Best Read on an Empty Stomach
The May issue of the NOR is best read on an empty stomach. Kimberly Marie Roth's gut-wrenching revelations about her experiences in an ultra-feminist high school run by Franciscan nuns ("Up From Aquarius," guest column) is followed by Anne Barbeau Gardiner's review of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson's ultra-feminist rant in her book Quest for a Living God. This brought back the memory of my late son-in-law's experience at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.: A professor told his class that anyone who did not refer to God in the feminine would be given a failing grade.
J. Norman Sayles
Almsgiving According to the Didache
Regarding Constantine C. Kliora and Gregory Sampson's exchange (letters, May) about the merits of "irrational giving" to the "undeserving poor": Any discussion of Christian almsgiving should refer to one of the earliest known post-biblical documents, the Didache. Here are two relevant passages:
- "Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give."
- "Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. If you have anything, through your hands you shall give ransom for your sins. Do not hesitate to give, nor complain when you give; for you shall know who is the good repayer of the hire. Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal?"
Note that although the Didache emphatically prescribes generous giving, it also says, "Let your alms sweat in your hand, until you know to whom you should give," and warns of judgment on those who ask without true need. So Kliora's position is backed by the Didache, while Sampson's is not.
John S. Belmont
Rational Animals, Sentient Persons
It is not wholly accurate to suggest, as Mary Rosera Joyce does in "The Originating Judgment of the Culture of Death" (May), that humans are not animals in the same sense in which animals are not plants. It is possible to think of animals that have none of the essential qualities of plants. But humans and animals share the same physical senses the very physical senses we need in order to know anything, even to be able to conceive of "being-as-being." So far as that is true, we may be called animals; there just happens to be no other word to denote what we and the animals both are. That may be unfortunate, but it is a misfortune we can live with.
Contra Joyce, calling humans "persons" does not define us. The word person can refer to humans, angels, and the Persons of the Trinity. Perhaps if we insist on calling ourselves "sentient persons," this might help to solve the philosophical conundrum Joyce points to by "defining us up" rather than "defining us down." It might also help to convince pro-abortionists, who already realize that an unborn baby is sentient, to see that he is also a person.
A baby's "preconscious awareness of being-as-being," as Joyce puts it, sounds very much like animal awareness, except that it pertains to a human, which appears to be presupposed, so that using this to oppose abortion is alarmingly close to circular reasoning. Pro-abortionists presumably don't directly perceive an unborn baby's preconscious awareness of being-as-being any more than they see him constructing syllogisms. They have to take Joyce's word for it.
Instead of insisting that a baby in the womb has a pre-conscious awareness of being-as-being which I, and certainly most everybody else, don't remember having as a baby we ought to point out that his having an intellect with which he can't yet defend himself by arguing is no more incongruous than his having a body with which he can't yet defend himself by fighting.
MARY ROSERA JOYCE REPLIES:
I agree with Colin Burke that, according to Aristotelian logic, we are in the genus (general category) of animals. But divine revelation does not originate in Aristotelian logic. In fact, the concept of personhood originated in the context of divine revelation as theologians tried to defend the Trinity against the early heretics.
According to Genesis, we humans are an image and likeness of God. Nothing in Scripture indicates that we are in the genus of animals. In the Incarnation, did the Word of God become a "rational animal"? This incongruity seems to present a call to philosophers to think outside the logic of Aristotle, who knew nothing of divine revelation. Basing our thinking within the context of divine revelation, we can place the human being in the genus of persons, which includes, besides us, the many different kinds of angels and the three divine Persons.
What all persons have in common is their immediately intuitive power of intellection, along with their power to respond with love. Our specific difference from the other types of persons mentioned above is the sentient-rational character of our personhood.
We need to realize that our senses are not the same as those of animals. Our senses are intuitively intellectified to the core. Why? Because we are basically persons, not basically animals. We cannot experience pure sense knowledge the way animals do. We can realize, for example, that our sense of vision is structured and operative within the intuitive power of our intellect in such a way that we actually see another being as an other being, not just as an object of ocular sensation. Consciously, the process within us seems like we see with our eyes first, then intellect follows. But our preconscious or immediately intuitive process involves the sense of sight as structured within the power for intuitive intellection. This pre-rational immediacy is followed naturally by conceptualization, judgment, and ratiocination.
I might seem to be making unfounded claims. But that is what an ontologian has to do in order to get started. These claims, if truly ontological, will eventually stand to reason.
An ontologian asserts that reason begins, continues, and ends in intuitive intellection that all persons, as persons, share, though not with equal intensity and clarity. The immediacy of God's knowledge is infinite. The immediacy of angelic knowledge is finite. The immediacy of our knowledge is not only finite, but also preconscious and inclusively mediated in a sentient-rational manner. These latter characteristics manifest our specific difference from all other persons.
There is a simple joy in being the most complex kind of person, a likeness of the complex simplicity that is the Incarnate Word of God.
Tools and Their Uses
I would like to comment on an insight offered by Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer in his reply to Mike Spaniola (letters, May). It is Fr. Euteneuer's opinion, and that of many others as well, that role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons are, by their very nature, avenues through which the Enemy does his foul work.
I am willing to concede that this is indeed a real possibility, if a person or group of individuals chooses to use such a game in that way. However, it is also a very real possibility that almost anything can be used in a way that does service to darkness. Moreover, such games are, to a great extent, based on the writings of a good Catholic author, J.R.R. Tolkien. The basic idea of nearly all these games is one of heroic fantasy, in which a band of heroes confronts and vanquishes the forces of evil.
It is true that there is a strong element of magic in these games, but then again, Tolkien's tales of Middle Earth are full of magic and users and implements of magic. We read, for example, of Gandalf the wizard (more a type of angel than man) and of Saruman the fallen wizard, his enemy. Both of these characters, among many others, routinely use items and powers magical, sometimes for good and sometimes for evil. Likewise, in the real world, all men are given gifts that can be used for good or ill, or not at all.
Men are users of tools and, regrettably, sometimes these tools can be turned to destructive ends. But these same tools can also be used in positive ways, for the betterment of mankind.
In the case of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, which are really, at a very basic level, improvisational theater sans stage, one can choose to play the role of hero or villain. In such games, the evil characters invariably fall upon themselves to destruction. Most players know this and therefore stay away from such roles. A lesson is then learned, and an important one, that evil corrupts and, over time, destroys its practitioners, while those striving for justice, though the road be a difficult one, prevail.
One of the best tools we possess is our ability to observe things and events around us. If something bears foul fruit, or is known to be dangerous, then by all means we should avoid it. While it is true that some things are irredeemably twisted, such as sorcerers' charms and occult practices, not all things are. It is a mistake to unilaterally declare something unhealthy based only on a surface impression of its nature or utility.
FR. EUTENEUER REPLIES:
Dungeons & Dragons, which started out as a board game in the 1970s, is an icon of a whole genre of role-playing games not "tools" as the letter-writer suggests that "involve" the players at a very deep level of their being. Such games engage three parts of the human soul: mind, imagination, and will. The mind decides the strategies, the imagination needs to be more creative each hour in order to win, and one "acts" in the game by choosing to do the things the game sets before him.
More often than not, the players are young, vapid, and vulnerable male souls. What the game offers them is power over other characters in the game and power is what vulnerable youth yearn for. Players are thus enticed to play roles that commit acts of violence or sorcery to gain a competitive advantage, acts that can sometimes be outright evil, even when considered in the realm of fantasy. The assertion that "most players know" that the evil characters end up in destruction is by no means a proven fact. Most don't know and probably don't care because they are being entertained and have either turned off or never engaged their moral conscience in evaluating what they are doing.
The consequences of these games on their actions and their eternal salvation can be irrevocably evil. It cannot be ignored that Dungeons & Dragons has been linked to some of the notorious murderers of the past couple decades and is directly responsible for more than a dozen suicides at last count.
Destroying the Devil's Playground
I am writing in response to Frank Schwindler Jr.'s letter, "Prisons: Satan's Property" (May). As a prisoner for more than 14 years now, I agree with Schwindler that over the past few years there has been a decline in Catholic-related prison activities, including priests being available to say Mass. This is unfortunate, and, as other readers have explained, is widespread. Let me say, however, that there is hope, and we can all contribute to its increase.
I can walk into any chapel inside prison walls and see resource list after resource list, but they are all from Protestant denominations. I want to create and distribute a resource list of Catholic services that can be provided to Catholic prisoners and others interested in our faith. I see the thirst of others to know our faith, which means I have the opportunity to be of service to those in need.
However, I need the readers of the NOR to lend a helping hand. If you can provide me with addresses of organizations that offer books, magazines, correspondence courses, recovery programs, catechism programs, counseling, and spiritual direction to prisoners and anything else that is pertinent to building our community, the Body of Christ I would be able to create a more thorough list of Catholic resources.
Remember, most prisoners will get out and could potentially be your neighbor. Do you want the transformed, Christ-like new self, or do you want the sinful old self, living next to you? Much of prison life involves addiction, violence, and prison politics that most people in society will never understand unless they experience it. We can change this Devil's playground by networking resources to those who are tired of being puppets of the Evil One, and offering them the chance to experience the renewal of mind spoken of in Romans 12:2.
Thank you and God bless you!
Steven Nary P-61614
Avenal State Prison. 630-2-22 LOW, P.O. Box 4
Avenal, CA 93204
What About Mary?
The May issue of the NOR, as with most recent issues, deals heavily with the Satanic-led sexual-abuse scandal in our Church. This is as it should be. Two New Oxford Notes in the May issue, "The Smoke of Satan in the Vatican?" and "The Timing Is Just Too Perfect," discuss the possibility that Satan is active in the Vatican itself. This is as it should be.
I have to ask, however, if we are forgetting the real defense we have against all this. We are told of it at the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis; we are told again, at the end, by John in his Apocalypse: The head of the serpent will be crushed by the foot of the woman Mary, the Mother of God, the Blessed Mother, the Queen of the Universe. She has visited us time and again to help us. Why are we not calling to her in this crisis? Why is there no mention of this glorious resource in the NOR?
Joseph D. Palermo
Round Rock, Texas
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
The theme of spiritual warfare, exorcism, and evil is indeed one we have been giving increased attention over the past several issues. But it is entirely inaccurate to say that we have omitted mention of Mary as a resource to combat spiritual evil. In his review of The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist (Nov. 2009), Arthur C. Sippo wrote: "It is interesting to note that in certain circumstances [during the performance of an exorcism] the Blessed Virgin Mary can be called on to intercede. The demons respond to her name with fear and loathing . The Scriptures promised that Mary would crush Satan's head and that he would live in fear of her heel (Gen. 3:15). The experience of exorcists seems to confirm this."
And then, in response to a reader's query, Sippo offered a detailed exegesis of Genesis 3:15 in the letters section of our January-February 2010 issue. Of note for our purposes, Sippo cited Pope Pius IX, who said, when promulgating the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: "The most holy Virgin, united with him [Christ] by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot."
Sippo's reply was commended and expanded upon in two follow-up letters in our April issue.
Are we ignoring Mary's role in defeating spiritual evil? By no means!
If you're still not convinced, read the following letter from Joseph Martino.
Out of Evil, Good
"The Lord desires not the death of the sinner, but that he may be converted and live." God, who is Mercy itself, offered a most horrible criminal the grace of His peaceful reconciliation. In the early 1980s, Michael Beuke, a Cincinnati hitchhiker, terrorized several well-intentioned passersby. He shot and killed one and injured two others. Thus ends the Devil's participation in this story. God entered in, who makes good out of the worst evils, to offer His great mercy. Michael responded to God's grace, repented, and proceeded to evangelize others in prison, after he was convicted and placed on death row. Michael painted Christmas scenes, played the keyboard, and generally encouraged those around him. St. Maximilian Kolbe, once a prisoner himself, would have been proud.
Several Cincinnatians were inspired to offer corporal works of mercy by steadfastly visiting him in prison. A Catholic woman ensured that dinners were available for his mother several days a week, until her death a few years ago. A survivor of Michael's shooting spree, Bruce Graham, visited him recently, forgave him, and wrote a testimony in support of his clemency. Clemency, however, was denied.
Just prior to his execution, Mass was celebrated in Michael's Lucasville prison cell by two bishops, George Murry of Youngstown and Daniel Conlon of Steubenville, and two Cincinnati priests. Even the media unknowingly evangelized by reporting on what has been called the longest final statement on record in Ohio history. It consisted of the personal apology Michael made to his victims' families while on the gurney in the death chamber and praying the rosary for 17 minutes.
Michael Beuke died by lethal injection on May 13, 2010, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, after spending 27 years on death row. Bishops Murry and Conlon, Michael's spiritual advisors, were both witnesses to his execution. Our Lady, the refuge of sinners, played a large part in his conversion. Michael had a great reliance on Mary.
A Catholic burial Mass was celebrated for Michael by five priests at Cincinnati's St. William Church on May 29. He had no immediate living family members, but his spiritual family was in attendance. We felt a kinship for our brother in Christ and we were motivated to pray for his soul, to respect the dignity of a converted soul, a soul over which Heaven rejoices. A touching tribute, written by another death-row prisoner and friend, was read from the pulpit testifying to Michael's positive influence in prison. Michael was laid to rest in a Catholic cemetery close to his childhood neighborhood near his deceased parents. His story does not end here. He now commences his pilgrimage to the Father's House, our home too.
Michael's evil acts obviously can never be condoned. Yet so much good has come from them. The murder investigation required someone to come forward with the truth about his crimes. The revealing of the truth set into motion the salvation of this man's soul, saving him from the certain grips of eternal Hell and instead into probable eternal paradise. His crimes also demand that we reflect on our own sins, which, though not as horrible, require the same level of repentance, because every sin is a trespass against the holiness of God. Michael's story can teach us about the horror of our own sins and the availability of the great mercy of Jesus through Mary toward every sinner who repents.
Historians say that the "good thief" of Calvary was most likely a convicted murderer too. Yet he was promised paradise through the great mercy of God. Michael's story could very well be another example of the "good thief who stole Heaven."
Error Without Rebuke
Is excommunication being considered for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi? Her outspoken views on abortion and homosexuality are the exact opposite of what the Catholic Church has always taught. Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are being clouded by her statements to the American people.
I have talked with other faithful Catholics about this and they too feel that grievous harm is being caused by allowing her to continue spouting error without rebuke. The message being sent to other believers is that her views are not worthy of rebuke, or worse, that they are aligned with Catholic teaching. Am I wrong to believe that she has warranted excommunication?
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
No, we don't think you're wrong to believe that Nancy Pelosi has warranted a declaration of excommunication. And neither, it would seem, does Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon. As reported in our New Oxford Note "Free Will & Freedom of Choice" (Apr.), Bishop Vasa has said that there is "very good reason" to explore when excommunication might be the necessary response to "politicians who may, in their own way, love Jesus, who may attend Sunday Mass and who do identity themselves as faithful' Catholics." Though Bishop Vasa didn't mention Pelosi by name, he delivered his comments in the wake of her Newsweek interview in which she openly challenged the Church's teachings on abortion and homosexuality; so the implications were clear.
But it isn't for Vasa to decide whether to declare Pelosi excommunicated. That task belongs to her bishop, George Niederauer of San Francisco. Archbishop Niederauer has repeatedly "rebuked" Pelosi both publicly and privately for her blatant misrepresentations of Catholic teachings and for her overt dissensions therefrom. It is unknown, however, whether he is seriously considering declaring her excommunicated, and it will remain that way until it has been announced, if it ever is. Niederauer, of course, wouldn't be "excommunicating" Pelosi; he would only be declaring that she had excommunicated herself by virtue of her own actions and statements. Nonetheless, for the sake of Pelosi and the rest of the faithful, an explicit declaration of this fact would have to be made by the archbishop.
Niederauer isn't without papal directives encouraging him to lay the wood on Pelosi (see our follow-up New Oxford Note "Waiting on the Past," Apr.). We wonder, however, whether he's willing to cut against the grain of popular opinion by making such a bold statement. Bishops generally are averse to making enemies in the secular press and the halls of power. But if he does rise to the occasion, he'll become an instant and enduring hero among orthodox Catholics his true constituency.