America: An Aid to Salvation
The wide-ranging character of James J. Thompson Jr.’s July-August book review (“Can a Catholic be a True American?”) makes it difficult to give a brief answer to his concluding question: “Did anyone ever get to heaven for being a good American?”
One tentative answer, though, is this: I think that, under God’s Providence, two prominently mentioned Catholic leaders, Archbishop John Carroll and James Cardinal Gibbons, probably did get to heaven at least in part for being good Americans. Further, I suspect — and hope — that many, many Catholics have been helped on their way to heaven by being good, law-abiding American citizens — loyally but not uncritically observing the best American traditions, even as Gibbons was loyal and authentically Catholic (but not obsequious to Rome).
Another point: the review perhaps overemphasizes the role of the Right in anti-Catholicism: “the Know Nothings, Kluxers, fundamentalists, anti-Communists and…right wingers of the most recent vintage.” Today’s anti-Catholics are more apt to be much more sophisticated and come from backgrounds other than the above “usual suspects.” Too, there is less justification for the contemporary “antis” than for the 19th-century Know Nothings. The latter’s “hostile reaction” to the early immigrants was guaranteed by the overwhelming numbers of Irish and the socio-economic problems they brought with them. But some recent anti-Catholic actions have been against persons and beliefs that are precisely identified as “Catholic.” One example: Right-to-Lifers who are Catholic have been unnecessarily identified as such by the establishment press, and their Catholic views are disdained. Arguably, we are living in a post-Protestant, secular world — no longer in the America of the City Upon a Hill and the New Zion. Accordingly, to answer your title question: It’s possible, but certainly not easy, that a “Catholic can be a true American.”
St. Anthony Parish
Soul-Searching About The Military
I just had to write to thank Martin Young for his July-August letter on his personal experience with war.
My only son is 20 years old, a university student, and a Selective Service System registrant. If he is ever called upon to serve in a draft, he has said he will claim CO status. He is a Catholic, raised in a Catholic family. The simple act of his registration on a U.S. Postal Service form caused both him and me a lot of soul-searching about the nature of our short lives on earth arc about the message of Christ.
I have a brother who left college studies for a year in 1969, the year my son was born, and lived with me for a while. He lost his student deferment from the draft for Vietnam and was subject to a “call-up” at any time. While I tried to find draft counselors to give him honest, legal advice, my parents said to me on the phone one day, “Maybe the Army would be good for him…help him to discipline himself and grow up.” I listened respectfully and watched television as full body bags returned to U.S. ports. His number was not called. He is now a medical writer, husband, and father.
A respected pediatrician, to whom I took my children for medical care in the late 1960s, left a successful practice and moved to Canada with his family and draft-age son. His decision made an indelible impression on me as a new parent of young children.
The Defense Department’s jargon sounds increasingly hollow and bizarre in 1989. I have been struck by the odd and paradoxical reaction of military men and their families when some were recently called upon to perform duties of a dangerous nature in the Middle East and Central America. The military is considered such a way of life even in these comparatively peaceful times that the threat of actually having to do what one is trained to do appears disconcerting, traumatic, and somehow unfair. (I will forego a detailing of how good and safe even that training appears to be.) Have we allowed military life to become a respectable alternative welfare existence to some extent?
Martin Young’s writing of that letter was a brave act.
Carolyn G. Carroll
Missouri City, Texas
The first NOR I received had one of the installments of Dale Vree’s odyssey to East Germany and back home again. That series fascinated me and told me this magazine and its writers are special. The article by Christopher Lasch on the obsolescence of Left and Right told of a similar journey. I’d read a number of things by Lasch previously, and had been impressed by his perception and social values.
I have felt a friendship of some sort with each and every contributor to the NOR, and I’ve read nearly every word of every issue I’ve received. I feel most close philosophically and spiritually to Sheldon Vanauken. I have been touched by the quiet, strong faith — and apparent sadness of Henri Nouwen. I would like to meet John Cort to see if he ever smiles, and maybe to argue with him.
I also want to express my gratitude to all the other NOR writers, notably James J. Thompson Jr., Robert Coles, and Christopher Derrick.
Charles L. Hatheway
American Priest-Heroes: Where?
I must take issue with John C. Cort’s criticism of Leonardo Boff (“Leonardo Boff, Harvey Cox, & Liberation Theology,” July-Aug.). Cort disagrees with Boff’s view, as summarized by Cox, that, “The leader or priest must be part of the community and should do nothing without its support.” Cort responds: “I immediately envisioned a poor embattled pastor in a Boston suburb who is trying to persuade his flock to go along with some low-income housing that would bring black folks into their lily-white midst.”
I am not familiar with any such mythical pastoral heroics, but for every such noble shepherd, I can show Cort 100 less-than-noble shepherds who have never even asked themselves the simple question, “Why is my flock so lily-white?”
Quarrels With Cort
Regardless of what John Cort wrote in his July-August column about Harvey Cox’s The Silencing of Leonardo Boff, I enjoyed the book even more than I expected and found it quite fair to Cardinal Ratzinger.
Contrary to Cort’s implications, the reason the Church has lasted for 2,000 years is due to the infinite patience and mercy of God, not to its form of government. It is constantly in need of reform, and the prophets have never been tactful or welcomed by those in authority, neither before Christ nor since.
Paul did not hesitate to admonish Peter when the occasion demanded it. The authority which Jesus gave to the Twelve is limited by his requirements in Mark 10:-42-45.
If Cort will read pages 150-151 of Theology and the Church by Juan Luis Segundo, his remarks about Cuba will find a good reply.
Patricia M. Leiper, Librarian
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