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Can of Sardines

I wish to comment on Immoral Bingeing by Terry Golway (10/18). I feel that I not only do have a right to complain about the price of gas with which I fill my gas-guzzling S.U.V., but I have a right to complain about the cost of my S.U.V., along with the cost of my pants, shirts and shoes. I have that right because I don’t have a say in what I drive. I am 6’ 4 and weigh 190 lbs. For the first nine years of my driving life, I drove Chevy Cavaliers and a Ford Tempo. They have the leg room and head room of a can of sardines. The same goes for those Hondas and Toyotas. It is not fair that I should have to buy an S.U.V., but they are the only vehicles made with a person slightly taller than average in mind. I really feel discriminated against by the fact that I cannot buy a cheaper car. The shorter people are catered to; the taller people aren’t. So I should not be put in the category of S.U.V. yuppies who don’t care how much gas they burn.

Matthew Toohill
Bradley, Ill.

We Made It

I was a Catholic, a Democrat and a Red Sox fan before I was born. It used to be that those three things easily went together as when we prayed for our president, John F. Kennedy, while I was in grammar school.

The Sunday before Election Day, I went to Mass at St. John’s Church in Front Royal, Va., in the Diocese of Arlington. I came away from that experience with two notions. First, I was told I was spending too much time reading the sports pages and not enough time thinking about God. So much for the Red Sox. I was also told, by the papers handed out after Mass, that I could not support a candidate for president who supported keeping abortion safe, legal and rare or was for stem cell research. So much for voting for John Kerry, the Catholic candidate, for president.

I was raised in the immigrant Catholic Church. During my youth, we Catholics were told by our parents to keep our heads down and our mouths shut about our religion. That is why John Kerry never easily talked about his faith during the campaign. He was taught, as I was, that religion was something you talked about in your parochial school or among family and Catholic friends. It was not something you trumpeted in public. Catholics, particularly New England Catholics, just didn’t do that.

With the election of John F. Kennedy, we Catholics made it in America. No longer did we have to live in the shadows in fear of attacks by the Know Nothings, whose heirs are the modern-day Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons. We could forget about the No Irish Need Apply signs and those who put them up.

So successful has the Catholic Church been in stamping out the memory of those bad old days, that it now joins the Falwells and Robertsons in a marriage of convenience, not to thwart the ambitions of Jews and Catholics, but to trample on the rights of women and our gay brothers and sisters.

In the election campaign of 2004, the Catholic Church once again played politicsand played it badly, if measured by the teachings of Jesus. Once again, the Catholic Church has been played for a sucker by every right-wing ideologue who professes to detest abortion while doing nothing to succor the homeless, sick, destitute or imprisoned. By placing abortion as the first among vastly unequal political issues, our church fathers have given us political leadership that imperils the soul of our nation. And I would note that in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, it is the nations that will be judged and that abortion never made it onto the Evangelist’s list of criteria.

The same church that denies full participation in church affairs to women and, in the Arlington Diocese, does not even allow little girls to serve at the altar, tells women that the most intimate and painful decision they will ever make will be taken out of their hands by the men of the church. Forgetting the oppression once visited upon Catholics, the church now wants to impose its will on millions of non-Catholics by force of the state.

When asked about faith during this year’s debates, President Bush said he favored a culture of life, words directly borrowed from Pope John Paul II. Indeed, we should have a culture of life, but we have a culture of death. President Bush contributed to that culture of death when he led the nation in executions of those on death row while governor of Texas. The Republican leadership contributes to a culture of death when it lavishes money upon the military and provides tax cuts for the super-rich while watching the gap between rich and poor in America continue to grow. The United States, once respected in the world as a protector of freedom, now contributes to a worldwide culture of death with an America-first, go-it-alone foreign policy based on the premise that we would rather be feared than admired.

This culture of death is what the Catholic Church has honored in urging its flock to adopt a political stance that puts abortion above all other concerns. As for those politicians who work every day to warn us that we are doomed if we do not pay attention to the Lazarus at our gates, if we do not heed Matthew’s criteria for the last judgmenton them the church has turned its back. The Catholic Church might have won this year, but Jesus did not.

Tom Howarth
Front Royal, Va.

To the Limits

The article by Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., reminiscing about Karl Rahner, S.J., (11/8) revived a personal memory from my seminary days in Rome about 30 years ago. My house job was to handle the ordering for the North American College bookstore.

The European publisher of Rahner’s Theological Investigations informed me that one of its volumes, already in circulation, had been misbound. I seem to recall that an entire fascicle was missing, and this was evident by a gap in the pagination. The publisher said that if I would call back the defective copies sold at the bookstore, they would be replaced, free of charge, with new, correctly bound ones.

As the many flawed books were returned, I could not resist checking the gap. Most of the owners had extensive underlining, highlighting, marginal notes, etc., from the bottom of the left-hand page through the top of the right-hand page. No reader had noticed the non sequitur caused by the missing fascicle.

In his recollections, Father O’Donovan observed, Karl strained language to its limits. In this instance, so did his readers.

(Rev.) Jerry Jecewiz
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Christian Humanism

I hugely enjoyed William J. Hoye’s appreciation of the work of Josef Pieper (11/8). I was lucky enough to be introduced to Pieper’s work as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, and luckier yet to hear him lecture. Surely he was the finest flower of European Catholic humanism, along with Romano Gurardini. No writer or thinker has been more important to me, none I continue to reread with more enthusiasm. In the 1970’s we corresponded, and he complainedrightlythat he felt his books were sequestered in reprints by minor Catholic publishers. In the 50’s, his heyday, he was published by the discerning emigrant Jewish publishing team of Helen and Kurt Wolff, at Pantheon. Helen told me Pieper was as festive in life as he was on the page: he hugely enjoyed Broadway musicals as well as good food and drink.

Hoye is surely right in remarking on Pieper’s lucid and economical style as an essayist. Pieper had Marxism in mind when he began his critique of work-driven societies, but as Hoye indicates, it has even more point as a critique of liberal capitalist societies in which an inhuman work ethic is internalized. Here’s hoping that in this centennial of Pieper’s birth, renewed interest in his writings will lead to a recovery of the Christian humanism he espousedand which we all so desperately need.

Kenneth L. Woodward
New York, N.Y.

Comments

Thomas M. Howard | 12/2/2004 - 9:58am
Last Human Freedom

The first human freedom, articulated by gas-guzzling, S.U.V. owner Matthew Toohill (12-06) is the right to complain. Toohill carps that Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and Toyota have discriminated against him and other tall individuals for manufacturing sardine-like cars. In an attempt to reassert his right to complain about high gas prices, Toohill takes exception at Terry Galoway’s piece, “Immoral Bingeing.” (10/8)

The last human freedom, articulated by concentration camp survivor Victor E. Frankel, is the capacity to choose one’s attitude in a given circumstance. Throughout his time at Auschwitz Frankel consistently chose faith over fury, integrity over indignation. These positive attitudes enabled him not only to survive, but later make a significant contribution to the discipline of psychology.

Jesus (who like Frankel was a devout Jew) once said, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” I believe it is high time we Catholic Americans reprioritize the hierarchy we have placed on our human freedoms. I stand with Golway’s “Immoral Bingeing.”

Thomas M. Howard | 12/2/2004 - 9:58am
Last Human Freedom

The first human freedom, articulated by gas-guzzling, S.U.V. owner Matthew Toohill (12-06) is the right to complain. Toohill carps that Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and Toyota have discriminated against him and other tall individuals for manufacturing sardine-like cars. In an attempt to reassert his right to complain about high gas prices, Toohill takes exception at Terry Galoway’s piece, “Immoral Bingeing.” (10/8)

The last human freedom, articulated by concentration camp survivor Victor E. Frankel, is the capacity to choose one’s attitude in a given circumstance. Throughout his time at Auschwitz Frankel consistently chose faith over fury, integrity over indignation. These positive attitudes enabled him not only to survive, but later make a significant contribution to the discipline of psychology.

Jesus (who like Frankel was a devout Jew) once said, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” I believe it is high time we Catholic Americans reprioritize the hierarchy we have placed on our human freedoms. I stand with Golway’s “Immoral Bingeing.”

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