Place of Grace
Re “Grace on the Greyhound,” by James Martin, S.J. (9/1): I find it commendable that Father Martin decided to spend a few hours in solidarity with the poor by traveling by bus from Massachusetts to New York. I was a little disappointed, however, at where he decided to place the existence of grace. On the bus he encountered two individuals who clearly had a lot of problems: sex work, drug use and domestic violence. While the latter two of these do not relate to the poor specifically, prostitution most certainly does. The “grace” Father Martin speaks about refers to a woman who spends the entire trip reading the Bible, who, he extrapolates, has probably been faced with the “indignity” of overhearing the problems of a prostitute and her pimp (or something similar) on a bus ride before.
What about the indignity for a woman who is prostituting herself to earn a living? What horrible things have happened in her life that left her high on a Greyhound arguing with her pimp in the first place? Why does a young man pimp to earn a living?
While I find it commendable that this woman managed to find some solace amid the situation, I wonder where God’s grace was that night. Jesus, who said “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40), spent most of his time with those who suffer, and demanded we do our part in caring for them. I can only hope that God’s grace was with that man and woman as well, and that they will find a better place.
I love Father Martin’s authenticity in sharing this story. I can relate. As a clinical social worker, I often encounter similar situations and emotions.
As I was reflecting on your article, the thought “Familiarity breeds content” popped into my mind, and I thought about how it becomes easier to love and serve marginalized people as you get to know them. Then, I realized, quite serendipitously, there was a link to “Familiarity Breeds Content,” by Helen Alvaré (5/28), beneath Father Martin’s column. I think that she and I are very different politically, and at the same time I was touched by her words that validated the experience of social activists. It made me realize how very important it is to try to understand another’s worldview, whether it is a prostitute on “the Dog” or someone on the other side of the political fence.
“A Country in Question,” by David Stewart, S.J. (8/18), is a relatively sophisticated version of the usually highly emotional arguments that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the former Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, occasionally used to advance in favor of Scottish independence.
What was lacking from this cerebral piece is any concentration on how lower-income Scots (among whom Catholics are disproportionately numerous) can be shielded from economic adversity in a post-British era. It has become increasingly clear, even to Scots who are tired of Westminster and warm to the Scottish National Party mood music, that the separatist leader Alex Salmond is skating on economic thin ice. His promise of expansion of state services could only be fulfilled by massive borrowing. He wishes the monetary arrangements of his new country to be handled by a foreign land—the one Scotland was part of for 307 years.
This is really pretend nationalism that enables a dedicated alternative elite to be somebodies on the world stage, nearly all of whom have no interest in elementary housekeeping. And the history of European political nationalism from 1848 onward demonstrates that leaders of Mr. Salmond’s stamp will expect the church to play along with whatever temporal leaders feel is expedient.
God and Country
In “Of Many Things” (8/4), Matt Malone, S.J., cites William Cavanaugh saying that wars “were usually fought for King and country and not, as is often thought, for doctrinal purity.”
I do not believe this explanation applies to the Muslim-on-Muslim violence between Sunni and Shia and their sub-sects in Iraq. The attacks by the Muslim fundamentalists of the Islamic State on the Yazidis would appear to be driven by doctrine, as the Yazidis have neither territory nor resources worth killing for. Wasn’t the violence in Northern Ireland doctrinal, not political, in its foundation? In our own country, past violence against Catholics and Jews doesn’t have a “King and country” basis. Violence between nations may hide under the mantle of “King and country,” but intranational violence, e.g., civil war, does not.
Healing in Korea
Since I was a long-time missionary in Japan, I read with great interest “Healing an Old Wound” (8/4), by Dennis P. Halpin, a superb article on Korean comfort women. It’s a must read for all to understand the tension between Korea and Japan. Japan’s ruthless rule of Korea is not forgotten by Korean citizens—and rightly so. The subject of comfort women, in my view, is a political problem between the two counties. The Japanese government over the years has apologized time and again for her cruelty in China, Southeast Asia and Korea during World War II. In regard to massacres in China and comfort women in Korea, however, I do not think Japan has taken full responsibility. Still, I disagree with Mr. Halpin that the pope should enter into this political tension. What is the point of infuriating the Japanese by this condemnation of the Japanese military? The pope would be despised by the present day Japanese who have hardly any knowledge of the sins of their grandfathers.
In his article on Denise Levertov, “Something Extraordinary” (8/4), Edwin Block Jr. asks an odd question: “Why would a poet who began publishing poems in the late 1940s...be worth reading today?” His answer then seems equally strange: “She is worth rereading and remembering now because of her continued relevance to the 21st century.” This makes poets sound like political theorists or ethicists. Surely Ms. Levertov was an artist who created unique and lasting work, poignant and probing the human condition. Hers is verse for the ages.
Thank you for the column by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., “Community of Creation” (7/21), in which he describes human beings’ relationship to the created world. There is, however, one key nuance missing: Humans are not only part of creation but are its crowning achievement. Thus, if a situation occurs in which a choice is required between protecting a human or saving an animal or plant, the human must take precedence. Jesus demonstrated this when he cured the Gerasene demoniac by sending the evil spirits into the herd of swine (Mk 5:1-14). Pope Francis has also referred to this distinction by deploring the resources spent on pets, calling it a kind of idolatry, when there exist so many needy people. It is true that this highest place in the hierarchy of creation has been abused, but is that not more a result of human greed than of a misuse of terminology? We are indeed called to be “stewards,” but good, and not self-centered, ones.
I read with dismay a misogynous poem by David Kirby that was included in “Objects of Contemplation” (5/19), an otherwise delightful “anti-review” of poetry by Joseph Hoover, S.J. The poem made light of violence against women, treating a husband’s murder of his wife by heavy machinery as fodder for humor: “It doesn’t do the chipper any good, either.” Brother Hoover called this poem “hilarious.” We must take the culture of violence against women seriously. Using women as the victims of an exaggeratedly heinous action as the set-up for a joke is so ubiquitous as to be calmly, even enthusiastically accepted and repeated. It’s hard to imagine similar humor about the killing of any other group of human persons being acceptable (try substituting “children” in the poem). Nor would the joke have been considered funny if dogs were being fed into the chipper. Such casual references to the abuse and killing of women do not belong, and certainly should not be celebrated, in the pages of America.
Followers respond to the announcement that Elizabeth Tenety will be joining America as community and engagement editor.
Honored to join the incredible team at @americamag as their new engagement and community editor!
Congratulations to my friend @ETenety on her new gig with @americamag! A great pickup for America and good news for religion observers #AMDG.
Jesuits! Wasn’t the papacy enough?
Congrats to @ETenety on new @americamag gig, joining @Americaeditor’s Murderers’ Row of religion writers.