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Rightly Ordered Loves

The headline of your interview with Archbishop Sean O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston, To Love and to Pray (10/27), is inaccurate. The archbishop actually said, To pray and love. Getting our loves in order, keeping the sequence of the two tablets of the Commandments and remembering that first we love God and then all our neighbors is the heart of the religious endeavor. The bishop was quoting the office of the day and, if you check, you will see that St. John Vianney devoted his whole sermon on the prayer part of to pray and love. I think the good saint knew the order was important. I suspect a Franciscan archbishop appreciates the same.

David Pence, M.D.
Mankato, Minn.

California Politics

In your editorial The Bishops’ Platform (10/27) you claim the Republican Party in California united behind a pro-choice celebrity candidate...to win the governorship. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but shouldn’t it be based upon facts?

The Republican Party did not unite behind a celebrity candidate who is pro-choice in order to win the California governorship. A conservative Republican state senator drew 15 percent of the vote, the third highest total.

The celebrity won after recall of the Democratic Catholic incumbent, who was even more strongly pro-abortion. The Republican candidate then in this heavily Democratic state beat the incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor. Apparently the Republican celebrity candidate won by gaining votes across the spectrum, including the public support of the Democratic attorney general.

Robert E. McNulty
Palo Alto, Calif.

Authentic Iconography

As an Eastern Catholic, I was disturbed by the photographic essay Finding Christ in the Margins (11/3), by Edwina Gateley and Robert Lentz. Their use of iconographic styling mocks one of the most revered traditions of Eastern Catholicism. To the average Western Christian, these modernized icons may appear as interesting art, but to us of the East, they represent a corruption of the Gospel itself.

To us, icons are venerated at a level equal to the Gospel. Icons depict the Gospel in living color, and they cannot be brought up to date any more than the life and times of Jesus Christ. The image of Christ imprisoned within barbed wire, for example, reduces the actual life of Christ to myth; the message is important, the actuality is less so.

Even icons of saints are intended to demonstrate the internalization of the Gospel, the conversion of a man or a woman into the very image and likeness of Christ himself. This is not something that is open to individual interpretation. Rather, it is something that derives its origin from the tradition of the church and the consensus of all of the faithful. While, for example, Albert Einstein and Johann Sebastian Bach may have been very great people, they are not subjects for icons, since they have not been proclaimed saints, transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, by the church.

Iconographic themes are very highly regulated by the tradition of the church. They are not open to the artist’s individual interpretation. In fact, there is no room for individual expression. A true iconographer submits herself in humility and obedience. A true iconographer fears trivialization or misrepresentation. Perfection is the goal; approximation is an abomination.

Such perversion of iconography reduces it to a Western conception of sacred art. In the West, art is thought of as stimulating, interesting or even alarming, but never essential. Icons however, in our Eastern tradition, are what they depict. They actually share in the divine reality of that which is portrayed. In turn, they themselves are transforming and allow the viewer also to participate in this divinization process. Thus they are fundamental to our worship. They are fundamental to life itself.

(Deacon) John J. Petrus, M.D.
Richfield, Ohio

Peace and Sympathy

I read the article by George M. Anderson, S.J., Six Months in Iraq (11/3), which reported the experiences of a Catholic Worker in Baghdad, looking for signs that the Catholic Workers were relieved that the massacres perpetrated by the Hussein regime had finally ended. I expected these soulful peace activists to be sympathetic to the countless Iraqi families who were the victims of Saddam Hussein’s cruelties. After further reflection, however, I realized that they were being perfectly consistent with their founder, Dorothy Day, who felt the United States was wrong to go to war with Hitler.

Anthony L. Neves
Bethesda, Md.

No Nuclear Debate?

I was delighted to receive my first issue of America and find Nancy Small’s article, Is Nuclear Deterrence Still Moral? (9/29). Ms. Small had recently visited Memphis and led a retreat for the local chapter of Pax Christi USA. Her commitment to peace and her unwavering resolve to assist others in carrying out this aspect of our Christian social responsibility is both commendable and inspiring.

What perplexes me, however, is that her article seems to have drawn little response. I am convinced that the U.S. Catholic bishops must speak more forcefully on the direction that our nation has taken in its role as the only remaining superpower. I consider this direction to be a great deal less than Christian, and in fact, quite dangerous. The use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against nuclear as well as non-nuclear states is just another form of terrorism.

Mohandas Gandhi observed, The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians. Gandhi may have overstated his case, but there has been a dismal lack of serious discussion on the moral implications of military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reliance on a nuclear defense, as espoused in the Bush administration’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, its pursuit of a missile defense system at the cost of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and its increased funding and activities in locations such as Oak Ridge, Tenn., to create a new National Security Complex have met with a similar silence.

What concerns me is that this silence issues largely from the pulpits of our parish churches. As you pointed out in your recent editorial, The Bishops’ Platform (10/27), Pastors and preachers must make their congregations aware of Faithful Citizenship. They are the first line in educating the Catholic public about church teaching. So must our clergy remind the congregation of the bishops’ pastoral statements, like The Challenge of Peace (1983) and The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace (1993).

Dr. Helen Caldicott, in her recent book, The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush’s Military-Industrial Complex, quotes Albert Einstein: You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war. Surely this is the moral stance that Christ demands of us and is the voice our Catholic tradition should make heard in the current wilderness of world affairs.

William E. Sanders
Cordova, Tenn.

Functional Design

I would hope that the Rev. Richard S. Vosko (Building and Renovating Places of Worship, 11/3) would include in his recommendations for church design facilities for the use of modern media. Not to use computers and video displays in liturgies today is like speaking Swahili in downtown Cleveland. The builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stained-glass windows not just to add light and beauty to the buildings, but because the windows were also teaching aids.

Video display might be used to display the homilist’s outline as he preached, or at least the main thought of the homily. Hearing-impaired would be greatly aided, and we might even one day be able to eliminate the use of missalettes (ugh) and announcements, which so badly disfigure liturgy.

Modern commercial enterprises today construct buildings with a view to use for approximately 20 years, yet in the church we are still putting money into edifices that might be expected to last for many decades. Isn’t it time church planners considered projections of shifting demographics in planning new facilities? Constructing buildings designed to last for many decades also locks us out of future advances in technological media that could assist in proclaiming the Good News.

(Rev.) Joseph N. Sestito
Manlius, N.Y.

Facing the Future

Being intensely interested in Catholic Christian education, which I consider essential for the human being to attain to an acceptable minimum of civilization, I opened your special issue on Religious Education 2003 (9/27) with joyous anticipation. My joy was shortlived.

Your editorial Valiant Women told us that in the last 40 years the number of Catholic schools and their enrollments have dropped by 50 percent. That is more than 10 percent per annum. The decline is ongoing. Why? Because the schools of the past were staffed mostly by religious women, who worked a day and a half, seven days a week for nothing but minimal keep. Lay people cannot and will not do that.

The cost of running good quality Catholic schools that will accommodate all our Catholic children, not just a precious few, is simply out of reach. So our schools are closing one by one.

What can we do? We must go back to the bedrock of religious education in any time, in any land, in any religionthe temple and the home. For us, that is the Catholic family and the Catholic parish. The family authority and the parish authority must work together to catechize their children. That system is known as the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. There is no way that we can succeed without it.

(Rev.) Desmond Gill
Sun City Center, Fla.

Schools and Society

Though Tom Vander Ark, in New Educational Options (10/27), does offer insight on why certain schools are able to provide superior educational advantages to many students, he focuses largely on the motivated student. Students in the schools he described came from families who were interested in their children’s education and were willing to make sacrifices to support such education.

Though Mr. Vander Ark did allude to those students who were both less able and less motivated, his emphasis was on those who were achievers. Providing a superior curriculum for such students is the easy part. The far more difficult problem is the large number of underachieving and unmotivated students who come from families that either are not interested in their children’s education or distrust the educational establishment.

The schools cannot solve all of their problems alone. Profound changes in our society have imposed severe limits on the ability of schools to fulfill their traditional mission. To ignore these changes in society is folly. Until these social problems are addressed, most schools will struggle to provide even a minimal educational program.

Richard Strickland
Steilacoom, Wash.

An Inclusive Table?

Your editorial The Bishops’ Platform (10/27) sure caught my attention, but probably not for the reasons you intended. Early in the editorial you refer to the biblical image of the table,’ an image of inclusion. Not so. Not entirely.

The bishops use biblical imagery selectively. Their documents are peppered with such images, and very often they are one-liners taken out of context.

We Catholics do not have an inclusive table. You have to qualify. And hunger and thirst are not sufficient qualifications. A non-Catholic spouse, who faithfully attends Mass, contributes money, supports the social life of the parish but chooses or does not feel called to go through the ritual of Christian initiation and be baptized, cannot join the community and his or her partner at the eucharistic table.

Interfaith couples know this pain all too well, particularly when they see the vacuous eyes, the disinterested shuffle, the casual taking of the Eucharist by what appear to be uncatechized folks, who casually receive Communion, while the nonbaptized spouse cannot.

If the table were truly spread in love and charity, we would let the consumed Spirit do the work rather than worry so much about who comes forward.

Laverne Neuman
Spring Valley, Calif.

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