Thank you for printing the picture with the caption Mother feeds malnourished child in Signs of the Times on July 5. I simply stopped and stared, disturbed and saddened. Having breast-fed all three of my children, I want to cry with and for the mother in the picture, knowing she is not providing the milk that every ounce of her mind, body and soul wants to produce for her child. I was disappointed in myself for daily agonizing over what food to make for dinner, rather than simply being grateful that I even have food available. As disturbing as the picture is, I’ll put it on our fridge, next to our kids’ artwork, made in their secure little world. It will call me to gratefulness and humility.
Thanks, America, for showing and reminding me of the stark reality hungry breast-feeding mothers and their children face daily.
The Real Culprit
I read with interest the Rev. Andrew Greeley’s analysis of our half-empty Catholic churches (6/7). But I believe that the real culprit is the failure of the church in its teaching mission to convince the faithful that the Sunday liturgy is such an important element of our faith life that they choose to be there. In that scenario, moral obligation becomes irrelevant. I see very little evidence of any attempt to mend this failure.
Thomas W. Ricard
Grosse Pointe, Mich.
Sincere, Informed Conscience
In Caught Between God and Caesar, (6/28) Joseph A. Califano Jr. gives a self-portrayal of a Catholic in public life acting from convictions of conscience. It is an anecdotal snapshot from his recent book, Inside: A Public and Private Life. There he describes how he drew upon many resources to test his personal conscience as he confronted new moral situations, when as a Catholic he wanted to be true to his faith and also to his commitment to his government. He relied upon his family upbringing, his Catholic education up through Holy Cross College, discussions with his peers, study and reading, and consultation with moral theologians and bishops. His is an example of developing and testing a sincere, informed conscience. From the convictions of such a conscience he felt free to make decisions confidently as a Catholic. The words of Pope John Paul II come to mind from his encyclical The Splendor of Truth: The authority of the church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians.
Mr. Califano cites an example from his time as chief aid to President Johnson formulating legislative programs for the poor. The president wanted to avoid public criticism from Catholic bishops over the inclusion of birth control in legislation. Califano contacted me because I was at the time assistant general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference. On reading his article, I discovered that this was Mr. Califano’s first political negotiation with the hierarchy. It was not his last, and it started a lifelong friendship between us.
He speaks of us crafting an uneasy truce. Truce is not the best word. It connotes a sort of cessation of attacks, a political maneuver. In fact, at that time (1966) the president and the bishops had a common vision, namely, to stir up in the American people a preferential attention to the poor. He was developing his Great Society, and the bishops were beginning to implement the Second Vatican Council.
President Johnson was adamant about not denying birth control to poor women who wanted it, a yellow flag for the bishops. He was also insistent on channeling educational assistance to all poor children no matter what school they attended, even parochial ones, a yellow flag for those concerned with separation of church and state. For us at the bishops’ conference it was also a matter of conscience to deal with such a mix of issues in good legislation. The church should be involved in the public forum to lend its voice on social justice for the poor. At the same time, the church must recognize its own limits in the public forum in a pluralistic society. At certain times and on certain issues, it is permissible to tolerate some undesirable aspects of overall good legislation. (It should be noted that abortion was then still only a state issue and therefore not yet in federal legislation.) In the context of our discussion, our task was to craft language that would avoid unnecessary public skirmishes. That was done. From both perspectives, conscience was followed and good legislation resulted.
In his article, Mr. Califano also expresses the hope that Catholic bishops will not, in his words, play the eucharistic card to press Catholic politicians to toe the pro-life (or any other) church line. He supports, rightly, Catholic public figures and politicians in exercising their own conscience on both political decisions and the reception of holy Communion. To that I would add that such Catholic public figures might take a page from Mr. Califano’s book and describe how they might have gone through developing a sincere and informed conscience with which to test their Catholic convictions. It is not adequate simply to dismiss one principle, for example, protection of the life of the unborn, by invoking another, for example, the separation of church and state, to justify publicly proclaimed positions. A public figure, especially a political figure making public talks that address moral questions, should be able to explain the development of a sincere, informed conscience, whether the audience agrees with the conclusions or not.
(Most Rev.) Francis T. Hurley
Blessed by Generosity
Living With My Sisters, by Jeffrey J. Guhin, (7/19) was a refreshing reflection on the life of women religious today.
During the 2003-4 academic year, the religious sisters in my local community shared life with another Dominican volunteer. The experience was profound. Our volunteer’s passion for justice, her wonderful sense of humor and boundless energy inspired us.
Thanks to all the young women and men who give of themselves as volunteers. We are all blessed by their generosity!
Margaret C. Kavanagh, O.P.
In his article, The Threat of Same-Sex Marriage (6/7), Msgr. Robert Sokolowski writes: The end of marriage is procreation and Sexuality has as its end the procreation of children.... These apparently self-evident statements have traditionally been used as the major premise of a syllogism to show that contraception is against the natural law and therefore always evil. The basis of this premise is related to the obvious function of sexuality, which humans share with other animals. The next step is to conclude that the only moral way to avoid conception, aside from total abstinence, is to use the monthly ovarian cycle which is also common to other animals. It is the same cycle that the farmer uses to let the bull into the barnyard, but in reverse. The problem with this whole argument is that the major premise is incorrect when applied to human beings.
The end of marriage is the sanctification and salvation of the married couple. The command of Jesus to love others as we love ourselves is a tall order, as anyone who has lived in the intimacy of a marriage relationship knows. The process of loving another in all aspects of his or her personality is truly daunting. Marriage presents the opportunity and challenge in a relationship like no other. Raising children affects each partner to the core, providing an impetus to emotional and spiritual growth, which at the same time can be extremely draining.
The end of married sexuality is the expression of love, support and the reaffirmation of that commitment which is the foundation of their relationship. It also provides the possibility of coauthoring, with the Father, new life in this world.
What effect same-sex marriage will have on heterosexual marriage I do not know. But I was not particularly enlightened by the article, which I think is based on a faulty understanding of marriage and human sexuality.
Arthur J. Connors
Roots of Success
It is interesting that the articles Lessons From Evangelicals and The Road to the Diaconate are on consecutive pages in your issue of July 19. The article on evangelicals notes how success is rooted in simple and successful programming that requires relatively short preparation. Mr. Greg Kandra’s formation for the diaconate requires lengthy years of study and courses on anthropology, among other topics. While no one would deny that careful screening of candidates is importantindeed essentialit seems that we continue to demand years of study, when our competition is highly successful using simple and practical means of preparation.
(Rev.) Cyril D. Edwards
Experience of Wonder
Thanks to Greg Kandra for his reflection on the Rite of Candidacy for the permanent diaconate (7/19). Only one month has passed since my ordination as deacon for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and I can assure Mr. Kandra that upon his ordination, he will experience the same wonder that James Martin, S.J., describes in his reflection in the same issue.
I have just returned from preaching at the vigil Mass on the parable of the Good Samaritan at my parish, St. Brendan in Los Angeles. You can’t get any better material than this! My truck is filled with soft drinks for tomorrow’s interfaith picnic honoring people who were recently homeless but now have homes and jobs. After Mass, I offered a little prayer for the gang members I visited yesterday in Men’s Central Jail downtown as I pulled up to a home where I was bringing Communion to an elderly man with Parkinson’s disease, surrounded by loving family members. How his face brightened when I held the host before him and said, Behold the Lamb of God.... And tomorrow I will celebrate my first baptisms. Come Monday I will continue the day-to-day business of earning my own living.
It doesn’t get any better than this for a public relations executive turned Web developer. Mr. Kandra has many wonderful things to look forward to.
And God bless the wives of the deacons. These remarkable women of faith go through years of preparation with their husbands. They know the rites, some can preach better than their husbands, and they are humbly committed to a church that all too often will not recognize their gifts.
In my class of 12 new deacons there were two physicians, a public-relations executive, a garment industry executive turned gardener, a vice president of a mechanical engineering company, an aerospace company executive, a parish business manager and a retired deputy sheriff, among others. They ranged in age from the minimum canonical age to the maximum. Single and married, Latino, Anglo, African American and Korean, gay and straightwe new deacons for Los Angeles are the new face of the clergy. Each year, more parishes like St. Brendan get their first deacon. I can tell you that the welcome and enthusiasm among these parishioners is overwhelming.
There is no vocations shortage in the Catholic Church. We have lay and diaconal vocations sprouting up everywhere, even more than my archdiocese can handle. Our Diaconate Formation Office is faced with tough choices on whom they can accept, given their limited resources. So where are the priestly vocations? God only knows. Let us not bemoan the loss of the status quo, but look gratefully to the future God is setting before us.
Welcome, Mr. Kandra. Your ordination day will be here before you know it, and the church will welcome you with open arms.
(Deacon) Eric Stoltz
Los Angeles, Calif.
Thank you for publishing Does Father Have an Accent (7/19), by José-Luis Salazar, S.J. It is a brilliant, deft and very gentle correction of the article by the Rev. Willard F. Jabusch in the Feb. 16 issue. Both pieces are thought-provoking, although surely Father Salazar sees the big picture more clearly.
I have some grave concerns about imported priests, but none whatsoever concerning accented English and the like. I am concerned about an ecclesiastical version of the brain drain. By that I mean that the wealth and other resources of the American church act as a magnet to pull clergy from areas that have greater need. Within the United States this phenomenon is evident in the attraction of the sunbelt states. Florida is a great beneficiary of this phenomenon. I have many times attended Mass here with four priests concelebrating. Usually three have been foreign-born. One such Mass coincided with the announcement of massive parish closings in Massachusetts and elsewhere. There are good reasons for elderly priests to seek a benign climate. God knows they deserve it. When all is said and done, however, resource allocation remains one of the troublesome areas of our church.
Charles F. O’Brien
Ormond Beach, Fla.