McCain, military chaplains, materialism & more

PATRIOTISM IS NOT CATHOLICISM

After reading David R. Carlin’s endorsement of Sen. John McCain (“Two Cheers for John McCain,” May 9), I could not but feel disappointed by the continued whittling away of reasons why Catholics should vote Republican. Carlin makes the usual argument for abortion as a “Catholic issue,” then discusses his other reasons, which are more “American” than Catholic, as if they too were in line with Catholic moral teaching. Why is it so easy to argue against abortion and forget the Republican position on capital punishment? Why is it so easy to dismiss the corporatism that drains funding for public services that help reduce abortions in the first place? Why the amnesia about how we backed Saddam against Iran for so many years (until two weeks before he invaded Kuwait)?

I think the Vatican has been more than explicit on all these issues. Let’s not pretend that voting for a Republican makes one any more morally consistent or any more Catholic. “Patriotism,” hard or soft, is not faithfulness, and pacifism captures much more of the gospel than preemptive war. Passing off Americanism as consistent with Catholic social and moral teaching is disingenuous and regrettable.

THOMAS PABREZA
Edwardsburg, Mich.

 

SILENCING THE CHEERS

David R. Carlin’s two cheers for McCain need to be challenged. How can a person be against abortion but condone invading a country for questionable reasons? What about the innocent people who are killed every day in Iraq? Al Qaeda was not directing terrorism from Iraq, so why does Carlin use that organization as a reason for U.S. activity there? Let me suggest that he read the articles about McCain in the May 2008 American Prospect or the April 7 issue of Time. Then maybe those cheers will become whispers.

CHARLOTTE ARENDT
Neenah, Wis.

 

NOT WHAT JESUS WOULD DO

As I removed the April 11 issue of Commonweal from my mailbox, I began flipping through the magazine. I didn’t make it very far before seeing the full-page color advertisement on the inside of the back cover, which depicted a huddle of soldiers holding machine guns and being led in prayer.

The headline of the ad says: “Drill sergeants strengthen their minds. Chaplains strengthen their souls.” I wonder what kind of strength the ad is suggesting. My first guess is the strength to do violence that Jesus would never condone, a strength offered by a distorted version of Christianity so common in the United States.

I’m horrified that Commonweal was willing to publish this ad, no matter how much money the Army paid. I truly hope never to see this advertisement again. Otherwise I will have to stop reading Commonweal as a matter of conscience.

SEAN LANIGAN
New Haven, Conn.

 

CONFLICTING MESSAGE

When I saw that you printed a full-page ad for military chaplains on the inside back cover of the April 11 issue, I discarded the issue.

I considered Commonweal prophetic, but your ad belies that assumption. Like America, you take money from the Army, which in turn you criticize.

Many years ago, the National Catholic Reporter made a decision to stop accepting ads from the military, a decision that had serious financial consequences. They published their discussion and their decision. I hope that Commonweal will also consider doing this. As a church, we must be prophetic in action as well as word.

PATRICIA McCARTHY, CDN
Wilton, Conn.

 

THE EDITORS REPLY

We have received several spirited letters objecting to the ads from the U.S. Army for Catholic chaplains. We commend our readers for their attention to everything that appears in our pages. Still, whatever one might think of the current war in Iraq, or the military posture of the United States more generally, providing for the religious needs of Catholics (and others) serving in the military remains a common, some might even say prophetic, responsibility. It is a responsibility that both the church and the state must meet, if in different ways. That the United States was wrong to go to war in Iraq does not relieve citizens or Catholics of the responsibility to provide for the religious needs of soldiers, nor does the misguided nature of that war eliminate the larger ongoing need for, and right of, the nation to provide for its military defense. Commonweal’s pages are open to authors who disagree with the opinions of the editors, and our ad pages are similarly open to a variety of institutions and viewpoints. Where there is an apparent conflict between the values of the magazine and those of a prospective advertiser, decisions to run ads are made on a case-by-case basis. In this case, it is hard to imagine what group of men and women could benefit more from the comfort and the moral discipline of religion than the young soldiers pictured in the ad in question. We hope that readers who disagree with our decision will nevertheless continue to see Commonweal as a place where their views are heard and respected.

 

DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM

Thank you for Angus Sibley’s “The Cult of Capitalism” (April 25). He lays out the problems in free-market dogma, and explains how we got to the point where some Catholic intellectuals teach that the mechanism of the markets, without considerations of social justice, is the way to the best society for all. We used to have a term for a theory that reduces economics to historical inevitability: dialectical materialism. As a half-century of popes have warned us, the new dialectical materialism of the free market is no more valid than the old one and no more compatible with Catholic belief, but it is every bit as likely to lead to tyranny and the crushing of the human spirit.

MICHAEL SLUSSER
St. Paul, Minn.

 

MORE THAN A CULTURAL MARKER

Several years ago, I speculated about the parents of kids in my baptismal preparation class: “I think they want their children baptized so that they can grow up to reject the same things that their parents did.”

Sue Norton’s “Pomp and Piety” (April 25) proves that point. How can we move consciousness of the sacraments from the sphere of “rites of passage” and “cultural markers” to signs of faith in Christ and occasions of grace?

I was most astonished by Norton’s statement that she thought the church did not much mind her attitude. As one member of the church, I mind it a lot. I have been working with children and parents preparing for the sacraments for over twenty-five years. I am not naive. But I am still astonished that Norton would so cavalierly take the sacraments on her own terms.

One should not take something that means a great deal to some and twist it for one’s own purpose. Have a party for your kids. Buy them new clothes and give them presents. But don’t take the central mysteries of the faith, my faith, and twist them into sacrilege. I’d much rather have a shorter line of kids at First Communion than know I am complicit in the mockery of what I hold sacred.

CATHERINE CRINO
Chicago, Ill.

 

AMAZING GRACE

Peter Steinfels’s “Note from the Good Thief” (March 28) is an excellent exploration of the reality and efficacy of grace. As an ordinary layperson, I have a hunch about why more Catholics don’t go to confession. Steinfels makes it eloquently clear that the worthiness of the penitent is not a requirement for the bestowal of grace.

The good thief’s gesture of compassionate empathy may have earned him a “hearing,” despite his life of crime and violence. Does not Jesus’ response to the man seem to disregard what justice would require?

The essay reminds readers that the sacrament of penance was instituted for the “sick,” and not necessarily for those who consider themselves “well.” Catholics do not go to confession solely to level the scales of justice—although making amends is a good goal. We go as lost sheep hoping to be held in the Good Shepherd’s arms. We go longing to receive his forgiveness and grace so that we can begin to mend our ways. Thanks to Steinfels for reminding me that this gift is ours for the asking.

PHIL G. McGOURTY
Shrewsbury, Mass.

 

A MODERN ANCHORESS

Christina Stern provides a fascinating look into the hidden world of the medieval anchoress (“Sealed In, Yet Soaring,” April 11). But, although rare, the anchoress can be found in modern times. At least one twentieth-century woman lived such a life. In Nazarena: An American Anchoress by the Camaldolese monk Thomas Matus, we learn of a Connecticut-born woman who died in 1990 after living as a recluse within a Camaldolese convent in Rome for forty-five years. She had tried Carmelite convents—both in Newport, Rhode Island, and Paris—but was dismissed. Eventually, with a Vatican dispensation, she took up her unique life with the Camaldolese, a branch of Benedictines whose highly flexible constitutions allow for “singularity.” After moving to the cell where she would spend the last thirty-one years of her life, she wrote: “I want to be the most hidden and least-known soul in the world—truly and totally ‘hidden with Christ in God’” [Col 3:3].

In 1992, Matus (now a faculty member at Rome’s Sant’Anselmo) began translating Nazarena’s several hundred letters, and his book draws on the recollections of many people who knew the American anchoress. His first knowledge of Nazarena came from a 1962 article in Time. The same story was my introduction to the lady, who, I was surprised to learn, had graduated (with honors in French and comparative literature) from my alma mater, Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut.

SUSANNE WASHBURN
Dorset, Vt.

 

IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME

The end of Gerard S. Sloyan’s excellent “Mystery or Mystification?” (April 11) was clever—too clever for me. “Non tali auxilio.” My one semester of Latin more than forty-five years ago and a Latin-English dictionary were of no help. I’d forgotten, if I ever knew, that tali is not just a noun for feet or ankles, but is also an adjective meaning “such.” Hence, “Not with such allies,” which I found on the Internet. It’s somehow fitting that I deciphered Virgil’s phrase only with the aid of modern electronic technology.

JIM LEIN
Minot, N.Dak.

 

REMEMBERING A TEACHER

As a classmate of Matthew Boudway’s at Brophy Prep in Phoenix, Arizona, and as a student of Fr. John R. Becker, I wish to express my deep appreciation for “The Proof” (March 28), a poignant tribute to a person who graced the earth with a radiance and humility that were as powerful as they were authentic. Thanks to Commonweal for all its labors, but especially for this little gem about Fr. Becker, a mensch who made my teenage years sing. Boudway is also to be congratulated on a fine piece of writing.

MATT ZEMEK
Seattle, Wash.

 

ALL IS FORGIVEN

Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan’s statement in his April 11 letter to the editor (“Practiced, When Preached”) that “the Catholic [Latin] Church is unique in having the opportunity for reconciliation” through the practice of confession is incorrect.

We Orthodox of the Roman (Rum) Churches have never lost our understanding of the spiritual necessity of this holy mystery. Even when our people lived under Muslim rule for some five centuries in the Balkans, where Christian catechesis was punished by death, we were able to keep our pastoral heritage alive.

(REV.) K. ANTHONY SPENGLER
Lombard, Ill.

Published in the 2008-05-23 issue: 
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