Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: March 1993

March 1993

Snotty, Snide

Am I the only reader who wonders why you chose to publish the myopic, snotty ar­ticle by Raymond T. Gawronski (“An Exile from America Re­turns for the Holidays,” Dec. 1992)?

Along with cheap shots at the “American Catholic Church,” his judgmental atti­tude toward his native country is narrow and condescending.

If he really thinks that Rome is the criterion by which all else is judged and mea­sured, then my point is prov­en.

Martin T. Cullen

Lake Park, Minnesota

Reading the December 1992 is­sue, I was so struck by the differences between Brett Webb-Mitchell’s “Searching for a Pearl of Great Price” and the ensuing “An Exile from Ameri­ca Returns for the Holidays” that I had to commit my feel­ings to paper. In the former article, compassion and re­sponsibility are the compelling central themes. The author’s concerns are for real problems and the balm is love. In the latter report, Fr. Raymond Gawronski, an apparently ur­bane world traveler, snidely contrasts his native New York to the “healing” environment of Rome. While casually chang­ing the scenes and professing his love for his homeland, Gawronski busily drops the papal name, refers to his fre­quent-flier mileage, and at­tempts to paint a picture of erudite and recondite under­standing dredged from years of profound study. He finishes with: “We got lazy and cruel, began to fall apart. Like Rome once upon a time.” If he had but introspected a bit, Gawron­ski would have been able to apply the quote to himself, a man supported by the Church who has lost touch with the real world and feeds off mem­ories of perceived anti-Polish bigotry. The loss of an Ameri­can with Gawronski’s skills and learning is always a matter for sorrow. On the other hand, the loss of an American with Gawronski’s heart will proba­bly not be noticed.

Henry Schultz

St. Bede's Catholic Church

Saugus, California

RAYMOND T. GAWRONSKI REPLIES: Regarding Martin Cullen’s letter: I don’t think “that Rome is the criterion by which all else is judged and measured.” Yet, even as an earthly city, Rome’s millennia of civilization might have something to commend it. I tried to indicate in the article that the Old World could take some lessons from the New in matters of civic virtue, as seen in public courtesy. I do confess that Rome’s bishop faithfully preaches the criterion by which all else that really matters is judged and measured, and that all other cities would do well to listen to his voice, and, yes, be measured by the yardstick with which he walks, a cruci­fix. Henry Schultz’s letter makes me rejoice that “the thoughts out of many hearts” are being revealed. He moves with compassion and balm for those he likes, yet turns quite venomous and mean-spirited to someone who offends him, finally exiling me to outer darkness. Well, such is the stance of many who consider themselves “nice.”

U.S. Air War College


I very much appreciated Fr. Raymond Gawronski’s “An Exile from American Returns for the Holidays” (Dec. 1992). He identified signs of something amiss at the heart of history — the ruins through which Walk­er Percy’s Dr. Thomas More made his sometimes wayward way. Grotesque and evil forms are rising out of time’s flow, and beauty is clouded.

William D. Miller

Lloyd, Florida

Fr. Raymond Gawronski’s analysis (Dec. 1992) of our national character only makes me wish that the world tour or the year abroad (better make it two!) were an obligatory part of all college curricula. Four years in Rome, not all of them “nice,” let Gawronski know beyond quibble or qualm the gifts and glitches of one’s country seen through other eyes, the better to view them with one’s own.

Rev. R. Francis Muench

Williamsburg, Virginia

Because Fr. Raymond Ga­wronski is first of all a Catholic priest, ordained to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, he is right to be discomfited by his experience of a group of Catholics “marching confidently” to the altar as he was saying Mass, there to “take charge” of the Eucharist (Dec. 1992). Surrounded by such parishioners (“no doubt all very nice”), what could Fr. Gawronski really do but “shrivel, wither, disappear back in [his] chair against the backboard of the sanctuary”?

Rhetorically, let me ask: If these Catholics had a true con­ception of the sacerdotal priest­hood, would they still give themselves license to circle around an officiating priest as if they themselves were concelebrating priests? Would they still stigive themselves license to “take charge of the Eucharist”? In his Summa, Thomas Aquinas explains why what Fr. Gawronski calls a lay “help yourself” approach to the Blessed Sacrament is disrespectful. “As the consecration of Christ’s Body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him.” Moreover, “because out of reverence for this sacrament, nothing touches it but what is consecrated…it is not lawful for anyone else [but the conse­crated priest] to touch it, except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other cases of urgency.”

Let me also propose a thesis. The flaws in the Novus Ordo Missae, in particular the Novus Ordo‘s failure to com­municate the sacrificial charac­ter of the Eucharist adequately, have given many Catholics the false impression that the priest is a mere presider over the assembled faithful, and not a consecrator. That is, deficiencies in the new liturgy have given many Catholics the impression that the priest is merely a representative of the assembled faithful when the truth is quite otherwise: Acting in persona Christi, that is, representing Christ, the priest performs, by his words of consecration, the unbloody immolation by which Christ Himself is rendered present on the altar in the state of a victim. This unbloody immolation — Christ’s unique sacrifice on Calvary made present — is performed by the priest alone, and by the priest insofar as he acts in the name of Christ, not insofar as he represents the faithful.

John F. Maguire

Richmond, California

The End of the Concordat

Congratulations to Gordon Zahn for his excellent article “On the Need for a Papal Encyclical Condemning the Heresy of Nationalism” (Dec. 1992). I was head of education and religious affairs in the U.S. military government in Bavaria. As such, I worked very closely with Cardinal Faulhaber, who had been against the Con­cordat signed with Nazi Ger­many, saying that it was im­possible to sign a treaty with the devil.

The Cardinal requested that I accompany him on his ad limina visit to the Holy See. I did so with the approval of the U.S. military government. On this occasion I met with the Holy Father and the papal Secretary of State. We dis­cussed the Concordat. At this time some conservative Catho­lics were pressing for a renew­al of the Concordat, which would have given the Bavarian State the right to review any candidate for bishop in Bavar­ia.

I pointed out to the papal Secretary of State that the Con­cordat, which was the first recognition of Hitler by a state, was a treaty, and that under the Potsdam Agreement all treaties made by the Nazis were invalid. This was the end of the Concordat.

The failure of the Catholic Church to recognize the evil of nationalism is one of the greatest errors of all time. The complicity of the Catholic Church (e.g., Cardinal Spellman) in an unjust war (Vietnam) is a classic example of the way Catholics have joined in nationalism’s “My Country, Right or Wrong.”

Let us hope and pray that the Holy Father will issue an encycli­cal condemning nationalism. If not, may God help us all.

James M. Eagan

Palmer, Massachusetts

Silly Zahn

Gordon Zahn does your readers a significant service in arguing strongly against the false god of nationalism (Dec. 1992).

In my recent book, The Sword and the Cross: Reflections on Command and Conscience (Praeger, 1992), I argue that “to say ‘Thy will be done!’ (without any reservation whatever), while perhaps a religious good when said to and in the serv­ice of Almighty God, is the ul­timate idolatry when said to and in the service of the al­mighty state. Only God can combine perfect power with perfect justice; when the state — and its mortal leaders — have perfect power we may be sure only of the antithesis of justice, which is corruption.”

What troubles me is thus not Zahn’s thesis — but what he does with it. First, he ut­terly confuses the virtue of patriotism with the vice of jingoism. Second, in a fit of ethical autism, he attempts to condemn the United States for participating in the Gulf War and to impugn American “couch potatoes,” who became “ecstatic patriots” because of their vicarious involvement, via television, in the war. One seeks forlornly in his polemical piece for some hint that per­haps resistance to the designs and depredations of Saddam Hussein was not foolish, igno­ble, or wicked. Zahn apparent­ly remains undisturbed at the thought of Saddam’s well-doc­umented butcheries, environ­mental despoliations, and egomaniacal geopolitical plans.

Had the Iraqis triumphed in their destruction of Kuwait (and the Kuwaitis), the impli­cations for the U.N., the Mid­dle East, and much of the rest of the world were and are not difficult to grasp for thousands of people in dozens of coun­tries around the globe. Zahn’s hysterical dismissal of such people as “couch potatoes” is offensive. But Zahn cares little, apparently, about the conse­quences to others of reckless aggression by tyrants. Enthusi­ast and zealot for pacifism that he is, Zahn is willing to sacrifice anyone else’s liberty and life to advance the cause of his own idol: false peace (as in Jeremiah 8:11).

Zahn has argued cogently and correctly for some years about the horrors of remorse­less violence. But he has failed over the years to see the hor­rors of remorseless peace. Had Zahn been the Samaritan de­scribed by Luke (10:30-37) — and present during, not just after, the beating given to the man who needed succor — one supposes that an adjective other than “good” might have been applied forever after to the Samaritan. Love of neigh­bor can — and often must — mean defense of neighbor, whether German Jew or Ku­waiti Muslim. Violence, like patriotism and fire, can be good or evil; what matters is how and when and for what it is employed. Thousands of people freed from Nazi concen­tration camps and thousands of Kuwaitis will testify that mili­tary power can be both great evil and great deliverer. The distinction between the two — which escapes Zahn — will always, I hope, be an integral part of American Catholic col­lege education, despite his benighted appeal to eliminate officer training from our cam­puses. (Would Zahn argue that if we stopped teaching doctors, educators, and police, perhaps we could eliminate disease, ignorance, and crime?) It is bad enough when Zahn is wrong; it is particularly vexing when he is silly.

Love of neighbor is the es­sence of genuine patriotism, which Zahn zealously and fal­laciously identifies with in­flamed nationalism. St. Thomas Aquinas understood patriotism as a form of piety and that we are thus obligated to love God, parents, and fatherland, for each causes or ought to cause us to grow: God creates us; parents procreate and educate us; and fatherland forms our cultural and historic identity.

Is it possible simultaneous­ly to be a patriotic citizen and a loyal son or daughter of the Church? In search of an an­swer, Zahn need look no further than to the Holy Fa­ther, the “Polish Pope,” who knows that being a Christian, a good human being, a conscien­tious citizen, and an honorable soldier are not only simultane­ously possible but often vitally necessary.

Prof. James H. Toner

Montgomery, Alabama

Ed. Note: Far from equating pa­triotism with jingoism, Zahn said that “true love of one’s country and devotion to its patriotic tradi­tions are defiled” by jingoism. While Zahn is a pacifist, his arti­cle could have been written by a nonpacifist. It’s ironic that you should appeal to Pope John Paul II, for, in essence, the charges you level at Zahn for his stance on the Gulf War could be leveled at John Paul, who vociferously and repeat­edly opposed that war.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

Regarding the column by Lutheran John Warwick Mont­gomery (Dec. 1992): He finds Arch­bishop George Carey theologi­cally incorrect in using the term “heresy” to describe the opposition to the ordination of women priests. No matter that this was a breath of fresh air. Montgomery’s academic/legal nitpicking appears more im­portant to him than the spirit of the Gospel, which, I believe, Carey’s position represents.

I’m not familiar with the Anglican Church’s ministry among the Jews, of which Montgomery speaks, but sup­porting such a mission in this post-Holocaust world shows a distressing ignorance of the history of Christian anti-Sem­itism. I doubt that one could extract from Scripture that one should proceed with this type of evangelization without re­gard to how hurtful it is to “others.” As an Anglican, I’m ashamed to be connected with such a mission, no matter how remotely, and celebrate that Carey disassociated himself from it.

I don’t know if Carey is as good as he should be. I doubt I am; Montgomery certainly is not.

M.A. Andersen

Calgary, Alberta

Unwise Harshness

In addressing the views of the Anglican Bishop of Dur­ham and the comfort some Muslims feel at discerning therein their own views of Jesus, John Warwick Mont­gomery takes sufficient um­brage in his November 1992 column to score off Islam as “false religion.” Why not just unsul­lying reference to “another religion”?

I do not wish to be uncharitable in my reproach. A certain undeniable measure of satisfaction can always be had from righteously calling a spade a spade. I am sure Montgomery finds it possible to see other believers as analo­gous and even contiguous to himself. I am sure he would feel uncomfortable if he be­lieved he was objectifying oth­ers and their beliefs. Undoubt­edly, the stands taken by the offending Anglican bishop sorely affect bottom-line Chris­tian belief — even “the facts,” if you will. And surely the Islamic Propagation Centre seems to have displayed unworthy smugness in engag­ing the issue.

Still, in efforts to restrain creeping heterodoxy within the fold, and in order to avoid ex­pressions of unwise harshness to those outside it, perhaps Montgomery will in the future harry the opposition in more apposite and effective ways.

R.N. Fournier

Tottenham, Ontario

Homesick for Fundamentalism

I came out of the char­ismatic, born-again movement 12 years ago, as a widow, to marry a Catholic judge. So I have been a Catholic for 12 years. Jim Manney, in his let­ter on Catholics and funda­mentalism (Dec. 1992), is right: Catholics do look down on fundamentalists (which, of course, I am). It’s been pretty hard to take, as I have found most Catholics to know nearly zero about their faith, and lack any real joy of faith or assur­ance of Heaven, instead hop­ing they will do enough good works to get into Purgatory.

After 12 years and my husband’s death, I am serious­ly thinking about leaving the Catholic Church and returning to the Assemblies of God, which has been such a haven for charismatics. Once a fundamentalist, always a funda­mentalist, I guess.

The pity is, I have come to believe that the truth lies in both the Catholic and fun­damentalist churches, even if that truth is deeply buried in the Catholic Church — “few there be that find it.”

JoJean DeCristoforo

Sacramento, California

Evangelical Decline Revisited

Regarding Ronald E. Wil­son’s letter (Nov. 1992): Christianity Today is an all right evangelical magazine as far as it goes, but it’s a terrible thing that the best known Christian magazine should be a news magazine. Is there really no content in Christianity to discuss, explain, and debate? Should a Christian college student taking an evo­lution class really have sixth-grade faith?

I watched my favorite evangelical magazine, InterVar­sity’s His, die at the onset of the affluent 1990s. Its heyday was in the 1970s, when InterVarsity Press produced books for college students which en­gaged the mind, John Warwick Montgomery’s History and Christianity among them, books that taught not only what to think but how. Now, however, that publisher produces “is­sues” books for lost yuppies.

In America we “vote” with our wallets, and it was an ironic thing for me to see the Christians who declined to support His “voting” instead for Time. I console myself that they likely subscribed to get the free radio, but they have nevertheless helped make Time Warner the empire it is today. Whatever Time is, it’s not His magazine.

Gord Wilson

Bellingham, Washington

Sex, Nature's Way

When I hear that sex is essentially an expression of love, and therefore indiscrimi­nate sex is acceptable because “Christ’s message…is that we are to act ultimately in a loving way toward everyone” (letter by L. Anne Hepler, Dec. 1992), I want to hoot: Well, Ms. Hep­ler, you mentioned your grandfather — did you have sex with him?

Actually, promiscuous sex­ual behavior and a fortiori ac­companying sex-education programs comprise the worst pollution on the planet, if one can grasp the confluence of ecological concerns with natu­ral law. Indeed, nature has some obvious messages about sexuality in the animal king­dom, of which humans are a part: (1) Sexual behavior is repro­duction oriented. (2) Masturba­tion is not. (3) Homosexuality is not. (4) Males persistently prowl for sex but defer to fe­males. (5) Females jealously guard their sexuality and control sexual behavior precise­ly for the species. (6) Females are offspring oriented. (7) Fe­males do not imitate the sexual patterns of males. (8) Higher animals tend to pair-up for life. (9) Males and females comple­ment one another in the best interest of the species.

Living in an environmen­tally sound manner and in tune with the planet means more than what is done with one’s garbage — it means that human sexual behavior also conforms to planetary norms in nature; otherwise it indeed is pollution.

Looking at the whole sex-education phenomenon today, I think youth would be better served by recognizing our alleged “evolutionary,” plane­tary, natural roots, and teasing out from nature the messages about sexuality which become so obvious. Amazingly, only the Roman Catholic Church teaches sexuality in a way that is consistent with nature, the planet, and natural law — because all are the same.

Samuel A. Nigro, M.D.

Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Unitarians for Jesus

In making his point that American optimism has neg­atively affected American Ca­tholicism, John S. McDonald (guest column, Jan.-Feb. 1993) mis­represents Unitarian Universal­ism. He is evidently unaware of the diversity within contem­porary Unitarian Universalism. In saying that the Bible is not authoritative for us, he ignores the fact that we embrace the Judeo-Christian tradition as one of our five primary streams. Some of us, including the undersigned, are Chris­tians. The Unitarian and Uni­versalism traditions of heretical Christianity are alive and well. Information about Unitarian Universalist Christianity is available from: Unitarian Uni­versalist Christian Fellowship, 110 Arlington St., Boston MA 02116.

David A. Neal Jr.

Lakewood, California

Theories of Everything in Conflict

While the Holy See par­dons Galileo for suggesting that the earth travels around the sun, Theodore Rebard, in his review of John Barrow’s Theories of Everything (Dec. 1992), carries on the struggle between religion and science.

Rebard is alarmed by Barrow’s statement that some physicists aim to “unite all the laws of Nature into a single statement that reveals the in­evitability of everything that was, is, and is to come in the physical world.” No wonder. Even I feel an impulse to murmur “forever and ever, Amen” after such a statement. Let us leave aside the possibili­ty that the quote was, at the very least, taken out of context (it is unlikely that a completely deterministic physics will be successfub~ Rebard’s own “theory of everything,” that is, his personal flavor of theology, has been challenged, and he spends the rest of his review putting physicists in their place.

Rebard frets that physicists are blurring the boundaries be­tween science and philosophy. There never was a boundary. Physics, with its roots in ‘Na­tural Philosophy,” remains a deeply philosophical pursuit. While the majority of working physicists are not interested in the philosophical aspects of their profession, some, espe­cially those breaking new theoretical ground, must neces­sarily confront the philosophi­cal implications of their work. Science is built on innumerable assumptions and principles. When a scientific principle is challenged, as Newtonian de­terminism was challenged by quantum mechanics, the un­derlying philosophy of science must be re-examined. When physicists do so, they are not trespassing on another disci­pline’s turf; they are simply doing their job.

With a clever, though im­perfect, argument, Rebard re­duces physics to the “con­fection of a theory which will work as an instrument for pre­diction, retrodiction, and appli­cation to the practical world.” This “physics” is what one of my professors dismissed as “mere engineering.” Rebard ar­rives at this conclusion by creating an artificial distinction between the physical and “transphysical” world. But if one doesn’t create the distinc­tion, there is no contradiction. The real challenge to physics is the work of Goedel and others, which says that any internally consistent physics will contain some aspects which are un­knowable.

The remainder of the re­view is mudslinging. Physics, in having been reduced to a mere “instrument,” has “lost…any claim to an inherently rightful place…among the disciplines of the mind and the schools.” Rebard holds that a pragmatic physics can be responsible for the “social domination by a given sector,” in his example, white males.

That may be true. Any “discipline of the mind” can be an “instrument” for social domination or other ill pur­poses. Even theology. The mission system in California during Spanish rule is only one of many examples of the ignorant misuse of this noble discipline.

Let us set aside the turf war between science and reli­gion. It benefits no one. As a religious person, I allow sci­ence to deepen my under­standing of the nature of reali­ty. If my faith is shaken when I learn that the earth orbits the sun, I re-examine the founda­tions of my faith. To simply denounce science would reveal me to be superstitious, not re­ligious. As a scientist, I allow religion to illuminate those many areas which are un­known, unknowable, or simply not addressed. To do otherwise would be to succumb to a superstition of science.

The irony is that the phys­icist’s “theory of everything” will, I believe, turn out to be as mystical as it is mathemati­cal. May the pursuit of such a “theory of everything” bring all of us, scientist and theologian, believer and unbeliever, closer to God, and closer to each other.

Nick Okasinski

Cupertino, California

Good Invective, But...

I could kiss David Hartman for his review of The Complete Gospels (Jan.-Feb. 1992). I love good invective, and I had thought I was the only one mad enough to draw a line from sophomoric anti-fundamentalism to Shirley MacLaine. But I still can’t show his review to my friends. Hartman has not decided himself on some premises which he seems to share with the Jesus Seminar, which he attacked. Actually, he’s in their tar baby, though he comes heart­breakingly close to getting out.

Fundamentalists and Jesus Seminarists agree on this: that it matters exactly what Jesus said; that the most superficial reading of Scripture is the primary reading. This view has not been held by any responsi­ble theologian within my knowledge, ever. The earliest and still one of the greatest (in spite of his problems with the Church in other areas), Origen, specifically repudiated it. It’s high time to catch up to him.

Hartman shows that he is still attached to this idea, in spots. He seems unable to believe that evangelists could put speeches in Jesus’ voice, somewhat as Thucydides does for Pericles, without being liars, complicit with liars, or ignorant. He jumps from this to the defense of the Resurrection itself, as though the latter depended on each and every word being “authentic” in the fundamentalist sense.

Let’s learn from the story in Luke 24:13-35. Here are a couple of fellows who pre­sumably have heard lots of words Jesus actually said. Probably not everything, but more than we have in all the Gospels, canonical or other­wise, combined. Does it help them? Not in the least. They look like they are leaving town, going back to their old jobs. They have the resurrected Lord Himself beside them. Does that help them? No, not that either. They get the point, at last, when the bread breaks, and all opportunities to ex­change mere words with Jesus vanish.

Now re-read the paragraph where Hartman gets it so right: The canon of the New Testa­ment was made by the Church; it is representative of the true and apostolic faith. Then, further down: The key question is, “Who do you say that I am?”

My sweet brothers in Christ: All this talk of actual words and superficies is not worthy of you. The importance of Jesus as Word is of a dif­ferent order. If you like, ima­gine that He furnished words to the Church later, far down the road. Everything in the canon is there to express the true and apostolic faith, based on the Resurrection. The resur­rected Lord, however He got that way, comes forcibly to each of us, as He had to do to the writers. I guess the com­monest way of learning this is to pray and let Him answer. This is done, of course, under that awful “ecclesiastical con­trol,” the bane of fundamental­ists.

The problem with the Jesus Seminar has little to do with words as actually spoken. It need not be attacked at that level. The greater problem is that it violates the integrity of “the true and apostolic faith,” which is at the foundation of the canon. This is not the first time that has been done. Readers of the NOR will be the first to recall Marcion, he of the second century (a real cut­ting-edge fellow), who carved up Scripture, created a hier­archy of authoritativeness among the bits, and rejected most of the bits. Thomas Jef­ferson, our Enlightenment President, did the same thing.

Oddly enough, the Jesus who is revealed this way usually turns out to be some­body easily acceptable to, say, William Ellery Channing — otherwise somebody who is gay, or who resembles the “critic” in some other way. The message is self-aggrandizing.

In the future, I adjure Hartman, come out from the baleful influence of this silly meso-American (there’s noth­ing Catholic about it) funda­mentalism. People’s lives are at stake.

Thomas Drew

Ventura, California

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