Bishop's Blog

Homily on the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist

40th Anniversary of Development and Peace 07

The fourth grade teacher distributed sheets of paper to the class. She asked her students to write down all of the things they believe they could not do but wished that could do or wanted to do. Each student went to work writing down their I can’ts: I can’t kick a soccer ball past second base. I can’t do long division with more than three numerals. I can’t get Debbie to like me.

Even the teacher made a list: I can’t get Dan’s mother to come for a teacher conference. I can’t get my daughter to put gas in the car. I can’t get Allan to use words instead of his fists.

Students and teacher wrote for ten minutes. Then the students were instructed to fold their sheets in half and bring them to the front of the room. There they placed their I can’t lists in an empty shoe box. After adding her own list, the teacher put a lid on the box tucked it under her arm and, with her fourth graders in tow, marched out the door, down the hall and out into the playground,

In the furthest corner of the playground, each student took a turn digging a hole. They were going to bury their “I can’ts”. When they finished, the box was placed in the centre of the freshly dug grave. Then the teacher announced, “Boys and girls, please join hands and bow your heads.” the teacher then delivered the “eulogy”:

“Friends, we are gathered here today to honour the memory of I Can’t. While he was with us here on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. We have provided I can’t with a final resting place and a headstone that contains his epitaph. He is survived by his brothers and sisters, I Can, I Will and I’m Going to Right Away. They are not as well known as their famous relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps some day, with our help, they will make an even bigger mark in our world. May I Can’t rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence. Amen.”

The teacher then marched her students back to their classroom and held a “wake” for I Can’t with cookies, popcorn and juice. As part of the celebration, the teacher cut a large tombstone out of paper and wrote the words I Can’t at the top with RIP in the middle and the date at the bottom. The paper tombstone hung in the classroom for the rest of the school year.

On those rare occasions when a student forgot and said “I can’t,” the teacher simply pointed to the tombstone. The student then remembered that I Can’t was dead and tried again.

While our hearts and spirits yearn to do what is right and good, for any number of reasons we hesitate, we shrug our shoulders and walk away: I can’t do that . I can’t be like Mother Theresa. I can’t really teach. I can’t be a saint - I’m a mom, I’m a kid, I’m a salesman, I’ve got a past. I can’t make a difference in the world - the problems are to big and I’m too little.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI recognized that extreme disparity between nations in economic, social and educational levels provokes jealousy and discord, often putting peace in jeopardy. He affirmed that development is the new name for peace. Peace on earth is founded on justice, solidarity and unwavering respect for the dignity of human life at every stage, in every condition, in relation to the common good.

This call of Pope Paul VI moved the Catholic Bishops of Canada to create the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in 1967, with its twofold role to provide development assistance in the Global South as well to educate and sensitize Canadian Catholics about peace and justice issues.

In their subsequent pastoral letter to mark this achievement, the Bishops of Canada insisted the new organization was not to take account of “the religious belief or ideologies of the people to whom aid is given. The only consideration will be the intrinsic value of the projects, their conformity with criteria of priority, and the evaluation of their human and social effectiveness.... We are convinced that we who dare to call ourselves [Christ's] disciples must share his universal love and compassion, embracing generously the sacrifices that love entails.”

We must discover the richness of our past and the possibilities for our own future, come to realize that the love and values of our families now exist within ourselves and in our own young, and some times not so young, lives. We must begin again and again to deepen our own identity.

Is: “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my other’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. .... I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

On this feast of the birth of John the Baptist, how many of us have ever thought of our baptism as a vocation to be a prophetic sign of God’s love in the wilderness of modern society?

All too frequently, we respond: I Can’t. -------- instead of I Can, I Will and I’m Going to Right Away.

I want to identify three specific challenges facing our world, challenges which I believe can only be met through a firm commitment to that greater justice which is inspired by charity.

1. The first concerns the environment and sustainable development.

We must recognize that the world's resources are limited and that it is the duty of all peoples to implement policies to protect the environment in order to prevent the destruction of that natural capital whose fruits are necessary for the well-being of humanity.

Also needed is a capacity to assess and forecast, to monitor the dynamics of environmental change and sustainable growth, and to draw up and apply solutions at an international level.

If development were limited to the technical-economic aspect, obscuring the moral-religious dimension, it would not be an integral human development, but a one-sided distortion which would end up by unleashing man's destructive capacities.

2. The second challenge involves our conception of the human person and consequently our relationships with one other. If human beings are not seen as persons, male and female, created in God's image and endowed with an inviolable dignity, it will be very difficult to achieve full justice in the world.

Despite the recognition of the rights of the person in international declarations and legal instruments, much progress needs to be made in bringing this recognition to bear upon such global problems as the growing gap between rich and poor countries..

3. The third challenge relates to the values of the spirit. Unlike material goods, those spiritual goods which are properly human expand and multiply when communicated. Unlike divisible goods, spiritual goods such as knowledge and education are indivisible.

There is an urgent need for a just equality of opportunity, especially in the field of education and the transmission of knowledge.

The social challenges of justice and peace can never be kept at arm's length from one's life as a Christian. Faith demands the gift of one's whole being through works of love, as so well stated by Pope Benedict XVI:

“Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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"The Un-truth of Violence"

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I grew up marveling at the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi and have reflected many times on words such as:

Let our first act every morning be this resolve:
I shall not fear anyone on earth.
I shall fear only God.
I shall not bear ill-will towards anyone.
I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
I shall conquer un-truth by truth,
and in resisting un-truth,
I shall put up with suffering.

These words prompt me to challenge Amnesty International (AI), one of the world’s best known human rights advocacy groups, which has proposed actively fighting against the right to life for unborn children by using its resources to promote a so-called "right to abortion."

For many years, to its credit, AI has opposed forced contraception, forced sterilization and forced abortion but now, regrettably, it feels obliged in the interest of stopping violence against women. It is intent upon addressing values, beliefs and attitudes that directly or indirectly support violence against women. This is code language for women’s human rights (abortion); HIV/AIDS; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

AI is currently consulting its worldwide membership on a possible new policy on sexual and reproductive rights. The Canadian, British, and New Zealand branches of AI have already voted to support abortion.

AI’s plan is to decide by the end of August 2007 on adopting a position on three aspects of abortion: “decriminalization of abortion”; “access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion”; and “legal, safe and accessible abortion in cases of rape, sexual assault, incest, and risk to a woman’s life.”

Such a move is an ill-conceived proposal and a gross betrayal of Amnesty’s mission to campaign for human rights. AI’s founding vision was of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

In the interests of being politically correct, has AI now lost sight of “Article 3. - Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person?” The defense of the inalienable right to life of the unborn is a civil rights issue, arguably the greatest civil rights issue of our time.

That the unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception is a fact that we know by logic and biological evidence. Nothing that will be a human being is ever anything other than a human being.

These logical truths are amply confirmed by modern science, which have demonstrated beyond dispute that every human being, from the moment of conception, is an unique human genetic package. If we exclude natural disaster or lethal intervention, the product of human conception will be what every sane person recognizes as a human being; it will not be a goldfish or beagle.

No combination of circumstances, intentions or consequences can ever justify the taking of an innocent human life. The direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.

It is the height of stupidity that to suggest that in the name of stopping the violence against women, AI should adopt a policy that will lead to further violent destruction of female children in the wombs of their mothers.

Since part of AI's mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of rights, a logical move on the part of AI would be to seek to change contemporary culture so that every child is protected in law and welcomed in life.

Violence is the most clear sign of our personal and societal failures.

We cannot ignore the underlying cultural values that help to create the environment where violence grows: a denial of right and wrong, an abandonment of personal responsibility, an excessive focus on our selfish desires, a diminishing sense of obligation to our children and neighbours, a misplaced priority on acquisitions, and media glorification of violence and sexual irresponsibility. In short, we often fail to value life and cherish human beings above possessions, power and pleasure.

Less obvious and visible is the slow-motion violence of discrimination and poverty, hunger and hopelessness, addiction and self-destructive behaviour. Economic, social and moral forces and issues can tear apart communities and families not as quickly, but just as surely as bullets and knives. Lives sometimes are diminished and threatened not only in our immediate neighbourhood, but also by decisions made in parliaments, boardrooms, and courtrooms. An ethic of respect for life should be the central measure of all our institutions.

Gandhi would remind us: “If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.... In non-violence, the masses have a weapon which enables a child, a woman, or even an ...old (person), to resist the mightiest government successfully. If your spirit is strong, mere lack of physical strength ceases to be a handicap. Non-violence is the summit of bravery.”

Not all violence is deadly. It begins with anger, intolerance, impatience, unfair judgments, and aggression. It is often reflected in our language, our entertainment, our driving, our competitive behaviour and the way we treat our environment. These acts and attitudes are not the same as abusive behaviour or physical attacks, but they create a climate where violence prospers and peace suffers.

"Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal" are more than mere suggestions; they are imperatives for the common good. Violence is an unacceptable evil; a monstrous lie that goes against the truth of our common humanity.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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Tragic Betrayal: Terri Schiavo

Tragic Betrayal

In February 1990 a sudden loss of oxygen to the brain left Terri Schiavo in a coma and eventually in a profoundly incapacitated state. In October 2003 the Court finally ruled that Terri was indeed in a Persistent Vegetative State, and that her feeding tube should be removed.

Under the law in Florida, where the Terri’s case was adjudicated, the patient’s prior wishes must be demonstrated with the highest standard of legal certainty in civil cases, i.e. “clear and convincing evidence”. In cases where this standard of proof is not met, the court must err on “the side of life,” on the assumption that most people, even those who are profoundly disabled, would choose life rather than death.

Terri left no living will, no advance directive, nor formal instructions about what to do for her under such circumstances.

The Court relied entirely on Michael Schiavo’s recollection of a few casual conversations, on a train and watching television, in which Terri supposedly said that she wouldn’t want to live “if I ever have to be a burden to anybody” or be kept alive “on anything artificial.”

Admittedly, this constitutes some, but hardly convincing and conclusive, evidence of her wishes.

In 1992, Michael testified at a malpractice hearing that he would care for Terri for the rest of his life, that he wouldn’t “trade her for the world,” that he was going to nursing school to become a better care-giver. He explicitly reaffirmed his marriage vow, “in sickness, in health.”

Many have asked why it took six years for him to remember that dying was his wife’s wish. Others ask whether a disaffected husband with dubious motives, now in a new relationship with children generated from this union, should be granted absolute control over his wife’s fate.

Not only did Court and Michael Schiavo betray Terri, so did much of the main- stream media.

A misleading, and frequently repeated, ABC News Poll said that 63% of Americans wanted Schiavo’s feeding tube removed. The poll said she was “on life support,” which was not true, and that she has “no consciousness,” which her family and dozens of doctors disputed in sworn affidavits.

The poll also said the family disagreement is whether she would have wanted to “be kept alive.” But Schiavo was not dying - or wasn’t while she was being fed. So the question wasn’t whether she should “be kept alive” or “allowed to die,” but whether to stop feeding her, in which case she would die.

By most accounts, death by starvation and dehydration is painful, even gruesome death. That’s why we don’t starve convicted criminals to death, or animals either.

While this cruelty was going on in the hospice, Michael Schiavo’s lawyer, George Felos, said to one and all : “Terri is stable, peaceful, and calm ... she looked beautiful.” His words were accepted without question by the media.

As a society, we also betrayed Terri Schiavo. We asked what she would have wanted as a competent person imagining herself in such a position instead of what do we owe those who are not dead or dying but profoundly disabled and permanently dependent?

What do we owe to this person who can no longer speak for herself, a person entrusted to the care of her family and the protection of society?

In the Gospel of St, Matthew, we read “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink”.

One of the most primordial human acts in caring for another person is feeding the sick and hungry. Food and water are some of the most basic human needs. All persons, regardless of whether they are elderly, sick, poor, homeless, abandoned, or suffer from any disability which interferes with the normal process of eating and the absorption of nutrients, require food and water in order to maintain life and to regain or maintain health.

Pope John Paul II emphasized that the provision of food and water should be “considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such, morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.”

The underlying principle is the intrinsic dignity and worth of every person. This principle mandates that we must always care for one another.

As necessary as technological, biological, or physiological processes involving mechanical ingestion of food and water may be, the provision of care should never be limited to them. The act of feeding another person should be an active, not a passive, exercise in providing nutrition and hydration. We provide comfort and care for the whole person, we don’t just target the disease or the body.

Hand feeding the sick, be it sitting next to an elderly blind woman raising a spoon of soup to her lips, or instructing and supporting a distraught husband as he nourishes his wife whose life experiences are now entombed as a result of Alzheimer’s disease are virtuous acts which bring comfort, hope and healing to the whole person.. These are acts which affirm personhood and demonstrate a commitment to be present in times of suffering and anguish, in times of fear, loneliness and abandonment.

Forgive us, Terri, we betrayed you in so many ways!

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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