Thank you for Dennis O’Brien’s stimulating piece: “Incarnation U.: The Future of Catholic Higher Education” (June 12). To use his terminology and that of John O’Malley, I share the sense that the “academic” university culture needs to be balanced by the “humanistic.” No present or former college president would, I suspect, think otherwise. But I also think that the “prophetic” culture—or what O’Brien calls interestingly the “witness studies” culture—needs the skeptical discipline provided by the “academic.” In Catholic circles, at least, the “prophetic” has a way of spilling over into the ecclesiastical, and while I don’t share Lord Acton’s proclivity for detecting independently of the church the validating finger of God in the stupefying scramble of events that we call history, I do resonate strongly with his affiliated insistence that “no ecclesiastical exigency can alter a fact.”

Francis Oakley
Williamstown, Mass.



Rita Ferrone’s article on confirmation (“Slap Them Sooner,” July 10) makes some very necessary points and advances a sensible solution to the current situation regarding the time and relationship of confirmation and first Communion. One element of the process is either assumed or found not germane—the question of the purpose of confirmation in the first place. If baptism confers full membership in the body of Christ, confirmation is no longer part of Christian initiation, and its only apparent purpose is, as Ferrone notes, a rite of passage to adulthood with its usual instruction. And this is certainly valuable to the church. If, therefore, this is the case, confirmation is disconnected from initiation and thus from first Communion, which can therefore begin much earlier in life. Such a revision would clarify the basic understanding of baptism and link that sacrament to the Holy Eucharist.

Milton H. Coleman
East Syracuse, N.Y.



As the catechist for the second graders at my parish, I couldn’t agree more with Rita Ferrone (“Slap Them Sooner”) that the Eucharist is the culmination of Christian initiation, and it’s recognized as such by both the kids and their parents. The Eucharist is the driving force behind the entire year’s catechesis. Every lesson refers to it. The emotional impact of the Eucharist is so natural and so strong that my fear about administering confirmation at the same time is that confirmation simply can’t compete, that it will get lost in the sacramental crush. I also prepare my kids for first reconciliation, but it’s far enough away from first Communion (at our parish we do first reconciliation during Lent) that it can be given the individual attention—and prayer—that it deserves. Even so, in the kids’ eyes, it’s still a poor cousin to first Communion. If they were to receive both Eucharist and confirmation at once, they might feel like confirmation was an add-on, an opening act for first Communion. It would be “the one with the oil.” And while the Catechism states that confirmation can be administered at the “age of discretion” (like the Eucharist, around age seven), one might interpret the term “discretion” as the ability, even the nascent ability, to make adult decisions, a view supported by the sacramental theology of confirmation. In catechetical terms, this implies a more mature theology and deeper spirituality for young people on the cusp of maturity. At our parish, for instance, confirmation preparation has a strong focus on community life and social justice, an approach that, in purely developmental terms, would be largely lost on a second grader. And I am, finally, also in the keep-them-around-a-bit-longer camp. If we are afraid of losing kids after seventh grade, we should be terrified of losing them after second.

Jeffrey Essmann
New York, N.Y.



I’m of a mind to disagree with Rita Ferrone’s thoughtful assertion that the sacraments of Communion and confirmation ought to be conferred together (“Slap Them Sooner”). I, too, have presumed that confirmation was something of a Roman Catholic bar mitzvah, and now, with Jewish members in my distant family, I believe that that thirteen is even too young for them, although that is none of my business.

My best recollection of my confirmation is that it occurred at around the age of eleven. Oddly, the Diocese in Syracuse, New York, in the mid-1960s offered confirmation candidates the option of making a pledge to not drink any alcohol until they were twenty one! Quite a commitment for a preteen boy, but I took it. Why? I was sitting at the end of the pew and I didn’t want folks standing along the sides of the church to think I was an alcoholic. The pledge stood intact until some years later when I explained it to my buddies, who promptly ridiculed me without mercy. The pledge was broken at the age of sixteen. Rightly or wrongly, I became bitter at my church, for abundant reasons, but the “pledge” was chief among them.

Oh yes, the concomitant Catholic guilt raged, but now, in my early sixties, I remain convinced how wrong the diocese had been to impose such a burden on kids so young. Ironically, I would quit drinking thirty-two years later at the age of forty-eight, thanks to a spiritual program (yes, that one!) that has left-handedly enhanced my Catholicism in ways I never before imagined. The upshot is that my real confirmation finally occurred sometime around my forty-ninth birthday.

Let’s not rush our children. The true spiritual nature of our religion must be allowed to evolve in God’s time, not our own. At the age of sixty-three, I have realized that I am still a child of God and that his will for me is still unfolding. Confirmation, like matrimony and extreme unction, may be one of those sacraments to let God handle. He has ways of letting us know.

Joe Palka
Gaithersburg, Md.



I compliment Anthony Domestico and James Hannan for intriguing reviews of The Green Road (by Anne Enright) and An Unlikely Union (by Paul Moses), respectively, in the July 10 issue.

With a strong interest in Irish history and culture arising from my mainly Irish heritage (some of my Irish ancestors lived in New York before moving to Wisconsin), I was fascinated by the description of the family dynamics of the Madigans and the cultural and ethnic struggles between Italians and Irish in New York.

It stirred me to look at my own family dynamics anew. Such relationships continue to form us, and cannot be escaped, something Domestico observes as a central theme in The Green Road. There were attitudes and ethnic struggles in my hometown that were similar to those Moses describes in An Unlikely Union.

I share Moses’s hope that based on the stories he tells there is a possibility for diminished ethnic and racial resentments towards today’s immigrants.

Tom McGovern
Milwaukee, Wis.

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