Conservative Cafeterianism

Thank you for two essays in your recent issue: “Remembering Justice,” by Peter Henriot, S.J., and “Blessed Are the Rich,” by John Kavanaugh, S.J. (11/14). Kavanaugh points out George Weigel’s consistent attempt to minimalize and “denigrate” Catholic social teaching on social justice with his trivializing comments on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace statement on the economy and Pope Benedict’s “Caritas in Veritate.” Weigel is not alone. Inner circles in the Vatican are complicit, as in their attempt to push into oblivion the 1971 “Justice in the World.” In both American conservative and Vatican voices, cafeteria Catholicism is alive and well.

Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M.Conv.

St. Louis, Mo.

Which Truth Is Central?

I am fascinated by the response of the Austrian bishops in the Signs of the Times report “Laypeople May Not Say Mass” (11/28). To what central truth of our Catholic faith do they refer? I have thought that the central truth is the death and resurrection of Christ. The implication of the story is that only ordained priests can preside at Mass and that this is a central truth. One doubts that the apostolic church was blessed with seminaries and ordained priests in every community of worship among those Jews who followed Jesus as the Messiah in the first century. But they celebrated Mass at those gatherings.

J. H. Keffer, M.D.

Murphy, N. C.

Get Out of the Kitchen

I read “Laypeople May Not Celebrate Mass” with great reflection. The church in Austria and its Christians should exercise what we call reverential dialogue. It is coming together as a family to resolve challenges. The church is not the bishops. It is the people, but they have their own leaders.

In the basic theology of the church, the laity count; their presence is significant; they should lead in the transformation, cooperate with the ecclesial structures and attain a self-discovery about their role in the church.

Once the Austrian faithful discover that they are not alone, they will see themselves in the universal church. It is important to listen to the bishops and support them. They are mere servants and have to represent Christ’s Gospel, which may be perceived as outdated in the modern world. As the saying goes, if you can’t resist the smoke in the kitchen, don’t be choked; get out into the open air. Then you can see what needs to be done inside.

Nyamunga Joseph

Nairobi, Kenya

Defending Israel

Re your editorial “War Is Not An Option” (11/28): Just as Egypt’s government was taken unaware by the Arab Spring, as the Soviet Union surprised us by collapsing at our feet, and as Israel was stunned by the overnight disappearance of the regional balance on which it depended, so too our congresspeople, looked down upon by 80 percent of our population, are deluded in the belief that we are prepared to defend Israel with the bodies of our sons.

The day our sons and daughters are drafted to defend Israel, whose existence is not essential to us, our politicians will be called to account for having identified us with Israel. No American has heard a full explanation for why we have a “special relationship” with Israel.

Harry Reynolds

Scarsdale, N.Y.

It’s Dog-Eat-Dog

Re “Will the Majority Rule?” (Current Comment, 12/12): It may be that as I have gotten older and, yes, richer, I have become more politically “liberal.” That started under the influence of Joe Towle, S.J., at Xavier High School in New York and continued as I went south to work in the late 1960s. I will never forget being referred to as a “N-loving papist,” though at the time I didn’t know what papist meant.

Now the country is changing again, but not for the good. We have replaced the equality contract with the Me First contract, and Catholics go along with it. My pastor will not speak of social justice for “fear of offending” people. But they need to be offended. Today the United States wealth ratio is near what it was in 1929 and not too different from what it was in Czarist Russia. Grover Norquist would return the United States to the policies of 1925: no Social Security, no S.E.C., no F.D.I.C., Medicare or Medicaid. We will all live in company housing and pay our rent in company scrip. Is America really a diverse country that believes in morality? Or is this a man-eat-man world?

Peter E. Schwimer

Staten Island, N.Y.

What Women Will Lead Us?

Re “A Spirit-Led Future” (Editorial, 12/12): I see a renewal in vocations to the priesthood, but the church is not ministering well to women. The feminine side of the church has not grown in the last 50 years. There is no dialogue among women because the role of women is a dangerous topic and many do not dare to talk about it. Since all dialogue about women is assumed to be about women’s ordination, no other useful conversation can take place. Most of the conversation about how women can lead a satisfying moral life happens in the secular context, so theology’s contribution is left out. Until women are treated as adults in the church, it will fail to develop much-needed adult women leaders, without whom women will continue to fall away.

Lisa Weber

Spokane, Wash.

Spiritual Food Is on the Table

If so many are not looking to the church to satisfy their spiritual hunger, where are they looking? It’s easy to see that certain kinds of contemplative retreats, meditation workshops and wisdom schools are very popular. People flock to yoga classes. My parish centering prayer group is thriving. The bottom line is that most people hunger for spiritual formation, not doctrinal imprinting, in an atmosphere of embodied practice, nonsentimental but profound mystical devotion and open cross-spirituality inquiry that draws on all the great traditions. There is a place for the Catholic Church at the table.

Beth Cioffoletti

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Acclaim to Ordain

Certainly the Austrian bishops are correct that appointing lay people to preside at the Eucharist is “simply unsustainable” (Signs of the Times, 12/5), but does it have to be an either/or situation? Presumably these “dissident church members” have particular people in mind. Presumably they are recognized to possess the qualities and charisms for ministry and feel they are willing and called to serve the church in this way. Let the “dissidents” propose them for ordination. Then, if they meet the qualifications, let the bishops ordain them for the ministry. I write this on the feast of St. Ambrose, famously ordained both presbyter and bishop as a result of acclamation by the faithful.

Mark A. Scott, O.C.S.O.

Gethsemani Abbey

Trappist, Ky.

The New Word

Peter Feldmeier’s Christmas commentaries, “The Gift of God” and “Reflecting Love” (The Word, 12/19), are excellent. He uses biblical categories and exegetical detail as matter for serious speculation from principles of ascetical life in our tradition. He notes that in the Advent readings the Jews dared to call on God for real help after they got home. The idea of waiting for God to rebuild what was once thought indestructible befits anyone with a critical awareness these days.

James McCormick

Kansas City, Mo.

Where’s the Beef?

Thomas Massaro, S.J., a teacher of social ethics at Boston College, mentions in “Occupation Therapy” (11/28) the possibility that the Occupy Wall Street groups might have made more headway for changes in our economy in the last 10 weeks than Catholic social teaching has accomplished in the last 120 years. Not so!

Open minded though Father Massaro is, he did not give any details about what the group stands for. They “spur our conscience,” as he says, but they offer no way to cure the abuse of wealth.

Why, for example, are our politicians unwilling to put reasonable taxes on the income of millionaires, billionaires and giant corporations? Why not tax estates when billionaires die? Isn’t it because political leaders are bought off by big donations from corporations and millionaires? Why picket Wall Street when we should be blaming politicians who sell out to the very wealthy at the expense of all of us?

Daniel Lyons

Bloombury, N.J.

Study Vatican Statement

Thanks to America for its editorial “For the 99 Percent” (11/14) on the statement from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace analyzing the “sputtering world economy.” We members of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good agree with your recommendation that the Catholic universities study it and the issue of inequality. Our office received over 300 messages in support of the document.

We were disappointed, but not surprised, that the conservative Catholic organizations dismissed it for superficial reasons that had nothing to do with its message. The issue of inequality and the decline of economic mobility will affect the future of millions of children in the United States, 25 percent of whom now live in poverty.

Fred Rotondaro

Washington, D.C.

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