April 1999

Bristling

Why do I bristle when an “Amchurch” Catholic priest brings in a nun to be a pastoral minister, yet seldom mentions the Blessed Mother?

Why do I bristle when a deacon (or whoever) holds the Lectionary over his head in procession, yet at the Consecration the Amchurch priest elevates the Sacred Host only to eye-level or chest-level?

Why do I bristle when the high altar and the Tabernacle are removed, and in their place is put a chair for the Amchurch priest to sit in?

Oh, for an indult Tridentine Latin Mass!

Raymond W. Kovacs
Ashtabula, Ohio




Help!

I need your readers’ help now. After being away from the Church and her sacraments for about forty years, I have experienced a spiritual conversion. But at times I have no compassion for anyone. Truly, I’m the most vile, wicked, lustful, and evil person that the Almighty yet allows to walk the face of the earth — and I can prove it. I can do nothing worthwhile without prayers and Jesus Christ. So I hope your readers will take pity on me and pray for me — say a Hail Mary for me. It’s true that I say my Holy Rosary every day and attend Mass on Sunday and throughout the week, but I still need people’s prayers. (Yes, I do pray for myself, but there are so many other people and intentions on my prayer list.) Prayers from priests are especially welcome because, even if 56 years of age, I feel I may have a vocation to the priesthood.

Donald John Voiovich
Caledonia, Minnesota




Why Bother to Convert?

I found Philip Blosser’s comments (Jan.) more than slightly curious. In reviewing the book Epiphany: A Theological Introduction to Catholicism by Aidan Nichols, Blosser writes: “Nichols’s treatment of the relationship of non-Christians to the Church is ambiguous. But this is an area where extreme clarity is called for, lest one inadvertently foster an incipient universalism and indifferentism…. Surely there is danger in Nichols’s statement that within the personalist strands of Buddhism or the ascetic aspects of Hinduism something can be found ‘that Catholic theology can recognize as an impulse of the Holy Spirit.’”

But why “danger” — and in what sense? Much of what Nichols has written here is essentially in harmony with what the official Church has stated. Consider merely the following brief comments selected from public statements made by Pope John Paul II:

- Radio comments during first visit to Asia: “I have come to be a witness to the Spirit who is active in the history of peoples and of nations…. I encounter…the local heritage and the ancient cultures that contain praiseworthy elements of spiritual growth, indicating the paths of life and conduct that are often so near to those found in the Gospel of Christ…. The Catholic Church accepts the truth and goodness found in these religions, and she sees reflections there of the truth of Christ….”

- Comments delivered to India’s religious leaders: “The Catholic Church recognizes the truths that are contained in the religious traditions of India. This recognition makes true dialogue possible. Here today the Church wishes to voice again her true appreciation of the great heritage of the religious spirit that is manifested in your cultural tradition. The Church’s approach to other religions is one of genuine respect; with them she seeks mutual collaboration.”

- Encyclical Redemptoris Missio: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the Gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. The grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.”

Numerous are the other Church documents that could be added to the above. Yet almost no one charges the Church with “incipient universalism.” It is hardly fair to single out Nichols for following a path already charted by the Church herself.

The issue here is becoming crucial — and yet one looks in vain for a responsible and truly thought-provoking Catholic response. Practicing Catholics ought to face the possibility that the Church appears to be moving decidedly toward some form of universalism — and it affords me no pleasure to state this.

Where are the Catholic thinkers and scholars on this issue? Why do so many seem unconcerned about creeping universalism? If, for example, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims are most likely “saved” (for this is the underlying tone of most everything you read and hear) then how are we to understand the difference between “vincible” and “invincible” ignorance? Furthermore, why should, say, a Muslim bother to learn about the Catholic faith when he has been informed already that his own religious sense will take him to the New Jerusalem above?

I do not prefer to think of Hell as richly populated: If all of humanity is truly saved in Christ, that would be grand indeed. But as a Catholic convert I am encountering extreme difficulty trying to understand why it mattered at all that I bothered to convert! The difficulty is only compounded when one considers the apostolic “warnings” found throughout the New Testament, where one discovers almost nothing in the way of an ecumenical/universalist mindset in Peter, Paul, James, and John. How do we responsibly reconcile all of this with the universalist trend so evident in today’s Church? Were first-century pagans and Gnostics expected to jump higher hurdles than 20th-century pagans and Gnostics? How so? Why? And says who?

The issues here are serious, and one hopes that Catholic scholars will begin tackling them in a more responsible manner; for most of what one comes across tends to be superficial, sentimental, and shortsighted. It would appear that everyone is headed for the beatific vision, no matter how he worshiped and no matter what he thought of the Church established by Christ.

J.T. Campbell
Augusta, Maine




THE EDITOR REPLIES:

You have zeroed in on a serious weak spot in the Church’s stance today, but you have overstated the problem. Very briefly: The Catechism is very clear that Hell is real, and that universalism (the notion that everyone will be saved) and indifferentism (the assumption that one religion is as good as another) are not options for Catholics. John Paul’s candid Crossing the Threshold of Hope is also clear about this — and he also says some politically incorrect things about Buddhism and Islam therein, for which he was mauled in the media. Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium says: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (#16, italics added). There are Buddhists, as an example, who do know of the Gospel and reject it (most obviously, the trendy Buddhists in the Occident) and there are Muslims, as an example, who do not follow the dictates of their conscience. To say Buddhists and Muslims can be saved is not to say that all Buddhists and Muslims will be saved. Moreover, Catholicism teaches that the Catholic Church offers “the fullness of the…means of salvation” (Redemptoris Missio, #18). Bluntly put, to believe in Christ and do His will and to belong to the Catholic Church is the surest avenue of salvation. You are right that we seldom hear this. Even worse, those outside the Church seldom hear it, even from our clergy and missionaries. But Catholics are to do Christ’s will, and it is His will that His Gospel be preached, in deed and word, to every man, and that all be incorporated into His Body. Is this why, in Redemptoris Missio, John Paul decries “indifferentism” (#35) and asserts — rather shockingly — that Catholics who fail to “bear witness” to their Faith “will be judged more severely” and “will not be saved” (#11)? And are John Paul’s words one reason why the subsequent Catechism says, “Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not persevere in charity is not saved” (#837)? After all, if you were to meet up with a thirsty beggar with no hope for this life or the next, what would be the greater act of charity — offering him a buck to buy a Coke (and keep the change) or offering him the waters of eternal life which quench all thirst (see Jn. 4:13-14)? Ideally, Catholics offer both, but usually, in our stunted sense of charity, which sees the body but not the soul, we offer only the buck. Frankly, while interreligious dialogue and welfare-Christianity are nice things, their primary result has unfortunately been to distract us from our primary obligation — and joy — of proclaiming the Gospel. We need to recall, mark, and inwardly digest the words of Pope Paul VI: “Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass…” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14, italics added).




A Prisoner Calls for Real Discipline in the Church

This letter is a response to the NOR Editor’s reply (Jan.) to Robert C. McCarthy’s letter headed “Pick and Choose: Why Not?” (Jan.). McCarthy made some very good points which the Editor seems to have missed. McCarthy’s statement about the documents of Vatican II being ambiguous and based on compromise explained, for me, what he said about his being able to “pick and choose” from Vatican II to support his orthodoxy. McCarthy doesn’t advocate picking and choosing as such. He means that Vatican II was designed intentionally for picking and choosing.

What is the nature of a statement that is a compromise between two or more points of view? Certainly not something that will be clear, concise, and authoritative. Differing parties may look at the compromise statement and say, “Isn’t it nice that we all agree?” The fact is that there is no agreement.

Ambiguity and compromise are acts of men. In religion, they tend to establish a Cult of Man and express the spirit of men who are conversant with the Spirit of the Age. The Editor, in his reply, allows that the documents of Vatican II contain ambiguities that the Pope has needed to clarify. This is a defect hitherto unknown to the councils of the Church. Many hold that this is because of the inherent nature of Vatican II as a pastoral rather than dogmatic council. The bishops of the Church chose not to define or denounce anything authoritatively. In theory the Tradition of the Church was to remain unmodified. Nothing was to change in the Church’s teaching and nature.

But what is there of the Church that has not experienced revolutionary change in the aftermath of Vatican II? The Church looks and feels very different. The Church that Catholics in the pews and in the colleges and seminaries experience is very different. The official teaching — orthodoxy — has become an appendage to rather than the heart of Catholic life. To many it is even an embarrassing and withered appendage, to be ignored and covered up, as in the situation of the Traditionalist movement within the Church.

It might even be said that the documents of Vatican II have, by their ambiguity, destroyed the peace of the Church. Ambiguity is not necessarily heresy, but it opens the door to a thousand heresies. Pope Paul VI lamented that the “smoke of Satan” [had] entered the Church.” He may have been referring to the incense of this Legion.

The Editor says that “John Paul II’s discernment has gone a long way toward clarifying” the Council documents. But has that really happened? Has a committee been formed or a synod called specifically for such a crucial task? Or has the Pope spoken definitively and dogmatically (ex cathedra) on Vatican II and backed it up with Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “charitable anathema”? These things could have been done. They were not. Could this have been because of the indecisiveness of John Paul?

The Editor actually agrees with McCarthy that there is a shortage of discipline in the Church when he calls for “more strenuous enforcement” of the Pope’s teachings. But there is no real discipline imposed in the Church. The “cries of alarm in the liberal Catholic and secular media” about the Pope’s policies, which the Editor appeals to, do not prove that there really is discipline in the Church. Those media will cry when anyone hints that they should not get their way, like spoiled children whining. This whining is a sign that there is no discipline, no loving correction from rightful authority. Remember, discipline hurts a little, then leads to a change of heart.

The ambiguity of the Council and the indecisiveness of Pope John Paul II do not inspire much confidence. As a Catholic convert, I would much rather place my confidence in the dogmatic councils and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and in the office of the papacy as it has been (and could again be) exercised. Infallibility is not in question here. But it seems to have fallen into unfortunate disuse. John Paul seems to have chosen “dialogue” as a temporary (I hope) replacement, which unfortunately perpetuates ambiguity and indecisiveness. I pray that the Vicar of Christ may begin again to participate in the Being and Action of Christ for the good of the Church and the greater glory of God.

Our Lady at Fatima and La Salette foretold these hard times facing the Church, but Our Lady also gave us hope that her Immaculate Heart would finally triumph. So I will place my hope, my confidence, and my devotion in her. And I will do my part to challenge the “basic institutions” of the Church to stop being nice and modern and to start being the Church — One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic — whole and unconquerable by the Gates of Hell.

I feel I should add that I have written as though I “know something” when in fact I know very little and have experienced very little of the Catholic Church. I attended a wedding in my pre-Catholic days and that was the only time I have darkened the door of a parish church. I am a prison convert of four years. I have been locked up for nine years. My Catholic experience is as a man who reads and prays and assists at Mass. I am a sinner. I am not a very spiritual man. And maybe I am too much of an idealist. I probably do not have the “credentials” to offer opinions on the Pope or the Second Vatican Council, but I want to be a faithful and active Catholic even if my conscience compels me to go against the grain. I love the Church and I pray for her peace and complete restoration.

Roger Slemmer, #806851
Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility
Mount Pleasant, Iowa




Common Ground, Episcopalian-Style

Since I wrote my article “The United Religions Initiative, a Bridge Back to Gnosticism,” which appeared in the December NOR, the United Religions Initiative (URI) has become clearer about its opposition to Christian evangelism and its desire for a New Religion.

The URI is spearheaded by Bishop William Swing of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of California, and in his new book The Coming United Religions he habitually and explicitly equates religious conversion with violence. Bishop Swing identifies Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as “exclusive religions.” He then says, “In order for a United Religions to come about…there will have to be a godly cease-fire, a temporary truce where the absolute exclusive claims of each will be honored but an agreed upon neutrality will be exercised in terms of proselytizing, condemning, murdering, or dominating. These will not be tolerated in the United Religions zone.”

Here’s his logic: Link “proselytizing” (a.k.a. evangelism, the God-given duty of the Church) to “condemning, murdering, or dominating” — and then say that none of these intolerant activities will be tolerated in “the United Religions zone” — the whole world. And, of course, if a United Religions is not only to “come about” but to stay about, that “temporary truce” will have to be renewed in perpetuity.

Swing envisions the major faiths — Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and the indigenous religions — converging like multiple paths up a mountain to a single point, a “unity which transcends the world.” At the top of the spiritual mountain are the esoteric believers from each religion; they “intuit that they were ultimately in unity with people of other religions because all come together at the apex, in the Divine. Everyone below the line would be identified as exoteric. These people in all religions would wed the form of faith to the content or final truth of their own faith. Thus, the forms of one’s faith become absolutized because these forms, alone, are held to carry the truth.”

Pity, then, the straightforward, exoteric followers of Jesus, who take Him at His exoteric word when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”

Swing says, “The United Religions will not be a rejection of ancient religion but will be found buried in the depths of these religions.” Can Swing prove this from the depths of the Christian Faith — from Scripture and from the teachings of the Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils? If, indeed, the United Religions were to be found “buried in the depths” of the Christian Faith, countless early martyrs could have avoided agony and death by burning incense in front of the statute of the Roman Emperor, and today’s martyrs in Sudan, China, and elsewhere could apostatize with a clear conscience.

Swing claims that “In the same way that the United Nations is not a nation, the United Religions would not be a religion.” Nevertheless, the URI is becoming more explicit in its support for a New Religion, as shown by the URI’s draft Charter currently circulating worldwide. According to the draft Charter, the URI would “respect the sacredness of the whole of Planet Earth.” The URI would create “solstice and equinox festivals, the natural earth holidays.” There would be a “URI course to ‘retool’ both clergy and lay religious leaders in the philosophy of spiritual ecology.” The draft Charter says, “We believe in the universality and eternity of the Spirit. We believe that all religions derive their wisdom from that ultimate Source. Therefore, the world’s faith traditions share in common wisdom, which can be obscured by differences in religious concepts and practices.” To make this unity explicit, the URI would develop a new “theology of acceptance” to “help the world’s people explore common ground” and foster awareness of “unity within religious diversity,” would create a common collection of “sacred writings and oral wisdom,” and would share “spiritual practices.”

There would be a new object of devotion — the sacred Earth, a new philosophy of “spiritual ecology,” new Earth-centered holidays, a new theology to promote “unity within diversity,” a new collection of sacred writings and traditions, and shared prayer. All of this adds up to a new creed, a new code, and a new cult — a New Religion.

In his book Bishop Swing himself states, “Originally I thought that the impetus for the coming together of religions would be finding a common moral voice and taking mutual action — without getting into the areas associated with spirituality: meditation, contemplative prayer, sacred writings, end-time hopes, wisdom, etc. But I no longer think that. If there is ever going to be a United Religions it will only happen because the Ultimate Ground of Being wills it…. A United Religions will…have a distinct spiritual momentum….” Swing gives direction to this “distinct spiritual momentum.” He calls for a “common language…for all religions and spiritual movements…. Merely understanding and respecting other religions is not enough.”

As I noted in my December NOR article, “some [Catholic] theologians, priests, and sisters — and a few members of the hierarchy — actively support” the URI. Let’s hope they cease and desist, and that all Catholics stand firm against the URI, as Rome is doing.

Lee Penn
San Francisco, California




In the Silk (for Now)

I just read your February editorial (“And the Verdict Is…”). So, you’ve been nice and conciliatory to Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) and the National Catholic Register regarding their banning of your ads, but your conciliatory gesture didn’t work. I’ve been hanging around this vale of tears long enough (including several years as an Oakland cop) to know that where fundamental issues are involved, nice ain’t important. But being right is.

OSV and the Register have chosen to appease heretics, disobedient bishops, and the like. Well, Churchill described the appeasement of Hitler as feeding the crocodile in the hope that he’ll eat you last. In the end, OSV and the Register will be devoured by those they appease. The problem with the likes of the folks at OSV is that they’ve had it their way for much too long — kinda breaking wind against silk all these years, if you know what I mean. They really need to get their hair mussed up.

I write to offer you encouragement. Don’t be disappointed by the glaring arrogance of those at OSV and the Register. Do what you must do, but never give ground and never, never surrender.

I’m with you.

Michael A. Crane
Klamath Falls, Oregon






The National Lawyers Association (NLA), of which I am a member, is having an ad problem similar to the one besetting the NEW OXFORD REVIEW. The NLA was founded as a prolife alternative to the American Bar Association when thousands of lawyers left the ABA several years ago in the aftermath of the ABA’s adoption of an official pro-abortion stance. Several state bar publications have refused NLA ads — sometimes accepting them until they find out the NLA’s official prolife position, and then rejecting them.

On behalf of all of us who are working for the Faith in the washed-out trenches of “Catholic academia,” thank you for hanging tough and not compromising with those who ban your ads. Yours is a magnificent (if unrewarded) apostolate.

Prof. Raymond B. Marcin
Columbus School of Law
Washington, D.C.






It seems to this observer that if Catholic periodicals are classified according to their attitude toward the Church’s Magisterium, they fall into three groups:

On the Right we have those, such as the NEW OXFORD REVIEW, that accept the Church’s teaching without equivocating and defend it vigorously.

On the Left we have those that reject items of that teaching which are unfashionable in today’s world, and lionize dissenters. Such periodicals are the National Catholic Reporter in the U.S., and The Tablet in Britain.

In the Center are those that frequently adopt a more-or-less neutral stance when faced with a conflict between the Magisterium and a champion of dissent. Such are the National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor in the U.S., and The Universe in Britain.

Those in the Center cannot take a firm stand because they lack certainty and are often unaware of the gravity of the issues at stake. They foolishly suppose that most conflicts can somehow be resolved — whether by dialogue or by a search for common ground or a via media — as if the Law of the Excluded Middle doesn’t apply in theology. They also seem to think that since the Second Vatican Council there is no longer a state of war between the Church and the World. But this war is perennial and will only end on the Day of Judgment.

G.H. Duggan, S.M.
St. Patrick’s College
Silverstream, New Zealand




Silly Ads, Senile Cause

As for the banning of your ads by the National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor and the “costly, painful, and depressing ad controversy” (to use words from your Feb. editorial): Your ads are silly and somewhat malicious, and are not likely to attract educated intellectuals to your camp.

There are two ideologies/faiths that are monolithic, regressive, and controlled from above with no feedback accepted from followers: Marxism and Catholicism. In their traditional forms, both are noted for an aging, increasingly senile leadership that clings to power, come what may. The Pope may well become totally incapacitated, but he insists on leading the Church into the next century! This selfish, puffed-up attitude will cause even more intellectuals to leave the Church

Louis J. Mihalyi
Newland, North Carolina




Many Sacrifices

I read with appreciation Patricia Dixon’s article on the need for a celibate priesthood (Jan.). But there is a deeper reason for it. Those of us who could not make the sacrifice of wife and children to enter the priesthood could not make all the other sacrifices that it requires. The priestly life demands a renunciation of self and a dedication to God’s work that includes celibacy and a great deal more. The Catholic layman of mature years who considered the priesthood in his youth and gave up on the idea because of celibacy need only look on the rest of his life to see what I mean. No matter how pious he may be as a layman, he knows that he could never have made all the other commitments required of a priest.

This is not to say that all priests do make such commitments. To the extent they do not, they fail as priests, and many give up openly. They have failed to cooperate with the graces offered to them by the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Juan J. Ryan
New Providence, New Jersey




Speeding

I am not a Roman Catholic, considering myself of the Anglican persuasion. But in view of the deterioration in my denomination, Roman Catholicism has become very appealing to me. I have been watching Mother Angelica’s EWTN, and have become particularly devoted to its Journey Home programs, which deal with those folks who have made the journey home to Catholicism.

Most of the NOR’s articles put forth beliefs that I have held for years. I’ve been feeling that my spiritual home should be in the Roman Catholic faith, but your references to the “St. Bozo’s” parishes out there make me wonder how I would go about finding a Catholic parish that is in tune with the truth, not the circus. Could any of your readers help me find a solid Catholic parish in my area?

As I am currently speeding down the highway of time to my 81st birthday, I don’t have time to waste.

Rexford W. Davis
104 Rockland Rd., Apt. 108
North Scituate RI 02857




Gentle Rebukes Don’t Cut It

The recent electoral success of pro-abortion Catholic politicians across the country is a sign of the moral torpor in American Catholicism, and of lack of leadership in our Church. After the election our national bishops’ conference gave pro-abortion Catholic politicians only the gentlest of rebukes for their moral degeneracy.

If the Church in America continues her inertial drift into irrelevance, she will die a slow, humiliating death. Only with strong leadership and stringent discipline can Catholicism regain its moral stature. A first step would be to stop treating pro-abortion Catholic politicians with kid gloves and to treat them to severe disciplinary measures — which should include excommunication.

Derek Leaberry
Queenstown, Maryland




Why Bother to Clean the Common Cup at All?

In his December guest column (“The Common Cup & the Common Bug”), E. Coli expressed his concern about those who, having a contagious illness, share in the common cup at Communion. One would hope that such individuals have enough common sense to refrain from the common cup (or seek some suitable alternative). Do people need to be educated about this?

In her February letter, Ann T. Septic (Diane Sullivan) writes that surely God is capable of purifying anything which may make its way into the cup (“If Christ could cure a leper, why couldn’t He miraculously rid the Communion Cup of any danger of menacing germs?”). While that’s certainly true, counting on that assumption may or may not be God’s will. After all, if we assume that God is going to protect the communicant from any common cup diseases, why bother to do anything to clean the cup? And why would someone with a contagious disease need to refrain from the cup?

Me? I’ll hope that those with contagious illnesses will use common sense and common decency. But otherwise, I’ll take my chances. When compared to the battle with sin, the battle with microbes takes a distant second place.

Don Hansen
Upland, California



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