Hard Choices

It is times like this that I most regret allowing myself to fall behind in my reading of America. On the eve of the elections, I am about one and a half months behind, and have just read The Faces Behind Us by Robert Heaney (9/30). The call to respond is strong within me.

Dr. Heaney’s article is engrossing, presenting an important set of issues from a new and insightful perspective. I was struck by the rationality of his observations and proposals. Yet, there seemed to be lackingperhaps intentionallyan explicitly Christian commentary on the implications of the issues.


A recognized basic tenet of Judeo-Christian moral theory is that an inherently evil act is never justified by the potential good that may result. Dr. Heaney’s article leads me to propose a corollaryif in my ignorance it does not already existthat failing to do an inherently good act that I am able to do is never justifiable on the basis that its performance may leave me unable to do some other future good act.

To be sure, we must elect and appoint our best and brightest to plan for, delay or avoid the day when our resourcesof many varietiesprove no longer sufficient. But until that day arrives, our decisions must not be based on fear of the future. Yes, we are sorely deficient in rationally apportioning our resources, in spending the pennies that will help hundreds, as well as the multifold dollars which help few. Yet still the few must not be turned away. If a person needing lifesaving therapy presents himself today, our immediate decision must be based on what we are in fact able to do, not on theoretical competing uses of the required resources.

If the resources to do good exist, the good must be done. If two persons needing lifesaving therapy present themselves today, and only one can be accommodated, we must have a rational and above all a just methodology for deciding which one will be saved today. If the other is still alive tomorrow, we must save him, too, tomorrow. Our charitable institutions must never turn away individuals today, if they have the resources to help them today, for fear of lacking resources tomorrow. That has never been the Christian calling.

We must ever planprayerfullyfor the future. But even more so are we called to faith, hope and love. The good Samaritan would hardly have become our role model had he neglected the injured traveler, either because he was planning to donate his excess funds to charity that would have helped many, or because he might encounter an even more severely needy person later on his journey.

We are indeed deficient as a society in seeing Jesus in the faces behind us, and the church’s voice, insisting on just allocation of resources especially for the marginalized, must continue to resound strongly. But neither can we advocate a fear-based policy of turning away Jesus in those fewer whom we see face to face. Perhaps our society’s refusal to make hard choices is due not simply to cowardice or lack of foresight, but also at least partially to the confidence of faith and the insistence on doing good that secularism has not yet washed out of our religious cultural roots. The good that can be done today must be done today, and, planning as best we can for the future, we must still ultimately leave the future in God’s hands.

Robert V. Levine

Collegeville, Pa.

A Different Side

The article by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Dominus Iesus and the New Millennium (10/28), was profound. I was surprised by what I had read about Dominus Iesus. Most of it was harshly negative. Father Clooney gave me a totally different side, which would not have been available to me except from America. I still have questions, for sure, but it was enlightening to have this perspective. My only regret is not being able to take a theology class at Boston College taught by the author.

Tony Robinson

Watsonville, Calif.

Color of Mourning

The selection of a black background cover for the issue of Oct. 28, with the lead articles on the recent C.D.F. document, was suggestive of the color of mourning. In fact, my Catholic intuition almost read Dies Irae in lieu of Dominus Iesus.

Patrick Cogan, S.A.

Toronto, Canada

Signal Service

Bravo on the Oct. 28, 2000 issue and the three outstanding articles on Dominus Iesus - the most lucid and compelling comments on the subject I have yet to see. All three were indeed excellent. Father Clooney’s final paragraph quite beautifully captured the essential core.

America has once again done signal service for God’s people.

J. Peter Carey, S.J.

Indianapolis, Ind.

Effort to Be Respectful

Yes! to the editorial on Dominus Iesus (10/28). We Catholics, catechists and theologians need not be said to compromise our own beliefs/teaching because we make the effort to be respectful toward persons of other faiths or denominations.

The document struck me as being a response to reactions on the part of fundamentalist Catholics who have been filling our airwaves and putting pressure on the Roman Curia for a few years now. They are alarmists who think they, not God, are in control.

S. Andrea Zbiegien

Brunswick, Ga.

Very Strict Precepts

The editorial Ecumenical Courtesy (10/28) takes to task the C.D.F. document Dominus Iesus as being a communications disaster.

The problem with the editorial is that ecumenical courtesy is placed in false opposition to the truth that the church is always obliged to proclaim and defend. St. Paul was indeed the model for authentic ecumenical and interreligious exchange, but he did not compromise Christ’s truths for the sake of going along to get along. Let us have St. Paul whole and entire.

Was the fiery Apostle unecumenical when he judged it necessary to warn the early Christians to watch out for those who make dissentions and offenses contrary to the doctrines which you have learned, and to avoid them (Rom. 16:17; see also Acts 20:29; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 2 Tim. 2:16; 2 Tim. 2, 3 and 4)? He certainly insisted on love and respect for all, but he also demanded observance of very strict precepts regarding the purity and integrity of doctrine.

Both our Lord and his Apostles had choice words for those who would lead the faithful astray: false teachers, false prophets, anti-Christs, liars, deceivers, seducers, fierce wolves.

Similarly, non-Christians cannot ignore that the same Christ who was meek and humble of heart and who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4-5) had also declared that he who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned (Mk. 16:16).

It was also St. Paul who noted that from among your own selves men will rise speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Watch! (Acts 20:30). In its various admonitions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith follows faithfully in the footsteps of the great Apostle.

James Likoudis

Montour Falls, N.Y.

Macho Dominance

My heart sank when Terry Golway praised the athletic meritocracy in Making It (11/11). Most athletes ritualize for us our prevailing U.S. religion: macho dominance. As long as we praise that, we are part of the problem Jesus came to solve.

William Cleary

Burlington, Vt.

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