Re “Prison Possibilities,” by Valerie Schultz (9/29): Ours is a crazy society. We believe that sending someone to prison for life will somehow restore justice in the world for a loved one whose life was cut short. At a rate of 716 people per 100,000, the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. Incarcerating that many people suggests we must be less discerning than other nations and a lot more vengeful. Is this who we are as a nation?
I have served as a prison minister for the last 13 years and am still amazed by the number of people who are not sure why they are in prison. There was no conclusive evidence. Often they were in a haze when the event occurred. Ministering to the innocent incarcerated is a lot harder than ministering to those who are guilty.
I would never presume to know what those in prison are thinking. In the silence of your heart, I ask, what are you thinking? I have often gotten the response: “Jesus was innocent. They crucified him. Why should I be any different?”
Re “Remarriage, Mercy and Law,” by The Editors (9/22): The church’s biggest sin in the clerical sexual abuse scandal is its neglect of the victims. In the divorce and remarriage issue the same could be happening. There are victims to be considered. Unfortunately I am one of them.
After 29 years my wife left what she said was “a good marriage” to marry another divorced Catholic. There was no annulment. I love her and remain faithful to her, the church, my word and myself. I seek answers to two questions arising from what could someday happen: when receiving the Eucharist, I observe that she and/or he also receives the Eucharist.
First, what theological understanding can be provided to satisfy my intellect, especially in terms of eucharistic union in Christ, considering the situation of our sacramental matrimonial union in Christ? Second, what pastoral theology would satisfy my spirit if confronted with this situation? What would I share with Jesus about them at this moment of Communion? These are genuine concerns that give some reality to the deliberations of the Synod of Bishops.
On the Lay Path
If I get Russell Shaw’s point in “Everyone’s Vocation” (9/29), evangelization toward the world that Pope Francis envisions requires a lay evangelization that extends far beyond the parish grounds. The “protagonist of a lay path,” as Pope Francis refers to the laity, evangelizes not so much in the parish hall or the liturgy planning meeting as in the office cafeteria, the staff meeting, the board room, the voting booth—all those ways in which lay people affect the world every day. That makes sense, in light of the Pew Research Foundation findings that only 37 percent of Americans attend religious services weekly or more often (and Pew suspects that number may be a bit overstated), and 29 percent attend “seldom or never.” Much of the work of changing the marketplace, government and society at large needs to be done by those of us who are out in those arenas.
Funding the Gap
Having spent many years as a teacher and principal in Philadelphia’s Catholic and public urban schools, I was struck by the irony of the side-by-side placement of “Insourcing School Discipline” and “The Minority Majority” (Current Comment, 9/15). For years public schools have been operating on depleted budgets that provide one teacher per 30 children and a skeletal staff of support persons. In many schools there is no or limited counseling, nursing, behavioral or rehabilitative discipline services. Money is not allocated by a funding formula that supports the educational needs of children who live in economically disadvantaged areas; where more resources are needed to meet the greater hardships that schools and students face, less is available.
How can schools insource discipline when they do not have the resources? The second piece states, “On average, black and Latino students are more likely to attend under-resourced and failing schools.” Let’s reverse the school-to-prison pipeline by first reducing the “majority of minorities” who are in prison for offenses for which others manage to avoid jail time. With less money needed to build and staff prisons, state funding could be redirected to the behavioral support services that would truly make a difference in the efforts of educators to turn around the behaviors of their students. As a nation, we have the power and ability to change this! Do we understand that being “under God” means we have to give schools the money needed to address and eliminate the “inequalities that are at the root of the academic achievement gap”?
In “The Message of Mercy” (9/15), Cardinal Walter Kasper writes that if a person “repents of his failure to fulfill what he promised before God,” he should be forgiven.
I believe that one way of showing repentance that should be obligatory is living up to one’s responsibility to the first marriage, even after remarrying. It is wrong that children or spouses in a new marriage should have a dramatically better lifestyle than the spouse or children in the first, valid marriage.
My parents divorced many years ago and my father re-married. He has always paid my mom more than what the court demanded because she gave up her career to raise his and her children. He knew it was wrong to make her live a dramatically lesser lifestyle. I have always respected my father for this and believe God forgives him for the divorce, which he wanted more than my mother.
Unfortunately, my father still does not go to a Catholic church. He said it would make him feel like an outcast not to be allowed Eucharist. If the spouses who want to be accepted into the church agree they will not abandon their responsibilities to the old, still valid marriages, then I think this can be considered a sign of ongoing repentance for their failure to reconcile their first marriage.
In “American Exodus” (9/15), Gabriela Romeri writes in depth about living conditions in Central American countries, the challenges that migrants face coming through Mexico and the legal challenges for the lucky few who make it to the United States.
Puerto Rico provides an example for a possible solution to the migration crisis. Because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, citizens who can’t find jobs on their island come to the United States for employment without any legal obstacles. Pharmaceutical companies located several factories in Puerto Rico to take advantage of lower operating costs, coupled with the added bonus that they can export their products to the U.S. mainland without having to pay import duties.
I believe that the first step to ending this “American Exodus” is to expand this model. What if our hemisphere created something similar to the European Economic Area, in which small Central American countries form legal and economic relationships with the United States similar to that of Puerto Rico?
In “Faithful Aspirations” (9/1), Frank DeSiano, C.S.P., makes a strong argument for inclusion in the church community—for not creating barriers by setting our sights too high for believers at various stages on their spiritual journeys. With this I agree; but so, as I read her, does Sherry Weddell.
In Forming Intentional Disciples, Ms. Weddell uses Pikes Peak near her home in Colorado Springs as a metaphor for the Eucharist as source and summit of our Christian lives. I would like similarly to propose my home state of Colorado as an image of the church. Here the majestic Rocky Mountains, towering unavoidably in the center of the state, are impossible to ignore. Even upon disembarking at Denver International, visitors are aware that this place is different. It may take a while before you venture into the foothills or up onto a ski slope, or, heaven forbid, tackle a 14,000-foot peak. But those mountains are always in your consciousness, if only just to help you get your bearings.
The church should be like that, with Jesus Christ and his presence in word and sacrament, as well as in the community of believers, always visible, unavoidably present to our awareness—not as a hurdle, but as an inviting, alluring wonder in our midst. Members of the church need to be like guides, welcoming the newcomer to ever deeper forays into those spiritual mountains, according to their confidence and willingness. Not all may venture to the top, but it’s good they know that those heights are there and that there’s always the possibility of going deeper and higher.
Readers respond to Pope Francis’ appointment of a record five women to the 30-person International Theological Commission:
And women compose what percentage of practicing Catholics and of theology teachers in our schools and colleges? This is great news and I’m genuinely pleased by it. It is still a small step toward an institution that recognizes the work of women “doing theology” daily and catechizing our youth as mothers and teachers.
Pope John XXIII allegedly once said, “I have to be pope both for those with their foot on the gas, and those with their foot on the brake.” Though the saying may be apocryphal, the wisdom is spot on, and Francis’ recent personnel moves seem to reflect some of the same thinking.