Even I Can See It
Regarding the various comments on relations between Roman Catholics and Anglicans in several recent issues of the NOR: I am an Anglican and intend to stay one, so perhaps I shouldn't urge the following. However, if the Roman Catholic Church is still interested in the conversion of England, there is a promising course of action: providing a genuine welcome to those disaffected Anglicans, led by Graham Leonard, who are as of this writing petitioning for admission to communion with the See of Peter.
With more people in Roman Catholic churches on a Sunday than in those of the Church of England, with a popular member of the Royal Family recently received into the Roman Catholic Church, and with Cardinal Hume being a more impressive figure than the last three Archbishops of Canterbury, there is before you Roman Catholics a golden opportunity. There would be other advantages, chief among them strengthening the Pope against disaffected (mostly secular-minded) Roman Catholics.
The Rev. Joseph P. Frary
Don't Tell Me
I've read my first issue of the NOR (Jan.-Feb. 1994), and I wonder if this is what I'm in for, for the rest of my subscription: people peevishly commenting on who's a true Catholic and who isn't (judge not, fellas), people worked up about whether the altar faces in or out (get a life, guys), and a deceptively charming nostalgia trip back to a small town in Florida by Edmund Miller, which suddenly becomes a story about a man who has rummaged in the dumpster of an abortion clinic and brought back nine fetuses to be buried in his family cemetery. Look, if that's Miller's "thing" -- dumpster diving -- okay, go to it. But I don't want to hear about it. Remember, you promised (in your advertising) not to insult my intelligence!
A Non-Catholic's View of 'Smorgasbord' Catholics
As a non-Catholic who attends Mass regularly with a devout wife, I am bemused by the letters to the editor from do-it-yourself "Catholics" who cobble together a personal religion from appealing morsels of Catholicism.
Isn't a Catholic by definition one who follows the teachings of the Pope? If not, how is a Catholic defined? How would, say, a Jew who believed in the Messiah be differentiated from a Christian? Please don't misunderstand. I am a heretic, an advocate of a (nearly) do-it-yourself religion based on the Sermon on the Mount. But if it were truly as easy to be a Catholic as the smorgasbord "Catholics" think it is, I would accept the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass and call myself a Catholic.
Slouching Toward Civil War
Regarding Kenneth D. Whitehead's article (Jan.-Feb. 1994) on the state of the abortion issue in American politics today: If in fact politicians are arriving at a rough compromise that abortion will remain legal in the U.S. but government will not pay for it, I doubt that this compromise will succeed any better than the Missouri Compromise of 1820 did with respect to slavery. The Missouri Compromise may have held the Union together for some 40 years, but it did so only tenuously and in a way that made inevitable the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and finally civil war. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and compromises with the devil ultimately lead to the devil's playground of conflict, suffering, and perhaps even war.
We have been witnessing the failure of American democracy. After a brief period of acceptance of liberalized abortion laws in some states in the 1960s, it was obvious by the early 1970s that Americans did not want abortion to be unregulated -- note the referenda in Michigan, North Dakota, and other states in 1972. Roe v. Wade, which came down in 1973, was clearly an anti-democratic imposition on the people by a particular philosophy of an unelected judicial elite. Hence Justice White's famous dictum about "an exercise of raw judicial power."
The inevitability of the Civil War began with a fateful compromise. As for abortion, the stage is set, all of the dramatis personae have yet to make their appearance, and the real tension has yet to rise. It remains a mystery how that tension will finally reach the crisis point and be resolved. One thing is for sure, though: It will not be through another Missouri Compromise. As Lincoln said during similar times of denial and temporizing, "I tremble when I consider that there is a just God."
The Rev. Phillip J. Brown
Church of St. Philomena
Glenburn, North Dakota
I am always troubled when a writer is vague in making charges against anyone or anything. If Ann O'Connor (in her March 1994 article, "The Catholic Worker: Is It Still Catholic?") is citing fact and not rumor, why do her charges lack specificity -- e.g., "a Catholic Worker house on the East Coast," "a member of a Midwest house," "a Catholic Worker paper." As the article stands, it has about as much chance of survival as the house built on sand. One suspects that one good strong blow of specificity will send it tumbling to the ground. If her charges are true, why not name the sources?
Sr. Ruthann Williams, O.P.
Precious Blood Spiritual Center
Ed. Note: Because of charity. The point was not to tear down, but to be constructive.
New Shorter Oxford
This is regarding John Warwick Montgomery's "Jesus in the Dictionary" (Jan.-Feb. 1994), wherein we learned of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary's ostensibly new and improved definition of Jesus, along with its allegedly tolerant example of usage: "Jesus! he cried, I'm glad to be here." I would like to raise a grammatical point: In the dictionary's entry, the editors have provided a figurative interjection ("Jesus!") as a usage for an entry defined as a noun. Whoops!
To answer Jack Darragh (letter, Jan.-Feb. 1994) concerning the film The Crying Game: They certainly did have sexual contact. She performed oral sex on him before he learned she was a he. This is no platonic love story. Watch the film again -- and pay attention.
Chesterton: No Curmudgeon
It was disconcerting to see Jean Bethke Elshtain describe Chesterton as a "curmudgeon" in her article "G.K. Chesterton, a Curmudgeon for Our Time" (March 1994). My dictionary defines a curmudgeon as "a gruff or irritable person, especially an elderly man." Yes, Chesterton nobly battled the dragons of his own age while foretelling many of the monsters of our own, but he did so with a heart so cheerful and charitable that even his intellectual enemies -- like Shaw and Wells -- found his personality irresistible. W.R. Titterton described him thus: "His rising converted the dullest debate into a festival, his very entry into a room was like a sunburst. You see him, don't you, towering suddenly beside the chairman, his big jolly face lit with laughter and loving-kindness ?" This is not the description of a curmudgeon. Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, and Malcolm Muggeridge were curmudgeons. Chesterton was more like the Last Knight of the West, with the soul of a wise and merry child, armed with truth, yes, but also with the gentler weapons of Charity and Hilarity, striding and singing his way through God's world.
Daniel Nichols, Editor
Caelum et Terra
I Will Never Forgive
Is the essence of George Appleby's fawning review of The Strength Not to Fight: An Oral History of Conscientious Objectors of the Vietnam War (March 1994) that somehow the war protesters secured the moral high ground? I vividly remember the "special attention" given to Catholic villages in South Vietnam, composed largely of refugees from the North. Night after night they were shelled by the Communist forces. After the Communist takeover, those who could flee did so, and those who could not were either exterminated or "re-educated." I find the whimpering and whining of inconvenienced draft dodgers nauseating when I remember the 50,000-plus who died in that noble cause. Appleby quotes one draft dodger as saying, "I'll never forgive or forget what America did in Indochina." Well, I will never forgive or forget those who put the preservation of their skin above service to their country.
Norvell B. De Atkine
Fayetteville, North Carolina
When Catholic Schools Aren't Catholic
Regarding the debate about Catholic schools (Jeffrey Christensen's article, Dec. 1993, and letters March 1994): My husband and I are surely not unique in sending our six Catholic children to public schools so that the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Catholic Church are not undermined by, yes, Catholic school teachers. This is not to say there are no faithful teachers in Catholic systems -- much depends on what area you live in.
How my heart jumped for joy when our second grader came home thrilled that he had amazed the class by knowing the longest word -- transubstantiation! How pleased I was when a daughter in high school learned about a friend's strict Ramadan fast. How touching it was when we received a postcard congratulating a son in high school on an excellent presentation against abortion. Of course, it's not all like this. I have my share of horror stories.
Catholic parents should be active in the schools, developing good relationships with the faculty (don't constantly complain!) and showing genuine interest in the other children and in what all are taught. When you excuse your children from "health education," the faculty will know you and your broader concerns, and may be open to your proposed alternatives. Teachers are often relieved to run across faithful parents who are not cranks and who are truly interested in all children.
Rochester, New York
I applaud your editorial on the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (Jan.-Feb. 1994). Catholics should be grateful to God that in addition to the help of the Spirit from above -- poured out lavishly on other Christian assemblies as well -- we also have had over the many centuries, and still have, the guidance of the institutional, teaching Church, in spite of all her human failings. This has kept me in the Church, and in the priesthood!
The Rev. René DuFour
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate