Many thanks for the fine article by John W. O’Malley, S.J., on Anna Katherine Emmerich and the Mel Gibson film (3/15). His historical sketch of the Passion tradition prompts two thoughts regarding the relationship between that tradition and the post-Vatican lI emphasis on the Resurrection. That emphasis makes sense theologically, of course, but liturgically it has generated zingy church songs (I hesitate to call them hymns) in which we Catholics now celebrate ourselves as the finger-snapping people of God who, it seems, are so lucky to know that God loves us, thanks to our Resurrection faith. Fortunately, that is hard to do during Passion Week, one of the few times a Catholic is likely to hear a classic hymn in Latin. It also occurs to me that unlike Good Friday, or for that matter the Jewish Day of Atonement, Easter, which (as we might say) celebrates the fact that the last words of Jesus on the cross were not God’s last word, must compete with chocolate bunnies, egg-rolls, pagan sunrise services and other insipid rites of spring. Without the somberness of Passiontide, Easter these days would be unbearable, just as Good Friday without Easter would be meaningless.
Kenneth L. Woodward
New York, N.Y.
Re Of Many Things, 3/8: I do wish that Mel Gibson had had one of the church’s many superlative teachers of Catholic-Jewish relations advise him. Or perhaps Gibson himself should have read some of the many documents that have come from the Second Vatican Council.
I believe Gibson when he says that he is not anti-Semitic and that he did not want the movie to be anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, I feel he should have recognized and meditated on the horrific history of anti-Semitism that has been fueled by Passion plays through the ages. In so doing, he would have perhaps emerged with greater sensitivity and sought out broader spiritual counsel.
Still, there are good things about this film. Hearing the Aramaic language is beautiful. The movie is based just as much on the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary as it is on the Gospel. This integration can be poignant for Catholics. The flashback scenes are very well thought out, in some cases showing enlightening aspects of Catholic theologyparticularly the raising of the cross during a flashback to the Last Supper.
The movie is too horrific to watch at some points, but these scenes are not what I left the theater remembering most vividly. This Jesus movie, unlike others, paints a more extensive picture of Mary. One of the scenes toward the end is particularly movingMary holding the corpse in a pose like that of a pietà sculpture. Her eyes leave the scene and look directly into the camera, staring for an almost uncomfortable length of time into the viewers’ eyes. This scene/image has been engraved in my mind since.
I would like to thank America for running the engaging exchange on free trade and tariffs among Terry Golway (2/2), John Swing and Paul McNelis (3/1). Their forthright conversation exposed the complexity of making ethical and public policy judgments about this topical issue. I especially appreciate America’s courage in not backing away from the controversy generated by healthy disagreements. This shows America’s commitment, not only to intellectual integrity, but to one of the grounding principles of Catholic morality. Ethics is a practical science based on the virtue of prudence. Reasonable people of good will can and should reach different conclusions about matters that are neither divinely revealed nor patently evident to the natural law. And they can and should be passionate about their convictions.
Most important, America has offered its readers the opportunity to exercise their own prudential judgment by following the debate. And this is a moral service to us indeed!
Stephen M. Fields, S.J.
Plain Brown Wrappers
The opening pages of America’s issue of March 1 made for very bleak reading: the continuing questioning of the decision to move into Iraq (Of Many Things), then the ongoing debate over same-sex marriages (Editorial), then the report of accusations against 4,450 members of the Catholic clergy in the matter of molestation of some 11,000 children over a 50-year period of official church silence (Signs of the Times). And next, a Vatican report proposing to keep clerical abusers in the ministry but away from children, thus formulating a two-class priestly ministry: Class 1safe with children, Class 2not safe with children.
Then (all this in five pages), from the bleak to the absurd, when we learn that someone in Rome is still exercised over whether we should say, And with your spirit or And also with you at Mass. A great step forward for us all, the solution to that problem.
True: Father Greeley does offer us some ray of hope (Religious Decline in Europe?). His article would be even more consoling if one didn’t have the nagging doubt that it was reporting on poll numbers rather than on vibrant personal faith, on Christendom’s religion rather than on Christianity, on superficial markers of religion rather than on truly interiorized Gospel faith.
Perhaps the next issue of America should come in a plain brown wrapper marked: not to be opened by the faint of heart (or faith).
(Rev.) G. F. Werner
Bland Leading Bland
I am saddened and dismayed at your editorial Debates and Divisions (3/1). Once again, with a complex and challenging issuethis time, same-sex marriagesAmerica has taken a wishy-washy and safe positionjust at a point when the magazine should be providing leadership and inspiration toward building a vital new sense of church and church teaching. This capitulation confirms a description of America I heard some years ago: the bland leading the bland.
The editorial declares: The opposition of Catholic teaching to same-sex marriage is clear and unambiguousas though that settled the matter unambiguously, once and for all. The same could be said, for example, about the church’s teaching on contraception. The history of church teaching offers many examples of faulty judgments based on faulty evidence, and many have been re-examined and corrected in time. The editorial then goes on, with bland insouciance, to make pious protestations about the need to love homosexuals and assure their human rights.
As a Catholic husband, father and grandfather, I do not feel that the loving union of homosexual couples threatens my marriage, or anyone else’s marriage, or the abstract notion of marriage. On complex issues like this, America should strive for something bettermore discerning and more Christianthan knee-jerk reactions.
In your editorial on March 1, you raise the fear that the debate over same-sex marriage will reduce itself to an exercise in name-calling against homosexual persons. Obviously, this is a concern all would share. But except for the few usual fringe suspects, such intemperance is rare today.
What is the norm, however, is that those who uphold the universal understanding of marriage are routinely painted as intolerant bigots and homophobes. Such depictions, meant to reduce a thoughtful position to a blustering caricature, are far more common in mainstream media commentary at this point than anti-homosexual invective. The anti-homosexual language feared in the editorial often comes from a few sick souls whose vituperation has been overpublicized, because it fits the impression that they represent the motives of those who support that traditional understanding of marriage.
Such stereotyping squelches healthy debate, effectively silencing voices who fear being tarred with the brush of intolerance. Such stereotyping is far more commonplace and agenda-driven in this debate than any lack of respect, compassion or sensitivity toward homosexuals.
Robert P. Lockwood
Beaver Falls, Pa.
Will someone please explain to me how my marriage of 42 years, any other marriage or the institution of marriage is going to be damaged by two men or two women standing in front of a judge or a priest or a rabbi vowing to each other that they will be faithful to each other, will look out for each other in sickness or health and will do so as long as they live? (See Editorial, 3/1).
Will the divorce rate of heterosexual marriages be reduced if we ban same-sex marriage? Will spousal abuse be stopped? Will we do a better job of raising our children?
Perhaps there are reasonsalthough none I’m familiar with seem convincingwhy same-sex marriage should not be allowed; but protecting heterosexual marriage, given its present state, does not seem to be one of them.
Nicholas E. Bedessem
Not Let Them Go
John F. Baldovin, S.J., says in his article Presiding at the Liturgy of the Word (3/8) that when he asks his students how adding the words brothers and sisters to the Lord be with you improves on what the church is offering in the liturgy, he rarely hear[s] a good answer. My good answer is that when I say, My sisters and brothers, the Lord be with you, it adds some humility, inclusivity and equality and subtracts some paternalism and clericalism. Not all of it, mind you, but some.
Today, when we are making our deacons kneel at the consecration, when we are planning to bring back the old Communion rails, when we are limiting the involvement of our newly labeled ministers of holy Communion, so that no one confuses them with the presiding priest (has anyone ever done that?), I think it is vital that we do what we can to hold on to the concept of priestly people united in eucharistic celebration, which we have recovered with great difficulty through the labors of the Second Vatican Council after 400 years of the unchanging Tridentine Mass.
When I was ordained in 1960, I prayed the Our Father at the altar with my back to the people in a language in which neither they nor I thought. And I was the only one in the church saying the words. When the Second Vatican Council turned me around and I was looking into the faces of the people and they were looking at me and we were all praying together in the language in which we thought and prayed, I discovered my sisters and brothers in a God-given eucharistic celebration that was ours to share. I never want to lose them again. I will not let them go. My sisters and brothers, the Lord be with you.
(Rev.) Charles J. Matonti
Laity in the World
When it comes to reflecting on the liturgy, the majority of American Catholics tend to focus more on wants than on needs (3/1). We want good parking spaces, music, homilies, lectors, deacons, doughnuts and preachers. James Martin, S.J., in his introduction to the 10-part series on the liturgy, correctly points out that such a focus can be the source of distraction for many of the faithful, who truly desire understanding and living in Eucharist more fully. Before approaching the altar we let go of our petty wants and proclaim our real need: Lord I am not worthy to receive you; but only say the word, and I shall be healed.
While I am encouraged by the quality of the questions to be treated, especially in the areas of spirituality, I am a little concerned that the choice of essayists, all experts, may be too narrow and may ultimately soften this series. The essays will all focus on internal, liturgical issues. The true genius of the Second Vatican Council was, in my estimation, not liturgical reform, but rather the powerful articulation of the dynamic and transforming role that the laity can play in evangelizing the modern world. We lay people who try to live out our faith during the week pick up America each week with the sincere hope that our lived experience outside the church can somehow mysteriously connect with the sacred words of the eucharistic prayer. I look forward to seeing how your series can provide us with such critical tools.
Thomas M. Howard
The article by Adele Azar-Rucquoi, The Gate Opened, and It Was Golden (2/23) reminded me of a practice I have adopted from a challenge in our men’s Bible study about three years ago. Our discussions frequently wander to the topic of moneyits use and misuse. One Saturday morning we were talking about people on the street: how we could share with them and not get conned, or deal with those awkward requests for a few dollars. After a lively discussion we concluded that there is no guarantee against misappropriation of funds. For some of us, it did not matter anyway, but others wanted no part in compounding the beggar’s problems. But we all concluded that somehow we must continue to share our bounty. One idea that came from the group was God’s Buck. Carry one crisp dollar bill with you at all times. It is not to be spent, only given away if requested. Give it freely. Give it without judgment. Replace it the next day.
You would not believe the blessing I have received from this simple practicethe same joy that Adele Azar-Rucquoi expressed in her article. First, the dollar in my pocket reminds me of the solidarity I should have with the less fortunate. I really could be one dollar away from the street myself. Second, I can look each person on the street in the eye (I have heard that is among the most painful parts of living on the streetyou are invisible), because if they ask for a handout, I am ready to share with them. It’s not a lot, but it is of great value.
Adele is absolutely correct. We gain a lot from giving away. So, the next time you hear, Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime? Say: Yes, I can. Thank you very much. And be better because of it. And may a door open in the center of our being where Christ may enter and the poor be comfortedeven if it’s in only a small way.
Forest Lake, Minn.
I felt that Philip Berryman’s otherwise excellent article, The Bush Doctrine: A Catholic Critique (2/23), missed two points of great significance.
The doctrine is not new. The United States has been acting unilaterally or with nominal coalitions of the willing for yearsKorea, Vietnam and the first Persian Gulf war, for instance. The U.S. has historically used the U.N. when it could control it, and ignored it when it could not. All that is new with the Bush Doctrine is brutal post-9/11 frankness with the American people about the violent nature of American foreign policy.
American love and hate of the great abstracts freedom and evil can safely be ignored. Romantic abstractions work well in rallying the troops, but serve little other purpose. There are really only two substantive issues among nation-states: scarce resources and ever-increasing populations. It is still a Malthusian planet, and leaders know it, even if those they lead do not.