“The Message of Mercy” (9/15) brought out the nature of mercy very beautifully, but Cardinal Walter Kasper lost me at the conclusion. The church already tolerates “brother and sister” arrangements for the sake of re-admittance to the sacraments and allows the continuation of civil relationships where obligations, for instance to children or an elderly spouse, necessitate it. Does the cardinal then mean that irrespective of the moral character of the continuing relationship, the church should welcome remarried Catholics back to the sacraments? If not, then it seems no real change is necessary, except perhaps clearer pastoral norms.
If, however, what Cardinal Kasper means is re-admittance “irrespective of sexual activity” in the new relationship, then such a change would devalue the church’s understanding of the marital bond, as well as the rights and moral obligations which flow from it. It would also raise questions about the true seriousness of moral failings in other kinds of relationships. Can the church really speak of repentance and mercy without the resolution of those questions through the appropriate canonical and sacramental forums (i.e., the marriage tribunal regarding validity and the confessional regarding moral fault)? To do otherwise lifts no burden, and seems to extend the false mercy the cardinal rightfully decries.
“Holy Spirits,” by Carlos Mesquita (9/15), is a modestly written piece with a bombshell takeaway: The youth drinking culture—and, I would posit, its closely bound phenomenon, the hookup culture—are the products of crushing spiritual emptiness, not the outpouring of youthful high spirits. This young man in under 1,000 words lays out the simple, powerful supports our young people need so desperately for spiritual safety and maturity: community, catechesis and role models. Oh, and the Eucharist is in there, too. What is needed now is a related critical exploration of how our young women are drinking themselves unconscious to convince themselves that, as good college feminists, they actually enjoy the degradation of casual sex without love or commitment.
In “Deporting the Heart” (9/15), Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., does a good job describing the horrors of the failing or failed Central American states, but it is not clear just what he wants the United States to do about them. “Until we deal with the root causes of their departures from their home countries, people will keep coming,” he writes. So “we” are supposed to deal with the root causes? Exactly how?
And as for the migrants who cross our borders, are we supposed to accept them all? Is there any limit? Mexico has 122 million people; the three other failing states have over 27 million. Must we absorb all who want to come, including the criminal gangs? It is easy to pontificate about “Holy Innocents” but far more difficult to form a reasonable policy. Perhaps that is why Father Groody doesn’t try.
Re “Faithful Aspirations,” by Frank DeSiano, C.S.P. (9/1): As a pastoral minister, I have used the information contained in Ms. Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples in numerous workshops, presentations and trainings, presenting to over a hundred clergy, religious, lay ecclesial ministers, parish leaders and ordinary lay Catholics. Taken as a whole, the tools presented in this book foster anything but an elitist mentality among the participants.
Among ordinary Catholics who grieve the loss of post-modern young adult children or middle-aged, once-active parishioners to the evangelical churches or the land of the spiritual-but-not-religious “nones,” I often witness a hushed reverence, and an unanticipated joy at the prospect of tools that can help them build a bridge of trust to family, friend and neighbor, where once one did not exist.
The opportunity to respectfully and compassionately listen to the spiritual journey of another, instead of attaching a label, opens their eyes to a new way of evangelizing: through spiritually accompanying one another, at the grassroots level, as inspired by the words of Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel” (No. 173). Their eyes light up and the voice says yes to the words of C. S. Lewis: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
More Than Charity
In “An Itinerant Preacher” (8/18), Msgr. Peter Vaghi writes, “The focus on charity and the poor not only is fundamental to the Gospel; it has been a consistent feature of Catholic social teaching from its modern advent.” Groups like Catholic Charities indisputably do wonderful work, but the poor are more interested in a just, living wage than in charity from the tips of our fingers. Not since the happy day of labor priests in the United States in the mid-20th century has the church been really active in promoting a living wage.
Let’s be frank: social justice issues have been conflated with the politics of contraception and abortion; raising the minimum wage and pro-choice policies are perceived as “Democrat issues” by much of the hierarchy. On the issue of a living wage, the action of the Catholic Church in the U.S. has too often been limited of late to “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well.” What a shame to the memory of pioneer labor priests like the venerable Msgr. George Higgins.
In “It Takes Time” (8/18), James Hanvey, S.J., speaks of the “Anglican Church,” meaning the Church of England. But what about the larger issue of the Anglican Communion, which embraces churches like the Episcopal Church in the United States as well as the Church of England? For them, presumably, the question of the establishment or disestablishment of the Church of England is simply a local U.K. issue rather than one affecting the international Anglican Communion as a whole. How far can national churches within that larger Communion follow their own policies and beliefs and still remain part of that communion? After all, here in the United States there have been women bishops for some years, and indeed the present presiding bishop is a woman and, by all reports, a very good bishop indeed.
I have no idea what the answer to that question may be, or how the Anglican Communion as a whole will answer it, and it’s clear that it has led to some divisive feelings between Western and non-Western members of that communion. Nevertheless, it may well be that we Roman Catholics have something to learn from our Anglican brothers and sisters about the shaping of local churches. To what extent, for instance, does Rome’s forbidding the ordination of women genuinely reflect a theological objection, and to what extent is it simply an outgrowth of the traditional misogyny of a specific time and place?
A New Israel
Re “Gaza Again,” by Margot Patterson (8/4): We need a policy toward Israel that says: If you are threatened with military force, we will act to ensure your continued existence as a state. But we will no longer prevent votes in the United Nations or statements of condemnation just because they are critical. We will no longer be the financial backers of the humiliations Palestinians endure every day.
If the Palestinians are truly to see a new Israel, Israel needs to do things they do not want to do. One of them is to refuse to expand the settlements—which reward settlers for having large families—and instead have settlement building go up, not out. Another is to do more than issue a tap on the wrist for settler “accidents” that cause a Palestinian’s death. They must ensure that Israeli military and police personnel that interact daily with Palestinians treat them with civility. The Palestinians have to have the knowledge that they are part of the larger society.
These changes will not have an effect immediately, but over time they will dial down the humiliation and anger that drive Palestinian lives. When a young boy sees his parents putting up with these injustices day after day, he doesn’t forget.
Readers respond to “Holy Spirits,” by Carlos Mesquita (9/15).
What struck me about the article was not so much the issue of the drinking culture, but the alienation that the writer felt about being unlike his peers, and how he began to question his own identity because he was awash in a culture with different values. I think it can be challenging to realize that when you are different from everyone else in your group, it is not a sign that you are somehow deficient; it is merely a sign that you are in the wrong group.
Don’t discount the drinkers’ relationship with God. The two do coexist. I understand the pitfalls, but a drinking college student may also be a moral, Christian example of faith, hope and love. After all, Jesus drank and associated with the sinners. Perhaps the drinking college student smells like his/her “flock,” which is a noble goal if we are leading by Christian example.