Something Else Going On On the Rue De Bac
Thank you for Edwin Fussell's article "In Honor of Chateaubriand" (Dec. 1993). The author's remark that "there are so many ways history loses or hides just what you need" brought to mind what else was happening on the Rue de Bac in the first half of the 19th century. Exactly contemporary with Chateaubriand's residence there, and just down the street, hidden but momentous events were taking place at the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.
In 1830 the Blessed Mother appeared there in the chapel to a young novice, Catherine Labouré. That apparition is commemorated in the popular "Miraculous Medal," which bears the image of the Virgin and the prayer, "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." The vision had immediate and far-ranging effects. It helped revive Mariology and gave it new emphases, culminating in the modern doctrinal definitions concerning Mary. It has brought cures and self-confessed conversions to tens of thousands, if not more. Indeed, we might say it inaugurated the whole cycle of modern apparitions of the Virgin and the present Marian Age.
If one goes to Vespers on the Rue de Bac, as I did in 1990, one will see the whole world in one chapel. There are of course the Daughters of Charity, the locals, and other Frenchmen, but there are also many visitors from around the world. They come to see one of the holiest places in France, with some of the most important relics of modern French Catholicism. But more, they come to affirm that the solution to the crisis of modernity is fidelity to Jesus Christ through His Mother, the "Beautiful lady" of Catholicism.
William M. Klimon
I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it for I'm an evangelical Protestant, but I find myself in total agreement with Fr. Francis Canavan's article against contraception (Nov. 1993). Indeed, it has become all but impossible nowadays to declare any sexual act unnatural.
To speak prophetically to our culture, we evangelicals will have to do more than quote Scripture texts at one another. It's not enough to know that something is wrong -- we must also seek to understand why. This may even mean studying some philosophy!
As much as I've enjoyed your magazine, I'm beginning to feel overwhelmed by the sheer repetitiousness of the content, which is coming to revolve chiefly around Anglican violations of catholicity and Catholic outrages against orthodoxy. I was raised Anglican, converted to Catholicism, then embraced Orthodoxy. Please try to extricate yourselves from a potential rut by soliciting more articles from an Orthodox and an Eastern perspective.
Lippman, Not Mencken!
I am one who appreciates John Warwick Montgomery's defenses of Christian orthodoxy, but there is a two-fold error in his "The Virgin Birth: A Problem?" (Dec. 1993): (1) H.L. Mencken did not say that theological liberals had never answered J.G. Machen; Walter Lippmann said it in his A Preface to Morals. (2) The statement was not about Machen's The Virgin Birth, but his Christianity & Liberalism.
The Rev. Irvin W. Reist
Seneca United Methodist Church
West Seneca, New York
Barbara Ward, the Dreamer
Thank you for Msgr. Vincent Horkan's article on Barbara Ward (Dec. 1993). Yes, we do need more research into her work. But she wrote an article for General Electric Forum in which she indicated little apparent respect for the market economy, free enterprise, and, possibly, private ownership. To me, she was a dreamy socialist or statist. Such ideas cannot explain our relatively excellent standard of living.
John A. Gearhart
Badmouthing Public Schools
Jeffrey Christensen's article, "A Protestant Looks at Catholic Schools" (Dec. 1993), was rather naive. If Catholic schools are such a "success," as he asserts, then why have they imploded in enrollment from 5.5 million students in 1965 to less than 2.5 million today? Is it not because most Catholic parents are satisfied with public schools, and because a large and increasing lumber of Catholics regard the Vatican's positions on divorce, contraception, abortion, women's ordination, clerical celibacy, and clerical dominance as out-of-date and harmful?
By some measures, Catholic schools may appear superior to public schools, but this is surely due to their narrower academic emphasis, their selectivity, their ability to exclude discipline problems, their disinclination to serve their share of handicapped kids, and their ability to have school populations much freer than pubic schools of inner-city social pathologies.
As for tax-supported school choice, does Christensen really think it just to compel all citizens to pay for schools not under public control, schools which are not obliged to play by the same rules (as public schools), schools whose denominational emphasis guarantees that a large-scale voucher system would fragment our population along religious, ideological, social class, ethnic, and other lines?
Can Christensen really believe that the parents of 40 million public school kids are dissatisfied? A 1993 Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll showed 90 percent of parents reasonably well-satisfied with the schools their children attend, though they are not so sure of the rest of the country's schools.
Yes, we do need to improve all our schools. But badmouthing our public schools and seeking tax support for private schools is not the answer, as electorates in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Massachusetts have recently shown.
Executive Director, Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Maryland
Libeling Public Schools
I read Jeffrey Christensen's article, "A Protestant Looks at Catholic Schools" (Dec. 1993), with interest. Like Christensen, I'm a Protestant and an admirer of Catholic schools. But there is little else in his article with which I can agree.
There is substantial evidence that contradicts his statements that the public schools are on the whole doing a poor job. I suggest he consult the Journal of Educational Research, June 1993, and read "Perspectives on Education in America," commonly known as the Sandia Report. Among the conclusions Christensen will find is that the purported increase in K-12 per pupil expenditures is attributable to the high cost of special education. The expenditures for non-special education programs have remained constant over the past 20 years, when adjusted for inflation. There are other data in the Sandia Report and in other studies which refute Christensen's conclusions. Space prohibits discussion here.
I must, however, comment on his implication that public school teachers are overpaid. Those earning top salaries are a small minority -- usually those who have doctorates. Most others would be better off financially if they worked in other professions.
I am a public school educator. My fellow educators are -- contrary to Christensen's description -- dedicated, intelligent, well-prepared, highly ethical, and hardworking. I am proud to be among them.
Shame on Christensen, and those like him, who libel public schools and public school teachers.
Who's Teaching the Teachers?
Jeffrey Christensen's article on the maladies infecting the public schools (Dec. 1993) was right on target. There was, however, an important element missing in his analysis -- a consideration of the role played by the facilities where future teachers are trained. A spirit is rampant among them that will assure that the basic problems that now plague the schools will continue to do so for another generation at least. If we continue to teach the next generation of teachers that our present ills can be cured by an increase in the use of technology and by adherence to a code of political correctness, we will assure that the public schools will become increasingly irrelevant, and perhaps dangerous, to any right-minded notion of civilized society.
Charles H. Ball
Needing Constantine Again?
Christopher Decker's essay on "Chastity as a Form of Economic Subversion" (Dec. 1993) has many penetrating insights, yet there is an air of naïveté to it, for I presume Decker is advocating individual, rather than societal, repression of the sexual urge. But as far as nature is concerned, "desires are sufficient reasons," as Decker's philosophic friend observed. And our society seems to promote unrestricted freedom, and freedom always leads to license -- i.e., licentiousness. So, should our society become more repressive? This question Decker seems to avoid answering.
Should sexually explicit visual and written material be censored? Or is it only to an individual's private sensibility that appeal is to be made? While individual conversion is not unprecedented, usually a "Constantine," if you will, acting to enforce a public morality, is the basis for the successful establishment of a particular point of view. "Wars" on crime and against televised sex and violence, by liberal as well as conservative politicians, do seem popular as we move into another election year. Does Decker approve? I'm not accusing -- or advocating -- but I am wondering just how far he's willing to go.
La Crosse, Wisconsin