Minority report

In Gilbert Meilaender’s essay on sex and reproduction (“The Future of Baby-Making,” January 23), he seems tentatively pessimistic about the prospects for sex should it ever become definitively separated from reproduction. His hesitation is not necessary, however, since he could examine the experiences of an experimental “control group”: the millions of lesbian and gay committed couples who have sexual relationships that are naturally nonreproductive. Their experiences show that his claim that sexual love is oriented “in its very nature to the next generation” is not true in all cases. For this statistically significant segment of the population, sexual love bears gifts other than children: deeper care for one another, unselfish giving, personal integration, and a renewed sense of the love God has for each person, to name a few. These gifts also connect people to the “deeper—mysterious and mythic—aspects of our humanity,” which Meilaender identifies as a distinctive feature of sexual expression.

Francis DeBernardo
Mount Rainier, Md.


Unlucky draw

Gilbert Meilaender warns appropriately against the separation of the sexual embrace from the conception of babies, but while he quotes Joseph Fletcher’s words, he fails to mention the danger of “sexual roulette” in “random sexual combinations.” That is, there are situations when couples may transmit genes dominant for fatal illnesses such as thalassemia. With recourse to what deserves to be called a “medical miracle,” or rather a whole assembly of them, it is possible to prevent that disaster by selection of the ovum, followed by in vitro fertilization. Far from impairing the love of the parents for one another and the child, the successful procedure is likely to result in gratitude and awe.

Stan Leavy, MD
Hamden, Conn.



Soon after deciding to write about Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to revise his earlier approval of Communion for some divorced and remarried Catholics (“Right the First Time,” February 6), I knew I wanted to use Johann Metz’s idea of “dangerous memories.”

Not having studied Metz in decades, I found Catholic blogger Michael Iafrate’s essay on Metz (“’We Will Never Forget’: Metz, Memory, and the Dangerous Spirituality of Post-9/11 America”) at voxnova.com. Iafrate’s essay led me back to Metz’s book Faith in History and Society. Two of my citations of Metz in my Commonweal essay come from my own rereading of his text. But for one of Metz’s ideas, namely, his literal definition of compassion, I am directly indebted to Iafrate.

I am sorry that I did not acknowledge the debt to Iafrate in the essay itself, and hope my doing so here adequately acknowledges both that regret and my gratitude for his fine essay.

William McDonough
Minneapolis, Minn.


Wise words

Thank you for publishing Win Bassett’s “The Silent Treatment” (January 9). I have been on the other end of some of those well-meaning but unhelpful words that Bassett describes, so the column made an impression.

I lost my first son, Ben, in stillbirth seven years ago. As my wife and I grieved that horrible loss, the well-intentioned comments of others served more to reopen the wound than to heal it. Some of the more egregious examples included “Everything happens for a reason” (which Bassett noted), “God needed a little angel,” and, by far the worst, “You can always try again.”

Not that I can stand on a pedestal. I have been guilty of offering canned condolences myself, just as Bassett himself admits to doing. For some reason, humans seem to feel an impulse to say something when faced with a grieving fellow, regardless of whether that something is helpful. I think it originates in the same part of the brain that causes people to offer unsolicited advice.

But a person who has suffered a deep loss is not looking for explanations or advice. That person is looking either to share the grief or to just be left to grieve alone. A listening ear and a silent embrace can say far more than cheap theology. Even a sincere “I’m sorry” says more than “everything happens for a reason.”

The best words said to me after that tragedy came from a coworker who mournfully said, “That sucks.” To some that might sound crass. To me it was what I needed to hear. It was direct, authentic, and cognizant of my feelings. I thanked him for saying it.

Dave Montrose
Cape Coral, Fla.

Published in the February 20, 2015 issue: View Contents
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