Lesson in Civics

Re “School Daze” (Editorial, 10/15): As a former Chicago high school teacher, resident and taxpayer, I must strongly disagree with your conclusion that the strike was “civically irresponsible.” Public-sector unions are under immense attack. The administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel is enamored of (and some would say economically beholden to) private, for-profit charter school reform and has stacked the appointed, not elected board of education with its advocates. A strike was necessary. And it was effective.

Also, the diversity of the marchers gave an object lesson in civics, creativity and good manners: grade school kids, parents pushing carriages with infants, high school students and high school bands, teachers of all ages and races, workers from other endangered unions. Students and teachers and the general public all learned something invaluable that week. The strike was an unparalleled lesson in democracy and, as such, was well worth any inconvenience it caused.

David Philippart

Chicago, Ill.

Liturgical Movements

Re “Of Many Things,” by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. (10/15): I am not a fan of liturgical rigidity marked by the kind of rubrical precision that can rob worship of its vitality, but it was precisely the loosey-goosey celebrations that Father Schroth refers to that launched the counter-reformers.

There was indeed a time when worship involved few if any written texts, but the prophets and presbyters did not just make it up as they went along. They had memorized certain Scripture texts and liturgical formulations that had been handed down. Eventually these led to written texts which contained the prayers that expressed the very faith of the church.

Unfortunately the sacramentaries and missals that developed over the centuries led to forms of the Mass that eliminated the fully active and conscious participation of the faithful. Mass was reduced to a mysterious drama focused almost entirely on the priest’s consecration of the bread and wine. All of this led to a liturgical movement begun by Pope Pius X and further influenced by Pius XII that reached its fruition at Vatican II. But the reforms triggered by “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (1963) never envisioned many of the experiments that followed.

Jack Feehily

Moore, Okla.

Different Starting Point

In “The New Evangelization” (Web only, 10/15), Archbishop Rino Fisichella means well, but he misses the real challenge of evangelization: the theological starting point. None of the three popes since Vatican II has taken seriously enough the orientation of “Gaudium et Spes,” which sees the world, or saeculum, as the primordial sacrament of God. Holiness already resides there because God pervades it. The church, in the spirit of Jesus, can foster God’s work already in process in the world, but the church’s evangelization doesn’t start this work.

A new evangelization needs to recognize the work of God in efforts of justice, peace, healing and compassion already going on in the “secular” world—Unesco, Amnesty Interna-tional and so many other individuals and groups. Then the church can collaborate in its own ways with these movements. Otherwise evangelization can come across as salesmanship, an attempt to add more paying adherents to the church’s rolls.

Eugene Bianchi

Athens, Ga.

Conscientious Pragmatists

Re “The Home Stretch,” by Thomas Massaro, S.J. (10/1): There is an old saying: People get the government they deserve. Many Americans have become intolerant of others, and this seems to be reflected in the opposing, absolute views of many politicians. This is known as gridlock.

In the past, elected government leaders could find common ground through compromise without denying their fundamental principles. They were neither absolutists nor relativists. They were conscientious pragmatists. They were prudent. What happened to them? Is there no longer a place for them in society or politics?

Vince Varnas

Aloha, Ore.

Council Deeply Embedded

Re “A Change of Season,” by Robert J. Nogosek, C.S.C. (Web only, 10/1): I was a student in Rome under Father Nogosek’s direction from 1965 to 1966. Our professors at the Gregorian University taught us in the morning and served as council experts in the afternoon. Cardinals, bishops and world-class theologians were to be met with everywhere. Rome was alive. Father Nogosek captures some of this immediacy in his article.

But to the council itself: It is now deeply embedded in the church’s experience, life and language. The 16 documents transcend simplistic dichotomies like “liberal versus conservative.” If you have any doubt, look at “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,” the document prepared by the bishops of the Middle East and signed by Pope Benedict XVI on his recent trip to Lebanon. It shows pain over religious strife and emphasizes the importance of Christian unity, dialogue with Jews and Muslims, the in-migration of Christians to the area, open accountability of church finances, more important roles for women in the church, revival of biblical studies and devotion, strengthening of the church’s health and educational institutions and a re-emphasis on the importance of the intellectual and spiritual patrimony of the East. This whole agenda is deeply imbued with conciliar thought.

It is a good practice in the present age to examine the very rich life of the church at the international and local levels, and to discern the influence of the council. It is everywhere.

Edward Starkey

San Diego, Calif.

Author Responds

In his letter “What Catholics Do Best” (10/1), Douglas Cremer incorrectly claims that the Catholic Church in the United States “has a greater retention rate than almost any other faith tradition.” The Pew survey explicitly warns that “the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U.S.” must be taken into account when analyzing Catholic demographics because that influx “obscures...the large number of [native-born] people who have left the Catholic Church.” Thus the “high retention” rate of which Mr. Cremer writes is in fact a “high replacement” rate.

I affirm Mr. Cremer’s call for a “robust and energizing faith formation.” But he eliminates from his mix a basic knowledge of Scripture and church teaching—knowledge he dismisses as “just reciting.” Mr. Cremer’s strategy will make it increasingly hard for bad statistics to look good.

David Impastato

Alexandria, Va.

The writer is the author of “Back to Basics” (9/10).

Better Comparison

I found the essay, “Constancy of Change in Sexual Ethics,” by James T. Bretzke, S.J. (9/24), rather troubling. To begin with, Father Bretzke compares an ethicist to an information technologist who, as technology changes, has to help the user understand the way to use the latest technological gimmick. This is a false comparison. Although technology does change, certain physical laws remain immutable. No matter the change in technology, the law of gravity remains in effect. The speed of light remains the same.

A better comparison: an ethicist is like a theoretical physicist. Just as certain physical laws are immutable, so too it must follow that certain moral laws are also immutable. Such laws are not a matter of tradition but are inherent in the nature of humanity. Sometimes traditions change. In the past most marriages were arranged by families. Today each person chooses his or her own mate. There are changes in customs, just as there are changes in technology. But such changes in custom do not generate a “new morality.”

William Cooney

Philadelphia, Pa.

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