Herda-Father-Jerry“Ask Fr. Jerry,” Fr. Jerry Herda

Q: What is your response to this comment, posted by Henry Parker on ncron-line.org: “ ‘IRRELEVANT’ IS THE KEY word about much of the church today. The Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, etc., just don’t have any relevancy to the lives of more and more people, especially the young. … because of their structure, outdated theology, monarchial outlook, wrongful and hurtful attitudes toward some people, politics, etc.”

A: The word “irrelevant” is a word farthest from the truth when it comes to the church. The Merriam-Webster definition of the word irrelevant is: “not relevant, inapplicable.” When it comes to our belief in God and the manner in which we worship our God, the church is very relevant. We don’t exist without God.

Our relationship with God is meant to be a personal relationship with God and a communal relationship with God. It is not an either/or proposition. We have a personal relationship with God because God made us, and God loves us. God knows everything there is to know about us. It is an intimate, powerful relationship, because God knows us so well, we are called to get to know God and to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.

We have a communal relationship with God because that is the very existence of God. God is communal, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is in constant relationship. We are called to live that relationship with God in community, not in isolation. We live that communal aspect of our faith within the context of the church, within the context of our family, within the context of our neighborhood and community.

We gather as community to build relationships with God and with one another, we gather as community to worship our God, we gather as community to assist those in need, such as helping families affected by Hurricane Sandy or helping the people of Newtown, Conn. When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?” he didn’t stop at love God; he said we should also love our neighbor as ourselves.

We have to keep up with the times, we have to make homilies relevant and applicable to people’s lives, we have to give people opportunities to feel welcome and a part of a community. Can the church do a better job of including the young? Of course it can. But the church certainly is still relevant today.

Where the church has been falling short is the approach that is often taken. Someone recently gave me a good analogy: the church has been so busy putting out “fires” – abuse scandal, bankruptcy, and many other hot topic issues. What the church needs to be doing is igniting “fires” – igniting the flame of faith and creating an excitement and relevance in people’s lives.        

Q: As a Catholic, is it OK to study at a non-Catholic university or college where its hospital performs abortions and participates in embryonic stem-cell research?

A: It is never good to answer a question with a question, but what do you mean by “OK”? In order to answer your question, we first need to define what you mean by “OK.” If by “OK” you mean “allowed” there is one answer to your question; if by “OK” you mean “objectionable” there is another answer to your question.

The Catholic Church teaches and believes that we should never support anything that leads to abortion or embryonic stem-cell research. Life issues are very clear within the Catholic Church. We should do everything we can to preserve life and promote the sanctity of life.

So the first question a person needs to ask is does your attendance at this university or college support such acts? If the answer to this question is yes, then you should not attend that school; if the answer to this question is no, you are “allowed” to attend such a university or college.

Can one be opposed to a belief held by a school and still attend that particular school? Let’s look at the question from a different perspective. We are blessed to live in the United States of America. In this country, laws make it legal for abortions to be performed. Therefore should we consider moving out of the country we love because we oppose the laws that are on the books?

Attending a university and college where their hospitals perform abortions and participate in embryonic stem-cell research would be the same as saying we are allowed to live in the United States of America and oppose the laws that legalize abortion. All American Catholics are not about to move from our country because the laws go against our belief. Rather, we work to change the laws.

Now, the blessing is that you have a choice of which school you would like to attend, so by all means follow your conscience and if you are terribly bothered by the performance of abortions and embryonic stem-cell research at that school, then choose a different school.

It would be my hope that every Catholic high school senior would make the choice to attend a Catholic university or college.

Catholic universities and colleges do an excellent job of preparing young adults for their future and do so within the context of a Catholic institution. Preparing for life, attending school, making major choices are all a part of the process of life in which we are called to do the right thing.

(Fr. Herda, ordained in 1990, is pastor of St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay, and St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point. If you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a priest, email it to ruscht@archmil.org and place “Ask Fr. Jerry” in the subject line.)