William L. Portier’s measured and temperate review of Cardinal Francis George’s new book God in Action (“Challenging Caesar,” August 12) is to be applauded. It’s a whole lot more measured and temperate than George’s own writings, as Portier more or less suggests when he says that a pastoral tone is what we might reasonably expect from a bishop.
When Portier implies a connection between the incapacity of bishops’ conferences to discipline their own members and the Vatican’s newish emphasis on the authority of the individual bishop, however, he puzzles me a bit. I think he means that the Roman emphasis is a response to the weakness of the conferences. But from where I am sitting, I’d say it is at least as likely that the efforts of the CDF during the Ratzinger era to systematically undermine the authority of bishops’ conferences played some kind of role in weakening their capacity to wield any kind of stick at all. Rome’s interest clearly seems to me to be served by reducing the authority of any mediating structure between the local bishop and the Vatican: in other words, by moving us even further away from the synodal structure of church governance that once worked so well and just could be our salvation once again.
Your August 12 issue is so interestingly organized that it seems to require comment. Thank you for beginning with John Garvey’s column “An Unimaginable Intimacy,” a beautiful reminder that God is a mystery, and that we cannot know what God does and how he does it, except that he is love. Since whatever exists is imbued with his love, he is in a mysterious way present in all of creation, from atoms to us.
This was a source of comfort when I got to Andrew J. Bacevich’s assessment of the idolatry of the iPhone (“Selling Our Souls”). I’ve dipped into Henry Adams, but not enough to realize how profound was his bleakness. Garvey’s essay helped me remember that since Adams wrote, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton have existed, as have Mother Teresa and Padre Pio, and that the “dynamo” recently suffered a notable defeat when, through the determined insistence of Robert Kennedy Jr., one of the worst mining companies in West Virginia was forbidden to slice off the top of another mountain.
My acquaintance with the coming generation centers on my twelve-year-old granddaughter. She is entranced by video games, does her homework on an iPhone, and texts her friends. But she also reads greedily, these days preferring many-volumed fantasies. She plays the piano; she loves her four-year-old brother and is often his astute, responsible caretaker. She is learning to cook, helps with the chores, is at the top of her class, and is beloved by her teachers for her habitual courtesy and for her innate cockiness, too. It would seem that the goodness the Mystery has inspired will go on.
But, of course, our postlapsarian world offers that which seeks to destroy what God has made good, and for that we need Thomas Lynch’s engaging “Channeling the Sin-Eater.” I’ve never created a personal Argyle, but I have lived my life in the church questioning and dissenting, in outrage and in doubt, though these responses are balanced by intense love, especially when the priest lifts the host and says “Behold the Lamb of God.”
The fitting finale was the Last Word, “An Oasis,” telling of a Catholic parish in Azerbaijan, which is a place even more unlikely to offer welcoming catholicity than the town that my beloved school, St. Scholastica’s Academy, shared with the state penitentiary. How suitable it is to deal with one’s inner and accepted Argyle while reading about a place where the mystery of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Inspirer is made manifest in the mystery that is the lasting goodness of his church.