The National Catholic Review
Challenging Times

In his article Is This Transparency? (5/16), Russell Shaw asks whether the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is operating in a public and transparent manner. He suggests the answer may be no. Unfortunately, I think the answer is a definite yes.

Could it be possible that the secrecy of the American bishops is not really an effort to hold on to power, but rather an indication that they may very well have little or none in the first place? The danger of doing business in public is that people must take stands and give reasons for their positions. A plenary council or even a synod would have to address some of the serious problems facing the American churchfor example: the shortage of priests, the status of women, of divorced Catholics and of gay men and women in the church, and the role of Catholic politicians in a pluralistic society. The list could go on and on.

As Mr. Shaw indicates, however, according to canon law, plenary councils are held at the discretion of the pope, and their decisions are subject to papal approval. Can you imagine the leadership of the American church openly discussing these issues and taking stands knowing that their actions would undergo review by a higher authority with the possibility of a public rejection of their positions?

The situation, therefore, may be more transparent than we’d like. We know as lay Catholics that ecclesiastically we have no power. Now we have a pretty good idea that the leaders of the American church are powerless as well. Where are the courageous shepherds of the past: St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Augustine of Hippo? These are challenging times for us all.

F. Philip Johnston
Fountain Valley, Calif.

Think in the Church

The article Little Gray Cells, by James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., (5/30) was a delight and bolsters those of us who still think in the church (and we are many). To have belief also means to question so that one understands more clearly. To be loyal means to challenge, not simply to follow blindly. Thanks for articulating the need to be adult in our faith.

Pat Knuth
Waukesha, Wis.

So Obvious

The most appalling thing about Little Gray Cells, by James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., (5/30) is that his points need to be spelled out at all. In any other circles, the need to use one’s brain would be so obvious that it would go without saying. Among our self-styled guardians of orthodoxy, however, the obvious is frequently less than clear, and they often appear to want us to remain as children in our thinkingin contradiction to (among others) St. Paul himself.

So Father DiGiacomo’s arguments, unnecessary though they ought to be, unfortunately need to be made over and over again, until their truth begins to sink in.

Congratulations to him, and congratulations to you for publishing it.

Nicholas Clifford
New Haven, Vt.

Misguided Loyalty

I compliment James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., on his very fine article (5/30). His comments are excellent, but more importantly, he said some things that needed to be said. Too many people feel that any dissent from the official church is wrong, and too many of the hierarchy in the United States have placed misguided loyalty ahead of the sensus fidelium.

Dissent is not a lack of faith but a sign of a healthy church. A hierarchy that can accept dissent, reflect on it and carry on discussion to pursue it further is a healthy hierarchy. Loyalty is an admirable virtue, but not to the detriment of a viable, collaborative church.

James E. Michaletz, C.S.V.
Bourbonnais, Ill.

Road of Doubt

I wonder if the editors of America will ever face the reality that it is devilishly easy to raise challenges against what the church teaches but fiercely difficult to understand and accept what is presented. For instance, the church speaks of one God. How much more painless to be open and inclusive and welcome all the gods people may chance to worship? The Lord Jesus says that marriage is permanent. How much more attractive to hold that it is a contract subject to contract law that easily allows termination?

The church preaches that the Mass is a true sacrifice of the truly present Christ. How much easier to say that it is a memorial service, such as we have every Memorial Day? After all, we all know how to run a Memorial Day parade.

Would there ever be a chance that James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., might use the splendid supply of gray cells that he clearly has to help us see the wisdom of what the church teaches (5/30)? Must Catholic thinkers always push us to walk down the road of doubt? It is a well-lit path, but does it lead to life?

Frank R. Haig, S.J.
Baltimore, Md.

Cogent Clarity

As a frequent reader of America since 1956, I must say that Dennis O’Brien’s article, No to Abortion, is surely one of the most cogent and timely articles, that I have read. Dennis O’Brien is serving the church through writing that brings clarity and understanding to the truths of our faith. His suggestions for clarifying the complexity of moral issues involved in abortion decisions sheds light and hope, much needed in our time. Thanks again to America.

Dorothy Simpson, S.N.J.M.
Los Angeles, Calif.

Obfuscation

I have never read such a poorly researched and reasoned article in any serious magazine, let alone America, as Dennis O’Brien’s No to Abortion (5/30). To extend his ignorance of his subject for over 3,000 words was a colossal waste of space. On the other hand, if obfuscation of the abortion situation in the church and the country was his objective, he did well.

Joseph J. Reilly Jr.
Waltham, Mass.

Policy Consensus

As a retired lawyer who spent much of his professional career in the public policy arena, I applaud Dennis O’Brien for his article No to Abortion (5/30) and America for publishing his timely message. After years of repeal Roe sloganeering, it is high time someone pointed out the urgent need that will rise for a nuanced, pastorally sensitive policy (not posture), should that dream ever come true. The debate would move immediately to the 50 state legislatures and trigger a culture war like none we have yet seen. I see no signs that the church is ready for such an event. I hope against hope that we are capable of coming together in the sort of policy consensus for which O’Brien calls.

Martin Connor
Jacksonville, Fla.

Fulcrum

The contribution of the St. Louis Jesuits is not completely negative, but it turned the development of new music for Catholic worship in a direction that has proved to be a disaster (Sing a New Song, by Jim McDermott, S.J., 5/30). Dan Schutte and his friends caught on to something importantemphasis on Scriptureand pushed, by example, the new music of their day away from its touchy-feely essence back to a focus on Christ. But musically speaking, they are amateurs, and their popularityowing largely to a lack of alternativessent the entire enterprise of music for worship into a tailspin of overwhelming dominance of amateurs and hacks.

Because musical standards did not seem to matterafter all, weren’t the St. Louis Jesuits popular?no other standards seemed to matter either. The long-term consequence has been a devolution to the supremacy of attempts at music that fail to meet most reasonable musical or liturgical standards. The St. Louis Jesuits were not totally responsible for the mess we are in, but their popularity was the fulcrum on which our 30-year pilgrimage to musical and liturgical incompetence turned.

Robert P. Burke
Bexley, Ohio

Such a Feat

I write about the essay by Jim McDermott, S.J., Sing a New Song (5/30). Frankly, I have long believed that the St. Louis Jesuits did more harm than good to the American church with their music. They produced liturgical music that was of poor quality and negatively influenced the American church in those early post-Vatican II years. The St. Louis Jesuits were sheer amateurs, with very little musical preparation. They were still in college, studying philosophy and theology. In just a few years, they cranked out hundreds of hymns. How is that possible? Not even the greatest composers in the world could perform such a feat. A good hymn is a work of art. I have found that too many of their hymns are hard to sing, because they don’t have singable melodies that one loves to hum. There is a disconnect between our modern Catholic composers and the people in the pews. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church in America does not have a tradition of people composing beautiful, singable hymns like the Germans, French and Italians. The church in America is suffering from a dearth of good modern hymns.

Gino Dalpiaz
Stone Park, Ill.

Comments

Mary Margaret Flynn | 7/6/2005 - 7:04pm
Liturgical music; I loved reading about the St. Louis Jesuits, I just ordered most of their CDs from Oregon Publishing because my tapes are woren out and I laugh about discussions of liturgical music. Ah the diversity of it, the absolute magnificence of all the different sounds, in all the different languages. I wonder what the chants in the 0-900s sounded like. I have a special recording that reports to be the kind of music Jesus might have heard as He was among us. What is the saying--all who sing, pray twice. I praise God for the talent, creativity and sounds of the St Louis Jesuits. I sing and pray with their CDs and love to sing, mostly by memory now, when our parish chooses one of their songs even if the babies are crying and we are out of tune. God creates all kinds of music through us from all kinds of cultures and times and let us sing as often as we can.

Richard Leahy | 6/24/2005 - 10:15am
I am tempted to refute the claims made by Robert Burke and Gino Dalpiaz in their replies to Jim McDermott's article on the St. Louis Jesuits (6/20-27). But I realize that disputing musical taste or arguing about the relative merits of songs written by "amateurs" or "professionals" is futile.

I agree that many of the songs published these days are not good; they are downers or are hard to sing or have vacuous texts. Some of them drown in too may words. But there is also a lot of good new material out there.

What it comes down to is not the uneven quality of contemporary liturgical music, but the quality of choices made by parish music directors. Any parish that subscribes to one of the major liturgical publishers has a wealth of material to choose from, both traditional and contemporary. The parish music director(s) is (are) ultimately responsible for the quality of the music used, and for being sensitive to the different cultures (not just ethnic) present at different liturgies.

Of course, it also comes down to the quality of the musicians. I have sometimes known the same song to sound dismal when led by one group, and beautiful and singable when led by another.

John W. Crossin, OSFS | 6/10/2005 - 8:04pm
Dear Editors:

A missing element in James DiGiacomo’s “Little Gray Cells” is reflection on the public nature of ministry. The priest, and the lay minister as well, has chosen to be a public minister in communion with the church. I recall that at ordination I promised the ordinary “obedience and respect.”

I find most priests, whether young or old, to be thoughtful and sensitive. “Critical thinking” is not limited to a single age group. The results of such thinking can go in rather different directions, however.

The public minister’s allegiance is not first of all to his or her own opinion. Those who minister in the name of the church need to explain its teaching publicly in effective ways—or remain silent.

Rev. William J. O'Donnell | 7/3/2005 - 6:31pm
I applaud you for printing the two letters on June 26 critical of the St. Louis Jesuits. It speaks for your ability to live with more than one opinion. However, I hope that Robert Blake and Gino Dalpiaz can find a church still using Ray Repp's music. That may help them appreciate the St. Louis Jesuits! Both letters stunk of snobbery and elitism that is not "catholic" in any meaningful sense of the word.

I enjoy listening to Gregorian chant, Eastern chants, Irish rebel and folk songs, and, yes the St. Louis Jesuits. I also like the Dameans, and many other composers, popular, classical, etc. Our two "highbrow" brothers will just have to tolerate "the masses" at Mass!

Thanks to Jim McDermott for an interesting article, and to Tom Reese for several years of excellent editorship!

Patricia J. Corkery, R.S.M. | 2/16/2007 - 3:55pm
I have been an America fan for many years and am delighted to have a subscription. Yes, I read it eagerly as each issue arrives.

Then I came to the last two letters in the June 20 issue—very negative responses on the St. Louis Jesuits’ contribution to church music. It is the total opposite of my reaction to their contribution to the liturgical life of the church.

As an 83-year-old Sister of Mercy with a degree in liturgical music, I delighted in and welcomed this music into the wondrous celebration of liturgical and personal prayer. A lover of Gregorian Chant and polyphony, I am deeply aware that church music must not be a performance, but a gathering of the people into a community of love and celebration. Times change; culture adapts. I am delighted at any time to revel in classics, gifts of the past, but I also yearn that the celebration of God-love may be heard and sung right from the heart of those gathered. Every era has special gifts to share.

Let me give one simple example. In 1983 my community gathered to affirm, celebrate and send our first sisters to a new apostolate in Peru. The St. Louis Jesuits’ “Here I Am, Lord” was a blessed and powerful choice:

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling through the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my hand.

It sings/plays the moment so intimately.

John W. Crossin, OSFS | 6/10/2005 - 8:04pm
Dear Editors:

A missing element in James DiGiacomo’s “Little Gray Cells” is reflection on the public nature of ministry. The priest, and the lay minister as well, has chosen to be a public minister in communion with the church. I recall that at ordination I promised the ordinary “obedience and respect.”

I find most priests, whether young or old, to be thoughtful and sensitive. “Critical thinking” is not limited to a single age group. The results of such thinking can go in rather different directions, however.

The public minister’s allegiance is not first of all to his or her own opinion. Those who minister in the name of the church need to explain its teaching publicly in effective ways—or remain silent.

Rev. William J. O'Donnell | 7/3/2005 - 6:31pm
I applaud you for printing the two letters on June 26 critical of the St. Louis Jesuits. It speaks for your ability to live with more than one opinion. However, I hope that Robert Blake and Gino Dalpiaz can find a church still using Ray Repp's music. That may help them appreciate the St. Louis Jesuits! Both letters stunk of snobbery and elitism that is not "catholic" in any meaningful sense of the word.

I enjoy listening to Gregorian chant, Eastern chants, Irish rebel and folk songs, and, yes the St. Louis Jesuits. I also like the Dameans, and many other composers, popular, classical, etc. Our two "highbrow" brothers will just have to tolerate "the masses" at Mass!

Thanks to Jim McDermott for an interesting article, and to Tom Reese for several years of excellent editorship!

Mary Margaret Flynn | 7/6/2005 - 7:04pm
Liturgical music; I loved reading about the St. Louis Jesuits, I just ordered most of their CDs from Oregon Publishing because my tapes are woren out and I laugh about discussions of liturgical music. Ah the diversity of it, the absolute magnificence of all the different sounds, in all the different languages. I wonder what the chants in the 0-900s sounded like. I have a special recording that reports to be the kind of music Jesus might have heard as He was among us. What is the saying--all who sing, pray twice. I praise God for the talent, creativity and sounds of the St Louis Jesuits. I sing and pray with their CDs and love to sing, mostly by memory now, when our parish chooses one of their songs even if the babies are crying and we are out of tune. God creates all kinds of music through us from all kinds of cultures and times and let us sing as often as we can.

Richard Leahy | 6/24/2005 - 10:15am
I am tempted to refute the claims made by Robert Burke and Gino Dalpiaz in their replies to Jim McDermott's article on the St. Louis Jesuits (6/20-27). But I realize that disputing musical taste or arguing about the relative merits of songs written by "amateurs" or "professionals" is futile.

I agree that many of the songs published these days are not good; they are downers or are hard to sing or have vacuous texts. Some of them drown in too may words. But there is also a lot of good new material out there.

What it comes down to is not the uneven quality of contemporary liturgical music, but the quality of choices made by parish music directors. Any parish that subscribes to one of the major liturgical publishers has a wealth of material to choose from, both traditional and contemporary. The parish music director(s) is (are) ultimately responsible for the quality of the music used, and for being sensitive to the different cultures (not just ethnic) present at different liturgies.

Of course, it also comes down to the quality of the musicians. I have sometimes known the same song to sound dismal when led by one group, and beautiful and singable when led by another.

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