Posted on 07/17/2021 02:00 AM ()
Posted on 07/16/2021 13:57 PM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
Bishop Daniel J. Felton send the following memo to priests and deacons of the diocese in response to Pope Francis’s letter today regarding the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass:
July 16, 2021
Dear Brothers in Christ,
As you may be aware, today our Holy Father, Pope Francis, released an apostolic letter, Traditionis Custodes, on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the 1970 reform. Having just received the document, and having consulted with Father Joel Hastings, our director of liturgy and the priest responsible for the Traditional Latin Mass in Duluth, we will need to study it and determine the best ways to implement the articles it contains. While that process continues, for the time being:
The weekly celebration of the extraordinary form Mass will continue at St. Benedict’s Church in Duluth.
For other parishes which are currently celebrating the extraordinary form Mass, their situations will be examined on a case-by-case basis.
No new celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass may be initiated in the parishes at this time.
As the Holy Father’s introduction notes, implementing these norms will take time. I encourage you to be mindful of the faithful who are devoted to the traditional liturgy and sensitive to their feelings at this time. I note that like Pope Benedict XVI, when he released his own motu proprio on the liturgy, Pope Francis draws our attention to the need to celebrate the ordinary form of the Mass reverently and in a manner faithful to the ritual.
As we undertake this review, let us keep each other in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and grant us the grace of greater faith and deeper unity in our Eucharistic Lord. Please be assured that you will be kept apprised of any developments as we move forward.
Know of my prayers for all of you at this time and always.
May the blessings of God be upon you and those you serve,
Sincerely in Christ,
Bishop Daniel J. Felton
Bishop of Duluth
Posted on 07/16/2021 05:20 AM ()
Posted on 07/15/2021 14:23 PM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
Is this pandemic coming to an end? It certainly feels like we have turned a corner. You hear “experts” express concerns about the future strains, but we are moving back to normalcy for now.
Faith and Family
I think we could all write a book about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on our lives. The difficulty associated with this unexpected life-ending disease, which seemed to pick victims indiscriminately, is hard to wrap my head around. Many died, most who were ill were barely sick, and another massive number of people were spared finding out their fate if they were exposed. Like so much in history, the truth of what this whole pandemic was about will not be understood for decades. With all the horror that came as a direct result of this pandemic, it is through faith we can see all the blessings that were absolute gifts that would never have been realized if we did not experience this common adversity.
One of the many fruits of this challenging ordeal was a shared appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who put themselves in harm’s way every day for the sake of others they did not know. I think as a population we have done a reasonably good job at acknowledging health care workers who attended to those who unknowingly could have spread COVID-19 to them. I find the most selfless were those care providers who continued working in congregated housing facilities when the pandemic hit the country hardest. These professionals dealt with the loss of life regularly. Their efforts were nothing short of heroic.
Besides those in the health care industry, I was equally impressed by those who worked in grocery stores or industries where direct service to unknown individuals was necessary to get the job done. Many of these positions were low-paying and required daily face-to-face interaction with people who could have indeed passed the virus on to them. The public acts of appreciation, be it signs posted in yards and windows, discounts at stores, and free meals, were well deserved, situationally appropriate, and well-meaning. As a society, I am proud of how we understood and respected the contribution of those who made our existence possible and tolerable at that time.
As I reflect on this year-and-a-half crisis, I strongly feel that adults underappreciated a considerable portion of society that gave selflessly. A large population segment accepted stringent restrictions, complete life disruption, and was least at risk during this pandemic. At the time, the guidelines placed upon them seemed relatively unnecessary, yet they complied with respect and diligence. What this group of citizens sacrificed, as compared to any other generation, was massive and significant.
Since nearly the beginning of the pandemic, we have known that this group of individuals were less likely to be infected by this disease, and they had minimal symptoms and a death rate of less than .03%. Some sources, including the CDC, report that the complication from COVID-19 for this population is less than the seasonal flu.
The group I am referring to, of course, is the children of our nation. Most childhood memories span approximately ten years, from ages 7 to 17. So, when you put the time in percent of their lives, COVID restrictions have taken 15% of current children’s childhood away. On the other hand, all other generation lost nothing of their childhood, and still we have all those really cherished childhood memories.
The risk of complication of COVID as you got older was significantly higher than that of our children. Yet what leaders, educators, and politicians canceled, altered, and minimized for kids during this pandemic was decided swiftly, stringently, and at times without science to back up their decisions. There were elder advocates, health care advocates, restaurant and bar advocates that wisely brought forth the science to manage the situation. However, for children, the level of diligence and oversight seemed to be almost nonexistent. The powers that be knew imposing restrictions and controls over children would come with little resistance, because they lacked the resources to impact their fate.
I have shared my concerns with family and friends, and I have often heard from them that kids are resilient — they will be fine. Being OK is good, but being appreciated is necessary and respectful. As a child, I vividly remember how I looked forward to specific events, and if something was a week away, it seemed like a year. If it was a month away, it felt like decades. I can’t imagine the anguish of looking forward to an event that, through no fault of theirs, was canceled.
Every parent knows the sadness their children experienced this year when their birthday party, sport season, prom, school play, family vacation, sixth-grade trip to Valleyfair, eighth-grade retreat, Camp Survive, mission trip, state tournaments were all canceled. At the peak of the pandemic, it was a little easier to explain. Still, as the year continued, and restrictions were the last to be lifted for children, they waited patiently and accepted the losses valiantly and respectfully.
Toward this school year’s end, I was frustrated for kids as activities continued to be canceled or watered down. Often it seemed that many adult activity planners used COVID-19 as a reason not to return to these special events because it was just easier. As an adult, I think you can forget how meaningful these lifetime memories are. I am impressed at how children accepted everything we imposed on them, even when the kids themselves started questioning why restrictions were still in place when those rules did not align with what the science was saying.
I think we all can be cautiously optimistic that this pandemic is waning. I rejoice at the respect everyone seemed to pay toward those that put themselves on the front line serving those in need. This outpouring of appreciation is a beautiful sign of humanity. I believe this connection is an innate God-given gift of our brotherhood and sisterhood. Everyone missed many special events and extended time with loved ones over the last year and a half.
However, the loss of even a portion of your childhood is irreplaceable, and I think the children of this country bravely accepted that loss even though they were at minimal risk of complication for this virus. Wouldn’t it be a nice gesture to our children if we adults put thank you notes on our front windows and store marquees, gave discounts at theme parks and the like, and we had a national day of appreciation for the sacrifices young people made for our sake during this pandemic?
It seems to me that honoring our youth would be a fitting end to a historically difficult time and would pay that generation the respect they rightfully deserve. If you are a young person reading this, please accept my thank you for what you gave up for our sake.
Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.
Posted on 07/15/2021 14:22 PM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
Amid all the signs of moral decay in society around us and among us, to me one of the saddest is the resurgence of open racism. It’s probably shallow and naive and even privileged of me, but I thought we were better than this.
|Deacon Kyle Eller
In case we imagine racism is a problem just for other people in other places, every summer in Duluth we mark the anniversary of the terrible day, 101 years ago, when a mob of Duluthians stormed the jail, seized three innocent black men, and lynched them in the street. They then posed for gruesome photos showing their pride in their despicable handiwork.
Those who know the story well may recall there were two Catholic priests who tried to stop that mob. The first was Father W.J. Powers, who, according to a news account available from the Minnesota Historical Society, climbed part way up the pole and began pleading with the mob to stop, telling them they didn’t even know if the men were guilty and urging them to let the law take its course. “In the name of God and the church I represent, I ask you to stop,” he said.
His effort was brave and honorable and prophetic. But before we console ourselves too eagerly with his small light in the darkness of that night, we might recall that we surely had other brother and sister Catholics there that night too who far outnumbered him — parishioners of Father Powers who shouted him down and participated in the murder. If we had been living in 1920, which kind of role would we play in the story? We can ask ourselves when the last time was that we tried to appeal to the better angels of an angry mob in defense of an unpopular truth of our faith.
It hurts to think about these things. It’s easier not to. But I think it’s healthy that we remember this every year.
That shameful day is just one particularly ugly snapshot of a long history. The United States, whose independence we celebrate this month, has brought many blessings to the world — among them beautiful ideals, eloquently expressed, of freedom and equal dignity among people, ideals that in many ways echo our own as Catholics. But along with all that, there are deep wounds that have never fully healed, rooted in sometimes catastrophic failures to live those truths. Those failures are interwoven with the history of this country, beginning with the subjugation of the people who inhabited this land before Europeans ever set foot here, then continuing in the importation of millions of people as slaves, as property, an institution only ended by a bloody civil war.
Our terrible night in 1920 came more than 50 years after the end of the Civil War. It would be decades more before legal segregation was finally outlawed. These things are living memory — part of the lived experience of people still among us.
That, of course, brings us to the present day and all the difficult questions still facing us that touch on race — education, immigration, policing, the criminal justice system. It brings us to examining the attitudes we may have unwittingly picked up. We are faced with the daunting prospect of listening to life experiences that are different from our own with humility.
The racial issues of today can be even more difficult to talk about and think about than the historical events. It’s complicated; it’s tangled in our ugly partisan politics and ideologies in dangerous and counterproductive ways; it’s emotionally raw; facts and even definitions are hotly disputed.
It’s difficult because we don’t have all the answers in the form of a perfect plan of action to finally resolve these things.
But we do have some answers. I had the opportunity to preach on these things back in May, near the end of Easter, and what I found helpful was simply returning to the fundamental truths of our faith, those truths that are more certain than any ideology in this world.
Among them are these: We are one human family, all sharing the same origin in God. We are all deeply wounded by sin — not a single one of us is immune. The unmistakable call of the Gospel is reconciliation with God and with each other, a restoration of shattered human fraternity culminating in our total communion with God in heaven. That reconciliation requires both repentance for our own failures and mercy toward those who have hurt us. And our preferential option for the poor demands that we be particularly attentive to those who are most vulnerable and powerless and those who have been most deeply hurt.
Empowered with this truth, we can first of all begin to banish from within ourselves any trace of racism, a grave sin that imperils the soul. No heart faithful to Christ can possibly make peace with such evils. And we can at least begin to evaluate the cacophony of voices around us on these issues, testing them in the light of the Gospel, holding fast to what is good and rejecting what isn’t.
Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected].
Posted on 07/15/2021 14:18 PM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
Growing up, I was constantly playing sports. I was on many traveling soccer and hockey teams, as were my sisters and brother. At times it seemed we were traveling at least twice a month for tournaments. Today, I think that was way too much, and we as priests and parents need to keep sports more localized, but that is a topic for another day.
|Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith
But when we were away from our home parish, we never missed Mass. And I mean NEVER! When we arrived at the hotel where were staying, the first thing my parents would ask would be if they had list of the local Catholic churches and their Mass times. We would look at the churches and their schedule and say, “If we only get to the third-place game, then we need to go to the 11 a.m. Mass, but if we play in the championship game, then we will have to go to the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass.”
Again, not ideal to be playing sports Sunday mornings, and I am convinced that we need to fight against this, but at least we made it to Sunday Mass. My parents drilled it into us, that we owed it to God to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday. When I was on my own in Texas playing hockey and traveling through Montana, I did the same thing. I found the local church and got myself to Mass.
This is from paragraph 2181 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”
Everywhere in the world during the past year there was at some point a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Because there was no obligation during that time, it was not grave matter to miss Mass, and therefore, it could not have been a mortal sin to miss Mass. Nonetheless, because of the minimal risks involved, I do believe that for most people it was a venial sin not to attend Sunday Mass.
However, you’ll notice in the paragraph from the Catechism above, that it is possible for a person to be dispensed from their obligation to attend Mass by their pastor. A pastor has the authority to dispense from the obligation to attend Mass.
Why is this? The obligation to attend Mass is ecclesial or church law. The teaching authority of the church has Christ’s authority to “bind and loose” (Matthew 18:18). This means the church can bind us to certain acts, such as going to Mass on Sunday, even at the consequence of mortal sin and the penalty of hell if we are unrepentant. And because it is a church law and not divine law, the church has granted to pastors the authority to dispense individuals of that obligation in particular circumstances.
If is unreasonable for you to attend Sunday Mass on an upcoming Sunday, for example, if you are camping or hunting in a remote area, you may ask your pastor for a dispensation. I personally will grant a dispensation once or twice a year to a person. If they are asking for one, once a month, that’s too much. Also, I would not grant a dispensation for people just because they are traveling, because there are Catholic Masses being offered in every civilized area. It’s as simple as searching on the Internet for the local church.
However, when a person is in a remote area, I will grant the dispensation. In place of attending Mass, I commend them to reading the Mass readings, discussing them with their family or group, and making a spiritual Communion. I will also ask them to pray a rosary together. I want them to spend close to the duration of Mass in prayer and meditation on God and God’s Word. This is important because while they may be dispensed from Sunday Mass, they are still obligated to “keep holy the Sabbath or Lord’s Day.” Sunday still must be set apart from the other days of the week.
This is because ecclesial or church laws are different from divine law. While there can be dispensation from ecclesial law, there are no dispensations from divine law. For example, you can’t receive a dispensation from the sixth commandment. You can’t receive a dispensation from anyone, even the pope, to commit adultery or fornication. Likewise, it is divine law to “keep holy the Sabbath or the Lord’s day.” This means while you may be dispensed from the prescript of attending Mass, you still are obligated to keep Sunday holy.
So, if you have not yet returned to Mass, get yourself back to Mass. As of July 4, it is a mortal sin not to go to Mass. More importantly, we are not complete without you. The Body of Christ needs to be at full strength when offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And if in the future you need to miss Mass, have the foresight and reverence and respect for God to ask your pastor for a dispensation.
Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected].
Posted on 07/14/2021 14:04 PM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! If we have not had the occasion to meet, allow me to introduce myself. I am Bishop Daniel Felton. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis has appointed me as the tenth bishop of our Diocese of Duluth. I am truly humbled and honored to receive this call to serve you as your bishop. The Vespers service and ordination Mass were great diocesan occasions of celebration and prayer. A heartfelt thank you to all who helped to plan all of the events related to my episcopal ordination.
I am also grateful to all who helped to put together a special episcopal ordination insert in the Northern Cross, our diocesan newspaper. Hopefully, this helped you become more familiar with my background, family, and interests in life — although be a little cautious about what my four younger sisters shared in their articles. Sometimes they tell the truth with a slant when it comes to their older brother!
Right after I was ordained a bishop, I was able to ordain Scott Padrnos as a transitional deacon and Deacon Trevor Peterson to the priesthood. In the world of ordinations, this was a Holy Orders grand slam. Ordinations are diocesan celebrations of those called serve the People of God throughout our diocese. Let us earnestly continue to pray our diocesan Vocation Prayer so that all may truly know and live their vocational call in life, in this case especially to the ordained diaconate and priesthood.
Given that I have been in this new role for a little more than a month, I am just beginning to find my way around the diocese. These past three weeks, I had the opportunity to celebrate the Holy Mass in each of the five deaneries of our diocese. This has been a wonderful occasion to meet priests, deacons, and parishioners in all of the ten counties that constitute our diocese. All of these Masses and receptions were wonderfully planned and celebrated well. Thank you for your warm welcome and hospitality!
Looking ahead, please remember that I am reinstating for the Diocese of Duluth the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation, beginning the weekend of July 3-4. The reinstatement of the Sunday Mass obligation will occur at that same time for all Catholics throughout the other five dioceses of Minnesota. I am grateful for all of the efforts that were put forth during the coronavirus to monitor the data with a measured safety response. These have been difficult times for everyone.
Given the data that indicates the impact of the pandemic is receding, and with appropriate safety measures in place, I strongly encourage people who have stayed away from an in-person Mass to return. The Masses we have livestreamed have been a tremendous medium during the pandemic to connect parishioners with the Mass and Spiritual Communion with the Lord. However, there is no experience that compares with the actual reception and Communion with the Real Presence of Jesus Christ attending Mass in-person.
As always, there are circumstances that can excuse a person from the requirement to observe the obligation: being sick, homebound, or infirm; having significant anxiety or fear of becoming ill by being at Mass; and not being able to attend Mass through no fault of your own.
If these particular circumstances do not apply, the Lord is eagerly waiting for you to be back at your parish Mass, listening to His living word given to you in the Scriptures and receiving His body in Holy Communion. The celebration of the Holy Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic spiritual journey as disciples of the Lord!
Once again, know how humbled and honored I am to serve you as your bishop. Please pray for me, and rest assured that I am praying for all of you.
Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth.
Posted on 07/14/2021 14:03 PM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
Father Trevor Peterson, who was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Daniel Felton June 4, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, had already seen a bit of life by the time he entered seminary.
Born to the late Wendell and Marilyn Peterson in Detroit Lakes, the 39-year-old priest went right to work doing a variety of jobs — working a bread route, serving as a DJ, running a DJ company, and working as a sound technician for local bands, work that took him to St. Cloud.
He also ended up working for Bernick’s Pepsi, which is what brought him to Duluth. It was that move that also brought him back to church.
Father Peterson said his family practiced the faith growing up but that he stopped going to church when he moved out on his own. But when he came to Duluth in 2009, “something inside me said to go to church,” he said.
When he was moving in, his aunt asked if he wanted to go to church, and he took it as a further sign. He ended up at St. John the Evangelist in Woodland, where he met Father Rich Kunst and began to be fascinated by his apologetics-oriented homilies and grew more interested in learning more about his faith.
One homily that made a particular difference to him was an invitation to go to one daily Mass a week. “So I started going to daily Mass,” he said.
That’s how God started him growing more deeply in faith. He also picked up the rosary his grandmother had given him that had been blessed by Pope St. John Paul II.
Then one day the word “seminary” came to mind — he didn’t really even know the meaning of the word — and at a mixer for new parishioners, a man also walked up to him and told him if he ever thought about seminary, talk to Father Kunst, who was vocation director at the time.
“That’s all he really said,” Father Peterson said.
He decided to approach Father Kunst but ended up finding it surprisingly difficult, something he was nervous and fearful about. One night as he was trying to fall asleep, he even experienced a kind of pressure he attributes to his Guardian Angel or the Holy Spirit, until he finally exclaimed he would ask the priest the next day.
He hit send on the email to arrange the meeting. “That was such a relief, knowing that I cannot take that email back,” he said.
Soon he was visiting Immaculate Heart of Mary seminary in Winona. It took a while, but after two or three months, he finally said yes to going there himself.
But that was when his mom called and told him she had cancer, and he had to make a choice to follow through with seminary five or six hours away from his mom or to back out. He chose to stick to his yes.
“God gave me the necessary time to visit Mom,” he said. He was able to visit at holidays and through the year. When she died in June 2012, he was “there at her side when she was dying.”
But there was another twist on the road. “I discerned out in my fourth year in October of 2014,” leaving the seminary but staying to finish his degree “just in case.”
He moved to Rochester, where he became a realtor and then a bus driver, also helping out at a church there.
It was Bishop John Quinn who stuck with him, as Bishop Felton noted in his ordination homily.
“Everything that Bishop Felton was talking about Bishop Quinn was true,” Father Peterson said, calling him a “bulldog.” Father Peterson came to realize he had made a mistake in discerning out. He found a spiritual director who helped him sort things out.
He finally had an hour and a half meeting with the late Bishop Paul Sirba. “After talking with him, I said yeah, I think it’s time to go back into the seminary,” Father Peterson said.
Father Peterson’s first assignment is at Blessed Sacrament in Hibbing, where he will be parochial vicar, serving with Father Daniel Weiske, the priest he chose to vest him at his ordination Mass. He said he’s known Father Weiske since seminary and spent his transitional diaconate year with him in Brainerd.
Neither of them have been assigned in Hibbing before.
“We’re going to be kind of going in there together,” he said.
Father Peterson said his early time as a priest has almost been a kind of after party, and he’s now seeing a new stage of life right in front of him and appreciating being part of the diocese’s priestly fraternity.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “A lot of comfort, a lot of joy.”
Father Peterson said his life experiences have brought a lot of negatives and a lot of blessings, and he aims to fulfill his duty as God calls him, staying close to the Blessed Mother.
“Don’t be surprised if I talk about the Blessed Mother a lot,” he said.
Posted on 07/14/2021 14:02 PM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
By Andrew Hilliker
My name is Andrew Hilliker, and I am excited to introduce myself to the Diocese of Duluth community! Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of visiting Stella Maris on a few occasions, and each time I witnessed the exceptional community, dedicated staff, and strong Catholic programming in place. It is an honor to be able to lead Stella Maris and be part of the remarkable future of Catholic education in Duluth.
For the past 11 years I have been part of the faculty at St. Joseph’s School in Moorhead — the last seven years as principal. In addition, I have served as the director of schools for the Diocese of Crookston for the last three years. In these ministries I saw through multiple lenses the impact and significance of Catholic education. Our work is important, and it is essential. Not only do our students need the stability and direction of the faith, but our families need us to fully support their domestic church.
Outside of my roles at St. Joseph’s School and the Diocese of Crookston, I serve as treasurer and onsite team chair of the Minnesota Nonpublic School Accrediting Association (the diocese’s accrediting agency), am a Minnesota Catholic Conference Education Committee member, and am active in the Minnesota Independent School Forum. I have been truly blessed professionally to have developed relationships throughout Minnesota with very remarkable professionals.
As blessed as I am professionally, I am even more so personally. I am married to my beautiful wife, Rose; she is a school psychologist and works primarily in early-childhood special education. She has a true gift in supporting families that are raising kids with exceptional learning and developmental needs. We have three children: Lily is 5 years old and loving, a soon to be first-grader; Adalyn is 4 years old and beginning her journey at preschool; and Mack is our laid-back 1-year old. As outdoor enthusiasts, we are excited to be making our transition to the beautiful North Shore!
I truly look forward to meeting the faculty, staff, students, families, and community members that are invested in Stella Maris Academy. The academy has accomplished so much in coming together. I cannot wait to be part of that continued success in the future!
Hilliker assumed his position as president of Stella Maris Academy on July 1.
Posted on 06/30/2021 11:20 AM (Diocese of Duluth | Daily News)
I’ve noticed something about myself. I used to be someone who occasionally complained, but recently I’ve realized that I am constantly complaining about one thing or another. I seem to be able to find something to be upset about in every situation and with every piece of news I come across. What do I do?
|Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike
This is a very important question. I believe that it is possible to lose your soul over this.
Now, I know that that might sound overly dramatic, but bear with me.
In the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, he advises Christians to “do everything without grumbling.” This is not to say that every time we complain or grumble we are committing a mortal sin. There are powerfully positive aspects of complaining. First of all, when there are injustices or when evil is being perpetrated, pointing those out is a necessity. Disciples of Christ must be willing to speak the truth even if the truth is unpopular or inconvenient. Further, there are times when a person might need to express their interior displeasure with something. In normal and healthy human relationships, individuals must sometimes deliver bad news. Sometimes this bad news is as simple as, “I do not like this.” This honesty is actually helpful for the people around us, provided it is delivered in a straightforward and appropriate way.
I was speaking recently with a friend who runs a small chain of stores. He referenced a book he had read about business management. The book is called “Complaint Is a Gift.” I expressed interest in reading it, but after a moment of reflection, I realized that the book’s title was also the book’s thesis, and I understood the value of this perspective. Essentially, when the people you are working with (or living with, or teaching, or leading) come to you with a complaint, they are handing you a gift.
First of all, they are giving you the gift of trust. If a person does not trust you, they will not let you know what is bothering them. (They will, however, tell everyone else but you!) Second, when a person complains, they are directing your attention to something that is wrong. Now, this could be something that actually needs to be fixed. For example, if you were in charge of the work schedule, they might be directing your attention to the fact that you haven’t scheduled anyone to work a certain shift. Their telling you this is a gift.
On the other hand, it is possible that there is nothing objectively wrong that can be solved externally. In this case, the person offering the complaint is revealing something about their interior disposition or about their perspective. Now, their perspective can be uninformed or even wrong, but if they share their perspective, then you will know what is going on with them and have the opportunity to deal with that. Either way, their complaint gives you the gift of knowing something you would not otherwise know if they had not complained.
That being said, not all complaining is productive. Not all complaining is oriented towards being helpful. There can be a point where complaining becomes spiritually deadly.
It begins by narrowing our gaze and our awareness of reality. While we need to see things clearly (we are not supposed to be Pollyannaish in our view of the world!), to only be able to see the negative is to be partly blind. To allow the negative to dominate and define one’s life is to become a slave to the squeaky wheel or to the most negative voice. What is worse, we face the danger of becoming the negative voice. (Again, this is not the same thing as the prophet who has to point out the areas where an individual or a people need to repent.) We might reach the point where we “become a complaint.”
I had this experience a number of years ago. My parents wanted a family photo with all of their kids and in-laws and grandkids. My mom had picked out polo shirts for every family group to wear (she and my dad had one color, my sister and her husband and their kids had another color, and so on). I have two siblings who aren’t married, so the three of us got our own “single person’s color” polo. It was a color that I would not have normally chosen for myself. So I started joking about it. In an “I’m just kidding” way, I complained about it. And at first, I was genuinely laughing about it. But then something happened. The more I complained (even in a joking way), the more I got cranky about it and the more I continued to genuinely grumble about it. At one point, I even noticed what was happening, and I started telling myself to pull it together, but I couldn’t let go of the complaint. It had a hold on me.
This can be the case with any “small sin,” whether it be resentment, anger, curiosity, gossip, jealousy, or complaining. There may come a point where we want to let go of it and will be unable to because it will have a grip on us.
C.S. Lewis describes this phenomena in his book “The Great Divorce.” He has just witnessed a fantastic meeting between a saint and her now dead husband. The saint is trying to convince the man to let go of his grumbling and complaining and come with her to Heaven, but the man simply cannot let go of his grumbling. In Lewis’ words, the man has “become a grumble.” He writes, “Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others … but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud.”
The way out of this self-inflicted Hell is to surrender to Jesus. I found myself powerless to overcome my weakness in complaining. I had to do two things: ask Christ to help me and forgive me and turn to my family and tell them what was happening. I had to tell them that I was sorry that I put myself in a bad mood and that I was grateful that we all had the chance to be together for the day. Sometimes merely acknowledging that we are under the influence of grumbling is enough to break its spell.
Above all else, we turn to God’s grace, asking God to help us see the whole truth of our situation, and giving thanks for the good that is there.
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. Reach him at [email protected]