Open to God

John A. Coleman, S.J., is rightly concerned by a theory of civil law that is excessively entangled with theological doctrine (Religious Liberty, 11/28). The official Catholic position on the numerous moral issues to which he refers certainly is theological doctrine. But it is also the objective teaching of human, moral reasoning. If not based on such reason, civil law runs the risk of a tyrannical positivism with no determining criterion other than the wish of the most powerful (which is not necessarily the majority).

Furthermore, if objective moral reasoning is not to be the content of civil law (in matters, of course, which evoke morality), then what else is to replace it? Legislating immorality or amorality seems to be, as experience proves, the only alternative. There is no moral neutrality. While that might save us from distasteful theories of too much God in civil law, it might well lead to irrational or nonrational law and to a society that follows suit. The fact that a society is open to God does not mean it is bereft of reason. Indeed, the opposite is more likely.


(Msgr.) Peter Magee
Washington, D.C.

Above the Fray

After reading Gene Gagnon’s letter (11/28) claiming America is conservative and has ceased to be relevant, I found The Council at 40, by Gerald O’Collins, S.J., (12/5) tending to confirm Gagnon’s view. Father O’Collins could have written his article 10 years ago, for all the timeliness that it contains. America frequently has articles that tend to be well crafted but above the fray when commitment is called for. Perhaps it is a philosophia perennis attitude, when a more existential, here-and-now one, is called for.

Next came Joy and Hope, Grief and Anguish, by David Hollenbach, S.J. (12/5). No timelessness here. Hollenbach calls it as he sees it. There is grief in our hearts over what has happened to the promise of the council. Hope is languishing; there is sorrow over unfulfilled promise. His recounting of what happened in November 2002, when the U.S. government was preparing for war and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had as its spokesman on the issue none other than Cardinal Bernard Law, highlights the loss of credibility of the present U.S. hierarchy.

Perhaps to be more relevant America could change its stripes somewhat without giving up its soul. How about a less Aristotelian/Thomistic approach, which tends to float above the scenethe on the one hand, but on the other approach?

Theologically speaking, if you were to emphasize a biblical approach with the usual Jesuit depth, it would bring to the forefront Jesus and his here-and-now way of dealing with problems.

There could be nothing more relevant for a Jesuit magazine to be doing than trumpeting Jesus’ positions on social justice, poverty, peace and the reign of God, in his own words.

John J. Hollohan
Naples, Fla.

Decided Turn

Your magazine has been losing its edge, and this has made me very sad. For many years as a subscriber, I have always looked to America as a magazine that presented honest, bold dialogue on many issues facing our church as well as overall society. However, my spirits were slightly elevated upon reading the excellent articles in your Dec. 5 issue, which dealt with Vatican II: The Council at 40, by Gerald O’Collins, S.J., and Joy and Hope, Grief and Anguish, by David Hollenbach, S.J. Both articles provided clear assessments of what this great council accomplished as well as examples of the events/style of leadership over the years that have stymied the great potential of these documents. Please keep these types of articles coming back!

Bradley Leger
Estherwood, La.


I would hope that America could write about the chasm between broad-spectrum encyclical Catholicism and born-againism. The letter from George Stapleton on evangelism of presence (11/28) prompted me to reflect on the divergence between those who believe in sola fide/sola scriptura and those who read Scripture and subscribe to the concept that faith without works has a more complex, yet profound understanding concerning our salvation.

Faith is the debatable crucible. Those who subscribe to the concept of literal faith in Jesus Christ find it syncretic to agree that there is any salvation outside a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ. Broad-spectrum encyclical Catholics believe that faith and works are integrally related, and as long as there is no direct denial of Jesus Christ, salvation is available to Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc. We do not accept the concept that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When we say that the way to the Father is through Jesus, we believe that the Verbum Dei/verbum dei is not limited to a literal conception.

The Maryknoll way is the true ecumenical way; and, frankly, I hope more Catholics come to understand that neither neo-orthodox Catholics nor the born-againers have the exclusive answer to Who is saved?

Thomas M. Whaling
Laguna Hills, Calif.


I appreciate your magazine, but have found myself less interested, even frustrated with it in the past half year. The focus seems to have changed, particularly in the editorial and introductory essay.

I find myself reading about New York City, week after week, specifically your neighborhood.

I know that God can be found wherever we look as intimately part of our lives. I know that God lives there among you, but the magazine feels as if it should be now entitled Manhattan instead of America.

It just doesn’t connect well with my life, in a very different geography, population and atmosphere. I’m losing interest.

Please broaden your focus.

Rex Rempel
Kirkland, Wash.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
12 years ago
Just responding to Rex Rempel's letter publihed January 16, 2006.

I vote for retaining "things Manhattan" in the mag. Thanks.

12 years ago
Re: "Focus"

I totally agree with letter-writer Rex Rempel, as I too have noticed a significant change in the introductory essay which appears to be more the journal of a secular New Yorker, than of a Jesuit more in tune with the rest of "America" and its spiritual needs.

I find myself losing interest as well.

And that makes me sad.

Paul Montgomery

10 years 11 months ago
I read Thomas M. Whaling’s letter (1/16) noting the chasm between “broad-spectrum encyclical Catholicism” and “born-againism.” I’m not sure if I understand all the points of divergence he makes, but he ends by saying that “the Maryknoll way is the true ecumenical way.” On that point, I wanted to give some evidence in support of his statement.

Roy Assenheimer, M.M., was born in Philadelphia. He entered Maryknoll in 1952, was ordained in 1965 and was assigned to Japan. There, after serving in three parishes, he began a new ministry in 1977 for the recovery of alcoholics and drug addicts by establishing several Maryknoll Alcoholic Centers (MAC) and Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Centers (DARC). Today there are 73 centers throughout Japan. He was also co-founder and chairman of the board of the Asian-Pacific Addiction Research Institute (Apari). Father Roy died suddenly in Japan on Jan. 5, 2006, at the age of 67.

I met Father Roy only once, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination, when he came home for the celebration. He was shy and unaccustomed to all the fuss over him. Like all missionaries, he seemed lonely away from his people.

I don’t imagine Father Roy had much time to read and reflect on Gaudium et Spes, or Lumen Gentium or even Nostra Aetate. He was probably too busy putting them into practice. I don’t know if he was broad-spectrum and he certainly didn’t need to be born again. One lifetime was all he needed to undertake and finish, with God’s help, a work which will last for generations.

10 years 11 months ago
As I am perusing the letters (1/16, 1/30) discussing the “new direction” that America is taking (or perceived to take), one thought comes into my mind: it would be a sad day for the church and the country (all of us) if the editors ever fell into the trap of making a respectable magazine into a “conservative” or “progressive” publication. It would be a day of betrayal. It would hand over America to an ideology in place of an intelligent and responsible search for the understanding of the mysteries of heaven and earth. We all want to be “conservative” in the sense of wanting to preserve and protect our Tradition (please note the capital T); we all want to be “progressive” in the sense of seeking a deeper intelligence of our faith and a wiser way of handling God’s creation. America must never give up the noble labor of raising hard questions; it should never exchange possibly disturbing but truth-seeking articles for charming communications. It should say what the church and the country need to hear for their greater good: there is no other way of serving the greater glory of God.

10 years 11 months ago
A recent spate of letters (1/16, 1/30) either complaining about or applauding the contents of this magazine strikes me as unfortunate.

If the editorial position of America were the focus of such approaches, these missives would be understandable; instead, they are part of the broad scene we see today where folks basically want to hear what fits in with their preconceived views.

If America is to retain a position as a lively forum for ideas in the church, where the ongoing process of discernment (with the tensions of disagreement that implies) continues, then a broad approach is both correct and necessary.

Continuing dialogue in charity is what will keep us together as a church, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

10 years 11 months ago
As a longtime subscriber, I add my voice to those in several letters calling for more cutting-edge content and style (1/16). America is safe, predictable and heady, with a few noteworthy and welcome exceptions.

As a priest, I have witnessed first-hand how clericalism in the clergy and laity has crippled the mission of Christ in and through the church. The priests who persevere are exhausted, the preaching is generally irrelevant or worse, and the laity are bored, scandalized and feeling powerless. We all need America to be a voice for justice and structural change, not a supporter of unaccountable bishops and the status quo.

12 years ago
Just responding to Rex Rempel's letter publihed January 16, 2006.

I vote for retaining "things Manhattan" in the mag. Thanks.

12 years ago
Re: "Focus"

I totally agree with letter-writer Rex Rempel, as I too have noticed a significant change in the introductory essay which appears to be more the journal of a secular New Yorker, than of a Jesuit more in tune with the rest of "America" and its spiritual needs.

I find myself losing interest as well.

And that makes me sad.

Paul Montgomery


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