An Absurd Act
I very much appreciate “A President for Peace” (11/18), the fine reflection by James W. Douglass. It is wise and insightful. But I must disagree with his assertion that President Kennedy was assassinated as a consequence of his peace policies. The simple passage of time has ruled out any conspiracy behind Kennedy’s death.
If anything, Kennedy’s murder shows us how fragile, random, violent and unforgiving life can be. To invest Kennedy’s death with meaning, we look to elaborate plots and conspiracies. This is an understandable emotional reaction; but it ought not to cloud the objective reality of Kennedy’s death, which, while tragic, was the act of a non-compos-mentis person who got his hands on a gun. To use a popular term from the 1960s: it was absurd. Even more tragic is that Kennedy’s vision for peace was never realized.
In “What You Can Do” (11/18), John Carr writes, “Washington is ‘de-moralized’ by a House faction that paralyzes their party and the nation with disdain for compromise and for government itself.” But why should the Republican Party compromise on something they see as fundamentally wrong?
Engagement, in their view, is not going to fix what is wrong with Obamacare. The fundamental problem with Obamacare is that health care is a plumbing problem (local), not an electrical problem (federal). Health care is a problem of private goods, not common goods. The only reason to make it federal is to increase crony capitalism, which never helps the poor.
The Bible at Home
“The Gift of the Word,” by Richard J. Clifford, S.J. (11/11), deserves serious attention from all who value Catholic faith formation, especially Catholic parents with young children.
While the “big church” is enriched with a plenitude of excellent Bible studies, there is a real need to cultivate the practice of Bible reading in families in the “little church,” where faith is nurtured and love of the scriptural word grows exponentially. Parents who read inspiring biblical stories to their children in a home setting will bring about an even greater revolution than adults reading the Sunday readings before Mass. I am sure Father Clifford agrees this would promote his cause even more.
Re “Vatican: No Change for Divorced, Remarried Catholics” (Signs of the Times, 11/11): My now deceased sister-in-law had the misfortune of falling in love in with a divorced man in her first and only marriage. She watched three daughters march up for their first Communions, while she sat in the pew like an unworthy pariah with the eyes of other parents burning holes through her.
Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel laureate, said in a poem written in his 90s that Catholic dogma is “well armored against reason.” It seems, if the Eucharist has all of the ineffable graces claimed for it, sinners should be invited to the Communion rail ahead of those who merely pray, pay and obey.
There is much that resonates with me in “Are We Winning?” by John J. McLain, S.J. (11/4), but one sentence caught me up short, especially after reading “Love of the Person,” by Jeanne Schuler (11/4), about the core conviction of the late John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., about the ultimate and overriding dignity of each human person. Father McLain writes: “Nearly all the soldiers with whom I served believed in the fundamental goodness of people, even people who resisted and resented their presence in their countries and lives.”
I find it incredible that soldiers training for battle are steeped in the concept of the “fundamental goodness” of those they will try to kill. Is it merely myth that dehumanizing words like enemy and goon, which only become cruder and more debasing, are intentionally used precisely to train a soldier to consciously render the other as less than human, so as to more easily kill that person?
I do not have any inclination to mock or malign our service men and women. Nonetheless, I think the claim that soldiers respect and acknowledge the “fundamental goodness” of those “resisting” them is not believable. Could a person steeped in Father Kavanaugh’s philosophy of radical human dignity ever willingly become the soldier described by Father McLain?
Thank you for “Love of the Person,” about John F. Kavanaugh, S.J. My interactions with him in community and on campus in the early 1970s at Saint Louis University shaped me in many ways. His sense of life, his embodiment of Ignatian spirituality and his own personal journey always left me for the better.
One aspect of his life only touched on in the article is that John was a vocalist and a musician. I recall fondly concerts that he and his friend John Foley, S.J., would give in the student union. Years later this gift of music helped lead to the unique contribution of the St. Louis Jesuits.
It was tradition that the concerts would close with the Quaker song, “How can I keep from singing?” Indeed, when pondering John’s life, reflections, challenges and embodied goodness, how can we keep from singing?
Bon Voyage, John
What a joy to hear again about John F. Kavanaugh, S.J. While reading “Love of the Person,” I felt great gratitude that I had told John, way before his death, about my folder stuffed with the wisdom of so many of his one-pagers.
John cannot write again with his scintillating kindness, but his spirit of wisdom, liberation and humor still smile in my soul. Some of his carefully sketched phrases still burst aloud for me, again and again. But underneath a laugh, I always knew John was never more serious and truthful.
Bon voyage, John, forever and ever.
Don’t Try So Hard
I understand that the “special” issue on women (10/28) may be some kind of preliminary penitential gesture on your part (since America’s masthead and voice have grown increasingly masculine in the last year or so), but there remains, despite your honest intentions, something contrived and anachronistic about the very notion of publishing a one-off issue on “women.”
Here’s my advice: Try not to try so hard. Just desegregate your masthead and your table of contents a little, for starters, and make a point of integrating your articles more, so that when you publish about politics and culture (and not just motherhood and ministry), the authors and columnists we hear from just happen to have two X chromosomes. It might be rare in the Catholic press, but it is pretty commonplace in the rest of the media. I mean, Sports Illustrated may have more female contributors right now than America, for heaven’s sake.
If you manage to do any of that, even unevenly well, you can leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. She’ll probably take care of it.
The Ordination Question
America introduces the issue on “women in the life of the church” as a response to the invitation of the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus to “listen carefully and courageously to the experience of women.” The key phrase is “life of the church.” What gives life to the church? What nourishes the body of Christ?
“The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (1963) reminds us it is the very body of Christ in the Eucharist that is essential to the life of the church. The community is increasingly starved for the Eucharist because of a shrinking number of priests, yet there are many women who possess the ministerial gifts for ordained priesthood and who experience an authentic call to that ministry.
The requirements for infallible teaching have not been met in the prohibition against ordaining women. Yet America has obediently adhered to the ban on discussing the issue of women’s ordination. What is the use of a greater role for women in church governance if the whole body continues to starve for the Eucharist and women are denied the opportunity to serve where their service is most acutely needed?
Some would say that America has ignored the elephant in the room. To me, it has failed at courageous listening—not just to the experience of women, but to the experience of the entire people of God.
A Columnist Responds
The following is an excerpt from “Respondeo: On Clericalism” (In All Things, 11/19), in which Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., reflects on the wide and varied reaction to his earlier column, “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism” (10/21).
There has been a surprising amount of discussion…about clergy attire, vesture and titles. The attention paid to these themes in themselves is surprising to me (and many readers) because nowhere in the column do I claim that any of these things are inherently problematic.…The question for reflection is whether or not how we dress, how we interact with others, how we introduce ourselves, and what we expect from the people with and for whom we minister breaks down barriers to relationship or adds unnecessary barricades to potential relationships.…
Every single one of the emails or messages [I received about the column] expressed an appreciation that the topic of clericalism was being discussed openly, but each also expressed the complications of being situated within a culture where clericalism was often present and, especially for the seminarians, pressures to conform were felt. This does not mean that there isn’t hope. Many of these notes included references to the hope for change in culture and attitude signaled by Pope Francis in recent months. It is a hope that I likewise share.