Year for Priests: Recovering from our mistakes

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

This past week, my English students took their first major exam, which I had graded and posted to our electronic grade book prior to the start of the weekend. Since this grade book can be viewed by parents through a secure login, a few of my students found their weekend far less interesting than they would have liked.

One student, who I shall name Steve, bombed the exam and as a result is now failing my class. His parents grounded him for the weekend and from the biggest football game of the year. They also instructed Steve to e-mail me and basically beg for a way to improve his grade.

Steve is a good kid but, like so many, just hasn’t realized his full potential yet. When I received his e-mail, it was very clear to me that he would not make this mistake again as his language was abundantly apologetic and remorseful. I almost felt sorry for him (though he did bring this on himself) and quickly e-mailed him an additional assignment. When I returned home from the football game, I found his paper waiting for me since he was instructed by his parents to write the paper during game time. I responded via e-mail, asked him to make a few corrections and, in his response to me, suggest how I should apply this extra credit.

Once again, he responded with remorse and stated that any amount I was willing to apply to his exam grade would be appreciated. However, I wanted him to be specific — how much should I apply? I instructed him to be fair, but to be confident in his own effort, and then I wrote him not to apologize anymore. The lesson has been learned and it is time to move on.

No doubt, Steve was taken aback by my request to name his own score, but it is a regular practice of mine to require students to grade themselves — honestly. I used to have a confessor who used the same practice in confession, asking me to name my own penance. If I was too hard (or too easy) on myself, he would tell me, but usually he thought I was right on target. Every now and then I would try and weasel my way out and have him do the work for me, to which he would always respond that I knew myself better than he did. He reminded me that I knew both what I needed to grow and what I needed to do in order to let go of these things that hold me down. No one else can do this but me.

Now that I am in the confessional, I always remind people that the hardest part about the sacrament of reconciliation is not voicing your sins out loud (though it usually feels like it) but leaving those sins behind and walking out the door — feeling truly forgiven.

Ultimately forgiveness is the thing that is hardest to give ourselves. I have no doubt that Steve will do much better in my class, not just because of the consequences, but (hopefully) because he named forgiveness for himself. As for the rest of us: May we have the courage recognize when we are wrong, and what it takes to make it right and let it go.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May.

Click here for more in this series.

Bishop Hubbard joins call to reduce threat of nuclear catastrophe

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., has lent his name to a newspaper ad calling for the United States to take a leadership role in reducing the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles and, in doing so, strengthen national security.

The bishop, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, agreed to have his name placed in the ad after being approached by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the ad’s sponsor.

Produced and paid for under the organization’s Reduce the Threat campaign, the ad presses President Barack Obama “to take advantage of the opportunity presented by his administration’s nuclear policy review to forge common-sense, forward-looking policies that will increase U.S. security and reduce the threat of nuclear catastrophe.”

Also lending their names to the effort are retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Adams, former deputy U.S. military representative to NATO; Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland — A Church Distributed; Barry S. Levy, former president, American Public Health Association; Leon M. Lederman, Nobel laureate and director emeritus, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; and Charleta B. Tavares, a city council member in Columbus, Ohio.

The ad is appearing Sept. 22 and 23 in such publications as Washington Times, Politico, Congress Daily, Roll Call and The Hill. The National Review published the ad Sept. 19 and will run it again Sept. 26.

The full text of a letter upon which the ad was based can be seen here.

The ownership society

In the era when automobile production ruled the roost in my native Detroit, people didn’t say they worked for Ford. Instead, by some grammatical quirk, they’d say they worked for Ford’s. Or Chrysler’s. Or, in an earlier time, Packard’s.

That same quirk entered into parish life in the city. It wasn’t St. David, but St. David’s. Or St. Brendan’s. Or St. Juliana’s. Or St. Jude’s. One would think that parish’s whose patronal named ended in “s” would be exempt, but tell that to Catholics who were members of St. Ladislaus — er, St. Lad’s.

I had uncles who worked in auto assembly plants, although the closest my father ever got was a brief stint at a tool and die shop that serviced the auto industry but shut down during a late-1950s recession. That lack of familiarity with car production (although I loved looking at new cars once they came off the delivery trucks) may be why I’ve recoiled at the whole apostrophe-“s” phenomenon. We may dedicate our parishes to a particular saint, but we don’t cede ownership to him or her, as if we were expecting the saint to run the place. That’s our work here on earth.