Wounds of war, closed Communion & Vatican II

FRANKIE & VINCE

Like Peter Quinn’s uncle (“Frankie’s Secret,” February 13), my father, Vince, didn’t talk much about the First World War. He viewed with mild contempt the veterans who gathered at the American Legion Hall to relive reimagined versions of their war.

We learned that he considered the piece of shrapnel in his leg a blessing despite the pain it regularly caused him. This wound had been his passport away from the trenches to a stateside hospital. (Perhaps Frankie drove the ambulance that carried him away from the front.) Only because my brother and I pestered him did he apply for, and receive, the Purple Heart to which he was entitled. He scarcely glanced at it and wasn’t bothered that my brother and I circulated it among our playmates till the medal came apart from the purple ribbon.

Since he sometimes referred familiarly to Château-Thierry and Saint-Mihiel, we inferred he had been involved in some major battles. He was mostly silent about his own experiences. The one moment he did recount helped us to imagine the rest—how he and his companions watched from a trench as a soldier sent out for the evening’s mess was blown to bits by an enemy shell.

Unlike Frankie, my father was able to put together a life after the war. He attended night school at St. Louis University, was married, and raised three children. The toll of war was not discernible in his waking hours. He was mild in his ways, with an Irishman’s wry humor. Like many of his tribe, he found fellowship in a local tavern. The demonic rage roiling within burst forth only in sleep: in a beer-induced slumber, this slight, reticent man, from whom I never heard so much as a “damn” when he was awake, spewed forth obscenities into the afternoon quiet. Growing up, I felt only the shame of this scandalous performance. I now look back with a perspective shaped by the one vivid horror my father shared and by art concerned with the ravages of violence, visible and invisible.

“Macbeth doth murder sleep,” declares Shakespeare’s warrior-king, whom we first hear of as the man who “unseamed [Macdonwald] from the nave to th’ chops.” Macbeth’s ongoing violence destroys his soul’s rest. Similarly, the murderous rampage portrayed in Nick Brookfield’s Battle for Haditha infects the unconscious of a hapless soldier, who begs for a doctor to banish his intolerable nightmares. Works like Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy bring the cost of past violence into present awareness. Taken together, they are—we may hope—preparing us to “study war no more” that we may no more “vex to nightmare” the sleep of our Frankies and our Vinces.

TESSE HARTIGAN DONNELLY
Oak Park, Ill.

 

ONE BODY, TWO COMMUNIONS

Margaret O’Gara’s “Table Manners” (February 27) was a well-written reminder of how eucharistic practice bears on Christian unity.

One case that deserves special consideration is that of ecumenical families. Take, for example, the case of a marriage where one spouse was baptized Roman Catholic, the other Lutheran. Assume this couple married in the local Catholic parish and now have two teenage children, both raised Catholic. Kids are very impressionable, and often better than adults at pointing out hypocrisy. The whole family believes that Christ is really present in the sacraments of baptism and marriage. How, then, can the presence of Christ in these two sacraments be separated from the Real Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist? Why is one spouse, united to the other by a sacrament, not also invited to the sacrament of the Eucharist?

Pope John Paul II wrote about the relationship between the Eucharist and ecumenism in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, where he also outlined the conditions under which non-Catholic Christians may be admitted to the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation, and anointing of the sick. These special cases are also covered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see §1401). Maybe some day we will stop talking about special cases and start acting like Jesus, who gave himself completely to many whose only qualification was faith.

HERMAN D. KNOBLE
State College, Pa.

 

ORPHANED

Just as I was tightening my budget and thinking I might do without Commonweal, along comes the February 27 issue. John Wilkins’s article “Why I Became Catholic” resonated deeply with me. Like Wilkins, I “do not want to feel an orphan” in the church. Unlike him, however, I was baptized Catholic at birth. I’m now eighty-five. I spent the first half of my life longing for the Second Vatican Council and the second half watching it fade away. Pope John XXIII’s successors have consistently chosen formalism over essence in their interpretation of the council.

Vatican II was not a flash in the pan, but a glimpse of true gold, much as the short life of Jesus must have seemed to the early church. I’m glad to have been alive when it happened.

My check is in the mail.

MARIAN GREENWELL
Wimberley, Tex.

Published in the 2009-03-27 issue: 
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