Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: July-August 2011

July-August 2011

The Trouble with Tyrannicide

Matthew Anger’s review of Phil­ipp Frieherr von Boeselager’s Val­kyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by Its Last Member (Apr.) turned out to be very timely. Unlike von Boeselager’s 1943 “Operation Val­kyrie” and Count Claus von Stauf­­fenberg’s 1944 plot against Hitler, “Operation Geronimo” to assassinate Osama bin Laden was successful but raises the same moral issues. I use the word “assassinate” deliberately because it appears to me that the orders given by the White House were to bring back Osama dead, not dead or alive. Why do I say this? The White House has not provided a full account of the operation and has changed its report on some points. It now appears that Osama was not armed, was not trying to escape, but was nevertheless dispatched by a bullet in the head.

Unquestionably, Osama was an evil man, and the U.S. Navy SEALs who killed him deserve praise for their courage and ability. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that the order was given to assassinate Osama rather than, if possible, take him prisoner. Even the tyrant Saddam Hussein was taken alive and tried in a court for his crimes. The obvious place to take a captured Osama would have been Guantanamo, and there have him tried by a military court. But that might have caused complications because candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign had pledged to close Guantanamo and cease military trials of terrorists.

In his review, Anger observes that “tyrannicide is a point that has not been fully settled by theologians, even after centuries of debate.” Nevertheless, unlike Philipp von Boese­lager, it appears that in the raid on the compound in Abbotabad, we had other, more morally acceptable, options than the one that was chosen.

Clarke N. Ellis

Bethesda, Maryland

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Regarding the discussion of the decline of daily newspapers (“The Death of the Daily Paper” by Cal Samra, Mar.; letters, May): The NOR was a beneficiary when I stopped buying The New York Times and applied the savings to Catholic media. The Times’s sneering front-page response to John Paul II’s apology for Catholic maltreatment of Jewish people was what woke me up to the fact that I was supporting propaganda hostile to the Church.

Whatever respect might have remained for the mainstream media has been totally eclipsed by its passivity toward, if not collusion with, the government’s pronouncements since 9/11. I used to feel sorry for the people of the U.S.S.R. who only had a government-controlled press to read. Today, I’d be more inclined to read Pravda than our own mainstream media to find out what’s going on in the U.S.

Henry Kelly

Bronx, New York

Christian Love & Military Aggression in Muslim Countries

I very much appreciated Andrew Bieszad’s article “Five Common Misconceptions About Islam” (May). Like many Americans, I had virtually no understanding of the precepts of this religion, and Mr. Bieszad’s concise contrast helped clarify some of the very startling differences between Islam and Christianity.

One of the most important concepts I learned concerns Islam’s aggressive stance against Christianity. Bieszad states that Islam teaches an “ingrained hatred of Christianity,” which is “unique among all the religions of the world.” Yet, at the same time, he was quick to note that Muslims do convert to Christianity, often because of the “love they found in the Bible and lived out among Christians.” This is good news and a testimony to the great faith and endurance of these Christian converts, many of whom are now facing great persecutions in Muslim-dominated countries.

As Catholics, we know we are expected to demonstrate Christ’s love in our lives, for it is this disinterested love that brings about conversion. As U.S. citizens, one important way we can demonstrate this love is by opposing all pre-emptive wars and conflicts conducted by our government overseas. Although reporters, congressmen, and think-tank employees might tell us we’re morally obligated to liberate “oppressed peoples,” this is obvious propaganda. As our selective interventions indicate, we’re fighting to serve corporate interests, period.

Meanwhile, Muslim leaders speak out in the media in their own countries about greedy Western nations and the horrible destruction resulting from our invasions. The difference is that they do have some sad, hard facts to support their claims: the destruction their citizens experience every day while their cities are under siege. Our war efforts enable these Muslim leaders to point to Christianity as the cause of greed and destruction, when in reality corporate domination rules. The horrifying result is the barrage of persecutions perpetrated against Christians living in Muslim nations.

Catholic teaching specifies that war is only justified as a response to invasion. While our country may have been attacked by a terrorist organization, we were most certainly not attacked by another nation. No foreign troops have landed on our soil, and our troops are not here defending our homeland. Our duty as American Catholics, therefore, is to stand in opposition to the pre-emptive wars fought by our country, wars that ultimately gain wealth and power for the rich, and promote the persecution and destruction of the foreign poor.

Toni McCarthy

Dallas, Oregon

Ignore Social Justice at Your Own Peril

I concur with the editor’s reply to Tom Bethell’s letter on Catholic social teaching (May), but it didn’t go far enough. Upon reading Bethell’s objections, I was reminded of what some disciples said when they didn’t like what they heard Jesus say: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn. 6:60).

The Catechism is very clear in describing what it regards as acceptable social justice, and it should not surprise us to find out that many people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, find this teaching hard to accept. For example, section 2425 states: “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism.'” This is the easy part. But then it goes on to say: “She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of ‘capitalism,’ individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.” This is the hard part.

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. Jesus tells us how, when He returns to judge all the nations (cf. Mt. 25:31-46), He is going to deal with those who didn’t take social justice seriously: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire…. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

It is clear, as Bethell says, that supporting abortion can lead to eternal death. It should also be clear to all Catholics that ignoring social justice can likewise lead to eternal death.

Manuel Perez

El Paso, Texas

Toying with Apostasy

Not many serious writers would even consider a work as ridiculous as Fr. Francis X. Clooney’s Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary. So hats off to the always incisive Anne Barbeau Gardiner (review, May) for pinching her nose and plunging into the oh so politically correct screed of this ivory-tower theologian who toys with apostasy from his lofty position in the theology department of Boston College (where, I presume from the review, he still teaches).

I am eagerly awaiting the reaction to Gardiner’s piece. Will Fr. Clooney’s colleagues or superiors defend or condemn him? Or, as is most likely, will there be silence?

Since Fr. Clooney has been teaching comparative theology since 1984, surely a discussion of his work will be illuminating to parents and grandparents who have grown skeptical about opening their wallets to so-called Catholic institutions of higher learning. I urge readers and academics to step forward and open the discussion. Are we willing to defend Mary and her place in Catholic theology?

Nora Ernst

Windsor, California

Temple Sacrifices: The Eucharistic Prototype

In his reply to readers (letters, May) who objected to certain opinions expressed in his review of The Development of the Liturgical Reform (Mar.), Arthur C. Sippo argues that the Passover Seder was the model used by Jesus when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. This is a rash assumption on the part of Dr. Sippo.

While the Passover Seder was indeed the occasion for the institution of the Eucharist, one cannot conclude from this that the Seder was the model for the Eucharist. The words “This is my body” appear nowhere in the Seder observance. In all likelihood, Jesus took the words “This is my body handed over for you” (1 Cor. 11:24) from formulaic words used in the Jerusalem Temple sacrifices of male animals. Certain of these weekly male animal sacrifices, we might recall, involved the ritual priestly use of wine and unleavened bread. These rites are the probable model for the Christian Eucharist.

In likening the altar in the Christian Church to the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple, fourth-century eucharistic liturgies in both the East and the West affirm the patristic tradition that the Holy of Holies was the prototype of the Christian altar. The Book of Revelations identifies the New Jerusalem of the heavenly kingdom with the Holy of Holies, thereby confirming that this patristic tradition goes back to apostolic times.

Helen Dietz

Oak Park, Illinois


Liturgical scholars have argued that the Mass is less like a Passover ritual than like a Jewish Todah or “thanksgiving” sacrifice. The Todah was a ritual in which the worshiper gave thanks to God for having been delivered from some great danger. Like the Passover, the Todah ritual involved the sacrifice of a lamb. There was also the consecration of sacred bread — although not unleavened bread — and a libation offering of wine. All these elements were not only sacrificed on the temple altar but were shared by the offerer and his family at a meal. The Greek word for “thanksgiving” is eucharistia. It was — and is — believed by the rabbis that when the Messiah comes, there will be no further need for sacrifices except for the Todah.

Of course, the Mass cannot simply be identified with the Todah ritual. There are many elements in the Mass that are unique to the Passover Seder. It is clear that the Last Supper was indeed the occasion of the institution of the Eucharist, but it also served as the model for the consecration as we practice it in the West. The words of institution, which are necessary for the validity of the Mass in the Latin rite, evoke the ritual actions that occur with the drinking of the Third Cup of wine at the Passover Seder. This is also called “the Cup of Blessing.” It is in fact St. Paul who identifies the cup of the Eucharist with this Third Cup (1 Cor. 10:16). This represents the blood of the Passover lambs that was shed to redeem Israel from her bondage in Egypt.

At this Third Cup, a portion of the unleavened matzoh, which had been broken off and hidden, is now taken out and eaten. This is in fact the very last solid food eaten at the Seder. In the time of Christ, a small sandwich was made with two pieces of this matzoh and the last remnant of the Passover lamb. Since the destruction of the Temple, only the mat­­zoh is consumed. This matzoh is called the afikomen. The Jewish people today still identify the afiko­men with the Passover lamb.

It should also be noted that the consuming of the afikomen is considered to be the beginning of the seven-day Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which begins the day after Passover. St. Paul tells us: “Clear out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7), and “Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8).

Many scholars consider the “festival” in 1 Corinthians 5:8 to be a reference to the Eucharist. It is upon this which the custom of using unleavened bread at the Eucharist was based in the West. This is also clearly stated in the Catechism of the Council of Trent. Furthermore, the Passover was not merely a memorial ritual. It was considered to be an essential “sacrament of initiation” for Jews in the same way we consider First Holy Communion to be for Catholics. In fact, the Jews believed that by participating in the Seder one was not merely remembering the events of the Passover but actually taking part in the original Passover event. This understanding of the Seder as “making present” the actual events of the original Passover is very similar to our understanding of the Mass as a “re-presentation” of the sacrifice of Christ.

There are several other parallels between the Last Supper, the Passover Seder, and the Mass, but I think what I have quoted shows that the Bible clearly links the Lord’s Supper of the early Church with the Passover. There are also important ritual features that are shared by the Mass and the Seder that are not referable to the Todah.

For reasons I am not able to explain, many Catholics are loathe to associate the Mass with the Seder, and they will go to great lengths to dissociate them from each other. It seems as though they are trying to sever any connection between Judaism and Christianity. Those who do this are clearly not thinking with the mind of the Church.

The Problem of Sinful Priests

It seems to me that it’s likely that a priest involved with a sinful lifestyle would not be in a state of grace when dispensing sacraments. Would that be a problem for those receiving them?

Morris E. Surnson

Houston, Texas


No, it would not. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” The Catechism elaborates: “From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister” (no. 1128).

Sacraments act ex opere operato — by the very fact that the action is performed — because it is Christ, and not fallen man, who communicates the grace that each sacrament signifies. Therefore, even an abuser priest, by virtue of his ordination — which confers upon him an indelible spiritual character that is permanent in nature — is capable of effectively administering sacraments while he is living out a sinful lifestyle. Such a priest can — and should — be removed from active ministry and barred from sacramental duties, but until such a time, the sacraments he administers are efficacious, despite his personal failings.

The Holy Spirit Is Not Confined to the Catholic Church

Thank you to Christopher Zehnder for his probing discussion of the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic Christians (“The Missionary Character of the Church,” May). Many Catholics don’t understand that the Spirit does work outside the “confines” of the Catholic Church and seem afraid to admit this. If we are confident that the true Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, then we should be able to rejoice in the Holy Spirit’s graceful action, wherever it takes place.

I would recommend reading sections 818 and 819 of the Catechism as a supplement to Zehnder’s article. For those who do not have a copy of the Catechism, the pertinent parts read:

· “One cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these [separated] communities…. All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church” (no. 818).

· “Many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church…. Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to ‘Catholic unity'” (no. 819; italics added).

Since recent popes have said that a growth in holiness among all Christians is the sine qua non for the unity Christ prayed for in John 17:21, let us rejoice in all the Spirit’s work, whether it be within or outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church.

Jack Abel

Wichita Falls, Texas

That Creationist Shoehorn

From time to time the NOR prints letters to the editor debating the merits of intelligent design versus Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution denies the possibility that life arose with help or direction from God or any intelligent source. As a Catholic and a retired mathematician, I believe that God created the different species by an instantaneous creative act of His will and did not require an extended period of time to accomplish this.

Yet many letter-writers try to shoehorn the creation of species into Darwin’s theory of evolution. Why? Scripture makes clear that God can create instantly and out of nothing. There are two cases in the Gospels in which Christ fed a multitude of people in a very short time even though He began with insufficient supplies. Add to that the exodus from Egypt: God fed the people with manna and fowl every day — and not once or twice but over a period of years. Where did all this food come from if God did not create it instantaneously from nothing?

If God did this for the Israelites wandering in the desert, why would He not have done it in the beginning, since this would clearly be much more efficient and direct than using evolution?

If one accepts Scripture as the authentic word of God, then one accepts the fact that God has no compunction about intervening in the affairs of mankind, as His relations with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, et al. indicate. The major intervention occurred, of course, with the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ’s miracles show that He is not reluctant at all to temporarily suspend or override the laws of physics.

So why this desperate attempt to shoehorn Genesis into the theory of evolution? Can someone answer this for me?

John Maloney

Omaha, Nebraska

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