In Lovingly Observant (6/18), Susannah Heschel beautifully expressed why her fathers writings touched the hearts and minds of so many peopleJews and Christians alike. If ever there was a crystalline example of what Hans Urs von Balthasar called kneeling theology, it was Abraham Joshua Heschels. I am only sorry that Professor Heschel or America failed to mention his last work, Heavenly Torah as Refracted Through the Generations (Continuum, 2005; disclosure: I am a vice president and senior editor at Continuum Internationl). Booklist and Library Journal gave it starred reviews. Choice named it one of the 10 top books in religion for 2005. And Daniel Harrington, S.J., in your pages (3/13/06) called it Heschels masterwork...an astonishing accomplishment of historical and theological scholarship. But this is a small matter indeed. If your interview leads some new readers to Heschels work, it will have been a great mitzvah!
New York, N.Y.Call and Identity
In your issue of July 30, Mary Alice Piil, C.S.J., states in her book review of The Permanent Diaconate, Nor is there any question that the deacons themselves find it difficult to articulate a clear personal identity. This is a tangential statement that may or may not come from the book, but shows a bias that I simply do not believe is true. As a recently ordained permanent deacon, I object to the thought that deacons cannot articulate a clear personal identity.
Our identity lies exactly in being part of both the work world and the ordained world. It lies in being visible, ordained ministers in workplaces that can be hostile to all God-talk, when others are running for cover. It lies in service to the poor and the imprisoned and all who have no voice. It lies in the service at the altar, in baptizing and conferring the sacrament of marriage. It lies in dedication to the study of Scripture and to the living out of Scripture and to bringing Scripture to all who will listen. For me, the attraction to the diaconate originated through other deacons who lived and loved their diaconal call and identity daily. They knew who they were and what they were called to be.
Whatever other discussion may need to continue concerning the role of the permanent deacon in the larger church, never doubt the clear personal identity that we have for our call.
(Deacon) Phil DiBello
Billerica, Mass.Our World Family
My thanks for the excellent and insightful article The New, Lay Face of Missionaries, by Vincent Gragnani (7/30). Our church needs to recognize the value of lay missionaries as it does of clerical and religious onesand to support lay missionary organizations accordingly. Whether as missionary priests, religious or lay people, we are all proclaiming the Gospel in word and action in our world family.
Established in Los Angeles in 1955, the Lay Mission-Helpers Association has trained and sent over 700 lay missionaries to 36 countries in Africa, Asia, South Pacific, Central and South America for over 50 years. We are facing many of the same challenges as the lay mission organizations mentioned in this article in regard to recognition by the wider church and financial sustainability.
We join in the collaborative efforts of other lay missionary organizations and invite interested lay people to consider a call to serve abroad. Living a simple life close to the poor could be the best years of a persons life!
Los Angeles, Calif.Indispensable Expression
I would like to commend Vincent Gragnani for The New, Lay Face of Missionaries (7/30), which brings much-needed attention to the valuable ministry that lay men and women provide the Catholic Church. As executive director of the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service, a membership organization of nearly 200 lay mission programs, I have seen firsthand the ministry of lay missionary service blossom. In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 906 lay men and women served internationally in 55 different C.N.V.S. member programs. And as more people become aware of the opportunity to live out the Gospel missionary call in an international setting, we anticipate that this number will continually increase.
In his article, Mr. Gragnani rightly points out the fundraising and marketing challenges facing our lay mission organizations. We trust that just as God is now calling so many lay men and women to serve, God will also provide them the means to do so through the greater support of the church as a whole. Just as the church has always supported its ordained and religious missioners, we believe that it will rise to this new challenge in the 21st century. Mr. Gragnanis article is an important step in the process of making the wider church aware of the dedication of lay Catholics to the Gospels missionary values.
Pope Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, For the church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but it is part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being. His is a timely reminder that that all baptized Catholicsnot just priests and religiousare called to service. C.N.V.S. and our affiliated lay mission organizations seek to ensure there is a place for all whom God calls to serve.
Takoma Park, Md.Collaborative Ministry
Our suburban parish is enriched by the dedication and expertise of our business manager/pastoral associate. This wife and mother of a teenage daughter manages her familys schedule and her many responsibilities within the parish. This accomplished C.P.A. with a degree in theology is highly respected by our parishioners. But this is only one example of many priest-partner ministries within our archdiocese. In two neighboring parishes, the two on-site administrators are known as pastoral life directors. One is a member of a religious community and the other is a wife and mother. Both of these gifted women work with priests assigned to provide sacramental ministry within the parishes. Thomas P. Sweetser, S.J., is to be applauded for recognizing the many men and women whose collaborative ministry and love for the church make the lives of pastors more peaceful and the lives of all parishioners more aware of the variety of gifts but the same Spirit within our church.
(Rev.) Christopher J. Whatley