Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: December 2011

December 2011

Welcome to the Age of Sentiment

When my wife and I were young and our children small, we used to read books together: A Tale of Two Cities, Brideshead Revisited, David Cop­perfield, The Brothers Kara­mazov, etc. Later, working two or three jobs at a time and raising a crowd of children, we let the practice slip. I regret losing those hours together.

And now, reading Chene Richard Heady’s article “Sheldon Vanau­ken Remembered” (Oct.), I find I had forgotten one of the books that meant the most to us: Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. We were young and in love and trying to find our way when we came across Vanauken’s beautifully written memoir. It presented an ideal of commitment and love that was being ripped apart all around us. “Free love” was blowing in the wind, and it was hard work maintaining loyalty and love in a life that demanded too much work for too little pay with too little time for each other.

How good it was to see a vow between two lovers described as the “Shining Barrier” that protects that love. As Heady points out, Vanauken and his wife’s “extreme commitment” to each other ran the risk of causing its own problems, of being “just another shared narcissistic fantasy in a narcissistic age.” But then came C.S. Lewis, and after him the invasion of Christ that steered them toward a much broader and more enduring realization of love.

“This is the Age of the Memoir,” says William Zinsser. “Never have personal narratives gushed so profusely from the American soil.” A look at bestseller lists and the biography sections of bookstores seems to confirm this. In an age that is increasingly impatient with reason, as Heady points out, the memoir has a chance to capture both the mind and the emotions, has a chance to hold the reader long enough to engender thought.

The Age of Reason seems long past. Descartes, Leibniz, and Voltaire have taken musty refuge in old libraries and are visited only occasionally by a few odd philosophy students. The Age of Ideology that followed — of Kant and Comte, of Mill and Marx, of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard — has been crumbling too. Whatever can be said about the contradictory theories of these philosophers, they were pursuing truth (at least before Nie­tzsche), and it was assumed that a search for truth required a careful use of reason. But who now is moved by reason? Where are the ardent and argumentative young existentialists, Marxists, libertarians, nihilists, or Thomists? Politicians rely on slogans, photo-ops, and imagery to promote complex policies. Few students ever learn the rudiments of logic — even in college. Prof. Vigen Guroian, citing an essay by Russell Kirk, says that the Age of Discussion, which grew from the Enlightenment and earmarked modernity, is all but over. We are entering a new era in civilization where sentiments rule — indeed, we are entering the Age of Sentiment. And this momentous shift in mind and sensibility requires new cultural strategies for the nurture of the moral imagination.

Sentiment, as Guroian and Kirk use it, is not mere sentimentality. It is more than sensation or emotion, more than feeling. It is, according to Guroian, “a human response to the world that lies somewhere between thought and feeling.” It includes elements of both.

Sentiment and reason should coincide; it would be difficult to feel strongly for or against something for any length of time unless one could name it and support it rationally. But the mind is moved by more than reason. The dry debates of the rationalists rattle on like old trains on well-worn tracks, but who now is stirred by the once-romantic call of those lonesome whistles? What once was new, strange, and intoxicating in argument has taken on the mechanistic clatter of practical policy debates. They still chatter through editorial pages and journals of opinion, but after a while you scarcely hear the trains passing anymore.

So I’m glad to hear this call to read a good memoir, one that moves from passion to commitment, from spontaneity to faith, and even from emotion to reason. I do hope that some of those students Heady mentions in that coffeehouse in Lynch­burg will find their way to A Severe Mercy. I know I’m going to find it again. I’ll make some time to read it with my wife.

Steven Faulkner

Keysville, Virginia

Karl Adam: The Good & the Bad

F. Douglas Kneibert is to be warmly commended for his article “Recalling the Glories of the Faith” (Oct.), dedicated to Karl Adam’s superb book The Spirit of Catholicism, a great classic probably too little known in this country. Kneibert’s generous praise of this work is fully deserved. I was impressed by the fact that he mentions Adam’s “insistence on the primacy of community almost to a total disregard for the individual.”

Alas, in 1924 the Nazi poison had already penetrated among intellectuals. To counteract this dangerous trend, Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote a book titled Metaphysik der Gemein­schaft (Metaphysics of the Community; not yet available in English), in which he points to the danger hidden in this ideology. To my hus­band’s profound grief and distress, shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933, the same Karl Adam published an article in which he wrote: Gratia sup­ponit naturam ger­manicam (“grace presupposes German nature”).

This fearful aberration, coming from such a remarkable thinker, should teach us humility: the best and greatest among us should always be on the alert for fear of being infected by the Zeitgeist. The very moment we abandon this posture of humility, we are likely to catch the disease.

This should be a caveat for contemporary Catholic intellectuals.

Alice von Hildebrand

New Rochelle, New York

Creepy Sheep Dog

Thank you very much for the New Oxford Note about Fr. John Corapi (“The Fall of an American Idol, Season 2,” Oct.). I was confused about the whole thing and the Note set forth the events in a straightforward, chronological order. I wasn’t sure what to believe when the allegations against him arose because he denied them and at first I thought he got a raw deal. Your detailed account made it all very clear, especially the end result. The mental image of Corapi, who now calls himself “The Black Sheep Dog,” in a black leather jacket with a dyed black goatee was creepy.

Stephanie Hart

Redwood City, California

You Send Me

Your New Oxford Note on Fr. Corapi sent me into an emotional seizure. Then learning what Daniel C. Maguire has been teaching at Mar­quette University (in Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of Whose Church? A Concise Guide to Progressive Catholicism, Oct.) made me physically ill. I was up all night, fretting and praying.

Each month the NOR sends me to my knees before God!

Joan Helen

Abingdon, Maryland

My Polish-Catholic Experience

Fr. Raymond T. Gawronski’s reply to my letter (Oct.) was self-serving and condescending. He called me politically correct and a “deracinated ethnic,” which he somehow presumed to deduce from my brief letter. I am a third-generation Polish-American born to working-class parents who were sophisticated enough to stress getting a good education and avoiding the trappings of an increasingly coarse American culture, such as heavy drinking and partying, promiscuity, conspicuous consumption, etc. I left my hometown as a very young woman, not out of disdain or to escape, but to make my life. I have always been very proud to be a Catholic of Polish heritage. On May 13, 1981, when Pope John Paul II was shot, I was working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Utah and the tragedy was yet unbeknownst to me. When the head nurse heard of the shooting, she left her office and raced over to me and gently let me know and asked if I needed time off to pray and mourn. Everyone knew where my heart was. I have visited Poland twice and prayed with Pope Benedict XVI at Mass in Warsaw.

I did not flee to Phoenix and deliberately Anglicize my name, as Fr. Gawronski suggests. I remained Miss Czajkowski until Mr. Conner married me. I am raising our children Catholic, as well as exposing them to Polish traditions, food, and a little of the language — even though they are both adopted from India. We sing Sto Lat at every birthday celebration, and they love barscz (beet soup).

I assure Fr. Gawronski that I have heard countless “Pollack jokes,” especially in my youth. I certainly do understand that Poles who fled to suburbia are oftentimes culturally impoverished and that Poles have been marginalized in the American Catholic Church. He will get no argument from me there.

But Fr. Gawronski seems to want to discount any ugliness on the part of Polish-born Catholic priests. At our parish, by the time I was in high school in the 1970s, the emphasis was on planning parish trips to Las Vegas. Our pastor, fluent in Polish, was a big gambler. He bragged to parishioners about being the winner of many thousands of dollars in the Michigan State Lottery. And with the decay of Detroit and “white flight” to the suburbs, Polish-American Catholics have built parishes in the post-Vatican II style: sterile with ugly, pedestrian architecture and with liturgy devoid of much beauty. More of my cohort have left the Church than remain.

As I said at the beginning of my letter, I agreed with much of what Fr. Gawronski had to say. However, the nurturing of an attitude of Christian evangelization was always sorely lacking in the Polish immigrant experience. And isn’t that what the Gospels tell us we must do?

I remember having a discussion with my mother many years ago, as all the beautiful Catholic parishes around Detroit were closing down and left surrounded entirely by African-Americans. I asked her, “Mom, why was there no evangelization of blacks? Then these parishes wouldn’t be shutting down.” It was a question that remains unanswered. There was little to no outreach to African-Americans, even though they always lived in close proximity.

Why not? I think it is because being Catholic for many Poles, lay and clerical alike, means nothing more than being members of a big ethnic social club. Is Fr. Gawronski unaware of the abysmal plight of poor blacks in the inner city, especially that most phantasmagoric city in America, Detroit? Yes, as Fr. Gaw­ronski notes, blacks can take credit for the heavily rap and hip-hop-infused popular American culture. But even after the election of Barack Obama, I would argue that blacks are not better off economically or spiritually than they were before.

Fr. Gawronski challenged me to produce the Polish equivalent of the English n-word. Though my parents never used the n-word, they did use the Polish term czardna, and use it derisively. Other Polish families and relatives used the n-word outright; this was the rule, not the exception, in Polish-American households when I was growing up.

Susan Czajkowski-Conner

Granite, Utah

Susan Conner’s letter (Oct.) in reply to Fr. Raymond Gawronski’s article “The Polish Catholic Experience” (Jul.-Aug.) offered an accurate, quick history of Hamtramck, Michigan. But her characterization of Polish-Americans as racially prejudiced against blacks is, as she said of Fr. Gawron­ski’s article, “over the top.” My grandparents, without malice, might have referred to a black man as Charny Nigerek. To them the n-word was interchangeable with “Negro” and merely designated another ethnic group. Yes, the Polish population of Ham­tramck gradually disappeared, but this happened through attrition (aging, inter-marriage, higher education and higher pay elsewhere) not because of any overt prejudice.

Most Poles here and abroad would freely admit that we aren’t perfect. I don’t believe Fr. Gawronski wants a static Polish culture. I think he wants to see a community that incorporates some of the old fervor — piety, if you will — into our present lives and one that does not surrender to the mediocre American culture that surrounds us.

Arlene Moulthrop

Coraopolis, Pennsylvania

Bursting the Inflatable Bubble

The item titled “Inflatable Parish” in The News You May Have Missed (Oct.) gives the impression that in Kolobrzeg, Poland, a medieval city with 45,000 inhabitants, there is no church, and poor Catholics have no choice but to assist at Mass held in a hotel room.

Well, I am pleased to inform you that Kolobrzeg has six large and thriving parishes, and is home to a beautiful Gothic cathedral, which has the status of basilica minor. Given that the bishopric in Kolobrzeg was established in A.D. 1000, it is rather ridiculous to think that somebody would want to erect an inflatable church there, don’t you think?

The truth is that Fr. Krzysztof Kowal is a missionary in Petro­pav­lovsk (Kamchatka, Russia). For eight years he has been trying to get a permit to build a church there, without success. Fr. Kowal’s parish of St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus is in the easternmost Catholic parish in Asia, covering the huge area of all Kam­chatka and Chukotka, and serves the small Catholic community consisting mostly of descendants of Poles exiled to Siberia.

The situation for these people is very difficult, as the local authorities are quite hostile to Catholics. That is why a former classmate of Fr. Kowal’s, the owner of a company that specializes in inflatable playgrounds, came up with the idea of an inflatable church. This friend designed the church and donated it to Fr. Kowal.

A fundraising campaign has been organized in Fr. Kowal’s home city of Kolobrzeg to collect funds to transport the inflatable church and to purchase a portable generator. In the last weekend of August, crowds of Kolo­brzeg inhabitants, as well as tourists, gathered near the inflatable church (temporarily set up at the waterfront of the city) to pray for the success of the plan of building a real brick-and-mortar church in Petro­pavlovsk.

This is the real story behind the “inflatable parish.”

Henryk Fuks

Fonthill, Ontario, Canada

Reconquering Córdoba?

Apropos the excellent comments made in “The New Islamo­phobia” (New Oxford Note, Oct.), I would add what I consider the best explanation for the desire to establish an Islamic center in New York City two blocks from Ground Zero. In his book The Arab Mind (1973), Raphael Patai wrote, “Western students of the Arab world have repeatedly remarked on the violent hate that Arabs feel for the West. Wilfred Cantwell Smith wrote in the mid-1950s: ‘Most Westerners have simply no inkling of how deep and fierce is the hate, especially of the West, that has gripped the modernizing Arabs.’ A few years later, Bernard Lewis made an almost identical observation in speaking of ‘the mood and wish that united many if not most Arabs’ in 1955: it was, he found, that of ‘revulsion from the West, and the wish to spite and humiliate it’…. ‘In the twilight world of popular myths and images, the West is the source of all evil — and the West is a single whole….’ All this, Lewis concludes, has not only created ‘real problems, through the economic, social and political dislocations to which it gave rise,’ but has engendered a ‘cultural inferiority complex.'”

Within this mindset, which begins in the Bedouin desert and emerges through Islam’s influence as a political/religious culture, the idea of retribution is easily understood. It is a retribution that bides its time for action. Recall that in Córdoba, Spain, the Muslim dynasty of the Um­mayads (756-1031) built the Great Mosque of Córdoba in 785. In the 13th century the Christian Spanish king of Castile captured Córdoba and converted the mosque to a cathedral.

On 9/11 the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic ji­hadists. As we approached the tenth year following this destruction, it was announced that a mosque was being planned near Ground Zero that would be called the Córdoba Center. Coincidence?

Richard Irwin

Wolcott, Connecticut

It's Time to Foster Peace, Not Perpetuate War

Your New Oxford Note “The New Islamophobia” (Oct.), which criticized efforts to foster peace and understanding between Jews, Christians, and Muslims on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, was perplexing. We all know that the secular press has not been very kind to Catholics or Christians in general, but have they been any kinder to the Muslims? Ever since 9/11 Muslims have been taking a regular drumbeating not only from the secular press, but also from much of the religious press, Hollywood, television, talk radio, and on the Internet.

It’s good to know that committees and organizations (which include both conservatives and liberals) are forming to build bridges between the various faith traditions. It’s in the long-term interests of our country, Israel, and the countries of the Middle East.

Young people are increasingly avoiding both Catholic and Protestant churches. If you want to attract young people back to churches, listen to them. They’re tired of churches sponsoring semi­nars on “just wars.”

That’s what made Pope John Paul II, an ecumenical bridge-builder and peacemaker, so popular everywhere, especially among young people who are tired of the trillions of dollars spent on endless wars — wars that have financially bankrupted our country and other countries, jeopardized their futures, and driven thousands of Christians out of the Middle East. John Paul II visited both synagogues and mosques and showed respect for these faith traditions.

Of course there are Islamic wackos with extremist views, and they should be challenged. But let’s be honest: Christianity and Judaism have also had their own minority of extremist wackos.

I’ve had a lot of Jewish and Muslim friends through the years, and they have all been good people, devoted to their families, who simply wish to live in peace. The same is true of my Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant friends.

My own parents immigrated happily to America many decades ago from southern Lebanon, an area from which the first Christians came 2,000 years ago. Their families were deeply rooted in the Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. My father was proud of his American citizenship, which he got by joining the U.S. Army not long after he came from Lebanon.

One of my relatives, a delightful traditional Irish Catholic who went to Mass every morning, served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. His destroyer came under Kamikaze attack and he lost some of his buddies. It was hard for him to forgive the Japanese. Fifty years after World War II, when I took him to an old car museum, he refused to go into the showroom displaying Japanese cars. He eventually got over it, and now some of his children and grandchildren are driving Japanese cars, watching Japanese television sets, and using Japanese cameras. And now the Japanese are good and honorable friends of America. Time marches on!

Surely it should be possible for feminist-rights countries to live in peace with patriarchal countries which, whatever their faults, at least do not tolerate abortion.

Cal Samra

Portage, Michigan


Mr. Samra roundaboutly accuses the NOR of not supporting peace efforts, not supporting the bridge-building efforts of John Paul II, not being mindful of all those good Jewish and Muslim families who simply wish to live in peace, and of being like his relative who couldn’t “forgive the Japanese.”

Let’s be clear: We did not criticize efforts to foster peace and understanding between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. (We support this!) We criticized a group that was misrepresenting Christianity from the get-go — in educational materials used to edify mostly unchurched Americans (including young people) and perhaps some recent immigrants from Muslim lands. There can be no peace if the “understanding” is built on lies, such as implying that Jesus is somehow a warmonger or that Christian women aren’t much better off than their counterparts in Muslim nations who enjoy few human rights.

No Conflict, No Reconciliation

It’s clear that Toby J. Russo (letter, Oct.) misunderstood my letter (Jul.-Aug.) on the subject of the social teachings of the Church. Mr. Russo charges me with a “loose application” of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 25:31-46 to supporters of capitalism. Actually I said the following: “The case can even be made that Catholic conservatives who choose to ignore the Church’s social-justice teachings do so at their own peril.” My reference to capitalism was to point out that the Church rejects certain practices that she finds objectionable in various ideologies (cf. Catechism, no. 2425; note that the Church doesn’t condemn capitalism itself as an ideology). If by repeating these teachings I stand accused, then it’s a small price to pay for standing with the Church.

As to Russo’s question of how I would reconcile Matthew 25:31-46 with 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (“If any man will not work, neither let him eat”), I gladly acknowledge that I prefer to go to the Church for proper interpretation of these apparently conflicting teachings. In Matthew 25, Jesus admonishes us to perform what the Church calls the corporal works of mercy. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible explains that “by serving others we serve Christ; by performing works of mercy we hope to find mercy.” Of 2 Thessalonians 3:10, the same Ignatius Catholic Study Bible states the following: “Paul addresses an embarrassing situation in the Thessalonian Church. Certain be­lievers…became idlers, who stopped working for a living, freeloaders who relied on the charity of others to support themselves, and busybodies…. Paul insists that they should return to work, earn their own living and mind their own business.”

It is clear that we’re dealing with two distinct situations. In Matthew 25, Jesus is calling all of us to be merciful if we want to find mercy in Him (see also Lk. 6:38: “For the measure you give will be the measure you get back”). Paul, on the other hand, is addressing a problem with those who are not only abusing charity but also meddling in other people’s business. There is nothing to reconcile between these two Bible passages because there’s no conflict between them. We must resist the temptation to quote Bible verses (and people) out of context, for in doing so we may satisfy an immediate personal need, but we will be held accountable for it to Jesus the Just Judge.

It is a fact that Catholics choose to ignore Church teachings at their own peril. I never claimed in my first letter that social justice and Church teachings are easy, for I’m aware of what Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:14: “For the way is narrow and the gate is hard, that leads to life….” At the same time, I’m also mindful that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (cf. Mt. 11:30).

Manuel Perez

El Paso, Texas

Who "Hijacked" Vatican II?

Judging by Arthur C. Sippo’s smug review of Fr. Emery de Gaál’s Theology of Benedict XVI: The Chris­to­­centric Shift (Oct.), casuistry has become worse than ever and confusion reigns. We need to remember the statement of St. Justin Martyr that the Scriptures were from the Hebrews but God gave philosophy to the Hellenes. If the framework of Greek philosophy had not been built around the New Testament, Christianity would have been reduced to a Jewish sect and its worldwide triumph among the nations would never have happened. I say this purely on the basis of history.

One gets the impression that Dr. Sippo does not put much trust in philosophy and systematic theology; he insists that patristics and scriptural studies are more important. Of course, he seems to believe that the Pope is on his side. To me that means little. After the catastrophic failure of Vatican II, at which the young peritus Joseph Ratzinger, according to Sippo, was closely associated with the utter heretic Karl Rahner, the equally dubious Yves Congar, and the arch-apostate Hans Küng, we are told that the future Pope was “troubled.” This forces one to ask why he was not “troubled” much earlier. This pontiff and his celebrated predecessor were phenomenologists, but after being elected to the papacy they suddenly became Thomists.

Sippo states that “reactionaries” tried to “hijack” the Council at its beginning. The foolishness of this remark is obvious. We know from unimpeachable historians of the Council that at the very beginning the agenda created by Pope John XXIII and his advisors was attacked and then set aside. Cardinal Ottaviani was one of those advisors. Sippo indicates that the radicals at the Council, led by a Dutchman, were correct in scuttling the original agenda and instituting a free-for-all wherein the radicals could make inroads — which they did!

Of course, there are as many different versions of what took place as there are historians of the Council. Sippo’s account is one of many. The question remains: Who “hijacked” the Council? We know that one newspaper rejoiced at the catastrophe known as Vatican II: L’Unita, the official mouthpiece of the PCI, the Italian Communist Party. Yes, our enemies knew what would follow, and that is what we have today.

Michael Suozzi

La Mesa, California


While various types of philosophy have been of use to the Catholic Church, what has been utterly indis­pensible is divine revelation. And the ultimate divine revelation was Jesus Christ, God Incarnate. That is the whole point of the Christocentric turn. Christianity at its heart must be centered on the revelation of God in Christ and not on man-made systems of thinking.

This confusion of man-made systems with the truth of the Gospels was precisely the error of the 16th-century Protestants. They became so enamored of their own vaunted theologies that they failed to realize that their primary loyalty was to the Christ in His Catholic Church.

Philosophy is not the queen of the sciences. That honor belongs to theology. Philosophy is the handmaid of theology and must always take a secondary place in the teachings of the Church. It is no accident that various philosophies have been used by the Church (e.g., Aristotelian, Platonic, Augustinian, Thomist, Sco­tian, Suarezian, phenomenological, and personalist), philosophies that are mutually exclusive in certain matters. For example, the elucidation of the relationship between nature and grace has been most successfully done by Thomists, while the development of Marian dogmas has proceeded using Scotian methodologies.

In the period prior to Vatican II there was an unhealthy dependence on Neo-Thomist methods and the various Manuals of Theology. This system of thinking was rigorous and came to sharp and unerring conclusions. So much so that other ways of doing theology were considered suspect and were often silenced just because they did not tow the Neo-Thomist line.

In retrospect, we can see that the Neo-Thomisms of men like Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Etienne Gilson, and Jacques Maritain were not faithful to St. Thomas’s original insights. For instance, Cajetan denied that there was any natural desire in man to know God, despite St. Thomas’s explicit words to the contrary. A true Catholic places his faith and trust in God and not in his own efforts.

The pre-conciliar Church had become shackled with rationalistic methodologies in theology, which many of those entrenched in the curia had confused with Catholic orthodoxy. The study of Scripture and patristics was suppressed out of fear that this was a reversion to a heterodox primitivism, which the modern Neo-Thomist method had rendered virtually obsolete. Anyone who attempted to try a different methodology in theology risked being vilified as a “modernist.”

Indeed, there was plenty of heterodoxy rampant in the world at the time, for which the Manuals were a strong antidote. But the old guard in the curia and the hierarchy were throwing the baby out with the bath water. Not every new idea was a modernist error.

The papal Magisterium had (in some cases reluctantly) acted as a counterpoint to the strict methods of the Manualists. The Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption owed more to John Duns Scotus than to St. Thomas Aquinas. The Popes became more concerned with social issues, echoing the scriptural calls to poverty in spirit. And the advance of Scripture studies received support in encyclicals and in the formation of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council for the explicit purpose of confronting the modern world and updating the Church’s understanding of herself and the deposit of faith. It was his intention to end the dialectical retrenchments that had marked the theological cold war between the Catholic Church and the scions of the Protestant Reformation. It was time to stop being fossilized in the 17th century and to prepare to meet the challenges of the coming third Christian millennium.

The old guard tried to hijack this program by drawing up the same old ideas using the same old methods and presenting this as a fait accompli to the Council Fathers. Ottaviani and his fellows wanted to wrap this whole thing up as quickly as possible so that things could return to “normal.” If they could get the Council Fathers to vote placet on their formulas, there would be no need for long discussions or for introducing “novel” ideas. The Council they envisioned was to be over before it even started.

The young turks among the periti (including Joseph Ratzinger) were able to muster support among the bishops to table the old guard’s proposal and draw up new ones. Pope John supported them. There were, however, many missteps during and after the Council. Some alliances broke up precisely because some progressive theologians (Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Ratzinger, et al.) wished to remain faithful to Catholic tradition while exploring new ideas.

The use of personalism and phenomenology introduced a more dynamic view of the person and the flow of history than the more static views of the scholastics. This new understanding of the dignity of the human person before God led to positive developments in ecumenism, the right of religious liberty, and the Church’s teaching about human sexuality and marriage.

Despite Mr. Suozzi’s dismissive remarks, Vatican II was generally a success. No, not everything went smoothly; there have been many tragic causalities. But the documents of the Council are masterworks of Catholic thinking that opened up new avenues of thought and practice. We have yet to fully comprehend them or put them into practice.

Yes, Mr. Suozzi, the Catholic Church is no longer that comfortable static ghetto that you and I both remember from the 1950s. It is now a dynamic place where the faithful take risks for the sake of the Gospel. The full benefits of Vatican II have not yet arrived. But we Catholics are more solidly biblical, more informed about our past, more active in the liturgy, and are being called to see the meaning of the world itself summed up in Christ. As you have noted, even the communists praised Vatican II — that is, just before they faded away into the dustbin of history.

I highly recommend that you read Fr. de Gaál’s book Theology of Benedict XVI: The Christocentric Shift. It has become a personal favorite of mine. In it you will find a detailed description of what really happened at the Council and why it had to happen. Maybe this will help put your mind and soul at ease.

The Penal Monastery

In regard to the surprising number of prisoners who write letters to the editor with thought-provoking insights, two circumstances become evident: (1) Some, conceivably many, prisoners have repented of their sins and are willingly atoning. (2) Prison environments may or may not be harsh, but the individual prisoner retains his free will and cannot be coerced into sin.

A prisoner who repents, even one imprisoned unjustly, lives a life much like that of a monk who is devoted to God. In his enforced isolation, he is free of many worldly distractions, and if willing can devote his day to God.

We would do well to imitate such a prisoner by including God, His works, and His love in our thoughts throughout the day.

David C. Jennings

Charlestown, New Hampshire

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