Lent a reminder to welcome others, see Christ in them

| Archbishop Bernard Hebda | March 9, 2017

In his Lenten message this year, Pope Francis reminds us that Lent is “a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.” He encourages us to recognize that “each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love.”

As I approach the first anniversary of my appointment to this archdiocese, I continue to be amazed by the commitment of this local Church to reach out to those in need — and not just during Lent. The recent opening of the first phase of Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground St. Paul is just one example of that extraordinary commitment. It is already having an impact on the lives of some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters in a way that eloquently illustrates our Catholic social teaching and its emphasis on the dignity of each human life. The scope and careful design of the project reflect Pope Francis’ conviction that each life is a gift.

I am convinced that it is our Catholic conviction that each life truly matters that underlies the educational success of the Catholic schools in this archdiocese and throughout the country. We’re blessed with educators, parents and benefactors who see our children and teens as unique  “gifts” and who sacrifice to help them reach their God-given potential. Educators seeking to understand how it is that our African-American and Latino students are so successful in closing the so-called performance gap would do well to take into consideration the Catholic social teaching that undergirds our schools.

It is likewise that same understanding of the value and dignity of each human life that leads our Catholic community to be both so strong in its defense of unborn life and so committed to helping young moms and dads who are in need of guidance and support at the time of an unexpected pregnancy or in welcoming children into their lives.

This past Ash Wednesday, while I was celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, a group of self-described activists attached a banner to the facade of the Cathedral that read: “Speaking up for unborn lives more than black and brown lives is white supremacy.”  In the press release that they issued, Catholics were accused of being white supremacists, giving primacy in their voting to a single issue — presumably the defense of unborn life — “at the expense of increased deportations, Islamaphobic travel bans and a rise in racist rhetoric in our country.” The press release went on, moreover, to accuse the Church of being silent in the face of xenophobia.

I very much appreciated the reminder that we need to be consistent in our defense of life. I cannot imagine, however, that the criticism would have resonated very much with the faithful who had assembled that evening to begin Lent. As is most often the case at the Cathedral, the congregation was multi-racial and reflected a level of diversity that only the General Assembly at the United Nations could rival.

To even a casual observer, the makeup of the congregation would have suggested that our local Church has a long tradition of taking to heart the biblical imperative to “welcome the stranger.” I am delighted that so many of our immigrant brothers and sisters have found a home in the archdiocese, and I am equally delighted that so many of our congregations have come to recognize the presence of those new to our nation as a great gift that reminds us of the “catholicity” of our Church.

Our patron, the apostle Paul, understood so clearly that as the body of Christ, we all suffer whenever one of our members suffers. It has been enlightening for me and for many of our parishes and schools to hear of the experiences and anxieties of those who are seated next to us in the pew at church, whom we have long known as our friends and who have generously served our parishes, whether as catechists, lectors, volunteers or parish council members.

I am encouraged that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continues to be a voice of reason in the national debate on immigration policy and reform. On the local level, I am grateful that Bishop Andrew Cozzens and our vicar and Office for Latino Ministry recently brought together immigration law experts and parish leaders from around the archdiocese to explore ways in which we can most appropriately assist our immigrant families. The resources they have developed have already been helpful.

On Ash Wednesday, we were challenged to be “ambassadors for Christ.” To do that successfully requires that we know him and imitate him, the one who came to serve rather than to be served, the one who assured us that whatever we do for the least of our brothers we do unto him. Having taken to heart the words of Pope Francis, may we journey with Christ through this season of grace, “opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.” It is in this way that we will be able to demonstrate that we are grateful for the gift that is each human life. May the Lord bless our efforts.

La Cuaresma es un recordatorio para que recibamos a nuestros prójimos a través de las puertas de nuestro corazón

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Category: Only Jesus

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