Christ at Center
I very much appreciated “Redefining Success,” by Brian B. Pinter (5/12). After 27 years teaching at the college level, I am more and more convinced of the crucial importance of the formation in faith that students receive in high school. It is often determinative for their ongoing commitment to the Christian way.
Mr. Pinter moves beyond the rather anodyne depiction of Jesuit schools as “educating men and women for others” to embrace the challenge of nurturing in students (and ourselves) “a deep, transformative personal relationship with the divine.”
While applauding Mr. Pinter’s insight here, I would press even further. The experience that Christian formation seeks to foster is not a relationship with some faceless “divine,” but rather to contemplate “the glory of God on the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:6). Mr. Pinter does refer to Jesus, but I suggest Jesus needs to be explicitly at the center. Pope Francis said in a memorable homily to his fellow Jesuits last year: “When a Jesuit puts himself and not Christ in the center, he goes astray.”
What is true for Jesuits is true, of course, for us all, students and teachers alike.
I was dismayed by “Writers Blocked?” by Kaya Oakes (4/28), concerning the state of Catholic writing today. The value of art is to illuminate the truth in the actual being of persons, and the way a novel does that is to fill the pages with the right details that lead to an opening into eternity.
This is why nonfiction is not included in great writing. This is why Catholic doctrine and philosophy is the best platform upon which great art can be achieved. It is the full truth, not accommodated to circumstances; rather the circumstances are presented as opportunities for grace, which only the imagination, not fantasy, can present.
Only the brave should enter the arena, which is full of jesters and knaves. We need the courage to work in the dark in order that the work might illuminate God’s glory. As Flannery O’Connor wrote, “You do not write the best you can for the sake of art, but for the sake of returning your talent increased, to the invisible God to use or not use as he sees fit.” That is vocation. That is the virtue required to not sell out to the market place. We must not be consumers of the culture, rather, as Pope Francis has recently written, we must create culture, in the truth and light of human dignity and in faith.
I thank the editors from the bottom of my heart for “Healing Moral Wounds” (Editorial, 4/14). A nation should be terribly sure of the need for self-defense before sending young people to do things that will morally affect them for the rest of their lives. These are wounds that never heal.
I know this well. I served in Vietnam for almost six months as a chaplain with the 101st Airborne. I was a priest who never fired a shot, but I crawled through enemy fire and through mud paddies and snake-filled jungles to get to the wounded and dying. I was the only comfort for men as I heard their horrible screams from gaping wounds or closed their eyes in death.
I returned to the United States wounded in soul and body. I could not escape my screams at night, the cold sweats, the nightmares and the constant thought of suicide. It took me over 40 years to recuperate. One day, as I sleep-walked, a police officer picked me up and brought me to a group of former combat veterans at a local hospital. They realized I was not a freak or simply insane. The police officer and those veterans saved my life.
There is no doubt many of our Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from terrible moral wounds, and we, the American people, need to help them heal. But I take issue with the editors’ use of the study published on The Huffington Post.
The stories of Nick and Stephen are hard to believe. Nick said he had no choice about shooting a young boy firing on his fellow soldiers. Not so. Nick had a choice. He could have let the boy kill his mates (at what moral price?) or shot the boy, as he did. Nick made a choice and, hands down, it was the right choice.
Stephen says that when a dying man was pulled into a Marine camp, he “just lit him up.” This suggests a murder occurred. If this is true, please tell us the story of Stephen’s court martial. Our service members are not barbarians, and our military has a system of justice that would deal with this kind of unlawful conduct.
I hope the last paragraph contains the purpose of the editorial. I agree that all of us who encounter veterans need to help them heal.
Grace Is Everywhere
In reading “Behind the Portraits,” by James P. McCartin (3/31), a review of the book American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, I could not help but remember the parallel of Rockwell’s life and work with Thomas Kinkade, the self-styled “Painter of Light.”
Both artists struggled through a life of brokenness and depression. Kinkade died on Good Friday two years ago from an accidental overdose of alcohol and Valium. Each was criticized for his too-good-to-be-true sentimentality in celebrating God, country and family values. Gregory Wolfe recently wrote that Kinkade’s paintings kept the viewer “on the outside, where we can gaze longingly at cozy, secure homes” (The Wall Street Journal, 4/19). Perhaps the same can be said of Rockwell. Wolfe continues, “Our nostalgia is for an ideal we can only find after accepting, and passing through, the brokenness of a fallen world.”
As Professor McCartin suggested of Rockwell, perhaps the ideal can be found in the “act—perhaps even the duty—of looking” for the light that invites us into the realm of the grace within and about us at all times.
Readers respond to “Defending ‘the Worst’: An interview with the lawyer of an accused terrorist,” by Luke Hansen, S.J. (5/19):
It is with a frisson of satisfaction that I see a Navy attorney undertaking a vigorous defense of his assigned client. Our system of justice must be given high marks for treating even these prisoners fairly. The more publicity this gets, the better. Al Qaeda kills at random, striking noncombatants as often, or more often, than armed soldiers. They are, we are told, a perversion of Islam. I hope so.
I had the opportunity to meet Commander Ruiz in 2013 when I was a legal observer at the military commissions. He is an honorable man. He is very skilled and dedicated to the rule of law. The lawyers are not the villains here. All of the lawyers are doing their best within the confines of this system to diligently and vigorously represent their clients. It is what we ask them to do. They have a thankless task, as one can see from many of the comments. These men and women deserve respect.
Without a viable detention system for conflict, you take away the option to capture and detain…leaving only the option to kill. This high-mindedness that confuses the law of armed conflict detention with our criminal processes puts our men and women in an even greater moral dilemma in the field.
If we violate our own principles by torture and ignoring due process, then what are struggling for in this “war on terror”? If we betray our core beliefs, the terrorists have won a great victory. “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” wrote Benjamin Franklin.
The matter of whether our personal biases lean toward an assessment of the accused as pious or pathological is irrelevant in the absence of due process of the law. As the defendant’s lawyer notes, he is representing “a human being.” And no human being should be incarcerated this long without the dignity and voice a trial would provide.
The story of St. Maria Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli might be appropriate to revisit when we deal with these situations. Serenelli attempted to rape 12-year-old Maria, and he stabbed her 14 times. He served 30 years in prison and later became a lay Capuchin brother. Years later, he was present with Maria’s mom during her canonization ceremony. Either we believe in redemption or we don’t.