Model of Discourse
Re “Keep It Civil,” by Bryan Vincent (11/2): I welcome Bryan Vincent’s thoughtful analysis of the current trends in American civic discourse. With a few reservations, I find he presents a sensible way of convincing our fellow citizens of the correctness and appropriateness of our various pro-life positions. I do find it ironic, however, that within our churches the pro-life position on abortion is expounded, taught and enforced by a simple fiat rather than by the methodology proposed by Mr. Vincent. I have always been of the opinion that we need to convince simultaneously our own members of all the various pro-life positions as we attempt to do likewise in the broader American society. Mr. Vincent presents the way. Pope Francis follows it. Now if only we American Catholics would do the same!
A Source of Division
To a secular person, the idea of centering an effort to foster a more civil discourse on pro-life advocacy seems tone-deaf and ridiculous. What issue has been more to blame, aside from the segregationist cause, for angry and uncivil discourse than the so-called pro-life movement? The far right in this country embraced a southern strategy in the 1970s but also sought the support of Catholics and Evangelicals through exploitation of the abortion issue. The deep polarization we see today rests on the twin foundations of racial resentment and anti-abortion zealotry. I’d love to see a more civil public discourse, but it is bound to fail if you take a “pro-life approach” to the project.
Euthanasia in the Netherlands
“Euthanasia in California” (Editorial, 11/2) is excellent. We need only look to the Netherlands for a clear-eyed view about where our Brave New World may be heading. Since euthanasia was legalized in that country in 1981, it has increased at approximately 15 percent per annum. In the case of elderly individuals seeking euthanasia, family pressure is often one of the motivating factors. It is also becoming easier to qualify for state-legitimated euthanasia with such non-life-threatening physical or mental conditions as depression, autism or blindness. In addition, children 12 to 15 can seek euthanasia if they have parental permission; there are social pressures to lower the age limit still further. Dutch authorities have also noted an increase in “double euthanasias,” where the spouse of someone seeking euthanasia also requests the procedure because life will be unbearable without the spouse’s partner. To my mind, any state-supported euthanasia regime will be fraught with abuse in its application.
All God’s People
Re “Breathing Space,” by Alex Milkulich (10/26): My brother is a Jesuit brother and just began teaching at a Jesuit high school. I am so proud of the manner in which he is challenging his students to think about and reflect on institutional racism. Many of our Jesuit schools taught us about solidarity and promoting the dignity of all. As alumni we must also do our part to fight racism. Many of us belong to institutions—in industry, higher education, social services or health care—that tolerate, if not sometimes propagate, racial disparities. It’s not just Jesuit schools that need to do more. Alums, parents, boards and donors must also work for the greater glory of God and for all of God’s people.
On Alex Mikulich’s article about Jesuit institutions and racism: as a graduate of Creighton’s nursing program in the 1960s, I was fortunate to attain a position as a school nurse in an inner-city area. The dropout rate is high in our inner-city high schools. Yet the Jesuit presence in urban areas at this time is generally one high school per city. The needs are great for this age level. I wonder what the early Jesuits would think if they wandered our city streets. Perhaps the influence of today’s Jesuits could be focused on the high school level for the sake of the children of our nation. I applaud their discernment on this issue.
Re “Communal Combat,” by Maurice Timothy Reidy (10/26): I will admit I did not watch HBO’s “Show Me a Hero,” but I did read the book it is based on during the first month of my assignment at Sacred Heart in Yonkers, N.Y. “Show Me a Hero”does tell a riveting story—but how I wish they had interviewed some parishioners of mine!
What the book and Mr. Reidy’s essay both miss are the real stories of Yonkers: a community that has continually bound itself together through family and faith as major industries have left the locale. Is Yonkers perfect? Of course not. But if you want to be shown some heroes, just come and visit.
Re “Costly Scripture,” by Corinna Guerrero (10/26): Something is lost when we read only the passages in Scripture we like. Why, in the Lectionary, are the last lines of Psalm 137 not fully given? “Blessed are those who pay you back for the evil you have done to us. Blessed are those who seize your children and smash their heads against the walls.” We live in a wicked and brutal world. How and why God allows such violence and how grace works in this den of iniquity are questions that need to be addressed in any theology course and in any Christian church. They should not be ignored, skipped or papered over with false excuses and non-explanations.
“Church-Shopping,” by Kaya Oakes (10/19), was subtitled “Why is it so hard for young Catholics to find the right parish?” Those of us with pastoral duties are always interested in ways we might better reach out to people. Unfortunately, the article reveals what many of us in pastoral ministry already know. Young people are too often trapped in the mindset of “How can this parish [or Jesus] entertain me?”
Ms. Oakes’s spiritual director has the right advice: focus on the Eucharist. For within the Eucharist is found the selfless sacrifice, the most complete expression of love anyone is capable of: the hard message of Christ’s cross. This is the message that must ring out again and again from parishes.
Regarding parishes being welcoming communities, all mature Christians are charged with engaging in the new evangelization of all people, including our departing youth. We must adopt the mindset of “ask not what your parish can do for you, but ask what you can do for your parish.”
Re “The First Canon: Mercy,” by the Rev. Kevin McKenna (10/12): When I read that Pope Francis said, “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude, but it is the very substance of the Gospel of Jesus,” what I heard is that orthopraxy is inseparable from orthodoxy. Belief and practice, faith and works, these all go hand in hand. Too often, we treat practices as a secondary status, as icing on the cake—as if beliefs are absolute but practices are optional. We do this in our sacramental life. No matter how sinful a priest may be, the sacraments are still considered “valid” as long as protocol is followed. Mercy is not seen as essential. It’s nice if a priest is kind and compassionate in the confession booth, for example, but not necessary.
There’s a beauty in this theology that grace can come despite our human weaknesses, but also a horror as we remove all humanity from our liturgical life. Scripture tells us that without love all our actions are nothing but a clanging gong, yet we never view love as essential in our sacramental practices. Francis is causing us to rethink all of this if we dare to pay attention.
Call to Conversion
“Doctrinal Challenges,” by Peter Folan, S.J. (10/12), is a thoughtful essay, but I would rather look to Blessed John Henry Newman and his essay on doctrinal development than to Father Rahner. I would also look to the classic formula of St. Vincent of Lerins regarding orthodoxy: that which has been believed in the church “everywhere, always, by everyone.” The living tradition of the church is always a vital source of the belief and morals for Catholics.
Yes, we must look to pastoral realities with respect to doctrine; but we must never use the excuse of “pastoral realities” as a source for doctrinal change. Nor should we oppose pastoral practice and doctrine, relegating difficult doctrinal teachings to the realm of ideals, as is done by some regarding the church’s teaching on contraception. Doctrine is often the call of the church to conversion, and for that God provides his grace. We hear the refrain every Lent: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.