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Christmas greetings from Bishop Daniel

A Christmas message from Bishop Daniel Felton

Dear Followers and Friends of Jesus,

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

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

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


Suzanne Lott is first consecrated virgin for the Diocese of Duluth

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

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

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

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

What is a consecrated virgin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Receiving the call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his homily, Bishop Felton said that things were already ready to be done when Bishop Sirba was here. “And so Bishop Sirba is here today, and I truly do believe that I have a co-consecrator of you this very day as we call you forth in prayer as a consecrated virgin,” he said.

Life as a consecrated virgin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m excited about that,” she said.

Seminary’s preparation year helps men discern vocation more deeply

By Susan Klemond 
Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial: Don’t miss out on the Eucharistic Revival

Last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly passed its long-debated document on the Eucharist. To say there has been a flood of commentary about that document and the circumstances surrounding it — with the debate over how the church’s pastors should shepherd Catholic politicians who take policy positions contradicting the faith — would be an understatement. A lot of words have been spent debating those complex questions, and many people have strong feelings one way or the other.

Those strong feelings may tempt some to miss the most important part of why the U.S. bishops addressed the Eucharist, and that would be a tragic mistake. The bishops, in light of studies suggesting many of the faithful do not fully appreciate or believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, have embarked on a three-year Eucharistic Revival, to bring the faithful to a deeper eucharistic faith.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” We believe that body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ are made truly present for us under the appearance of bread and wine, and that receiving Holy Communion is an act of the most intimate connection to him, when he gives us his very life and pours out the abundant graces of the Paschal Mystery to strengthen and heal and save us.

Those who don’t know or believe this are missing out on this profound gift of God and the graces that accompany it. That is truly a profound loss we must try to address. But even for those who believe, we are always in need of growing in our understanding and gratitude for this great mystery.

The Eucharistic Revival, then, is something every Catholic can and should embrace. Look for the opportunities the coming years will provide to deepen our encounter with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to find there his healing and love, and to truly make this great gift of God the source and summit of our lives.

Betsy Kneepkens: Helping those who have too little — and those who have too much

It is Christmastime again, and some of the most humanitarian works for the poor and marginalized occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Any time of the year is an excellent time to help those in need, and if Christmas is when giving works best for some people, I say “go for it.”

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I love to hear stories of what churches have done for struggling individuals and families. My parish has had a giving tree for as long as I can remember. Catholic schoolchildren and religious education classes have made cards for those living at dependent care facilities and hospitals, sung at various locations, collected clothing items and food, and participated in Operation Christmas Child. I know of at least one parish that is doing a program called “The Best Christmas Ever,” where a community comes together to surprise a family that has fallen on tough times. It is a beautiful display of unity, generosity, and love.

Christmas has always been a big deal in our house. For larger families, it is the time of year that we come together, celebrate the birth of Christ, and receive gifts, mostly of needs but wants too. As our children were growing older, we wanted to use this time of year to teach our children to be givers to those in need.

For several years, our family would be involved in service in our community. As our children have moved away from home, we started a Christmas tradition where we would gather a list of local organizations that were doing the work of Christ, in line with church teachings, and then research their purpose and how they serve. On Christmas Day, we present the organization’s mission to our kids, and they vote on which organization would be granted a family financial gift. I think many lessons are taught through this activity, and this fun exercise has our adult children thinking about others and not so much about themselves anymore.

I believe serving and supporting our disadvantaged brothers and sisters is always an obligation of being a follower of Christ. I am sure it doesn’t surprise many that we live in an increasingly divided country — in many ways, but most apparently in social and economic matters. Our church must be the first and foremost leader in lessening the suffering of those in need. I think most of us get that.

Another segment of the population is suffering greatly, but seeking support and healing for them appears politically incorrect. The group I am referring to is those who have too much. We live in a society where many live with excess. We don’t talk about the consequence of their wealth and how, for some, the condition torments. More often than not, as individuals acquire more, they slowly turn themselves away from Christ. The movement toward riches and away from dependency on God opens the door for the evil one to reign unknowingly. The devil seeks out their weakened soul and, if agreeable, entices them to turn their backs on Christ. The Gospels reference this suffering more than a dozen times, and Christ seeks to heal them, pointing the “financially” afflicted back toward our heavenly Father.

Although you can have material needs overly met, and that might feel good, things can’t quench the essential thirst of your heart. You have just to read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or scan social media each day to realize the suffering of the rich and famous. Unspeakable tragedy happens over and over again, almost like we now expect it and accept it.

Not that I have had many encounters with highly affluent individuals, but some that I have known have lived fractured lives. Sadly they have experienced divorce or infidelity, or physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. Ultimately, the results of their wealth end up starving the real pleasure they seek. If they have children, their offspring tend to mirror and suffer even worse than their parents.

Worse yet, they are quickly taken advantage of, and if they are strong enough not to have people use them, they live in a constant state of distrust. Rich and famous people’s failures are exploited and publicly criticized, and mistakes become unforgivable gossip and news. You can never be sure if relationships exist because of what you have not really who you are. We all worry about safety, but wealthy and well-known people are targeted by the cruel, envious, and villainous, simply because they have more. So often, these individuals get to the point where enough is not enough, and greed becomes the driving force. Furthermore, people think ill of wealthy people for no other reason than they have more — what a horrible daily battle.

The Gospel neither encourages nor condemns wealth. Christ wants us to love and serve the Lord. I believe wealth and fame were intended for some to be a force of good in the world. For the portion of people who have managed material success, they have been a gift to so many others. They inspire others to live extraordinary lives when they don’t allow their wealth to define them and reject the devil’s enticements.

Some of the wealthiest individuals in our country pledge to give 90% of their wealth away before they die to those less fortunate. When their fortune is a gift given, without expecting anything in return, their actions seek the will of the Father. When they use the brilliance that created their wealth to teach others or improve the world, they live out their God-given purpose. As Christ taught, all disorders ought to be reordered, and as his disciples, we don’t get to choose which disorders need healing. We have to work on all of it.

As Christians, we are called to help those whose basic needs aren’t met. However, we need to keep in mind that poverty exists spiritually as well. Christ’s birth was about saving everyone. This Christmas, I hope we can have a heart and send up a prayer for those who suffer from being too fortunate so they can detach themselves from things, manage the blessings they received, and regift what they have been given to make for a better world.

May this Christmas be a time where we pray for all those that suffer, the people who have little and those that have too much. Merry Christmas to all!

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

Legalizing sports wagers: entertainment or enslavement? You can bet it’s not worth the risk to lives and livelihoods

Inside the Capitol

Legalizing sports betting, already a prominent topic of legislative discussion, has been pushed to the front of the 2022 session chatter, with both Republicans and Democrats signaling their support, and Rep. Zack Stephenson’s (DFL-Champlin) announcement that he would lead a bill in 2022 to legalize sports betting. His decision matters, because he can give the bill momentum as the Chair of the House Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over gambling and gaming laws.

The Catholic Church does not strictly prohibit Catholics from participating in games of chance. But modern sports gambling, particularly when available through one’s smart phone, is like an addictive drug that has and will harm lives, families, and the common good. We must make a commonsense distinction between low stakes fund-raising events sponsored by charitable organizations, and the normalization of a vice industry whose revenues depend upon those who are (or will become) problem gamblers.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2413) warns that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement” and that wagers “become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” The allure of quick, easy, big money through sports wagering will be a trap for people searching for a way out of an already precarious financial position.

Gambling addiction causes severe financial, emotional, and even physical problems for the gambler and their family. Coping with the negative consequences of gambling can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of shame and hopelessness. The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that about 20 percent of those diagnosed with disordered gambling attempt suicide — a higher percentage than any other addictive disorder.

Do we really want to risk having one more form of so-called “entertainment” when the odds are so clear that it can destroy livelihoods and even end lives? That sure doesn’t sound like fun.

How did we get here?

In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a federal law that banned sports gambling everywhere outside of Nevada. Since then, several states have expanded gambling laws to permit betting on sporting events. Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) and Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) introduced a bill during the 2021 legislative session to legalize on-site and mobile betting but only in and around tribal casinos. Their bill did not receive a hearing.

The legalization of sports betting would be the biggest change in Minnesota gaming since compacts were signed with Minnesota’s Native American tribes in 1991. Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign a sports betting bill only if it has been agreed to by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. Tribal communities have opposed previous attempts to bring sports gambling to Minnesota, but their stance may be changing. Now, Chair Stephenson says he will hold informational hearings and consult with the state’s Native American tribes before introducing a formal bill.

Where do we go from here?

We should not unleash this addictive and destructive activity on our people so that a privileged few can have more excitement during the increasingly boring spectacles offered by the professional sports leagues.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference will be working closely with stakeholders, such as the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling, to ensure that, to the extent possible, families, the poor, and the vulnerable are held harmless by this latest effort to expand gambling. Urge your legislators to commission a study on the current prevalence of problem gambling in Minnesota and ensure any gambling expansion makes available the proper resources for prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

Father Richard Kunst: How to view ‘cancel culture’ in a healthy light

Many years ago when I was having a conversation with a brother priest, I had expressed to him something that had me upset. I have no recollection of what I complained about, but I will never forget how he responded. In a voice that a parent would have used to talk to their infant child, he said, “You are such a victim! Yes you are! Yes you are! You are such a little victim.”

Father Richard Kunst

I have to say that I was two seconds away from punching him in the face to make him the victim. In the interest of full disclosure, I found it hilarious, and I have often done the same thing to friends of mine since then.

My brother priest’s entertaining response is pretty appropriate to our current generation. We live in an era in which people cling to their past hurts like they are some sort of security blanket.

The examples are endless. “Woke cancel culture” is all about playing the victim. If someone says something that is deemed offensive, they get ruthlessly attacked on social media. It is a form of playing the victim. “That person said something that hurt my feelings, so I am going to strike back by getting them canceled.”

People in the public eye, such as celebrities, politicians, and athletes, might have a comment they made 20 years ago unearthed only to have the full force of woke political correctness unleashed on them. It is toxic and crazy what is happening in our world with this sort of behavior. Many famous comedians have decided to no longer perform on college campuses because college kids are so easily offended by the jokes. They get offended because they have a victim complex. This is why so many colleges have had to make “safe spaces” for their students, so that the thin skinned student can feel coddled in their victimhood.

Unfortunately the victim complex is not just on college campuses, it is pretty much everywhere now, including our military. It is even being institutionalized with the debates surrounding “reparations” for descendants of slaves. I have yet to hear a good argument for such a program. Why should the government give somebody money now because their great, great, great, great, great, great-grandparent was a slave? We are empowering victimhood with such discussion.

You might be surprised to know that this “woke” victim culture is nothing new. In fact, there is some evidence of it in the Bible! Or there are at least stories in the Bible that appear to be woke in nature. One account is of the Samaritans refusing to give Jesus and his Apostles hospitality because they were on their way to Jerusalem (a holy site they rejected). In Luke’s version of the story, after the Samaritan rejection, “when the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’” (9:55). The two Apostles wanted to cancel the Samaritans for hurting their feelings! There is no doubt that James and John felt like victims for being rejected, so they wanted to punish the perpetrators.

Jesus’ response to his two “cancel culture” apostles is what is important in the story. After they tell Jesus they wanted to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans for hurting their feelings, the Gospel says, “Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village” (9:56). Two points — first, the Gospel uses the word “rebuked,” which is the same word that is used when he exorcises or silences demons. It is not a stretch to view our cancel culture as a form of evil, because it certainly is. It destroys people’s lives and reputations for petty reasons.

And second, they just moved along and went to another village, rather than sulking like so many people do today.

Life is not fair. Every day we will be met with disappointment and hurt feelings. It is not a Christian value to crush people on social media because they said something that was deemed hurtful. It is not a Christian value to lash out at someone on Facebook because you don’t like what they said or did. As adults we need to “buck up” and not focus on how we are victims. As always, Jesus provides us the perfect example in all things.

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

Father Nicholas Nelson: St. Joseph: Was he old? Why did he want to divorce Mary?

We are coming to the end of the Year of St. Joseph. It will end on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I thought it would be fitting to consider St. Joseph in this last column before the year of St. Joseph ends. It is also relevant now that we are in the holy season of Advent and the time of the year we hear about Joseph in many of our Masses leading up to Christmas.

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

How old was Joseph when we first meet him in the Gospels?

There is no official teaching on this. More commonly, people have thought of Joseph as an older man. One reason is that the Gospels don’t speak of Joseph after the finding of Jesus in the Temple. It is commonly believed that he died before Jesus began his public ministry. Another reason is the story told in non-canonical, non-official writings, most especially in the Protoevangelium of James. This apocryphal writing speaks of a search of older widowers who could be betrothed to Mary in order to protect her virginity. However, the Protoevangelium of James wasn’t written until the second century, much later than the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So, the Protoevangelium of James may not be accurate.

There are others who promote the idea of Joseph being a younger man. St. Josemaria Escriva puts it this way: “I don’t agree with the traditional picture of St. Joseph as an old man, even though it may have been prompted by a desire to emphasize the perpetual virginity of Mary. I see him as a strong, young man, perhaps a few years older than Our Lady, but in the prime of his life and work.”

You don’t have to be old to be chaste. Chastity is a powerful, magnanimous, energizing, life-giving virtue. Fulton J. Sheen said, “Since Mary is what might be called a ‘virginizer’; of young men as well as women, and the greatest inspiration of Christian purity, should she not logically have begun by inspiring and virginizing the first youth whom she had probably ever met — Joseph, the Just? It was not by diminishing his power to love but by elevating it that she would have her first conquest, and in her own spouse, the man who was a man, and not a mere senile watchman!”

Besides, St. Joseph was responsible for providing and protecting Mary and Jesus. He was responsible for helping Jesus become a man and developing the human virtues. Consider the titles we have for St. Joseph, such as “Terror of Demons”; “Chaste Guardian of the Virgin”; “Model of Workmen.” Consider all the traveling he had to do, first to Bethlehem from Nazareth with a pregnant wife and then from Bethlehem to Egypt with a wife and infant. The great Mother Angelica put it succinctly: “Old men don’t walk to Egypt!”

And then, why did Joseph intend to ‘divorce’ Mary, even if he intended to do it quietly so that she wouldn’t be ‘exposed to shame’?

One possibility is that Joseph believed that Mary had willingly committed adultery and therefore it was required of him to divorce her. I find this hard to believe. Joseph knew Mary, maybe not as well as married or engaged couples know each other these days, but he would have known that Mary is far from the type of woman who would commit adultery. I find it hard to believe that he would not have believed Mary and therefore, would have suspected her of adultery.

Another possibility is that Joseph believed that Mary had been sexually assaulted and therefore decided to divorce her. I also find it hard to believe that Joseph would leave Mary alone as a single mother being that she was the victim of rape.

So, is there an additional possibility as to why Joseph decided to divorce Mary, even “quietly”? Yes, there is. People have called this the reverence theory. Joseph believed Mary’s story. He believed that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, and therefore God was obviously doing something amazing, and therefore, he was no longer to be a part of Mary’s life because of this newly revealed plan of God for her. So out of reverence for God and out of reverence for Mary’s unique and exalted role as the Mother of God’s Son he decides to divorce her quietly. It’s out of humility and belief that this plan doesn’t concern him that he decided to divorce her.

But then in a dream, the angel Gabriel comes to him and tells him not to fear taking Mary for his wife. Gabriel tells him that he, Joseph, is to name him, the baby, Jesus. In other words, “Joseph, you are a part of this plan, a big part — you will be Jesus’ father. You will be Mary’s husband, and the head of this family. I need you in order for this plan to succeed.”

The great St. Thomas Aquinas sums it up: “Joseph did not wish to send Mary away so that he could take another wife, or on account of any suspicion, but because he feared to cohabit with such holiness out of reverence; which is why it was said to him, ‘Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.’”

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].

Deacon Kyle Eller: Overcoming our ‘culture of contempt’

“No one has ever been hated into agreement.”

Back in early 2020, I remember hearing the buzz about a speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast. The speaker was Arthur Brooks, a Catholic academic and former president of a conservative think tank whose work has focused on economics and culture. His message was straight from the words of Jesus himself — “love your enemies” — as he argued that the biggest crisis facing America and many other countries is “the crisis of contempt.”

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

It is a message he had already written about in a New York Times op-ed about a year earlier (that’s where the quote I began with came from) and one which he expanded on in his book “Love Your Enemies,” which I have been reading.

The instant I read through his prayer breakfast remarks as they were circulating through social media, I knew that he was articulating very well something I’ve been trying to say for years.

It’s important to understand what he means by “contempt.” As he makes clear, it is not a matter of disagreement (disagreement can be good) or even of anger. Borrowing a definition from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Brooks called contempt “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of the other.”

When we come to a place where many people have abandoned persuasion and consider their political, ideological, or religious enemies barely human, even monsters who only deserve destruction, that’s contempt. Rolling our eyes and utterly dismissing people is contempt.

That’s where we are, and it’s not unique to any one political persuasion but to large elements of all of them. About 15 seconds reading comments on any controversial news story on social media is enough to overdose on contempt.

It’s not the worst example, but one that bothered me a lot was during the debates over hospital vaccine mandates and the things that were said about the health care workers who objected to them. To me it seems clear why it’s a difficult issue. There are significant goods at stake that stand in tension with each other, and people understandably have strong feelings about them. Public health experts, relying on the best available science, tell us that getting as many people as possible vaccinated will help alleviate the pandemic and all the death and other suffering that has come with it, and we all want that. On the other hand, the right not to be forced to act against your conscience is also serious business. For that matter, so is having a legitimate say in what’s injected into your body.

So I get why people disagree strongly about it and get angry about it. But cheering when people lose their jobs in the middle of a pandemic? Contemptuously proclaiming that professional health care workers “don’t believe in science” if they have any hesitancy about a vaccine in these extraordinary circumstances? These are people that just months ago everyone was rightly hailing as heroes who had risked their lives to care for us.

It’s logically possible to believe vaccine mandates are good policy and still have sympathy for those who are put in a difficult position by those mandates and wish the best for them and want to see them land on their feet. Some people did that. But many did not. For them, the erstwhile heroes became Public Enemy No. 1, to the point of publicly wishing them harm and cheering if they were ineligible for unemployment.

As I said, this is just one example, and not even the worst. Doesn’t contempt play overwhelmingly into the political violence, at times deadly, we have witnessed over the past two years? Isn’t it a root of “cancel culture”? Isn’t it at the heart of our intense polarization that is even splitting apart families?

And can’t we see its effects all around us, even in the church?

Brooks cites psychological and social science research suggesting all this contempt is really bad for us, not just in the sense that it doesn’t convince anyone and is tearing us apart socially but in a personal way — that we suffer deeply when we are treated with contempt and that we even damage ourselves when we treat others with contempt.

It’s nice to have the scientific validation, but it’s something we already know at some level without even being told.

However, there are things we can do. In his book, Brooks echoes an experience similar to ones I’ve had. A previous book of his had attracted more readers than his academic works had, and he started hearing from more readers, including one who wrote a long, detailed email ripping his work to shreds.

Brooks said that in that moment, instead of getting angry, he found himself grateful that the person who had written to him had read the book and taken time to give detailed feedback. So he responded with gratitude instead of anger, and his correspondent’s tone immediately changed, and the conversation turned friendly.

I’ve had that experience too. It definitely doesn’t always happen, on my side or that of people who are upset with something I’ve written, but it does happen often. This, too, is biblical wisdom. One of my favorite passages from the Book of Proverbs is “A mild answer turns back wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

No one has ever been hated into agreement. The idea that we have to act this way to “win” our cultural battles is a lie — it’s not just morally flawed, it’s a losing strategy.

“Love your enemies” is not a suggestion, it’s a command of Jesus, and one we can’t safely ignore.

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