In “Proclaim the Jubilee” (12/7), Marc Tumeinski says the Jubilee Year of Mercy should be a time to experience the sacramental expressions of mercy in the Mass and reconciliation. The coming year may be a graced opportunity to experience all three forms of the sacrament of reconciliation, including the third form of general absolution. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm that met the renewal of the sacrament of penance and the various ways of celebrating it have, over the years, been dampened by restrictions. I think it would be a wise and pastorally attractive invitation for the faithful if church leadership would enable and encourage parish celebrations of general absolution during the jubilee. As Pope Francis reminds us, “the church is to be the facilitator of mercy, not its arbitrator.”
What About Workers?
Re “An Election Out of Focus,” by John Carr (11/30): Where is the focus on poverty, work and workers in the campaign? At a time of identity politics in progressive circles, could Democrats focus on the crucial identity of people as workers and what happens when that is lost? I ask: How do we continue to “assimilate” refugees given the employment conditions of our country?
Down to Earth
Re “On Being and Becoming,” by William J. O’Malley, S.J. (11/16): If Father O’Malley had written the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it would look far more like a raucous poem than a schematic for belief; and I and many other Catholics, I am certain, would have let it inform our Catholic imaginations and our praxis. And if, to Father O’Malley’s terrain of mystery and paradox, we could bring the critical poetics of Philip Metres’s “this-ness” and “here-ness” (“Homing In,” 11/16) we would have in hand the aesthetic correspondent to Father O’Malley’s earthy and sacramental theology.
Together, the two would make manifest the genius of Pope Francis’ eschewing abstract schemata for the immediate and fleshy reality of the steamy barrio, the distraught and heart-scalded marriage, the soul-draining struggle for one’s daily bread—and for the prophetic voice of Mr. Metres’s daughter, echoing “Laudato Si’”: “I’m praying for the dead worms.”
For these two articles, I can only say, “Thank you, America, thank you, thank you.”
Heather Moreland McHale writes in “Graham Greene’s Pope” (11/16) that Francis’ words in a 2013 homily, “politics, according to the social doctrine of the church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good,” and Benedict’s (in an article written in the 1990s), “wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much,” indicate some disagreement or divergence between the two pontiffs.
That calls for explanation. The two statements aren’t at all clearly related in the way they address the idea of the political. They concern quite different subjects: for Francis, the Christian citizen weighing action in a complex world; for Benedict, “politics” itself as a sort of abstract agency in the world. There’s no obvious reason to think they couldn’t or shouldn’t be shown to be consistent statements. One place to look to try to reconcile them, if that’s the problem, might be “Deus Caritas Est,” where there is a good deal said both about the forms of charity and—in much of Part II of the encyclical—about politics and the state.
Making Men for Others
Re “Seize the Moment!” (Editorial, 11/16): I truly believe that Jesuits and the communities they serve have mirrored the approach of Pope Francis for a long time now. As for moving forward with his papacy’s momentum, how about doing so in the schools, especially the all-boys high schools sponsored by the Jesuits? We should put our best minds together to develop a formative curriculum to address issues that arise among these young men that are sometimes acted out later, often in college. I am particularly thinking of the harrassment and abuse of women on college campuses. We could do much if we worked together to see that the “men for others” we form do not contribute to this problem but rather assist in its solution.
In “The Federal Mystique” (11/9), Helen M. Alvaré makes the all too frequently repeated claim that religious institutions are required “to communicate to their insurance providers that they must attach free contraceptives and early abortifacients to their health insurance plans,” thus implicating the institution in cooperating in an evil act. This simply is not the case.
On July 10 the religious exemption procedure was revised so that the institution merely needs to notify the Department of Health and Human Services in writing of their religious objections. H.H.S., in turn, notifies the insurance company, which will then be required to provide the coverage. So, yes, the employee will receive the coverage, but that is totally out of the employer’s hands, just as an employer is not morally responsible if an employee uses his/her wages to procure an abortion. With this revised procedure, the institution is not in any way instructing the insurer to provide the objectionable services and it is thereby removed from any material cooperation.
In “Strategic Opportunities” (11/2), Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., prescribes improved preaching as one method for strengthening the church. He states that in his seminary, men are required to preach without notes from the first day. Please do not encourage that practice. Almost all the great orators of the world either wrote their speeches out entirely or used notes. Too many priests hope the Holy Spirit will provide guidance once they are at the lectern, resulting in bored or confused parishioners. Notes accomplish two things: They keep the speaker on track. The story of the loaves and fishes does not morph into a presentation on gluten free diets. (I have heard of that happening.) And they tell the priest or deacon when it’s time to stop.
From Tolerance to Inclusion
The racial disparities at Jesuit institutions of higher learning described in “Breathing Space,” by Alex Mikulich (10/26), are regrettably similar to those in our high schools—not just for students of color but for our L.G.B.T.Q. youth as well. What can we do? What is being done? Jesuit institutions have for many years been places of social justice, looking outward to serve and support the poor and marginalized. Today Jesuit institutions need to move from being communities of tolerance to communities of inclusion.
In 2014 I completed my dissertation research at Fordham University on the experience of black, Latino and L.G.B.T.Q. students in Jesuit high schools. I chose these three populations because while some Jesuit schools are much further along the journey from tolerance to inclusion, there is still an achievement gap between white and black or Latino students. Similarly, the L.G.B.T.Q. community remains marginalized in many Jesuit high schools. In my findings I recommend adult formation and education for school leaders, faculty and parents in the areas of diversity and inclusion and a renewed commitment to educating students justly. Why? Because the achievement gap in Jesuit high schools reflects our public school system. Surely institutions built on Jesuit mission and identity should be at the forefront of challenging oppressive structures in our society.
Alone Together at Mass
Re “Church-Shopping,” by Kaya Oakes (10/19): The advice Kaya Oakes reeceived to focus on the Eucharist reminded me of something J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in a letter to his son. He encouraged him to seek out celebrants who preach uninspiring sermons, so he can concentrate on what’s really important!
And yet, there’s an inescapable tension underlying all this, between the need for some solitude and quiet, each seeking salvation alone in fear and trembling, and the clearly communal nature of the Eucharist. Jesus calls us to love one another as he loved us, to recognize that we are branches of the vine, members of one body. All we have is a community of faith, composed of human beings and bound to disappoint and exasperate us. What could Jesus have been thinking?