I welcome the suggestion in “Coping With Polarity” (Editorial, 5/25) that “after naming the wounds, we can begin to heal by toning down fiery words and divisive stances, by admitting differences with our friends and colleagues without alienating them or blaming them.”
Let us learn also from the wise women of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious who wrote about the recently concluded doctrinal assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “We brought this desire for deep listening and respectful dialogue to our work with the C.D.F. officials and found they held a similar desire.... Our hope is that the positive outcome of the assessment and mandate will lead to the creation of additional spaces within the Catholic Church where the church leadership and membership can speak together regularly about the critical matters before all of us.”
I am currently dealing with differences on personal, religious, economic, political and social issues within my extended family and social networks. I will use these wise teachings to maintain positive relationships whenever possible, while acknowledging our differences and our right and responsibility to make up our own minds on issues important to us.
Notes From Down Under
Re “The Buck Stops Here” (Current Comment, 5/25): In Australia we have had a number of women on our banknotes. Women achieved the federation vote (suffrage) here in 1902. My favorite dollar lady is Caroline Chisholm (1806–77). She left a lasting legacy in social reform, particularly for migrant women. She became a Catholic (her husband was one), and oddly enough she is listed among the saints in the Church of England but is not yet on the Roman calendar. She will get there one day. But in the meantime, the $5 note is a good start!
Re “A Call to Virtue,” by Jeffery D. Sachs (5/18): What an odd article from Mr. Sachs. Whoever wrote it is quite conversant in authentic Catholic anthropology and some of its philosophical basis in Aquinas. He is also aware of the church’s critique of libertarianism and its radical focus on the individual. That a strong defense of environmental responsibility is available from this tradition is clear, which is why the church has for some time made these arguments.
Yet almost everything else Mr. Sachs argues for in his public intellectual life is an affront to this same tradition and the polar opposite of how the church understands our social responsibility to one another. His consistent promotion of population control, coupled with his refusal to deal seriously with its more coercive manifestations (see China, India), is gravely offensive to Catholic virtue ethics. His view that abortion is in certain circumstances “more economically responsible” than birth is utterly incompatible with the case made under his name in this article for a defense of the most vulnerable.
Pope Francis will remind the world that an environmentalism that ignores human ecology is anti-human and causes rather than reduces human suffering. The pope will demonstrate a sincere desire that the poor not be overrun by the greedy and that the world’s ecosystem not be ruined in a quest for profit; just as he will remind Sachs and Co. that those who would destroy human life by contraception and abortion will not find approval in the church and its social and moral doctrine.
Re “The Student Debt Crisis” (Editorial, 5/11): Americans seem almost afraid to discuss one of the major causes of the student debt mess: the reckless rise in non-teaching costs of higher education, much of it clearly encouraged by the ease with which tuition and other fees can be raised year after year. Yes, as the editors point out, banks and others are reaping the dividends of the bizarre way we finance higher education. But critics and commentators seldom point to the massive salaries of far too many college and university administrators, the crazy amounts of money spent on institutional advertising and all the other expenses—paid for, in effect, by student loans—that contribute little to the quality of education being purchased.
In “Proto-Pundit” (5/11), a review of a biography of the 20th-century public intellectual Walter Lippman, Lance Compa writes, “Lippman was at home as a commentator on events, not an actor shaping them.” I would argue that Mr. Lippman did shape events as the leading advocate of imprisoning Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps during World War II.
‘The Saint in All of Us’
Re “Called to Be Saints,” Robert Ellsberg (5/4): “We are all called to be saints,” Dorothy Day wrote, “…and we might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name. We might also get used to recognizing the fact that there is some of the saint in all of us.” She didn’t want to be canonized, but the church, that is, the people, need it. We need it to remember to speak truth to power—ecclesial or political. We need it to remember to persevere in the face of great odds, without government grants or wealthy patrons, without covert agendas. We need it to invite the next generation of the poor and sick into those centers of hospitality named after this great saint who herself was poor, and sick (and tired). There’s a little St. Dorothy in all of us. Celebrate it!
A New Rite
Bravo to Michael H. Marchal for his excellent article, “Confirmation Bias” (4/27). Confirmation should be celebrated as a sacrament of initiation even for those baptized as infants, sometime before the celebration of first Eucharist around the age of 7. Just as the epiclesis invokes the Holy Spirit shortly before the consecration in the eucharistic prayer, the sealing with the Holy Spirit at confirmation should precede the first reception of first holy Communion.
What is needed in the Catholic Church is a ceremonial rite of reaffirmation and commitment to discipleship in adolescence and youth akin to the quinceañera celebrated in the Hispanic community. There a girl celebrating her 15th birthday may reaffirm her baptismal vows and profess her commitment to love and follow Jesus in the church.
Let’s create a new rite for both girls and boys in which they may be formed in Catholic teaching and trained to be youthful missionary disciples.
Re “A Man in Full,” by Maurice Timothy Reidy (4/13): Mr. Reidy provides a fascinating review of “Wolf Hall.” I haven’t watched the series yet, but I’ve read both of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books and look forward to the third.
I am a historian, though not of Tudor England, and I see from the press that some eminent historians of the period are sharpening their knives against Ms. Mantel and her views of history.
But a couple of points are worth remembering. First, she is not a historian. She is a novelist—a very good one indeed—and novelists play by different rules than historians. Second, even if we dismiss the questions of historical accuracy and stay in the realm of the literary, we must remember that everything is seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell—not through the eyes of his underlings, or of Thomas More, Henry VIII or anyone else. What particular axes does Cromwell have to grind as he tells us his story? Is he a reliable narrator?
Most of us don’t depend on Shakespeare to give us historically accurate portraits of Henry IV or poor old Richard III. But none of us (I hope) use that to denigrate Shakespeare. Still, films and novels are usually easier to absorb than the historian’s history (just look at the recent flap over whether Lyndon Johnson was mistreated in “Selma”). And that’s one of the reasons to read using what literary critics call the hermeneutics of suspicion, or just plain common sense.
Readers respond to “Relying on Each Other,” by Rachel Espinoza and Tawny Horner (5/18).
Natural family planning is tough. I would be the first to admit it, and my husband and I used it throughout our marriage. We were blessed with seven children, and then my husband died of heart disease. Our oldest was in his second year of college and the youngest was in kindergarten at the time. I worked part-time as a teacher (promptly moved to full time), and we embarked on the new phase of our lives. Next week my children and I will attend the college graduation of the sixth child (the previous five are also college graduates and have good jobs). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”
This article does a really good job discussing the struggles of using natural family planning. But I’m not sure a full-scale change in church teaching on contraception and sex is the solution. I do agree that a better pastoral approach to these real struggles is necessary and that a fuller understanding and nuanced teaching on human sexuality in regard to faith would be helpful. We really do not have a great spirituality of sex or marriage that takes into account the practical issues or helps apply church teaching to the practical issues.