Men’s feet; Johnson, Tracy & Mujica

MISSING MYSTICISM

While I am deeply grateful for the outstanding work of Luke Timothy Johnson over the years and am therefore extremely reticent to criticize something written by this eminent Catholic scholar, I was more than surprised to note the following in the midst of his otherwise excellent and timely article, “Dry Bones: Why Religion Can’t Live Without Mysticism” (February 26): “The marginalization of the mystical within Christianity reaches its epitome in movements like the social gospel or liberation theology.”

I presume Johnson’s mention of the social gospel is a reference to the social-gospel movement among Protestant religious leaders in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which was an effort to shift the focus of Christianity from theological considerations to social relations (a note of clarity from Johnson would have been helpful here). But does he find no trace of a contemplative and mystical foundation in the work of theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, Jon Sobrino, SJ, Leonardo Boff, and Juan Luis Segundo, to say nothing of the thousands of other Christians who have based their lives, and many, their deaths, on the gospel orientation of liberation theology?

William Joseph Tierney
Jacksonville, Fla.

 

GENETIC MODIFICATION NO PANACEA

Buried in the middle of Charles R. Morris’s otherwise excellent piece on climate-change politics (“Wasted Energy,” February 12) is the suggestion that responses to the looming global water shortage include converting “to water-conserving genetically modified plants.” While other articles in recent issues have focused on the moral dimensions of the global food supply, I urge Commonweal to continue this trend. Do not let such comments as Morris’s slip through unexamined.

There have long been those who believe that technology will eventually solve our most intractable social and environmental problems. It is often the case, however, that technology carries its own set of difficulties. Genetically modified plants (and animals) should give us pause. Barry Commoner of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College has cited results in current biotech research showing that “there are strong reasons to fear the potential consequences of transferring a DNA gene between species.” Joan Dye Gussow put it much more succinctly: “This is a fist in the eye of God.”

A thorough discussion of the problems of genetic engineering is outside the scope of a letter to the editor. Still, genetically modified crops do have the potential to endanger biodiversity, pollinators, and ultimately our food supply. I would welcome a more in-depth discussion of the ethical and scientific complexities of the issue in the pages of Commonweal.

Bobbi Dykema Katsanis
Seattle, Wash.

 

CALLING WOMEN

While I appreciate Fr. Nonomen’s observations regarding women’s role as “the wind in the sails of most Catholic parishes” (“A Holy Order,” February 26), he does leave the call for action to those who are “brighter and have more ink to spare.” I can’t speak to his intelligence, but I would be happy to send him as much ink as it takes to discuss the ordination of women and their treatment by the church.

Specifically, I would like to see him address the decree by Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando that only men’s feet be washed on Holy Thursday. The male leadership in our parish followed his words (much like sheep). There was no prior notice to the congregation. I could hear the collective gasp, including my own, when we realized that the twelve “representatives” were all men. As I looked around, I saw tears on the faces of women I had known for years. I believe the theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, remarked that women vote with their feet, and mine have found a path to a parish where my sisters and I can wash each other’s feet as well as those of our brothers.

I would like to see Fr. Nonomen (or Fr. Anynomen for that matter) write less about women who volunteer and more about women who could respond to a holy order that actually came from Rome.

Heidi Stephens
Daytona Beach, Fla.

 

CREATIVE THINKING

Your February 26 editorial (“We Can Do Better”) quotes Tony Judt: “We appear to have lost the capacity to question the present, much less offer alternatives to it. Why is it so beyond us to conceive of a different set of arrangements to our common advantage?” Part of the answer is in our failure to nourish our imagination. So Commonweal’s decision to return to publishing fiction is a hopeful sign. I am old enough to remember the lean years of the 1930s; good fiction helped the nation restore its power to imagine a better common future. My parents and aunts and uncles read John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, and Chesterton’s Fr. Brown stories. Our priests were reading Graham Greene, François Mauriac, and Georges Bernanos. Analogy is the bond of being, and the analogical imagination required for creative solidarity is our birthright. We dare not sell it for a pot of message.

James D. Poisson
Wakefield, R.I.

 

AN OLD FRIEND

I thoroughly enjoyed the January 29 profile of David Tracy, “God-obsessed,” by David Gibson. I came to know David Tracy when I was at the University of Chicago. He is not only a great scholar, but also a warm and kind human being. I asked him to offer the Saturday evening Mass in the student chapel and every week it was standing room only. His homilies were much appreciated. His graduate students had both admiration and affection for him. David’s book, when it at last appears, will be very important.

(Rev.) Willard F. Jabusch
Skokie, Ill.

 

EAGER TO READ

Your Spirituality Issue (February 26) was yet another one I read cover to cover. Thanks for all the excellent and informative writing. As a volunteer teaching Scripture in an RCIA program, I am particularly grateful for Donald Senior’s article on the Bible as moral teacher (“A Guide for the Perplexed”). I checked the Vatican Web site and found that the text of The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct is currently available only in Italian. Why would a document of such importance not be given wider distribution? Many of us are eager to be more educated in our faith and would happily read it. Senior mentions the financial constraints of publishing hard copies. Why not publish online in English and let a much wider audience have access to this and other important documents? Nevertheless, my sincere gratitude to Fr. Senior for succinctly summarizing the fruit of six years’ work in just two pages!

Trish Johnston
Atlanta, Ga.

 

FIRM FOUNDATION

Thank you for the articles on the vital subject of mysticism and spirituality (February 26). I was privileged to live the Trappist monastic life for almost twenty years, and even though it has been some thirty years since then, I appreciate having this wonderful foundation every day. Barbara Mujica’s article on Teresa of Ávila is especially excellent. Thank you for providing superior journalism over the years.

T. C. Abel
Baton Rouge, La.

 

COME & SEE

I’ve just finished reading Barbara Mujica’s insightful article “Teresa of Ávila: A Woman of Her Time, a Saint for Ours” (February 26). Mujica has done us all a service by sharing her journey with St. Teresa. I would only suggest, in the words of the Teresa’s first editor, Luis de León, that, apart from reading the saint’s books, there’s another way to meet her: “I never knew, or saw, Mother Teresa while she lived on earth but now that she lives in heaven I know and see her almost continuously in two vivid images which she has left us of herself, and these are her spiritual daughters and her books.”

Discalced Carmelite nuns can be found in monasteries tucked away in foothills, plains, and valleys, both here and abroad.

Joan Williams, OCD
Reno, Nev.

Published in the 2010-03-26 issue: 
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