March 2001

Half-Truths

Here at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the giants of the Oxford Movement inspire us. So, with the heroic witness of Newman and Faber echoing in our hearts, we are well-disposed to the NEW OXFORD REVIEW. Indeed, one of us (Deacon Gawronski) is a onetime collaborator with Karl Keating and Patrick Madrid. The other (Deacon Hudgins) completed most of his propaedeutic studies under Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard.

However, we take offense when you reprint unsubstantiated nonsense about us. Your New Oxford Note, "Would Wojtyla & Ratzinger Have Been ‘Weeded Out' of Sacred Heart Seminary?" (Nov.), wherein you partially regurgitated ex-seminarian Jason Dull's diatribe about Sacred Heart from St. Catherine Review, smacks of yellow journalism. Mr. Dull left Sacred Heart under a cloud of immaturity. Dull has an ax of misrepresentation to grind. His diatribe against the seminary is easily refuted by anyone who goes to school here. Dull's commentary about Sacred Heart is replete with half-truths and gross exaggerations.

Instead of repeating horror stories, why not interview faculty here? Talk to Dr. Scott Hahn's dissertation director; he teaches here. Or you could speak to our Music Professor, who was instrumental in the creation of the Adoremus hymnal. Perhaps you would like to speak to one of Fr. Fessio's closest and most respected colleagues, who teaches theology here. If you want to talk to an "ex" faculty member, why not check with Tom Monaghan to hear about one of his key theologians at Ave Maria College, who was recruited from a position here at Sacred Heart Seminary.

Sacred Heart Major Seminary does not "weed out" orthodox candidates. If that were true, we would all be weeded out. Seminarians here enthusiastically support and obey the Church's Magisterium. Our teachers are orthodox. We have been taught to respect and defend the teachings of Humanae Vitae, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, and other teachings of the Church considered "controversial" by some. We are required to study Latin, we pray the Rosary, we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and we pray according to the rubrics of the Church and with the greatest respect for her tradition. The spiritual formation program at Sacred Heart requires that seminarians attend daily Mass, pray the entire sequence of the Liturgy of the Hours each day, as well as a daily holy hour.

Is Sacred Heart perfect? Of course not, no seminary is.

Rev. Mr. Gerald L. Gawronski
Sacred Heart Seminary
Detroit, Michigan




THE EDITOR REPLIES:

If Sacred Heart isn't perfect, it sounds like it's as close to perfection as anything could be this side of the grave. If things are as magnificent at Sacred Heart as you say (and we want to believe that they are), then how could Mr. Dull's commentary consist even of "half-truths"? Dull's remarks would have to be utterly false. Something doesn't add up here.





Mass, in the Summer Camp Mode

I agree with Michael D. Rains (letter, Dec.) that the Roman Catholic Church should return to universal use of the Tridentine Rite. The Novus Ordo liturgy was introduced with the rationale that it would heighten the laity's understanding of the Missal. But what I see when I attend the new Mass are increasing numbers of congregants who do not seem to comprehend that something sacred is taking place.

I once attended a university student Mass at which a young man partook of a mint right after Communion. At a downtown Boston shrine I sat next to a woman who was clad in a backless bathing suit and gym shorts. (But while in a state of semi-nakedness, she was also apparently in a state of Grace, as she chose to receive the Blessed Sacrament.) And apart from these examples of irreverence, I have also encountered the more common phenomena of worshipers who stand during the Consecration or loudly spout "gender-neutral" prayers.

Is there any doubt that the liturgical revolution has spawned such behavior? If the modern sanctuary, containing a table rather than a traditional altar, suggests not a Holy Sacrifice but rather a memorial meal, then why not have a dessert after the main course? If a Mass features the holding and clapping of hands, activities reminiscent of summer camp, is swimwear inappropriate attire? And considering the community theater productions that many a Mass has become -- the chorus lines of eucharistic ministers, the show tunes that pass for music -- can one fault attendees for engaging in audience participation or the "presider" for doing things ad libitum?

Lately I have been to Tridentine Mass at Holy Trinity Church in Boston, where I have observed startlingly civilized customs among the parishioners: men sporting neckties, an usher offering veils to women who want them, parents who manage to keep small children reasonably quiet without giving them snacks to eat or toy trucks to roll along the pews. There are traditional vernacular prayers both before and after Mass, and socializing takes place on the sidewalk or in the parish hall, not in the nave.

I find this ancient Roman Rite to be a boon to my faith, and the Latin tongue to be no stumbling block. Such a venerable form of worship is a reminder of the timelessness of God. To hear the Mass offered in a version of the language spoken by the power that gave earthly sanction to our Lord's death is to be given a recurring sign of His Resurrection. I love the "old" Mass, and I pray for the day of its general restoration.

Jim Macri
Malden, Massachusetts




Against the Liturgical Pirates

I found Frank Kimball's article "My Journey From Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy and Back" (Nov.) very informative concerning the problems in the Orthodox Church. I only wish that Kimball had informed readers of the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome.

Those of us who live along the central California coast are blessed to have St. Anne Byzantine Catholic Church where the Divine Liturgy is a little foretaste of Heaven, where the sermons inspire, and where we are told that we are sinners in need of repentance.

Countless Roman Catholics are fed up with all the nonsense that goes on in so many parishes, where sermons dealing with repentance, dying to the self, and living moral lives are a rare commodity. One is more likely to hear that we are in need of empowerment, or are wonderful people who should feel good about ourselves, that "I'm O.K. and you're O.K." But if this were really so, then why would anybody need to get out of bed on Sunday to go to Mass -- if we're all so good and already in the express lane to Heaven?

Kimball makes some excellent suggestions regarding what needs to be done in the troubled Roman Catholic Church to return the beauty, reverence, sacred music, and inspiring sermons that once characterized her. But without co-operation from the bishops, this sad state of affairs will continue and the liturgical pirates will remain in control.

Constantino Santos
Atascadero, California




What About the Eastern Catholic Churches?

Frank Kimball's eloquent article about his "Journey From Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy and Back" (Nov.) implicitly equates the Latin tradition with orthodox Catholicism -- and the Byzantine tradition with schism. This raises a troubling question: What about the Eastern Catholic Churches? If they rediscover and cultivate their Eastern traditions -- as Vatican II encourages them to do (Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches) -- will they become "less" Catholic than their Latin brethren? Some have argued just that. They have seen Eastern Catholicism as a halfway house between Orthodoxy and genuine Catholicism: a perilous two-way bridge leading either to or away from the true faith. Their Orthodox counterparts have urged that Eastern Catholic "Uniates" either "return" to Orthodoxy or become unambiguously Roman and Latin. Eastern-rite Catholics themselves have sometimes felt embarrassed by their own traditions, seeking to emulate the Latin rite; one modern Greek-Catholic bishop felt that "Byzantinism" led inevitably to Caesaropapism and even Communism.

Yet that is not the view of Vatican II -- nor is it the view of Pope John Paul II, who has repeatedly emphasized that the legacy of the Eastern Churches is part of the legacy of the Universal Church (e.g., see the apostolic letter The Light of the East). Thus, being Catholic does not require one to become Latin. Indeed, one can argue that it is precisely within the Catholic Church -- rather than in the separated "Orthodox" Churches -- that the Byzantine and other Eastern Church traditions can truly flourish. This is because the antipapalism and phyletism so common among the Orthodox have distorted and corrupted the great Eastern traditions which Kimball initially found so authentic and attractive.

Of course, those traditions, and the Eastern Churches which embody them, can only flourish within the Universal Church if they are given their proper place. In this view, the Eastern Catholic Churches are not wayward children, but sisters of the Roman Church, all under the primacy of a Pope presiding over the Churches of both East and West.

Andrew Sorokowski
Cambridge, Massachusetts




Why Is This Priest Sick?

Fr. J.G. Lessard-Thibodeau gets sick from drinking the remaining, undistributed Communion wine. He blames the common cup. And NOR asks for comments ("Bacterial Roulette?" New Oxford Notes, Jan.).

On the medical-science level, individuals have different susceptibilities, allergies, reactions. Inasmuch as priests all over the world do not get sick from consuming the remaining sacramental wine from the common cup, it is medically sound to assume that Fr. Lessard-Thibodeau has a susceptibility to something that is benign for most of the human race.

On the spiritual level, one might suspect that Fr. Lessard-Thibodeau is somehow drinking "unworthily." In language that no contemporary writer would be excused for using, St. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 11:29-30, "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you...."

By either standard, scientific or spiritual, NOR readers should join in prayer that the priest be healed. This seems far more appropriate than modifying the rituals of the whole Church, than discarding reliance on Jesus' own common cup example.

Dorothy Samuel
St. Cloud, Minnesota






By golly, Fr. Lessard-Thibodeau won't catch any sickness from the Precious Blood of Christ that our Lord doesn't wish him to catch. Moreover, if Fr. L-T really gave a hoot, he'd have had a culture taken to obtain a diagnosis of the origin of his "constant" sickness before targeting the Precious Blood for elimination. Indeed, he may discover that it's the handshake of peace that is the culprit.

Matthew F. Zubek
Oak Forest, Illinois






Since converting to Catholicism in 1987, the very idea of a common cup has seemed undesirable. As a busy country doctor and chief of infectious disease at our small hospital, I posed the issue to medical experts on nationwide hook-up and they all said the same thing: The common cup is dangerous, a definite threat for herpes, tuberculosis, hepatitis, the common cold and other viruses, but probably not AIDS.

One of our interim priests claimed that the common cup had the blessings of the AMA. I felt obliged to check that out. The AMA could not substantiate that, but referred me to NIH, which in turn referred me to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, which informed me that there was indeed a paper from around 1964 on that subject which actually said quite the opposite, that it is not a desirable practice. That paper however, I was told, is no longer available.

David Brooks, M.D.
Blythe, California




As They Say in San Juan, Uy!

Your New Oxford Note, "Bacterial Roulette?" (Jan.), brought to mind an experience my wife and I had at midnight Christmas Mass.

But to begin, it should be noted that we have a friend in California who is esteemed in the dental profession. Let's call him Dr. Dave. Among other things, Dr. Dave is a Notre Dame man who travels the country giving presentations on dental procedures and products for corporate clients.

One of Dr. Dave's quirks is that, for hygienic reasons, he is most reluctant to shake hands as a peace sign during Mass.

I never thought much of it until this past midnight Christmas Mass. The church was packed. In front to my immediate left was a guy who was obviously suffering from a severe cold. He was letting one sneeze go after another.

Suddenly it dawned on me. This fellow wasn't using a handkerchief, just his hand, to cover his nose and mouth. I remember saying to myself: "Is it his left hand or his right that he's using to catch the sneezes?" Wouldn't you know it, it was his right. Now I'm thinking: Do I have any cuts on my hand? What should I do at the Sign of Peace? Should I receive the Host in my hands, using my right hand (which is what I do) to place it in my mouth?

When we rose from the kneeling position to say the Our Father -- yes, we still kneel during that most sacred part of the Mass in most of New Jersey -- I whispered to my wife: "Dr. Dave is right about this handshaking nonsense." My wife is from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and they have an expression there that describes something repellant. It's uy (pronounced uoo-eee). That's how she answered me, and her body shook as she said it. She knew exactly what I meant.

I never thought much of this handshaking business to begin with. It always seemed so superficial. I think even less of it now. It's too bad the American bishops can't focus on making the Mass more sacred and respectful rather than indulging shallow gestures like holding or shaking hands.

Pete Skurkiss
Chester Township, New Jersey




In Defense of Neuhaus

I was shocked and offended by Dale Vree's article ("If Everyone Is Saved...," Jan.) attacking Fr. Richard John Neuhaus on the issue of Hell. When I became a Catholic almost 50 years ago, I made sure the Church did not assign anyone to Hell, especially my sainted grandmother and the rest of my Protestant family and ancestors. It was my understanding then, and still is, that while there is a Hell, we don't have to believe that any individual is there -- not even Stalin. It pleases me to think that God in His justice, wisdom, and love will provide a way for even the worst sinner to escape Hell at some point, to think of Hell as a more radical Purgatory. Why can't God inform us of Hell's lack of permanence after we die?

James J. Guthrie
Lowell, Massachusetts




Against Neuhaus

Regarding Dale Vree's article (Jan.) on Fr. Richard John Neuhaus's statements in support of universal salvation, which, suggests Neuhaus, were influenced by Hans Urs von Balthasar: I must admit that I was distressed when the NOR first published its concern regarding Balthasar's book Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"? (Feb. 1999 [later: March 2000]). Balthasar was someone I admired (and still do). Yes, Church teaching is clear on the topic of Hell, but I was concerned that a "throw the baby [Balthasar] out with the bath water" backlash would develop. Shortly afterward I was fortunate to tune in to a Catholic radio talk program on this very topic (and book) which provided me with a useful perspective, which I will do my best to summarize here.

The Church teaches that Hell exists and that it is populated: "Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell..." (Catechism, #1035). But in our human weakness it is easy to conclude which poor souls are spending (or will chose to spend) eternity in Hell. It doesn't have to be someone notorious -- it is tempting (and all too easy) to mentally consign the person who wrongs us to the pit.

However, while the Church has specifically named names when it comes to people in Heaven (i.e., canonized saints), she has not specifically said who is in Hell. But this does not mean that there is no one there. We must trust Scripture (e.g., Mt. 18:8-9, Mt. 25:41, 2 Thess. 1:8-9) and the Church's teaching in this regard. But we cannot and should not presume to know the outcome of an individual's judgment before God.

Would God like all men to be saved? I would think so. Will all be saved? Unfortunately, the answer is no. God will not retract or violate man's free will, and some will use that free will to choose damnation. That we cannot know who will be on the final roster of Hell's "citizens" should prompt us to approach everyone with a charity prompted by a hope for each individual's ultimate salvation, regardless of the apparent state of his life. Will this hope be fulfilled? On a general level the answer is no, but for any specific individual we do not, and cannot presume to, know. Thus, our words and actions (whether to encourage or reproach) should reflect the charity of Christ, and we should pray for our persecutors.

These observations are not intended to deny the fact that some (perhaps many?) will spend eternity in Hell. Speculative theology (such as Balthasar's), which can so easily result in confusion, should obviously be undertaken with prudence and discretion. However, when someone (Neuhaus) ventures beyond the realm of speculation and makes statements ("none...will be lost") that contradict Church teaching, then there is an obligation to point out the problem (as Vree has done).

Bill Hammack
North Aurora, Illinois






Anyone who has read the New Testament and meditated on all the times Jesus teaches about the Last Judgment, and who can nonetheless come away saying that Jesus didn't really mean it when He said people who sin without repenting will go to Hell, is simply out of tune with the Gospel message.

Pope John Paul II tells us in his encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem (The Holy Spirit in the Church and the World) that the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit is that for which one does not repent: "If Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because this ‘non-forgiveness' is linked, as to its cause, to ‘non-repentance,' in other words, to the radical refusal to be converted.... Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a ‘right' to persist in evil -- in any sin at all -- and who thus rejects redemption" (#46).

Enclosed is my donation in thanksgiving for your zeal in proclaiming the Truth.

Neil Duddy
Arleta, California






What a pity to see the well-respected Fr. Neuhaus promote the error of universalism! I can only surmise that his universalism is due to emotionalism and bad philosophy, and that it represents a personal crisis of faith.

In making his case, Neuhaus brings up an evangelist who was able to relax and go fishing for three days even though he believed that 37,000 souls go to Hell each minute. Neuhaus should know, however, that every soul that goes to Hell goes there through its own fault. After all, God is just, and His justice assures us that no one is in Hell who doesn't belong there. We do what we can, and leave the rest to God.

Mario Derksen
Coral Springs, Florida






That Fr. Neuhaus actually believes and proclaims that everyone is saved is strange enough, but that Church authorities actually allow him to spread this nonsense is nothing short of outrageous. As a Catholic priest, Fr. Neuhaus is, whether he likes it or not, bound by Church teaching -- he is not a Protestant minister who may indulge his own private interpretations of Scripture. He sets a bad example for the faithful and -- in asserting that no one goes to Hell -- he gives scandal. How this ex-Lutheran pastor became a Catholic priest is beyond me. He should be severely disciplined.

Timothy Leatherland
San Diego, California






Upon reading Vree's article on Fr. Neuhaus, I was reminded of an article by Arnaud de Lassus in Action familiale et scolaire (Oct. 1996) about theologian Max Thurian, a Protestant minister who became a Catholic and a priest in 1987. The article reports that (1) when Thurian was received into the Catholic Church, he did not abjure Protestantism or make a profession of Catholic Faith, which is very strange, (2) at Thurian's funeral, the homilist stated that Thurian remained "in full communion with his [Catholic] bishop and with the [Protestant] church which gave him his baptism...," also very strange, and (3) before he entered the Catholic Church, Thurian wrote that there are a number of doctrinal matters that are mere "options" -- take 'em or leave 'em -- including the particular judgment after death and the eternity of Hell, which sounds like Neuhaus.

There seems to be some similarity between Thurian's approach to conversion -- or is it "conversion"? -- and that of Neuhaus. Indeed, right after his entry into the Catholic Church, Neuhaus wrote: "I am convinced that what was authentic in the Reformation is being internalized and will be more fully internalized in the Roman Catholic Church" (America, Feb. 2, 1991).

The cafeteria approach of certain converts makes one wonder what impels them to say they have converted. Is there a certain sort of "Catholic chic" in vogue? At a time when anything goes, it requires great creativity to be radical. Is becoming Catholic the only outrageous thing left to do?

A Catholic journalist in the U.K. reported recently on a prominent figure who was being instructed in preparation to be received into the Catholic Church. The person could not accept the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. The priest/instructor felt that he could therefore not receive that person. He relayed this to Cardinal Hume, who told him to receive the person anyhow. St. John Fisher, pray for us!

Elizabeth Murphy
St. John's, Newfoundland






Those who deny that anyone goes to Hell are often those who sense that they are going there.

Istvan Varkonyi
New York, New York






No one goes to Hell? But who would want a God who fails to do justice? Those who are guilty and unrepentant, that's who. Neuhaus seems to be denouncing those of us who cry out for justice as petty and mean-spirited. That is exactly what abusers say to their victims. But desiring justice is good; it is not a flaw.

What Neuhaus and the like-minded wish for -- an empty Hell -- would be, if granted, the final betrayal of the meek and innocent, of the tortured and spat upon.

Do Neuhaus and company imagine themselves more just than God? Do they have no empathy for those devastated people who are left with nothing as a result of evil men's raging desires? Fretting over Hell is overly sensitive and insensitive to those who've suffered on earth -- it amounts to the same thing.

Just looking around suggests that there is unfathomable evil that deserves to be condemned. The time spent in wishing that bullies don't go to Hell would be better spent by warning them that they might wind up there.

Jessica Stewart
Butte, Montana






My reading of the New Testament and my understanding of Catholic doctrine make it clear that eternal punishment will be meted out by God to those souls who have truly rejected Him and His laws by an exercise of their free will.

If one believes Neuhaus that no one is lost and everyone goes to Heaven, then there was no reason for the Apostles to accept martyrdom in trying to convert the lost.

I have often been amazed at how elected Catholic politicians can adapt to p.c. thinking regarding divorce, homosexuality, and murdering babies in the womb, and still believe they are exhibiting a good Christian moral conscience. They enjoy their perks and eat their cake, but don't seem fearful of God's Final Judgment. I don't think "invincible ignorance" will cover them. I think they are fooling themselves, just as Fr. Neuhaus is with his universalist views.

Mary E. Traeger
Forsyth, Missouri






It was with sadness that I read about Fr. Neuhaus's position on Hell: that nobody goes there. I wonder how he deals with the first letter of John: "We should not follow the example of Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother.... You know that eternal life abides in no murderer's heart" (3:11-12, 15). Apparently, according to Neuhaus, murderers need not fear Hell.

Judie Brown
American Life League
Stafford, Virginia






When I was a young man I wept when I first read the following words from a letter by St. Francis Xavier: "Many a time it has come into my mind to go to the study halls of your parts, particularly to the University of Paris, and shout aloud like a man beside himself to those...who have more learning than desire to employ their learning fruitfully [about] how many souls are missing Heaven and going to Hell through their negligence.... So great is the multitude which turns to faith in this [faraway] land where I wander that often my arms are wearied with baptizing, and I have no voice left through so frequently repeating the Creed and the Commandments."

It seems to me that Catholics used to believe that the Church's evangelizing mission is a matter of life and death, eine Existenzfrage as the Germans say, a question of the eternal destiny of human souls. I know at least that that is what St. Francis believed. That basic belief inspired thousands to imitate the Saint and carry the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth.

Unless I am mistaken, it is that same Catholic passion for souls that inspired Dale Vree to challenge the universalistic notions of Fr. Neuhaus. No doubt I'll soon be reading some pithy sarcasm from Neuhaus in his First Things or in the NOR's letters directed against Vree. But I will not be bothered by that. For it will be stemming from a priest who, at least on the subject of salvation, quite literally doesn't know what the Hell he's talking about.

Tom Scheck
Iowa City, Iowa






Regarding Vree's article on Neuhaus's universalism, which was focused on Neuhaus's recent book Death on a Friday Afternoon: Fr. Neuhaus was kind enough to send me a free copy of his book, but it didn't take me long to realize that his homespun theology didn't have much to do with Christianity.

It's clear to me that Neuhaus did not leave liberal Lutheranism because it was liberal theologically, but because it was liberal economically, that economics is what counts for Neuhaus. For him nothing is of ultimate importance in the theological realm -- i.e., it doesn't matter if one is orthodox or heretical -- for everyone goes to Heaven. His real concern is with who has the best politico-economic system in the here-and-now. The real "salvation" for Neuhaus comes through political conservatism. The real "salvation" for heretics comes through political liberalism. This is where the divide is for Neuhaus.

The Gospel, which Neuhaus doesn't understand and can't convey to others, is utterly different. The big issue posed by the Gospel is that of justification, of who does and who doesn't inherit the Kingdom of God.

I propose to all -- Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox -- the works of Anglican priest and historian, N.T. Wright. If anyone wants to know why the world exists (created to be ruled by man in obedience to God), why God established Israel (to put His plan into effect), and how the Creator's plans were achieved (by Jesus, the human world ruler, and finally by those who are in Christ), then he must read The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God by Wright.

Edwin Hart Turner
Parchman, Mississippi




Neuhaus Is Not Balthasar

In his January article "If Everyone Is Saved...," Dale Vree says that "my interest here is not with [Hans Urs von] Balthasar, but with [Richard John] Neuhaus's book [Death on a Friday Afternoon]." That is a critical distinction because even though Neuhaus says Balthasar's influence is "evident throughout" his book, the criticisms Vree directs at Neuhaus's book do not apply to Balthasar's position in his own book Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved?"

In fact, I cannot think of a more accurate and succinct summation of Balthasar's thesis than the last sentence of Vree's penultimate paragraph: "I don't know who is going to Hell, but I do know what must be done to avoid it, and I do see many endangered souls, yea, even my own." This is precisely Balthasar's position.

We do not know with certitude who is going to Hell. And no authoritative interpretation of Scripture by the Magisterium imposes that certitude upon us. Hell is real and there are persons there. Balthasar never denied that the fallen angels are in Hell.

Perhaps it helps to pose the question in the following way: Is there any person for whose salvation I am certain that I cannot hope? How difficult it is to judge the state of our own souls at any time in life including the moment of death. How much more difficult -- impossible actually -- it is for us to be certain about the state of someone else's soul.

Joseph Fessio, S. J.
San Francisco, California



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