Re “Has Natural Law Died?” by John J. Conley, S.J. (12/22): Speaking as a lawyer, I would argue that natural law is, for the first time in the last few centuries, actually starting to take hold—just not within the church. In particular, natural law concepts are now finding broad use in European legal systems. I’m speaking about the concept of “human dignity,” which (as even secular, atheist lawyers in Europe admit) was placed within European constitutions by directly borrowing from Catholic natural law theory. For instance, Germany’s Basic Law (their constitution) states, “Human dignity shall be inviolable.”
Obviously, it is impossible to understand this extraordinary commitment to human dignity without acknowledging the historical context in which the Basic Law was created (i.e., the Holocaust). Nevertheless, this concept of human dignity is widely understood to be a statement of a natural law right. Furthermore, this article of the Basic Law isn’t treated as mere surplus; it is frequently used as a basis for legal decisions resulting in practical effects on the lives of German citizens. It is fascinating to see natural law being used with eagerness in secular states while receiving less attention within our own church.
Re “A More Perfect Union,” by Helen Alvaré (12/22): Complementarity can be a powerful and excellent thing, and certainly the special relationship between a man and woman building a home and family is particularly valuable and to be treasured. Problems arise when valuing the differences between men and women leads to devaluing the parts of either that are not different, such as the intellect, will, courage, compassion and tenderness that fill both. Differences are assigned where there need not be differences, or gifts of genius are underutilized when they show up in those of the gender less commonly known for expressing that gift.
Beyond that, treasuring the complementary family calls into question the non-complementary family. The widow raising her sons without a father, for example, could be considered lesser. But God may have given her every strength and blessing to be all that her sons require in their parent, and certainly she should not feel compelled to find another husband immediately because of some supposed lack. Nontraditional families may not have all the same blessings the complementary family has, but God gives to each family unique blessings and graces that must also be treasured. In the race to praise the complementarity of the family, these nontraditional families may end up condemned.
“Family in Focus” (12/8), by the Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, impressed upon me the great need for new language on the part of our church leaders in talking about marriage. One paragraph in the article particularly drew my attention: “The ‘divine pedagogy’ which the synod report extols, builds upon the primordial relation of man and woman and leads it to its consummation in Christian marriage, wherein it sacramentalizes the spousal covenant between Christ and his beloved, the church.”
Having a master of divinity in Catholic theology, I understand what this passage is saying—and it represents what I personally refer to as religion-speak. To the average Catholic it is nothing more than “theological gobbledygook.” I can imagine the reader responding, “With all due respect, Father, would you please come down out of your tree and talk to me face to face about my lived experience of marriage?”
Educated Catholics understand the need for fidelity, exclusivity and permanence in marriage, and they know an awful lot about how people should go about loving one another in everyday life. Religion-speak only distances such Catholics from those attempting to catechize them, who give the impression that they don’t have the foggiest idea what they are talking about. Unless the church adopts a new language in its catechesis of marriage, it will never accomplish the goals of the new evangelization.
Re “Life’s Second Half,” by James Martin, S.J. (12/8): I thoroughly enjoyed Father Martin’s enthusiasm about his readings on the second half of life and concur with his recommendations. Having been facilitator of many workshops on midlife and what follows, I have often witnessed the excitement of people who discover that what they are experiencing is normal and universal. I suggest that Father Martin might also want to acquaint himself and readers with the work of Anne Brennan and Janice Brewi, Sisters of St. Joseph, who truly pioneered exploration of the spiritual and religious implications of life cycle theory.
Re “Call to Conversion,” by Gerard O’Connell (12/8): Pope Francis seems to be one of those rare persons who are entirely comfortable with uncertainty. Those who mutter darkly that he has an agenda that will force the church to outcomes that he has preordained might pause and reflect. Perhaps, instead, he truly believes in the working of the Holy Spirit. He may actually trust that God can take care of his own. Whether or not we (the pope included) know where all this upheaval may end is immaterial. God knows, and that’s enough to keep us going.
Francis has started a series of conversations, and no one knows where they will lead. We need to allow these conversations to unfold, listening with respect and concern to all the voices that speak—both those that say what we wish to hear and those that speak messages we’d rather not listen to. If the pope can embrace uncertainty, can the rest of us not at least try to do the same?
Re “Everyday Sacraments,” by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (12/8): When my mother entered her mid-80s we knew she could not live alone anymore. She did not want to move and was very comfortable in her own home, so we decided to renovate her home, put on an addition, move in and take care of her there. We moved in two years ago. We do the most ordinary of things. Trips to the supermarket become exercise as we walk up and down the aisles. Church events I took for granted now become stimulation and entertainment and vehicles for socialization that don’t require much traveling. I try to add lettuce and tomato to nearly every sandwich to make sure Mom is getting a varied diet. Our life could not be more mundane. But thanks to Ms. O’Donnell sharing her story, I can now see the sacramental nature of what we do every day.
A Sustainable Tax
Re “Renew This World,” by Gary Gardner (12/1): Some years ago, I took part in a renewal process in which parishioners throughout the Diocese of Superior met in small groups and gingerly waded into the sea of discourse after having listened on the shore for so many years. Something like that will be needed throughout the church as we extend our spirituality to include the earth that God gave to us all—not just to those currently monopolizing the land, water and air, and paying scarcely any dues.
One way to update the sharing modeled in the Acts of the Apostles is to advocate the elimination of taxes on labor and capital. Instead, a limited government could collect rent on those monopolizing the earth. Then after retaining a pittance to fund a transparent government, the remaining tax revenue could be distributed to each, making for greater equity, since no other privileges would be granted. Taxing the use and abuse of the environment instead of taxing the economy makes for a sustainable economy within a sustainable environment
Readers respond to the final report of the six-year Vatican investigation of women’s religious orders in the United States released on Dec. 16, 2014.
I’m so happy to see this outcome. It is unfortunate that any of this had to happen, when these are the people doing the actual work all the time without recognition. But if the only thing that we take from this is that we have finally heard the sisters’ pain, then some good definitely has come from the whole experience. Maybe all of us can take a moment to show appreciation to the women religious we know.
I’m happy for the relief of the women religious, but I’m praying for the day the men of the Catholic Church don’t take the attitude that they need to review the women of the church. Or is it now the nuns’ turn to review the priests?