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COLUMN: Embracing Change

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 23:02

It was a warm April day about six years ago. I was still a growing boy, as it were, and not unfamiliar with what it means to be a youthful, if puerile, young man at an all-male Catholic prep school in New York. But I was not alone that day. I was certainly among my peers at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie.

Hosts of parishes brought their youth to gather on the seminary’s back field to be a select crowd of young people whom the Pope had planned to visit as part of his trip to the U.S. that year. But in my youth and immaturity, I and my friends were perhaps more concerned throughout the day with finding snack foods, purchasing silly merchandise, and passing our time in horseplay. Even when his Holiness appeared and we all sang him "Happy Birthday" in German (my first and last foray into that linguistic challenge), I was busying myself with petty tomfoolery.

There was at last, however, a saving grace—a moment of revelation for which I am still grateful. As the pope offered a short speech on matters relevant to someone more sophisticated than my 15-year-old self, I noticed among a crowd of youth sitting, lying, and milling about the field, a solitary Franciscan friar, his eyes closed, his head bowed, his hands clenched in prayerful attention, grasping for the pope’s every word, straining to hear over the hustle and bustle of my peers, and I being preoccupied with things far less real. Now, I’ve no regret for my boyhood—I did, after all, very much enjoy those formative years, and even that warm spring day—but now I see how I have definitively grown. I am not the prayerful friar, but I certainly have a deeper, richer, fuller understanding of my faith and my church, and my place in all of this (that is, the mess of humanity and of God’s love of his creation). I’m no theologian, either—though hopefully my tuition and these theology and philosophy classes at Boston College will help me receive the honor one day—but as a man of still-deepening faith, I can see how my life has transformed vis-a-vis my God and his Church.

I’m sure you’ve gotten the idea that this column is timely published, the pope having recently announced his resignation. But maybe you’ve yet seen the point. It is a simple one, so bear with my rudimentary musings. We all change—a topic I’ve written on before, though, granted, with a little more comic flare and no lack of anecdote—and not least among us, the pope. Whether it is physical, emotional, or mental change, we all undergo transformation in our lives. And often it is a rather fitting change, even if undesired. As my time for youth and wanton foolishness was then (though I confess I may time and again require some reminder that such a time is passed), so my time for collegiate academics is now—just as my time for professionalism and a family will come next in my life (God willing). So is the case for everyone—times come and go, seasons change, and we all march forward, ever toward our ends (that’s a good thing, by the way, and not meant to be macabre).

But as we all face these times in our lives—and even great leaders and authorities like our Holy Father face such times—men and women of faith can rely on, even cling to, the fact that God is unchanging, immutable, and eternal. (Granted, not everyone concedes the premise of God’s existence, but to those I’d ask whether you hold or can hold a comparable standard in your worldview, and then I’d point to that.) God’s immutability is an anchor to the fast-paced, constantly crumbling-and-rising-again world we occupy. We live day in and day out through storms and gales, springs and summers, mourning and pain, celebration and happiness—everything under the sun. But each of these is made bearable, if not infinitely better, because we know they are neither the final nor eternal word on the matter—there is a loving God undergirding it all who gives drive to everything. And the big challenges, huge changes, giant questions in our lives—mountains over which it seems we must crawl—are made low. The real graces, then, appear to come in our daily doings, or perhaps more profoundly in those rare momentary whispers. Change is necessary in this world, but that’s not the end of things—there’s more (there is always more). Pope Benedict XVI knows this and, acting not afraid, takes this step in his life with good faith and sound judgment.

Maybe we could all do well to follow his example. I know I could.


Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.


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