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Not Polite

I have followed with fascination the exchanges about the Second Vatican Council between Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., and John W. O’Malley, S.J. (2/24). Equally fascinating have been the numerous informative and thought-provoking letters that America readers have written in response.

Two sentences by Cardinal Dulles keep haunting me. Stating that style should not eclipse substance and writing approvingly of Dominus Iesus, he said: At times the Roman authorities have found it necessary to speak more plainly and less diplomatically for the sake of truth and fidelity.... The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith seems to have learned from hard experience that when you couch unpopular teachings in polite’ language, people easily conclude that you don’t mean what you said.

I found myself asking, If the church is not to use polite language, then what language should it use? Some antonyms for polite are: impolite, rude, harsh, discourteous. How do we help people hear what the church is obliged to preach? Is it by being rude, disdainful and disrespectfulas many Catholics, Jews and Protestants found in the language of Dominus Iesus? Or is it by seeking to make our words more expressive of the attitudes enjoined upon us by Christ and St. Paulhumility, gentleness, meekness, patience, tenderheartedness, long-suffering, kindness and loving concern?

Because God is truth, we are tempted to respond to the world’s skepticism by speaking more sharply and shouting more vociferously. But because God is love, the world will not hear the truth about which we speak unless it is couched in a loving spirit. If not polite, then what?

Richard K. Taylor
Philadelphia, Pa.

Loss at Easter

I am sitting in my room in a parish on the periphery of the city of São Paulo, Brazil, preparing for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter. I look at the pictures on pages 4 and 5 of the April 21 issue. Two young boys: one lost his father, a U.S. marine during fighting outside Al Nasiriya. The other lost his father, pregnant mother and brother when a missile obliterated his home. The contrast in the two photos struck me. As I look at the picture of the Iraqi boy, I see Christ stripped, placed on the cross and crucified. He bears the wounds that Christ bore. His face speaks the words of the psalmist, My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?(Ps 22). In the eyes of this Iraqi boy I see the suffering of thousands of Palestinian, Brazilian, Filipino, Indian and Chinese children, who witness the deaths of their parents because of war, whether the war is one of drugs, domestic violence or a so-called war of liberation.

Daniel F. McLaughlin, M.M.
São Paulo, Brazil

Historical Discipline

The Rev. Willard F. Jabusch’s article, The Vanishing Eucharist (5/12), is both disturbing and provocative. While there is nothing new in the article per se, it fails to recognize, even in passing, the ordained who live in canonical limbo: those dispensed from the active ministry but who are not laypersons. Not too long ago, regarding the shortage of priests, I suggested to a bishop that one consideration might be the restoration to the active ministry of priests who have continued to live a good Catholic life, who have remained current with doctrine and church practice, and who would be willing to serve their local parishes. His reply was consistent if not dated: his superiors in Rome would not even consider it!

I must confess to a deep and accepting respect for the pope but at the same time beg to differ with him in this nondoctrinal matter. It is interesting that in this same issue (5/12), there is an article about the acceptance of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari by Pope John Paul II as a valid form of the eucharistic prayer, even though it omits the sine qua non of the traditional words of consecration.

Is there somewhere an insurmountable theological problem with respect to the historical discipline of mandatory celibacy? Celibacy itself is not the problem. It is a holy and commendable estate that should be maintained as an option in the church. One wonders why, however, the appropriate authorities are unwilling to consider this vast resource and, indeed, dismiss them as shepherds in the proverbial mist. In attempting to provide a ministry of this central mystery of the Eucharist, is the church failing to use the available gifts and talents of many because they have failed the clerical club?

Reg Kelly
Tampa, Fla.

God’s Intentions

Thanks to the Rev. Willard F. Jabusch for The Vanishing Eucharist (5/12). How many parishes can a priest serve? What are the criteria for merging or shutting down parishes? Our church leadership has no valid argument for the results of a failed policythe male celibate priesthood. For years we have all been asked to pray for more vocations to the priesthood, when perhaps we could have been praying for a better understanding of God’s intentions for the priesthood.

There is nothing bad about celibate male priests, and there is no justifiable reason for that requirement at the door of the seminary. The church tells us how good marriage is, so why is it bad for my pastor to be married? Eastern Rite Catholic priests can be married, and the church in general allowed married priests in the past. A married Episcopalian priest can convert to Catholicism and remain both married and a priest.

And what is it about women that makes them unfit to be priests?

One of my sons loves to ask questions, and he puts my answers together to make sure they all make sense. If they don’t make sense, he challenges my answers. Sometimes I get annoyed by the questions that push my buttons, and sometimes when uncomfortable questions are posed my answer is Because I said so! But those questions also cause me to take a deeper look at myself; and if I am open to change, then I can grow and develop a more transparent approach to the world. And that’s good for me, good for my family and good for my kids.

Mandatory celibacy is not part of our faith. It is a tradition or decision made by church leaders, and it can stay or be removed. Tradition by its very nature changes, otherwise it cannot exist. I would also say the male-only priesthood is a decision that can be changed. Our church leaders must look deeper into why they insist on a male-celibate priesthood instead of determining ways to preserve it at the expense of the average parishioner. It might be uncomfortable, but it would be good for parishioners, good for our church and good for our future.

Steve Bogner
Cincinnati, Ohio

Societal Mindset

Thank you to William J. Byron, S.J., for his article Children of Great Price (4/28). I encourage him to market his idea aggressively.

I am a 28-year-old career woman, soon to be married, who has taught in the public schools for the past five years. Though I have enjoyed my career thus far, I look forward to embarking on the new adventure of full-time homemaker and mother in the near future. I refuse to be discouraged in this pursuit, though public sentiment toward a stay-at-home mom as a real profession is at best patronizing and at worst disrespectful. Women have lost as much as they have gained in the struggle for equal rights. We have lost a societal regard for motherhood and wifehood, and our families suffer. How many times have I been at a social function with married male colleagues (whose wives were at home with the children) and heard the question, So, what does your wife do? Though no malice is intended in this query, it is indicative of a negative societal mindset toward full-time homemakers.

I have fond memories of my own stay-at-home mother, who finally had to seek employment outside the home from financial necessity when I was a teenager. As the oldest of six children, I see a great psychological split in the family between the three oldest children, who had the benefit of a mother at home, and the three younger children who did not. I believe Father Byron’s idea of a social credit would encourage more women to pursue motherhood and full-time homemaking with pride and initiative. Most important, it would help change public perception and elevate the family unitboth desperately needed in our country today.

Jennifer Keehn
Klamath Falls, Ore.

Old Treasures

I love to read the Of Many Things column inside the front cover of America. This time, when I read the May 12 issue, I shouted when I reached the end of the article and you claimed to have found the correct ending of the Act of Contrition.

It is almost correct.

The way I taught it in the 50’s and 60’s ended thus: I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

You can check it out on page 128 in the little beige-colored copy of The Baltimore Catechism No. 2, by Rev. M. Philipps (copyright 1911).

This is one of our old treasures! And I am so glad that we do not use it anymore.

Jeanne Voges, O.S.B.
Newburgh, Ind.

Where Is the Mystery?

Having just read the seventh in your series on traditional devotions in the lives of contemporary Catholics (4/14), I feel compelled to register a response. The pre-Vatican II church is quite familiar to me, since I was mothering a large family at the time of its completion. As a former theology teacher and now a liturgical design consultant, I have had the opportunity of working with many age groups and am in touch with a broad spectrum of belief attitudes. I feel that I am qualified to speak, at least for myself and perhaps for some others who have made their way through a transition time to a renewed sense of church. Liturgy and devotional life are indicators of the climate of theology.

In fact, I agree with many of the observations of Brian Daley, S.J. He describes well Catholic devotional life of the 1950’s and 60’s but neglects to point out the individualistic character of that devotion. How could it have been otherwise, when we came to Mass and watched as the priest said prayers with his back turned toward us? Because we did not have an active role in the Mass, many used prayer books and rosaries as aids to worship.

The fact that so many younger people (under 35, as Father Daley notes) prefer to receive Communion on the tongue may deserve a deeper analysis than simply attributing it to their desire for a more physical expression of their faith. Surely we all desire more of a connection with the sacred than words can convey. Could it be that preferring to receive on the tongue means that communicants feel unworthy to touch the sacred bread? This sense of unworthiness reached its climax in the Middle Ages, when worshipers felt worthy only to look at the sacred species. (This is the time of the origin of the monstrance, of Benediction and of the Forty Hours.) Is that where they are heading?

The preoccupation many people in the church seem to have with things may reveal a lack of a deeper understanding of what those things signify. Where should this piece go and how big should that object be are secondary concerns to what is happening in the place of liturgy. It is this contention about the building and the furnishings and other things and objects that is telling us something.

For some time, I have been concerned about what I think is a threat to our appreciation of the Eucharist. Could this fixation on the tabernacle be an objectifying of the Eucharist, of the body and blood, as though it were a thing, a holy thing? Where is the mystery?

The symbols of our faith, bread and wine, water and oil, fire and gesture are tangible essentials in our worship. Where they are used generously, they are capable of awakening in us a sense of the sacred. Too often they are objects used as if in demonstration.

I am not denying the need for a deep prayer life. There is always a need for private prayer and devotion, but it can never take the place of all of us gathered together, focusing on our belief in Jesus, telling his story, and sharing his gift of himself. Then, when we receive that gift, we are to become what you are, to use the words of St. Augustine’s famous Easter homily.

Until the Catholic community really grasps that old/new understanding of Eucharist, I fear that there is a danger that we may be using the presence of the tabernacle as some kind of certainty and proof for faith in what cannot be seen.

Joanne Lopez Kepes
Kettering, Ohio

Never Made Sense

Like James Martin, S.J., I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph during the early 1960’s (5/12). When we learned the Act of Contrition the last line was, I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

The line never made sense to me because we were saying it in the confessional after we had just confessed our sins. But the prayer has carried me through all these years, and I am still working on that resolution, especially amending my life!

Stephen Paesani
Philadelphia, Pa.

Parenting

William J. Byron, S.J., (4/28) is on to a major injustice being done to parenting parents, a problem society has swept under the rug. Children are the future. Tending them well is a contribution to our nation. Yet subsidized child care is actually a disincentive for parents to raise and nurture their own children. It bribes women (and men) into leaving their children in someone else’s care, someone (or some group) who would not be expected to love that child as much as a parent or to put that child first in their lives, someone who may even be less qualified for parenting. If a parent takes a job caring for other people’s children, he or she gets pay and benefits. If she or he takes any other job and pays someone else for child care, he or she gets income, a child care subsidy and a tax deduction. If she or he chooses full-time parenting of their own children, which, if all else remained equal, one would rather do, these financially challenged people will be totally ignored, undercompensated and put down by peers because they don’t work!

Is there any case to be made that it is in society’s interest for preschool children to be raised by a willing and ready parent? If so, how can being-there parenting be encouraged? Father Byron’s idea of social credits for higher education makes sense. And how about at least giving a parenting parent the same tax credits that would accrue from paying someone to do child care and related tasks all day. It would still be far less than actually subsidizing or paying an employee to do the job, as current child care programs do. Is it fair to reward the families having two wage-earners with double income plus both child care and tax benefits, while families with one full-time parent go without help of any sort? In today’s economic climate, parenting one’s own children has become a luxury only the well-to-do can afford. How many families can get by on one income and still save for the children’s education?

Rosemary Reiss
Lake Placid, N.Y.

Comments

Gino Dalpiaz | 5/27/2003 - 4:33pm
In his May 26th letter, Richard Taylor writes: "How do we help people hear what the church is obliged to preach? Is it by being rude, disdainful and disrespectful – as many Catholics, Jews and Protestants found in the language of Dominus Jesus?" How can Richard Taylor say that? Are we reading the same document? Has he ever read it from beginning to end? I don't see any "rude, disdainful and disrespectful" language in it.

For me Dominus Jesus is a Christological masterpiece, a glorious hymn to Jesus Christ, "king of kings and lord of lords," a document as inspired, I would say, as the pages of Holy Scripture, though the former is obviously not canonical. I've often used Dominus Jesus for meditation and periodically read the whole document for my inspiration. I've never understood why there has been controversy around this document which sums up all the Bible and Catholic tradition has taught about the person of Christ. I suggest that those who have not read Dominus Jesus read it with faith and an open heart. They will conclude that Jesus Christ is truly the savior of all people, not just of Christians and that "there is no salvation in any other name" and, yes, that through the Church – which is "the body of Christ" – all people of all times and places will find grace, salvation and eternal life.

Gino Dalpiaz | 5/27/2003 - 4:33pm
In his May 26th letter, Richard Taylor writes: "How do we help people hear what the church is obliged to preach? Is it by being rude, disdainful and disrespectful – as many Catholics, Jews and Protestants found in the language of Dominus Jesus?" How can Richard Taylor say that? Are we reading the same document? Has he ever read it from beginning to end? I don't see any "rude, disdainful and disrespectful" language in it.

For me Dominus Jesus is a Christological masterpiece, a glorious hymn to Jesus Christ, "king of kings and lord of lords," a document as inspired, I would say, as the pages of Holy Scripture, though the former is obviously not canonical. I've often used Dominus Jesus for meditation and periodically read the whole document for my inspiration. I've never understood why there has been controversy around this document which sums up all the Bible and Catholic tradition has taught about the person of Christ. I suggest that those who have not read Dominus Jesus read it with faith and an open heart. They will conclude that Jesus Christ is truly the savior of all people, not just of Christians and that "there is no salvation in any other name" and, yes, that through the Church – which is "the body of Christ" – all people of all times and places will find grace, salvation and eternal life.

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