EUCHARIST & THE SOLDIER
I agree with your editorial that “even those who fight in a just cause are implicated in that sinfulness” (“Stop It,” March 28). However, I cannot agree with Peter Dula that it would be right and proper to deny Communion for a year to soldiers involved in a war (“Easter in Baghdad,” March 28).
Soldiers take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Having sworn to this in good conscience, soldiers are obligated to abide by the decisions of civilian leaders. Not doing so would endanger the security of the republic and fellow citizens by making war a matter of individual, not collective, choice.
In the United States, the military is subordinate to civilian authorities, who are duly elected by the people. Once the decision for war is made by the president and Congress, soldiers represent their fellow citizens in the execution of public policy. Within these restrictions, soldiers are bound by the laws of land warfare, the humanitarian conventions to which our nation is a signatory—the Geneva and Hague Conventions—and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In addition, above and beyond all these legal parameters, each soldier is still responsible to God for acts committed in war and other military operations.
I served in Afghanistan, and can attest that the majority of soldiers do not look forward to killing and exercise extreme self-discipline before pulling the trigger, even in the most harrowing circumstances. In this context, military chaplains who risk their lives daily in the company of soldiers provide an immense spiritual and emotional service to them by sharing their hardships, listening to their pain, and providing access to the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, and very significantly, the sacrament of reconciliation.
LT. COL. PRISCO R. HERNANDEZ
Fort Leavenworth, Kans.
WAR, A POLITICAL ACT
Andrew Bacevich’s insights into the crisis of U.S. military policy are profound (“The Great Divide,” March 28). But another aspect of the problem needs to be addressed. The senior leaders of the defense establishment have traditionally held that the purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy. But the truth is that war, even “total war,” is still a political act, chosen for particular political purposes and with specific—often unanticipated—political outcomes.
In On War, the nineteenth-century Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz insisted that military strategy must be bound by, limited to, and controlled by the political purposes for which it may be chosen. The controlling strategy of war must be one that can be fulfilled by military force and, once achieved, be superseded by other forms of political coercion that consolidate what military force has accomplished. In a world dominated by the existence of nuclear weapons, Clausewitz’s ideas have become relevant in ways he would never have expected. It is now possible for nuclear-equipped militaries to completely destroy an enemy country, even its culture. Ironically, that fact has also made his concepts more timely than ever. This is especially true for Bacevich’s conclusion that we must return to a “policy of containment” instead of attempting to destroy political—and perhaps also religious—“evil.”
CHARLES F. KRIETE
The writer is a distinguished fellow of the U.S. Army War College.
THE BEST WE CAN DO?
After reading Andrew Bacevich’s “The Great Divide,” I was left wondering where our imagination as Christians has gone. Are the continually abused and inadequate just-war tradition, a policy of containment, and a citizen-soldier the best we can do? How far is a “policy of containment” from Jesus’ call to love one’s enemies? Jesus showed love for his enemies by entering into Jerusalem, unmasking the violence of the powers of domination, and modeling the virtue and effectiveness of nonviolent peacemaking.
Shouldn’t we Christians commit our energy to nonviolent peacemaking and truth-and-reconciliation commissions? This is the kind of “military” that seems most consistent with Jesus and the dawning Kingdom of God. The “crisis” seems to be more in our imagination.
ELI SASARAN MCCARTHY
The Rev. John T. Pawlikowski has written a welcome survey of recent Catholic-Jewish relations and the pertinence of the new Good Friday prayer issued by Pope Benedict XVI (“Praying for the Jews,” March 14). Yet in the course of Fr. Pawlikowski’s discussion, I did not find any mention of several New Testament verses that ought not be passed over.
He is not alone in such neglect, for the document published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 2002, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, which contains a paragraph on the Letter to the Hebrews (part of #82), also neglects two sets of verses in that letter that seem to have some relevance to the biblical issues and to the general question of Catholic-Jewish relations. I am referring to Hebrews 8:6–13 (especially 8:13) and to Hebrews 10:8–10 (especially 10:9b).
Hebrews 8:13 reads: “In speaking of a new covenant, he [Christ] treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (RSV). Hebrews 10:9 reads: “Then he added, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will.’ He abolishes the first order to establish the second.”
I should like to know how Fr. Pawlikowski reconciles such New Testament words with the message of Vatican II’s Nostra aetate.
JOSEPH A. FITZMYER, SJ
THE AUTHOR RESPONDS
Joseph A. Fitzmyer is correct about the apparent contradiction between several texts in Hebrews and Nostra aetate’s proclamation of continued Jewish covenantal inclusion after Christ. The answer to the dilemma can only come from a theological understanding of the authority of an ecumenical council to make an interpretation in such a situation. And the Second Vatican Council decided by an overwhelming vote to make Romans 9–11, with its strong affirmation of covenantal continuity for the Jewish people, the prevailing biblical text for understanding the church’s relationship to the Jewish people. According to Catholic theology, the council had every right to make such a decision.
(REV.) JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI
CAUSE FOR WARINESS
Thanks to Cathleen Kaveny for her thoughtful column “The ‘New’ Feminism?” (March 28). I agree that the comments about women in the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia and those of John Paul II in Mulieris dignitatem are cause for wariness. My first reaction to the very idea of a male pope writing about women’s lives is that women should be writing “apostolic” letters about women. Women need to tell church leaders that in most cases working both inside and outside the home is the norm today. Even if a woman chooses to be a full-time mother, that job takes only a short period of her life. Typically, half of a woman’s life remains after her children are raised. And since decisions made in the political, economic, and social spheres affect all members of a family, it is essential that women participate in politics, and hold public office as well. We live in a democracy of, by, and for the people. Surely church leaders wouldn’t expect us to accept a democracy of men, by men, and for men. We need the gifts of both sexes to build a good society—never more so than today!
San Diego, Calif.
TEACH THE ADULTS WELL
Thanks for the fine Last Word by Rita Ferrone (“After School,” March 14). It was a concise and timely plea by a gifted colleague for church leadership to take to heart what we know about how best to carry out the ongoing formation of adults in the Catholic tradition. If the baptismal catechumenate is the inspiration and model of such formation, as both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops have rightly insisted, then there is much to be gleaned from the experience of the catechumenate for how adults learn their faith. This is an ongoing, conversion-driven adult process of going deeper into the content of the faith as a way of life. This process is content-rich, a content always at the service of a living and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, within the Body of Christ, the church, for Christ’s mission in the world. Let’s not lose confidence and turn back to a limited classroom-based model of such formation. This has already been tried and found wanting. Our people deserve so much more of the depth and breadth of our great and living faith tradition. They hunger for it.
JAMES M. SCHELLMAN
The writer is the executive director of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate.