Take to Heart

In The Moment, the Message, the Messenger (4/24), Tom Fox has issued a timely and eloquent plea for our collective commitment to convey the treasure of Catholic social teaching to our country. I share his conviction that our teaching can effect profound social change. At Catholic Relief Services, our re-examination and reflection on the church’s social teaching over the last decade has fueled an institutional transformation. We moved from being an agency that primarily engages in relief and development to one that also promotes justice, human dignity and global solidarity through all of our programs.

In that spirit, and at the risk of ruining a good Catholic construct of seven points, I would like humbly to propose an addition to Mr. Fox’s list of suggestions not only for better communicating the church’s social teaching but also for helping Catholics to live it. We must foster a sense of solidaritywith God, with all of humanity and with creation.


Solidaritythe conviction that we are responsible for and connected to one another, especially those who are poor and marginalizedcalls us to cherish and uphold the sacredness and dignity of every person, commit to and practice peace, justice and reconciliation, and celebrate and protect the integrity of all creation. At C.R.S. we believe that global solidaritystanding with our brothers and sisters overseaswill transform the world.

There are many ways for Catholics to practice global solidarity, such as making just economic choices by buying fair trade products, participating in a partnership with a parish or diocese overseas, advocating for just and transparent government policies or supporting missionary or relief efforts overseas. Catholic Relief Services provides these opportunities and more, to help Catholics put their faith into action on an international scale.

Both the Gospel and Catholic social teaching compel us to live as one human family by respecting the dignity of every human person, loving our neighbors as ourselves and promoting more just and peaceful societies. In other words, we are called to live in global solidarity. It is a message we all must hear and take to heart.

Joan Neal
Vice President for U.S. Operations
Catholic Relief Services
Baltimore, Md.

Cause to Ponder

Thank you for The Silenced Monk, by Robert Nugent, S.D.S., (5/15) on the silencing endured by Thomas Merton. Merton’s obedience coupled with his finding ways to share his thoughts with others is inspiring. Without screaming it from the housetops, the parallels between Merton’s experience and that of others among us who have been censored or silenced cannot but cause us to ponder.

Robert F. Miailovich
Arlington, Va.

Not Far Enough

The Silenced Monk, by Robert Nugent, S.D.S., (5/15) was interesting and informative as far as it goes. But I suggest it did not go far enough. The silencing of Merton by church authorities brings to mind the institutional church’s lack of will to engage in any meaningful form of dialogue on those hot issues of our time that many devout, learned Catholics wrestle with. The problem is that we are not allowed to talk about them. The church hierarchy either demurs from discussion and/or summarily defaults to 19th-century dogma without so much as a hint that a review, in the 21st century, might now be in order.

For Merton, it was a critique of the just war theory that got him into trouble; today it could be a wide range of topics, not the least of which is the ordination of married priests or greater participation by women, such as the ordination of women deacons, that could rile the silencers of today.

Jesus challenged the Jewish authorities of his day with his parables and his teaching, and he did so radically, by encouraging his listeners to see God’s love in their midst, to turn the other cheek and not to get hung up on the sticky details of the Law, because their God was, above all, a God of love. Those, like Merton and many who write for this periodical, who are all deeply wedded to Roman Catholicism, whose credentials are impeccable, whose intentions are without guile, and who have the courage to suggest an alternate take on church teachings ought not to be silenced or shunned, but rather engaged. The mere possibility that from such dialogue a clearer vision of what Jesus had in mind, all under the watchful eye of the Holy Spirit, is reason enough to enter the dialogue, all with the hope that meaningful, appropriate change in the institutional church could evolve.

The teachings of the church can carry the mantle of Jesus’ authority only if such teachings speak to, engage and stir the heart of the faithful. Jesus appealed to our hearts because when you know something in your heart to be true, you do not need the church authoritarians to tell you it is so. You see it immediately (as in the parables of Jesus) and, in a sense, realize that you already knew it. The church’s inclination to rely solely on institutional authority, if you will, leaves an inexplicable void that diminishes credibility, and simply does not pass the red-face test.

So if Merton’s censorship could eventually be lifted, why can’t the church’s de facto prohibition to engage in an earnest, informed and faith-filled exchange of ideas concerning the great issues of our faith and of our time also be lifted? I call to mind the words of Pope John XXIII, Let us open the window, and let the fresh air in.

Michael Belford
Brightwaters, N.Y.

More Healing

If in September 2001 we, the people of the United States, had had the outlook expressed by Peter Schineller, S.J., in From Grief to Hope (5/8), on the tragic plane crash in Nigeria at Christmas, our present world would have seen more healing and less destruction.

Have we not been told for many centuries to listen and to be not afraid?

Barbara Poteat
Greenville, S.C.

Part of the Price

I agree that the media have outdone themselves in getting the last drop of humiliation from the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy (Changing the Rules by L. Martin Nussbaum, 5/15). But I believe that is part of the price we Catholics have to pay for the sins of leaders. For more than 30 years I have been among those who lamented the lack of Christ-like leadership, which has mainly focused on telling us when to stand, sit and contribute. The adverse press may be a necessary part of our penance. It is a disgrace that our leaders gave our children such a low priority. Let us pray it will never happen again.

Carol A. Murphy
Stockton, Calif.

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11 years 11 months ago
As a faithful reader of America, I was curious to see what sort of letters I’d read in response to “The Silenced Monk,” by Robert Nugent, S.D.S., (5/15). Michael Belford, “Not Far Enough” (6/5), wrote that the article “was interesting and informative as far as it goes. But I suggest it did not go far enough.”

Au contraire! When the adult education class of the Episcopal parish of which I am rector recently asked me to speak on “Being Christian in a Time of War,” Nugent’s article on Thomas Merton became a springboard for doing exactly what Mr. Belford suggests in stirring the hearts of the faithful toward lively dialogue and action. It has inspired me to invite a local Mennonite minister, eager to start an ecumenical peace and justice network in our community, to join us. Using Merton’s censored book, Peace in a Post-Christian Era, which, according to Nugent’s article was not published in its entirety until 2004, there’s no telling how far we might be able to go in raising consciousness concerning our baptismal calling to be peacemakers, not just peacekeepers.

Thank you for your weekly fare of delicious, substantial food for thought—and action!


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