A Miracle Birth
I was awestruck at how timely and appropriate Mitchell Kalpakgian's article "Miracles Do Not Speak Halfway" (Dec. 2008) was in the context of my family's own recent happenings. It spoke straight to my heart and soul, especially when it stated so plainly that miracles "can happen in ordinary life to anyone."
On December 8, 2008, our firstborn son, Dantes Amadeus (name means lasting love of God), was brought into this world by Caesarian-section after only 31 weeks gestation and weighing a whopping one pound, eight ounces. However, his story and the parallels to Kalpakgian's article begin back in October when, after completing my first 22-week ultrasound, I was sent to the Labor and Delivery wing of the hospital due to very low amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. I was told that I had likely ruptured. Additionally, the baby was two weeks behind in growth.
But I was certain that ruptured membranes had not occurred. Each of the seven ultrasounds that followed showed a baby with no obvious physical abnormalities other than very low fluid (sometimes no fluid was measured). His diagnosis was intrauterine growth restriction, which has a multitude of causes, from genetic defects and placental abnormalities to reversible maternal factors.
With each specialist visit, my baby's condition was deemed more severe as his growth pattern went from two weeks behind to seven weeks behind. We were given a grim prognosis: His odds were 50-80 percent chance of in utero or ex utero death.
In November we were told that the baby would not likely survive to the following week. He was scarcely measuring one pound, and at that point I went on bed rest with no guarantees of it changing his outcome. Steroidal therapy was given in hopes of accelerating Dantes's lung maturity. Many sleepless nights passed.
At the December 8 ultrasound the baby's heart rate was clearly decelerating rapidly and a C-section was determined to be the only viable option.
As the C-section went underway, the only words I could formulate were, "Jesus mercy, Mary help, spare my son!" I cannot fail to mention that hundreds of people had been praying for a positive outcome for this child.
When he came out, he amazed everyone in the operating room. He was crying, decently pink, and in no apparent respiratory distress. His Apgar scores were six at one-minute-old and eight at five-minutes-old. The placenta was one-third the normal size and the umbilical cord only the diameter of a pinky! We then had an emergency baptism for him due to his fragility.
God from all eternity knew this child needed to be rescued on a most fitting day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. I lost count of how many times I reached for my miraculous medal worn around my neck at the doctor appointments we attended and on each reception of bad news for the baby.
As of this writing, little over a week after his birth, Dantes is on nasal cannula to meet his oxygen requirements and some IV nutrition. He is receiving little tastes of mommy's milk in his mouth and teaspoons down his oral gastric tube.
He has been described as a "wonder," a "fighter," and an "amazing boy" by many. He is only one thing to us: a miracle. He is living proof of God's mercy and love in everyone's life to whom this testimony reaches.
Dantes still has a long way to grow, and he must overcome two physical enemies: secondary infection and necrotizing enterocolitis. But if God is with us, who can be against us? We continue our prayers for Dantes, knowing that God is not deaf because He has already responded. We ask for yours as well.
Ruther Glen, Virginia
Whom Do You Trust?
Regarding your claim that the "invisible hand" of capitalism has failed ("Houses Built on Sand," editorial, Dec. 2008), the "invisible hand" can only work if it is joined by the principle "In God We Trust." Our Founding Fathers knew this and went to great efforts to make sure the Bible was taught in every school. They feared that if it were ever removed from the classroom, society would collapse. Looks like their fear has come true.
Government regulations almost crushed my business, along with the 300 employees who depend on its existence. Recently, a pastor and friend of mine told me to quit focusing on the reality of today and put my trust in God. Not two weeks later I got a "request to quote" from what could be our largest customer ever. The Lord saw me through that difficult time, and He will guide those of us who trust in Him through this current economic mess.
During the last economic boom, I did not participate in the "easy money" made possible by our government's relaxing the borrowing standards, the banks willing to look only at short-term profits, and people caught up in the "gotta have it now" mentality. With zero debt, both personal and in business, my family, employees, and friends will survive.
The NOR will survive too if it looks to the bright days and ignores the dark ones.
Let us put our trust completely in the hands of God.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
It Wasn't 'Greed,' It Was the Government
Your New Oxford Note "The Enemy Within" (Dec.) makes the case that "greed" is what "brought about our nation's financial ruin."
Wrong. Government policy led to our nation's financial downfall.
The federal government encouraged unqualified buyers to borrow mortgage money. Going beyond their mission as financial guarantors to social-change agents, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offered mortgage lenders guarantees that promoted "affordable housing." These government-sponsored enterprises bought so-called subprime and Alt-A loans from the issuers and then packaged them and sold them as mortgage-backed securities. That led to moral hazard -- i.e., establishing precedence for others to take unwarranted risks.
The Community Reinvestment Act effectively forced banks to lend mortgage and other funds to borrowers who were otherwise unqualified for the loans. In some instances, borrowers were not even required to show that they had the capacity to repay the funds. They were known as "ninja borrowers": no income, no job, no assets.
The Federal Housing Administration lowered down-payment standards, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development pressured lenders to extend credit to borrowers who, under conventional lending requirements, would not have qualified for the loans.
The credit that fueled this risky lending was abetted by the Federal Reserve, which made cheap money available to financial intermediaries. These and similar federal government policies led to the inevitable: the meltdown of the subprime-mortgage market which, in turn, infected credit markets worldwide.
You have taken the facile way out by joining the anti-capitalist mobs that blame human greed without examining the root causes.
J. Patrick Donlon
Snyder, New York
America's Tragic Slide
Regarding your New Oxford Note "Space Invaders" (Dec. 2008), I do not understand why, if this country is indeed 80 percent or more "Christian," there is not more outrage at the homosexual agenda's infiltration into public education. "Diversity" and "multicultural" are two code words for the undermining of traditional American values. The public school system is supported by taxpayers to ensure that our children become informed and responsible citizens of this country. Part of this education is to teach our children the Judeo-Christian philosophy that is the bedrock of our society -- not to teach homosexuality, as the U.S. courts have asserted.
The reason our society is plagued by so much vulgarity, dishonesty, and corruption is because the citizen of today is not rooted in the fundamental tenets that made this country great. We are in a social as well as a financial meltdown and it is painfully obvious. The mainstreaming of homosexual behavior is one example of this tragic slide.
The Villages, Florida
NOR readers, especially those women over 40, might be interested to know that Procter & Gamble is coming out with a new make-up line in its Cover Girl and Olay division called Simply Ageless. Lesbian TV star Ellen DeGeneres will be its poster girl.
I have written to Procter & Gamble suggesting that they might want to find another model for their upcoming campaign since DeGeneres is not admired by a great majority of American women. I have also informed them that I will no longer use any Cover Girl or Olay products, will try to find alternatives to their homecare products, and will never use Simply Ageless.
DeGeneres's lifestyle is her own business, but touting her makes a statement that I am not interested in hearing. I encourage other NOR readers to write to Procter & Gamble as well:
Mr. A.G. Lafley, Chairman of the Board & CEO, Procter & Gamble Co., One Procter & Gamble Plaza, Cincinnati, OH 45202
If we don't stand up to the homosexualization of our culture, we are going to continue to be knocked down.
God Does Not love Eternal Beasts
"Does God love the condemned?" seems to be a popular question now circulating in the NOR letters section. Let us consider certain facts:
1. Love is the will for the good of an eternal being -- God, man, or angel.
2. A beast is a creature incapable of giving or receiving love.
3. One condemned is eternally incapable of giving or receiving love, by act of his free will.
4. Thus, one condemned is as a beast, though remaining an eternal being.
5. Consequently, neither God nor neighbor is capable of giving love either to a beast or to one condemned.
Note that the authentic words of the Mass in dedicating the Eucharist say that Christ died "for many" and not "for all" (cf. Mt. 26:28). Why is that? Those who ultimately condemn themselves are, by their own wills, incapable of love, and cannot accept the love created by the suffering and death of Christ. They are as beasts, though they exist forever. God cannot love a creature incapable of love because it has no part of the eternal life He has willed. This is the reality of sin, unrepented.
Does God love everyone, even the condemned? No, He does not love the condemned: Imagine God loving a shark or a mosquito! Sinners He loves for the sake of the love they have willed, even while it may yet be slight. Did He not die for them?
David C. Jennings
Charleston, New Hampshire
A Straw Man Easily Demolished
Heather M. Erb's article "The Charismatic Appetite" (Nov. 2008) was a real disappointment. It is filled with so many misinterpretations of the charismatic renewal and the "baptism in the Spirit" that it would require an entire article, if not an entire magazine, to clarify the role of this much-needed renewal in the Catholic Church. She provides no quotes of or references to authors like Ralph Martin, Jozef Cardinal Suenens, Fathers Francis Martin, Robert Faricy, Frank Sullivan, Michael Scanlan, and many others who have written extensively on the renewal. [Fr. Faricy responded to Erb's article in a January letter to the editor -- Ed.] Interestingly, Fr. Sullivan, in his small book on the charisms, gives an alternative theological interpretation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit than the one Erb quotes from the Diocese of Rockford. There is no reference in her article to Lumen Gentium, articles 7 and 12, where charisms are mentioned alongside of "office."
Erb has constructed a straw man, a collection of perceived and real difficulties found in the renewal, which she proceeds to demolish, often missing the point. Many of her assertions can be quickly answered with Gratis asseritur, gratis negatur -- freely asserted, freely denied. Her references to "Protestant facsimiles," "hyper-emphasis on being slain in the Spirit," and "speaking in tongues" are beyond my experience, even as these elements are addressed during the Life in the Spirit seminar, located in the proper context as extrinsic to the inner gift of the deepening grace of the Holy Spirit. I have been giving Life in the Spirit seminars for over forty years and am not aware of any "doctrinal and theological errors." Is it the fault of the renewal that charismatics can confuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit with the charismata? After all, both are gifts of the Spirit. Perhaps we need better teachers and/or better listeners.
Erb's references to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's excellent book Christian Perfection and Contemplation are inaccurate. She indicates that the gifts of "understanding and knowledge" perfect the virtue of faith, and "fear" perfects the virtue of hope. More correctly, it should read "understanding" perfects faith, "knowledge" perfects hope, and "fear" perfects temperance.
There is also confusion about "experience." It is often identified with emotion. Yet the contemplative experience of God, often preceded and aided by "baptism of the Holy Spirit," can be unemotional and dry -- and yet quite profound.
I wish I could go on, but I know the limitations of permissible space. Many of these and similar critiques often tear down, but little is built up. To criticize is easy; to offer positive replacement is challenging.
Fr. Paul J. Lehman
Newark, New Jersey
I am sorry to say that Heather M. Erb does not really know what is happening in the life of the charismatic ("The Charismatic Appetite," article, Nov. 2008). I have been a Catholic priest of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales for the past thirty-five years. I had a great "emotional experience" of the Holy Spirit in 1976, and from then on I have been a preacher at charismatic retreats.
My emotional experience helped me to grow more and more in the fruits and gifts (seven gifts) of the Holy Spirit. Although I have degrees in philosophy and theology, I came to know more about Christianity, my priesthood, the meaning of my vows, etc., only after I became a charismatic. Christianity is not just the following of a few dogmas but is a lived experience of Jesus, who is alive. This lived experience is made possible through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the "baptism in the Holy Spirit." Baptism in the Holy Spirit helps a Christian to live a meaningful and authentic Christian life because the grace received in various sacraments will be more activated and become more powerful in him.
It is unfortunate to call it "experientalism" or "individualism." I have seen in my preaching ministry that hundreds and thousands change their lives into meaningful and authentic Catholic lives by going often to confession and to the Holy Mass, and making daily personal prayer to keep a personal friendship with Jesus. I see charismatics living better Catholic lives than others. Even with regard to charity, helping others who are in need, they are far better than others.
Fr. James Manjackal, M.S.F.S.
HEATHER M. ERB REPLIES:
As I explained in my response to Fr. Faricy's letter (Jan.), the aim of my article was to revive necessary dialogue on unresolved questions, which Fr. Lehman accurately refers to as "perceived and real difficulties," found in the charismatic movement. I agree with Fr. Lehman that a thorough explication of articles 7 and 12 of Lumen Gentium should be part of any renewed discussion of charismatic prayer, as these passages influenced magisterial acceptance of the movement. Fr. Lehman has kindly corrected my reference to the particular gifts that perfect certain virtues according to Père Garrigou-Lagrange.
A concern with the term "experience" arises in both Fr. Lehman's and Fr. Manjackal's letters. My use of the term "experience" is in its broad philosophical sense of the subjective contents of consciousness (sense perception, imagination, feelings, and desires), in contrast to the universal deductions of reason. By the late 19th century, the term "mystical experience" came into vogue in religious circles to describe a panoply of spiritual "events," even including paranormal phenomena. Reflecting such usage, much modern scholarship on the topic (since William James) labors to determine the relationship of feelings and interpretation in the analysis of religious experience, and presents the latter as increasingly cut loose from its various theological moorings.
Fr. Lehman seems to attribute to charismatics the sense of the term that was widely used starting in the 12th century among Christian mystics to describe their encounters with God. He states that the "baptism in the Spirit" can precede a non-emotional experience of God in contemplative wisdom. While it is true that the gift of wisdom delivers an affective, experiential contact with God as the result of charity, the garden-variety charismatic's notion of experience usually corresponds more closely to the decadent 19th-century usage. The penchant for raw subjective self-reference presents the divine as an object that facilitates certain pre-desired states of consciousness, eclipsing the sense of God as a transcendent mystery dwelling in unapproachable light, or as the unperceived transformation of our faculties of intellect and will. In the absence of an immediate intuition of sanctifying grace, let alone of a perception of God as He exists objectively (until the beatific vision), charismatic discourse is often saturated with the sense of such certitude.
We can pinpoint some crucial "real difficulties" in the underlying reasons for the rise of the movement in modern times from its Pentecostal origins (Azusa Street, 1906) to its introduction into the Roman Catholic Church (Duquesne, 1967). The rise of secular culture and its post-industrial social incohesion, pragmatist educational systems, excision of the transcendent reference, personal and moral alienation, biblical fundamentalism, and privatization of religion are just a few of the soils in which the charismatic organism thrives, like ivy creeping over crumbling ruins.
Charismatics' removal of spirituality from the full patrimony of the Western intellectual tradition is no less dangerous than secularism's divorce of culture from its spiritual foundations; yet recognition of these twin maladies highlights Christopher Dawson's insight that Catholicism is not only the transmitter of truth and dispenser of mysteries but the cradle and guardian of Western culture. An evaluation of the merits of the charismatic movement must move beyond facile cause/effect narratives and testimonies to an account of the relation between culture, religion, and the moral, intellectual, and aesthetic formation of the soul.
Such a discussion must not stifle the impact of Gaudium et Spes's claim of the "autonomy of culture," or of the tendency among some of its schema's discussion contributors to disseminate an impression of the relative cultural poverty of the Church (in contrast to Dawson), or of the contention that preconciliar liturgical life contained elements overly rich and complex for ordinary folk. The resulting transposition of the voice of "culture" to the secular register created a vacuum that was not filled by the rigorous process of Catholic Bildung (focusing on self-cultivation through the liberal and fine arts) even among the clergy, but by the all-enveloping apparatus of mass culture in all its plebeian, ahistorical glory.
Some charismatics may perceive themselves as prayer warriors piercing the targets of darkness with swords sharpened at a countercultural boot camp, but they are in fact more often the bloodied recruits who paradoxically claim refugee status from a hostile culture while preparing for a less-than-strategic re-engagement with it.
Just as moral theology has called for the rehabilitation of the body in its integral unity with mind, spirit, and emotion through the guidance of natural law, so ecclesial spirituality must recover the riches of the Catholic mind by drawing from the well of culture (in the sense of the humanities and the fine arts) and traditional liturgy. Among these treasures, Catholic spirituality retraces its own unique trajectory toward the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and a beauty that are approached not by acquisitive desire (e.g., Fr. Francis Sullivan, Charisms and Charismatic Renewal, on wanting more of God) but by a boundless, purified, and non-objectivized love by the rational will.
In answer to Fr. Lehman's observation of those who critique without offering a positive alternative, I agree with Pope Benedict XVI's view that authentic cultural and ecclesial renewal requires both an ongoing "intellectual" as well as "moral" conversion (homily, Votive Mass for the Universal Church, April 19, 2008), and religion cannot operate at the price of indifference to logic or the full breadth of Western rationality (cf. Lecture at Regensburg, April 12, 2006). Neither can genuine renewal proceed under the elitist assumption that most clergy and laity are not "up to" the challenge of Catholic Bildung and should be furnished with therapeutic substitutes in its stead.
A fertile exchange between the intellectual forces of cultural renewal and the admirable ecclesial organizations that foster a deepening participation in the gifts and charisms of the Spirit among the faithful stands on the horizon as a gift that fulfills the obscure hopes of those living in the present age.
In the course of ecclesial renewal, openness to the mission of the Spirit entails many facets. Not least of these is the recognition of a need for a Bildung-inspired translation of Christian lived doctrine into a language of the soul that transcends the habitual ideas and moral deficiencies of secularism, which itself is withering in the desert left in the wake of the discarded paradigm. The timeless grammar should resist mere restatement of a Protestant model in Catholic trappings, easy capitulation to the experiential impulse for innovative self-expression, and the non-dialogical fortress mentality that is ripe for degeneration through unreflective pietism.
Perseverance in the ecclesial/cultural enterprise might not produce immediate quantitative results. But as the psalmody crescendoes and falls, the trill of Kierkegaard's analogy of an unwitting mockery of God (Attack Upon "Christendom") paradoxically reverberates: "Just as if to a man who is a lover of nuts, instead of bringing him one nut with a kernel, we were to bring him tons and millions of empty nut-shells."
Your December 2008 issue was superb. I especially enjoyed the article by Lucy E. Carroll on Philadelphia's Catholic music history. Her focus on Nicola Montani was particularly relevant for me. She noted that Prof. Montani taught at St. Mary's Academy. I graduated from St. Mary's long after Prof. Montani taught there (and, incidentally, wrote the school song), but I can tell you that he was still quoted and revered. I was lucky enough to have rescued a 1947 copy of his St. Gregory Hymnal and Catholic Choir Book, mentioned by Carroll, from a dusty and dilapidated choir loft when, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, I visited the parish whose grammar school I'd attended. I also enjoyed the laudatory comments made by Carroll about Sr. Regina Dolores, S.S.J., who was still Chair of the Music Department during my years at Chestnut Hill College.
Please don't stop publishing the NOR. I'd rather pay a higher subscription price or receive fewer issues per year than not to have it at all. Enclosed is my donation toward your fundraising goal.
Take Advanatge of Cheaper Postal Rates
In regard to your recent fundraising appeal (editorial, Dec. 2008): We note that you send out renewal notices via first-class mail, at a cost of 42 cents each. This costs you perhaps thousands of dollars a year. You greatly overpay for postage.
As a cost-cutting measure, why don't you mail renewal notices at the nonprofit standard rate? As a nonprofit organization, you are entitled to this lower rate, which can save you up to 50 percent in postal costs.
Phil & Anne Giacone
Elmhurst, New York
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
We are always on the lookout for ways to cut costs, so we thank you for sharing your idea with us.
We mail out our direct-mail packages for new subscribers at bulk nonprofit rates, which are slow but cost-effective. The savings over first-class rates are indeed substantial. Were it not for these discounted rates, we could not afford to mail appeals for new subscriptions.
We have explored the nonprofit standard rate for mailing renewal notices, and have discussed it with the relevant parties at the U.S. post office. Renewal notices are considered bills, not offer letters -- two different postal categories. The savings available to us on renewal notices is one cent per mail piece. That amounts to ten dollars per each thousand renewal notices. That's insubstantial savings.
Moreover, our filing systems and computer databases are kept in alphabetical sequencing for quicker referral and response times. To conform to the post office's regulations for nonprofit standard mail, we would have to switch over to zip-code sequencing, which would mean a complete overhaul of our physical filing system, or an extra step each month to transfer our computer files from alphabetical to zip-code order. Either one would be time-consuming and would wipe out the meager savings provided by the nonprofit standard mail rate.
Nevertheless, we appreciate your brainstorming to help us withstand the annual postal rate increases, an albatross around the neck of small publishers that grows weightier each year.
How Can I Serve?
The parishes in my diocese have need for catechists. Training will be provided. My schooling was in scholastic philosophy with an emphasis on St. Thomas Aquinas. I have been a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine member and officer for many years, albeit in another country.
I have sat in on some of the Bible-study sessions and RCIA seminars in this country and am afraid that my Baltimore Catechism and pre-Vatican II training does not jibe with some of the opinions and teachings I hear in such gatherings. I have heard parish catechists say that the Confiteor is sufficient to qualify even those in the state of mortal sin to communicate. Others say that kneeling at Mass started only during the medieval period and that it is a remnant of Jansenism, which overly emphasizes the guilt-ridden and unworthy nature of man to commune with God.
I still wish to participate in the passing on of the Faith, but I am afraid that volunteering to teach catechism would bring me into conflict with others or, worse, force me to teach what I consider to be unorthodox beliefs.
Where can my talents best be utilized without my needing to compromise traditional teachings?
Virginia Beach, Virginia