Those Immortal Chaplains

I cannot believe that in the article on military chaplaincy by John J. McLain, S.J. (“Showing God’s Face on the Battlefield,” 11/17), you did not tell the story behind the picture of that famous postage stamp which you used to illustrate the article; surely not every reader will recognize it. In 1943, the U.S.S. Dorchester was attacked and sunk. Four chaplains, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, helped to get as many men as possible into lifeboats. Eventually the four gave away their own life jackets to others, and prayed with those who would most likely not survive. At last sight, the four chaplains were gathered in a circle with their arms around each other as the ship went down.

This kind of heroism characterizes the chaplain corps.


Kristeen Bruun

North Richland Hills, Tex.

Animal Liberation

Re your item on ecology, “Do Rocks Have Rights?” (Current Comment, 11/10): Can animals have rights? That depends on what is meant by a “right.” Many animals have legal protection, as do many of us who are in no position to secure it on our own. Courses on animal law pull together a body of law that has been developing since the early 19th century. It is not new law.

Further, animal law does not have to do with the concerns of environmental law. Its ultimate focus has always been on animals as individuals, not fungible, that can suffer and may have independent interests of their own, in contrast with the focus in environmental law on animals as parts of ecological systems.

Joseph Vining, Esq.

Ann Arbor, Mich.

Paul’s World

Thank you for publishing the articles on St. Paul’s life, the society around him and its influence on his writings (“The Legacy of St. Paul,” 11/10). As a reader and lector who sometimes struggles to bring life and emotion to the Sunday readings, I found the articles put Paul’s words into a context that will help me (and others, I hope) breathe energy and emotion into his works as they are read aloud. Such articles help us to appreciate the rich context of our Scriptural readings.

Frank Sturm

Dumfries, Va.

Intelligent Designs

The book review by William Reiser, S.J., of Ancestral Grace, by Diarmuid O’Murchu, M.S.C. (“‘And the Word Became Primate’?” 11/10), reminded me of the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, who embraced the best “science” of his day, rethinking Christian doctrine with the thought of Aristotle as a background. In the short run, he got into considerable trouble with established thought. In the long run, however, the believing community was greatly enriched because of what he did.

The best science of our modern time is evolutionary science. Those who take the 13.7 billion-year story of the unfolding of the universe as a starting point for theological reflection see it as God’s primordial and foundational revelation. It is a story that suggests new images and metaphors for the divine.

Thinkers of the 21st-century, including theologians like Father Reiser and social scientists like Father O’Murchu, are invited to engage this new hermeneutic creatively. They can expect considerable tension between resulting insights and more familiar traditional teachings. Over time, however, they can expect their own lives and those of the believing community will be enriched.

John Surette, S.J.

La Grange Park, Ill.


In “A Past Without a Future?” (11/3), Mark Silk and Andrew Walsh describe Senator Joseph Biden as “strongly support[ing] Roe v. Wade on the grounds that he does not want to impose his religious views on those who do not share them.”

Every law is an imposition of someone’s views on others who may not share them. If we accept Senator Biden’s stance on abortion, where do we stand on issues such as torture, help for the poor and the environment? As long as I do not have to torture or exploit or pollute, should others be free to do so?

It is not clear how Biden’s reasoning ultimately allows for any laws.

Emily Spear

Rochester, N.Y.

Shoulder to Shoulder

Leaving the moral argument aside, your editorial on refugees (“A Refugee World,” 11/3) is an exercise in naïveté. The United States cannot take in all the people in the world who would like to come here, because that would be ecologically and economically impossible, even before our current financial meltdown. Some well-meaning Christians, it seems, will not be satisfied until we are all living shoulder to shoulder in beehive housing complexes and when open spaces are distant memories.

For these people, the Kingdom of God on earth cannot come to be until the entire earth resembles Tokyo.

Richard Dubiel

Stevens Point, Wis.

Divine Love

I found “Dragen, Here Is Your Letter,” by Lyn Burr Brignoli (11/27), very moving, but was touched even more by Brignoli’s religious experience and her ability to reflect on it in true Ignatian fashion. She moves from an “abstract God” to a “deeper experience of God beyond mere logic,” then starts “to transcend the boundaries of doctrine and enter into the heart of God” and finally “to catch a glimpse of the compassion of God.”

I am an 87-year-old Jesuit who has been blessed with ministry in spiritual direction and retreats, and found this story to be a wonderful reflection on the experience of God revealing himself and befriending us.

Louis J. Lipps, S.J.

Cincinnati, Ohio

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