A Royal Priesthood
The editors suggest all good things in “A Space for Women” (3/30), and I especially concur with Gudrun Sailer that the solution is not merely replicating secular structures. The problem of women’s roles in the church is a problem of an inadequate theology of the “royal priesthood” of believers (i.e., the laity, both male and female) and of what Christian leadership means (it is not like feudal, corporate or secular political leadership), an inadequate human anthropology and a frequent failure of the church to be what it is and rather to mimic contemporary dysfunctional secular institutions of every age.
Women have the place they currently have in the church because the church throughout history has frequently modeled itself on the world—which is generally patriarchal and values power, even in our supposedly enlightened times—rather than the kingdom of God, where in Christ there is no male and female, the last shall be first and blessed are the meek. A more inclusive role for women, for all of the baptized with our varied charisms, will come from the church first being faithful itself and to Jesus.
Love and the Law
Re Of Many Things, by Matt Malone, S.J. (3/30): The language of natural law—“We hold these truths to be self-evident”—became the lingua franca of political philosophy in American society because all the alternatives led to intractable conflict. The 20th century well demonstrated that without natural law to articulate a doctrine of human rights “the inherent obviousness of these values” was apparently not obvious. The intellectual backflips necessary to formulate a basis for trying war criminals at Nuremberg without acceding to the Soviet formula—“We won”—provide an example of the problems in governance without natural law.
Pope Benedict is correct in his assessment of natural law’s lack of appeal to the modern mind, but it is hard to find much beyond “Me, me, me!” that does appeal to the modern mind. “Any law, to be genuinely intelligible, credible and livable, must be appropriated in the context of love, in the context of a living relationship with the lawgiver, who is loving creator.” The founders of our nation recognized that while at the same time they proscribed any particular vision of the creator. It is the dismissal of the common good and the creator altogether that creates the problem, not natural law.
Re “Ionesco Again,” by John J. Conley, S.J. (3/30): Father Conley’s memory of Eugene Ionesco in the rain-soaked crowd calls to mind one of Thomas Merton’s finest essays, “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” where Ionesco’s play figures centrally, along with Thoreau and others: “Think of it, all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody….” For Merton, the rain falling through the forest canopy outside his hermitage makes a peaceful noise, soaking the earth in eddies of protest against “the technological Platos who think they now run the world.” My students are lit up by Merton’s critique of mass society, even if they need help with the references. Thank you, Father Conley, for this aptly unsettling piece.
The way of thinking presented in “‘No White Man Is Innocent,’” by Nathan Schneider (3/23), is entirely wrong. It does nothing but perpetuate injustice. What does matter is how each of us—as individuals—thinks, speaks and acts. We cannot change the past. We can only treat others with the decency and courtesy that each man, woman and child deserves merely by virtue of their humanity. Only when we regard others as individuals and act toward them with kindness, justice, mercy and compassion do we move beyond labels, stereotypes and biases. While we must have knowledge of the past, we must do this in the present with an eye toward the future.
I coincidentally opened to “All the Angels and Saints,” by Bishop Edward K. Braxton (3/9), as a news program on television was describing the leader of the racist chants in a University of Oklahoma fraternity video as the product of a Texas Jesuit high school. As the Catholic godfather of two African-American children, now grown, I’d like to believe that the news story’s student identification was an anomaly. Unfortunately, as Bishop Braxton knows, it is one of the sinful bitter realities of American Catholicism.
In a nation that has historically repudiated its poorest immigrants, how else to define oneself as estimable except by comparing oneself to the person of color, first enslaved, then legally bound and now encumbered on the lowest rung in the society! Despite their current social and economic progress, the progeny of Catholic immigrants of the past exhibit the same attitudes today, helping to perpetuate the endemic racism of the nation.
The U.S. Catholic Church has failed in its fidelity to Christ and its moral obligations to proclaim and teach the truth that all members of the human family are equal children of God. Our parish pulpits are devoid of serious teachings about the sinfulness of the various forms in which racism manifests itself. Our clergy and schools might consider providing a quarter as much pulpit time to the forms of social sins like racism as they do to human sexuality.
Re “Helping the Poor Prosper,” by Chris Herlinger (3/16): In my now nearly nine years of retirement I have been increasingly focused on helping directly an extended family (through relatives in south Florida) in the north district of Haiti. It’s small potatoes for sure. But several households of one extended family have been given job tools, education for the children and capital to start small business ventures and have even managed to build three moderate homes. I am acutely aware that the big players who are “helping” have the real money. But it seems that the bare feet on the ground, the thin and sometimes ill bodies of the elderly and the persistent personal health crises faced by many go untouched for countless Haitians by the cash and expertise of the professionals. It’s not a boast on my part, but it is a hope that hundreds more like me could take thousands of small initiatives to make available groundswells of development—education, enterprise and the enjoyment of health.
Rediscovering the Spirit
The March 16 cover would have been ideal on a pre-Vatican II issue of America: “Rediscovering Jesus [by saying the Rosary].” In the featured article itself, by Timothy P. Schilling, there is too much emphasis on a personal friendship with Jesus. At the Last Supper Jesus declared not that he was coming back to be our buddy but that he was going to send his Spirit to be with us, to teach us, to be in us. Pace good Pope Francis, it is time we rediscovered that Spirit within by the ancient practice of meditation, which is the prayer of stillness, silence and emptiness. Instructed and driven by the Spirit of Jesus, we can indeed change the church and the world.