Sunday, August 30, 2015

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 30, 2015

We have all been shocked at the recent videos that came out concerning Planned Parenthood. Shock, of course, implies a level of surprise. Even those who knew what the group stood for have been shocked at the extent of the callousness of those involved. As I reflect on what these videos have shown, my reaction actually centers mostly on language. As this whole issue shows, words are important to communicate not only ideas but also emotions and attitudes.

If we ask someone who works for Planned Parenthood what happens in an abortion, we will hear that what is removed is “tissue” or a “blob of cells” or a “product of conception.” Such terms convey the image of an amorphous blob. On the other hand, the idea that they are harvesting organs and are careful to keep the body intact makes it clear that this is a human being. The image of an arm sticking out of a tray of parts and other visual images make it harder for us to dismiss the humanity of the aborted baby by calling them anything else. In the videos, we have heard abortion workers referring to a “baby” or saying, “It’s another boy.” Language can be used to dehumanize others, whether we are talking about racial epithets or terms used to objectify the opposite sex, and here language is used to dehumanize the baby in the womb.

The other matter of language comes from those who want to be called “pro-choice” rather than “pro-abortion.” Some people claim that nobody is pro-abortion. According to this argument, it is not that anyone really wants people to have abortions, just that they should be available for them. Contrast that argument with the image of a doctor discussing payment for organs from aborted babies and explaining, “I think the ‘per item’ thing works a little better just because we can see how much we can get out of it.” I have also read comments from Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now is a pro-life activist. Johnson states that her clinic was given a target, a minimum number of abortions which they were expected to perform. To state that there is no such thing as “pro-abortion” is to give the impression that abortion is a last resort. Even if that were true, there are other options other than the taking of an innocent human life.

Finally, we are hearing from some politicians who are claiming that Planned Parenthood has not broken any laws in their handling of “fetal tissue,” while others are certain that they are. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the only way they are not breaking the law is through a number of loopholes. But even if it is technically legal, that is merely a reflection of how unjust the law can be when we abandon the basic principle of human dignity. What they have done may squeeze into the technical aspects of the law. It is still wrong. It is my hope that the recent revelations about Planned Parenthood may help us all to remember the God-given dignity of all human life.

                                                                                          Father H                  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 23, 2015

It feels like it’s been about two weeks since I started my column with the old rhyme about “No more pencils, no more books.” Our students were so happy to get out of school and get to their summer vacation, and they were so excited to have the whole summer stretching out in front of them. But as an adult, I have come to the realization that summer vacation goes faster every year. In another five years I will be afraid to blink for fear that I will miss it.

I’m not really complaining about how fast the summer goes. Okay, I really am complaining about how fast the summer goes, but that’s not all I’m doing. As much as it comes as a shock to my system, the new school year is always and exciting and hopeful time. For St. Malachy School, the new school year starts this Monday. I am sure there will be some grumpy, sleepy faces as the children get out of bed on Monday morning, but I hope that they will soon get into the swing of school and be excited about the new year.

There has been a lot of work going on to prepare for this new year. As far as the building is concerned, several of the classrooms have been painted, and the building has been given a thorough cleaning and floor-waxing. There have been improvements to the computer room, and the upper floor bathrooms have had some serious work done. In addition, thanks to a generous donation, we are getting a new sign in the front of the school. That sign is news for the parish as well as the school, but it was through the school that we had the chance to get it.

Those are all very positive developments, but the building is not nearly as important as the people in it. And the people are the biggest story about St. Malachy School. First of all, we are blessed to welcome back a very strong faculty and staff. There will be a couple new names to learn, but those are through marriage. “Miss D” is returning to us this year, but we will have to get used to calling her “Mrs. G.” She became Mrs. Glover over the summer, and she is so happy in her new marriage that she is turning cartwheels – figuratively speaking. And before too much longer, Miss Fleckenstein will become Mrs. Chinchilla. So our school will be filled with love.

The biggest news about our new school year centers around our students. At a time when many schools are struggling to keep their heads above water, we have actually increased our enrollment this year. Our K-8 program is up from last year, even after graduating 17 eighth graders, and our pre-school program has really taken off. Pre-school is filled to capacity even after adding classes.

So if you come by Forest Grove Road on Monday, check to see if the St. Malachy School building is shaking. If so, it’s not an earthquake. Rather, it’s a building full of students so eager to start a new school year that the excitement is causing vibrations throughout Kennedy Township. The Blue Bombers are back.

                                                                                               Father H                  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 16, 2015

 As a seminarian, I spent a summer serving in a parish where the pastor would rush over after the early Mass on Sunday to turn on the TV. He enjoyed watching televangelist Robert Schuller. I was amazed at the building where Dr. Schuller preached, the “Crystal Cathedral” in Orange, California. Years later, Dr. Schuller’s foundation had to sell the building. The Catholic Diocese of Orange bought the property for its new cathedral. I went to see it on my vacation, though I could not get inside the main building. Renovation is going on to make it usable for Catholic liturgies, and “Christ Cathedral,” as it is now called, will open next year.

Dr. Schuller’s ministry had some very good points, but there was something missing. As we read the “Bread of Life Discourse” from John’s gospel these Sundays, we know that the most important additions to the building are the Altar and the Tabernacle. That takes what is good and gives it the fullness of God’s grace. The Diocese of Orange is also taking an independent building and a ministry that lasted a few short years and is connecting it to a worldwide Communion that has an unbroken tradition covering 2,000 years.

In a sense, we do the same thing with people. We will soon again begin a new session of the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA is to welcome new members into the Catholic Church, though we also use it to complete the initiation of those who have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation or who never made their First Communion. The key part of the transformation of the “Christ Cathedral” in California is the installation of the Altar for the Eucharist. The Sacraments are at the center of our Catholic identity. That is why the RCIA is not so much a set of classes (although catechesis is vital to the process). The first word in the title, “Rite,” refers to the liturgical aspect. Despite the sessions at which we explain Catholic teaching, RCIA is not academic. Our goal is to help people to encounter the living Christ.

My pastor from that summer assignment recognized the good of what was proclaimed at the Crystal Cathedral, even as he saw where that particular ministry did not have the fullness of what we celebrate. It is little wonder, then, that I thought of him as I saw the plans for the building’s renovation. Similarly, we do not judge anyone who comes to the RCIA. We recognize that some have come from other Christian communities, while others have not had any religious backgrounds. We affirm the good in them, but we offer them something more in uniting them to the Church and the Sacraments. That is why the first stage of RCIA is “Inquiry,” where people are free to explore whether they want to join the Church without pressure.

If you know of anyone who is interested in joining the Catholic Church or at least in considering the possibility, or who needs to complete the Sacraments of Initiation, or even someone who wants a chance to learn more about the faith, feel free to see me, call me at the rectory or email me at

                                                                                                  Father H          

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 9, 2015

I should probably have written about the Supreme Court decision concerning same-sex marriage a few weeks ago, but I wanted to take the time to reflect and pray. This issue has become so emotional. Proponents of this change have done a good job of framing the issue in the language of civil rights and thus of making those who disagree with them sound like bigots.

At a wedding liturgy, there is a “Nuptial Blessing” that comes right after the Lord’s Prayer. All of different choices for this blessing speak of the equal dignity and the complementarity of the two sexes, but one version has a line that always strikes me as powerful. It speaks of the relationship between man and woman as “the one blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away in the flood.” Marriage, then, is essential to who we are as humans, both individually and as a society, even in light of our failings.

As Americans, we often speak of our individual rights. But the basis of our nation is that these rights are seen as part of our larger society. The most basic unit of society is the family, where we learn to seek the good of others through daily sacrifices of our own interests. That atmosphere of love helps us struggle with our fallen human nature – the part in every one of us that is the result of original sin. In its ideal, the self-giving love of a husband and wife reaches the point where it can create new life through the birth of children. In reality, every human being falls short of perfect self-giving, but the ideal is still there as a challenge to ask God’s mercy and His grace to keep trying. Granted there are couples who are unable to have children. For them, too, the true vision of marriage can help them overcome their weakness and learn to give themselves completely. But if we redefine marriage in such a way as to put same-sex relationships on the same level as true marriage, then we undermine the very foundation of our whole society.

A related point comes up when others label us as bigots because of our views. We are reminded that Jesus welcomed everyone and turned no one away. I would never deny that, and I would never judge someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction. Similarly, I hope that no one would judge a priest who, honestly trying to live the Church’s teaching on celibacy, finds himself attracted to someone in a way he knows is not appropriate, a struggle that every honest priest goes through. But when we say that Jesus welcomed everyone, we have to recognize that an encounter with Christ never left anyone unchanged. People complained that He ate with tax collectors when he went to Zaccheus’ house, but Zaccheus vowed to give away his wealth and repay everyone he cheated four-fold. And when Christ met the woman caught in adultery, he did not simply tell her accusers, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He also said to the woman herself, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Christ welcomes us all, and he knows we will struggle. But he never stops challenging us to go beyond human values and become saints.
                                                                                          Father H              

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 2, 2015

When I got onto Facebook, it was the new and cool way of interacting on the Internet. Since then many of the younger generation decided that since their parents and grandparents on Facebook, it is no longer cool. But there are still plenty of people involved with that site and other “social media” sites, and I think their prevalence is something worth noting.

Social media is a great way to stay in touch. My friend list includes relatives, classmates, baseball fans and people with whom I have acted in various theater companies. There are a couple of girls who, in our younger days, were the objects of my crushes (and to whom I have finally been able to admit my earlier attraction) and even a former Major League pitcher. I am also friends with people I had known in various parishes I have served, including a number of young adults who had once been my students, which has led to my celebrating some of their wedding.

Recently I have received a couple of “friend requests” from some of our school students. When I first started to receive such requests in my last parish, I decided to set a personal policy. I only accept friend requests from people who are over 18 and out of high school. One reason for that policy was simple propriety, but it got me to thinking about the need to talk about Internet safety. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, technology is a two-edged sword, capable of great good but needing to be handled with care.

Among the points that minors especially need to be aware of is that we do not always know whom we are talking to on the Internet. There are predators who pass themselves off as a fourteen-year-old girl to gain someone’s confidence. Our Internet friends, then, should only be people we truly know. We also have to be careful of what information we post. People who look at my Facebook page could easily find my address and phone number from other sources since I am a somewhat “public” figure. But children and adolescents should never make that information public, even inadvertently. For instance, a picture that shows street signs or even car license plates in the background can be used to track someone down. When we post photos on the Internet, we lose control of them, and anyone can copy and paste them. And since people can find one person by seeing someone else’s web page. The more people you have as friends, the less control you have over who contacts you. I also believe that no children should be allowed on social networking sites unless their parents have full access to their information. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and who is contacting them. Certainly teenagers want their privacy, but parents still need to protect them.

Used properly, Internet sites such as Facebook are a great tool for communication. But like any powerful too, we have to be very careful of how we use it.

                                               Father H