Thanks to Ronald Landfair for a thoughtful article about observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day by visiting a blood bank and contributing that most valuable of commodities: one’s lifeblood (12/24/01). His thoughts may well contribute to like action.
Anna M. Seidler
San Francisco, Calif.
I was very gratified to read the article “New Wine: Confessions of a Catholic Alcoholic” (12/24/01). I have been working with persons in 12-step programs for over 30 years now and have heard the same story over and over. I have been privileged to see the miracle of sobriety and serenity come into the lives of persons in the prison of addiction. I would like to stress the point that Alcoholics Anonymous is not religious; it is a spiritual program, and that is why it works. Until the addict begins to be open to a “higher power,” it is difficult to get sober. I hope that this article touches many people, especially those still suffering from the disease of alcoholism and the priests and ministers working with them. A.A. is not perfect, but it works if you work it.
Basil J. Wallace, O.S.B.
Thank you for printing “New Wine: Confessions of a Catholic Alcoholic” (12/24/01). Having recently converted to Catholicism after 12 years in A.A., I’m always eager to hear how fellow A.A. members integrate religious faith with their programs.
In my own case, A.A. provided a welcome and desperately needed refuge from an isolated life of “cradle-agnosticism” and unmanageable alcohol abuse. A.A. provided my first exposure to and encouragement in a spiritual life. Over time, however, I believe I succumbed to a similar “A.A.-as-a-religion” detour and eventually hit a second spiritual “bottom”—this time in an abusive psychotherapy cult claiming to provide, for a fee, a “deeper” version of A.A.-based recovery.
These bottoms, though painful, have enriched my recovery and deepened my faith. At the same time, I am always looking for guidance along the way, so I hope America will continue to consider articles and commentaries related to addictions and recovery.
Winter Park, Fla.
Belden C. Lane’s fine article on “Biodiversity and the Holy Trinity” (12/17/01) would, I think, be even finer with one change. Lane says “The more things there are to love, the happier God is.” That maximizing approach misses something of the artistry of creation. God creates just the right diversity, not the more the better. Indeed, if we reflect on the easy creativity of God, we must admit that this creation, which so boggles us by its diversity, bears another quality of confident art: it truly is spare.
Professor Belden C. Lane’s article, “Biodiversity and the Holy Trinity” (12/17/01), is a marvelous exposition of the theology of stewardship (understood in its fullest and most profound sense). If it is true that humankind has been asked by God to nurture, share and be responsible for all of God’s creation, we have much work to do before we are ready to render an account of our stewardship on the last day.
While I always find the Ethics Notebook column by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., instructive and provocative, and while I certainly agree with him that “our nation’s response to the vile acts of Sept. 11 exhibit[s] the ethically moderating influence [of] just-war theory,” I must demur at one of the reasons he gives for saying that just-war theory is dubious (12/10/01). “Have any war makers ever waged what they thought was an unjust war?” asks Father Kavanaugh rhetorically. The nearly universal belief of nations at war that their own cause is just, but never the cause of their enemies, is apparently for the author a sign of the theory’s weakness.
It seems to me, however, that such a phenomenon paradoxically supports the theory. The French writer of maxims La Rochefoucauld once said, “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” In other words, just as no one holds an opinion and yet simultaneously maintains that this same opinion is wrong, so too with just war. In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates points out that no murderer ever goes before a court of law and says, “Yes, I committed the murder, but let me off anyway.” Rather he claims that murder as such is wrong, but that he, the defendant, didn’t do it. But Socrates hardly meant that observation to serve as a pretext for abolishing punishment for murder.
Even Adolf Hitler claimed to the Reichstag on Sept. 1, 1939, that the German army shot back at Polish forces on the border, thereby trying to justify before world opinion his invasion of that hapless country. His claim was a lie, of course. But his lie should hardly imply for us that Poland had no just reason for defending itself; nor should we say that Great Britain was thereby in the wrong for declaring war on Germany in accordance with her treaty obligations to Poland. In other words, the reason Father Kavanaugh cites for casting doubt on just-war theory is the very reason that makes it a necessary calculus in all moments of statecraft.
Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
In his letter to America (12/17/01), Ronald Jebailly asks: “Do we need to reinterpret our beliefs to allow Muslims into our religious civilization and culture, as we did with the Jews?” Mr. Jebailly’s question appears to misunderstand the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Despite past conflicts and misunderstandings, Judaism is, as Pope Innocent III characterized it, the mother of the church, since it preceded the church and the church proceeded from it. What Innocent wrote reflects the long-held teaching of the church. Islam and its followers, who certainly share much with both Christianity and Judaism, deserve our respect as sincere religious people. But Christianity would be distorting the divine place of the chosen people to engage in the kind of reinterpretation Mr. Jebailly seems to imply. In my opinion, Muslims would regard such a step as condescending. It could do more harm to an already fragile relationship. As Christians, our acknowledgment of the role of the Jews in salvation history should not, however, as is done by some fundamentalist Christians, be translated into contemporary political support for Israel on quasi-apocalyptic grounds. We must work for solutions in the political arena that will provide peace and security for both parties within a framework acceptable to each. Our faith should inform our desire for justice.
James M. Powell
Mary Anne Huddleston, I.H.M., makes a very important point in her letter to America (12/17/01), that there are many happy, fulfilled celibate priests. I feel that I am one of them.
It is unfortunate, however, that she leaves the impression that Dean Hoge’s study is incorrect in saying that most young priests who resign from the priesthood do so because of mandatory celibacy. My own experience of 26 years as director of the Religious Consultation Center of the Diocese of Brooklyn is that the Hoge study is right on target—not only for young priests, but for priests of all ages who have resigned from the priesthood.
Sister Mary Anne is absolutely right in saying that celibacy is a valid lifestyle. But that is true only for those who have the charism of celibacy and who, therefore, choose it freely.
(Rev.) James E. Sullivan
Read the Book
Thanks to Richard A. Blake, S.J., for not judging the book-movie by its promotional cover in “Wild About Harry” (12/24/01). Few movies could have lived up to the advance for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” My wife and I were fortunate enough to bring four preteens (and another set of parents) to see the movie, and the consensus of them all was that it was a good, enjoyable movie. Perhaps most encouraging, given a choice, everyone preferred the book.
It was a good reminder that even a very good movie cannot replace a very good book, and Ms. Rowling’s books are not simply good children’s stories, but are enjoyable fiction suitable for adults and children eight and older. The movie promotion was big, but the expectations for book five of the series have only been increased.
Cherry Hill, N.J.
What is an appropriate Christmas gift for a 69-year-old retired school teacher who is still a kid at heart? Answer: the review by Richard A. Blake, S.J., of “Harry Potter” (12/24/01). The analysis was as expected, but much more as well. Father Blake calls the movie delightful and charming. So is his writing.
The reference to a flock of non-union owls was, for me, hilarious. I found the last paragraph, negative and positive, to stand in perfect balance. As Hagrid roared at the Quidditch match, “Well done!”
Lake Placid, N.Y.
I found Jerry Ryan’s article, “Desiring Prayer” (12/24/01), captivating. As a student in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute program of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., personal reflection on prayer has been an almost continuous process for me these past two years. The result has been to personalize many prayers using contemporary language. I’ve found this helps me to be more focused and sincere in my dialogue with Our Lord.
Heart and Behavior
In his essay on priestly fraternity (10/22), the Rev. James Garneau erects a straw figure from generalizations derived from sketchy anecdotal evidence and then knocks it down, oversimplifying the complex challenges to developing fraternity among diocesan priests. He appears to identify “united presbyterate” with “common ecclesiology,” whereas in the world of the real church each can and has existed without all the elements of the other. Priestly fraternity, being a relationship of graced and yet flawed individuals, happens only when we ordained priests constantly work together at it. And that is far more a matter of heart and behavior than of head and theology.
(Rev.) Jim Kuhns
Regarding the notice in Signs of the Times (11/5), “Celibacy is Major Reason for Priest Resignations”: I disagree. The main reason is a lack of prayer that is coupled with faith in God’s capability to strengthen one in chastity. Oh, celibacy is the surface reason—as are others—but a lack of confident prayer is behind it all.
John C. Morris, M.D.