Reply All: America’s readers weigh in
Before the Law
Re Of Many Things, by Matt Malone, S.J. (2/29): I continue to disagree about the value of Justice Antonin Scalia’s influence on the court. There is a major defect to his “originalism.” His Catholicism should have made him morally aware and morally practical in judgment, but he made an active effort to dissociate his belief (though not his religion) from his judicial decisions. Part of the belief of Catholicism is a sense there is a “natural law”; this has little to do with religious traditions and practices but very much to do with relationships.
I find it ironic that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia came to realize that the truth is best realized in dialogue and that these two, in particular, sharpened their opinions by their friendly differences. But Justice Scalia failed to realize this when it came to the Constitution and judicial decisions: It is the discussion of real persons—not original meaning—that gives rise to true justice.
Re “The End of Catholic Education?” by David O’Brien (Reply All, 2/22): We thank David O’Brien for his response to “Our Reason for Being” (2/1). We are surprised, however, by his suggestion that in our article we assert that there has been a pervasive failure in renewing American Catholic universities. In fact, we note that the renewal, like all such efforts, has been uneven and incomplete. We also assert that one reason for this incomplete renewal arises from a tendency to substitute secondary purposes for an institution’s primary purposes—what we call teleopathy.
Catholic universities, like all other institutions, are always in need of renewal, and one element of that renewal is an obligation to account for their deepest commitments and purposes not only to students, parents, accrediting agencies and donors but also to the church. This does not suggest a slavish obedience to any of these audiences but rather a dramatic and sustained engagement with and responsibility to them.
Higher education is a much more complex reality than it was 25 years ago, and we should not be surprised by the fact that negotiating identity has become imperative. We developed Catholic studies at the University of St. Thomas 23 years ago not only to provide opportunities for students to explore the comprehensive, diverse interdisciplinary Catholic intellectual tradition but also to provide a forum for the sustained investigation of that tradition by faculty members across the university.
It is clear that many American Catholic universities have responded to this complexity in creative ways and have avoided the twin errors of sectarianism and assimilation. But our universities are not well served by the assertion that Catholic higher education ignores accountability to its various audiences. For the ends and purposes of higher education have perhaps never been more contested than they are today. Such a situation demands honest and open reflection. Business and health care organizations are attentive to the critique of teleopathy. We believe that Catholic higher education must be equally attentive.
Discussing his time on paternity leave, Maurice Timothy Reidy writes, “Perhaps this is more of a male trait, the need to check off boxes and move on to the next task, but it is not exclusive to men” (Of Many Things, 2/22). Studies show that most women who work outside the home would do so even without the economic benefits of two incomes. They are not really so different from men in wanting to follow their personal interests and use their particular talents outside the home.
It is good for the family and for society that increasing numbers of men are taking on more parenting and homemaking roles. Some young couples have learned that it is the father who is more comfortable with full-time parenting and homemaking than the mother. But most seem to wish to share more equally in all of the roles—homemaking, parenting and financial support of the family. Thankfully, stereotyped gender roles are gradually becoming a relic of the past.
Why Jesus Cried
While I appreciate the attempt by James Martin, S.J., in his article “My God, My God” (2/15) to highlight a way for us to develop a deeper friendship with Jesus, it just seems improbable to me that Jesus made a spontaneous cry of abandonment that just happened to be the exact same words that start Psalm 22. What makes most sense to me is that Jesus used these words deliberately in order to fulfill that Scripture. Other activities at Calvary also demonstrate the intentional fulfillment of Psalm 22, including the casting of lots for Jesus’ clothing (described in Ps 22:18).
While some may see a “fulfillment of Scripture” interpretation as not appreciably different from the first intention Father Martin provides, of invoking the totality of Psalm 22, they in fact are quite different. The latter would be dependent upon someone ultimately making that connection to have value. The former would have all the value it could ever need to have through Jesus’ action in that moment. A “fulfillment of Scripture” explanation does not necessarily disprove the possibility that Jesus was also expressing pangs of abandonment, but I personally doubt it. Regardless, those pangs would not have been the only (or primary) thing going through his mind when he cried.
The Right Questions
J. Michael Byron’s article, “What’s Catholic About It?” (2/8), questioning the validity of the field of Catholic studies, could benefit from some important methodological distinctions. While current seminary theology tends to focus on historical, doctrinal and systematic theology, all these specializations are in vain if they do not bear fruit either in the world of pastoral activity or in communication with the other disciplines in the academic world.
The academic world in general would be significantly poorer without the emerging field of Catholic studies that links the fact of Catholicism with all the fields in the university. Courses like Catholicism and art, Catholicism and business, and Catholicism and health care are beginning to enrich many students’ lives. Indeed, ultimately it is largely from these interdisciplinary conversations that many questions for the rest of Catholic theology will emerge. Unless theology responds to real questions arising outside of theology, theology itself is in danger of becoming irrelevant—answering questions that people are not asking. Catholic studies, infused with excellent Catholic theology, aims at being open to questions in the academy that even secularists and atheists are asking.
I write from 22 years of teaching in Catholic seminaries and 18 years in a university Catholic studies program. Anyone who thinks that a theology that interacts with other disciplines is not needed in our classrooms has a naïvely optimistic idea of what the name “Catholic” in the mission statement actually accomplishes.
Reading the World
In reading “The Genius of Compassion” (2/8), a review by Brenna Moore of a collection of Simone Weil’s writings, I could not help but think of the New Monasticism movement and how we are trying to “read the world differently” and “push against gravity.” The practices once hidden behind the cloister wall or inside the hermit’s cell are calling to many of us living in the lay and digital world to become literate in finding God in everything.
If Gun Control Fails
Re “Cupich: Confront Gun Violence,” by Judith Valente (2/1): Chicago has stricter gun laws than most of the rest of the United States, and it also has much more violence. There might or might not be a causal relationship involved here, but these facts do lead many to feel skeptical about more regulations and to ponder questions like: If we adopt the stricter laws that gun control supporters are proposing, and if, five years from now, those who proposed these regulations realize that violence has stayed at the same level or even increased, will they propose getting rid of the regulations they previously supported? Will they propose yet more regulations, or will they propose keeping the new status quo?
Power of the People
Re “A Rooted Vision,” by Rafael Luciani and Félix Palazzi (2/1): The “rooted vision” of Pope Francis is the hope of the church for a future rooted in God’s justice; a church that calls the human family to the fullness of our dignity, which we live as a community seeking, nurturing and empowering the common good of all.
The theology of the people has ever been the foundation of God’s covenant with us. It is God’s call to “choose life, not death!” The remarkable and beautiful testimony throughout time of those who embraced this life and brought it to others is the rich heritage of the church. It is the story of the sensus fidelium that has continued to grow and become a source of hope in dealing with the constant threat of the power of corruption in society and the church.
It is clear Pope Francis seeks to revive and deepen the goals of the Second Vatican Council as we enter into an era of the laity being the stabilizing strength of the church.