I found “The Gospel According to the ‘Nones,’” by Elizabeth Drescher (6/8), rather disappointing. The author drew broad generalizations about the alleged “Good Samaritan” spirituality of nones as opposed to the more restrictive “Golden Rule” spirituality of Christian adherents without any real evidence to back it up. She also treated the centuries-old “Jesus was a great teacher but not divine” approach as if it were a fresh new insight. (See Thomas Jefferson and his New Testament with the miracles edited out.) The very small percentage of young nones who are actually conversant with the Gospels should be reminded that they were compiled by people who believed that Jesus was much more than a cool teacher and neat guy.
“Tracking Train Safety” (Current Comment, 6/8) has left me shaking my head because of the misuse of statistics. The fatalities cited are largely due to vehicle/train collisions at highway grade crossings and trespassing. Positive train control technology, which the railroad industry is fully committed to installing, will not prevent these collisions or keep people from entering on railroad tracks.
According to Federal Railroad Administration data, in 2014 there were 267 deaths as a result of grade crossing collisions and 527 trespassing fatalities.
Rather than using an alarmist number of one death per 84,300 miles to arouse concerns of railroad passengers, a more accurate number would take the annual total number of passenger train miles operated by the nation’s commuter agencies and Amtrak and divide that number by the number of passenger fatalities. I am sure the number of miles a passenger would have to travel in order to have a chance of being involved in a fatal accident would be far higher than 84,300 miles.
Railroads favor the elimination of grade crossings; however, communities may feel differently about this for various reasons. Regardless, we definitely need to spend more money on infrastructure.
It was refreshing to read “Relying on Each Other” (5/18), in which Rachel Espinoza and Tawny Horner approach the decades-old elephant in the room. The topic of family planning outside the “natural” method is almost never mentioned in any Catholic publication. There was nothing new in what the authors had to report. We are all too familiar with the impossibility of trying to live up to the church’s teaching.
Unfortunately, many thousands of people were severely affected by what the church imposed by its unrealistic, impractical and perhaps even cruel teachings. Many of us have seen the resultant mental strains (three nervous breakdowns suffered by my mother of 10 children), poverty and the unwanted pregnancies that resulted in child abuse.
I truly feel that the unhealthy attitudes regarding human sexuality could have been a cause of the tragedy of pedophilia in our beloved church. It may seem a stretch, but many disrespected “extra” children made for easy prey as they searched for a modicum of affection and recognition.
Church in the Street
The picture accompanying “Archbishop Lori Seeks to Return Hope to ‘Two Baltimores,’” by Kevin Clarke (5/18), shows the archbishop walking in the streets of Baltimore within three days of the unrest. We read he “was pondering how the local church could respond to the crisis in the city’s street.” By contrast, last August I distinctly remember the response of Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis after the Ferguson unrest, when he called the Catholic community to prayer and hosted an archdiocesan Mass to pray for peace.
Please don’t get me wrong; as a Catholic schoolteacher I am always encouraging my students to pray for the issues in our community. But I am encouraged by a news story that shows an archbishop dealing with our country’s civil unrest by exploring ways that our church can be a bridge builder.
In 2001 then-Auxilary Bishop Lori of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., got involved in the case of a man who was protesting the church’s abuse scandal. Finding out that the man was himself abused while in Italy, Bishop Lori went out of his way to help the man get counseling and support. Bishop Lori understood the concept of structural sin and accepted that the effects of other erring churchmen must be shared by all churchmen.
If he can admit that structural sins of his fellow priests are a part of his consciousness as he invites police officers to the meeting table, then perhaps he can teach the rest of the civil community about their sharing in the structural sins of law enforcement.
Good and Right
In “A Call To Virtue” (5/18), Jeffery Sachs points out the conflict between the ideology of rights embraced in U.S. culture and Pope Francis’ call to a virtuous life. The founding fathers would have been wise to endorse the primacy of the pursuit of goodness rather than of happiness as they defined the fundamentals for life in this fledgling nation. The pursuit of goodness brings much happiness in life and positions one to manage well when life is not happy.
By its nature, the pursuit of goodness disposes one to serve others, be compassionate and look for the blessing that surrounds them. Most religious traditions espouse the Dalai Lama’s contention, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.” The Beatitudes are Jesus’ directions to the pursuit of goodness in one’s life. That sermon, coupled with a prayerful reading of Psalm 119, provides a clear, simple spiritual direction for those who will take the Beatitudes to the streets of their homes, schools, workplaces and communities. This is the short route to the life of virtue posed by Pope Francis.
Re “Your Average American Catholic,” Mark M. Gray (5/18): As someone who came into the church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in 1989 and has been an active member and daily Mass-goer since then, I’ve gradually learned about the mid-century church from my cradle-Catholic contemporaries. So often they talk about a complete small world in which everyone in the neighborhood was Irish or Italian or Polish or whatever. The parish was a place where people could speak their ancestral language and eat their traditional food, regardless of whether or not what they heard from the pulpit influenced the way they lived. Now, the grandchildren of those “ghetto Catholics” belong to a parish only if a shared belief in the teaching of the church brings them there regularly on Sundays. It would be good to have more people join us as sincere believers, but the presence of those for whom the parish was mainly an ethnic club may have given a false idea of how many people actually believed in church teaching in past decades.
The Value of JINOs
Re “Company Men,” by William J. Byron, S.J. (5/11): One has to look at the value proposition of attending any college, including Jesuit colleges and universities. Many of these schools are really JINOs (Jesuit in name only), where one rarely comes across a Jesuit instructor and the “Jesuitness” of the university is difficult to find. When universities have endowments in the billions of dollars but still charge high tuition (Boston College was recently rated among the 50 most expensive schools in the United States, yet it has an endowment north of $2 billion), one has to question the true purpose of these schools. Is it education or narcissistic greed?
There are too many administrators with six-figure salaries contributing nothing to the educational experience. Get rid of at least 50 percent of these administrators, and then use half the savings to cut tuition and the other half to hire or increase salaries of professors. I would say cut 100 percent of the administrators, but you still need a janitorial staff and groundskeepers, who actually do provide value.
Behind Prison Walls
Re “Family Breakdown,” by Robert Polito (Reply All, 5/11): I am a prisoner in an Arizona prison. The state spends about a billion dollars on the Arizona Department of Correction, but little of that money goes to the “recreation, health care and education for prisoners” that Mr. Polito writes of. Most goes to pay guards and security.
Prisoners who want a G.E.D. must pay $100 for the test—from their $0.25 per hour pay. Recreational equipment includes a dusty field, a few balls and bats and some conditioning equipment, less than what a junior high school would have. Health care is provided by a for-profit healthcare company. Older prisoners, like myself (age 71), are denied hearing aids and other elder care.
Maybe it is different in New York, but in Arizona, and I suspect in many states, prisoners are confined to cage-like cells with little to do and no future. The problem with Mr. Polito and others who believe prisoners are coddled is that they just don’t understand what goes on behind prison walls.
The College Question
In “Four Questions Before College” (4/27), Bill McGarvey appears to be saying that all high school graduates will enter or try to enter college. Perhaps the first question should be, “Do you want to go to college?” If the answer is no, than a follow-up question might be, “What are your plans for further education or career?”
There are many good, well paying jobs in manufacturing and the building trades; many of these jobs go begging because there are no people willing to fill them. I fear that we as a country have fallen into the trap of thinking that only a college education will help young people succeed. Do high school guidance counselors work with their youth to explore all the opportunities available, including trade schools and technical colleges?
If my first sentence above is true, then I think Mr. McGarvey does a disservice to our youth.