Sound Principle

Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., in Vatican II: The Myth and the Reality (2/24), suggests a sound principle for interpreting the Second Vatican Council in a continuum, which effectively refutes the arrogant polarizations of ahistorical and pseudo-theological extremes. But the setting up of straw men and their facile demolition hardly honors the principle and can even be, as we used to say, offensive to pious ears. One small example: In this time of manifest clerical sinfulness and hierarchical mismanagement in our church, to draw any conclusion, as Cardinal Dulles does, from the premise that people outside the church fall frequently into sin and error is at best embarrassing and at worst hypocritical.

(Msgr.) Thomas D. Candreva, J.C.D.
East Rockaway, N.Y.


Ordinary Activity

Ted Furlow proposes that we address the sanctity of marriage with more preparation (3/3). I agree, but there is more to understanding about the sacrament of matrimony.

It has taken me a lifetime and more than 50 years of marriage finally to uncover the full meaning of the catechism’s cryptic sentence: Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of Christ and the Church.

That fuller meaning of sacrament came from the German theologian Michael Schmaus, who explained: Whatever married people accomplish in their mutual encounter, whether in the ordinary activity of everyday life or in the communion of their bodies, that encounter is a grace-mediating event. Then I realized that my wife and I are ministers of the sacrament to each other; the sign is ordinary activity prompted by our love and affection; and Almighty God in all his glory is with us again and again. This is profound excitement and most humbling with awe.

Catholics need more preparation, surely, but include the great mystery of ordinary activity mediating the presence of God in married life.

Anthony F. Avallone
Las Cruces, N.M.

Contrast Made

I wish that Patrick Lang had resisted the temptation, in his otherwise magnificent and important article Wahhabism and Jihad (3/10), to cite the history of Christianity as an example for Muslims. The contrast made between the Reformation and Counter-Reformation on the one hand, which led eventually to mutual tolerance, and on the other a continued distinction in Islam between believers and infidels, is a comparison of dissimilar terms and thus unfair. And Muslims are likely to be aggravated by detecting yet again a Christian been there, done that tone that they have heard before with regard to such things as the Enlightenment. Better to propose the Islamic historical points and their solutions brilliantly on their own merits, as Lang does, than needlessly to alienate Muslim brothers and sisters who may need such an excellent critique of Wahhabism.

James D. Redington, S.J.
Senior Fellow
Woodstock Theological Center
Washington, D.C.

Voice of Morality

Having carefully read the letters in your March 17 issue, I thought that the last one, entitled Becoming History just about sums up the previous letters. No longer, the letter implies, does the claim to papal infallibility, the forbidding of women’s ordination, the ban on contraception or even the condemnation of abortion, mean anything to non-Catholics or to a vast number of eclectic Catholics. And I could add, nor does the church’s position on capital punishment, the ordination of homosexuals and the celibacy of the clergy. But whose fault is it?

Following the up-to-now not fully explored sex scandals involving priests, bishops and archbishops, America has continued to champion the ordination of gay priests and brought into ridicule anyone who has supported the church’s position on the matter. America has not hesitated to publish articles and letters that treat with disdain men like Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Dulles, who defend the traditional teachings of the church. It is no point your saying that these letters are what the clergy and laity think. Actually, I know one-time readers who either think that your opinions are usually one-sided or believe that when they disagree, their letters have little chance of being published.

Catholic publications (including America) have almost unanimously attacked the U.S. government’s position on Iraq. Never mind the fact that the matter is extremely complicated. Some of us believe that only the strong position taken by President Bush brought back the inspectors to Iraq. And then the barrage began against the Iraq war, which has completely undermined any chance the United States ever had of bringing pressure on Saddam to the point of complete disarmament; has reinforced Saddam’s contempt for Americans; has pumped up anti-American opposition all over the globe; has encouraged everyone at home who has any kind of beef against the present U.S. government to demonstrate, decry and condemn America; has emboldened America’s so-called old friends (what a laugh) to taunt and ridicule any position the United States and her real allies take. In fact, it is my conviction that the very kind of hornets’ nest that our Catholic position has stirred up over Iraq has left Mr. Bush only two alternatives: to go ahead with his war, come hell or high water, or to back down and so become the laughingstock of the world.

But I also believe that if U.S. policy and prestige come tumbling down over Iraq, caught in the shambles will be public respect for what the Catholic Church has to say urbi et orbi, and as a voice on morality and world affairs the Catholic Church will have become history.

Robert F. Patterson
Tarrytown, N.Y.

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