HAND IT OVER
Thank you for publishing Luke Timothy Johnson’s article on mysticism (“Dry Bones,” February 26). It is critically important, and I hope it will return readers to Friedrich von Hügel’s masterpiece: The Mystical Element in Religion.
I think Johnson makes a mistake, however, when he radically distinguishes the Thomas Merton of The Sign of Jonas from the Merton of Confessions of a Guilty Bystander. By doing so, I think Johnson makes an unwarranted distinction between the mystical search for God and what he calls a “turn to the world” that “privileges the active over the contemplative.” I believe that real activism is rooted in contemplation. Both the Dominican and Jesuit traditions emphasize contemplata aliis tradere (handing over to others what one has contemplated). I call as further witness the profound theological work of the Sri Lankan Jesuit Alois Pieris. All his books testify to the connection I have suggested, especially The Mysticism of Service.
A BOLD STROKE
Unlike most critics of the pope’s offer to Anglicans wishing to become Catholics, Fr. Russel Murray (“A New Ecumenism,” January 29) recognizes that this is not a fishing expedition but a response to “Anglicans who themselves have sought full communion with the Catholic Church.”
The basic thrust of his criticism comes down to the contention that the pope’s response is too generous. Really? Ever since 1925, when the Belgian Benedictine Dom Lambert Beauduin presented his paper “The Anglican Church, United Not Absorbed” at the Malines Conversations with Anglicans, we have said that the sole prerequisite for unity is agreement in faith. Everything else is negotiable. Up to now this has been just talk. With a single bold stroke Pope Benedict XVI has made it a reality. He is challenging Anglicans already united with us in faith to respond with equal boldness.
Meanwhile the search for unity with Anglicans whose faith differs from Catholics’ in some degree—the vast majority—continues through the normal process of ecumenical dialogue rightly emphasized by Fr. Murray.
(Rev.) John Jay Hughes
St. Louis, Mo.
THE FINAL ARBITER
The piece by Thomas Lynch (“Preaching to Bishops,” January 15) was mind-bendingly terrific. Not only is Lynch honest, but he actually speaks about the elephant in the room, which is that the church is a vast motley clan in which the hierarchy—God bless the majority of those brave and graceful souls—is only a tiny part.
Nobody ever likes to admit this for any number of good reasons, among them respect and gratitude for centuries of service, but I would guess that nearly every Catholic in America, male and female, vowed religious and not, listens to the bishops and the Vatican with respect, but then trundles along doing what he or she thinks best—an informed conscience, as we remember, being the final arbiter in our wise old faith. In a strange way, everyone takes the hierarchy far too seriously. As I recall, they are sworn to serve the faithful, not the other way around. In most cases their service is admirable, but then there are also bishops who take themselves and their episcopal authority far too seriously.
The world outside Catholicism thinks that the hierarchy represents or speaks for the church. It doesn’t. How rare and delightful to find a Catholic like Lynch cheerfully pointing this out in the pages of a fine Catholic magazine. Kudos.