By Archbishop Bernard Hebda
My nephew, Paddy, was born in southwest Florida and has lived all of his 14 years there. He recently spent the weekend with me in the Twin Cities, making me realize not only that I have aged, but also the significance of perspective. What I considered to be a balmy mid-January thaw was for him an experience of an Arctic blast. The snow that I had come to see as a bit of a nuisance when driving was for him a source of newfound delight on the slopes of Buck Hill. Perspective changes everything.
I recently had the opportunity to celebrate Mass with the Poor Clare Sisters in Bloomington, who will soon be departing their longtime monastery in our archdiocese to relocate to shared space with the Franciscan Sisters in Rochester. I expected to encounter some sadness from the sisters, but I experienced nothing but joy, as the sisters explained their excitement that their monastery will soon be bustling with new life and ministry as the home of the Pro Ecclesia Sancta Sisters. Perspective changes everything.
In the days since the passing of Father Bill Baer, I have felt privileged to spend some time with his loving parishioners from Transfiguration in Oakdale. Sure, there’s deep sorrow over this stunning loss, but there’s an even greater sense of gratitude for how the Lord had touched them and their families through the generous priestly ministry of their pastor. I was moved as they described their passion for continuing the great work that Father Baer had begun. Perspective changes everything.
I visited one of our priests whose doctors had recently shared with him that there is nothing else they can do to help him in his fight against cancer. He has poured himself out for Christ and this local church with exemplary zeal for 60 years, and it would be a temptation to think that a just and loving God should be treating him better after all those years of faithful service. Speak with Father, however, and all he can talk about is how blessed he is to be able to encounter Jesus every day in holy Communion. Perspective changes everything.
At the recent vespers with the Lutheran community commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, all in the Cathedral that evening were painfully aware of the divisions that continue to separate our two communities. More than a few Catholic-Lutheran couples, however, approached me that evening to express their joyful gratitude that we were all able to pray together and spoke of the progress that had been made since the time they were married. Perspective changes everything.
As disciples of Christ, our perspective has to be shaped by what we know about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The insightful Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor once wrote that “for me the meaning of life is centered in our redemption by Christ and what I see in the world I see in its relation to that.” Our challenges, our triumphs, our perplexities all have to be seen in relation to the Gospel, to the good news that human life “has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.”
Christians aren’t called to be Pollyannas or to look uncritically at the world through rose-colored glasses, but Pope Francis reminds us that we are called to resist the temptation to a defeatism “that turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists.” We need to be disciples who bring a certain confidence to the challenges that come our way.
As Pope Francis wrote, “If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to St. Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
While it might seem that our archdiocese, our parishes, our schools and our society at large move from serious challenge to serious challenge, we have to trust that these are also all moments for the Lord’s power to be made perfect.
Let us draw closer to Christ so that we can see ourselves and the world through his eyes, so that we can look at the world from his vantage point, so that we can know his love and recognize the victory that he has already won for us. In the midst of midwinter doldrums, perspective can change everything.
The Most Reverend Bernard Hebda is archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This commentary appeared in the Jan. 25 edition of The Catholic Spirit.