No Simple Solutions
“The Feminist Case Against Abortion,” by Serrin M. Foster (1/19), is one of the more reasoned and thoughtful approaches to the thorny abortion issue that I have read. And it is a thorny issue. At times it seems that abortion opponents are on the opposite of all those who are concerned about the weak, the poor, those who do not share in our nation’s abundance. On the other side, persons who care about social justice, including women’s rights, are often assumed to support abortion. The red and blue divide, grossly oversimplified, runs deep here.
Having worked for a time with a pro-life group helping pregnant women to choose options other than abortion, I heard stories that broke my heart. I could never conclude that abortion was for them an easy way out. The group provided the types of support for mothers mentioned by Ms. Foster. What we did not do was condemn them for even considering abortion or add layers of guilt to what they already felt. Further, I do not think that simply making new laws prohibiting abortion will solve problems; they are likely to create other problems. We all have to dig much deeper into the context of our culture, which too often respects life only in speech.
An Accommodating Church
Re “Up The Mountain,” by John Anderson (1/19): In “Selma” we see images of priests and sisters in their full regalia, many coming from far-away places at great sacrifice, to support the civil rights struggle. But many today are unaware of the role the local Catholic Church played.
As the march progressed 80 miles from Selma to the city of Montgomery, no space could be found to accommodate all those brave souls. The city of Montgomery would not allow its public spaces to be used. A delegation from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference approached the only Catholic church, the parish of St. Jude, with the space to provide a place of rest. With some trepidation, given the tensions in the state and the city, the pastor and archbishop gave permission for the parish property to be used as a free and secure place for the marchers. A rousing vigil concert was organized with stars like Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Jackson, Tony Bennett, Alan King, Leonard Bernstein and many others providing entertainment, encouragement and a needed respite before their final rendezvous at the state capital. The Catholic Church in the South was not always at the forefront in the civil rights struggle, unfortunately, but I believe the hospitality of the church can tell a different story.
As a young Irish priest serving his first assignment at St. Jude at that time, it was an eyeopening experience and a wonderful opportunity to witness part of U.S. history being made.
Re: “Merton (Still) Matters,” by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. (1/19): I think one of the chief ways in which Merton can speak to millennials (or anyone else for that matter) involves his perspective on how to make sense of the evil and suffering that we see everywhere around us. In the face of events like Sandy Hook, the continuing devastation in Syria, the rampages of Boko Haram in Nigeria, etc., I believe that many people, the young in particular, throw their hands up in sorrow and conclude that we are alone in a dark and cruel universe. But Merton gives us a different view on suffering in The Seven Storey Mountain:
People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce men and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us?
A Good Bargain
Re “Which Side Are We On?” by Clayton Sinyai (1/19): In Pittsburgh we see the old “do as I say, not as I do” routine that is trotted out every time employees at a Catholic institution want the church to follow church teaching. How can an institution like Duquesne University claim that the “religious identity” of the school would be compromised by collective bargaining and then turn around and not follow the very teachings they claim would be compromised?
I have been a theology teacher in a unionized Catholic high school for 41 years (and a union representative for much of that time) and have never felt a conflict between what I teach in the classroom and the work of the Association of Catholic Teachers, the bargaining agent representing over 600 high school teachers in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Holy Cross High school in the Diocese of Trenton. The archdiocese has not “bargained away core tenets” of the Catholic faith, and we have had a union for 47 years.
Worthy to Receive
Re “Communion Change?” (Signs of the Times, 1/19): Blessed be the good German bishops for their mercy on divorced Catholics in civil unions!
I recall my ordination and first Mass in 1962, when my dear sister Evelyn remained in the pew with her new husband at Communion time. She was denied an annulment, but despite her ill feelings toward the church, she raised her children Catholic. Years later I visited her in a nursing home, where she was suffering through the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. When a priest attempted to give her Communion, she refused to receive it. I still wonder today if it was her disease or her sense of “unworthiness” that made her refuse to accept Communion. I shared her story with the priest, and together we blessed her.
Where Families Are
I read with great appreciation “Family in Focus” by the Rev. Robert P. Imbelli (12/8/14). Placing on sound ecclesial and theological ground the discussions now underway between the two meetings of the Synod on the Family is essential for the success of this process. I would like to add a further perspective, that of a lay theologian who served as an expert for our bishops at the first synod on the family (1980). It is this: Make the discussion and its eventual outcome concrete, real and comprehensible to the people who would most profit from the church’s renewed concern for marriage and family life, namely to the families in the pew and at home.
The discussion of this topic often feels more like it’s about the pastoral practices of the institutional church than about the daily life experienced in the domestic church. In his powerful but, sadly, often overlooked exhortation on the family, St. John Paul II wrote, “In and through the events, problems, difficulties and circumstances of everyday life, God comes to them [families], revealing and presenting the concrete ‘demands’ of their sharing in the love of Christ for his church in the particular family, social and ecclesial situation in which they find themselves” (“Familiaris Consortio,” No. 51). In other words, be sure that the perspective, the context and the language employed communicate to ordinary lay Catholics, most of whose ecclesial and spiritual life happens at home.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on a satirical magazine and Jewish market in Paris that left 17 dead, Pope Francis condemned all violence carried out in the name of religion but suggested there are limits to the freedom of expression, that one “cannot make fun” of other religions. Readers weigh in.
One could argue that Christ was killed because he spoke insults against the tenets of a religion. While free speech is not a perfect solution, it is better than what can happen in a society without it. So I will support all free speech—even the vile and hateful. I think the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are mostly disgusting and the authors morally challenged, but I will let God sort that out.
Legally, we must allow free speech (within limits defined by the society—there is no such thing as complete free speech). Morally, and ethically, I believe it is wrong to mock another’s religion. Spiritually, we need to examine our own beliefs. When outsiders mock our religion, sometimes it is a result of our own hypocrisy. (Sometimes it is just pure ridicule for ridicule’s sake.) Imagine if there were satirists during the time of the Pharisees. They would have had a field day. So we must allow this type of satirization. The pope is wrong on the legal level. On a personal level, I agree with him. Mockery is potent and will probably get you “punched” eventually.