Just a word to tell you how much I enjoyed reading "The Lure of Catholicism" (March 1995) by your Contributing Editor Avery Dulles. His article, which certain Catholics would no doubt reject as being "triumphalist," is a model of clarity. It describes the particular beauty of the Catholic Church. What makes it all the more memorable is the realization that it probably couldn't be published in America or Commonweal.
After reading the piece, I overheard my wife telling a friend about it -- the article had a similar impact on her. Interestingly, I thought she never even opened the pages of the NOR!
Prof. David O'Connell
Georgia State University
Why Am I Not Pleased?
Why is it that Avery Dulles's chronicle of elite Protestants joining the Catholic Church ("The Lure of Catholicism," March) is not pleasing to my Catholic ears? Why, as an estranged Catholic ("dispossessed" may be a better term), is it so disturbing that the Church I grew up in -- and valued because, we were told, it refused to cut its clothes to suit the current fashion -- is often unrecognizable to me? I am not alone. Consult your March letters section. Better, consider those former Catholics who have flocked to the evangelicals, Mormons, channelers, or whatever variety of flimflam is the flavor of the month. Why is it that the post-conciliar Church finds it so difficult to elicit vocations? The Church is lacking something essential which it once possessed: spirituality as opposed to social work.
So. Orange, New Jersey
Good For a Chuckle
In reading your letters section, I never cease being amused by the various responses of your Catholic readership to your orthodox Catholic magazine. Some readers, like Joyce Mullan (letter, Dec. 1994), discover after reading your journal that they aren't very Catholic after all and cancel their subscriptions. Others, like Steve Betley (letter, June 1994), claim they are Catholic, by golly, even if they don't believe what the Church teaches. Such folk are always good for a chuckle.
But I suspect that most of your readers are like the converts to Catholicism whom Avery Dulles describes in his wonderful article, "The Lure of Catholicism" (March): reverent toward the Church's synthesis of Scripture, tradition, and Magisterium, and well aware that (as Flannery O'Connor put it) dogma is the guardian of Mystery. And well aware that Fr. Dulles is himself one of the treasures of the Church he so faithfully serves.
In "The Lure of Catholicism" (March), Avery Dulles honors me by noting my conversion to Catholicism. He honors me too much, perhaps, by calling me a popular writer. Except for one book (An American Childhood) my stuff is, alas, too complex or odd for a popular audience.
We Protestants Aren't "Anti-Intellectual"
Avery Dulles, in his "The Lure of Catholicism" (March), treats Protestants uncharitably. He is without mercy in his constant jabbing at the Protestant movement, which is presented as "diluted" and as offering "no answers." We Protestants are said to have taken a "wrong turn" and a "false trail." There are thinly veiled suggestions that our movement is "anti-intellectual" and "depends on feelings and emotion. " The article's undercurrent is that "thoughtful" people go Catholic if they genuinely "cherish truth."
Dulles makes the mistake of assuming that the Reformation is a static phenomenon. He would condemn in the same breath the Reformation of Luther, sola Scriptura, the "splintering" of Protestantism, and the apostasy of certain corners of liberal Protestantism -- as if they were all the same thing. Even a casual look into Protestantism would reveal that this isn't so.
The truth is that the Reformation is a dynamic and continuing process. Sola Scriptura is not adequate. That's why many of us have long ago come to a different theological stance -- i.e., we reformed our theology and made it incorporate greater truth. That process continues with each new generation.
Certainly there are Protestant churches that have lost all semblance of the theological underpinnings of their founders, and even of Christianity. When that happens, reformers begin the purification process all over again.
Lone Pine, California
When We Protestants Need You Catholics
As a Protestant, I read Avery Dulles's "The Lure of Catholicism" (March) with great interest. I subscribed to your magazine because of an ad promising ecumenism at the highest, not the lowest, level. I have not been disappointed.
I have had problems with every Protestant church I've attended. When I was a member of a rather liberal Lutheran denomination, I was pleased by its concern for social justice, but troubled by the lack of concern for doctrinal orthodoxy. One pastor openly admitted that he supports the blessing of homosexual unions. It seemed that whatever was Politically Correct at the time was embraced. And these attitudes are, unfortunately, found in the denomination's leadership. On the opposite side of the coin, the evangelical churches I have fled to are commendable in their concern for orthodoxy, but many of them lack interest in social justice.
Although I will remain a Protestant, I leave noted that the Catholic Church for the most part combines orthodoxy with true concern for social justice. Also, by and large, I find more intellectual stimulation in Catholic periodicals than in Protestant ones. Thank you for a great magazine!
Diane Van Drunen
Rethinking My Position
At times I too have felt like Joyce Mullan, a self-described "cafeteria Catholic," who canceled her subscription (letter, Dec. 1994). But the letter from Bruce Bogin (April 1995) really caused me to rethink the matter.
I found that many pieces in the April issue addressed the very core of what Catholicism means to me. The articles by Lukacs, Miller, and Fitzpatrick and the book reviews by Hanink and Dodson were just wonderful. I know the NOR doesn't print articles and reviews in order to win a popularity contest, and perhaps I thought they were wonderful because I agreed with them. Still, they were good reflections on just what Catholicism is about.
Of course, there have been many pieces in the NOR I have had major problems with or just plain disagreed with (e.g., Vanauken's "New World Aborning," and those against homosexuality and women's ordination), but I have to admit their arguments were based on traditional Church teaching. I'm still questioning the Church on a variety of subjects, but I am trying to do so within the message of the Gospel.
I admit I am somewhat of a cafeteria Catholic, but I have drastically changed my ideas on a few subjects -- e.g., I'm now prolife and against capital punishment. You folks at the NOR are certainly doing your part in my Christian formation. Like Bogin, I greet the arrival of the NOR with "a mixture of anticipation and apprehension." At this stage of the game, this isn't a bad sign.
Janice Flahiff Nakashima
U.S. Jobs to Mexico: Morally Good
A major difficulty I had with James Fitzpatrick's article, "A Just Society..." (April 1995), was identified in John Lukacs's article in the same April issue. Lukacs says that many American Catholics pledge allegiance to the flag as fervently as, if not more fervently than, they pledge allegiance to the Catholic Faith.
Now, Fitzpatrick protested the "unacceptable level of lost jobs, uprooted families, and destroyed communities" resulting from American companies moving to Mexico, and he did so "in light of the [Catholic] Church's social teachings." But the Catholic Church is a universal church, and has no preference for any one particular country or people. If we consider that for a Catholic, "our people" is the People of God, not the inhabitants of a particular nation, why should we blame a company for relocating from the U. S. to Mexico? Indeed, I would think that someone writing about social justice and Christian charity, as Fitzpatrick was doing, would find positive value in a company's relocating from a richer to a poorer country. The poorer Mexican society will benefit more than the affluent American one will lose.