and so did everyone else. I have replayed the incident several times, and each time part of me thinks I should have reached out. I wanted to know why she left, not from anger or curiosity but from a place of concern. If we indeed are sisters in Christ, and her actions were intentional, there is great value in listening. 

Abortion is complicated, messy, and contentious. The reality is that since the Supreme Court ruling was overturned, many women who have had abortions are conflicted, striving to convince themselves of their “right” decision, aloof, or even worse, dealing with old wounds being reopened. As a church, our compassion, support, and love need to be ever more present during this time. 

This woman may have left the pew because she did not feel well or due to a family emergency. That is certainly a possibility. However, there is a chance the lady left because she was protesting what she thought she would hear. If she struggled with the idea that the priest was talking about abortion from the pulpit, I wonder if she knows abortion is a central justice issue in the church. Basically, the issue of life and respect for it from conception to natural death is the foundation for all issues of social justice in God’s Kingdom. It is human life that most connects us with our Creator. If we don’t respect that, we don’t respect our Creator. 

With more than 70 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, one can surmise that at every Mass, at least one woman in the pews is directly connected to abortion. Father did speak about how God is merciful and that healing can come through Christ and the church. Unfortunately, because of the early departure, that message was not heard. If this woman experienced wounds connected to the topic of abortion, no one was there for her to offer support and help. Maybe if I had gotten up and listened, I could have shared more of God’s love for her. 

Maybe her issue is that she thinks the Catholic Church only is concerned with “forced” birth. If that was why she left frustrated, I think she has been misled. I could have told her of about 50-plus organizations in northern Minnesota that serve women from the time of conception to when they can get back on their feet again. Sometimes the support is given for years. These pro-women, pro-family, pro-life organizations were founded mainly by Catholic laypeople, staffed by Catholic volunteers, and funded by Catholics. There is almost no government support for these entities that rely on raffles and garage sales to provide needed support. In contrast, pro-abortion organizations, basically abortion clinics, rely on paid staff funded mainly by government subsidies. If she believed that our interest was just in forced birth, I wanted to let her know that her fellow Catholics make personal sacrifices to support the mothers and children, in an effort to love them back into stability and strive to live out the Gospel message. 

Perhaps this woman was concerned that the priest’s message would become a political commercial. Indeed, politics plays a huge role in abortion, but if she stayed, she was not going to hear the names of who we should vote for but rather what we need to vote for. Catholics are called to be engaged in politics and be faithful citizens. Father reminded us to do all we can for the unborn, which includes voting for candidates that respect the lives of those God entrusted to us. Father called us to choose political leaders not based on political parties or self-interest but instead on principle. 

If this woman intended to impact those at the church, she did. Where I fell short was being available to support the wounds that my fellow parishioner may have had. I don’t think we can underestimate the angst many people are carrying around with them since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The church has not changed its beliefs since Christ, but the state certainly has. This can be so confusing on such a critical issue. 

To me, if a person must leave Christ at the altar because she has something of a greater worry, it is a significant concern for us. If she is wounded, I hope she knows she can find healing by means of us and what the church has to offer. Additionally, I pray that if I am confronted with this situation again, I am equipped by the Holy Spirit to do what is needed for that person at that time. 

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

Editorial: After the election

We tend to reduce politics to what happens on election day. That’s understandable, of course. It’s the day people feel like they “do something,” casting a vote for the candidates they believe will best serve the common good. And that something they do is relatively easy and concrete. You take a little while out of your day, go to the polling place, fill in a ballot, put on a little sticker, and when it’s all done, all those votes are tallied and determine a real outcome: who will be in elected office come next year. 

As church leaders have so often pointed out, however, the things that happen outside of election day matter a lot too. It’s outside of election day that legislation is drafted and voted on and perhaps passed into law. Outside of election day is when when regulations are made, debates on important issues are carried out, candidates who will be on the ballot are decided, party platforms are determined, and more. 

In short, it’s all the rest of the days of the year when policy is made (or not), our problems addressed (or not), and our divisions heal (or not). 

“Doing something” during those other days of the year can feel less easy and less concrete. It may involve deeper learning about an issue, figuring out the best way to contact a legislator or other public official, trying to express yourself clearly and respectfully and helpfully. Then, after all that, you may get a form letter from an official whose mind was never open on the subject to begin with and wonder if you’ve accomplished anything at all. 

Organizations like the Minnesota Catholic Conference do a good job of helping inform people about issues of concern to Catholics as they arise and connecting people to their representatives. They advocate approaching this from the standpoint of “civic friendship” — of developing personal, friendly relationships with elected officials and our fellow citizens. Please do check out their work at and get on their Catholic Advocacy Network mailing list. 

However, even apart from building relationships with elected officials, what about improving civic friendship with our fellow citizens? We can do that even without an emailed action alert and policy briefing. Tension continues to rise in our society, along with distrust and sometimes hostility and hatred. We are the bearers of the truth of God’s love for the human race and for each member of it. We are bound by the commandment to love each other, to love even those who would be our enemies. 

Each of us in our small way can work on doing that 365 days a year. 

Deacon Kyle Eller: How should Catholics think about free speech?

Most of our public arguments are over rights, often competing rights. As Americans, we pride ourselves on advancing the concept of “unalienable rights,” inspiring other such efforts around the world. Our Constitution boasts the Bill of Rights, which protects such things as the right to practice your faith openly, to advocate publicly for your beliefs, to bear arms in self-defense, and much more. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Still, over the course of my life, rights discussions seem to have fallen into chaos and confusion. Because caring about rights is so essential to our tradition, getting your preferred policy declared “a right” — by the U.S. Supreme Court if at all possible — is a powerful rhetorical victory. It puts your opponents in the position of fighting against “a right,” which is practically un-American. 

Thus we have this growing list of absurd and bizarre things that have been declared “constitutional rights” even though they are not rooted in the text of that document at all, and often are advanced at the expense of rights that are explicitly protected by it, such as religious liberty and freedom of speech. 

Our confusion is not just here in America. Catholic News Agency reports that the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously last month in favor of a woman who went, topless and covered in pro-abortion slogans, into a Paris church, disrupting a group practicing Christmas carols, to climb up on the altar, simulate an abortion of Jesus (using an animal liver), and then urinate in front of the faithful. 

She should not have been convicted, the court ruled, because she was simply exercising her right to “freedom of expression” to “contribute to the public debate on women’s rights.” Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, their new prime minister, recently promised to ease up on police literally arresting citizens for what they post on Twitter, such as a veteran who was arrested earlier this year for a post critical of authoritarian tendencies in the LGBT movement. 

Speaking of Twitter, there are, of course, many issues of the right to freedom of speech involving social media, some of which involve governments (including the U.S. federal government) and some of which don’t. Twitter itself was recently purchased by Elon Musk, who has promised to ease Twitter’s own censorship to make the site more open to a variety of viewpoints, and this has unleashed a torrent of controversy, as if the fate of the world is threatened by a website failing to, for instance, ban people who write in ways that contradict gender ideology. 

How are we to make sense of all these competing rights claims? 

I find a concept from Catholic social doctrine particularly helpful in seeking clarity: Rights are intrinsically connected to duties. This relates to the Catholic understanding of freedom itself, which is not just doing whatever I please but having the freedom to do the good, to do what I ought to do. 

Why do I have a right to religious liberty? Because I have a duty to seek God and to serve him. Why do I have a right to vote and participate politically in society? Because I have a duty to contribute to the common good. Why do I have a right to educate my children in a manner consistent with my values? Because I have a God-given duty to my children to raise them, care for them, and teach them. Why do I have rights of conscience? Because I have a duty to follow my conscience, to do good and avoid evil. 

If we want to authentically understand what rights are, the essential starting point is the duties we have as human persons. Those duties give shape and structure and context and content to our rights. The more deeply connected to our duties some right is, the more fundamental and important it is. The reverse is also true. 

So what of freedom of expression, then? What duties give shape and purpose to our right to freedom of speech? One of them (I think there are others) is obvious: to speak the truth. We have a right to express ourselves because we have a duty to bear witness to the truth. 

Of course, as fallen human beings, we have many disagreements, sometimes profound ones, about what the truth is. In humility, and out of respect for the dignity of the human person, it follows that we should have a pretty high tolerance for the speech of viewpoints we find wrong or even offensive. 

But we also distinguish between the idea and the means of expressing it, some of which are more valuable and worthy of protection than others. The poor woman who desecrated the altar in the Paris church, for instance, was advocating a view about abortion that I personally find abhorrent and offensive. She had no legitimate right to her sacrilege, but I have no doubt she sincerely believes in what she’s advocating, and would defend her right to argue for it in the same civilized ways open to all of us. 

We used to think along these lines. In 1942, the U.S. Supreme Court identified “certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech” that could be prohibited without raising any constitutional issue, including “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words.” The court’s reasoning was very similar to the reasoning I’ve outlined, that these kinds of speech are “no essential part of any exposition of ideas” and of such limited social value their harm far outweighs any good they might do. 

With the court’s subsequent decisions, those days are gone. Now the lewd, the profane, the libelous, the insulting, and “fighting” words are the stuff of our public discourse, from presidents on down to Twitter. Censorship increasingly involves the restricting of ideas, not the manner in which they are spoken — the reverse of what it ought to be. Consider that the 1942 case involved someone who called a police officer a “fascist,” among other things. How many times have you heard someone called that in the last week? 

Our ability to return to sanity in these matters is limited, but for our own clarity of mind, it’s helpful to frame these questions in terms of that principle from Catholic social doctrine: rights are intrinsically connected to duties. 

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: As Vatican II turns 60, what did the documents say?

This past Oct. 11, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II was the 21st ecumenical council. It was a gathering of most all the bishops from around the world, more than 2,600 in total. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

In the decades following the council, a lot of change took place, most noticeably in regard to the liturgy, and these changes were attributed to the council. People suggested that these changes were intended by the bishops at the council. And we can discuss whether these changes were positive or negative, but regardless of any person’s opinion, it’s important to know what the bishops actually approved of at the council. What do the documents themselves say? 

The first document approved by the bishops was on the liturgy. It is titled “Sacrosanctum Concilium.” For this column, I’d like to take a look at a number of the various liturgical changes that took place in the past 60 years and consider if that is truly what the council intended. What does SC actually say? 

What something is, what its purpose is, matters. If you asked your average Catholic “what is the Mass?” you will get various answers. Very rarely have I heard a Catholic correctly respond, “The Mass is a sacrifice.” SC says, “At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again” (47). At the Mass, we unite ourselves with the priest and offer the living Christ as a sacrifice to God the Father. 

At your average Catholic parish Sunday Mass, you will not hear any Latin. Whereas, SC says, “… the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (36.1). And oftentimes, Catholics will get upset if there is Latin in the Mass, especially if it’s something that they normally sing in English. SC says that English may be used. “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (54). The Ordinary of the Mass includes the dialogue parts, as well as the chants that are present at every Mass, such as the Lord have Mercy, the Gloria, the Lamb of God, the Our Father, and even the Creed. The council desires that the people can sing those parts in Latin. 

We have become accustomed to the four-hymn sandwich at Mass. There is the Mass and then you add four melodic hymns to it. Whereas, SC says, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (116). 

A desire for activism has permeated your average Catholic’s disposition at Mass. There is a temptation to want more and more people doing more and more things at the Mass, when in reality, our participation is most importantly an interior participation. The original word for “active” is “actuosa.” It means an “actualized” or “activated” participation. But this participation is first and foremost founded on the imprinted baptismal character of the individual. We cannot truly participate in Christ’s self-offering unless we are first incorporated into his body. SC says, “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence” (30). 

This quotation includes “reverent silence” as in integral part of the Mass. Therefore, “active participation” precludes any sense of activism. The participation the council desires is an intentional act of the will to unite oneself with the offering of the living Christ to God the Father. This is expressed and strengthened by exterior expressions, but these actions are not in themselves sufficient for the quality of participation desired by the council. 

SC itself wanted to guard against radical changes. It said, “Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (23). 

The documents produced by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council are a rich treasure. I encourage you to read them, especially Sacrosanctum Concilium. We need to know our faith and what Vatican II actually teaches and what it desired to do for the church. 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet and vocations director for the Diocese of Duluth. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]. 

Holy Spirit parish builds on ‘culture of generosity’ with hurricane aid

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Holy Spirit Church in Virginia has earned a reputation for generosity in recent years, in part through its participation in the Best Christmas Ever Movement, which last year, for instance, saw the parish provide stable housing in Duluth for a family in need.

Parishioners from Holy Spirit in Virginia load supplies in Minnesota and unload them Florida to provide relief from Hurricane Ian. (Submitted photo)

Father Brandon Moravitz, the parish pastor, said that the Best Christmas Ever connection led to the parish’s latest adventure in generosity. The organization’s founder had put Father Moravitz in contact with a Catholic man in Florida named Pat, who wanted to start doing something similar in his own parish. 

Father Brandon said he didn’t think much more of it until the deadly Hurricane Ian hit Florida, and he got a call from Pat, this time asking for material help. 

The call coincided with the Color Run in Virginia, a major annual celebration and fundraiser for the parish’s school, Marquette School. Father Moravitz said they quickly got word out that this year’s Color Run would be tied in to support for those in need in Florida. They alerted other parishes on the Iron Range. The Chamber of Commerce in town got word. A drop-off station was set up at the Color Run. 

The end result? “Three massive 30-foot trailers” filled with new generators, sanitation supplies, nonperishable food, diapers, and more. 

“There was one that was just full of water, bottled water,” Father Moravitz said. 

In addition to that support, the effort raised about $10,000 in funds. The donations came not only from the church but from the wider community in Virginia and from other parishes, such as St. Anthony in Ely. 

Then there was the question of getting it down to Florida. Father Moravitz said that three men from the parish drove it all down, but there was initially a challenge finding a good “landing spot” where they could drop off the supplies. Pat had called asking if Father Moravitz could connect the two bishops to try to clear a way. When Father Moravitz contacted Bishop Daniel Felton, he learned the two bishops already knew each other. Both had served as priests of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

“It couldn’t have been any easier,” Father Moravitz said. 

The men drove down, unloaded, helped at ground level, then worked their way back to Minnesota. The whole thing happened in the space of about 72 hours. 

“We were one of the first groups that got down there right after the hurricane,” Father Moravitz said. 

He noted that the the blessings went beyond just the material support, engaging parishioners like the drivers who were moved by it and the man down in Florida who was full of gratitude and had his faith reinvigorated. 

A culture of generosity 

Father Moravitz said the aid to Florida is an example of a culture of generosity the parish is trying to build, grounded in the idea that generosity inspires generosity and that generosity in prayer should inspire generosity in action. 

The pastor said he leans on his staff in these situations. Sometimes, in a case like this, it happens quickly, which can be difficult. But it’s what Father Moravitz describes as a “strategic trust in the Spirit.” He often sees people with different charisms rise up and take leadership roles. It’s not the same people doing things every time. It’s not always a committee, and it doesn’t always involve “over-planning,” which he said can lead to “our humanity” getting in the way of the Holy Spirit. 

Sometimes the inspiration is small. It may be a post from a community member on social media needing a snowblower. It may be regularly serving meals at the Salvation Army. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was directing support to a different struggling business each day. 

“I could tell you 50 stories,” Father Moravitz said. 

But the end result, he said, has been “so much joy and unity,” and it has brought people into RCIA and into the church, people whose “hearts are won through charity.” 

It has also built bridges within the community. Even secular organizations now know they can call the parish for volunteers. 

“I love rallying people to mission,” Father Moravitz said. “Somehow it’s just bearing fruit.” 

Jacob Toma ordained a deacon

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Bishop Daniel Felton ordained Jacob Toma a deacon of the Diocese of Duluth, in a Mass on the diocesan patronal feast, Oct. 7, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Bishop Daniel Felton symbolically hands on the Book of the Gospels to Deacon Grant Toma as part of the ordination rite Oct. 7, as Deacon Grant Toma, the ordinand’s father, looks on. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Deacon Toma, from Hibbing, was ordained as part of his journey toward priestly ordination. Assisting Bishop Felton at the Mass was his father, Deacon Grant Toma, who is a permanent deacon of the diocese. Among those in attendance were also his mother Deborah, his brother, and his two sisters, along with students from Assumption School in Hibbing and the Holy Rosary Campus of Stella Maris Academy. 

Bishop Felton, in his homily, asked Deacon Toma’s family and friends to consider the call of the deacon and its duties, which include proclaiming the Gospel, preparing the sacrifice of the Mass, distributing Holy Communion, baptizing, presiding at weddings and funerals, engaging in works of charity, and more. 

“Now, the way he goes about these duties, you should be able to recognize him as a disciple of Jesus Christ, who came to serve, not to be served,” the bishop said. “… Because in the end, Jacob, today is really not about you at all but rather is a celebration of what the Lord wants to do in you and through you in your service to and for others.” 

He said the call is to follow the mandate and example of Jesus himself. 

“As Deacon Jacob, how many times you will be called upon to put a towel around your waist, pick up a bowl of water, as you spend the rest of your life washing the feet of the downtrodden, the brokenhearted, and the marginalized,” Bishop Felton said. 

He noted that Deacon Toma’s first job — as a dishwasher — was just one step in preparation for the diaconal call, where he will wash feet and not dishes.

Deacon Jacob Toma, left, and Deacon Grant Toma assist Bishop Daniel Felton during the ordination Mass Oct. 7. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

The bishop also held up the example of Mary to the new deacon, noting that she had been “so present” to Deacon Toma “in these last days of preparing for your ordination.” He said the new deacon had begun his pre-ordination retreat on the feast of the Nativity of Mary, had concluded it on the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, and was being ordained on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the patronal feast of the Duluth Diocese. 

“Through the intercession of Mary, may you follow her example and recall always that this ordination is not about you,” he said. “It is all about the Lord Jesus Christ calling you to do as he has done, not to be served but to serve.” 

Deacon Toma is presently assigned to serve the Cathedral and at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Duluth. 

Whom should I vote for?

Inside the Capitol 

We are often asked — by both laity and priests — why the Minnesota Catholic Conference does not produce voter guides or candidate scoresheets that identify candidates and votes they took on specific bills or lay out their positions on issues. Understandably so, the frequency of this query tends to grow in the weeks leading up to a big election. 

MCC does not produce voter guides for some important practical reasons. For one, legislators rarely take clear-cut votes on specific or solitary issues; legislation is often rolled into omnibus bills that include many pieces of legislation and is usually adopted along party-line votes by a whole legislative caucus. Secondly, candidates generally do not respond to questionnaires from outside groups about their positions, particularly ones that do not provide endorsements or campaign contributions. Furthermore, if we were to try and cobble together their positions via public sources, they are often intentionally ambiguous about positions on controversial issues, and even the construction of such voter guides would entail editorial choices that could lead to accusations of bias. 

Ultimately, we believe relying on voter guides and scoresheets undercuts the process by which citizens must educate themselves about the issues, and form relationships with candidates so that they can influence their work throughout their time in office. We cannot be content to vote once every couple of years and then wash our hands of the results. Our system requires active participation by its citizens, or important decisions will be left to those who show up. It is why the church calls the laity to be “faithful citizens.” 

The work of faithful citizenship must begin with forming one’s conscience in the church’s social teaching — the toolbox of principles used to shape social and political life. It is not a set of prescriptions or ready-made answers. Instead, it is a mental model for well-formed Catholics to guide their actions. 

This year, Minnesota’s bishops have offered a statement about how to prioritize the principles of Catholic social teaching in light of the signs of the times, particularly during an election-year debate in which abortion dominates the headlines. Take time to familiarize yourself with the statement, which sheds light on the need for right relationships to create true justice and the preeminence of prenatal justice in our voting considerations. 

You may receive the statement in your bulletin at Mass, or you can find it on our election resources page at

Once we form our conscience, then we inform ourselves of the candidates’ positions and apply our formation to their positions. Making an informed vote requires that we get to know our candidates. Although MCC does not distribute a candidate scorecard, we do provide you with, among other resources, a questionnaire that you can download to ask questions of your candidates. 

Most candidates’ websites provide direct contact information for the candidate. Candidates are surprisingly accessible. We recently published a series of video interviews we conducted with candidates for state legislature so that Catholics have examples of the types of conversations they can have with candidates. 

Reaching out directly to candidates will allow you to learn where they stand on issues of life, dignity, and the common good. That is the recipe for informed voting, but also the building blocks for relationships that can help transform our state for the better. 

Thanksgiving message from Bishop Daniel

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices! These hymnal words remind us that November is packed with opportunities to be a people of gratitude and thanksgiving. In so many ways, we acknowledge God as the Source of our blessings and the Giver of all gifts. Unfortunately, we often take those gifts and blessings for granted. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

The most beautiful way that we have as Catholics to say thank you to God is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (Mass). The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word eukharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” In other words, every time we celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we come together to thank God for the many blessings that have been bestowed on us during the week leading up to the Sunday Eucharist. In fact, during the Mass we pray Eucharistic Prayers to praise and thank God in the most profound way that we know as Catholics. Mass is not about what I am going to get out of it or what I am going to take away from it, but it is singularly focused on God and our prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving. 

It is in the Holy Eucharist that we receive and embody the greatest blessing and gift of all, the very real presence of Jesus Christ. Now if that does not make us humbly fall to our knees to offer prayers of gratitude, nothing will. How can someone say that I do not get anything out of going to Mass, when in fact one receives the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ himself? All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment thine! 

We celebrate Thanksgiving Day to profoundly remind us of how blest we are at any moment, regardless of the challenges that we may be facing in that same moment. I can think of no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving Day than going to a Mass to offer your heart and voice of eukharistia to God. Thanksgiving Day and the Holy Eucharist invite us to live life with a deep sense of gratitude – not for a day or a Sunday—but every day of our lives. 

Please know how grateful I am for you and for my call to be the Bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, I join you every day in thanking God, with our hands and hearts and voices! 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Father Mike Schmitz: Was I wrong for not speaking up for Jesus and the church?

I was talking with a friend the other day, and she started saying negative things about Jesus and the church. I knew that what she was saying wasn’t true. I didn’t say anything but feel like I should have. I just feel so badly for not speaking up. Was that wrong? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

I am so glad that you are asking about this. It demonstrates that you actually care and that you want to defend the truth about God and the church. Rather than looking at your question (”Was that wrong?”), I think it might be more productive to ask what was going on in your mind and heart at that moment. 

There are at least four possible reasons you didn’t say something. There might be more, but I have found that these are typically the four reasons why we fail to speak when something like this happens. (Note that these can also be the reasons we don’t speak up when someone is being gossiped about or otherwise maligned.) 

The first reason could be a lack of wisdom: You simply didn’t know what to say. This is common. Someone might be talking about something they heard on a podcast or watched on YouTube somewhere. Maybe it is something along the lines of, “Did you know that the story of Jesus is based off of the ancient Egyptian story of Horus?” They can sound so certain and authoritative. They could possibly even make references to stories you have never heard of. How does a person engage these claims without having studied the fact that the “connection” between Jesus and Horus was completely fabricated in the 19th century by an English poet who was interested in Egyptology? If one were to read the actual myth of Horus, it is plain to see there is absolutely no connection between this myth and the factual and historical events of the life of Jesus. But if you have never encountered this claim, how could you know? 

In those cases, it would not be wrong not to speak up. Your silence simply means that you lack the wisdom to engage. 

The second reason could be a lack of courage: You knew how to respond but were afraid. This can also happen quite often. It might be possible that we have a great deal of respect (or fear) for the person speaking. Because of this, we may shrink back from challenging them for fear of what they might think. This could be connected to vanity. Vanity is not limited to the kind of person who checks themselves out in a mirror often. The sin of vanity is much more ubiquitous: an inordinate preoccupation with what others might think. Because of this, I may not speak up because of what an individual might think of me. 

Or maybe this happened in the context of a group. In that case, I may not say anything because I am not willing to appear different from the rest of the people involved. In Minnesota, we have this issue in spades. We are known for “Minnesota Nice.” We will often defer to “fitting in” rather than rise to the occasion and be willing to disagree with others publicly. 

In this case, it might be wrong to remain silent. But knowing that the reason is a lack of courage is helpful, because it reveals the way forward: There is a need for greater courage. 

The third reason could be a lack of love: You didn’t care enough to speak. This could come from our postmodern sense of indifference. In some circles, it is “not cool to care.” The kind of person who gets riled up enough to contradict someone could merely be contentious. But they could also be the kind of person who cares about the truth enough to become uncomfortable. They could be the kind of person who cares about the other people involved enough to know that they can’t just leave them alone in their ignorance. But too often, our lack of love for others (or the truth) can leave us silent when we should speak. 

In this case, it might be wrong to not say anything. This should rouse us to ask the God of love to move our hearts with a real and genuine concern for the truth and the people in our lives. 

The fourth reason could be that you discerned that this moment was simply not the right moment. There can be a time and a place for correction. It might be possible that you read the situation and figured that engaging the person in conversation or debate would not be helpful. I’ve been in this scenario far too often; the person is highly emotional (or highly intoxicated or in “on stage” mode) and it just seems clear that this would not be the right time. That could have been the case for you as well. 

If that is what happened, then we have to make sure that, some time in the future, we have the wisdom, the courage, and the love to reach out and offer that word of truth if the situation calls for it. 

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.