The Faith Isn't Dead in France
Your New Oxford Note "Condom Worshipers & Their Perennial Bogeyman" (May) reminded me of an exceptional experience I had last March while traveling on the French island of Corsica. Occasionally checking news on the Internet, I was somewhat aware of the controversy engendered by the Pope's remarks in Africa rejecting condom campaigns as the means to combat AIDS. Nevertheless, I was greatly surprised when, at the conclusion of the crowded Sunday morning Mass in the cathedral of Ajaccio (hometown of Napoleon), the archbishop took to a rostrum and read a statement addressing exactly the issues raised by the Pope. Then, as we worshipers issued from the cathedral onto the sunny street, we encountered local TV crews preparing to interview the archbishop.
Though my comprehension of French is passable enough to understand the subject of the archbishop's remarks, I could not be exactly sure of their meaning. However, ushers gave us printed copies of his statement as we left the cathedral. With the help of my pocket dictionary as I strolled down the beachfront avenue, I managed to decipher and confirm the archbishop's message. He had given a ringing defense of what the Pope had said, and forthrightly reiterated the Church's teachings on AIDS-prevention and sexual responsibility.
I wish I had retained the document, but I remember being intensely gratified knowing that this Corsican churchman had taken such a bold stand on this controversial issue. I remember also wondering how many Church leaders in the U.S. would do the same. Thank you, Archbishop of Ajaccio.
New Bedford, Massachusetts
The Pain of Infertility
I am a new reader of your inspiring periodical, and I appreciate the depth and honesty in your writing about the issues we face as Catholics in what seems an increasingly secular world. I have found the voice of Catholic Truth and I am forever in your debt.
That being said, I understand that you are not advice columnists, but perhaps you would be so kind as to help me with a Catholic issue that is not being addressed by anyone within the Church: The acceptance of infertility and God's plan for us. I have long dreamt of having a large family, with as many children as God could give me. That dream is gone.
I am in a constant battle against Satan in finding peace with my infertility. I accept my condition with a heavy heart, but I know that deep down inside, any interference with my infertility, by the use of reproductive science, would offend our Lord.
The problem is the pain and wave of depression that hits me when I see an expectant mother or a new baby. I must especially try to cast Satan away when I see other Catholic women who have gone ahead with in vitro fertilization and are now pregnant.
What can you tell me or where can you direct me to find something or someone who will give me the words I need to hear to help me find peace in my heart? I weep, my womb weeps, my soul weeps with every baby I see. My husband and I are looking into adoption, but that doesn't seem to quell the tide of sorrow that I feel, and I want so much to find peace.
The only information within the Church regarding infertility is "accept it." Easier said than done. I assure you that there are many faithful Catholic couples in this situation and we yearn for drops of cool water for our parched souls.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
We sympathize with your plight, and applaud your desire to avoid morally unacceptable fertility practices. Yes, there is more you can do than to just "accept it." You can take consolation in the wisdom and teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church, as expressed in the Catechism (#2374), understands what you are going through: "Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly." The solution is to seek greater sanctification through the suffering God has allowed you to endure for His sake: "The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord's Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity" (#2379). As St. Rose of Lima said, "Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven."
As for the depression you feel when confronted with others' fertility, the Catechism teaches that a child is "not something owed to one" (#2378); and envy, which the Catechism calls "sadness at the sight of another's goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself" (#2539), is a capital sin to be avoided. A good confessor in a nearby parish can help you in your struggle to rid yourself of this disordered desire. A good confessor can also instruct you in what "legitimate medical procedures" you do have recourse to, in light of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's instructions Donum Vitae (1987) and Dignitatis Personae (2008), both of which can be read at the Vatican website, www.vatican.va.
Be aware that adoption of an abandoned, unloved child, far from being a regrettable last resort, is an act of supreme charity. Seen in light of our own adoption as sons of God through the Sacrament of Baptism, adoption takes on even greater significance. Through it you can experience all the joys and trials of parenthood. Adopted children can contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents, as the parents guide their children to Christ's Kingdom through participation in the life of the Church.
You have been given a unique opportunity to offer your suffering up to Christ, to joyfully pick up your cross and follow Him. Abandon yourself to the providence of our Father in Heaven, and place all your trust in Him. He can use your infertility to draw you closer to Himself, if only you allow it. Seek not to do your own will in this life, but His. Quoting Hebrews 5:8, "Although he was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience through what he suffered," the Catechism states, "How much more reason have we sinful creatures to learn obedience . United with Jesus and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can surrender our will to him and decide to choose what his Son has always chosen: to do what is pleasing to the Father" (#2825). Then, and only then, will you find true joy and true peace.
What Affluence Has Wrought
Thank you for the article by Kerrie K. Hendrickson, "Prolifers: Practice What You Preach!" (May). I have not read a more direct and uncompromised presentation of what lies at the heart of Catholic teaching and true virtue relating to life, family, and children, and I wish to praise her for her courageous words. Her perspective on generous family life is not only valid but in serious need of even greater elaboration.
Orienting our lives to generous family size, especially when enhanced by inter-generational participation, played out in many ways, is a sure path toward our heavenly goal. It highlights the inadequacy of the modern spirits of "individualism" and "self-fulfillment" that have been effectively presented as the ideals of modern life, and confronts them, particularly for Catholics, with a sure vision of the implications of our faith.
Hendrickson's thinking reflects a spirit that had a better footing in Christian life until the middle of the past century. Often in the midst of great deprivation, labor, suffering, heartache, and even early death, people tried to look after one another in support of life. It was not uncommon for our forebears to take in orphaned children or those in need, and to go the extra mile in support of a generous family. My cousin, for example, adopted a tenth child; and my grandparents took in a homeless boy as their own, adding to their five.
Perhaps our affluence as a nation has destroyed the sensitivity of our hearts and the strength of our faith in more recent times, whereas relative deprivation often seems to have been the spur to greater generosity rather than to entrenchment and fear.
Bernard M. Collins
Par For the Course
Apropos of your New Oxford Note "Why the Double Standard?" (June) about U.S. President Barack Obama's commencement speech at and honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame: What's all the fuss about? This mess is perfectly consistent with the time Notre Dame let Planned Parenthood of America use its stadium for a national get-together. Notre Dame got a huge rental fee, of course, just as it will get full payment from the administration for the Obama scandal. You see, at Notre Dame, everything is for sale -- even Catholicism!
Withholding Funeral Rites
Canon lawyer Edward Peters, in his guest column "State-Sanctioned Suicide & Ecclesiastical Funerals" (June), laid out his case well and made his point clearly. I was struck, after reading it, by what I consider an obvious parallel.
While I believe that some pastors may very well deny ecclesiastical funeral rites to those who deliberately self-murder, it is very unlikely that any bishop will deny funeral rites to the most obvious of "manifest sinners" who have not given "some signs of repentance before death." A point in case will be Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Catholic whose adamant support for abortion and other anti-life measures stands blatantly against Church teaching. I have no doubt that upon his death we will see a grand ecclesiastical funeral rite, with a cardinal archbishop as presider. How, then, can any pastor say to John Q. Catholic with a straight face that he cannot receive the same from the Church if he were to commit suicide? This lesser scandal hardly compares to manifest, public support for abortion.
It seems to me that the bishops need to read, once again and very prayerfully, Matthew 23:27-28. And then they need to read Dr. Peters's column.
Jane F. Kodack
Greensboro, North Carolina
Enclosed is a donation for your Scholarship Fund. I think it's ridiculous that some people canceled their subscriptions over your straightforward reporting about the Society of St. Pius X matter ("Pope Benedict's Tightrope Act," New Oxford Note, Mar.), so I want to make up for some of them. I wish I could give more, but unfortunately my business has pretty much tanked this year.
Pushing Jews Away from Christ
I have to reply to the letters from Anthony D. Moreschi and Albert J. LeBreton III (June). I hear their intense hatred day in and day out, but this is to be expected, because I reside in a state prison. As a Catholic, I cannot buy into hating a whole people for nothing more than their religion or nationality. Since when did Jesus tell us to hate our Jewish brothers and sisters? But wait, wasn't Jesus Jewish, as well as His Mother and adoptive father? What about the Bible, didn't we get the Old Testament from these same people, whom Moreschi and LeBreton seem to hate so much?
It may be true that the people who follow the Jewish religion have rejected Jesus, but Jesus went to them first. This is an example of love, not hate. I have heard it said that "the Jews killed Jesus," but this does not mean that every Jewish person killed Him, just those who put His crucifixion into motion. Blaming all Jews is equivalent to blaming all white people for the history of slavery in America.
Instead of showing hate for various people, we need to show love. This does not mean we need to love their errors, like non-Christians' rejection of Jesus. We need to love our Jewish brothers and sisters, and maybe our love will bring them to Christ. But if we show them hate, we push both them and ourselves away from Christ.
Smithfield Correctional Institution
In Defense of John Paul II
I am writing to comment on Anne Barbeau Gardiner's excellent review of A Life with Karol by Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz (Apr.). I know that the NOR has generously allowed a wide variety of opinions to be expressed on the pontificate of John Paul II. There can be no doubt that many NOR readers will scrutinize Gardiner's review and come away unhappy. It is in anticipation of this that I humbly present my thoughts.
Allow me to begin by saying that I am no great theologian, nor do I play one on the campus of Notre Dame. But as I read Gardiner's review, I was struck by the analogies between sacred Scripture and John Paul II's actions as Christ's vicar and servant. Christ commissioned Peter to go forth and teach all nations and to feed His sheep. John Paul II reached out to all nations, teaching presidents, and utilizing the secular media in previously unimaginable ways. He wrote beautiful encyclicals that were intellectually digestible not only by the learned but also the common man. He provided spiritual bread, not stones, for the universal Church.
Christ instructed us to give the cloak off our backs to the poor and needy. Instead of being frustrated by his personal poverty, John Paul gave from the wealth of the Church -- the very ring from his finger. This, the very sign of his authority and the trappings of royalty, he shunned from the start, for he was a servant of servants, and he was serving a Kingdom not of this world.
Christ said to bring the children to Him. John Paul II started World Youth Day.
Christ received a crown of thorns that pierced His body, and blows from men, as a reward for His efforts. Likewise, His vicar was struck by a bullet. Our Savior suffered silently, only asking His disciples to watch and pray with Him. So too His vicar.
Gardiner informs us that John Paul died while listening to John 9 being read. We would do well to also refresh our memories of this chapter, for it records not only the miracle of sight given to a man born blind, but also the dispute and lengthy interrogation concerning this divine action. Surely we are not also blind, are we?
Many will no doubt point to the homosexual abuse scandal that occurred during John Paul's pontificate as a way to denigrate him. The scandal greatly affected me, for I converted at the height of this issue. I could not understand how the Pope had allowed such a horror to happen under his watch, and why he didn't excommunicate the transgressors with extreme prejudice.
But I began to realize that the Mystical Body of Christ must also suffer and not become comfortable in any age. Jesus was surrounded by betrayers. Out of His handpicked disciples, eight percent betrayed Him. During His vicar's pontificate, five or six percent failed to live up to their holy calling. There is nothing new under the sun, and no matter how much we modern disciples try to flatter ourselves, we must still operate under the scars of original sin. We should be rightly shocked and offended by such scandal, for much has been given to us and therefore much is expected, but we should also tread gently in judging any man.
The membership of Christ's Church experienced a one hundred percent increase during John Paul's reign. The purpose of the Church is to deliver as many souls as possible to Purgatory, where God then perfects His creatures. If just one soul of infinite value has been saved, then who are we to question or complain? Christ's bride is comprised of sinners and saints, and the weeds must grow with the wheat. So let us strike our own breast and realize our own faults in allowing problems to continue.
I am not Christ's vicar. I do not pretend to have such a glorious insight as one who sits in Peter's chair. Nor do I have that terrible responsibility. I do not know a great many things, but I do know that Peter's faith has been divinely guaranteed and that Christ's Church will not fail. She will reach perfection, but not while she is on this earthly journey. I hope to be in her when she does, and I pray with her as she goes through her agony.
So let us sheath our swords and hold our tongues. Perhaps then we may see more clearly through eyes of faith.
Greensville Correctional Center
The Power of the Habit
Although not a Catholic, I subscribe to -- and learn from and enjoy -- the NOR. I found your New Oxford Note on radicalism among Catholic women religious startling and depressing ("Surprise! Femi-Nuns Find Themselves Under the Microscope," June). In contrast, I couldn't help but notice the reference to the new orders of younger nuns restoring orthodox Catholic observance. In particular, I was struck by mention of their "putting the habit back on." Here's the reason: When I re-enlisted in the military in 1967, after ten years on civvy street, I had to take the ferry across the Upper Bay in New York to pick up my new sea bag. When I tried to lift my new "world in a sack" one-handed and throw it on my shoulder, as I had when I was a boy sailor in the 1950s, I couldn't do it! A wave of shock and apprehension washed over me; what had I gotten myself into? What if I couldn't do this? Taking the ferry back across the Bay, I was as unmanned as a man can be.
On the fantail of the ferry, I noticed a nun in her habit watching the wake. Acting on an impulse that grew out of the instinctive feelings that the sight of sisters "in uniform" had always somehow communicated to me, I said to her, "Sister, will you say a prayer for me?" Without question or comment, she nodded. The next seven years were crucial years in my life. I often think of her, and the symbolic power of a nun's habit. How can anyone doubt that it plays a role in the world?