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True Believer

Re “A New Thing” (Editorial, 5/27): Five years ago, I began teaching online ministry courses for Dominican University in Illinois and Ushaw College in Durham, England. Having taught in traditional classrooms for well over 30 years, I had my doubts. But no more.

The heart of the online learning experience is the interactive process this format allows. Through blackboards, instant messaging, e-mails and other postings, this virtual classroom can be a beehive of active learning.

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One example might suffice. I taught a course on the sacraments that enrolled about a dozen students. Over a period of eight weeks, 2,500(!) specific interactions took place between the students and me and among the students. Never have I been so challenged as a professor, and I suspect that my students would say something similar.

Another great benefit: Online classes are always in session. Ask those moms and dads who work full time and did their assignments as the clock struck 2 in the morning.

David M. Thomas

Whitefish, Mont.

Ready Referral

Re “Land of the Gerasenes,” by James Martin, S.J. (5/27): How should a priest minister to the unstable? First and foremost, the priest must recognize that the person is, in fact, mentally ill. As a physically ill person is in need of a physician, a mentally ill person needs professional help.

It may be necessary for the priest to get to know the person better in order to build trust, or the priest might need to enlist the assistance of a friend or loved one of the person to encourage him or her to seek much-needed counseling or therapy. Priests should maintain contact numbers for counselors, social workers, public health nurses, transportation providers and mental health agencies that see clients on a sliding fee scale.

Education for recognizing mental illness and accessing mental health resources should be a part of seminary training for all priests. People reach out to clergy for all kinds of reasons. Priests may not be able to “cure” persons with mental illness, but they can be instrumental in pointing to the proper resources.

Judy Barmess

Pickerington, Ohio

Prison Protests

In “Liberty or Death” (5/20), Margot Patterson related hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Dorothy Day! Ms. Patterson might have more appropriately used Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army hunger striker, as her model.

John S. Clark

Bronxville, N.Y.

Embracing Vulnerability

In “A Mother’s Love” (5/20), Angela Alaimo O’Donnell accuses Colm Toíbín, who wrote “The Testament of Mary,” of sinning against the “universal code of Motherlove”by depicting Mary as fleeing her son’s crucifixion to save herself. In the play, Mary’s “confession” to this occurs during a life-review enacted as Mary is pressed by two men—the first Gospel writers—to “remember” these events as they insist she must.

Mary awakens to something of greater significance than the “Motherlove” response: her opposition to the masculine dominance of this story—Roman soldiers, power-seeking religious authorities, conspirators, revolutionaries and, presciently, the patriarchal church she envisions being established in her son’s name. Toíbín’s Mary courageously and insistently testifies to the endangered “feminine” of human experience: specifically the vulnerability of humanity and nature, a vulnerability inherent in all men and women. This is Mary’s testament and, surely, the essence of her son’s.

Mary’s bravery in defending this authentic feminine brought tears to the audience and transformed us—through a mother’s personal loss—to something transcendent, something only great theater can do.

Justine McCabe

New Milford, Conn.

Scripture and Experience

I admire the beautiful treatment of the Most Holy Trinity in “God in Relationship,” by John W. Martens (The Word, 5/20). I have been a diocesan priest for 47 years, so I have had many occasions to try to “eff the ineffable,” attempting to make the mystery of the Trinity more accessible to the Christian folk.

The effort of Professor Martens is the best I have ever encountered—and in one page, no less! It succeeds by staying close to the Scriptures while invoking our own human experience of “relationship.” I will treasure it and share it with others when occasion arises.

(Rev.) Thomas F. Nellis

Honeoye, N.Y.

Troubling Situation

In “Who’s Minding the Children,” (Current Comment, 5/13), the editors write that expanded child care would bring social benefits because more women would enter the work force, and studies have shown that early childhood education improves prospects for children later in life.

I wonder what sort of society we have created, when children’s prospects improve and society benefits by our taking young children away from their mothers. It’s not that I doubt the studies to which you refer. Rather, I am saddened that we don’t seem to find them deeply troubling. Perhaps instead of asking why Congress can’t provide paid caretakers for every child, we should instead ask what it says about us that we would want such a thing.

Pam Coates

Springfield, Mo.

Full Participation

In “Just Economics” (5/6), Stacie Beck praises the achievements of modern capitalism while strenuously avoiding its chronic shortcomings. If only a completely unregulated market were really as efficient as the author claims! Didn’t we just narrowly avert an economic debacle—or was that the result of over-regulation?

According to Professor Beck, social justice motivates the church’s advocacy of a “redistributive tax system,” enabling a whole group of people (“rent seekers”) to be supported by the hard work and risk-taking of others. To the contrary, church teaching decries the “marginalization” of people and calls for the full “participation” of all people as active economic agents. Work, according to church teaching, is inherently linked with the dignity of the human person, which is why a just economic system should provide opportunities for productive labor and why individuals bear the moral obligation to pursue those opportunities.

Walter F. Modrys, S.J.

New York, N.Y.

Mixed System

“Just Economics” is an excellent article on the blending of principles and pragmatics necessary for considering what social justice is.

No pure system can exist. Protecting the vulnerable, indeed protecting everyone, requires some sort of mixed system with safety nets and watchdogs against abuse. But it must work within a model that is economically self-adjusting to changing conditions, one that is not dependent on human perfection and one that works within the realities of both material and human resources.

Professor Beck’s article broadens the dialogue on what constitutes social justice and what to consider in applying social justice principles. It reminds us that we need to pay close attention to the proper care and feeding of the goose that lays the golden eggs.

John Boyne

Hackettstown, N.J.

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