Good Shepherds

Regarding your editorial “Lost Sheep” (3/17): How do we find those lost sheep? And how many more sheep do we lose before we figure out what to do and how to do it? A de-Christianized culture drives us to be even more effective than we have been in the past. We cannot presume that the Eucharist will magically speak for itself and that pabulum from the pulpit will satisfy. In 1982, the U.S. bishops called for a renewal of homiletics.

Most adult education comes through preaching. People in our church are frustrated. All they ask for is a 10-minute homily that inspires and music that hums in their heads on Monday. Can’t we at least do that? We as a church can do better. Whatever it takes to put the message of the Gospel into the words of the people, we should do it. The distant bleating of the sheep drives us to do so.

Karla Bellinger

Wadsworth, Ohio

Prodigal Children

I appreciate the insights of your editorial “Lost Sheep” (3/17), but the discussion of “non-denominational” or “unaffiliated” adults misses part of the story of Catholics who wander from their faith. Yes, the Pew Survey is probably right in showing that a sizable number of Americans leave the church of their childhood (or at least allow themselves to become inactive) as they discover the opposite sex, become overwhelmed by their work schedules, discover the wonders of modern science or fall into a sense of isolation. I remember how excited I was as a freshman in college when I first encountered all the wonders of Psychol-ogy 101. It had all the answers I could ever want—or at least I thought so for a while. It was years before I found myself back in the Catholic Church.

I also remember looking out at the congregation many years later, as a Catholic priest and the new pastor of a large church in San Diego, and seeing all the gray-haired people sitting in the pews and thinking to myself, “When these people die off, we will cease to exist as a church.” As the years went by, I discovered that new gray-haired people kept appearing in the congregation.

Your editorial suggests that the percentage of Catholics in the American population has held steady because of the influx of Catholic immigrants. My experience, especially during the special times of Lent, Holy Week and Christmas, tells me that there are other factors at work too, one of which is the large number of Catholics who come home after wandering around, rather like the lost sheep of which you speak.

(Rev.) Charles Fuld

San Diego, Calif.

Enough Was Enough

The editorial “Lost Sheep” (3/17) suggested that since roughly half of former Catholics (your term) now describe themselves as “unaffiliated,” the reason for their exodus might simply be apathy: “A number of Catholics, it seems, have left not because they do not believe, but because they do not care.”

I do not think that’s necessarily true. Many who took the Second Vatican Council seriously, and were empowered and inspired by it, now face a stampede back to the Council of Trent, along with a return to hyperclericalism and the arrogant diminishment of intelligent, committed laypeople at exactly the time when they are most needed. They can be likened to spouses in an abusive marriage; when they finally and sadly leave, it is not because they don’t care but because they care too much. They have been made homeless. Some find a home in another denomination; others will always think of themselves as Catholic but choose not to subject themselves (or their checkbooks) to the control of those who do not have their best interests at heart.

It is not the sheep who are lost.

M. D. Ridge

Norfolk, Va.

Ancient Faiths

In “A Federal Solution for Iraq?” (3/3), Richard J. Regan, S.J., discusses the partition of Iraq into three autonomous regions: Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab and Kurd. There is one major problem with this suggestion: These three are not the only groups within the present-day boundaries of Iraq. There are also Christians, many of whom are not Arabs but descendants of the Assyrians, who still identify themselves as Assyrian. These communities are probably the oldest continuously existing churches in Christendom.

In 2004 a federation of the three dominant ethnic and religious groups might have been possible. Since then the many incidents of Muslims attacking Christians have made it clear to the Christians that they can trust neither Arabs nor Kurds. Half the Christian population has left the country, and churches have been burned and bombed.

We have an obligation to protect Christians and other minority populations in Iraq, since it was our unjustified invasion and destruction of their country that has caused so much suffering and death. The situation now threatens the extinction of these ancient Christian churches and the genocide of their people.

Elisabeth M. Tetlow

New Orleans, La.

Hidden Treasures

Many thanks to Karen Sue Smith for writing about the spiritual power of art in “Artful Contemplation” (3/3). She likens that power to “music keenly heard.” If only fine art and music were known and valued by more of those Catholics who plan our liturgies! Do seminaries have courses in art and music appreciation and history? It seems to me that the church’s treasures in the arts are generally unknown and neglected, at least in the United States. I hope to see more articles on this topic.

Bea Isaak

Oakland, Calif.

Not So Fast

Reading “A Plea for Civility,” by Terry Golway (3/24), I was struck by his praise for William F. Buckley Jr. Am I the only reader of America old enough to remember the remarkable televised exchange between Buckley and Gore Vidal at the 1968 Democratic convention, in which Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and Buckley responded by threatening to punch Vidal in the face?

Why do I find it so hard to see Buckley as a champion of respectful intellectual discourse?

Richard J. Salvucci

San Antonio, Tex.

Missing Persons

In “Lessons From an Extraordinary Era” (3/17), Roger Haight, S.J., omitted the two most influential Catholic theologians of the past 50 years: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger.

(Rev.) Joseph M. Hennessey

Braintree, Mass.

Cart Before Horse

One of the statements made in “Lessons From an Extraordinary Era” particularly raised my eyebrows. Father Haight suggested at the conclusion of his article that “new times and new theologies call for new forms of spirituality.” However, one of the most important lessons that can be taken from the postconciliar church is indeed the opposite of his statement. New spiritualities require theologians to re-examine assumptions and long-held forms of theology. As the church moves forward in its theological journey, we must be ever aware of new organic approaches to God first, rather than new methods by which we might study a seemingly almighty and infinite God.

Matthew Janeczko

Alexandria, Va.

Reflecting Tensions

Thank you for publishing the article by Roger Haight, S.J. (3/17). His article includes many of the church theologians who have been silenced or censured by the Vatican; he himself has suffered from this. The tensions reflected in the Vatican’s concern for “orthodoxy” and the argument in Dominus Iesus against “relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism” could have been explored as well.

David Jackson

Edinburg, Tex.

Consumer Choices

While I agree with Daniel Callahan (“Curbing Medical Costs,” 3/10) that universal health care would demand a culture change in the United States, I take issue with the characterization of Americans as having a health obsession. If that is the case, how does one explain our overwhelming rates of obesity, promiscuity and substance abuse? As a registered nurse working in acute-care hospitals for three decades, my observation has been that Americans are obsessed with the avoidance of the inconvenience of disease, its symptoms and its impact on their lifestyles. In all the discussions of universal health care, no mention is ever made of the consumers’ responsibility for stewardship of health care resources.

Americans have a sense that the health care purse is inexhaustible and that their “right” to health care is limitless. This culture and mind-set will need to undergo a metamorphosis before universal health care can be solvent.

Barbara Sirovatka

Brookfield, Ill.

The Cost of Coal

I was glad to read your editorial “King Coal” (3/3), which addressed the issue of mountaintop removal in central Appalachia. This important subject deserves more attention. Mountaintop removal has despoiled some of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world, diverse not just in animal species but in plants that may have a variety of medicinal uses to ease human suffering. Further, mountaintop removal produces huge toxic sludge basins full of mining waste that hover over valleys and hollows. Unless they are cleaned up, they threaten the loss of human lives and additional environmental harm.

Reclaiming the forest and mountains of Central Appalachia will be no easy task. Full reclamation may take years and millions if not billions of dollars, but America needs to be aware that such is the high cost of our low-priced, coal-fired electricity.

Mary Ciavarri

Rochester, N.Y.

Poetic License

Your issue of 3/17 contained a real gem in the poem “Old Age,” by Sr. Patricia Schnapp, R.S.M. In sharing her gift she gives a lift to our spirits. I have made numerous copies to distribute!

Jeanne B. Dillon

Summit, N.J.

Ordinary People

After reading “Shadows in Prayer,” by James Martin, S.J. (3/17), I felt like the biblical character in the Temple saying, “Lord, I am thankful I’m not like them.” Maybe those of us who always have some doubts but do not suffer from darkness, dryness, disbelief, depression, desolation and despair are lucky. Maybe not being a saint isn’t so bad after all.

P.S. I drink during Lent.

Quentin Sturm

Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Comments

JIM MCCREA | 4/6/2008 - 4:46pm
Fr. Charles Fuld comments in his letter (April 14, 2008) that people leave the church of their childhood in their early years when, among other things, they discover the opposite sex. There are many of us who discovered the same sex and, whether we wanted to stay or not, we felt no invitation to do so,but even the opposite, so we also left. Very few of us returned. Those who came back did so after coming to an acceptance of what James Thurber said: Do not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.
CAROL MURPHY | 4/5/2008 - 4:14pm
The letter writers in the Mar 31 issue as usual always give me a new perspective on the issues discussed. I love this magazine for giving me nourishment lacking in the many dailies I eagerly consume. Thank you for the thoughtful/irritating/hilarious reader responses. It is the first section I seek. Also, as a leader of one of our parish small church communities which meets biweekly, I share the coming liturgical commentaries with our group. I think that some members are now subscribing to America.

Recently in Letters