Many Best Years
I have read America for more than half a century. It has always been an excellent journal of opinion and many of its best years were under the editorship of Thomas J. Reese, S.J. Father Reese is an extraordinarily balanced, well-informed, faithful priest and Catholic leader, and I have had the pleasure of knowing him for the last 10 years.
Tens of millions of Americans had the opportunity to see Father Reese at work during the extended period of television coverage from the end of one papacy to the beginning of another. The timing of his departure could not have been worse!
The Jesuits can be wonderfully proud of Father Reese and America. May God continue to bless your great work. Onward through the fog.
(Most Rev.) John McCarthy
Please allow me to add a postscript to the column by James T. Keane, S.J. (5/30). Choosing the name America for a weekly in 1909 on the heels of The New York Review’s ceasing publication in 1908, whether courageous or naive, had to be interpreted in Rome as an act of defiance. In 1896 Pope Leo XIII fired Bishop John J. Keane, the first rector of The Catholic University of America. Among the newspaper accounts of the day, The Springfield Republican wrote, The inevitable inference in American minds is not that this is a case of a church principle of rotation in office’ but that Bishop Keane has been a trifle too Americansomewhat too willing to affiliate in a degree with other Christians, somewhat too Catholic to be Roman Catholic... (Springfield Republican, Oct 5, 1896). While Pope Leo seems to have been obsessed with concerns about Americanism during most of his pontificate, there is a redeeming counterbalance in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, which is a foundational teaching about the rights and dignity of labor. Our church is one of tradition, both good and bad. Our solace is that while the Holy Spirit seems to move glacially, the movement is always forward, inexorably forward.
Ernest C. Raskauskas
Your editorial, Speaking the Truth in Love, (6/20) is a statement that needed to be made, and it brought, I think, some clarity regarding the meaning of fidelity, although my first reading of the editorial did not bring me to that conclusion.
The editorial speaks of continuing to carry out our mission with fidelity to the Petrine office, to Pope Benedict XVI and to his fellow bishops. This line caused me to pause. Whenever I read something that appears to imply that fidelity to a pope or a bishop can be equated to fidelity to the Lord, I become very uneasy. The Catholic hierarchy has impressed upon the faithful for some time, at least since the reform of Pope Gregory VII in the 11th century, that the voice of the Holy Spirit is mediated through the pope; ergo, to be faithful Catholics requires fidelity to the pope, now Benedict XVI. I have never bought into that theology, and I think it has nothing to do with authentic faith, since many of the utterances that have come from popes and bishops have seemed to be no more than opinions, judgments neither inspired by the Holy Spirit or the good sense that comes from a serious study of theology.
But the editorial quickly balances this fidelity to the Petrine office with a quote from Pope John Paul II: Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes. That brought me some comfort. The editorial staff of America is, I believe, assuring us that when it comes to mediating the Holy Spirit, they do not believe that the pope or the bishops are the only mediators of the Spirit, that voices other than those of the hierarchy merit attention and that we will be allowed to hear those voices in the pages of America.
Though educated by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, diocesan priests and Jesuits, my faith has been shaken often over my 60 years as I have struggled to be honest with myself and others. Your editorial, Speaking the Truth in Love, restored my faith and reinforced my conviction to continue thinking and speaking the truth as I see it. Some claim, wrongly, that the Catholic faith requires lockstep agreement with old ideas. Some of those ideas were originally developed by men who lacked the confidence and dispassionate committment to honesty that many of us have absorbed from America and the best thinkers, teachers and writers of our Roman Catholic faith tradition. After reading your editorial, gentlemen, I feel truly born again in the one true faith.
James P. Cooney
A hundred years ago our ideas about the truth took a relentless beating (6/20). Freud peeked rudely under our civilized gowns of reason, Einstein upended our common sense about the universe, and World War I sank naïve positivism faster than the Titanic. For many, Auschwitz and Hiroshima settled the issue for good: truth itself, like Nietzsche’s God, was dead. Only power remained.
The result among the educated elite was a kind of undeclared civil war of relativism. The left openly renounced transcendent truth, attempting a shaky new compromise for egalitarianism based on social science and personal fulfillment. Postmodernism and identity politics are the paltry end results. On the right, a growing number of thinkers and activists privately conceded the absence of truth, but anticipated toxic consequences for the growing awareness of meaninglessness among ordinary people. Would the ignorant masses, once robbed of their essential illusions, endure menial labor or die to protect the empire? In the end we would surely disintegrate or be destroyed. The right’s smug solution was the noble lie of neoconservatism. Ordinary people need a nationalist-religious mythology. The solemn obligation of the ruling class is to produce it for them.
For now, the neoconservatives have won this civil war in the United States, and we are moving perilously close to a real, homegrown dictatorship of relativism. As Christians, we must resist, beginning with an unashamed confession of faith in the power of the truth and an unequivocal rejection of the truth of power. When we resort to force of any sortwhether violence or censorship or authoritarianismwe tacitly betray our fear that our faith is indeed just one ideology among many, and, in the name of orthodoxy, we pour gasoline on the very flames of relativism we would claim to douse. The Holy Spirit is our master and teacher, not some fragile treasure in our pocket. Our Lord needs no bodyguards. This is his power and our hope.
To New Life
I wish to comment on The Legacy of the Schiavo Case, by Thomas A. Shannon (6/6). I graduated from medical school in 1966. It is God’s grace and my privilege to be present as people pass through death to their new life with God. Because I have had these experiences with God’s grace and through these deaths, I now know with my heart what my father was praying for when, as he told me, he prayed through St. Joseph each day for a happy death. As a child and young woman I did not know. Prolonging dying is not the answer, as your article so eloquently in ethical and technical language points out. Many patients are more afraid, not of death, but of unnecessarily prolonged dying. Thank you for this article.
Mary Margaret Flynn, M.D.
San Carlos, Calif.