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Bishop Daniel Felton: Let’s listen — Part I

It is hard to believe that I have been the Bishop of Duluth for over half a year. In that time, I have put almost 17,000 miles on my vehicle as I have traveled numerous times back and forth across our diocese visiting parishes, schools, priests, deacons, and parishioners. Literally, the first seven months have been quite the trip! 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

In my wanderings, I have encountered a deep faith among so many people in our diocese. The last five years have been challenging times for our diocese, with bankruptcy proceedings, a listing of priests who abused minors, the clustering and merging of many parishes, and on top of all of that a pandemic. However, given the heritage of our diocese, we have always faced adversity with a deep sense of faith rooted in our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

I believe that it is in this faith that we are experiencing what I call a “dawning” moment. We are stepping out of our recent dark times into a dawning light. It is not full daylight, but it is more light than darkness. In this dawning light, we can move from the hurt of the darkness into hope and healing light. Literally, it is beginning to dawn on us that we can once again mobilize to the Mission entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit. 

This Mission is simply bringing people to Jesus Christ, who brings healing and hope in our personal lives, the lives of our parishes, and the lives of the communities in which we dwell. As we step forward into that Mission, we must discuss and discern the “next step” that the Holy Spirit is calling us to as we mobilize to Mission. 

Discerning our next step in the Holy Spirit, let us turn to the example of the steps taken by the two disciples walking the road to Emmaus. At the very beginning of their journey, Jesus joins them along the way and asks what they are talking about. Not recognizing Jesus, the two disciples begin to share their hurts and despair with Jesus. Jesus listens to them intently and deeply, and then, having listened to their story, he responds with his relational presence revealed in his person and the Scriptures. 

Slowly, the disciples begin to discover a sense of hope and healing. At the end of the journey, Jesus celebrates the Eucharist. It is then that it dawns on them that it is Jesus who has been walking with them along the way, and that as they receive his body and blood in Communion, he is the source of their healing and hope. 

We must walk the road to Emmaus in our own time, and begin to share our hurts and hopes to realize Jesus in our midst. As a diocese, we will soon begin an organized discernment effort called “Let’s Listen.” The first step of this journey is to gather people throughout the diocese to talk about the hurt and pain that we carry within our hearts these days as we walk our own road to Emmaus. 

As we share and listen to the pain and hurts of one another, we will pray for Jesus to join us along the way as he asks us, “What are you talking about?” As we share our hurts and pain with Jesus, slowly we will begin to discover a dawning sense of hope and healing. It is in the sharing among ourselves and with Jesus that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us the next step that we are to take as a diocese as we mobilize to Mission. This will not be our best guess or inclination but rather a true discernment of the call of the Holy Spirit. 

In recent times, you may have heard of the invitation of Pope Francis for all dioceses throughout the world to gather in a spirit of synodality. As a diocese, we are preparing for listening sessions throughout our diocese to discern our next step in the Holy Spirit — a process that addresses the invitation of Pope Francis in a way that will best meet the needs of the Diocese of Duluth. I believe “Let’s Listen” will be our best local expression and embodiment of synodality, which simply is to gather people together to share their Emmaus experiences of hurts and pains with one another and with Jesus as the source of healing and hope. 

“Let’s Listen” is led by a committee representing every deanery of our diocese. You will soon hear from them. 

For now, let us step into this dawning moment in our personal lives and in the life of our diocese. Let us embrace the invocation of the psalmist, who proclaims, “Awake, lyre and harp, with praise let us awake the dawn” (Psalm 108:2). 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Father Mike Schmitz: How do I receive a gift well?

I’ve been thinking about what it is to receive a gift well. I find that I don’t like getting gifts, because I never know how to respond. I can sometimes even feel guilty that someone has gone to the trouble of getting me something. Is there a way I can receive gifts better? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

I really like this question. Thank you for asking it. One of the things I like about it is that, on the surface, it seems like a simple issue (kind of like a “non-problem problem”). But if we take a closer look, we are not merely talking about the proper etiquette for giving or receiving gifts. Truly, all of life is a gift. How we receive this gift will determine almost everything about the shape and tenor of our lives. So this question actually goes to the heart of how we live, not merely how we might politely accept a gift on our birthday or Christmas.

But to get to the heart of this, let’s look at the best way to receive an actual present.

I would offer that there are at least four essential parts of receiving a gift well. Two are “hidden” and two are outward expressions.

The first part of receiving any gift well is noticing. We have to notice that a gift has been given. This is easy to do when you’ve just opened a package with your name attached to it, but as noted above, all of life is a gift. Everything that you and I have in our lives is the result of the generosity of God or of the people around us. How many of us even notice that the lights come on when we flick the switch? How many of us pay attention to the fact that the “flush” function of the toilet takes away what it is supposed to take away? How many of us notice when we open our eyes in the morning and they actually work?

A number of years ago, I was an associate priest in Hibbing, and the power went out for a couple of days. And when I say “the power went out,” I don’t mean that just the lights stopped working. I mean that everything that had been powered by the power station completely stopped operating. Essentially, it was a small taste of the day when “the grid” will go down. (I don’t mean to sound like a “prepper” here, but I got a glimpse into how much every one of us relies on so many other people to stay alive.)

This happened in the middle of winter, and it was bitterly cold. But there was no way to keep homes warm. There were no street lights — anywhere. I’m not sure if the gas pumps even worked. If the power outage lasted long enough, I’m not sure they would have been able to plow the roads. Just think of how reliant we are on those snow plows every single time it snows.

The point is, we are surrounded by gifts. Do we even notice? The first step in receiving a gift well is paying attention and noticing.

The second part of receiving a gift well is appreciating the gift. What this means is to stop and weigh out what this gift means. It involves becoming conscious of the value of the gift. To appreciate a thing is to know its value. Consider how important this is. How many of us could look back on our youth and discover (to our shame) how often we took the gifts given to us for granted? We can look back at the ways our parents sacrificed to keep us fed and clothed and housed (and in hockey skates or in braces for our teeth or paid for that flute that we never practiced). We can look back on all of the teachers or youth ministers who were so patient with us. Hopefully, now we have a new appreciation for those sacrifices, because now we know what they cost the people who made them for us.

Receiving a gift well means noticing the gift and appreciating the value of the gift. Those happen on the inside, but there needs to be an outward expression as well.

The third essential part of receiving a gift well is possibly the most obvious: expressing gratitude. This should be the most natural of all of these parts. If we have noticed and appreciated the value of the gift, one would think that the automatic response would be gratitude. How could we not look for the source of the gift and say “thank you”?

I wonder if the biggest obstacle to this step for many people is that we know that we don’t deserve gifts of the kind we often receive. There can be a certain sheepishness when someone has truly sacrificed for us, and we are absolutely certain that we didn’t deserve such a sacrifice. In those cases, we might be tempted to dismiss the gratitude out of awkwardness or fail to know how to convey the gratitude we have in our hearts.

Nonetheless, expressing gratitude is essential for receiving a gift well. We look for the source of the gift and attempt to convey our thanks. Even if we cannot capture our thanks, we simply make the attempt.

Finally, the best and most powerful way to receive a gift well does not end with merely offering thanks. The fourth part of receiving a gift well involves using the gift. It is one thing to notice the gift, to appreciate the value of the gift, and to offer thanks. It is another thing entirely to actually use the gift. This last piece is the single best way to receive a gift.

All of life is a gift. I have to ask myself the question: Do I receive this gift well? Do I regularly notice, appreciate, and thank God? Even more, do I use this incredible gift of life that God has entrusted to me? Do I use the incredible gift of being made into an adopted child of God? Do I use the gift of the Holy Spirit to approach the Father in prayer and in praise? Do I use the gift of my body or resources or time to serve the people near me in need?

I would say that this is the best way to receive a gift well.

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.

Patrice Critchley-Menor: The poor have much to give us

By Patrice Critchley-Menor
Guest columnist

Several years ago, there was a woman who would occasionally call the diocese asking for financial assistance. Maybe she needed help with an electric bill or help paying for a prescription. She became very friendly with a couple of staff members. She would sometimes call us to tell us about social service events she heard about to help us provide better outreach. She also came several years at Christmas to bring gifts to the staff members she had befriended. Despite her poverty, she had beautiful sewing skills and a used sewing machine. She didn’t have much, but she was determined to give what she had.

Patrice Critchley-Menor
Guest Columnist

One staff person, who was very generous and kind, repeatedly told the woman she needn’t bother giving her gifts because she had everything she needed. One year, this staff person became frustrated that someone in poverty would waste their limited resources to give gifts. I simply told her that everyone has something to give, and we can make her happy by accepting the gifts.

This year, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen the theme “Extend Your Hand to the Poor” for the fifth annual World Day of the Poor, which will be Sunday Nov. 14. In his statement announcing the theme, he related the story from Mark’s Gospel where a woman brought a valuable flask with even more valuable ointment and dumped it all over Jesus’ head. People were livid that she would waste the expensive oil and yelled that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus, in his loving way, said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

Jesus shows himself to always be on the side of the poor, and he recognizes that this poor woman wants to give him a gift. He reminds them, “The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.”

Pope Francis tells us that the poor have much they can give us, if we make the effort to encounter them. He reminds us that poor people understand Christ’s sufferings because they themselves have suffered, and he encourages us to be evangelized by poor people and “be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them.” He continues by saying, “In short, believers, when they want to see Jesus in person … know where to turn. The poor are a sacrament of Christ; they represent his person and point to him.”

As we approach World Day of the Poor, let us engage in prayerfully asking ourselves:

• Who do I think of when I think about “the poor?” Might this include anyone I know?

• What are the feelings that come up when I think of or hear about “the poor?”

• Are my first thoughts about the poor usually negative or positive?

• Is it hard to see them as individuals?

• Do I feel any personal connection to someone who is poor?

• Does Jesus want me to feel a connection to people who are poor?

• How does Jesus see the poor?

• Do I seek to learn more about those who are poor and the issues surrounding poverty?

• What changes can I make in my life to see the poor the way Jesus would see them?

Spend some time talking to God about these feelings, and ask God what changes you can make. Ask for the grace and strength to be the person God calls you to be.

Encountering the poor is essential to being a follower of Jesus, and knowing that one in four Minnesotan children live in poverty means we likely know someone. Pope Francis continues in his World Day of the Poor statement: “It is crucial that we grow in our awareness of the needs of the poor, which are always changing, as are their living conditions.” This requires a deep listening when we are engaged in conversations about poverty. Listening to understand, to feel, and to discern a call to action.

Such encounters can lead us to greater solidarity that can only enrich us; evangelize us. There is much they can give us if we are willing to receive their gifts. Just like the gifts from our friend who frequently visited our office.

Patrice Critchley-Menor is director of social apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth.

John Skalko, Ph.D: Does abortion violate human rights?

By John Skalko, Ph.D
Guest columnist

It doesn’t take a Ph.D to recognize that recent years have witnessed a proliferation of conflicting rights claims. There’s the right to bear arms, the right to be free of bigotry, the right to free speech, the right to a sex change, the right to religious freedom, the right to abortion, and the right to life. Not all of those rights are compatible, nor are all of them rights. Just because someone makes a rights claim doesn’t mean it truly is a human right. Human rights aren’t dependent upon human will or recognition but are firmly grounded in human nature.

John Skalko, Ph.D
Guest Columnist

Whatever the ontological status of various rights may be, the very first and foundational right is to life. By right to life, I mean the right of all human beings not to be intentionally killed. If your supposed right infringes on the rights of another or harms them, then it is no right at all.

The question, then, for the abortion debate is simple: Does abortion violate a basic human right to life, or does it harm a human being? To answer that question we must examine whether an embryo brought into existence by a human sperm and a human ovum is a human being distinct from the mother and father.

Within 24 hours of fertilization the human sperm and ovum have ceased to exist. Is this new genetically distinct organism a human being? We have four options: either the new zygote is a part of the mother, or it is a tumor, or it is a non-human animal, or it is a new individual human being.

If it were a mere part of the mother’s body, then this would mean that the mother would possess two different sets of DNA and that part of the mother was developing into a second heart, second pair of lungs, genitalia, etc. But that’s absurd. So, the zygote cannot be a mere part of the mother.

Nor can it be a tumor. Tumors naturally develop out of control and tend to harm their host. Zygotes from a human sperm and ovum don’t naturally tend to harm their host; they require nutrition from their host, but generally the mother’s body can manage without any serious physical damage.

Nor can this zygote be a non-human animal. Non-human animals don’t have human DNA fully integrated into nearly every part of their body, nor do they naturally develop into mature adult human beings.

The only logical option left then is that such a zygote is a human being, a distinct human organism, a new individual.

Every intentional killing of an innocent human being or human organism is murder. Since we have already established that the zygote generated by a human sperm and ovum is a human being, it only needs to be established that this zygote is innocent to show that intentionally killing it is murder. But it is impossible for such zygotes to do any morally wrong actions such that they could be considered to be guilty of any crime. All such zygotes must be innocent.

Their intentional killing, then, is wrong. All abortion involves the intentional killing of such individuals either at the zygote stage or at a later stage in natural human development.

There is no right to murder. Calling abortion a right, as is done in much of the press these days, is a misnomer. Call it what it is. It’s murder. We should be talking of fetal rights instead.

John Skalko, Ph.D, a native of the Duluth Diocese, is professor of philosophy at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts.

First monastic profession 

Sister Jayne Erickson made her first monastic profession on Friday, Sept. 17, in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at evening prayer.

Submitted photo

The duration of first monastic profession is three to six years. It is a time of fuller immersion in the Benedictine way of life, a time for the sister to deepen her spirituality, to study the rule of St. Benedict and the monastic profession, and to become more fully integrated into the community, which in this case is St. Scholastica Monastery of Duluth. 

Sister Jayne grew up in Cloquet as a middle child of five. She and her family belonged to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish (now Queen of Peace) in Cloquet. As an older teenager, she was active in Catholic youth group, where she first got to know Sister Barbara Higgins, her first introduction to the Duluth Benedictines. Following high school, Sister Jayne explored her talents by working and going to college at University of Wisconsin-Superior and the College of St. Scholastica. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in youth ministry from St. Scholastica.

Submitted photo

After college she worked in a variety of ministry jobs in Minnesota and Iowa, then returned to college for a teaching degree and taught for 15 years in Iowa schools. She retired early and came home to Cloquet. She became an associate in December 2017. Sister Jayne became an affiliate on July 8, 2018, and on Dec. 2, 2019, she was officially welcomed as a postulant in a special service with the community.

Sister Jayne’s ministries include helping in liturgies as sacristan, eucharistic minister, cantor, and lector, working at the information desk, and helping on Benet Hall. One of her passions is writing music. She develops her talent by composing songs for liturgical celebrations for the monastic schola and contemporary group to sing or as a quiet meditation during Communion. 

Beyond Respect Life Month: Combatting the throwaway culture every day at every stage

By the Minnesota Catholic Conference 
Inside the Capitol 

“Watch out, stay alert; for you do not know when the appointed time is” (Mark 13:33). St. Mark reminds us in his Gospel that we know not when the Son of Man will return. We can apply this to our call to be faithful citizens – our call to be advocates for life, dignity, and the common good does not rest. As faithful Catholic citizens, we need to be that alert voice who has been building relationships with their legislators in order to be a credible witness at any appointed time. 

Catholics across the nation are particularly alert to issues impacting life during October, aka Respect Life Month. But we must remain vigilant and take action to protect life and dignity by combatting the throwaway culture every day at every stage, whether it is advocating for laws that respect the lives of those who may be nearing the end of their time here or advocating for those whose lives have just begun in the womb. 

To aid you in your efforts to remain alert, we want to encourage you to join the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare. This partner organization of the Minnesota Catholic Conference is a coalition of 80 organizations plus individuals who advocate for compassionate alternatives to the legalization of assisted suicide in Minnesota. 

The reality is that the issue is not going away, making it even more important for Catholics to remain vigilant and prepare by promoting life affirming alternatives that are truly compassionate. By joining the alliance, as an individual, a parish, or an organization, you will receive updates on how to take action to ensure real care throughout life’s journey. Visit ethicalcaremn.org/join-us for details. 

Efforts to undermine the dignity of life unfortunately do not remain solely at the state level. We must also speak up on the national level in support of reforms that can truly help women and families throughout pregnancy and speak out against efforts that will further endanger the lives of the unborn. 

The so-called “Women’s Health Protection Act” (H.R. 3755), which is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate, is not about protecting women’s health. Instead, this falsely named bill would allow abortion on demand nationwide at every stage of pregnancy. It would ban pro-life laws in every state and local government, force all Americans to support abortion with their tax dollars, and eliminate conscience protections for doctors. 

As Catholics, it is not enough to simply be alert or feel angry about the taking of innocent lives and the lack of support for pregnant women. We must realize that now is the appointed time for which we are called to be a voice for the most vulnerable. Contact your senators today and urge them to vote no on the misnamed “Women’s Health Protection Act” and instead work towards policies that support pregnant women and help families flourish. Visit the USCCB’s action center to send your message today: www.votervoice.net/USCCB/home

Prudence dictates church stance against legalizing recreational marijuana

By Joe Ruff 
The Catholic Spirit 

Marijuana in itself is not evil, but people can easily abuse it, so prudence, or good judgment, dictates it not be legalized for recreational use. 

That is the basic teaching of the Catholic Church when it comes to making pot legal. It comes into play particularly now in Minnesota, because last May the Democratic-controlled House voted 72-61 to pass HF 600, which among other things sets up a regulatory framework for people 21 and older to buy and sell weed. The second of this session’s two years opens Jan. 31, leaving plenty of time for the Republican-controlled Senate to hold hearings, debate, and vote on the bill. 

The legislation does not have the support of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which represents the public policy interests of the state’s bishops. The conference has argued that legalizing marijuana will widen its use, make it more available to people under 21, and increase dangers on the road from drivers impaired by the drug. 

“HF 600 is a bad bill,” Ryan Hamilton, MCC’s government relations associate, told the House Commerce, Finance, and Policy Committee Feb. 1. “This bill is bad for adolescents, bad for our brothers and sisters with substance abuse problems, bad for those that use our highways, and bad for the common good.” 

Msgr. Steven Rohlfs, a spiritual director at The Seminaries of St. Paul in St. Paul and a moral theologian with a specialty in medical ethics, told The Catholic Spirit Sept. 16 that marijuana is not “intrinsically disordered,” or something that by its very nature is not right with God, such as the acts of abortion, euthanasia, and contraception. But “for most people, most of the time,” using marijuana is not a good idea, Msgr. Rohlfs said. With the best interests of individuals and society in mind, the church opposes its recreational use. That can be said for many drugs, including alcohol and prescription medicines, he said. 

“No drug out there is always and everywhere wrong, as a substance,” Msgr. Rohlfs said. “It’s part of God’s creation. It has some good to it. The church is opposed to recreational drugs as a prudential decision. For most people, most of the time, it is not a good idea. Whatever drug ‘X’ is. You can always give me a case it would be good for this person at this particular time. The problem is generalizing that.” 

Pope Francis has spoken strongly against recreational use of marijuana or other drugs, including a 2014 address to an International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome and 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. 

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem with drug use is not solved with drugs,” the pope said at the drug enforcement conference. “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise.” 

Nor does legalization work on a practical level, the pope said. 

“Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects,” Pope Francis said. 

At World Youth Day, the pope proclaimed to the crowd that “the scourge of drug trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires society as a whole to act with courage,” adding that legalization would not yield “a reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction.” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses drug use, as well, stating “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law” (2291). The Catechism also demands protection by the political community of the family against such threats to security and health as drugs, pornography, and alcoholism (2211). 

Father Chris Collins, vice president of mission at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and a systematic theologian, or one who seeks to arrange religious truths in a consistent whole, emphasized the dignity of each human person and God’s plan for human flourishing. 

“Any abuse of a substance is not good for the person,” Father Collins said. “Every person should be weighing those considerations. Is this helping me be fully alive?” 

Social considerations include protecting the mental health of young people, including concerns about a sense of isolation and lack of desire to do meaningful work that recreational drugs can bring, he said. 

Father Collins acknowledged the need to discuss the issue of marijuana and the changing landscape as medical use of marijuana has come into play. 

“Medical marijuana has been seen as a potential good,” he said. “But the next step is recreational use? That is definitely more problematic.” 

Even as MCC speaks out strongly against recreational marijuana, the conference has been neutral on medical use of the drug, which has been legal in Minnesota since 2014. Not taking a stand one way or another is a nuanced position, Msgr. Rohlfs said. 

“People who oppose it [medical marijuana] will say this is a slippery slope. Which is right,” he said. “And if you deny it [medical marijuana], people will say, ‘You want this person to suffer.’ It just depends. It is a prudential decision. Would use of this medical marijuana be a prudent decision at this time? And the church doesn’t want to get into how you regulate that.” 

MCC urges people to consider the dangers of recreational marijuana

By Joe Ruff 
The Catholic Spirit 

When the Minnesota House passed HF 600 on a vote of 72-61 to legalize recreational marijuana May 13, it brought the state one step closer to joining 19 other states, including Michigan and South Dakota, as well as the District of Columbia.

Marijuana plants are seen in a file photo. (CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters)

With Gov. Tim Walz in favor of the legalization, only the Minnesota Senate stands in the way as lawmakers prepare to open the second year of the biennial session Jan. 31. 

It is a step the Minnesota Catholic Conference, representing the public policy interests of the Catholic Church in the state, does not want the state to take. 

“Our direction on this issue comes from the pope himself,” said Ryan Hamilton, MCC’s government relations associate, in an email exchange with The Catholic Spirit. “In his 2014 address to the International Drug Conference in Rome, Pope Francis said, ‘Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”’ 

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, the legislation’s sponsor, has argued for legalizing recreational marijuana in part because he believes law enforcement efforts against the drug have failed. The drug is readily available across the state, and Blacks are disproportionality arrested and penalized for marijuana possession compared with whites, a racial injustice, Winkler told The Catholic Spirit. 

“In all my conversations, and I have had a lot of conversations on this issue, I have not had anyone say that the current system we use is much benefit to anyone,” Winkler said. 

In addition, many states have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and he thinks Minnesota should step up now to create a regulatory structure that can address legitimate concerns about youth access, health, and road safety. 

“The change is coming,” Winkler said. “As states around us legalize recreational marijuana, it will not be viable for Minnesota to be an island.” 

The politics 

Winkler held 15 town hall meetings in communities across the state on recreational marijuana before introducing his bill in February. He consulted with Walz and 13 state agencies, held 250 meetings with individuals and groups, and the bill made its way through a dozen House committees before getting to the floor. 

But the Republican-controlled Senate did not allow a hearing. HF 600’s companion bill, SF 757, has languished. Then-Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of East Gull Lake has stepped down from his leadership position to mount a campaign for governor. Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona will be the new majority leader. 

“Jeremy Miller may have a different outlook and be more willing to put it up for discussion,” Winkler said of the marijuana bill. The legislation does have bipartisan support, he said, citing the fact that six Republicans joined Democrats to pass HF 600. 

MCC’s Hamilton said he doesn’t think the Senate will pass SF 757 in 2022, but the push to legalize marijuana will not go away. Miller might open the door to debate on the Senate side this session, Hamilton said. 

“He has said only that he has ‘concerns’ about legalizing recreational cannabis,” Hamilton said. “He has not provided the type of clear and firm statements of opposition that we received from Sen. Gazelka.” 

And while Winkler is running for Hennepin County Attorney in November 2022, he said he intends to remain majority leader through this legislative session. 

The fact 2022 is an election year could impact the attention given to legalizing recreational marijuana, Hamilton said. “We [MCC staff] imagine the attention on legalizing marijuana will take the form of proponents pressuring the Senate to act on the Winkler bill and blaming any lack of movement toward legalization on their political opponents,” he said. 

What HF 600 would do 

Winkler’s bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess in public up to 2 ounces of cannabis and up to 10 pounds in their homes and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature. 

Among other things, it also would focus on developing micro-businesses and a craft market, in an effort to keep large companies from taking over. To address racial inequities in previous law enforcement actions against marijuana, the bill would expunge most cannabis convictions, Winkler said. The bill would fund public health awareness campaigns, youth access prevention, and substance abuse treatment. It would provide grants, loans, technical assistance, and training for small businesses in the trade, require testing and labeling of products, and restrict packaging for dried cannabis and infused products based on dosage size. 

While some argue that the black market will undercut a legal market every time, Winkler said HF 600 is not set up as a state revenue engine through its tax structure of marijuana businesses and transactions. 

“The goal of our bill is not revenue,” Winkler said, and that should keep costs down. 

Hamilton said the bill’s regulatory structure fails in the area that matters most: potency limits on THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. 

“Recreational marijuana products tend to be extremely potent,” Hamilton said, with some concentrated oils, waxes, and edibles at up to 90% TCH. “This is not the low potency ‘grass’ of yesteryear, making it more dangerous. The truth is, the average potency of marijuana has skyrocketed since the 1970s, and research demonstrates it is associated with substance abuse disorders, drugged driving crashes, lower IQ, and other negative consequences.” 

A study published in Biological Psychiatry in 2016, “Changes in Cannabis Potency over the Last Two Decades (1995-2014) — Analysis of Current Data in the United States,” backs Hamilton’s claim, finding that potency of illicit cannabis plant material alone had increased from about 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014. “This increase in potency poses higher risk of cannabis use, particularly among adolescents,” the report concluded. 

Some cannabis concentrates sold in Colorado, Oregon, and other states with legalized recreational marijuana have potency rates of 60% to 80%. 

Racial inequity found in marijuana enforcement is a concern, Hamilton said, but it can be addressed in separate legislation. There is no need to set up a for-profit industry that can take advantage of the vulnerable, he said. 

“Our view is that the House legalization bill misleads Minnesotans of color by perpetuating the myth that the only solution to disparate enforcement of current marijuana laws is full legalization and commercialization,” said Hamilton, who is Black. “Even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, a Black person is almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Meanwhile, the facts reveal that African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana in Colorado and Washington, both states that have legalized recreational use and sales. 

“As an omnibus bill, HF 600 conflates credible demands for social justice and criminal justice reform with the profit motives of a small group of privileged investors,” he said. “Social and criminal justice reforms related to marijuana can be implemented as stand-alone policy measures without necessitating the legalization of recreational marijuana use and enabling a for-profit industry to prey on the poor and vulnerable.” 

Dr. Vic Vines, a former Midwest regional medical director in Center City for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s addiction and mental health services, said recreational marijuana is problematic because while cannabis doesn’t have a reputation for being addictive, it can lead some people into dependency. 

“Addiction is not dependent on the particular characteristics of a substance, but on that substance’s impact on a given person,” Vines said. “Some people can occasionally use heroin and not become addicted. But most people can’t. Some people can use moderate or even heavier amounts of alcohol and not become addicted, but depending on a person’s genetic makeup, others will become addicted.” 

“The issue concerning me is that when we make something available recreationally, we give some idea it is not a problem. But in some, [marijuana] can lead to dependency, mental illness, and learning disabilities,” Vines said. “Especially young people.” 

Medical vs. recreational marijuana 

Minnesota legalized medical marijuana in 2014. Until this year, it was one of the strictest programs in the country, because it required all products to be in liquid, oil, and pill forms. It also was relatively expensive. That changed May 18 with passage of a bill that beginning March 1 — or until appropriate testing is in place for dried raw cannabis used as medicine — will allow patients to smoke the dried plant, a less expensive product. The state’s medical marijuana manufacturers are LeafLine Labs and Vireo Health. 

MCC has been neutral on medical marijuana, arguing that whether it is an “effective therapeutic is a question of some debate, and one best left between doctors and individual patients,” Hamilton said. 

“That said, the Legislature’s decision this year to allow smokeable medical marijuana seems incredibly imprudent and will have to be well monitored to prevent it from turning into the backdoor legalization of recreational cannabis,” he said. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration “has not found smoked marijuana to be either safe or effective as medicine for any condition, let alone anxiety or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Hamilton said. 

The federal government considers marijuana an illegal drug but has largely left enforcement to states. 

The primary difference between medical and recreational marijuana is the prescription required by a doctor, Hamilton said. Conditions currently allowed for treatment by medical marijuana in Minnesota include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, seizures, post-traumatic stress disorders, chronic pain, sickle cell disease, and autism. 

But it’s important to note that studies show the “average medical marijuana user is a 32-year-old white male with a history of cocaine and alcohol abuse and no history of life-threatening illness,” Hamilton said. “In states with medical marijuana, less than 5% of users have cancer, HIV, glaucoma, or terminal illness, which are among the most commonly cited reasons for medical marijuana use,” he said. 

Statistics from the medical cannabis program in Minnesota, kept by the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis, show that as of Dec. 31, 2020, about 7% of patients in the program were suffering from cancer, 1% had HIV/AIDS, 1% had glaucoma, and 1% had a terminal illness. 

About 63% of patients reported having intractable or chronic pain, 25% had PTSD, and 11% had severe and persistent muscle spasms. 

About 24,724 patients in the program, or 86.7%, were white, the office reported. About 6% were Black, 3.4% American Indian, 3.2% Hispanic, 1.3% Asian, and 2.4% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander or “other.” 

Some proponents of recreational marijuana also use medical conditions as arguments for legalizing recreational use, such as suggesting that Minnesota’s medical marijuana system was overly restrictive and doses were too expensive. Winkler said recreational marijuana could be a form of self-medication, but one that could be carried out under the care of a doctor. Even as self-medication, marijuana carries low risks of harm compared to other alternatives, Winkler said. Hamilton and MCC have criticized those arguments. 

“Allowing recreational use as a means of self-medicating is a bandage, not a solution,” Hamilton said. “It seems that reform of the medical marijuana system would be the logical step.” 

MCC’s continued involvement 

MCC will continue to oppose efforts to legalize recreational marijuana because Catholics must help lawmakers understand the principled reasons for opposing legalization of a recreational cannabis industry, Hamilton said. Odds are good that if the effort to legalize fails this session, similar bills will be introduced in 2023, he said. 

“We want to make sure legislators, and their constituents, are hearing from more than industry proponents who only give one side of the story,” he said. 

“MCC’s opposition moving forward will be based on standing up against an industry that has proven to do more harm than good to the poor and vulnerable and the common good,” Hamilton said. “Specifically, this means we will be working with our partners to dispel myths about legalization, expose false binary [dual] choices which proponents so often portray as the only way, and share empirical evidence of the harmful effects of legalization.” 

Legalizing marijuana 

Colorado and Washington first legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. Since then, 17 other states, with Connecticut the latest, June 22, and the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have followed suit, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Others are: Alaska; Arizona; California; Illinois; Maine; Massachusetts; Michigan; Montana; Nevada; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; South Dakota (tied up in court challenge); Vermont; Virginia. 

Thirty-six states, including Minnesota since 2014, as well as the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories allow for medical use of cannabis products. In November 2020, voters in Mississippi passed a ballot initiative to allow for medical use, but it was overturned by the state Supreme Court. 

Sister Lisa Maurer: What God has planted 

By Sister Lisa Maurer 
Guest columnist 

Isn’t it something? Scientists cannot really explain how life began on our planet. Most agree that life began more than 3 billion years ago, but just how it began is an elusive unknown. One scientific theory is based on a spark of electricity. Another gives credit to aliens. As people of faith, we know that God is the creator and author of life. But how the first living organisms exactly appeared in still a mystery.

Sister Lisa Maurer
Guest Columnist

Maybe the same can be said about vocations. They are a mystery. No one can really explain how one begins. Surely every sister, brother, or priest has been asked, “How did your vocation start?” I have been asked that question myself. I do not look to scientific theories of extraterrestrials or big bangs for an explanation. Rather, I often answer with stories about an upbringing in a Catholic family and attending Catholic school. I talk about the witness and example of holy religious like my fourth-grade teacher and the administrator of the nursing home I worked at in high school. But as far as pinpointing where it actually came from, I do not know what to say other than it is what God has planted. 

Deep inside every person is a desire to do something important, to be something to someone, and to make a difference. The vocations that God plants within us are fulfilling that desire. Here some ways to tend to what God has planted. 

Trust that you were created for a purpose. It is not your imagination to think that God has planted something special within you. It is true! It is real! God loved you into being, has had a plan for your life and wants to reveal it to you. We need to believe like St. John Henry Newman, who wrote: “God has created me to do him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.” 

Accept God’s love. Pope St. John Paul said that every vocation is an extraordinary gift of God’s love. A vocation is not some command or mandate to be robotically followed. It is an invitation to love! Really, it is! Tending to what God has planted is to open up to God’s love and in turn be willing to share that love with others. 

Listen and pray. Since a vocation is not our will but something planted by God, we must attune ourselves to God’s voice so that we can hear his call. Prayer is how we primarily listen to God’s voice. Oftentimes we know we should pray but don’t know how. Don’t worry! Just do it! The Lord longs to be with you in prayer and will help you. 

Cooperate with God. Even once we know of God’s love and desire for our happiness, it is not uncommon to feel unable or unwilling to give ourselves completely to him. Even when we start to see the fruit of what God has planted, we are afraid to move forward. We cannot let that stop us! We must be ready and willing to work with God in trust and confidence. 

If you or someone you know believes they are being called to life as a Benedictine (sister, oblate, live-in associate, volunteer), call Sister Lisa at (218) 723-7011, email [email protected], or visit www.duluthbenedictines.org/vocations. 

Editorial: Parents are the principal educators of their children

Conflicts over education have arisen across the United States, often manifesting in tense school board meetings at which parents voice their concerns and sometimes express their anger over perceptions on how schools are handling issues including race, human sexuality, and mask and vaccine policies. Sadly, according to reports, some of these situations have even become violent or included violent threats, a topic being debated all the way to the halls of the U.S. Congress. 

These issues are undoubtedly important and at times complicated and difficult. Strong feelings about them are understandable, and parents certainly have a right to make their voices heard, in a reasoned and morally sound way. It’s equally certain that violence and violent threats are completely out of bounds. 

However, one principle that has come into dispute in these matters has to be made crystal clear: “Parents are the principal and first educators of their children” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1653). This is a God-given right because it is first a God-given duty, rooted in the sacrament of matrimony. Parents have been entrusted by God with the duty to teach their children, handing on “the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life.” 

They are, of course, supported in this important duty by schools, which are immensely important, and which we all want to be excellent. But that is the role of the school — assisting parents in the mission of educating their children, not supplanting them. 

That is one of the main reasons the Catholic Church in the United States has been so supportive of school choice, making it more possible for parents to choose schools, including Catholic schools, that teach in accord with their values. 

This truth of the natural law has been increasingly questioned in our society. It’s important that Catholics come to a clear understanding of it, not only so that it may be defended when it is undermined but so that it can be more fully lived by all parents as they seek to raise holy, flourishing children for this life and the next.