Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: April 2012

April 2012

Decoding Casual Dress

Frederick Marks (“The Rush to Radical Informality,” Jan.-Feb.) uncovers a point rarely considered as a cultural phenomenon: the way a narcissistic generation dresses only out of self-regard for comfort. The way people dress in any generation certainly says something about what they think they are, or want to be, but it also indicates a regard for others. In a demoralized culture, neglect of dress expresses moral lethargy. In some New York firms that instituted “casual Fridays,” leisure clothing resulted in leisurely job performance.

Beyond civilian dress, uniforms dispose people to the service of others. This is why priests and judges do not wear whatever they want. And when vesture in churches and courts is slovenly, you can be pretty sure that the officials are more concerned about themselves than about what they represent. If I dress better for a cocktail party than I do when I commune in God’s house, which is my real sanctuary? On the other hand, if I wear a T-shirt in a restaurant, I am clothing myself in the sartorial equivalent of a belch. And if I am in shirtsleeves while the waiter wears a jacket, I am pulling reverse rank on him.

In the prosperous suburbs people dress down for Mass. The best-dressed people in church on Sundays in New York are the poorest: hats and gloves in Harlem and in the neighborhoods populated by immigrants from Haiti and the Caribbean islands. People dress best in storefront churches and worst in the cathedral.

Clothes do not make the man, but they indicate what a man has made of himself. Forms of dress do matter. The baptismal rites refer to the candidate’s white garment (and the candidate is called such precisely because the garment is white, candida) and the Elect before the Throne wear white garments. Christ told a parable about wearing the proper wedding garment and, while it symbolizes baptismal grace, it nonetheless refers to visible raiment as well. The Lord’s garment was seamless, and I suppose it may have been made with devotion by His mother.

What it boils down to is this: God’s inscrutable providence can make slobs into saints, but saints are not slobs.

Fr. George W. Rutler, Pastor

Church of Our Savior

New York, New York

Frederick Marks makes an excellent point about “radical informality” (Jan.-Feb.): It has spread like a contagious disease in our society. In the old films from the 1930s and 1940s, people getting on and off the subway in New York’s Times Square were well dressed. The men wore a suit, tie, and hat, and the women wore long dresses, a hat, and gloves. That was at a time when most people were poor. Now the dress code there seems to demand, for men, jeans or shorts, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap. The same tendency to “dress down” is apparent in many Catholic churches on Sunday.

When I lived in New York a few years ago, I noticed that the men and women going to the local synagogue on the West Side were well and formally dressed. The same thing was true of those attending Baptist churches in the Bronx or Brooklyn. Proper dress at church shows respect for God. Those with an appointment to meet the governor of a state or the president of the U.S. dress accordingly, as Dr. Marks notes. They dress up for man but not for God.

Radical informality is an assault on form. Form in our culture has taken a big hit since the 17th century. Jay Richards, in his book God and Evolution, points out that Des­cartes identified quantity with essence and thereby eliminated form. We know from Aristotle that there are four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. Since Descartes, science has discarded formal and final causality; for modern science, the only real causes are material and efficient. One result is that, if there is no form to make a thing be what it is, then each thing is just an accumulation of atoms and molecules that can be arranged in any way. According to this thinking, there is no formal difference between a dog and a cat. And if there is no formal or final cause, then nothing really makes any sense — and you can do or dress as you will.

This metaphysical error is at the root of the fraudulent error of materialistic evolution. It is also, in my opinion, the root of the dominance of the philosophy of relativism in our culture today, or what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “dictatorship of relativism.”

The culture of informality has also influenced priests and religious men and women. It is very common today that priests and religious do not wear their religious garb either in public or in private, contrary to many exhortations from Rome. One reason they give is that it makes it easier for them to associate with the laity. But it seems to me that it is hard for them to influence others as imitators of Christ if no one knows who or what they are.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.

Editor Emeritus, Homiletic & Pastoral Review

Tacoma, Washington

I’ve often wondered why, when discussing dress, we don’t point out that we should not dress to please ourselves but to please others. After all, it’s the people we meet who have to look at us. You might say that we are telling others what we think of them by the way we dress. It could be that if we dress inappropriately, we probably enjoy shocking others. To my mind, the worst case is at church services where the wearing of tennis shoes and shorts are intended, apparently, to shock the Almighty!

Henry Menzies

Department of Geology and Geography, Mount Holyoke College

New Rochelle, New York

The Guru's Muse?

Anne Barbeau Gardiner (“Gurus of a Post-Human Age,” Jan.-Feb.) provides a concise summary of the services that James Rachels and Garrett Hardin provided for the culture of death. As a graduate student at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the 1980s, I purchased a used copy of Alder and Roessler’s 1968 book Probability and Statistics. The book once belonged to Garrett Hardin, as it bears his bookplate (shown below). We see in the image a faceless writer penning pages of script. As each page flies off into the distance, it transforms into a single-celled organism resembling an amoeba. This seems to imply that the writer thinks that he is evoking fundamental principles of biology. His writing utensil looks something like a quill, and is formed by the tapering arm of a horned, winged demon (apparently Beelzebub or Lord of the Flies). The arm of the demon wraps itself like a tendril around the arm of the writer (Hardin).

Does this bookplate merely intend to ridicule belief in devils and angels? Or does it represent some dark vision experienced by Hardin himself? We may never know. But we do know the lamentable legacy of his infamous essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons.” As the former (and final) chairman of the Department of Earth and Environment at Mount Holyoke College, before it fissioned into the departments of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies, I saw firsthand and in an executive capacity the unwitting servitude of those academics who, hoping to protect the environment from the ravages of human expansion, make the situation worse by promoting a culture of death. It is a considerable challenge to convince these academics of what I consider to be perhaps the most important facet of environmental protection — namely, that disobedience to God can lead directly to natural disasters and environmental devastation. No doubt, we would all greatly benefit from the services of a talented environmental writer guided by good angels instead of fallen ones.

Mark A.S. McMenamin

Founder, Dominus Est!

South Hadley, Massachusetts

A fascinating sequence of articles appeared in the January-February issue, specifically, “Gurus of a Post-Human Age” by Anne Barbeau Gardiner followed by “A Continent of Contradictions” by M.P. Summers. As if we need to be reminded, the most savage, murderous barbarians occupy the halls of academia; it was their propaganda arm, the scientific journals and the liberal media in general, as Dr. Gardiner related, that exposed the murderous agenda of Garrett Hardin and James Rachels in their own words. After being horrified by what these “gurus” said and wrote, we are treated to how it plays out in the real world in the report by Summers, first in Rwanda and then in Darfur in East Africa. As usual, the UN did nothing when these genocidal murder rampages were taking place. It took God, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, to heal the land. In back-to-back articles we see the results of following Darwin and those of following Christ.

Terence J. Hughes

Fort Pierre, South Dakota

Deep-Sixed in Dixie

James McCafferty (“The Perils of Promoting Personhood,” Jan.-Feb.) provided an excellent analysis of the events and background of the failed attempt in Mississippi to help end one part of the relentless culture of death. I commend Bishop Latino for his strong letter opposing the recent contraception mandate imposed by President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, but I was disappointed with his lack of support for Mississippi’s Personhood Amend­ment.

I do not understand how the concern for the “unintended consequences” of the Personhood Amendment should take priority over supporting attempts to defang Roe v. Wade. While we wait on the results of a favored action, many thousands of innocent babies are murdered each day.

Hobson McGehee

Jackson, Mississippi

A Republican Rebuttal

In the January-February issue there were two letters dealing with politics. As a former Republican state senator for 12 years, I thought some clarification for your readers is in order. The letter “Opening Old Wounds” dealt with one person running for office in the Constitution Party (whatever that is); and “A Political ‘No-Brainer'” dealt with Catholics forming coalitions with other groups opposed to the Obama administration. Both of these letters seem to ignore our country’s two-party system. The writer of the first letter should have run in either major political party, and then he would have been a player — or at least someone in the media would have paid attention to him along with the others who were running. As for the second letter, there is already a group opposed to Obama. It is called the Republican Party, the only major party with a pro-life platform.

Ours has been a two-party system since 1856, and I suggest that it will continue in this fashion into the near future. My advice is to become engaged in the political process but do not attempt to reinvent the wheel or be an outsider in a “pure” environment. Get dirty and participate in mainstream politics and thereby make a difference.

Jeffery J. Hill

Tucson, Arizona

Ed. Note: With all due respect to the senator, the Republican platform hasn’t meant diddly to the pro-life cause. To wit: When the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade rolls around in January 2013, a Republican will have occupied the White House for 24 of those years, or 60 percent of the time. The only thing any of those four men ever did in all those years was to tinker around the edges of the issue. Our two-party system is precisely the problem: It doesn’t offer pro-lifers any real options. And this election year is no exception.

Striving for Status or Striving to Serve?

In regard to Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of Sr. Sara Butler’s book The Catholic Priesthood and Women (Nov.), and Deacon Roy Barkley’s letter in reply (Jan.-Feb.), much more light and much less heat would result from this controversy if the distinction between ontological worth and function in human and Christian life were maintained. Not only does the New Testament offer a clear witness to this truth, but Church teaching attests to it by saying that men and women “have the same juridic status in canon law.” As Dr. Gardiner points out, men and women “share equally in the common priesthood of the faithful.”

Saying that men and women are equal in worth before God does not mean, however, that they should have the same function. The heated, unproductive, and oftentimes destructive discussions over the roles of men and women in the family and in the Church are fueled by the mistaken assignment of worth to a person’s function rather than to the person himself.

Some of the strongest, most admirable, and flourishing married women I know accept their husband’s headship of the family. And some of the strongest, most balanced, and fruitful members of the Church are women; not men, not priests. To say that a woman is not head of the family, or that she cannot be a priest, in no way demeans her or denies that she has an absolutely necessary role to play in the family or the Church.

Likewise, as a married man, I cannot help build the Kingdom of God by performing priestly (sacramental) ministry. But I nevertheless have a very important role to play in advancing the Kingdom in the Church and in society. I am not of less worth to God because I don’t perform sacerdotal ministry. If I buy into that distortion, I join with the misguided, mistaken thinking of the Apostles when they asked the Lord, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Are we striving for status in or recognition from the world, or are we striving to serve the purpose of God in whatever way we can?

In the Kingdom of Heaven, the least on earth will be the greatest. Let us not be duped by the warped thinking of the world, but let us instead heed the warning of St. John: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15).

Jack Abel

Wichita Falls, Texas

The Padre Pio

Hurd Baruch’s review of two books on the life of St. Padre Pio (“Will the Real Padre Pio Please Stand Up?” Jan.-Feb.) captured the essence of a giant of 20th-century spirituality.

In 1978 I was married by a priest who was then the head of the Padre Pio Society of America, and over the years I have made two separate trips to San Giovanni Rotondo, the site of St. Pio’s monastery in Italy. Each time I left with a greater impression of the life of this extraordinary man and priest.

St. Pio died on September 23, 1968, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002. It has been said that the only reason it took 34 years for his canonization is the sheer volume of data the Church had to sift through before rendering a positive verdict. Mr. Baruch provides an honest assessment of St. Pio’s detractors and their fabrications. I was saddened by what Sergio Luzzatto had to say in his book. I have always wondered what could possess a man to be so eager to find fault with those who seek to do virtuous deeds. Christ had His detractors and could not sway all the masses, so we should not expect any different of Padre Pio — or any other saintly figure, for that matter.

One doesn’t need to read very deeply into the Old or New Testament to find evidence of the miraculous. It is virtually everywhere. Scholarship is important, as is investigative reporting, but when the Church renders an opinion after so many years of research, a prudent and reasonable person should take notice. When one looks at life through the prism of faith, the world becomes illumined as the light is not hidden and shines for all to see. St. Pio’s detractors offer nothing of value to the world. If history could be likened to a Greek play, then they would be the tragic figures. In the end, the victor is the man of God whose works are seen by the world for what they are. As it was said about Lourdes, “to those who do not believe, no explanation is possible. To those who do believe, no explanation is necessary.” The life of the humble Capuchin from Pietrelcina will continue to be read and profited from again and again.

Ted Flynn

Herndon, Virginia

I have had a great devotion to Padre Pio since childhood when my grandmother was cured of severe bleeding ulcers via the intervention of this saintly Capuchin monk only days before her scheduled surgery. I have attended Mass with Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, and have listened to stories of the saint’s life and miracles told by the late Bill Carrigan of Kensington, Maryland, who knew the priest well when he was stationed in Foggia following World War II. Mr. Carrigan commissioned me, a professional sculptor, to make a statue of Padre Pio celebrating the Eucharist, which led me to further reading and meditation on Padre Pio’s life and work.

I cannot imagine how, or for what reason, other than satanic possession, a man such as Sergio Luz­zatto would write such a scurrilous personal attack on this beloved saint of our times. I wonder further at the motives of the publisher, and the credulity of the readers who shell out $35 to read this sort of unsubstantiated calumny.

Hamilton Reed Armstrong

Front Royal, Virginia

Anyone who is familiar with the life of Padre Pio is aware of the problems and limitations of the reports of the Franciscan physician Agostino Gemelli, who diagnosed the future saint as having a “hysteric mind.” The fact that Sergio Luzzatto’s book features Gemelli’s reports prominently is not surprising given their shared bias. The book’s subtitle, Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age, suggests that the author’s primary objective is to discredit the authenticity of Padre Pio’s sanctity and any reported miracles. One only hopes that someone who is not familiar with Padre Pio will not make the mistake of limiting his reading to this book.

The other book Mr. Baruch reviewed, Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files by Francesco Castelli, is a very interesting resource that contains new information about the saint, including records from the Vatican archives. Castelli’s book is a resource worth having in any library on Padre Pio.

Tim Rivelli

Hinsdale, Illinois

Hurd Baruch’s valuable, impeccable, and balanced review of Luz­zatto’s and Castelli’s books on St. Padre Pio reminded me of the ancestral land of our family, in the province of Potenza, not far from Padre Pio’s village of Pietrelcina. This area of southern Italy might not be home to great wealth, but it is superlatively rich in terms of its sons who have contributed greatly to the heritage of Italy and all Western civilization.

A historian who approaches such a formidable figure as Padre Pio must set aside prejudices, malice, and any other factor that would vitiate his study. A humble priest, stigmatist, miracle-worker, and a child of the Mezzogiorno, St. Pio threatens the entire rationalist and cynical apparatus that constitutes Sergio Luzzat­to’s historical baggage. For fifty years, since the stigmata of the saint became evident, countless pilgrims and investigators have passed through San Giovanni Rotondo. Enormous amounts of evidence of healings — physical and spiritual, mental and emotional — exist. But Luzzatto has thrown together every possible calumny, and assumes his dupes will spread his words.

The people in these southern Italian provinces have endured invasions, famines, exploitation, and economic disaster over the past thousand years. St. Pio came from indestructible stock. He bore all: ecclesiastical suspicion and penalties, the intrusive malice of those like Luzzatto who came to destroy him, and the frequent visits of the demon himself. As humbly as he lived, in submission to the mandates of his order and the Church, he died in the monastery in 1968. But the miracles continue. The greatest of all miracles is the renewal of the faith of countless people who have made pilgrimages to San Giovanni Rotondo. One of these pilgrims, Bl. John Paul II, has left us an imperishable testimony of the prophetic spirit of St. Padre Pio.

Michael Suozzi

La Mesa, California

The Mass in Three Tongues

I read with great interest the letters about Latin and the vernacular (“Comprehending the Liturgy,” Jan.-Feb.). Good points were made by both Mattes and Miraldi, but some things were left out. There are many of us who attend the Tridentine Mass who love the Latin language itself. Its cadence and songfulness helps us “lift our hearts to the Lord.” Having the Mass said in Latin adds to its mystery. Moreover, the Tridentine Mass employs three sacred languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Greek is retained in the Kyrie, and Hebrew in the Amen and Alleluia. Prayers in the sacred languages are more efficacious; this is why, for 1,600-plus years, the liturgy, the highest prayer of the Church, has been prayed in these sacred languages. I do not agree, therefore, that the Tridentine Mass in the vernacular would be the same or as good as it is in Latin. Even the Novus Ordo Mass should be mainly said in Latin, according to Sacrasanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy.

Benedicite Deum.

David A. Homoney

Park Hill, Oklahoma

Suffer the Little Children

Fr. J.D. Zatalava (letter, Jan.-Feb.) might not need altar servers, but the Church does.

Jesus welcomed the children when the adult Apostles wanted to shoo them away. When I see a parish largely empty of eager young bodies — and there are many such parishes — my heart crumples within me.

I am blessed to be able to worship in a parish where the very young, the pubescent, cheerleaders and jocks, young married couples, and the elderly are all welcomed and celebrated. A Catholic parish should be a place where sanity and hospitality shine forth.

Jan E. Fredericks

Rochester, New York

Sidewalk Counselors: Your Work Won't Go Unrewarded

What a fine guest column Edmund B. Miller has written about the generous and amazing work done by prayer warriors and sidewalk counselors outside abortion businesses (“Abortion & The Creed of Progress,” Jan.-Feb.). He admits that “discouragement comes swiftly and heavily. Often I wonder why I should and do continue.” Anyone who has stood and prayed outside an abortion business can echo these feelings; but the unseen effects of these prayers, of this witness, are far beyond what can be imagined.

Last fall a group of us were praying outside the last abortion business (of four) in Corpus Christi, Texas, when a car drove up and screeched to a sudden stop right by us. When this happens one usually expects the worst. But this time a man got out and approached us, weeping. “You have no idea of the good you do here,” he said to us. “Thirteen years ago my pregnant girlfriend and I drove up here and you all were praying here. This was for her scheduled abortion. We went inside and we felt the evil. I thought about you all on the outside praying. We left. And now, because of you, she is my wife and, because of you, we have beautiful twin teenage daughters. Never stop this, keep praying here.”

All of us who were there that day 13 years ago probably felt the “discouragement that comes swiftly and heavily.” But our prayers touched this man and his girlfriend and changed the course of human history. This is why those who stand and pray “should and do continue.”

Another time we prayed most of the day outside a Planned Parenthood abortion business in Bryan/College-Station, Texas, as 17 girls and women went in for abortions, with no “saves.” Once the “business” day was over late in the afternoon, we went to a local restaurant, depressed and gloomy. While we were there, a woman came up to us and asked if we were “the people praying at the Planned Parenthood clinic.” We told her we were, and she said, “Thank you, I saw you praying and because of you I did not go in for the abortion.” This is reason enough to continue, because even if we do not know about it, a baby might be saved because of our prayers.

I firmly believe that when anyone who stands and prays outside an abortion business, anyone who engages in sidewalk counseling, anyone who is a conduit for God’s love to these girls and women, gets to the pearly gates and St. Peter is studying the book and checking the commandments against what the person has done, there is going to be a crowd of little children telling St. Peter, perhaps impatiently, “This is our friend. She [or he] is why you call your book the ‘Book of Life.’ You have to let her come in here with us.”

Mr. Miller is correct when he says that those who pray and those who counsel have “not been paid to do this.” This is true, in the practical sense. But in the spiritual sense, what one gives away is what one takes to Heaven; and those who do this give God’s love, and they take with them to Heaven the embodiment of that love in the saved children and the saved mothers, fathers, and families, and the love in each caress and kiss those mothers give to their babies.

Guy McClung

Rockport, Texas

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