This letter has been a long time coming. I’ve often wanted to write to you, having read America for over 40 years. The Word column has been an integral part of my preparation for Sunday Mass. At times I’ve known the authors personally. Of all the authors in the intervening years, Sister Dianne Bergant’s words have most resonated with me. My wife, Louise, and I appreciate her work more than words can convey. I’ve read every word since the first installment; they have been an inspiration for my desire to learn how to pray.
The culminating incentive to write is to share with you a story that any writer would like to hear. We are cafeteria Catholics who seek out the best liturgy and preaching. Our favorite homilist on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time began his sermon with a question: Can you hear me now? (1/17). He began with the advertisement and proceeded to make the sermon his own. The other church we attend is staffed by Dominican priests. A prayer group I’m in at that church closed the meeting on the following Wednesday with the leader quoting the beginning of that pastor’s sermon for the previous Sunday: Can you hear me now? Sister Dianne, regrettably, may not be allowed to preach officially in a Catholic church, but her message is sure getting through in other ways.
The Feb. 7 issue of America had the expected articles of interest, including a scholarly piece on John Courtney Murray, S.J., and an equally fascinating look at the Index of Forbidden Books (something that I remember largely ignoring in my years at Brooklyn Preparatory and Fordham). Who knew that English was a barbarian language? As such (in the eyes of the dominant Jesuits and Dominicans), most works written in English were not examined. Holden Caulfield was safe!
Two other pieces in this issue seized my interest: Phyllis Zagano’s thought-provoking look at the recent decision by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church to restore the female diaconate and, for an analogous reason, the advertisement on page 46 for the Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University.
Dr. Zagano’s article, along with her book on the restoration of the diaconate in the Roman Church, would certainly (apart from language) have met the criteria for the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. If for no other reason, it should be required reading.
The Seton Hall message reminded me that well into the 1960’s, when the only female students at The Hall were in the College of Nursing, the university took steps to protect their seminarians from the temptation supposedly posed by the nursing students. The library was open to the young ladies only for certain hours, presumably those hours during which the seminarians would be otherwise occupied. Additionally, lunch was supervised by an elderly cleric in a black cape, who carefully but forcefully herded the young women into a designated, single-sex area of the dining hall, muttering comments about daughters of Satanthe New Jersey equivalent of segregated lunch counters.
My visceral reaction to the advertisement was wondrous amazement that the stated contact person for the Seminary School of Theology is the associate dean, Dr. Diane Traflet. Irony aside, Bob Dylan (who no doubt would be banned by the Index if the inquisitors could understand him) was right: The times they are a-changing.
Thomas I. Hayes
St. Petersburg, Fla.
I write regarding United in Protest, by Caitlin Becker (2/7). I have never understood the reasoning behind this protest and have never seen any concrete proof (and I have read all that is offered) that the United States trains soldiers from Latin America to commit atrocities, even though some of those who are trained in the United States are so accused.
The reasoning would be the same if the institutions where Catholic priests are trained were demonstrated against because some priests abuse children. The Jesuits really need to justify this continued protest, if it is not to be seen, as it is now by many, as simple anti-American politics.
David H. Lukenbill
I consider the annual protests demanding the closing of the School of the Americas to be wrongheaded and unjust (United in Protest, (2/7). The manipulation of thousands of callow, malleable adolescents by faculty members of Jesuit schools is unconscionable and would make any thinking parent uneasy about the prospect of sending one to a Jesuit school.
Finally a positive article in a Catholic mainstream publication about women deacons, Grant Her Your Spirit, by Phyllis Zagano (2/7). I hope this reinvigorates dialogue about ordaining deaconesses and the way wives of deacons are all too frequently treated as second-class citizens in the church.
(Deacon) Thomas E. Brandlin
Los Angeles, Calif.
Phyllis Zagano presents for our consideration the fact that the Orthodox churches are re-establishing the female diaconate as an ordained ministry (Grant Her Your Spirit, 2/7). She is obviously in favor of this trend, even though the historical evidence is still a matter of question. She peppers her essay with a few jabs at the Roman Catholic Church for not instituting a female diaconate. These jabs wax poetic in her final paragraph when she states that despite the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to say yes to the restoration of the female diaconate as an ordained ministry of the Catholic Church, it cannot say no. But after reading her article I couldn’t help wonder if the Orthodox churches might better spend their efforts, with a few jabs from Ms. Zagano, re-establishing another ministry they lackthe papacy, established by Christ himself as the hallmark of his church.