In “A Prayer for Malala” (11/5), the editors write, “The church has repeatedly promoted the full and equal dignity of women, and by extension girls, in a world where many societies are hostile to that notion.” I wish I could believe that statement, but I do not. I have one simple test for whether such a statement is real or just lip service: Do women have a voice in the church? Are they invited to participate when decisions are being made? The answer, sadly, is no.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Centrality of Christ
I read with great interest and appreciation Michael Anthony Novak’s article, “Misunderstood Masterpiece” (11/5), about Salvador Dalí’s painting. I have been enamored of this work since I was a Jesuit novice more than 50 years ago. I was so struck by the centrality of Christ and the “geometry” of the painting that I took a ruler to examine the many incorporated perspective lines. What did I find? All of these lines converge to one single point: the mouth of Christ, the Word of God. Centrality of Christ indeed!
The transparent, unfinished body above Christ’s head is more mysterious. While I appreciate Novak’s interpretation that this is a representation of the Father, let me offer an alternative interpretation. Both hands of Christ are pointing to himself—transparently seated at table and the transparent, unfinished body with arms extended to take in all the earth and its people. In the tradition of St. Paul and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., this is the new reality of Jesus, the mystical body of Christ, the cosmic Christ. It is an incomplete body, waiting for us as living cells of that same body to contribute to its full development and maturity.
Daniel J. Gatti, S.J.
New York, N.Y.
“Preference for Equality,” by Meghan J. Clark (10/29), is a timely article on an important subject, but it misses the forest for the trees. A recent report on factors affecting health and longevity stated that the most important factor, accounting for 40 percent of the problem, was the personal choice of the individual.
Japan spends far less on health care as a percentage of gross domestic product than the United States or almost any major European country, yet leads in longevity by a wide margin. Why is that? The obesity rate in the United States, 30.6 percent, is about the highest in the world. The obesity rate in Japan, the lowest of all major industrial nations, is 3.2 percent. Bottom line: personal lifestyle choices that affect weight control, not money spent, have a far higher correlation with longevity than expenditures or percentage covered by health insurance.
There is one area already in our Medicare formula that does address personal choice: smoking. Anyone filling out a Medicare application must answer the smoker question, and a positive reply results in a significantly higher payment.
The United States must come up with a health care program that incentivizes good personal health choices and deincentivizes poor ones, or we will simply not make progress on improving the health of the nation at an affordable cost.
Social Forces, Too
The relationship between individual responsibility and conditioning social factors is a complex one. Long ago the great sociologist Robert K. Merton contended that when individuals cannot achieve the cultural markers of success in their society (for example, wealth, power, high educational attainment) due to lack of opportunity, they will often resort to unconventional and even illegal means to attain them.
This is not to say that individuals are not responsible for their decisions. But we cannot ignore the social forces that shape those decisions. If a person lives in what is called a “food desert,” where access to affordable nutritious food is lacking, it is hard to expect that this person will make the most salubrious dietary choices. Even if there are grocery stores in poorer neighborhoods, healthy food is far more expensive than junk food.
Our society needs to encourage healthy choices, but I think one important way to do that is to attenuate social and economic inequalities. Professor Clark is right that incomes that rise faster at the bottom than the top would lead to better health outcomes. Producing healthy outcomes is a matter of personal and social responsibility.
No Pension Needed
Re “Blown Call” (Current Comment, 10/22): A person can work and save for their retirement without the benefit of a pension. I and others I know have done it. It takes hard work and discipline. First, we tithed. God is more generous than we could ever imagine. Second, I saved before spending. That means we sacrificed buying stuff, taking expensive trips or spending more than we made.
Study the stock market and become aware of what a balanced budget is. This is hard and ongoing work; it is not a mystery or a matter of blind luck. I invested and never touched the money for retirement. I was in business for myself until I was 53 years old. Then I worked for a corporation that offered a 401(k) plan. I saved 10 percent, at first. As the last child left home, I saved 20 percent. I saved all bonuses. I just retired. I do not have to worry about money because it is there.
Opening Doors to Faith
Re “How To Evangelize?” by James C. Gorman and Robert S. Rivers, C.S.P. (Web only, 10/15): We are called to heal the sick, comfort the grieving, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger. This is the work of the Gospel. When we do so, and do it with love, we create relationships that serve as the catalyst for sharing more deeply the good news. The act of healing or feeding or whatever else we do often leads to an invitation to talk about faith; it opens doors that welcome discussion about a person’s faith. And when the door is open, the Spirit enters. Without those acts we are just another Sunday morning preacher with empty words.
I was moved by “A Time to Harvest,” by Ladislas Orsy, S.J. (10/8). Father Orsy cites our need for “trust in the Spirit, the capacity for friendly debates and an air of freedom in God’s field.” Couldn’t we maybe begin working our way out of the polarization so many experience in the church today by simply talking with each other a little more?
I recently attended an adult formation event at my parish on the legacy of Vatican II. A local theologian asked us to consider this: “We aren’t afraid to talk to anybody.” He had a PowerPoint slide that listed a smorgasbord of religious bodies and denominations with which the church has taken up earnest dialogue.
After it was over, I told the theologian how impressed I was by all the folks outside the Catholic Church with whom we have struck up conversations. Yet I wondered: Where is the conversation inside the church? Where is the fear-free dialogue there? “That’s a very good question,” he said.
Role of Chastity
Your three commentators on Just Love, by Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M. (9/24) seem, like Sister Farley herself, to pay no attention to the self-regarding virtue of chastity and thus base a whole sexual ethic on the other-regarding virtue of justice. Such an ethic is seriously inadequate. The true foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is expressed by Dietrich von Hildebrand in Man and Woman: “The sexual act, because it is destined to be the consummation of [the] sublime union and fulfillment of spousal love, becomes sinful when desecrated by isolation.” Or by St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians (6:13-20).
Robert E. Rodes Jr.
Notre Dame, Ind.