Re “What Martyrdom Means,” by Patrick Gilger, S.J. (5/12): In so many ways, the story of the life and death of Frans van der Lugt, S.J., echoes the story of the seven Trappist monks who lived among Algerians in Tibhirine and who were kidnapped and beheaded during the Algerian civil war in 1996. The Trappists could have left when they were warned of the danger to themselves, but they stayed among the people they served and loved.
Dom Christian de Chergé’s testament, written in 1993 as the Trappists felt the growing menace, allied him with suffering Algerian people of all faiths, in the same way Father Frans identified himself with the people of Homs, Syria. Dom Christian wrote: “If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.”
He went on to ask the readers of his testament not to heap scorn on Algerians or its Muslim believers.
Thanks for a superb meditation on lives we find hard to imagine.
A Priest’s Family
In “Shared Sacrifice” (4/28), Msgr. Michael Heintz writes that as in a marital relationship, the availability of the celibate priest “is extended to his spouse, his flock, his community.” This comment pinpoints the special and unique identity of the celibate priest. He is available and related to his flock.
The question for me is, “How does he see himself related?” I experience this ministry not so much as “spouse” but analogously related to it.
It is most important that a priest see himself as part of a family relationship. He is part of the family before him; to the young ones as “father” or “uncle”; to men and women of his age as “brother”; and when he is much older, as “grandfather.”
The priest takes on these various “identities” from the perspective of the different age groups and experiences of his family members as individuals with God-given, unique backgrounds. It is very important for him, young or not so young, to relate sincerely from these perspectives.
“Shared Sacrifice” celebrates the complementarity of Christian love and witness in vowed celibacy and marriage. But this comparison leaves out many people who are involuntarily single, widowed or divorced. While his paean to baptismal discipleship is articulated in these two lifestyles, these other growing populations (now about half of all U.S. adults) are often seen as somehow a lesser witness value—and often without institutional or ecclesial support—in an increasingly less coupled society. And this does not even address same-sex couples or those who are not disposed toward a coupled life.
As I look around my parish on a given Sunday, I see a majority of people who serve the parish and humanity immensely and deserve more than the traditional pat on the back or benign glance that says, “You, too, have a vocation…but we don’t call it a sacrament or religious vocation as we do for your married and vowed co-parishioners.”
The church still has much to do celebrate the role of the single person in the world and not emphasize only the vowed or married life.
Pope Francis is allegedly rethinking the denial of Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. The pre-history of the uses and abuses of holy Communion are interesting, as any Jesuit should know.
In 17th-century France, the Jansenists opposed frequent Communion, believing it was the reward for a holy disposition, while their Jesuit foes believed sinners needed grace and should frequently approach the altar. Indeed, the church in the 18th century adopted more frequent Communion, but in practice the clergy generally still used Communion to keep the faithful in line.
Again in France, in Vichy France, many clergy refused Communion to those who resisted the legal government of Marshal Philippe Pétain, a pro-Nazi regime, but they welcomed members of the Milice, a paramilitary group who specialized in murdering Jews and leftists, to the altar.
Is it not time to be clear that Communion is a source of grace for sinners and not a reward for Catholic Pharisees?
Readers respond to “We Praise You, O God!” by Robert F. O’Connor (5/26).
The St. Louis Jesuits were my entrée into the Scriptures. They introduced me to the important passages and images in a melodic way that stuck with me more than simple words or pictures could have. When I got more serious about Scripture study, I found that their music was still valuable. Thanks to them for their work.
So very, very often I will hear a Scripture passage, and the first thing that happens is that I want to sing the song of that Scripture. I, too, am grateful for the contemporary composers. Thanks to these creative individuals, there is always a song in my heart. Many thanks!
We had wonderful, beautiful classical music that honored the 157-year-old German heritage in our parish. We lost that in the last nine months, and the reaction of the people in the pews has not been positive. Music is to enhance prayer and should honor the heritage, tradition and culture of the parish. Contemporary music, spirituals, guitar masses, etc., might work in some parishes, but it shouldn’t be imposed on those where it doesn’t work.
I enjoy both our traditional classics and contemporary music, depending on my current spiritual thirst. One of the things I most appreciate about being Catholic is our inclusivity and the many rich traditions we have to enjoy, learn from and embody in our spiritual practice and lived experience.