The National Catholic Review
The Hardest Word

As an Australian, I want to add to Margaret Silf’s “Sorry Business” (4/21): The apology given by our prime minister was extremely significant because it was delivered on behalf of the government to the indigenous peoples wronged by government policy. Because the wrong was a collective one (i.e., a social sin), it needed a response from no less than our national leader. The country had been waiting for many years for the apology to be given, and the feeling was one of great relief as well as understanding by many who had previously failed to understand the hurt.

Julie Purdey
Kyabram, Vic., Australia

Mobilize the Troops

Your observations about Zimbabwe (Current Comment, 4/21) present a tragic situation in which a proud and prosperous nation has been brought to its knees by a corrupt thug who maintains his power by rigging elections, torturing and killing those who oppose him, starving children as a political tactic and laughing at the halfhearted protests of ineffectual international agencies. If only there were a way to remove such a tyrant and establish a freely elected government that would willingly cooperate with the international community to create a civil society! Wait: we did that in Iraq, and America considered it a crime.

James Belna
Claremont, Calif.

Northern Exposure

I read and reread “Northern Light,” by Sheryl Frances Chen, O.C.S.O. (4/21), and delighted in the way she experiences her monastery and its surrounding environs. The photos are lovely and the prose sheer poetry. It reinforced for me the notion that deep prayer is a sinking into oneself, deeper and deeper until one reaches the place of organic unity with God and all of creation.

Patricia Melesco
Rockingham, Vt.

From the Pews

“Lessons from an Extraordinary Era,” by Roger Haight, S.J. (3/17), brings up a disturbing paradox in the Catholic Church today. While Catholic academic theology has flourished over the past 40 years in ways unheard of before the Second Vatican Council, the church is also experiencing a startling demographic decline in Europe. It is also losing members to other denominations in South and Central America; and in the United States, its youngest generation is for all intents and purposes non-practicing.

This is not to imply a causal relationship between the flourishing of theology as an academic subject and the loss of popular faith. But most religious people are only vaguely interested in academic theology, and religions that flourish are those that offer their faithful some kind of affective connection with the transcendent, the heavenly and the otherworldly. Catholicism once had a rich tradition of popular devotions and piety, and many Catholics in a former era were drawn to our high level of ritualism in worship. Academics may scoff, but can we really afford to allow these dimensions of our faith to wither away?

James Quigley
Montclair, N.J.

Aiding and Abetting

One has to marvel at the chutzpah of America in running full-page ads recruiting military chaplains, paid for by the U.S. Army. Your commentary on your centennial year (Of Many Things, 4/21) notes that “America begins its 100th year of publication, rounding out service to Catholic intellectual life in the United States.” It might accurately also have stated that you are “aiding and abetting the most criminal enterprise in the history of mankind.”

Anthony F. Flaherty
Boston, Mass.

Lukewarm Faith

Your editorial “Abuse of Office” (4/28), could not be more correct. Unfortunately, it falls on deaf ears in the United States. Part of the problem was illustrated by Pope Benedict XVI’s visit: he had a lovely time with George W. Bush and never publicly criticized him for Iraq. He went to the United Nations to tout human rights, but never mentioned the use of torture by the United States. Where is a statement from the U.S. bishops to Catholics and Christians calling for a national response to these issues in the name of Christ? In what church on Sundays is there a Christian witness to the victims of our war in Iraq? Because such actions would “divide the church,” we all go along to get along. This was not the path of Christ, who did not come to bring a wishy-washy, lukewarm faith.

Patrick Hughes
St. Augustine, Fla.

Quantity, Not Quality

Re “Abuse of Office”: Despite what the critics may say or believe, there was nothing “benign” about the way previous presidents used signing statements on legislation, including Bill Clinton. Under Clinton, the Justice Department went on record twice defending the president’s obligation to use signing statements to refuse to enforce constitutionally repugnant provisions of new laws. The only difference between George W. Bush’s use of signing statements and Clinton’s is quantity; Bush has issued nearly 1,200 challenges since 2001—a record, to be sure.

You rightly note that the real culprit in the president’s use (or abuse) of power is Congress, and to a lesser extent the courts. From 2001 to 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress gave the president whatever he desired, essentially declaring itself a junior partner to the president. We must continue to support Democrats in Congress, who have increased the number of oversight hearings and issued direct challenges to the Bush administration.

Christopher Kelley
Cincinnati, Ohio

The Blame Game

In “Bishop Encourages Catholic Educators” (Signs of the Times, 4/14), the problems of the church community are blamed on “a lack of knowledge about the faith,” a cheap shot at catechetics. Talk about “Round up the usual suspects”! Sometimes I think the only reason bishops keep catechists around at all is to have people to blame for their failures.

The causes of the current membership loss in the church are varied and complex, and call for further in-depth study. To the extent that catechetics may be partly at fault, the bishops (our chief catechists) need to examine their own lack of ecclesial leadership and support for catechetics. I’m tired of business as usual except when there’s an opportunity to place blame.

Kristeen Bruun
North Richland Hills, Tex.

Comments

MaryMargaret Flynn | 4/25/2008 - 2:47pm
Thanks Patrick Hughes!
Bill Collier | 4/25/2008 - 12:17pm
I am following up on James Quigley's perceptive comment that "religions that flourish are those that offer their faithful some kind of affective connection with the transcendent, the heavenly and the otherworldly." I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments and questions I've received about Catholic liturgy from non-Catholics in the wake of the Pope's visit. Many have commented on the beauty and affecting ritualism of the televised papal Masses, and I've tried to answer questions, as best I can, about the doctrine of transubstantiation, a topic many non-Catholics seem to find puzzling. We do have liturgies, rituals, and symbols that assist with the making of the affective connection Mr. Quigley talks about. There is always room for improvement, however. For some Catholics, unfortunately, the most common rituals and liturgies have lost their affectiveness because they are perceived as the same old thing that rarely varies. Not only does the unique and transcendent significance and substance of each and every Mass, for example, have to be stressed again and again if need be, but, as Mr. Quigley notes, a greater variety of devotions and rituals is needed. Perhaps it is hard for those of us who are not part of the MTV generation to understand, but images, whether on TV, in movies, on computer screens, etc., completely surround young people today and are important to them. If for nothing else, the imagery of Catholicism's rich traditions may serve as a useful means to lure young people to the Church, with the hope that they would then grasp and experience the transcendence behind the images.

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