Judgment and Justice

As American Catholic higher education settles into a long, edgy period of applying the norms of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, I want to go into the record with emphasis on several concepts that, I think, have become marginalized during the nearly two decades of Canon 812’s existence. I refer to doing justice to those who led us into the mainstream, and to recognizing the intrinsic Catholicity of the whole educational enterprise, as compared to harping on Catholic identity (2/12).

Judging has forced out justice. Folks who’ve come along lately but with great certitude have decided, for example, that Catholic colleges and universities have been on a 25-year orgy of corporate and individual vanity in the pursuit of respectability (negative, of course) and in the slavish imitation of institutions that have lost their faith. This appears to be a thesis that can bear endless repetition, though I have yet to see it applied with even rudimentary balance or fairness. Leaders of the maligned schools have either been too busy to stop and formulate point-for-point responses, or they have long since given up on the (occasionally ungrateful) retailers of the screed, and have decided to take their lumps while not taking the bait.


We strove, then, to enter the academic mainstream because we owed it to our faculties and students. This doesn’t mean the mainstream was Eden, as all who have entered it have learned soon enough. But our striving for the seriousness and depth of American academe at its best was and is a matter of justice, far more than mere truth in advertising, but that too.

I don’t know of many 1950’s colleges that, upon reflection, were satisfied with the intensity of their Catholicity. Critics of the present day hark back to a golden age, but with very, very selective recall. True, men’s campuses manifested a bumptious and virile religious tone in many observances, with cadres of professional and student religious. But even then we knew that some practices did not seem formative of young adult Catholics.

We saw, all that time ago, not only the need to be more deeply Catholic, but to be more seriously academic. Our goals diverged sharply from those of many students and their families, but we hoped to persuade them while we had them, and that the goals would merge somewhere out in the future.

Certainly Catholic institutions are instruments of evangelization, sometimes overtly but in most of the world very carefully. But such an instrument must be a worthy instrument and a whole, sound instrument. It is of no use if you bend it or break it in your attempt to employ it. Thus, seeking greater quality is not and never has been vanity, but reverent striving to be worthy of our sacred mission.

Patrick Ellis, F.S.C.

Baltimore, Md.

Editor’s note: Brother Patrick Ellis served as president of La Salle University in Philadelphia from 1977 to 1992 and of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1992 to 1998.

Dressed in Blue

Consider two points when pondering the article by Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., on the Blessed Virgin Mary (6/17). The attempt to read class struggle into first-century Palestine has no warrant in the source material. Similarly, the attempt to identify Mary with any oppressed social class likewise has no warrant in the source material.

Secondly, I fully appreciate and frequently use in my preaching the fruits of modern biblical scholarship. It is very worthwhile. But biblical scholarship does not promise certain results. Therefore, it is not the arbiter of faith. Read, for example, Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus. In other words, it is not the arbiter of faith, since it cannot achieve results that determine a correct faith.

Both of these little thoughts are good to keep in mind when reading such an article. I teach my children here at Boys Town to think of Blessed Mary as their mother...in the face of abandonment by their own mother. They like her to be dressed in blue. So do I.

(Rev.) Val J. Peter

Omaha, Neb.


For about 50 years now, no matter what I saw, read, or heard about Mary of Nazareth, what St. Bernard said, De Maria numquam satis (Concerning Mary nothing satisfies) was true. Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson’s article (6/17) satisfied me. It portrayed for me the real Mary, as far as it is possible to know her.

Thank you, Sister Elizabeth, for satisfying my mind about this tremendous female creature of God.

Paul J. Herbick

Baltimore, Md.

Word Before Letters

While reflecting on A People of the Covenant (The Word, 6/17), two points occurred to me:

1. As a well-seniored citizen (two months shy of 80 years), and a well-married one (six weeks till my beloved’s and my 57th wedding anniversary), I’m late to the opportunities such as this one afforded by America and Father Donahue to live the Scriptures: The sacrifice offered by Jesus and enacted at every celebration of the Eucharist is also a reminder that Christian life, and especially marriage, is sacrificial as ordinary circumstance is transformed into something holy, which is experienced by self-giving in good times and in the bad, in sickness and in health (italics mine). What a reflectionfor all ages and states of life.

2. It is puzzling that letters to the editor don’t refer to or credit what The Word column is teaching us, when Catholic scriptural reading is still not up to par with that characteristic of Protestants. For those who often don’t read their magazines through to the very last page, maybe you ought to relocate The Word and Father Donahue’s scriptural acumen from the (hopefully nothing symbolic) end of your excellent periodicalat least place the scriptural reflections in front of the letters.

Robert P. Hopkins

Glenside, Pa.

Healthful Healings

John O’Malley, S.J., asks, What good will come of Garry Wills’s Papal Sin (7/1). I’d suggest a healthful healing from illusions.

William Cleary

Burlington, Vt.

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