Back to Basics
In “Preferential Options” (10/13), Congressmen Paul Ryan writes, “Before we can repair the safety net, we have to repair the thinking behind it.” The safety net is needed to keep people from falling so far down financially that their basic needs are not met. Until we rebuild the net to that point, all other discussion is meaningless and can be disingenuous.
Lawmakers ended Aid to Families With Dependent Children, the federal assistance program for low- or no-income families, in 1996 and have been chiseling away on basic needs assistance ever since. And Mr. Ryan wants to chisel more. If people’s basic needs are not met, they function more in hunker-down mode than venture-out mode. Based on his studies of Appalachia in the late 1960s, the sociologist R. A. Ball called this the “analgesic subculture,” where people tend to act to relieve pain rather than to work toward goals. The same is true of kids in school. Hungry people don’t function well in a competitive culture.
Voice of Courage
I want to thank the author who goes by the pseudonym Joan Miller for her beautiful piece, “Remain Here With Me” (10/13), about her journey recovering from rape. Much of the church and world has no idea how to deal with this particular pain or, especially, how to talk about it. I give my thanks to the author for talking about it anyway and leading with so much courage. Thank God for the tears of her husband, and a thousand graces for her ongoing healing.
“The N.F.L. Fumbles” (Editorial, 10/6) failed to mention the recent ESPN “Outside the Lines” report alleging that the Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti attempted to cover up the truth about Ray Rice and his horrific assault on Janay Palmer. Mr. Bisciotti’s actions are especially disturbing, given that he is a trustee of Catholic Charities of Baltimore. Sadly, he has completely failed to uphold the values of Catholic Charities, which runs many shelters and programs for women who have experienced domestic violence, including Anna’s House in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. For Catholic Charities of Baltimore to continue to serve as a powerful voice for survivors of domestic violence, it needs leaders who can be trusted to offer their full support to these women and children. Steve Bisciotti does not fit this description anymore.
Pro-Life in the Pews
As a mom to 5- and 3-year-old boys and a 1-year-old girl, I can relate to the parents in “Suffering Children,” by Brian Doyle (10/6). I try to go through Mass with my kids in the pews and without food or toys, but I know they aren’t taking in much. But they are taking in some of it. I can see it in those fleeting moments when one of my boys will kneel and put his hands together, even if it only lasts three seconds. But going to Mass with three small children is always a great sacrifice. As parents, we try so hard to make our children behave, or at least not disturb the others around us, and no matter the effort, someone is usually disturbed. Our priest reminds the parishioners that our commitment to being pro-life extends beyond the nine months in the womb and includes the rambunctious phases of toddlerhood. As baptized Christians, my children have the right to go to Mass, and it is my responsibility to ensure they do, even when it’s inconvenient to others and us and difficult to “suffer” through.
I read with interest Amy-Jill Levine’s commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan, “Go and Do Likewise" (9/29). I was taught that a parable has one goal.
With this parable Jesus answered the question a lawyer had posed, “Who is my neighbor?” After the lawyer admitted that “the one who treated him with compassion” proved to be neighbor to the waylaid victim, Jesus advised him, “Go and do the same”; that we do so as well is the goal of the parable.
Certainly, as Dr. Levine points out, some implications are overlooked, e.g., the motives of the priest and Levite, which she explores. But the text does not reveal these motives. As a professional historian, I emphasize that no one can draw conclusions about their motives, which may very well have been praiseworthy. The text reveals that the Samaritan was “moved with pity” and cares for the victim. This pity saved a life and was praised by Jesus and the lawyer and millions down the centuries. Why the priest and Levite were not similarly moved we cannot know.
I began to read “Justified Reason” (9/22), by Adam Hincks, S.J., with expectation. Articles about the compatibility of science and faith are badly needed. Alas, while his piece sounds good to the believer, it would be mostly (and correctly) countered by the nonbeliever.
One of Hincks’s main ideas, that scientists also employ faith, in that they accept the work done by others, misses the crucial point. While a collaborator often “believes” the work of his/her colleagues, they can always redo the work to check it. Thus, scientific “belief” differs substantially from religious faith.
While science can never explain everything, it can point out areas of thinking no longer tenable. It can tell theologians which of their ideas are not correct and point them toward more fruitful paths of thinking. That theologians haven’t been taught much science is a problem that needs to be dealt with. All seminaries should have fairly in-depth science courses with explanation of how to use it to understand our faith.
In response to “A Complicated Grief” (9/22), by Kerry Weber, I would like to reveal my understanding of the theology of grief. Between June 1990 and December 1994 I lost a mother-in-law, sister-in-law and my wife to illness. I say this not to imply that my suffering and grief was greater than anyone else’s but only to affirm that there have been times in my life that produced grief and whose memory still causes instances of grief.
My own belief is that while we may never fully understand tragic events, the experience is part of the continuing process of our being created. An analogy is the agitation placed upon a piece of pottery as it is fired in a kiln. The result of this trial by fire is a beautiful piece of art. In some mysterious way, suffering and grief appear to be part of the means of preparing us to enter heaven.
As Christians, we can also take comfort that our God, in the person of Jesus, wept upon finding the body of Lazarus in the tomb. And, could we find a more understanding figure than Mary, who caressed her Son’s body as it was taken down from the cross?
I appreciated that Matt Malone, S.J., shared Cardinal Francis George’s thoughts on the intimate relationship between faith and reason (Of Many Things, 9/22). Our modern scientific story of the 13.7 billion-year unfolding of our universe reveals to us some new understandings as to what it means to be human. The paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., described the human consciousness as billions of years of evolution “looking at itself and reflecting upon itself.” The cosmologist Brian Swimme says, “We are the human form of that power that gave birth to the Universe and guided its unfolding.” New understandings such as these, by their very nature, will affect our very human efforts to articulate our faith.
Readers respond to America’s coverage of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, held in Rome from Oct. 5 to 19:
For me it is a justice issue. Is the church dealing justly with the members of second marriages (or same-sex marriages)? When these families—call them illicit if you absolutely must—are established in faithfulness and create loving conditions and foster interpersonal commitments, how can the Catholic hierarchy deny their goodness and their reality? Inclusive mercy would never seek to deny such family members the help of the sacraments, and respect for human dignity should assure all persons of good will a place at the table.
Sin has entered all parts of society, especially where it can do the most damage—the family. When we force individuals to stay in an unhealthy or sinful relationship (sin is not necessarily infidelity, it can also be a failure to honor God), are we demonstrating love—or power and authority? The church must model love and compassion or we won’t have the opportunity to reach those who are hurting in broken relationships where sin has taken over.
It seems sometimes that we as a church are too ready to discard those who don’t meet the ideal. So we toss around phrases like “defective catechesis,” disordered this and that. So finally, bewildered, they seek shepherds elsewhere. If we cannot give hope to the “least of these,” they will out of desperation and thirst for God leave to find pastors who will bind their wounds and help them bear their burdens.