Re “Retiring With Dignity,” Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M. (10/17): Sister Mary Ann couldn’t be more correct in her description of complex decisions facing congregations of men and women religious today. The National Religious Retirement Office provides significant financial assistance and professional consultation to help religious orders discern appropriate solutions to their retirement challenges.
The group Support Our Aging Religious! was founded two years before the Retirement Fund for Religious, and 28 years later it is still making a difference in the lives of elderly religious. SOAR! is a grassroots charitable organization that connects its donors to sisters, brothers and priests of religious orders in a powerful and personal way to meet the daily challenges associated with the care of retired religious. Thank you, Sister Mary Ann, for highlighting the great work that is being done to say thank you to American religious.
Thank you to Sister Mary Ann, not only for helping to raise awareness about the ongoing needs of senior religious, but also for highlighting the fact that Catholics across the nation stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities in helping to address these needs. Through donations to the annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection, our office is able to distribute an average of $23 million each year to help support the day-to-day care of senior religious at more than 400 religious communities. An additional $2 million to $5 million is allocated annually for communities with the greatest needs and for retirement planning and educational resources. We are grateful, too, that organizations like SOAR! and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation share the vision to ensure that all elder religious receive the care and security they so richly deserve. Ultimately, we know that the good we are able to do is in direct measure to the good we have been given, and we thank God daily for all those who support senior religious through generosity, advocacy and prayers.
“Family on Hold” (Current Comment, 11/10) seems to ignore the fact that many women’s reason for freezing their eggs is love. Two of the women I know who have had this procedure do not yet have a spouse, but are holding out hope that they will meet that person; they do not want to become pregnant or raise a child on their own. Another woman is undergoing cancer treatment, which could damage her eggs, so she is freezing them until she has recovered. Technology, in the case of freezing eggs, now allows for people to have families who otherwise couldn’t, and there is no reason to deny them love.
In “Go in Peace,” the editorial in this same issue, the editors write, “church leaders, like all of us, need to speak with marginalized families themselves.” This made me wonder: how many women who have frozen their eggs did they consult to prepare this commentary?
Re “Go In Peace” (Editorial, 11/10): The entire discussion of marriage seems to fail to make any distinction between civil marriage and the sacramental covenant. Given the late date at which Rome applied the definition of sacrament to all marriages between baptized men and women, perhaps the entire theological history of marriage needs to be revisited. We may need to face the reality that despite any brief instructions engaged couples receive, many understand their marriage in terms of contemporary culture and civil law, not theology.
If the church wants to maintain its present treatment of sacramental marriage and not increase its flexibility about either annulments or communion for the divorced, then maybe it needs to be more accepting of what couples actually intend. The church could perhaps return to the practice of blessing couples who are entering civil marriages.
If couples, while engaged or after long years of marriage, explicitly seek to join in a sacramental union, then a thorough and possibly lengthy period of preparation analogous to the preparation for vowed religious life would be appropriate. Under these circumstances, great rigidity from the Roman Curia in cases of divorce and remarriage would be much more appropriate.
“Go In Peace” (Editorial, 11/10) rightly calls attention to the need of the bishops in preparing for the 2015 synod to pay attention to the circumstances of marginalized families, but I question the value of the repetition, no matter how broadly it is conceptualized or how deeply it may be explored. Holding two synods on the family seems excessive. There are many broader topics to be considered if the gathering of bishops is to guide the whole church in its relationship to the modern world. Some themes, like consumerism, economic justice and the call to nonviolence affect the family, but they need to be reflected upon in themselves and not viewed as aspects of domestic life.
Questioning ‘The Poor’
Thanks to America for publishing “On the Way to Healing” (11/10), by Jon Sobrino, S.J., in honor of the martyrs of El Salvador. It is brilliant both in form and in content. For many years I have wanted to ask a question of those of us who refer to “the poor.” Given the references to both language and poverty in Father Sobrino’s speech, it seems apropos currently. Why do we, in our evolution of person-first language, still say “the poor”? If humanity is to be a deeper experience than any categorizing we can give it, especially that of economic classification, why do we persist in using something so totalizing such as “the poor” in a label for human persons? And further, does this label give civilizations of both wealth and poverty more power than either should have? I do not know the answer to these questions, but it feels it should be asked of the brilliant readers of America, especially now.
Why We Work
In “Market Assumptions” (10/3), Bishop McElroy falls into the trap that most writers do in writing about the markets by failing to consider the human factor. Ludwig von Mises writes that economic events occur when “man is eager to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory.” We want to improve our lives.
Redistribution of income is a grand idea, but it has been shown over and over again not to work. The dignity of work is a lofty idea, but ask anyone why they work and dignity won’t be anywhere on the list. We work to care for our families and ourselves. Bishop McElroy quotes Pope Francis: “The problem is not being able to bring bread to the table and this takes away one’s dignity.” But when bread is already on the table, there is no incentive to go out and earn any more.
He states that structural economic reforms need to be undertaken to remedy existing obstacles to greater employment. What better way to greater employment can there be than to allow entrepreneurs the freedom to create new products and services and to hire people to bring them to fruition? When a person is denied profit from the fruit of his or her own labor, that person will stop laboring.
What is the answer? Dorothy Day believed that government handouts remove the personal responsibility of each of us to care for each other. We need to encourage that responsibility and I see it happening. Ads encourage us: “Every day, care”; “Stop domestic violence”; “No means no.” It’s a slow road but one that stands a better chance than wealth redistribution.
Readers respond to an extended online conversation between James Martin, S.J., and the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on Pope Francis, the synod and the demands of law and mercy.
There is a lot to learn from a conversation such as this, where both sides of the discussion carefully and thoughtfully lay out their case and clearly make the point of working towards mutual understanding, even if agreement isn’t reached. This is seen far too infrequently in the “now, now, now” environment of Facebook, Twitter and blogging, but it is the kind of conversation that reminds us that our opinions are based on a love for God and the church, and this fact, above all, aligns us.
It still seems the essential question is this: Is the church’s mission to impose God’s law on believers or lead followers to Jesus Christ and their unique relationship to him? Perhaps I am missing much, but when the church decides divorced and remarried Catholics can’t receive sacraments, or suggests that Catholics supporting a woman’s right to choose also can’t receive sacraments or a Catholic funeral, or banishes gays from church choirs and parish functions, or removes priests and bishops from all pastoral functions for even discussing the possibility of woman priesthood, it seems that the magisterial church is imposing laws versus leading through thoughtful listening and prayerful discussion.