Re “The Feminist Case Against Abortion," by Serrin M. Foster (1/19): The past has so much to teach us, and its lessons are essential to the life-long formation of the conscience and the soul. I am a cradle Catholic but, like many of my age, had fallen away from the church when I found myself college-aged, pregnant, unmarried and full of dreams for my future that did not include a baby. Abortion was a practical consideration at the time, but my conscience said no—even though it would mean sacrificing, at least for some time, my professional aspirations.
In addition to my loving family, many state institutions supported my beautiful daughter and me in the early days, including food stamps, W.I.C. and Medicaid. Looking back, I believe that every hour of catechetical formation in my young life had been leading up to that life-changing decision. The Holy Spirit gave me the courage to choose a path that my upper-middle-class culture did not always sincerely support. Thanks to Ms. Foster and Feminists for Life for their efforts to support women in their college years.
Re “Merton (Still) Matters,” by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. (1/19): It was good to see Thomas Merton presented as relevant to millennials, but I fear much is lost by the author’s focus on Merton’s post-1960 writings and his later efforts at interreligious dialogue and social activism—to the near-complete shelving of the immense volume of his earlier work and their themes of “solitude, contemplation, asceticism, the monastic vocation.”
Millennials, and all of us “in an age of hyperconnectivity and rapid communication,” could benefit from more solitude, contemplation, asceticism and a more monastic pace to lay-life. In The Silent Life (1957), Merton has something to say to the 21st century about the scourge of consumerism: “The love, the joy which we can and indeed must take in created things, depends entirely on our detachment. As soon as we take them to ourselves, appropriate them, hug them to our hearts, we have stolen them from God. They are no longer His, but our own.” This is a petite taste of how the earlier Merton speaks to the stuff of the spiritual life, the necessary groundwork that must be laid before making the leap to such things as interreligious dialogue and social activism.
Fair to History
I was quite disappointed with “Up the Mountain” (1/19), John Anderson’s review of “Selma.” There is no question that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man who contributed mightily to awaking America to some of its incredibly unjust practices toward African-Americans. The movie seeks to make that reality known today.
While I never expect a so-called historical film to be totally fair to history, I did expect from Mr. Anderson at least a passing mention of the fact that many reputable historians, including aides to President Johnson and members of civil rights movement, have challenged the way the movie portrays the president as resistant to the work of Dr. King.
Even more disturbing to me was his connecting today’s police departments to “Bull Connor, the Ku Klux Klan and a strain of systematic racism that, as shown in the film, tends to manifest itself in brutality.” The vast majority of police officers in our nation are dedicated working men and women who seek to serve and protect the people. No doubt, there are rare times of failure and even racism. To link today’s police with Bull Connor and the Ku Klux Klan, however, is terribly unfair, and I think calls for an apology from Mr. Anderson. I believe Dr. King would judge such a large body of men and women on the content of their character and not on the basis of vast overstatement of prejudice against these fine men and women.
In “Synod Can Unify Church” (1/5), Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., writes that “the church needs a plan to gather data” in preparation for the bishops’ October 2015 meeting on the family. As a retired social scientist, I think asking the right questions is very important. Some recent research suggests we might be in for some pleasant surprises if we do.
Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations, by Vern L. Bengtson with Norrella M. Putney and Susan Harris, is a rare longitudinal study. Researchers found the correlations between parents’ and their children’s religious attitudes were just as strong in 2005 as they were in 1970, averaging around 0.5, very high for any survey. Parents were particularly good at transmitting broad attitudes, like the intensity of their faith and their level of religious participation. If they were warm and noncoercive they also tended to transmit their specific tradition; more demanding parents, however, often produced religious offspring of another denomination. In American Grace, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell show that the very positive effects of church attendance (health, happiness and helping behavior) occurred only for those with religious networks of families, close friends and small groups.
These studies suggest, as Pope Francis has, that if we focus upon rules and doctrines, we are likely to find that religion is not very helpful to people and may even be a source of conflict and unhappiness. On the other hand, if we focus upon creating religious networks and encounters that are respectful, caring and merciful, the picture looks much better.
Re “Family in Focus,” by the Rev. Robert P. Imbelli (12/8): I am not a theologian, not even an armchair one, but I think I understand logic. If divorced and remarried Catholics are permitted to partake in the Eucharist, it means one of two things: Living in unrepentant, continuing violation of church teaching with no intention of trying to stop is no longer a sin; or, whether or not you are in unrepentant, continuing sin is not relevant to receiving Communion. I see no other logical conclusion.
And if this drastic change in the church teaching is to be made, how can it be limited merely to divorced and remarried Catholics? Why shouldn’t this apply to Catholics who are unmarried and living with multiple partners? Moreover, with all the stresses on married couples to keep their vows of love and fidelity, I do not see how diluting the meaning of marriage helps.
Some have questioned the logic behind the argument for giving Communion to the divorced and remarried. But was Jesus being logical when he said, “Forgive seven times seventy”? Was Jesus being logical when he told a story about a man who worked one hour and got the same pay as the man who worked all day? Repentance is not always so simple or logical as one might think.
Many people who have failed in their first marriage have used that failure to grow and become more mature and even better Christians. The marriage may not be reparable. So many people try again another time and learn from their past mistakes. They may even need the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance to keep their second or even third commitment. Poll after poll shows that Catholics understand that people whose first marriage failed should not be excluded from Communion. Are these Catholics all lacking in logic? Maybe so, but maybe they understand Jesus, who came for sinners, not for the righteous.
Readers respond to “The Feminist Case Against Abortion: Recovering the Pro-Life Roots of the Women’s Movement,” by Serrin M. Foster (1/19).
I believe that we should create an economy in which women are respected, their economic needs are met, their childcare needs are met and family is truly supported. And for now, because this is not a reality, I do not believe women should be jailed and punished for ending their pregnancies early. Making abortion illegal may swell jail cells, but it won’t change the reasons women seek abortion out in the first place.
When I left for my sophomore year in college, my mother gave my room to a woman and her 2-year-old son. This was three years after Roe vs. Wade had passed. The young pregnant mother chose to have her second child and give it up for adoption rather than have an abortion. I think about this young woman who made her choice to move in with a family she didn’t know and, after several months, give up her child to another family. Her choices were difficult and inconvenient, but they were the right choices. Abortion is always a wrong choice, never to be celebrated, as it hurts the mother and the child.