Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Editorial: If Roe goes, we need to engage and expand the abortion debate

As this issue of The Northern Cross goes to press, news is breaking of a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision indicating that the court is poised to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. While this is not a certainty, it is another hopeful sign that the court may reverse a historic injustice, something that Catholics and others of good will — including people of other faiths and no faith at all — have been working to overcome for nearly 50 years. 

We should have a clear head about what such a decision would mean, since most Americans (including Americans in opinion polls about Roe) don’t. Overturning Roe would (unfortunately) not result in a nationwide ban on abortion, it would simply free states to regulate and pass their own laws on abortion. Some states are already taking steps to limit abortion, while others are going in the opposite direction, actually expanding abortion even beyond what Roe demanded, which was already one of the most permissive abortion licenses in the world. (Minnesota’s state Supreme Court has had in place a decision even more extreme than Roe since 1995.) 

The likely outcome is different states taking very different approaches and having real, consequential debates in the democratic process over what those approaches should be, in a way we haven’t seen in decades. Pro-life Americans should welcome those debates and join them eagerly. The pro-life position simply recognizes what basic biology settled long ago — and what ubiquitous ultrasounds make personal — that human life begins at conception, combined with the principle that no innocent human being should be killed. This is not “imposing our religion” on anyone, it’s simple human decency based on sound science. We have nothing to fear from that debate. 

At the same time, as Catholics we should be eager to expand the debate. Many millions of our fellow Americans and fellow Minnesotans vehemently disagree with us, and their central concern — women who become pregnant and for a variety of reasons feel they can’t keep the child conceived in their womb — is a legitimate one, and one we share. Preventing the injustice of abortion does not, by itself, alleviate that concern. 

We must have meaningful answers for it, and those answers, in turn, can form the basis for common ground even with those who disagree with us about abortion and will lend credibility to our efforts to promote just laws protecting life. It’s a common misconception that the pro-life movement “only cares about babies before they’re born,” but that’s false. The pro-life community already works on the front lines of helping pregnant mothers facing economic and social hardships through things like crisis pregnancy outreach and maternity homes. Here in Minnesota, it’s the pro-life community that has historically advocated for and defended governmental efforts like the Positive Alternatives program that provides state funding to initiatives that help mothers to choose life. As Catholics, we bring our “preferential option for the poor” — seeking to protect the “least of these” — in public policy at all levels. And of course we uphold the corporal works of mercy of supporting those in need through charitable giving. 

All of these efforts — and more — need to be expanded and to occupy an important place in these debates. We are against killing because we are for life and for human dignity at all stages. Overcoming our culture of death necessarily means passing just laws, but it also means building, as St. John Paul II called it, a civilization of love, one where the family, as the cradle of life, is supported and strengthened and where those in need are met with compassion and care. 

Diaconal, priesthood ordinations coming in May, June

By The Northern Cross 

Four men are to be ordained permanent deacons May 6, and two men are to be ordained priests June 24, with both ordinations taking place at 5 p.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth.

Four men are to be ordained deacons May 6. They are, from left, Ronald Guertin, Dan O’Reilly, John Kroll, and William Hafdahl. (Photo by Peter Lande)

The men being ordained deacons are Ronald Guertin, William Hafdahl, John Kroll, and Daniel O’Reilly. 

Guertin is from St. Augustine Church in Cohasset. He and his wife Rachael have three children, Maria, Robin, and Joseph. Hafdahl comes from Holy Spirit Church in Virginia. He and his wife Judy have seven children, Claire, Anna, Margaret, Catherine, Emma, Christine, and Joseph. Kroll is from St. Andrew Church in Brainerd and married to Mary. They have two sons, Kyle and Neil. O’Reilly also comes from St. Andrew’s. He and his wife Theresa have eight children, Dominic, Timothy, Matthew, Luke, Lillianna, Emily, Benjamin, and Joseph. 

The men being ordained to the priesthood are Deacon Daniel Hammer, 28, the son of Dr. William and Teresa Hammer, from St. Andrew’s in Brainerd, and Deacon Scott Padrnos, 32, the son of Daniel and Susan Padrnos, from St. Christopher’s Church in Nisswa. Deacon Padrnos completed his seminary training at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, and Deacon Hammer completed his at the North American College in Rome.

Deacon Scott Padrnos Deacon Daniel Hammer

Each of the two new priests will also be offering a Mass of Thanksgiving in his home parish following ordination. Father Hammer’s will be at St. Andrew’s Saturday, June 25, at 11 a.m., and Father Padrnos will have his at St. Christopher’s Sunday, June 26, at 2 p.m. 

Assignments for the new priests have already be announced. Father Padrnos will begin his duties as parochial vicar of St. Francis in Brainerd, All Saints in Baxter, and St. Thomas of the Pines in Brainerd July 13. Father Hammer will assist at Holy Spirit in Virginia prior to beginning graduate studies in canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome. 

Correction: In the print version of this story, an incorrect photo was used for Deacon Hammer. The Northern Cross regrets the error.

Bishop Daniel Felton: Easter’s joy is a life-changer for us

Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, Alleluia! This bold proclamation changes everything in our lives and in our understanding of the world. Jesus Christ has conquered death and in doing so has conquered fear, despair, darkness, hatred, division, and sin. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

As the preface for Easter states, “… by dying he has destroyed our death and by rising, restored our life.” This is a life-changer. If we begin to fully embrace, embody, and express the proclamation that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, we will never live our lives here on this earth the same again. We will begin to live our lives believing that even now by the power of Jesus Christ life reigns over death, fear is conquered by love, light disperses the darkness, despair give way to hope, for every ending there is a new beginning and sin is overcome by mercy. Talk about a life-changer! 

With the resurrection of Jesus from death to eternal life, we, too, can have eternal life in his power and name. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son into this world so that those who believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In light of this, our time upon this earth is transitory compared to our life in eternity. That, too, is a life-changer. St. Paul tells us that “if we have died with Christ, we shall also rise with him” (cf. Romans 6:8). Just believing that makes us a people of hope and joy. 

If we are a people of Resurrection hope and joy, others will be attracted to us. They will want what we have. When asked, “Why are you so hopeful and joyful?,” we will have the opportunity to give witness to the Risen Lord! In a recent study of people who are not connected to any faith community, when asked “what would attract you to check out a community of faith?” the number one response was JOY. They are looking for people who are joyful in a world that can be so dreadful. 

It is very difficult to truly embrace and proclaim our Easter hope and joy for 50 days. To help us in this mission, there are so many abundant life, hope, and joyous moments during the 50 days of the Easter season, including weddings, baptisms, first Communions, confirmations, Mother’s Day, graduations, warmer weather, longer days of sunlight, and so many other reminders of the Easter Lord who is risen from the dead, Alleluia! 

Even when the lilies droop, the chocolate Easter bunnies are consumed, the jelly beans are gone, and the Easter eggs are all eaten, the joy, hope, and life of the Easter proclamation will never end and goes on forever. Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, and so will we, if we only believe the good news. 

You will also find in this issue the listing of any changes in the assignments of priests. Given the number of assignment changes in recent years, the Personnel Board and I tried to limit the changes for this year. In our 60 Let’s Listen sessions, the concern and support for all of our priests was voiced again and again. We are blessed with holy and committed priests in our diocese, a blessing we should never take for granted. Please pray for the priests who will be moving to new assignments in the weeks ahead. 

Finally, on May 20, I will be celebrating my first-year anniversary as the Bishop of Duluth. I am so grateful for the many ways that you have reached out to welcome and accept me into this flock as your shepherd. I have traveled over 30,000 miles in the last 11 months and have enjoyed every person I met along the way, parish visits, and getting to know my brother priests. 

I am excited to begin my second year as we mobilize to our mission of being disciples and making disciples in the name of the Risen Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Bishop Daniel J. Felton is the tenth Bishop of Duluth. 

Father Mike Schmitz: Feeling like you never do enough and just want to quit?

I serve at my parish all of the time. Whenever my pastor (or really anyone) asks me to help, I usually say yes. On top of that, I feel like I am never doing enough, praying enough, or serving enough. I just want to quit. What do I do? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

First, let me thank you so much for reaching out. There are times when we are simply at the end of our rope and we can feel like we have tried everything. These are the times when we are most tempted to flip the table, give up, and just be done with all of it. It sounds like this is exactly the kind of moment you find yourself in right now. So, before you abandon ship, let me thank you for asking for help. 

Asking for help is always a good sign. In asking for help, you are acknowledging that things aren’t “fine.” In asking for help, you are giving yourself permission to be struggling and to not have all the answers. In asking for help, you are admitting that you are not perfect. And this is precisely what is necessary. 

It can be absolutely exhausting when a person feels like they have to do it all, when they feel like they have to do it perfectly, and when they feel like it is never enough. The fact that you have acknowledged and admitted this means that you are open to hearing the truth. And the truth is: You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to be everything for everyone. And you do not have to be perfect. 

But before you do anything, there is one thing you need to do. You need to be reminded who you are. 

In our culture, our worth is often based on our work. Our value is based on what we can offer. And this is partly true. When it comes to sports or work, those who bring greater benefit to the team or to the company have a more highly valued place. But when it comes to life, this is decidedly untrue. Your worth is not predicated on your output, even when it comes to “church work.” There are so many Christians who will buy into the lie that their place in the Father’s heart rises and falls depending on how much they do or how well they perform. That is contrary to the Gospel, and yet so many of us believe it. 

We can be tempted to put our mission first. After all, the mission is important, isn’t it? If you don’t do it, who will? And yet, over the centuries, Christians have discovered that this is a recipe for burn out and disaster. The great saints of the church have discovered another way of thinking. And this has recently been formulated in three letters (representing three words): R-I-M. 

Relationship. Identity. Mission. 

If you remember (and keep in order) these three reminders, you will be saved from what you described in your letter. 

Relationship comes first. Always. When we remember that we have been brought into relationship with God the Father, everything changes. We can let go of the endless working for approval. We can abandon the temptation to believe that we are obligated to continuously prove our worth. In baptism, you were given access to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. You have been brought into relationship with the most Holy Trinity; God himself! This relationship is a pure gift; none of us has ever done anything to deserve it. It simply flows from the fact that God has loved you first. 

This relationship gives you your Identity. Too often, we take our identity from our mission. But that is a lie. If it were true, what would happen when our mission changes? What would happen when we no longer have anything to offer? What would happen when the mission is over? No. Our identity is a direct result of having been brought into relationship with God. When you were baptized, you were given a new identity; you were made into a child of God. This is what and who you are. And it is not based off your performance. It is based off the relationship you have been brought into with God himself. 

Lastly comes Mission. Our mission (the tasks God has entrusted to us) come only as a consequence of having been brought into relationship with the Father and having been given our identity by that relationship. When the mission changes (or when we fail at our mission), we experience sadness but not devastation, because our mission or our success does not determine our identity or worth. 

When you and I live out of this truth, we become free. In your case, you will become free to say “no” when you are invited to serve. You will become free to not pray all of the prayers or all of the devotions that other people might be doing. You will be free, not to quit everything, but to quit some things. 

In fact, I wonder if that isn’t what God is asking you to do in your exhaustion: remember who’s you are, remember who you are, and to simply do less as a beloved child of the Father. 

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. 

Father Richard Kunst: Did Jesus banter with the Apostles?

Is verbally “slamming” someone a sin? It certainly can be, but often it can be done in jest to make a point with a slight sense of humor. I have to admit that this is something I do pretty often. I was brought up in a family in which humorous banter and verbally slamming someone was the typical form of communication and entertainment. 

Father Richard Kunst

In my work with our former bishop, now Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, bantering and an occasional verbal slam was typical and all done in fun. I can still hear him saying, “Father Kunst, you have a marvelous grasp of the obvious!” Or if I didn’t know something, he would say, “Father Kunst, that is willful, culpable ignorance!” 

Banter like that can be very humorous and sometimes with an edge so as to make a point. It can easily become sinful if it is meant to hurt a person, but it certainly does not have to be that way. 

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark we have clear evidence that Jesus used a slight verbal slam on his Apostles, or at least a not-so-mild form of banter. The scene is a familiar one; Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down from a mountain after having experienced the Transfiguration. As they approach the other nine Apostles, they notice a commotion, as there was a young man possessed by an evil spirit. They had been trying to rid the man of the spirit but were unable. In his response, Jesus shows a rare expression of human emotion when he says, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?” (Mark 9:19). After this, Jesus interacts with the possessed man’s father and finally cures him of the evil spirit. 

The narrative continues by saying that Jesus and the Apostles went into the house (without telling us whose house) and then the Apostles ask a pretty obvious question: “Why could we not drive the spirit out?” (Mark 9:28b). To this question Jesus offers the divine banter, a divine verbal slam. 

Now, before I quote Jesus’ response, it is important to note that the written word, as great as it is, has one major deficiency: it often cannot give us the tone in which the words were spoken. When Jesus expresses frustration at the “faithless generation,” we can pretty much imagine how he said it because the words are pretty descriptive of a frustrated person, but when it comes to a lot of other things he says, we have to imagine the emotion behind it based on the scene. 

When the Apostles ask him why they were not able to expel the evil spirit, Jesus says, “This kind can only come out through prayer” (Mark 9:29). Slam! Can you imagine how he must have said that? The implication is clear. He is telling these guys that if they prayed a little more, then maybe, just maybe they would have the ability to deal with stubborn evil spirits, but until they do that, the evil spirits will have the upper hand. You can almost hear Jesus say, “You guys, that is willful, culpable ignorance.” 

This line about prayer, of course, is directly connected to the line earlier when Jesus was illustrating exasperation at their lack of faith. Prayer feeds faith. If we do not pray, then our faith will certainly flatline. The two are absolutely connected. Prayer is the nourishment to faith. Faith without prayer is like water trying to be water without oxygen, it just does not work. 

There were many instances in the Gospels where Jesus left a town or a village without being able to cure many people. The gospels will repeatedly say that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. This should not be us. The mere fact you are reading this column means that you have some faith life, but how is your prayer life? 

I heard my good friend Father Mike Schmitz once say that a “Catholic Atheist” is a person who regularly comes to Mass but does not give any thought to prayer or God during the week. Catholic Atheist is an apt description for such people, because if we do not pray, our faith will be nothing more than external dressing, a shallow facade. The most important thing we can do is pray, because if we do not have a good relationship with God in this life, it would certainly be wrong to assume that we will have one in the next life. 

Jesus’ not-so-subtle slam of the Apostles’ lack of prayer when it came to exorcizing demons serves us as well. It is a good reminder that it is our prayer that will make our faith flourish. The two cannot be separated. 

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

Betsy Kneepkens: With grey hair comes ‘expert status’

What do raising kids, grey hair, and wrinkles give you? Expert status. 

I chuckle every time one of my younger siblings calls me for advice. Having raised my children into young adulthood, my younger siblings, several years my junior, seem to need advice on parenting issues I never worried about, like: “Were you not exhausted after playing with your kids all day?” I responded, “No, never. I didn’t play with them all day.” 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

One of my sisters with a two-and-a-half-year-old asked, “I can’t potty train him; what should I do?” And I said, “Wait! He will be ready when he is ready.” Or my brother asked, “All the preschoolers here can read. Should I hold my son back?” I responded, “Well, all the preschoolers were held back from playing, so it sounds like your son is ahead of the class.” 

Mostly I do try to answer lovingly but with a bit of humor. Sometimes, I think my younger brothers and sisters overthink some of these nonessential parenting issues. 

Occasionally, the consultations are more complicated, and I have to use whatever wisdom I can conjure up. My sister, although raised Catholic, no longer practices. She would say she is intuitive and therefore doesn’t practice a religion. When I have substantial issues in my life, I seek answers through the lenses of my Catholic faith. Knowing the truth of natural law, the tenets of our faith, God’s plan for us, and directing life toward our hopeful eternity makes difficult situations easier to explain and understand. 

My sister, the mother of a sixth-grade girl, received a call from her ex-husband, who said he learned that the daughter shared a story about an older boy kissing her at a game. The ex-husband did not know what to do and basically directed my sister to deal with the incident. Anxiously upset and frustrated with her daughter, my sister called me for advice. 

Before sharing any guidance, I knew I had to help her unpack her emotions. I learned that she felt overwhelmed because her daughter’s father turned the problem over to her, and her husband did not think the matter was that big of a deal. My sister was angry because she heard this story secondhand, and therefore her daughter never came to her about the situation. It seemed she was left dealing with the incident alone. 

I started by validating the emotions that seemed fair, tried to de-escalate the feelings that were not necessary, and redirected the remaining temperament in a path where she could think more rationally. I started untangling the situation by suggesting that it was essential to determine if the story was true. If it was a lie her daughter was telling, I let my sister know she had many other problems on her hands. 

I spent the first few moments with my sister unpacking reasons why my niece might lie about something of this nature. Several ideas came to mind, like this young girl wanted others to perceive her in a certain way or she was giving an early sign for help? Or is she, a girl with essentially two dads, confused about the innate need to have a significant male person in her life? Is she subconsciously seeking male approval because she is not sensing that she has a solid male relationship in her life? A difficult concept to acknowledge, but for her daughter’s sake, a necessary conversation to have to get at the problem’s root. 

Assuming the situation did happen, I felt I needed to be frank. I said to my sister, “Raising your children without religion can make it difficult to explain why what your daughter did was inappropriate.” I shared that getting upset with her about the incident might make a girl already confused about male relationships even more frustrated. Leaving the discussion at telling her daughter she is too young creates a complicated rule for a tweener to understand why. I affirmed she was in a difficult position. 

I explained to my sister that I didn’t have the tools to help her, that the words or language I would use with my children would not make sense to her daughter. Discussing with her the way I did with my kids, leaving God out on the matters of love and sexuality, more likely would leave my niece feeling empty, worthless, and more confused. I let my sister know I struggled to create an impactful message that adequately addressed how inappropriate her behavior was and why she was not mature enough. Especially since 11- and 12-year-olds do that sort of thing because they think they are old enough to do them. Only through Christ can we understand how poorly placed a situation like this is in a young girl’s life. 

I thought I would use this opportunity with my sister to share how I would handle the situation if it had happened to one of my kids. Most importantly, I let my sister know that we tried to give our children a firm foundation in our Catholic faith as parents. This base provided our children with a common understanding, language, order, and direction. We accomplished this primarily by being a family that was not only regularly practicing Catholics, but every member of the family was trained in Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body. 

If approached with a similar situation, my husband and I would ask our son or daughter how the incident respected the values and beliefs we hold. We likely would have a conversation to remind them that they were created male and female and that difference was intended and with purpose. We would then talk about how Christ gave his body as a gift and was intentional and purposeful in his giving. 

We would share how many friends see their incident as acceptable and normal in this world. However, we are striving for something entirely different — life beyond this. We need to carefully treat with grace that which God has allowed us to give away to another, making the gift special and sacred. As followers of Christ, we seek more for others and ourselves — affirming that special relationship between males and females. When we allow this interchange to be unique and properly placed in humanity, treating it as normal and casual devalues the gift. 

As parents, we tried to establish the groundwork so that the conversation would flow easily. Our children’s formation allows us to use language we all understood, reinforce everything we believed, and hopefully prepare them to make profound decisions in these sorts of situations. We would know not to shame but rather to challenge each other to strive to keep holy relationships in our lives holy. 

It is hard to welcome grey hair, wrinkles, and aged experience. However, if it could mean that my siblings thought my husband and I knew what we were doing as parents, I willingly accept the physical unpleasantries of aging. I actually hope my siblings, over time, see that the decisions we made as parents were just the result of living a life rooted in Christ. When they get a better grasp of that, they will not only find parenting easier but they will grow closer to the Lord. 

From that lifestyle of following Christ, all else will flow. He came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Happy Easter! 

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

Catholic conference speaks up for economic and criminal justice

MN Catholic Conference
Inside the Capitol

Larger surplus affirms need to provision families

The big news at the Minnesota Capitol is that our state government has a budget surplus for the ninth consecutive year. What was expected to be a $7.7 billion surplus is now up to a record $9.25 billion in excess revenue collection. As can be expected, the debate about what to do with the money has fallen into the usual zero-sum game of income tax cuts versus new spending.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is proposing we break the Gordian knot and provide direct economic relief to Minnesota’s most important producers — our state’s families. Concretely, this means creating a Minnesota Child Tax Credit that is fully refundable and distributed monthly. A similar federal child tax credit (now expired) raised thousands of children out of poverty.

This call stems from the church’s social teaching on subsidiarity, which states that “public authorities have the duty to sustain the family, ensuring that it has all the assistance that it needs to fulfill properly its responsibilities. The family does not exist for society or the State, but society and the State exist for the family” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 214).

Seeing that the people of Minnesota are consistently able to generate surplus wealth for the state, MCC is urging lawmakers to create a permanent fiscal policy that honors the work and societal role of parents who generously sacrifice to raise the next generation.

Minnesota should take the initiative and support families increasingly burdened by the rising costs of living and inflation. People make decisions about whether to have children in part based on the economic outlook, so we should do what we can to remove barriers from family formation.

Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future

Even in today’s job market that is desperate for workers, an arrest record can cast a perpetual shadow over a person. Employers often disqualify a job seeker based on his or her criminal history without asking any further questions about the applicant’s rehabilitation.

We must ask whether holding individuals in a state of perpetual punishment for low-level crimes — especially after the judicial system has concluded they should begin rebuilding their lives — serves any positive criminal justice purpose.

In their document, “Restoration, Rehabilitation, and Responsibility” (2000), the U.S. Catholic bishops encouraged lawmakers to embrace approaches to criminal justice that rehabilitate, heal, and restore, not just punish.

It is based on these principles that the MCC co-sponsors the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, which advocates for a dignified criminal legal system that promotes healing, repair, accountability, and belonging for individuals, families, and communities. The coalition is calling for the passage of the Clean Slate Act (H.F. 1152), a bipartisan bill that would create an automatic expungement mechanism for certain nonviolent, petty criminal offenses.

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Deacon Kyle Eller: Finding inspiration for the spiritual life in a new sourdough starter

My new sourdough starter is finally mature as of mid-March, having taken far longer than the books say it should, and therefore far more patience and persistence than I thought it would on my part. (I blame the cold weather.)

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

During the height of the pandemic lockdowns, I got deep into making sourdough bread and developed a lot of skill at it. (I tend to be that way with hobbies.) It was easy, working from home, to pop out of my home office for a minute or five to do a stretch-and-fold or shape a loaf that was ready for its final proof. At the height of it, I had two different sourdough starters I had developed from scratch that I maintained and used, depending on what I was making.

When I went back to working mostly in the office, my baking dropped off, and soon both starters died of neglect, so when I baked it was with commercial yeast, sometimes with a poolish that mimics the sourdough process and has some of its benefits.

But I found myself missing the sourdough, so I started working on a new starter on my birthday in early February. I think it’s not a terrible metaphor for aspects of the spiritual life.

If you’re unfamiliar with sourdough starters, like many fermentation processes, it’s one of those little wonders of nature, almost miraculous in themselves, that seem to have been designed by God for the good of the human race. At its essence, it’s the simplest recipe you could imagine: simple flour and water, mixed together and left to sit there. There are tiny microorganisms like yeast and bacteria on the flour itself, on the hands of the baker, in the air, on the spoon and jar, and so on, and they find that sticky goo in the jar a wonderful place to live and multiply.

At first, it’s a riot of all kinds of microscopic life. Often when people go to start a new sourdough starter the first time, they are encouraged that it seems really active and rises almost immediately — just like my new one did — but this is fool’s gold and not something you want to make bread with. Within a day or two that activity ceases, and the jar may seem totally, depressingly lifeless.

What’s really happening in the jar, though, is pretty amazing. As you keep discarding some and feeding it fresh flour and water each day, at first the undesirable organisms have the upper hand, but over time, the byproducts of all that microscopic life change the environment within the jar (for instance the acidity) until only the kinds of yeast and bacteria that are desirable for making bread rise and taste good can live in it. That’s how the starter matures and becomes useful and wholesome.

Submitted photo

Sourdough starters are surprisingly complex cultures of microbiology, and no two are exactly alike. Even a single starter over time changes depending on a number of factors, especially the flour it’s being fed.

But at any rate, usually after a week or two of the process, out of the chaos a stable, mature culture has formed, and the starter becomes lively and bubbly again and ready to bake with. From there, starters are fairly resilient. All you have to do is keep feeding them regularly and changing the jar occasionally and they can carry on indefinitely.

It’s no wonder leaven is such a rich metaphor, including a biblical one.

But what strikes me after nurturing this new starter to maturity is the process itself. Don’t our hearts often seem to be like the first days of a new sourdough starter, when it’s a chaotic mess of good and bad, and sometimes the bad seems to have the upper hand?

Unlike flour and water, where a purely natural process of fermentation turns the starter from something unusable to something wholesome, we require supernatural help — the freely given grace of God — to be made wholesome.

But despite that, from our point of view, the process is not so different. Our walk of faith requires patience — it’s not usually a matter of instant gratification but a process that may take longer than we expect and one that sometimes seems dormant and frustrating.

All through, we have to patiently and diligently persevere. We need careful (and at times tedious) tending. Like that daily feeding of good flour and water in the sourdough starter, we need to tend our souls with the sacraments, with Scripture, with daily prayer.

And over time, isn’t the goal as we grow with the help of God in virtue and grace, to become a less hospitable “environment” for the temptations and unholy desires that continue to arise? By filling our minds and hearts with what is holy and by daily examining our consciences and frequenting the sacrament of confession we seek to root out what is not holy in us.

I have been unreasonably excited to see my new sourdough starter full of life after I was tempted a few times to quit on it. Imagine how God looks on his adopted children as they grow to maturity, tended by his grace, and come to the fullness of life he has planned for each of us.

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

Editorial: The season of mercy and reconciliation

Holy Week brings us the highest holy days of the year as we commemorate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, for our salvation. Through this Paschal Mystery we are forgiven our sins, reconciled to God, and redeemed so that we might share eternal joy with him in heaven. 

As we approach that celebration this year, it’s worth remembering and entering into those themes more deeply in what remains a time of deep turmoil and division for our world and for our communities. 

As we look out at a world torn by war, still divided over the pandemic, still split into warring political and ideological factions, anxious with economic uncertainty, and looking for someone to blame, the temptation to hatred and to demonizing one’s perceived enemies can be very powerful. 

But this is not the Christian way. Our way is in imitation of Jesus Christ. “Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life,” St. Paul writes to the Romans. 

As we have been forgiven, so the Lord commands us to forgive others. As God has so generously sought reconciliation with us who were his enemies, so must we hope to be reconciled to our enemies. And as God has redeemed us in Christ, we must remain open to his redeeming every other person in this world, even those we may perceive to be doing evil. 

Indeed, our Lord bids us to love our enemies and pray even for those who persecute us. 

We are inspired by these holy, hope-filled days. May that inspiration move our hearts to be ministers of reconciliation in a world that so needs it. 

Father Nicholas Nelson: Understanding the different senses in which we speak of ‘vocations’

There are different senses in which we can speak of vocations. To start, we can say a vocation is something that you are called to. In fact, the word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” meaning “to call.” So all vocations have that in common. It is some sort of calling. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

And when speaking about vocations, I like to speak in terms of the “size” of V’s, because you can use the word vocation in a variety of senses. So we have to be clear on what sense we mean when we are speaking. So we have the “Big V” vocation, then “Medium V” vocations, and then “Smaller V” vocations. That way we can speak about all the different senses in which a person can be called. 

The “biggest” V vocation, and therefore most important, is the vocation of holiness, or discipleship. This is the vocation that every Christian has. Jesus has called all of us to follow him. No Christian can claim not to have this vocation. 

The “Medium V” vocations are what we mean when we speak of vocations in the strict sense. And mostly when speaking of “vocations,” people are referring to vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But when speaking of vocations in this strict sense, we also must include married life. Married people, you may think that it was you who chose to marry your spouse, but we believe that it was ultimately God who called you two together into the Sacrament of Matrimony. 

As for vocations in the strict sense, we also must include the permanent diaconate, although the diaconate is unique in that most permanent deacons are already married, and marriage is their primary vocation. And there are other forms of chaste celibacy for the Kingdom, such as a religious brother or a religious sister or as a consecrated virgin. Vocations in the strict sense are the vocations we pray for when we pray our Diocesan Vocation Prayer. Why are these vocations in the strict sense? Because a vocation, strictly speaking, is something to which a person is called to that requires a permanent commitment. 

We can complicate things even more by saying that holy orders and married life are not only vocations but also sacraments, while consecrated religious, religious brothers, or consecrated virginity are vocations but not sacraments. Sacraments are the seven outward signs, instituted by Christ, that cause grace. The Sacrament of Holy Orders causes grace in the man for the well ordering of the church. Holy Matrimony causes grace in the couple for the persevering and thriving in their relationship and in the procreation and formation of children. 

We also have the unique reality of married priests to consider. This is the norm in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, but we also have some married priests in our Latin Rite. Men who acted as priests in the Anglican Church and then converted to Catholicism have often been given the permission to be ordained as Catholic priests. Like permanent deacons, they would have two vocations in the strict sense. 

People will ask: “What about the single life?” Well, for a single person, there is always the possibility of getting married or committing to chaste celibacy in the future, so there isn’t a permanent commitment involved. There is always the possibility of a further permanent commitment. So no, it isn’t a vocation in the strict sense, and there are some people who don’t end up with a vocation in the strict sense. In a perfect world, because we are called to give ourselves totally to another, everyone would have a vocation either to married life or chaste celibacy. But we know this isn’t a perfect world. And most especially, again, it’s important to remember that the most important vocation is the vocation to holiness as a disciple of Christ, which everyone has. So even if you don’t end up either as a priest or religious sister or married, for example, you still have the most important vocation, that of following Christ. 

Then, after that level or sense of vocations, we have “Smaller V” vocations. These would include careers and jobs and other ministries people may have. While not as important as the vocation to follow Christ, or as permanent as laying down your life for the church and God or your spouse, and while not vocations in the strict sense, these can be called vocations as well. A person may experience these things as a calling from God. For example, they may have a vocation as a teacher or a surgeon or as a soldier or even see cantoring at Mass as a vocation. 

We all must respond wholeheartedly to the big V vocation of holiness. Those who are already married or have given themselves to God and his church must recommit themselves to his church or his or her spouse every day. Those who are young, in addition to seeking holiness, must discern whether God is calling them to married life or to some form of chaste celibacy for the Kingdom of God. 

Remember, it is a vocation, a calling. It isn’t something we determine on our own, but rather, truly being open to God’s will for our life, we seek to know what life he is calling us to. 

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].