The National Catholic Review
Substance Abuse

Re “State of Disunion,” by Thomas R. Murphy, S.J., (7/16): I cannot imagine any set of circumstances under which it will be possible to bridge the partisan divide in this country in my lifetime. The primary reason is that the overwhelming majority of Americans are not properly educated in what it means to exercise the awesome responsibility of citizenship in a democratic society.

Most of us are told that our primary responsibility as citizens is to secure a well-paying job that will enable us to purchase as many consumer goods as possible and that our educational system should be geared primarily to achieve that.

Is it any wonder, then, that partisans of all stripes are incapable of understanding the substance of their own arguments, let alone understanding or even acknowledging facts that threaten their self-reinforcing positions?

Christopher Kuczynski

Baltimore, Md.

Invitation to Renewal

“Into the Future,” by Nancy Sylvester, I.H.M., (Web only, 7/16) rings true to my own experience, having entered my community in 1962, the year the Second Vatican Council began. My whole early formation was steeped in the challenging message of the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” and other council documents.

Like most sisters at the time, we took the invitation to renew our lives as perhaps the most significant act of obedience that we would ever undertake. We learned to see our vows as deeper and broader than merely not having a bank account, not having sex or not having our own opinions. We came to see poverty as including an active care for the earth and identification with all of her peoples. Chastity, while it includes celibacy, became more and more about healthy, loving relationships. And we collectively came to know that obedience can never be limited to mindless following, but includes active listening in community—a listening that seeks to hear all of the voices of God’s people.

Fran Ferder, F.S.P.A.

Lincoln City, Ore.

Magisterial Affliction

As someone who came into the church in the 1980s, it was the spirit of the women religious that appealed to me and welcomed me. I would never have found a home in the pre-Vatican II church, and I am struggling greatly with what is happening locally in my home parish as well as the greater church.

I am hearing messages that have no connection to serving the poor or relevancy to the God of the universe. I have always heard that the message of the Gospel was meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. What I am now hearing from the magisterium seems to be afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable.

Patricia Jansen

Mason, Ill.

Off Center

Re “Interrupting Grace,” by T. B. Pasquale (7/16): In centering prayer, the sacred word is a symbol of our intention, which is to consent to God’s presence and action within us. One establishes his or her sacred word before entering the prayer, not during it. Centering prayer has one intention. There are no expectations, such as finding bliss, peace or union.

Mental hyperactivity or thoughts are an integral part of the prayer. We do not resist them. We let them come and we let them go. When we engage a thought, we become aware that we are engaged with the thought. We then gently return to our sacred word. The idea of contemplating one’s sacred word is really foreign to the centering prayer practice, as is focusing and concentrating. Centering prayer is not contemplation. Contemplation is a pure gift from God. With all due respect, whatever T. B. Pasquale was doing, it wasn’t centering prayer.

James Byrne

Cape May Court House, N.J.

Capital Correction

John Coleman, S.J., in “The Matter With Kansas,” his review of Red State Religion, by Robert Wuthnow (7/2), lauded Kansas for its early stand on women’s suffrage and the fact that it “never adopted capital punishment.” Kansas has, in fact, abolished and reinstated capital punishment three times, and capital punishment is currently legal, although the state has not carried out an execution since 1965. The latest effort to abolish the death penalty failed in the Kansas state senate in 2010.

Barbara Emert

Independence, Kan.

Prudence and Compromise

Re “How Well Are They Being Heard?” (Signs of the Time, 7/2): I am among the 57 percent of American Catholics who do not believe that the right to religious liberty is being threatened in the United States today. Of course, involvement with the state brings complications. When the state and a church enter into a contract to deliver health services or adoption services to the general public, neither the state nor the church will remain quite as uncompromised as before.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should contract away convictions of conscience. But not all moral consideration have the same weight, and prudence may suggest that you can cooperate to some degree because of the benefits to the church and the public.

This is a complex business. It is not well served by slogans or litigation that make shrewd compromise impossible, but by reflective conversation invoking the cardinal virtue of prudence.

(Msgr.) John Rowan

Southold, N.Y.

Beyond Bars

The article, “Theology Behind Bars,” by Kerry Weber (7/2) should be a strong stimulus for penal administrators, prison ministers and us, the nonincarcerated, to seek more wisely and intensely the humanization and rehabilitation of our country’s inmate population. We would all, as a society, be the healthier for it.

There are other points of light in the penal system. One is in the state of Virginia, at Buckingham Correctional Center, where Jens Soering is serving two life terms for murdering his girlfriend’s parents in 1985, when he was 18 years old. He is now in his mid-40s.

While incarcerated, Soering has converted to Catholicism. Sadly, despite being a model prisoner and a decidedly different person from the man who was convicted, rightly or wrongly, for homicides committed when he was 18, he has been denied release seven times by the state parole board. Enlightened penal reform and inmate rehabilitation should enable us as a society to do better than this.

Arthur T. McNeill

Alexandria, Va.

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