Free the Saints
“Money and Saint-Making,” by Gerard O’Connell (4/4), brought to mind an inspired homily by the Trappist abbot at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass., at a weekend retreat I attended that coincided with All Saints Day. The abbey church trembled with his firm refresher to his monks and us retreatants that God intends everyone to become a saint. He emphasized that it is God who makes saints with his grace. I was gratified to hear his blunt dismissal of money-driven, political-type campaigns directed at the Vatican’s formal process of “saint-making.” Reform of that process is, indeed, most welcome and necessary.
The Spirit Speaks
In his fine article “A Sacred Calling” (3/28), Steven P. Millies writes, “It seems clear that the Holy Spirit does speak to us and can be heard in the dialogues of politics.” Indeed, the Holy Spirit works though the leaders of our church when they are authentic, truthful and willing to dialogue with the people they serve. Now and then I hear someone with authority dismiss the value of dialogue because he associates the term with those who think the church is a democracy. Sadly, some of our leaders think they possess all the truth and that listening to others for their input or to gain more information is not needed. What a shame, and what arrogance. Pope Francis calls that attitude “Phariseeism.”
Make Welfare Work
The editors’ comments in “Revisiting Welfare Reform” (Editorial, 3/21) were spot-on. Making welfare reform work in Virginia has been a high priority for groups like Social Action Linking Together, a faith-based organization that has engaged in social justice advocacy for the past 30 years. Since the commencement of welfare reform under the Clinton administration, SALT advocates have been urging state legislators to do a number of things to make welfare reform work: refrain from “supplantation,” a gimmick used by state legislators that results in the reduction of TANF funding intended to be used for direct assistance to families; invest in education and job training programs; increase the cash benefits for families in order to keep up with inflation (since TANF was created, there have been only two increases in the benefit); provide an annual allowance for school supplies and clothing for TANF children in school.
I encourage the editors of America to continue their challenge to candidates to provide “detailed proposals…on how to adapt the welfare reform law to current realities.”
Leave It to Conscience
While I appreciated “Scalia vs. Aquinas,” by Anthony Giambrone, O.P. (3/21), the author seems to recognize but gloss over an important issue—namely, that Thomas Aquinas allows that all that is immoral should not necessarily be made illegal, lest a theology become a theocracy. Instead the church should teach so that rightly formed consciences may freely consent to rather than obey because of force the dictates of morality. In light of this, perhaps same-sex marriage—which involves the deepest identity and even genetic makeup of the person—should be left to conscience. Perhaps abortion—having to do with circumstances so personal and intimate—would best be addressed by listening and counseling instead of legal abolition. In both cases the nation would be spared the ludicrous politicking of deeply serious moral issues better left to individuals.
As I read “Measures of Faith,” by John A. Coleman, S.J. (3/14), a review of Robert Wuthnow’s Inventing American Religion, an analogy came to mind. Religion in the United States is like Chinese restaurants: ubiquitous, familiar, part of American society but with little effect in terms of how Americans understand Chinese beliefs, motivations or approaches to cuisine. In a similar way, American society “knows religion” but very little about its believers, let alone about the object or subject of their belief. And what’s worse is that this creates a feedback loop whereby believers themselves end up “dumbing down” or imbibing an unconscious ignorance whenever they speak about their beliefs in a secular world that has placed its own limits on what it can understand or interpret about religion.
Those of us who have enjoyed quality dim sum, or received a grandmother’s special cooking in a home, know that looking at the $8.99 buffet is good for numbers but hardly good for developing a deeper relationship and understanding with the people behind it.
In Of Many Things (3/14), Matt Malone, S.J., decries this country’s “descent into gutter politics.” So the thin veneer of respectability has chipped away, showing us the ugly, power-seeking, self-serving nature of politicians. It has always been this way—it is just not hidden anymore. Maybe that is a good thing. Let us not allow this government to get any more powerful.
Free to Disagree
In “What Did He Say?” (Editorial, 3/14), the editors write, “When he speaks of a throwaway economic system…[Catholics] may rest assured that the commentary offered by Pope Francis is buttressed by a legion of unseen experts hidden away in the Vatican.” That may be so, but it does not mean he or they are protected from criticism. For example, global poverty is at its lowest levels—less than 10 percent, according to the World Bank. Despite the narrative coming out of the Vatican, much of the reduction in poverty is the direct result of increased access to cheaper global energy sources.
So, while I respect the pope’s voice and seek to discern and listen, I must also say at times he speaks with very broad brushes that overstep and overlook certain counternarratives. Such disagreement was once taken for granted when Catholic progressives objected to the pope’s limited direct experience to speak on issues like family planning or even abortion. So are we now at a point where it is “creeping infallibility for me, but not for thee,” as long as the pope agrees with us?
Know-Nothing No More
“College Free for All” (Editorial, 3/7) gives strong support to Senator Bernie Sanders’s proposal of free higher education. The editors rightly note that Catholic and private universities, freed from government influence, provide a richer education in their inclusion of theology and philosophy and promotion of love for neighbor and social justice. But they stop short of noting the patent injustice of Mr. Sanders’s denial of tax funds to nonstate institutions. The nearly prohibitive cost of higher education and federal government subsidization of state schools would result in closure of most religious and private colleges and universities. I am confident that Mr. Sanders would find that an unacceptable unintended consequence.
Would that the editorial had reminded that we are the outlier among developed nations in restricting tax funds to purely secular institutions. Today the United States follows in the tradition of Know-Nothing opposition to Catholic parochial schools rather than the example of the founding fathers, whose children attended tax-supported church-run schools. The editorial should have amended Mr. Sanders’s well-meaning proposal by recommending the continuation of the nondiscriminatory and highly successful G.I. Bill approach: funding college education at any accredited institution. Today we have a Supreme Court less wedded to Know-Nothing discrimination and open to state-funded charter schools and voucher programs, some of which serve students at religious schools.
I am writing to call attention to a mistake in “Women in the Life of the Church: International Women’s Day 2016,” a podcast published on America’s website on March 10. Guest Nicole Perone attributes to Archbishop Óscar Romero the reflection that ends “prophets of a future not our own.” This is incorrect. Then-Father Ken Untener wrote the reflection as part of the homily that Cardinal John Dearden delivered at the Mass for deceased priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit on Oct. 25, 1979.
I know the editors would agree that proper credit is always a priority in communications, whether print or electronic. It is time that the mistaken references to the “Romero Prayer” stop. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton confirmed to me that Archbishop Romero’s biographer could find no reference to this reflection in any of his writings or homilies. It is a mystery how this “urban legend” got started.
The Health Gap
In “Mind the Gap,” I think the editors mounted a very weak argument (Current Comment, 3/7). It is not that I disagree with the assessment on the life-span gap between the rich and the poor, but the editors overlooked a couple of things. First, one of the big reasons for this gap widening among the poor is the lack of affordable healthy eating options. I can walk into almost any fast-food restaurant in the country and buy a cheeseburger for less than a dollar, but a salad with a similar caloric value would cost a considerable amount more. We are forcing our low-income families to feed their children foods that promote obesity for the simple reason that it is all that they can afford.
As for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, I have a 26-year-old daughter who lives in the Bronx, N.Y., and could not afford insurance. While noble in its intention, in my mind, it is a failure in its implementation. I think it will prove to be an inadequate response that will, in the long run, not do much to help the underprivileged get adequate health care.