Bishop's Blog

Bishop's Dinner 2003

“How attractive is wisdom in the aged! Rich experience is the crown of the aged” [Sir. 25:5-6]

Three sisters ages 92, 94 and 96 live in a house together. One night the 96 year old draws a bath. She puts her foot in and pauses. She yells to the other sisters, “Was I gettin’ in or out of the bath?”

The 94 year-old yells back, “I don’t know. I’ll come up and see.” She starts up the stairs and pauses. “Was I going up the stairs or down?”

The 92 year old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea listening to her sisters. She shakes her head and says, “I sure hope I never get that forgetful.” She knocks on wood for good measure. She then yells, “I’ll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who’s at the door.”

Age is a funny thing:

  • Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we’re kids?
  • If you’re less than 10 years old, you’re so excited about aging that you think in fractions. “How old are you?” “I’m 4 and half.”
  • You’re never 36 and a half, but you’re 4 and a half going on 5! That’s the key.
  • You get into your teens, now they can’t hold you back. You jump to the next number. “How old are you?” “I’m gonna be 16.”
  • You could be 12, but you’re gonna be 16. And then the greatest day of your life happens: you become 21. Even the words sounds like a ceremony-you BECOME 21. YES!!!!
  • But then you turn 30. Ooohhh, what happened here?? Makes you sound like bad milk. He TURNED. We had to throw him out. There’s no fun now. What’s wrong?? What changed???
  • You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you’re PUSHING 40 ...stay over there, it’s all slipping away...
  • You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, you’re PUSHING 40, you REACH dreams are gone...
  • You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, you’re PUSHING 40, you REACH 50 and then you MAKE IT to 60 ...Whew! I didn’t think I’d make it.
  • You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, You’re PUSHING 40, you REACH 50, you MAKE IT to 60, and by then you’ve built up so much speed, you HIT 70!
  • After that, it’s a day by day thing. You HIT Wednesday, you get into your 80s, you HIT lunch. Some at this stage won’t even buy green bananas, “Well it’s an investment, you know, and maybe a bad one.”
  • And it doesn’t end there...Into the 90’s, you start going backwards: I was JUST 92. Then a strange thing happens, if you make it over 100, you become a little kid again: I’m 100 and a half!!
  • Age is a funny thing:
  • Currently 12.7 % of the Canadian population is aged 65 and over.
  • By 2026 the proportion will increase to 21.42%.
  • The very elderly, those 85 and above, will increase by over 100% during this period.
  • This phenomenon has often been termed the silent revolution.
  • We can justifiably be proud of the Beneficiaries of tonight’s dinner - Friends of Seniors Foundation, St. Michael’s Health Centre, Fr. Albert Lacombe Home Society, and St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged.
  • An aging population has major societal and ethical implications.
  • “Intergenerational tensions lead to “ageism,” which has been defined as systematic and negative age discrimination.
  • “There is the stereotyping of the elderly as physically and mentally incompetent.
  • “Older workers face difficulties in the job market and also have to contend with mandatory retirement.
  • “In times of economic restraint, there is competition for scarce resources and a perceived “pension burden” associated with an aging population.
  • “Workplaces face increasing time lost through worker needing to care for elderly relatives.
  • “The marketplace is changing due to the greater need for health services and pharmaceuticals, while the increased number of elderly voters will have political consequences.
  • “A major issue is the impact on the health care system, since responding to this aging population is one of the most significant challenges facing our already challenged system.
  • “How attractive is wisdom in the aged! Rich experience is the crown of the aged” Sir. 25:5-6

Growing Up... Or Growing Old

The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn’t already know .I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder. I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being. She said, “Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?”

I laughed and enthusiastically responded, “Of course you may!” and She gave me a giant squeeze .”Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?” I asked. She jokingly replied, “I’m here to meet a Rich experience husband, get married, have a couple of children, and then retire and travel.” “No seriously,” I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.” I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!” she told me. After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake. We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk non-stop. I was always mesmerized listening to this “time machine” as she shared her wisdom and experience with me. Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she revelled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up. At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I’ll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor. Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.” As we laughed she cleared her throat and began: “We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing. There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. “You have to laugh and find humour everyday.

“You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. “We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it!” “There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight. Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. “The idea is to grow up by always finding the opportunity in change.” “Have no regrets. The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.”

She concluded her speech by courageously singing “The Rose.” She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives. At the years-end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago. One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep. Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.

Education and Attitudes are all important:

1. Aging is not a disease, and the majority of the elderly remain physically and mentally independent. Degenerative diseases, however, become more frequent among the elderly.

Unfortunately, many health care professionals are not well trained to manage the specific needs of the frail elderly. The focus is on diagnosis, investigation and curative treatments with a tendency to neglect the care and ongoing management necessary for maintaining autonomy and independence.

Negative attitudes exist. The frail elderly are sometimes referred to as “bed blockers” or “placement problems.” The term “gomers” has also been used. This is an acronym for “get out of my emergency room.” This typifies the approach of blaming the elderly for the problems rather than recognizing that the cause rest with the shortfalls of the health care system.

The role of specialized geriatric services is a major factor is meeting this challenge. The fundamental premise of such services is that much of the disease, disability and dependence in old age is preventable, treatable or manageable in seniors with complex health problems and unique needs that present challenges for accurate diagnosis and assessment. Inaccurate diagnosis may result in inappropriate treatment, leading to further loss of health and independence, premature placement and unnecessary long lengths of stay in acute care. Such services should be available to all Canadians and community care must be enhanced.

2. Death is a natural stage in human life and in an aging society the end-of-life care of seniors should become a national priority. The emphasis on end-of-life care has tended to focus on the needs of younger people with cancer or HIV/AIDS and not on the needs of seniors. There is an ongoing need to improve the care in the last stages of life by addressing issues of maintaining comfort, delivery of care, pain control, and clarifying ethical issues related to artificial nutrition and hydration, and resisting pressures for legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The role of advanced care directives as a means of recognizing the autonomy and wishes of the elderly is also an important issue.

3. “How are we to be in relationship with the elderly?”

“What will really benefit, improve and enrich their lives?”

Helene McCormick, a graduate student in Theology at Montreal’s Concordia University, has undertaken a study on outreach ministry to the elderly. There are two noteworthy items in her preliminary report.

First, McCormick identifies loss and loneliness as two major challenges facing older adults.

Second, 81% of the respondents to her survey ranked “personal attributes” highest among the skills required for ministry to the elderly.

These results remind us that humans are relational and that human dignity is the core-value.

Beatitudes for the Aged:

  • Blessed are those who understand my faltering step and palsied hand.
  • Blessed are they who know that my ears today must strain to catch the things they say.
  • Blessed are they who seem to know that my eyes are dim and my wits slow.
  • Blessed are they who looked away when the coffee spilled on the cloth today.
  • Blessed are they who stopped to chat with a cheery smile for a little while.
  • Blessed are they who never say, “You’ve told that story twice today.”
  • Blessed are they who make it known that I’m loved, respected and not alone.
  • Blessed are they who know the way to bring back memories of yesterday.
  • Blessed are they who know I’m at a loss to find the strength to carry my cross.
  • Blessed are they who ease the days on my journey home in a loving way.

My Grandmother’s Prayer:

God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference. Amen.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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Hate Propaganda

Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon.

In some circles homosexuality is treated as a harmless variation, a vehicle of true love, even permitting stable and permanent relationships and any reminder of traditional Christian teaching on the morality of homosexual activity is met with groans and grimaces. The pressure is on to give a moral pass to sinful behaviour.

Furthermore, a society, that has made the smoking of tobacco a near capital offence, attempts to sever any relation of HIV and AIDS to homosexuality. After all, the maladies fall indifferently on the just and unjust, on homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, don’t they? Prophylactics are offered as the solution. A campaign is set up like that against cancer or smoking. Except that smoking is condemned because of its recognized bad effects, but in this instance an effect is condemned with no mention of its cause. The campaign itself is good but the silence about the cause is almost deafening.

Any reference to the wrongness of homosexual behaviour is likely to invite the charge of homophobia, turning the accusation on the supposed accuser. But, of course, the natural moral law is not the property of anyone, and invoking it need not be an accusation.

Bill C - 250, now before the Senate of Canada, expands the definition of “identifiable group” in the hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code to include sexual orientation. Currently, the identifiable groups are those distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.

The offences under the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code include advocating or promoting genocide (section 318), and inciting or willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group (319).

The Catholic Church considers hatred to be a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in article 2303: “Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbour is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbour is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm.”

The Church also teaches that every human being is created in the image of God, is known and loved by God and has inherent human dignity. Therefore, each human being, without exception, is entitled to have his or her life protected and human dignity respected.

It is well known that the Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that sexual behaviour between people of the same sex is morally wrong and in no circumstances can be approved. At the same time, Church teaching also requires unequivocally that persons who are homosexual “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every unjust sign of unjust discrimination in their regard must be avoided”(Catechism, 2358).

Nevertheless, many religious leaders of different denominations are concerned about Bill C-250. Our concern is not about the objectives of prohibiting the incitement or wilful promotion of hatred or the advocacy of genocide. What is troubling is the possibility that someone who find the expression of the Christian’s beliefs on the sexual conduct of homosexual persons too blunt or too harsh will invoke the Criminal code to silence the teaching.

In the background are cases such as the December 2002 Saskatchewan case of Hugh Owens. In the Owens case a bumper sticker in an advertisement displayed references to four Bible passages: Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 and 1Corinthians 6:9-10 on the left side of the sticker. An equal sign(=) was in the middle of the sticker, with a symbol on the right side of the sticker. The symbol on the right side consisted of two men holding hands with the universal symbol of a red circle with a diagonal bar superimposed over the top.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench found that this advertisement violated the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code because it exposed homosexuals to hatred. It should be noted that the Owens case was dealing with human rights legislation not the Criminal Code, that human rights legislation in Canada is interpreted more liberally and that the standard of proof is less than under the Criminal Code.

Nevertheless, given the challenges to religious freedom in the last few years and the recent history of judicial activism in Canada, the higher threshold in Criminal cases is not much of a consolation. Nor is the fact that proceedings may not be commenced under these sections without the consent of Attorney General, except in cases where the wilful promotion of hatred may lead to a breach of peace. What exactly constitutes a breach of peace?

The leading case in the current provisions of the Code on hate propaganda is the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the James Keegstra case of 1990.

The Court said that the word ‘promotes” indicates active support or instigation for hatred and defined what was meant by ‘hatred’. The term ‘hatred’ connotes emotion of an intense and extreme nature that is clearly associated with vilification and detestation. It is an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that these individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation.

When the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops raised concerns about Bill C-250 with the Minister of Justice, he acknowledged that hatred was clearly not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Indeed, he went on to point out that the law foresees a specific defence in the context of a religious opinion expressed in good faith. This defence is intended to ensure unequivocal religious freedom.

Am I reassured? Somewhat, but I also remember assurances from a former Justice Minister that a Liberal government would never change the definition of marriage either.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Moral and Ethics Catholic Teachings

Saints and Sinners

The church is a communion of saints and sinners. Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.

In reacting to my speaking out on the government’s proposal to legalize same-sex “marriage,” rather than deal with the issue and the arguments head on, some have resorted to – “how dare you raise your voice, what about ____!”

The blank could be filled in with anything ranging from the Crusades to Galileo to clergy sex abuse. While these are very interesting questions and challenging problems, they are designed to deflect attention and silence debate.

However, they also highlight the paradox of sin and holiness of the church.

Within the Body of Christ, we all acknowledge that the church’s holiness is a supernatural holiness, but at the same time it is a human holiness, pursued by means of human behaviour and human acts, in the midst of institutions regulated and administered by human beings.

St. Paul’s letters already witness to the fact that there were in the communities of the early church, instances of a lack of faith and charity, of envy, of lying, of greed, of unchastity. In every one of the his letters there are to be found exhortations against sin and exhortations to lead a life worthy of those who are dead to sin.

All the members of the church are called to holiness and have through the sacraments the possibility of reaching it, but alas, only a certain number fully respond to their vocation. The rest slow down and hinder the development of the church.

Even the saints are rather disconcerting. They retain faults of temperament and weaknesses of judgment. Sanctity attracts, astonishes and sometimes irritates.

The church is a communion of saints and sinners. Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that John Paul II has no less than ninety-four times acknowledged that—regarding racism, anti-Semitism, the crusades, war, divisions between Christians, and the treatment of women, among other things—the faithful, including ecclesiastics at the highest level, have been unfaithful.

Some Catholics think the present Pope has “gone too far” in asking forgiveness, while others will apparently not be satisfied until a Pope condemns the church itself.

What is certain is that no other church or religious community – never mind secular institution – has so candidly, repeatedly and voluntarily accepted responsibility for its failings. Nevertheless, there are a number of constants or givens:

1) The church does not cease to preach the gospel of salvation and the means of salvation.

“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” [1 Cor. 9:16]. If Christ is to be known and the Father glorified there must be tongues to preach the gospel; for “how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” [Rom. 10:14-17]

Such preaching is absolutely necessary. It must also be faithful preaching pursued even in spite of the opposition encountered.

2) The church does not cease trying to raise the moral level of humankind. The church acts in human society as a moral and spiritual leaven which continually renews it, constantly inspires it with a sense of peace and justice, a moral sense and a sense of love.

The Second Vatican Council emphasized the reverence due to the human person as it stressed that each should regard his neighbour, without exception, as another self . “... all that is an offence against the dignity of man, like sub-human living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, commercial traffic in women or young people, and degrading conditions of work ... all these practices and others like them are infamous: they corrupt civilization, dishonouring those who instigate them more than those who suffer them, and they are a grave insult also the honour of the Creator.”

3) The church welcomes sinners.

While continuing to preach the ideal life of the gospel, she is full of mercy for those who sin. It is a question of following the example of Christ who was firm in matters of principle, but always indulgent towards sinners. If they leave her, she prays for their return. When they come back, she weeps for joy with them, like the father of the prodigal son.

4) The church continues to offer the ideal of evangelical perfection, inviting those of her children who desire to do so, to live completely, even in this world, their full life as adopted children of God, wholly consecrated to God and to the service of their brothers and sisters through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

If she must carry the weight of many sinners, she also counts among her members a not inconsiderable number of those of all ages and all social circumstances who have arrived at an heroic sanctity, contemplative, apostolic or reparative.

5) The church in her whole body, as in her members, is in constant need of repentance and purification and renewal.

Even in her poverty and distress the church remains a paradox. It is she herself who judges and reforms and in the depths of disaster finds the strength to recover. The paradox is that men and women so weak and contemptible should have the strength to raise their eyes, and look to the future. The paradox is that the church, in spite of her weakness, regularly produces saints great and faithful enough to be offered as models of the imitation of all.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Discipleship Moral and Ethics Evangelization

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