Homiletic Material

As a baby priest, age 58 and three-and-a-half years ordained, I am constantly on the lookout for homiletic material. Frequently a Faith in Focus or Of Many Things column fits the bill. As a case in point, the neighborly exchange of keys related by James Martin, S.J., in the latter on Jan. 17 struck a familiar chord. Last summer, after locking myself out of the old family house, I was rescued by such a key, which my mother, deceased over six years, had entrusted many, many years ago to a neighbor. After Mom’s death, I had thought about retrieving the key but never followed through. Good thing I didn’t! Of course, much more than keys are involved. I sense a future Christmas homily in the works here. Perhaps theosis in the exchange of house keys between neighbors?

(Rev.) Edward Kolla
Gloucester, N.J.

Unthinkable

In his brilliantly argued article, a model of clarity and balance, Prudence and Eucharistic Sanctions (1/31), Msgr. Robert W. McElroy identifies the bottom line in the battle over abortion: seeking to convert minds and hearts to the dignity of the human person. Lacking such interior conversion, all legal measures in defense of life, however important in themselves, will be of little use.

Among the many battles for hearts and minds in our country’s history, the one closest to that over abortion is the pre-Civil War controversy over slavery. In his book A Private Choice (1979), John T. Noonan shows the chilling parallels between the pro-slavery arguments and legal tactics in the 1850’s and those of pro-choice people today. Today we are ashamed of slavery. When abortion becomes as unthinkable for Americans as slavery now is, the battle will have been won. How long that will take, no one can know. What is certain is that whatever delays that day must be rejected. Whatever hastens it must be embraced, even at the cost of alienating courageous champions of the pro-life cause whose zeal sometimes clouds their judgment.

(Rev.) John Jay Hughes
St. Louis, Mo.

Tragic Fact

Your article Prudence and Eucharistic Sanctions, by Msgr. Robert W. McElroy (1/31), ought to be required reading for our bishops and an early meeting topic for them. The frequency of abortions in this country is a tragic fact of national life which, as the author states so convincingly, requires a clear response by our bishops solidly based on good theology and so carefully thought out that its effectiveness is practically assured. I fervently hope that this will be the ultimate fruit of the McElroy article.

John Ward
Baltimore, Md.

Prophetic Role

I read with appreciation Msgr. Robert W. McElroy’s wise (and prudent) article about the imposition of eucharistic sanctions (1/31). In his list of unintended consequences, he focuses on the impact of such sanctions on the church’s prophetic role in public discourse, on the pro-life movement and on the church’s ability to speak (or to be heard) on the entire range of social justice issues that demand its attention.

I would add to his list the impact such sanctions may have on our understanding of the Eucharist itself. The Eucharist is a gift: one that none of us deserves but that all of us need. Imposing sanctions around such a gift may seem to reduce it to a perk of paid-up membership, or worse, to something we could presume to earn or deserve. As Bishop John F. Kinney of St. Cloud wrote to his people in a profoundly pastoral letter last May, the prayer we all say as part of the Communion rite is Oh Lord, I am not worthy.’ It does not say, Oh Lord, my neighbor is not worthy.’

If we truly believe in the transformative power of the overwhelming gift of the Eucharist, we would, it seems to me, be especially eager to join around the table with those we feel most need a change of heart. The Eucharist is not merely a sign of unity; it is a source of unity as well.

Imposing sanctions on reception of the Eucharist brings us perilously close to the situation of the character in Luke’s Gospel, so convinced of his own righteousness that he prayed, O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity. We need to remember that Jesus tells us that person went home satisfied, but not justified.

George M. Miller
Reading, Mass.

Implicated in Outrage

Your editorial From Terror to Torture (1/31) was a much-needed reminder of the shocking scandal that seems to have faded from our collective memory after the initial horror we all felt after the revelations about Abu Ghraib. Much to my dismay, this was not pursued by Democrats as a significant failure of the Bush administration. It alienated the Iraqi people and encouraged the insurgents while destroying any pretense that we held the moral high ground. For me this is an issue of values, right up there with abortion and gay marriage, as well as many other social justice concerns not addressed by either party in the election campaign.

We must let our senators know how we feel about the confirmation of Alberto Gonzalez. Let’s act as if we still believed in democracy, and take responsibility by making our voice of protest heard. Otherwise we too are implicated in this outrage.

Phyllis L. Townley
New York, N.Y.

In Harm’s Way

Rarely have I written a letter to an editor, but I felt constrained to do so after reading The Iraq War and Imperial Psychology, by Tom Beaudoin (1/17). At the outset let me state that I grieve over the maiming and loss of life of both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. My daily prayer is that hostilities will shortly end and the Iraqi people will finally live in peace and freedom.

Nonetheless, I am troubled by Mr. Beaudoin’s article, as he neglects to mention the barbarism of the terrorists who are targeting and killing numerous Iraqi citizens every day so as to intimidate them into submission. While the U.S. policy has certainly been less than perfect, targeting civilians for execution is not nor has it been an instrument of U.S. policy.

Further, Mr. Beaudoin’s standard that noncombatants have no right to support the war unless they would volunteer to send their most beloved family member over there to die is a spurious premise that is reminiscent of a scene from Fahrenheit 9/11. It seems reasonable to assume that when people volunteer for service in the Armed Forces, they recognize and accept the fact that during their tour of duty, they might indeed be placed in harm’s way.

Finally, what about the more than 300,000 Iraqi citizens who were tortured, raped and murdered during Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror. Should we not also grieve for them? Although Mr. Beaudoin does not state that we ought to withdraw immediately from Iraq, it seems implicit in his article that he espouses such a deadly course. Let me ask him how many victims he would be willing to accept as his responsibility after we abandon the Iraqis to the terrorists?

Joseph C. Hilly
Calabasas, Calif.

Protect the Population

I am not an expert on imperial psychology, but maybe I can supply Tom Beaudoin, the author of The Iraq War and Imperial Psychology (1/17), with information he has not been able to obtain from the media. The majority of Iraqi casualties have been killed by insurgents, not Americans. Many of our casualties result from an attempt to protect the population. Where is the outrage at killing of civilians, not only in Iraq but in New York, Madrid, Bali, etc.? Where is the outrage at the millions killed by Saddam Hussein?

It may have been a mistake to send our military to Iraq; only time will tell. But were our motivations wrong? Since we are there, would it be more responsible to leave or to stay and attempt to bring some form of stability? Is not responsibility a correct response to imperial psychology?

Joe Bliss
Matawan, N.J.

Freedom From Tyranny

Tom Beaudoin, in The Iraq War and Imperial Psychology (1/17), proposes a false dialectic and offers a narrow and very selective form of compassion. He is right to point out the human reality that what we do not see we do not grieve. He hurts for the innocent civilians killed in the Iraq war, without referring to the mass graves of women and children murdered by Saddam’s terrorist regime. He laments how Americans shield their conscience from the loss of Iraqi lives in the war, but seems unable to lend his sensitivity to the suffering of the Iraqis under Saddam’s regime, the random rapes, executions and tortures. Did he suffer for these people before the war? He fails to acknowledge that nearly half of the United Nations’ estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths (between 14,000 and 17,000) were the result of terrorist insurgentsfellow Arabs, not Americans.

Beaudoin preaches that nobody can support the war in good conscience unless he or she is willing to send a beloved family member to die in Iraq. Note to Mr. Beaudoin: It’s an all volunteer military. Nobody sends a family member to serve. Those serving in Iraq volunteered for what is arguably the noblest of callingsto have such love for the causes of freedom and justice that they would lay down their lives so others may know such freedom.

As a military veteran, wife of a military man and a Catholic minister who feels deeply committed to promoting democracy in the Middle East, I’m weary of liberal Catholics pontificating on the evils of America. Most of the free world today is free because Americans at some point were willing to die for such a cause. There can be no peace until justice (i.e., the rule of law, self-governance) is established, and there will never be justice without first winning for others their freedom from tyranny.

Angie Vogt
Federal Way, Wash.

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