A Neighbor Across the Fence
Assuming the verity of Edwin Fussell's article on Henry James's "literary Catholicizing" (Jan.-Feb. 1993), I consider his categorizing Willa Cather with James unwarranted. Her Death Comes for the Archbishop and Shadows on the Rock derive from the wellspring of an unabashed interest in religious history. Her brushes with Catholicism elsewhere Bohemian, Irish, French simply reflect a broad Midwestern neighborliness. Like the late Vida Dutton Scudder, who explored the Franciscan adventure and the spirituality of Catherine of Siena, Cather was, at least in her New York years, a devout Anglo-Catholic.
Msgr. Francis Schmitt
St. Aloysius Church
West Point, Nebraska
Regarding John S. McDonald's guest column, "A Jeffersonian Catholicism?" (Jan.-Feb. 1993): Is it possible that McDonald, in claiming to spot signs of gnosticism in the Catholic Church in the U.S., is himself an example of a form of gnosticism? He seems to "gno" that when an assembly stands for the Eucharistic Prayer it is because of some theological or pastoral aberration. He "gnos" that when "the dignity of the Christian as redeemed in Christ" is eagerly affirmed it is because "we" have difficulty accepting the fact that "all have sinned." He even "gnos" what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, "there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."
I am pastor of a parish with some 1,400 households with all the responsibilities and excitement that entails. If gnosticism is a threat to the Catholic Church in America, then I am willing to confront it to the best of my ability but not at the behest of an inside agitator with such an unimportant ax to grind. McDonald's self-indulgent (albeit well-written) column was nothing more than a shallow exercise in peevishness.
Fr. Joseph A. Fata
St. Luke's Catholic Church
Clarifying Vatican II
I have nearly finished reading a book which I judge to be a milestone in my intellectual life (assuming that the next marker will not be my gravestone!). The author is John F. Kobler, a priest of the Passionist Order who spent about 12 years exclusively studying the Second Vatican Council and its background. The book is Vatican II: Theophany and the Phenomenon of Man, published in 1991 by Peter Lang.
Thanks to this book, the purpose and meaning of Vatican II are now clear to me, in a way which explains why I have felt, until now, somewhat confused about it. No doubt the book is too old for you to review now, but it really ought to be brought to your readers' attention if they have any faith that God Himself continues to come to mankind's rescue through Church councils.
Dom Julian Stead
Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Coercion By Any Other Name
I look forward to Robert Bellah's essays in the NOR because of the clarity and common sense with which he writes. But I was surprised by the obscurity and inconsistency in his latest article, "Outrageous Thoughts on War and Peace" (March 1993).
What, precisely, is the "logic of peace" Bellah proposes? He vaguely describes it as "leadership through example and persuasion, not coercion" and as "the active pursuit of right relations among human beings." How are we actively to pursue right relations without coercion?
Bellah wants to put "enormous pressure" on nations to end nuclear testing. What is the difference between "enormous pressure" and coercion, and how is this distinguished from "war thinking"? He also likes a U.N. peacekeeping force "with teeth." What is the point of teeth but coercion? Why does the contemplated use of military force by the U.N. qualify as peace thinking, but any use of U.S. military power qualify as war thinking? The U.S. is supposed to become a "leader in creating an effective international consensus that war is an unacceptable instrument of policy." How is this consensus to be effective? How will Bellah convince Saddam Hussein and the Serbs that war is unacceptable?
David M. Tye
Let's Be Responsible - Take I
Mark W. Roche does a nice job of finding "Inconsistencies in the Abortion Debate" in his article of that title in the March 1993 issue. But in doing so he seems to have produced one of his own when he wrote, "It is especially ironic that the rhetoric of protest which surfaces in the pro-choice position affirmation of the rights of the disenfranchised is not extended beyond the self to one of its most worthy and fragile objects: Our responsibilities toward future generations are ignored."
Children who are born into the world unwanted, unloved, undernourished, and uncared for point to the grossest conceivable irresponsibility. It is precisely responsibility toward future generations that is the point.
Henry J. Schultz
Let's Be Responsible - Take II
Mark W. Roche, in his article "Inconsistencies in the Abortion Debate" (March 1993), considers it inconsistent for prolifers to be uninterested in universal health insurance, state-funded assistance for poor mothers, substantial social assistance, etc. I would suggest that Roche call a spade a spade, and acknowledge that he has introduced his liberal ideology into, and thereby diluted, the tragedy of abortion.
Universal health insurance has nothing to do with whether one knows abortion is murder. Being the Chief of Dermatology at our "charity hospital," I would argue vehemently that the notion of universal health insurance is nothing more than a smokescreen invented and used by the media to cover up personal irresponsibility in our society. The patients in our "charity" system receive health care that is astoundingly excellent and complete, thereby rendering pointless the socio-political interventions suggested by Roche.
Instead, Roche should have suggested that individual responsibility again be made a priority, not to the disdain of the concept of "Love Thy Neighbor" but to enforce self-reliance. To maintain the lower socio-economic strata by repeated swollen handouts is to maintain the status quo. A pearl is born of irritation; the heart is strengthened by stress and exercise.
Patrick R. Carrington, M.D.
I have subscribed to the NOR for a year, after seeing your ad in The Nation claiming the NOR is a magazine based on the idea that there is no conflict between faith and intellect.
As someone new to the Catholic Church, I was eager to see how Catholic intellectuals deal with issues of faith and dogma, and the public and religious issues of our day.
I have been disappointed and will not be renewing my subscription. I think your magazine would be better described as devotional literature written by people with advanced degrees. I found an anti-intellectual spirit in much of what I read. And I also found a sarcastic and "them-against-us" attitude toward people, both inside and outside the Church, who do not follow orthodox lines.
You seem to believe that all Catholics support the Church's "no abortion ever" stance; where I expected to read thoughtful articles about the problems with the theological basis for the Church's position, I found nothing. So too with the ordination of women. Your review of Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God, a scholarly book despite its polemical tone, dismissed the book for its stridency and ignored the serious issues it raised about sexist distortions in Church teachings.
But I also found the NOR troubling in how it dealt with questions of faith and dogma. I found many of the articles had a "holier-than-thou" tone reflecting the author's proud devotion to the old ways, to the pope, to a literal interpretation of Transubstantiation (for example). Since most of Church dogma was developed during the Middle Ages, when our understanding of the universe and matter was different from what it is today, is it too much to think that an intellectual Catholic review might address these questions? I find many of the formulations in Catholic dogma too literal and reflective of the epistemology of an earlier era. The NOR seems to take the line that anyone who feels this way is a heretic. I find this a strange attitude in a publication that touts itself as "intellectual."
Brooklyn, New York
'Prolife' Not Accurate
In his article in the March 1993 issue, "Inconsistencies in the Abortion Debate," Mark W. Roche bashes our nation's media for referring to "anti-abortionists" when the correct term is, he feels, "prolifers." But the terminology he prefers would be quite inaccurate.
For example, he admits that many opponents of abortion irrationally favor capital punishment. Why wouldn't he disqualify these people from using the term "prolife"? Roche makes no reference to those "prolifers" who support the unrestrained traffic in, and proliferation of, guns and ammunition in a nation that has consistently witnessed the highest per capital murder rates among industrial societies. The "prolife" title is clearly not warranted here.
The trouble with the "prolife" term is not so much with its inconsistencies as with its inaccuracy.
Michael J. Zavacky
Celebrating the Conception of Jesus
Mark P. Shea, in his article "Examining a Manichaean Approach to Abortion" (April 1993), rightly points to the fundamental importance of the conception of Jesus for the Christian understanding that life begins at conception.
Before King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I banned caroling except at Christmas, it was the custom to sing carols throughout the year. Especially in the spring near Annunciation time it was the custom to go a-caroling. Costumed mummers went from house to house singing joyous Annunciation carols.
On Annunciation day, March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas, Christians traditionally observe both the announcement of the Incarnation and the conception of Christ. But in our times we remember the former but have more or less forgotten the latter. Shouldn't we remember more vividly that Jesus began His human life at His conception, nine months before His birth? Even though He was God, He chose to begin His life at conception. By becoming man in this way, He showed us that not only are the lives of born babies valuable, but also the lives of babies from the moment of their conception.
Although no imperious monarch prevents us from doing so, we no longer sing carols on Christ's conception day. If we had continued to understand the meaning of this day, and had continued to sing out our belief that Christ's human life began at conception, perhaps legal abortion would not have gained the foothold it has today. Can it be that we will have to celebrate March 25 again in order to get rid of abortion?
Oak Park, Illinois