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Behind the Scenes

From the perspective of a Catholic convert from evangelicalism, I think that “Worship at Willow Creek,” by Laurie Ziliak (2/3), chooses to focus only on the good in this worship style. What I and many others experienced was not all fun and songs.

In many evangelical communities, for example, there is little tolerance for those who do not express themselves with exuberance. Introverts are not considered spiritually worthy. What goes unseen is the chastisement of those not “fully” engaging in worship, the confrontations by leaders who question the devotion of others and the praising of people who wave their arms and shout as “more holy” than the quiet ones.


There are sermons about how God wants us to be noisy, about how if we can cheer at a football game but not at church, then we don’t love Jesus and aren’t on fire for God. (Never mind that some of us don’t scream for football either.)

It might not be obvious to an outsider, but guilt can make a lot of people sing louder and look happier.

Amy Rosenthal
Online comment

Catholic and Growing

Re “Worship at Willow Creek”: The Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., is one Catholic parish that has adopted many characteristics of an evangelical church. The parish continues to grow and incorporate the active participation of the parishioners.

They have had to move their Christmas Mass to the Maryland fairgrounds. In 2013 that service had 8,000 participants. At the same time, they have not abandoned the most important elements of the Catholic liturgy.

Ronald Foust
Online comment

No Substitute

Re “Worship at Willow Creek”: When one of our bishops would hear about a former Catholic attending a non-Catholic church because of the welcome the person received, he would comment, sadly: “They would leave the Eucharist for a cup of coffee.” Now the comment might be paraphrased: “They would leave the Eucharist for all that technology.”

I have attended non-Catholic services where the music was good and the preaching all right, but the whole thing was empty and meaningless without the Eucharist.

Don’t misunderstand me: I regularly attend Mass in our cathedral, where we have great music, excellent preaching and a beautiful celebration of the Eucharist. In other churches, the technology is a distraction and a poor substitute for the Eucharist, which is a great reminder that Christ died for our sins.

Kathleen Toups
Lafayette, La.

Alternative Families

In “Family-Friendly Francis” (Current Comment, 2/3), the editors write that “family situations often viewed by the church as anomalies are in many societies the new everyday reality.” It will be a trick for Pope Francis to acknowledge the existence of so-called alternative families without the media jumping on it as if he approved such arrangements, thus increasing their number.

The pope needs to be clear about these alternative families: Most of them involve the tragedy of the separation of a child from one or both parents. And the remaining families (with unmarried and cohabiting parents) are at a known higher risk for splitting up and depriving more children of a parent.

It is up to Pope Francis to prevent such arrangements from being the “new everyday reality.”

Tom Wilson
Online comment

Philippines Poverty

Re “A Feathered Thing,” by Robert P. Maloney, C.M. (2/3): Here in the Philippines, in spite of government and church efforts to reduce it, poverty impinges on all five senses. Like the priest mentioned in the article, I could just as easily say, “It’s hopeless.” But I am uplifted in particular by the full, active and conscious participation in the Mass of a full church in Tanay, Rizal, with a seating capacity of no less than 600.

The churchgoers’ joy, which belies the misery many of them undoubtedly endure, makes me hopeful and optimistic. I don’t know what they do after church, but I am quite confident that their devotion to God’s just word, to the Eucharist and to prayers will lead (if it hasn’t yet done so) not only to the recognition of the body of Christ in the poor among them, but also the necessary anger and courage to root out poverty.

Ross Reyes Dizon
Online comment

Critical Thinking

Saving the Humanities,” by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. (12/23) is a marvelous defense of the liberal arts. The late Senator Patrick Moynihan referred to the U.S. population as “dumbing down” due to the lack of emphasis on the study of the liberal arts. The digital age is sapping the lifeblood of the minds of young people. Multiple choice tests are replacing essays that stimulate thinking.

I sent the article to my sister-in-law, who taught at Duchesne High School in Houston for 26 years. She sent the article to the school president who, in turn, sent copies to the entire faculty. Writing and reading broaden the mind. Father Schroth wrote, “The liberal arts help make us human beings,” which sums up the whole article.

It is critical that we increase the study of liberal arts before we turn out students who do not know how to think.

Patricia O’Neill
Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Time to Heal

Healing Communities” (Editorial, 12/2): The difficulty of mental health issues is very well described in The Soloist, by Steve Lopez. Lopez takes the part of everyman in his quest to help Ayers, a violin player, but the various mental health workers keep saying that Ayers can’t be cured or even treated as fast as Lopez would like.

We, too often, want a problem to just go away. We are looking for what the book Alcoholics Anonymous describes as “an easier, softer way.” As a recovering person, I can attest to the truth and folly of this. For all our caring about people with mental illness and/or addiction, we too often play the part of Lopez, caring and concerned but uneducated in these matters. 

We must begin to realize that there is no quick fix, that most if not all the problems in life take a long time to develop and often even longer to make right. We can hope that better insurance coverage will help more people with mental health/addiction problems, but it is really a small part of the whole thing.

Thank you, America. You help people to stop and think and, hopefully, reach out to God for answers that work.

(Rev.) George Stamm
Chippewa Falls, Wis.

A Good Sacrifice 

I appreciated “Love, Naturally,” by Regina Bambrick-Rust (10/28), which reflected on natural family planning. Often our default mode of thinking is to consider contraception convenient and NFP burdensome, which is what I believed at one time. In my medical career, however, I have encountered many women patients harmed by contraception. The effects have ranged from the mild to the devastating: a deep venous blood clot, for instance, requiring months of anticoagulant therapy to reverse.

NFP offers freedom from burdensome medical risks placed exclusively on the woman, and it promotes an embrace of feminine biology in its natural, normal state. NFP also supports the equal dignity of female and male in demanding mutual sacrifice and responsibility of both husband and wife. Yes, NFP requires discipline, but this is where true freedom is found.

We must also consider the damaging effects of contraception on the environment. When synthetic hormones are excreted from the body, they enter the water supply, to which all forms of life are exposed. I ask the readers of America to reconsider their assumptions about life, care for the earth and honor the feminine as they examine the church’s teachings on contraception.

Tracey Hoelzle, M.D.
Fremont, Ohio

Status Update

Readers respond to “Worship at Willow Creek,” by Laurie Ziliak (2/3), about worship in evangelical communities:

I was taught a long time ago that it isn’t what you get from the Mass, it’s what you give to the Mass. While Mass is easier to “enjoy” when the music is perfect, the homily moves you to tears, and the sound system is state of the art, I don’t believe we go to Mass for enjoyment. God’s people are not perfect. I don’t believe the Mass should be perfect—other than the perfection found in the sacrament and the people’s love.

Bea Stout Pollard

I enjoy many styles of worship, including more modern and upbeat like [Willow Creek] as well as traditional Mass. I’d like better music at Mass, personally. To each her own.

Jill Fenstermaker Stowers 


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