Youth, the New Evangelization and the ‘theology of work’
Father Mike Schmitz, 40, is a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minn. He is chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the diocese. Father Schmitz is a frequent columnist for Duluth’s diocesan newspaper and he frequently delivers talks and lectures across the country. Many of his talks are available from Lighthouse Catholic Media. Father Schmitz spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
How did you discern your vocation to the priesthood?
I was raised Catholic. My parents were every-Sunday-Mass Catholics. But I really didn’t care too much about it. I would do whatever I could to avoid going to Mass. I had an encounter with Christ through Confession when I was 15. That really affected me in a way that I said to myself, “This is real.” There was an interior recognition that “I need this, I need Jesus.” It led me down the road to asking God what He wants.
What are your duties at the Newman Center?
I’m primarily the chaplain at the Newman Center, but in some ways I am the director as well. If it was a parish, I’d be like the pastor, responsible for teaching on a daily basis and running the operation, working on administration and management.
And your work in young adult ministry?
My work in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry consists of two primary areas — the formation and coordination of youth ministers and executing the programs. My work with youth ministers and directors of religious education in the parishes involves spiritual formation with them, offering them ongoing training and coordination. As for execution, we look to deliver programs, events and retreats all throughout the year.
We also put on different rallies and create opportunities for students to serve, to get away for a while, to get some formation and have an encounter with the Lord
How do you engage the youth and young adults?
One of the main obstacles for everybody — not only the youth — is the desire to focus on the most important things, but not being able to because of distractions. Some of them we invite into our lives and some of them are just there. When it comes to young people, it’s very similar to how you engage them as how you would engage adults. A big part of that is creating a space that is a little more free of distraction or least one that is essentially oriented toward intentional relationship.
One of the big obstacles, in addition to distractions, for young people is a lack of understanding of what relationships are. There has been a kind of cultural shift in what constitutes relationships among young people. So many friendships today are transitional or completely impermanent.
Even relationships that are meant to be permanent in regards to the family are now questioned. So when it comes to proposing having a relationship with Jesus, a relationship with God, you first have to tell them who Jesus is and then you have to show them what a relationship is. Ultimately, if their lives are going to be changed, it’s almost always done through authentic relationships.
What do you plan to address at the Summit?
What I’ve been reflecting on, praying about, and thinking about is “the theology of work.” It sounds kind of abstract, but what is God’s plan for work? Working in the secular arena, working in non-Catholic circles, does that mean that for most of my life or most of my day I put aside my faith? Or is that: “No, when I go to work, I’m saying yes to God?” Sainthood is saying yes to God. What’s our vision of work? That’s the main thing.
AN ABRIDGED version of this interview was published in the December 2015 issue of Legatus magazine.