Gospel First

The theological education issue (1/29) contributed many good points for reflection. But there is a troubling undercurrent here that occurs also in other literature, as well as in comments from pulpit and chancery. It is a shift from the Ascension commission to proclaim the Good News to proclamation of the church.

The familiar aphorism makes the point, even if simplistically: The Protestants worship the Bible, the Catholics worship the church; and who listens to Jesus?


The Gospel is proclaimed by the human spirit through the Holy Spirit to the human spirit, usually emerging from a structured church. Perhaps this proclamation of the church arises from the erroneous presumption that where the structure is, there is the Spirit. Indeed, mystically they are one, but human sinfulness keeps them separate. Or perhaps it is a facet of traditionalist anxiety about the Second Vatican Council. Or perhaps it is a natural outgrowth of our exaggerated pursuit of our Catholic identity as Christians.

Whatever the source, the church that is proclaimed in this reversal of order is not very appealing or challenging to the best part of the human soul, and it obscures the wonder of the Gospel. I believe we need to confront the issue, and rediscover our commitment to Gospel first and church second.

James Crafton

Dayton, Ohio

Reading Greeley

Thank you for your well-written and interesting commentary on the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley in Of Many Things (1/29). When I finished the essay, I said: This is why I like America. It is thoughtful and well written; it keeps me in touch with the Catholic Church here in the United States. For years I have enjoyed America, a yearly Christmas gift from my older brother in Ann Arbor. I’m inspired to start reading Greeley.

Sara P. Howrey

Cincinnati, Ohio

Hearts Burn Within Them

As someone who has worked with young people for the better part of 25 years, I was at first heartened by Theology and Teens by James DiGiacomo, S.J. (1/29). I am always interested in hearing a fellow minister and teacher of youth reflect on her or his experience and offer insight, challengeeven critiqueto those of us engaged in so vital a ministry.

As he spoke of the challenges of teaching theology to teens and the importance of solid faith formation, however, he managed to relegate youth ministry (and youth ministers) to the realm of well intentioned baby sitter. Such ministry, in fact, goes way beyond shoring up their fragile self-images. It is true that young people do need affirmation and attention from a church that, at times, can seem not as tuned in to their needs and longings as it could be. It is equally true that many of our young people, involved in parish youth ministry, are challenged to think, question and puzzle over those larger questions of life and faith. It is certainly true that today’s young people are in process and are hungry for faith and authentic spirituality. In the youth ministry programs with which I am familiar, real catechesis, leadership development, and justice and service are integral parts of ministry to and with teens.

But the statement that most parishes gave up long ago the futile attempt to teach religion courses to teenagers troubles me. I for one (and there are many like me) strive to do real catechesis that challenges young people to learn the truths of our faith and to develop skills to live that faith in the real world. Since the vast majority of Catholic youth (at least in our area) do not attend Catholic high schools, it is incumbent upon us in youth ministry (along with parents) to offer authentic religious instruction and some introduction to theological reflection and moral formation.

I couldn’t agree more that the task of presenting theology, authentic catechesis and moral formation to teens today can appear a daunting one. Parents and clergy, youth ministers and catechists, high school teachers of religion and campus ministers need to use all the resources at their disposal, and they need to partner and develop strategies and approaches that will offer a solid foundation for our young people as they undertake their adult faith journeys.

A final point: My experience tells me that when it comes to the faith, young people need and desire more than instruction and intellectual endeavor. They need to hear our stories of faith in the classroom and outside it. Such storytelling may in fact capture their imaginations and make their hearts burn within them. They will hear not only us, but Christ.

Tony Tamberino

Columbia, Md.

In Bondage to Giants

The interview with Henry Foley by James S. Torrens, S.J., (1/1) was superb. Glumly, I read his cogently written analysis of the Gordian knot that is holding me and every other doctor in California in bondage to the insurance giants and to the rapidly changing financial management edifice. I see H.M.O. medicine as a way of rationing health care, probably more rationally than has ever previously been done. We are trying to deliver truly comprehensive care at cut-rate prices.

When they invented Medicare rates, they didn’t take into consideration our real differences in malpractice insurance costs, as well as practice overheads. Most of us always thought of Medicare as token reimbursement for charity caremeant to help keep docs in businessnot to price-set the true cost of what we do. But the insurance companies are not paying us enough to make ends meetand there is no more fat to cutwe are down to bones and flesh.

With capitation, they are forcing us to compete against each other to lower costs. The idea of increasing quality for lower costs just cannot be sustained. At this time, we are losing our optimism, stamina and desire for the common good. We are starting to become fearful, resistant, self-preserving at the expense of the common good. I hope the religious community will provide more retreats for helping to deal with physician burnout and keep trying to help advocate for insuring the uninsured, as well as paying physicians a living wage.

Martina Nicholson, M.D.

Santa Cruz, Calif.

Religious Perspective

The first issue (1/1) of a friend’s gift subscription to America arrived at my home recently. I read it from cover to cover in order to determine objectively if my friend’s evaluation of it as a moderate Catholic magazine was accurate. You see, I’m a traditionalist curmudgeon, and the magazine subscription was meant to change my religious perspective.

As is my custom when reading any periodical, I immediately turned to the letters to the editor. I find they generally provide a clue to the publication’s point of view. The presence of some articulate letters challenging the liberal position posited by an article in a previous issue concerning the ordination of women was encouraging, but the necessity of that challenge raised some doubts about my friend’s characterization of your magazine.

Once I read the essay by David S. Toolan, S.J., on the inside cover, however, the warning bells really started clanging in my head. The last few words in the fifth paragraph (dialogue, mediation, compromise and gradualism) validated the concern in one letter about the latest feminist screed insisting on women deacons as the first step to achieving their agenda. Since the Holy See has spoken definitively on this subject, I find the continuing dissent expressed in so many Catholic (?) publications to be very disturbing, which two of the letters indicated was the tenor of the aforementioned article. What about the authority of the Holy Father? Isn’t his official teaching one of the primary foundations of Catholicism to which we all should assent?

The coup de grace was the article by David Nantais, S.J., denying the destructive nature of pop music on teenagers. Evidence to the contrary abounds for all but the obdurate, progressive liberal. Is Nantais’s thinking what David Toolan meant by liberal Catholicism affirming the positive values of the culture?

I must conclude that my friend, though a good person, is misguided.

Cynthia Collie Fackler

Glenside, Pa.

Beat Goes on

Thank you for the theological education issue (1/29). It provides a broad view of the many undertones in a future church shaped by peoples’ constantly changing lifestyles. The challenges of a market-focused world will affect the church’s presentation of salvation and proclamation of the kingdom in barely charted waters.

The Second Vatican Council offered hope in its forward-looking views for living a true Christian lifestyle in an ever more secular and materialistic world. Much of Vatican II’s substance lingers in the hearts and minds of those entering theological studies. Thus, hope springs eternal in the face of a magisterium seemingly resolved to bury Vatican II and restore a centralized authority structure which allows no views other than the promulgated and absolute ones they declare.

The beat will go on. The truest hope is in the Spirit to encourage and inspire dialogue and challenge to whatever is unacceptable to a responsible, well-developed conscience enhanced by theological studies.

Mark Franceschini, O.S.M.

Hillside, Ill.

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