Good Fences, Good Neighbors

Austen Ivereigh’s religious convictions may have colored his perception of the current reality faced by Israelis and Palestinians, and the impact that reality has on Bethlehem (“Bethlehem’s Wall,” 9/1). Ivereigh asserts that the separation barrier is intended to consolidate Israeli settlements and to confiscate Christian land. In fact, it is well known that Israel built the fence as a necessary security measure to protect its citizens—a responsibility every country shoulders.

The fence does cause hardships for Palestinians. But Israel is a democracy, and has attempted to address those hardships. Likewise, in response to petitions objecting to the placement of the fence in certain areas, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the fence to be altered to ameliorate the difficulties placed on Palestinians.


Michael Salberg

Director, International Affairs

Anti-Defamation League

New York, N.Y.

Amazing Grace

In his letter addressing “Mercy Toward Our Fathers,” by Camille D’Arienzo, R.S.M. (8/18), Ken Smits says “I would not ask those abused to forgive their abusers.” I would! If the Our Father is to be taken seriously, do we not then have to forgive if we expect forgiveness for ourselves?

But since there can be no question of the enduring emotional and psychological pain of those abused, maybe we might instead ask them to pray for the grace to forgive.

James A. Rude, S.J.

Fresno, Calif.


Free Will

Thank you for “A Space for Inquiry,” by Terrance W. Klein (9/15). To impose a narrow agenda of immediate conversion on any student like Fatima, to whom Klein refers in the article, would only have made her defensive and reinforced her resistance to Catholicism.

If we believe in grace, then we had better not get in the way of it or interfere with it as it works. In order for people to discover the truth and take it to heart, they must be able to do so freely.

Stephen M. Bauer

Hazlet, N.J.

Preaching From Paul

Your item in Current Comment on the second reading at Mass (“Reading Paul,” 9/29), like most preaching in North America today, ignores the primary purpose of both liturgical proclamation and (especially) liturgical preaching.

The purpose of the homily in the Christian assembly is to begin with human experience and shine the light of the Gospel on it. The only way to keep Paul from becoming something that “no longer speaks to Christians today” is not to provide explication or an understanding of the Scriptures, but rather to allow the Creator to speak directly to the creature.

The main Pauline themes are not so far removed from our daily experience. In fact, they are remarkably timeless. The task of the preacher is to bring our experience new meaning and direction by artful use of the preacher’s own knowledge and love of the Bible. The problem is that this is easily confused with teaching a class on the Bible, which is not the purpose of liturgical preaching.

Timothy M. Powers

New York, N.Y.

Preparation and Privilege

I have been in parish work for 24 years. Before that, I had the privilege of teaching high school for 18 years. The latter prepared me for the former. Like Jeff Johnson, S.J. (Of Many Things, 9/22), I wanted to be a Mr. Chips or resemble the Robin Williams of “Dead Poets Society.”

I am indebted to my students for having unknowingly prepared me for my parish work, which is another style of teaching. I am grateful to Johnson for reminding me of this.

Edward R. Goldian, S.J.

St. Louis, Mo.

A Whale of an Error

In his Of Many Things (9/22), Jeff Johnson, S.J., refers to Hawthorne’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” He means Melville’s work by that name. Those high school kids should have asked for their money back.

Patrick J. Ryan, S.J.

New York, N.Y.

Three Ways of Knowing

Much has already been said about the pros and cons of teaching evolution in schools, and yet your contribution from Paul Cottle (“Teaching Evolution,” 9/15) leaves more to be said. Cottle seems convinced that he as a scientist is right and that his opponents, both creationists and proponents of intelligent design, are wrong, and that consequently only the scientific theory of evolution merits being taught in schools. What he fails to realize is that there are three approaches to the issue to be duly distinguished, each of which has its own validity. Along with his own way of science, there is also the way of philosophy and the way of faith, which recognizes the account of creation as told in the Bible with due respect for authorial intention.

What neither Cottle, nor any educational committee, nor any judge, nor the Supreme Court is welcome to do is impose the theory of evolution, however well supported by the facts, on all teachers in American schools, any more than they can impose, say, the Whig interpretation of English history on all teachers of history. It is just such an imposition from above that is in flagrant opposition to the ideals of liberty and democracy enshrined in the American Constitution.

Peter Milward, S.J.

Tokyo, Japan

Poor Choices

Having prayed that our elected leaders will represent and uphold the dignity of the person and seek the common good, and having searched my conscience, and having read the articles by John Kavanaugh, S.J., on abortion (“Dear Senator Obama,” 8/18, and “Dear Senator McCain,” 9/22) and having listened to the homilies at my parish, I have concluded: I am disenfranchised.

My church tells me I cannot vote for a man who votes for abortion, and my conscience tells me I cannot vote for a party that has systematically harassed the poor and the marginalized among us.

One candidate speaks to me when our Lord’s Beatitudes resonate in his scripts; the other man mouths party platitudes fashioned for the masses by an elite who seem to define life as “I’ve got mine—too bad about you.”

Joe Russell

Burke, Va.

None Taken

No offense, but your editorial on “Bailout and Equity” (10/6) could have come right out of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

Mike Fitzgerald

Herndon, Va.

On the Other Hand…

I appreciated the balance and tone of “Bailout and Equity” (10/6). I’m one of those knee-jerk types who all too easily places blame only upon the Republicans; but the failure of Democrats to stand up for the principles of the New Deal and to make sure that our mixed economy protects the poor, the aged and our children is, I must admit, equally reprehensible.

Richard Walden

St. Johnsbury, Conn.

Help Needed

In my gut, I feel that for many excellent reasons Senator Obama would be a better president than Senator McCain. My reasons include the candidates’ records on social justice, unjust war, economic policies that favor the rich and the government’s role in helping the poorest and weakest among us. I am generally representative of women who are liberal Democrats, except I am anti-abortion. But I do not believe that McCain, or any president in the near future, will be about to overturn Roe v. Wade, because of complex political and pragmatic reasons.

When I read “Conscience and the Catholic Voter,” by Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M. (10/6), along with recent articles in my diocesan newspaper, I found that they stated very strongly that “life issues” should be first and foremost in our minds, and therefore, all good Catholics should feel obligated to vote for McCain. I realize such articles have to tap-dance around formally telling us to vote Republican, but it is as clear to me as the nose on my face.

If I vote for Obama, have I committed a sin? How can I confess if I am not sorry for it? Is there any theologian who can help to sort out these conflicted emotions that I am sure are shared by many caring, intelligent citizens?

Maggie Casciato

Bridgeport, Conn.

Promised Land

Joseph Gerics’s article on Bruce Springsteen’s concerts at Giants Stadium (“Life Right Now!” 9/22) was a real treat, and I congratulate the editors for continuing to appreciate the contribution that Springsteen has made to the church in America. Although his relationship with the church may not be ideal, Springsteen remains faithful to his Catholic imagination, never takes his vocation as an artist lightly and (as Gerics notes) has written songs charged with such deep religious symbolism and imagery that his audience cannot help but connect every time they are performed.

I was puzzled, however, with Gerics’s disappointment that Springsteen’s music falls short of the transcendence we all strive for. He asks, “Will he ever address the themes of redemption and resurrection?”

It is true that most of Springsteen’s characters come close to redemption and transformation but wind up falling just short of it because of their own weakness and the meanness of the world. But how is this different from most characters in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories? Perhaps the reason listeners are drawn to Springsteen’s work is the same reason readers are drawn to O’Connor’s writing: Both capture the human condition so well. They believe in the Fall and the seriousness of its consequences, but both offer convincing reasons to hope and believe in the Promised Land while realizing we’re not there yet.

(Rev.) Damian J. Ference

Washington, D.C.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years 3 months ago
Fr. Damian, I agree wholeheartedly with your response. I do believe Springsteen addresses themes of redemption and resurrection. As the boss himself says "I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in the faith that can save me, I believe in the hope and I pray that someday it may raise me"
Frank Bergen
10 years 3 months ago
I have just read the letters in your October 13 issue. I am saddened. Two writers, both obviously deeply committed to the political process and desirous of voting in light of their very own formed adult consciences, express themselves as stymied. Joe Russell of Burke,VA, considers himself disenfranchised because the message he hears from the pulpit in his local parish contradicts his carefully formed conscience. Maggie Casciato of Bridgeport, CT, a self-confessed anti-abortion liberal, wonders whether she will sin if she votes for candidates who espouse a pro-choice political position, though they may themselves be personally anti-abortion. Both of these patently conscientious adult Catholics find very little positive in the positions of candidates whose claim to Catholic votes seems limited to their support for the 'official church position' of opposition to stem cell research, abortion and contraception. I have almost no first hand experience of Catholic higher education in this country apart from the Jesuit tradition, in which I long ago received an AB and MA from Boston College and a Master of Divinity from Weston Jesuit School of Theology, but the heart of that tradition is its commitment to producing adult Catholic citizens who think for themselves and who become committed to being persons for others, after the mind and heart of Ignatius. As long as such people find their educational experience and their commitment to becoming true followers of Christ contradicted by what they are told from the pulpit and from their bishop's pronouncements, my non-authoritative, non-binding advice to them would be to say a prayer for the perhaps benighted, doubtless overworked parish priest, and another for the bishop who has not the slightest notion that there is a world of difference between 'teaching' and 'laying down the law'. Oh yes, then let them go and vote for the poor, the orphans, the widows, all the marginalized and for candidates who don't say, "I've got mine; I earned it; tough on you." One final word: Mary Ann Walsh writes as the director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
10 years 3 months ago
"Is there any theologian who can help ..." asks Maggie Casciato in her conflict of conscience about voting. Would she (and all others so conflicted) settle for St. Thomas Aquinas? In his "Summa" (1st of 2nd part, questions 90-96, especially qu.96, articles 2 & 6) he discusses in detail the essence of law, and the difference between God-given natural moral law, and man-made human civil law. The scope of the latter is much narrower than that of the former; it is not morality in general, but the welfare, the peace and order, of the human community in particular. Consequently, and here Thomas quotes St.Augustine, "human law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds: since while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human intercourse."[Translation by Fathers of the English Dominican Province.] - In a nutshell (and this is my summary, but you can check for yourself): human law must never mandate something intrinsically evil (as would be, for instance, a law mandating the abortion of any foetus found to be genetically deficient by amniocentesis), but it need not proactively prosecute and prohibit every evil if the lawmaker judges (even if objectively mistakenly, but subjectively sincerely) that eliminating or lessening of the evil, or defending and promoting the opposite moral value, can be better achieved by other means than by criminalizing a particular course of actions. Whether or not such other means will be truly more effective is no longer a matter of faith, but of human prudential judgment; something in which intelligent and honest people can reach different conclusions. The Magisterium can speak authoritatively (sometimes even infallibly) in matters of moral values and principles; but when it comes to deciding what particular laws or ordinances will be best suited to defend and promote those values their judgment is no better (and sometimes even poorer) than that of any ordinary intelligent and honest human being - they themselves said so in their constitution "Gaudium et Spes" (the Church in the modern world) of Vatican II (the paragraph number is not at my fingertips). A poignant illustration of this in our own days was that when Pope John Paul II judged that invading Iraq did not satisfy the requirements of a morally just war, not a single Catholic bishop (but yes, an Eastern Orthodox one, who even imposed ecclesiastical sanctions on his flock!) accepted his opinion; all chose to defer to the judgment of the secular US Government - From this I would conclude that (1) it may be permissible for a Catholic lawmaker to vote for laws permitting abortion - NOT, as so many mistakenly state, because of some "separation of Church and state" principle, but YES, because, and if, they honestly judge that in the long run their particular vote would contribute more to the defense of the unborn than would a straight prohibition; and (2) it would be permissible to vote for a politician who holds some erroneous moral values if one honestly (even if possibly mistakenly) judges that on the whole and all things considered he would do a better job for the common weal than his opponent. - Edmund F. Kal, M.D.


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