Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: October 2011

October 2011

Like a Hot Meal

When my wife and I were traveling in New England recently, we checked the Internet and found a church, within driving distance, that offered Mass in the extraordinary form. Afterward, I spoke to the celebrant, an elderly priest, and asked him why there was only this one Mass in the state. Why doesn’t the diocese explore contact with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter? The priest replied candidly, “All the bishops in New England have an unwritten pact not to bring in any young conservatives” who can say this form of the Mass.

The New Oxford Note “Out of the Liturgical Ghetto” (Jul.-Aug.) about the wider use of the Latin Mass, especially in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s encouragements, made me think of an analogy. Suppose, in the antebellum South, the distant owner of several plantations heard that the overseers allowed the slaves to eat only cold meals. Upset, he issued a letter to all the overseers ordering them to serve hot meals if the slaves requested them. The overseers, knowing that the owner lived far away, just grinned at the slaves and crumpled up the letters.

The point is obvious: Until the owner or his successor replaces the disobedient overseers, only cold meals will be served. And here’s a frightening thought: What if the successor (i.e., the next pope) has no love for hot meals?

Kenneth M. Weinig

Newark, Delaware

Everyone who professes to be Christian, whether clergy or laity, and especially those of us who consider ourselves traditional Catholics, must be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and obedient to the will of God. It is common knowledge among Catholics that Jesus handed the Church over to St. Peter some 2,000 years ago and that apostolic tradition has been maintained ever since. As the New Oxford Note “Uni­ver­sae Ecclesiae: A Blow Against Liturgical Absolutism” (Jul.-Aug.) points out, both Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae were issued from the “chair of Peter.” Obedience to them should be implicit, even if there is disagreement.

The obstructionism against Pope Benedict’s measures to provide the Latin Mass where it is requested is not only harmful to the Church community, it is harmful to those ordained men who stand in impediment. Their free choice to be disobedient to the Church — and, by extension, to God — carries dangerous eternal consequences.

The very elementary, yet incredibly important, message in the account of the Fall in Genesis seems to have been missed by these obstructionist clerics and prelates. Just as pride was at the root of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, it seems that the sin of pride has raised its ugly head in this matter as well, resulting in disobedience to the papacy. Such disobedience might not be direct disobedience to the Lord, but it’s at least tacit disobedience.

Given this type of conduct by those who are supposed to shepherd the flock, is it any wonder that there are so many disobedient Catholics in the Church?

Samuel Hopper

Palmdale, California

In reading the New Oxford Notes (Jul.-Aug.) concerning the release of Summorum Pontificum and, more recently, Universae Ecclesiae, a common saying, often attributed to St. Augustine and quoted by Pope John XXIII in his first encyclical, came to mind: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” (Ad Petri Cathedram, no. 72). May charity prevail in the course of our discussion of the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass.

If St. Thomas Aquinas were among us today, he would point out that we are spending a lot of time thinking about and debating the accidentals of the Mass when we should spend more time prayerfully considering the essentials of the Mass.

I respect the right of every Catholic to choose the form of the Roman rite of the Mass that brings the most spiritual profit to his life with God. This choice, of course, must be an informed choice. We all need to ask ourselves which form of the Mass helps us to better understand and participate in the essential action of the Mass. The Mass celebrates the salvific sacrifice of our Lord on our behalf, the sacrifice that makes it possible for us to sit down at a sacred Meal with Him and be nourished by His great gift to us, the Eucharist. The Mass is a beautiful, prolonged prayer to the Father that encases the two beautiful gifts of His written word and the Bread of Life.

Let us choose the form of the Mass that better helps us to enter into the presence of these most beautiful gifts, and let us love those who make a different choice.

Jack Abel

Wichita Falls, Texas

Insulting to Jews & Catholics

In his reply to Helen Dietz’s letter (Jul.-Aug.), stemming from his review of The Development of the Liturgical Reform (Mar.), Arthur C. Sippo ponders, “For reasons I am not able to explain, many Catholics are loathe to associate the Mass with the Seder…. It seems as though they are trying to sever any connection between Judaism and Christianity.” Well, I can offer at least one significant reason for this visceral reaction based on my own experience. In response to the releases of Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae, and in anticipation of the new Roman missal — in a word, in response to the current direction liturgical reform seems to be taking us — some priests and theologians in my region of the country, rather than embracing the Church’s leadership, are digging in their heels and countering with a renewed effort at promoting their own errant liturgical theology.

In recent months I have been encountering the following concept over and over again: “The Mass is not a sacrifice. In fact, it is a meal, our family meal in which we come together as a parish family and have dinner together.” The truth, of course, is that the Mass is both a meal and a sacrifice; however, I would argue from both a historical and theological basis that the Mass as sacrifice takes primacy over the Mass as meal. Josef Andreas Jungmann points out that from the time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was separated from a literal meal in the early Church, nearly 1,600 years passed before any word meaning “meal” was ever used to designate the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Theologically we know that without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would lack all efficacious powers of atonement. In other words, commemorating the Last Supper as merely a meal would be fruitless were it not for the hidden reality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which is re-presented in the Mass.

Presenting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as “a family dinner” is insulting both to Jewish and Catholic sentiments. Since the Passover Seder provides some framework to the historical Last Supper, it’s insulting to the Jewish faith to imply that the Seder meal is equivalent to a Jewish family merely gathering to eat some lamb chops. Sippo’s point that the Seder meal was believed to “make present” the actual events of the original Passover highlights the fact that the Seder meal was and still is a profound religious practice for the Jewish people. To claim that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is equivalent to a Catholic father, mother, and their children gathering around the dinner table to eat some pizza is insulting to each and every Catholic who gathers around the altar of sacrifice to receive the precious body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being presented as nothing more than a family dinner, the faithful Catholics that I serve are rightly having a visceral reaction to this errant teaching. However, this reaction can lead some to seek ways to separate the Mass from the Seder meal in an attempt to prove that the Mass never was merely a meal. In my opinion, what is needed is not an effort to disconnect the Mass from its Seder roots so much as an effort to simply present what the Church actually teaches.

Fr. Jeffrey A. Montz

Madisonville, Louisiana

On the Proximity of the Apocalypse

I would like to thank you for your fine magazine. Your fearless pursuit and defense of the truth is always welcome, and though I don’t always agree with everything you publish, at least I know that there is no deception in your words.

Apropos of William F.E. Ma­honey’s insightful article, “When Prophets Don’t Pass the Test” (Jul.-Aug.), about failed doomsayer Harold Camping: As in all ages, there is a certain expectation in our time that the return of Jesus Christ is near. One cannot help but wonder if the time is rather short, for a host of signs point to the proximity of the apocalypse. Worrying about whether the end of history is near or not, however, is for the most part a pointless endeavor, for the time is not revealed to us; it is, as we all should know, the possession of God the Father. For this reason we are to respond to grace in such a way as to be always ready for our Lord’s return, not to jump at shadows of doom or the words of the great many false prophets who afflict the world.

In this regard, Holy Mother Church clearly shows her nature as the one true Church, for though others have fallen prey to the teachings of false prophets, the Church stands firm as the Rock of Salvation. Blessed is the office of the Apostle Peter who, fortified by the Holy Spirit, cannot lead us astray — unlike the numerous “authorities” not in communion with the Church. In this age of increasing apostasy, where it seems as if this world is growing more wicked than even perhaps before the flood, it is greatly reassuring to know that God has abundantly provided for His faithful.

This does not mean that certain elements within the Church are free of deception as regards the return of Christ; all of us from time to time have encountered those of this sort. Thankfully, we have Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium to guide us in these matters, to sustain us in our wait, so that we don’t have to place our faith in the often error-filled words of mere men, as many have, to calamitous results.

I myself dearly hope that the glorious return of the Lord is but days away. And even if, God preserve me, I am found wanting, I eagerly await the day for the sake of all men, for people in our day truly need the holy transformation that only God can provide. Nevertheless, hope, faith, and charity sustain me in all things and I am confident of God’s mercy.

Our times are full of peril, and collectively we groan in anticipation of deliverance, but assuredly the time of our salvation is near; indeed, those with eyes of faith can see that it is fast approaching.

Alexander Clayton

Perry, Florida

Do We Have a "Choice" to Worship Goddesses?

I was distressed by Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of my book Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary (May) and would like to respond. I will leave aside the charge of apostasy since, as far as I know, the Church has authorized neither Dr. Gardiner nor myself to pass judgment on who is a true Catholic.

First, my book was written for a largely scholarly audience and intended to raise a range of questions in an academic fashion. I was not writing for the Catholic community in particular or in a pastoral setting. (Readers interested in my more accessible writing may wish to look at my regular blogs for the “In All Things” column at America magazine.) The emphasis of my book was on what we can learn from a careful study of the texts and commentaries by which Hindus have explained the meaning and worship of Hindu Goddesses. It was meant to make thinking people think.

Second, Dr. Gardiner repeatedly criticizes my saying that we have a choice whether to worship Goddesses or to remain Christians devoted to the Virgin Mary and to Christ himself. We do have such a choice. However deep our faith and commitment, we do well to understand the alternatives that have been manifest in human history over the millennia, without stereotyping or vilifying others — and then reaffirm our faith. A key point of choice in my book is that we are not Christian because other traditions are wholly evil, demonic, irrational, sinful, or wicked. Rather, these Hindu traditions are devout, intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful, and have helped many people in innumerable ways; that they conflict with a Christian view of the world need not lead us to condemn them wholesale. We are not Christian because we have the only reasoned faith or the only commitment to virtue. We live in a world of many religions, and after knowing them more clearly and carefully, without vituperation, we still choose to be followers of Christ in the Church. If my book helps some Cath­olics see what is at stake in choosing Christ over other options that are not merely wicked or ignorant, then it serves a purpose in the Church and in the academy.

Third, Dr. Gardiner chastises me for not condemning the Hindu view that the Goddesses are in sexual relationship with their consorts. For very old philosophical reasons, these Hindus do not believe exclusively in purely non-material deities, and allow for the symbols and expressions of sexual union between deities. Moreover, for these Hindus, the Goddesses and Gods are married. Perhaps I am naïve, as a lifelong celibate; 43 years ago I became a Jesuit right out of high school, and by now have been a priest for 33 years. But from reflection and counseling many an individual over the decades, I do not think that bodies are evil, or sexual pleasure evil, nor that it is obscene or blasphemous for Hindu tradition to say that in some way even their divine beings experience such moments of union. I translate the three Hindu hymns (261 verses) in my book precisely so that readers may see for themselves what Hindus have meant, in a mythic, devotional, and theological context, by saying that deities have bodies, albeit perfect and supernal, and enjoy the goodness of love, even physical, with one another. What these hymns say is serious and beautiful, even if for philosophical and theological reasons we do not speak or imagine in the same way.

Fourth, Dr. Gardiner finds entirely unacceptable my comparisons of the Goddesses with the Virgin Mary. Perhaps my book is too academic here, and my careful use of capitalization (She, she, Her, her, etc.) is perhaps confusing. I am sorry if I was too clever and not entirely clear. But my point was, and is, that while as Christians we choose not to worship Goddesses — we could, but do not, since if we did we would not be Christians any more, but converts to Hinduism — nevertheless, by a willingness to learn we become better able to reflect anew and more deeply on a primary, evident fact of our Catholic faith: our devotion to the Virgin Mary. The hymns to Mary that I introduce — Greek, Latin, Tamil — are extraordinary in their praise, in the theological claims they make, and in their evident devotion to this human woman who is the Mother of God. What they say is grand and powerful, and it is not entirely inexplicable that over the centuries we have been accused of being Mary-worshipers. Indeed, some in India have accused Catholics of being just like the Hindus. My point in the comparison was not that Mary is a Goddess, or that there is no difference to be noticed; far from it. As a comparative theologian, I am always dealing with imperfect comparisons, where similarities and differences are in play to varying degrees. Again, with the expectation that my readers have chosen to pick up and read an academic book that will, if nothing else, challenge them to think, my request to those readers who may be Catholics is to re-view, see anew, our theology of and devotion to Mary in light of the theology and devotion manifest in the traditions of Hindu Goddesses. This exercise, though perhaps not for all, is a good exercise in reflection on our faith, and need not be harmful to it.

I was also sorry to read Nora Ernst’s letter regarding Dr. Gardiner’s review and my book (Jul.-Aug.). I am curious why Ms. Ernst takes it as a sure truth, as if she knows everything about me, that I am nothing but an “ivory-tower theologian who toys with apostasy from his lofty position in the theology department of Boston College.” I had thought it common knowledge, or at least easily verifiable, that for the past six years I have been teaching instead at Harvard University, with the mandate and blessing of superiors. But more importantly: I do not toy with anything, particularly when matters of faith are at stake. I do not live in an ivory tower. And before passing judgment, if feeling compelled to judge, could not Ms. Ernst have done the modest work of reading my book herself?

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.

Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts


Fr. Clooney’s letter is a misrepresentation of his book. He was not simply trying to make people “think” about Hindu worship. Far from it. As the quotations in my review prove, he invited us again and again to worship Sri, Devi, and Apirami. He urged us to look at these goddesses as “real persons” and “choose” whether to approach them in “prayer and worship.” He advised us not to stop at learning about Sri, but to come and adore her, saying, “Worshiping Her may appear a good and holy practice.” He didn’t give a merely scholarly account of Devi’s sexual encounter with her consort, but invited us to “invoke Her,” come “into Her presence, onto Her couch,” and reach a “blissful immersion within Her.” Now, in his letter, he is trying to deny the central point of his book.

In Matthew 4:10, at the end of His temptations, Jesus says, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” In Catena Aurea an ancient Father comments that Jesus doesn’t get angry until Satan tries to usurp God’s honor, “that we may learn by His example to bear injuries to ourselves with magnanimity, but wrongs to God, to endure not so much as to hear.”

Fr. Clooney’s book is just such an injury to God’s honor. In it he keeps saying that Christians have a “choice” about whom to worship. Evidently, he is operating under a false idea of choice. Christians already belong to the one, true, and holy God by their baptismal vows. In the question on faith in the Summa Theo­logiae, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Acceptance of the faith is a matter of the will, whereas keeping the faith, when once one has received it, is a matter of obligation.” On this point he cites St. Augustine, who condemns those who say, like Fr. Clooney, “We may believe or not believe just as we choose” (II-II, 10,8).

While Fr. Clooney urges us to experiment with ancient polytheist worship and make our “choice,” St. Peter warns us sternly against just this kind of backsliding into “unbelief”: “It had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they have known it, to turn back” (2 Pet. 2:21). St. Thomas Aquinas comments on this verse: “He who resists the faith after accepting it, sins more grievously against faith, than he who resists it without having accepted it.” He compares such a sinner to the proverbial dog returning to his vomit and the washed sow wallowing again in the mud (II-II, 10,6). At the start of the question on faith, St. Thomas also warns that the sin of unbelief is “greater than any sin that occurs in the perversion of morals.” Interestingly, St. Paul sees unbelief, such as Fr. Clooney recommends, as something punished by sexual perversion (Rom. 1:25).

Instead of denying the gist of his book, Fr. Clooney should write a retraction.

Affirmative Reaction

I have no doubt that the majority of American Catholics of Polish background would agree with Fr. Ray­mond T. Gawronski’s excellent article “The Polish Catholic Experience” (Jul.-Aug.). While some of those Polish Americans of whom Fr. Gawron­ski writes may lack refined manners (a rather common occurrence among people who work 16 hours a day, as many immigrants must do), the lack of support for them among the predominantly Irish-American hierarchy (so sensitive to blacks, Jews, and virtually every other ethnic group except Poles) has been painfully obvious. This is why the Polish National Church was formed in 1897 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It presently has some 30,000 members, and while this figure might seem insignificant by comparison to the number of Polish Catholics in the U.S., it means there are 30,000 fewer active Roman Catholics in the pews.

While Polish Americans are no longer grouped into tiny row houses in rust-belt cities, discrimination against them has not abated — witness the small number of Polish bishops and clergy in decision-making positions. I am happy to report that in my own diocese of Galveston-Houston, the situation is somewhat brighter, with Fr. Lawrence Jozwiak, S.J., as chief pastor of the newly built Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, and a thriving Our Lady of Czestochowa parish.

Such public recognition is key, and Irish (or Italian) bishops might ask themselves whether they have not been taking Polish Catholics for granted. Perhaps they should place the names of Polish-American clergy on the recommendation lists for episcopal appointments going to the Vatican, introduce a solid portion of Polish hymns and Christmas carols in daily missals, run a series of articles detailing various Polish-Catholic customs and celebrations in diocesan newspapers, read a few truly Catholic novels by Nobel Prize-winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, and be proactive in the way in which they have been proactive concerning the more influential minorities. And then, be pleasantly surprised at the energy and enthusiasm for the Church that would suddenly re-emerge among American Catholics of Polish background.

Ewa Thompson

Houston, Texas

Raymond Gawronski, S.J., has brilliantly and succinctly made the case for the neglect of the Polish community by the U.S. Catholic episcopacy (article, Jul.-Aug.). The Poles, who have, more than any other Catholic national group, fought and died for the Church, have been treated shabbily indeed by the U.S. Church. First, as they arrived in America, they were despised as “Pollacks.” Upton Sin­clair’s The Jungle is a painfully accurate rendition of their condition. Then, when Holy Church remembers the “preferential option for the poor,” Poles are regarded as white fat cats, undeserving of any form of affirmative action. Indeed, they are supposed to rejoice that affirmative-action quotas, which discriminate against Poles, are, in fact, a part of social justice. In very recent times, we see an Irish-American bishop confiscating the valuable property of a Polish-American parish to be sold to pay off the lawsuits stemming from the clerical sexual abuse for which said bishop and his predecessors were administratively responsible. And when the parish members strenuously objected, they were excommunicated by the same bishop.

Has any Catholic school told its students about the Polish hussars defeating the last large-scale Muslim attack on the West at Vienna on September 12, 1683? When do we weep for the partitions of Poland jointly organized by Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, with the financial backing of Mayer Amschel Roths­child?

There have indeed been Americans who have done good deeds for Poland. For example, Woodrow Wilson, who insisted in his 14 Points that Poland be reconstituted. And Merian C. Cooper, who organized the Kosciusko Squadron, whose actions prevented the joining together of Tukashevsky’s army with that of Budyenny, enabling the Poles to flank Tukashevsky and win the 1920 Polish-Bolshevik War. And Ronald Reagan will always be remembered in the hearts of the Polish people as the instigator of the Pershing II strategy that brought down the evil Soviet Empire. These heroes were, however, all Protestants. When has the U.S. Catholic Church stuck its neck out to help either Poles or Polish Americans? Were it not so sad, the situation would be ludicrous.

Most Americans of Polish heritage have no intention of leaving the Church to which they have given so much. What steps can they take to have the same rights as, say, Mexican Americans to retain their language and culture? In metropolitan areas, they can work to form Polish parishes with Saturday schools in which the children of such parishes can study Polish language and culture. Of course, the Catholic bishops of the United States could help a great deal by reinstituting Polish in the parochial schools in areas where a significant number of Poles is present. We recall that American Jews, who number less than one-third of the Polish-American Catholic population, have actually increased their authority and cultural presence even in the light of falling Jewish-American demographics. But they, of course, have the support of their own ecclesiastical authorities.

Fr. Gawronski has done a good job of delineating the neglect of the American episcopacy in helping Polish Americans and their culture to survive. Realistically speaking, however, it would appear that Polish Americans are pretty much on their own. Various American bishops may permit Poles and Polish culture to survive, but few of them will bless us with more than mere permission.

At this time in the history of the Catholic Church, Polish vocations are of the utmost importance. The formerly very Catholic Irish are lucky to have any new seminarians. It is an open secret that Poles now are out-producing the Irish for priests for Ireland itself (the number of Polish priests transferred to Ireland is greater than the number of newly consecrated Irish priests installed in Irish churches). The Irish-American episcopacy has for so many years neglected the Poles, yet now they have to count on Polish Catholics willing to fill the gaps in the priesthood all over the world. We must beseech the bishops to recognize how they have squandered the valuable asset of Polish Catholicism, and see whether they might, as Cromwell once said, “Consider whether ye may be wrong.” And make amends whenever possible and necessary.

James Thompson

Houston, Texas

An Incomplete Experience

Fr. Gawronski’s article “The Polish Catholic Experience” is very accurate but unfortunately incomplete. Fr. Gawronski wrote about the old Polonia (the Polish term for the Polish diaspora), not the new Polonia (immigrants from post-Solidarity Poland of the 1980s until today) who have rejuvenated the Catholic Church in the archdiocese of Chicago and adjacent dioceses and who are still going strong. The archdiocese of Chicago and the diocese of Joliet have four parishes that offer Masses exclusively in Polish, only one of them having been officially established by the archbishop, and three that eventually were approved when the bishops realized that thousands of people were attending Mass there anyway.

New churches are being built near here, like the Our Lady, Mother of the Church Polish Mission in Willow Springs, Illinois, a truly beautiful structure. And the old Polish parishes are thriving as well. The oldest Polish parish in Chicago, St. Stanislaus Kostka, is very active as the archdiocesan shrine of Divine Mercy and has a Polish pastor (but mostly Latino parishioners). The second-oldest parish, Holy Trinity, is a huge Polish mission church with Poles driving in from up to an hour away to attend Mass. St. John Cantius is the Chicago headquarters of traditional Catholicism, whose long-time pastor, Fr. Frank Phillips, founded the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. This unique parish celebrates four Masses on Sunday: a low Tridentine Mass, a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, an English-language Mass with the priest facing ad orientem, and finally a high Tridentine Mass. To top it off, St. Mary of the Angels, another Polish church, is the largest in the Chicago archdiocese, and is thriving under the Opus Dei priests who run it. Most of these parishes have Saturday Polish schools that pass on Polish traditions and language to the children.

Most impressive are the Polish priests. I have never met a Polish-born priest in the U.S. who is not 100 percent orthodox in the area of moral theology, and most are quite willing to share their views in their Sunday homilies. They are almost always builders, finding ways to renovate, add, or improve something in the parish. They often find good deals on equipment or labor, and get parishioners to do much of the work themselves, so they usually get more done for less money than any American pastor.

Thomas Zabiega

Bolingbrook, Illinois

Polish Piety, Freeze-Framed

As I read Fr. Raymond Gawron­ski’s article I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement with many of his assertions. Ultimately, however, I found the piece too over the top. Fr. Gawronski paints a picture of your typical late-19th- and early-20th-century Polish Catholic as virtuous beyond rival — pious, hardworking, tidy, sensible yet emotional, and the ultimate scapegoat. As a granddaughter of Polish immigrants, and having grown up in that most extraordinary of Polish-Catholic enclaves, Ham­tramck, Michigan (which is surrounded entirely by Detroit), I would like to add to the discussion.

My hometown, first settled by Germans in the mid-19th century, became a boomtown for Polish émigrés in the early 20th century with the advent of the auto industry and work on “the line.” Row upon row of frame two-story duplexes sprung up, each about ten feet from the other, and by the 1950s the town boasted a population of 55,000 within two square miles! Within these two square miles were four Catholic parishes — one a gothic cathedral, in addition to a basilica, which was the domain of the Orthodox Ukrainians. The cathedral, St. Florian’s, was completed shortly after World War I.

Interestingly, the town was always about 15 percent African American, and my mother claims that when she was a young child some of them even spoke “pidgin” Polish in order to barter and exchange pleasantries with their neighbors. But the feeling wasn’t necessarily mutual. In many Polish households, the derisive term “nigger,” or its equivalent in the mother tongue, was used freely. Does it really matter how many beautiful Catholic structures lie idle if their builders and their progeny never evangelize their neighbors, much less extend to them due Christian charity?

Nothing remains static, of course, and over the decades the Poles, too, finally became subsumed into the larger culture. During World War II, Polish boys fought alongside other white soldiers, and every war movie seems to feature your token Kowalski, Jaworski, etc. Hamtramck was a model American community in the 1950s with the most vibrant department stores, fashion shops, haberdasheries, etc. Polish-American boys and girls, usually bilingual, were becoming more and more American every day.

Eventually, after the race riots of 1967, at least in Detroit, where freeways everywhere destroyed communities, the vestige of tenacious Poles fled their postage-stamp-sized plots for the suburbs, leaving their poor black brethren behind.

Fr. Gawronski seems to wish for something impossible — a static Polish culture and piety in the new world.

Susan M. Conner

Granite, Utah


The letters from Ewa Thompson, Thomas Zabiega, and James Thompson offer helpful expansions of some of the main themes of my article. All noted the long-standing, and remarkable, ignoring of the Polish community in this country by the hierarchy of their Church. I once read something Michael Novak wrote to the effect that if the truth were ever known of that history, there would be “hell to pay.” Still, the faithfulness of the community is remarkable — Polonia semper fidelis.

Both Ewa Thompson and Thomas Zabiega point out the tremendous work being done by the more recent Polish immigrants and their priests in creating vital, orthodox parishes. The younger generation of Polish priests who have come to serve in the “American mission” are truly spiritual children of Bl. John Paul II, and they are bringing with them the vitality of the Church that formed him. I certainly hope that in time our hierarchy will come to see the treasure that is present in that heritage, and we will begin to see Polish hymns and other devotions translated and finding their place in our worship books with the translations of other, very often Protestant, traditions. Mr. Zabiega accurately portrays the vitality of Chicago’s more recent Polish community: I would only caution him that in the eyes of the state, and of the Church in America, the Polish community is considered “Anglo” and so destined for submersion in “white culture” and worthy of no support to maintain a distinct identity, unlike officially recognized minorities.

James Thompson expands these concerns, deepens them, and places them in the historical context of the destruction of the Polish state and the systematic defamation that has followed. It is especially in the area of “affirmative action” that political considerations have long trumped both truth and justice. Mr. Thompson’s concern for both is inspiring: his historical memory is remarkable, not least in recalling that most painful recent incident of excommunication in which unexor­cised ghosts of the injustices that led to the schism of the Polish National Church were, it would appear, heedlessly resurrected in an American diocese. Again, one suspects that those excommunications would never have happened had the people been part of an “official minority”: We have lived through generations of sacrilege, blasphemy, all sorts of liturgical atrocities, and scores of pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians — with nary an excommunication. All three letters are realistic in recognizing the simple fact that it seems to be enough if efforts by Poles to keep their Catholic heritage alive are tolerated, but I join them in hoping that eventually the leadership will see that God’s “preferential option for the poor” extends to European Catholics who were colonized and themselves victims of genocide. A genuine coming to awareness and then repentance would be necessary for this.

The letter from Susan Conner, on the other hand, is a remarkable illustration of what happens when an ethnic culture loses its identity and takes on the values of a hostile dominant culture. I concluded my piece by observing that, schematically put, Polish ethnics “changed their names and moved to Phoenix.” That is, they lost any readily identifiable tag and headed West. Mrs. Susan Conner from Utah writes of her grandparents’ experience in Hamtramck, Michigan, a town that was for decades the textbook example of the Polish ethnic community in America. Mrs. Conner’s critical — even antagonistic — observations of life in the Polish community are revealing of how a deracinated ethnic comes to see things: the key is “political correctness” and its blindness to reality. How else to think of someone who writes of the poor black neighbors when the most powerful political office in the world is occupied by an African American, elected very largely by the nearly unanimous group cohesiveness of the black community? To contrast presumably “rich suburbanites” with “poor black brethren” in the inner city as regards second-generation ethnics is facile: In the end, the suburbanites have lost anything like a culture, while the “minority” city dwellers have come to dominate the popular culture — and very moral life — of the nation, if not much of the world.

There are some rather fantastic claims made by Mrs. Conner. Though I am aware that black people living near large Polish communities have in fact learnt a few Polish words — rare too is the New Yorker who doesn’t know some Yiddish or Italian words — we are given the impression that this desire to learn Polish was common within the black community. Further, we are told that not only did “many” Polish people use the “n-word” but that there actually is a Polish word which is just as nasty. I have spoken Polish all my life — it was my first language — and I know of no such word. I challenge Mrs. Conner to produce it; otherwise, she has slandered a people out of whole cloth. She gives the impression that it was only those awful Poles who called others names. But who came up with the word “honky” (which was initially used against Eastern Europeans)? Has Mrs. Conner never heard a “Pollack joke”? Perhaps she would have reacted differently if everyone in the room knew her as Jadwiga Kowal­ska.

Mrs. Conner presumes to know just what I want: a “static ideal and piety in the new world.” I was describing something of beauty left behind by a people who have left no other traces. Certainly nothing about Mrs. Conner’s letter — neither her name nor her apparent ignorance of Polish — betrays any formation in the Polish Catholic tradition, though somehow she claims this as her heritage. I was merely saying that in spite of dreadful and misleading stereotypes (oh yes, all stereotypes do contain a grain of truth), the Polish immigrants created and left behind something of beauty to God’s glory before they disappeared into American life, a disappearance they wanted to effect less than others. Mrs. Conner throws rocks and says good riddance.

But she is right on one thing: I would hold out for “piety in the new world.” The old Polish churches remind us that such a thing was once attempted, and some of us are trying to foster piety again, even in this brave new world.

Capitalists Can Be Generous Too

I must take issue with Manuel Perez’s loose application (letter, Jul.-Aug.) of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 25 (“Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire…. For I was hungry and you gave me no food…”) to supporters of capitalism. He might find enlightening that, under capitalism, this nation has 1,617,301 nonprofit organizations, all of which operate on donated or taxpayers’ funds. In 2008 public charities reported $1.44 trillion in total revenues, all of it donated by individuals, corporations, and government grants. In 2009 alone, individuals gave $227.41 billion to nonprofit groups, and foundations gave $42.9 billion, all during a recession. These dollars were earned in a capitalist economy and given to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. The poor of the world constantly look to the people of the U.S. for aid, and they do not go away empty-handed.

Yes, there is some evil in capitalism. It stems mainly from the sin of avarice. But ours is a system that has helped the poor, such that a poor person in the U.S. would be considered wealthy in many parts of the world. And the money given by the government is money paid by taxpayers who, by vote, approved government assistance: housing subsidies, food stamps, etc.

I would like to pose this question: How would Mr. Perez reconcile his quote from St. Matthew with St. Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat”? What if the man who will not work is hungry? Do we risk damnation by not feeding him? Or do we support his sin of sloth, one of the seven capital sins, and supply him food?

The matter of social justice is more complex than Mr. Perez would have us believe.

Toby J. Russo

Chalmette, Louisiana

On Shoehorning Evolution

The issues John Maloney brings up to support instantaneous and therefore non-evolutionary creation of species (letter, Jul.-Aug.) are all, without exception, (a) miraculous, (b) wrought for the immediate benefit of man (in the realm of “salvation history”), and (c) only arguably instances of things made “from nothing.” As such, they shed no direct light on the creation of the world and of life.

Moreover, the creation account itself speaks against Mr. Maloney’s theory. Genesis 2 describes God making all creatures, including man, not out of nothing, but out of the earth — and in the case of Eve, out of the rib of one formed from the earth. That is, these things came from other things God had already formed. God created them, but not out of nothing.

Besides the various pitfalls of taking Genesis literally — “evening” and “morning” when no such thing could signify, angel swords, and so on — the idea that God had to suspend the laws of nature in order to make all natural beings must eventually force the question: What’s left of nature? This theory supposes a profoundly poor natural world, created impotent and only successively made a home of the living by separate acts of creation by God, His first not being able to encompass it. What in the whole of salvation or natural history would give this idea grounding?

As for Maloney’s contention that the immediate creation of animals “would clearly be much more efficient and direct than using evolution”: What, in all of this complex world, gives him the idea that God is interested in efficiency?

Rather than impotent and efficient, a land of mere physics lain over with beings, the biblical account and our own experience would seem to argue for a world made lavishly overflowing with interconnected life. (I don’t believe Mr. Maloney would disagree with that.) So, as to “why this desperate attempt to shoehorn Genesis into the theory of evolution,” I submit that the desperate attempt is the same one made in Christian philosophy and theology. It’s not to cram God into a materialist box, but to understand everything He’s given us, revelation and creation both.

Daniel Nicholls

Keene, New Hampshire

In answer to John Maloney’s query, “Why the desperate attempt to shoehorn Genesis into the theory of evolution” (letter, Jul.-Aug.), I’d counter: Why the desperate attempt to exclude Genesis from the theory of evolution?

Evolution is, after all, the natural explanation: We can see it in the lab, and we can see signs of it in the world. The burden of proof is on Mr. Maloney to prove why we should assume anything different in the case of Genesis. As a mathematician, he should readily admit that even a simple mathematical formula can generate great abundance — just think of the Mandelbrot set or any other fractal. Then think of how similarly God creates. God doesn’t impose, saying, “Make it this way.” Instead, He disposes, saying, “Let there come forth….” I find this wholly consistent with evolution.

I too am a Catholic, having studied theology at a famous orthodox college, and I can assure Mr. Maloney that the creation narrative in Genesis poses no problem whatsoever for evolution, instead presenting an entirely natural progression: days one and four, then two and five, then three and six.

David Rudmin

Harrisonburg, Virginia

Don't Be Duped by Values Talk

As Anne Barbeau Gardiner shows in her excellent review (Jul.-Aug.), Derek Hastings’s Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism is simply the latest example of the seemingly endless attempts to link Catholicism with Nazism by alleging that “Catholics gave Nazism its start.” She points tellingly to his repeated claim that “numerous” Catholics were part of the early Nazi party, though he fails to provide any numbers, thus creating an impression unsupported by facts.

The facts are that Hitler rebelled against Catholicism as a boy, and for the rest of his life associated most closely with other ex-Catholics who had rebelled against the Church. His first expressions of anti-Semitism began with the demise of Munich’s short-lived “Soviet” government in 1919 when he was 30, which, as John Lukacs has emphasized in The Hitler of History, marked the most important turning point in his development. Hitler knew how to exploit religious feeling and how to appeal to religious believers, including gullible Catholics like Franz von Papen, who said that the Third Reich was “the Christian countermovement to 1789.”

Hitler did not want a Kultur­kampf like Bismarck’s, but opted to wait until the war was won, at which point he would settle with the Catholic Church. In his after-dinner “table talk” during the war, Hitler is repeatedly recorded by his Boswellian note-taker as fulminating against “Jews and Jesuits.”

That some Catholics — laymen and clergy alike — were duped by what sounded like Nazi support for traditional “family values” should surprise only those naïve enough to think that Christianity confers immunity to duplicity. The fact remains that Catholics were less taken in by Hitler than most others; his strongest voting opposition, for example, came from the Catholic Center Party.

The lesson in all this for Catholics is to avoid being taken in by political agendas that promise what sound like traditional values but set about using unlawful and immoral means while supposedly working to combat anti-Christian forces. American Catholics have exercised their own gullibility when they lauded laymen like William Casey (our own version of von Papen), who used his CIA directorship to support murder and illegal war; or Latin American (and supposedly Catholic) strongmen like Pinochet in Chile and the Salvadoran military leaders who conducted programs of wholesale killing, appealing for support with the same argument that won over some German Catholics: that they were fighting communism; or bishops who put themselves on the historical record as opposing the war in Iraq and then fell silent once it began.

Jerome Donnelly

Winter Park, Florida

Prison Pen-Pals

May I ask NOR readers who feel a call to visit our Lord in prison to take on a death-row prisoner as a correspondent?

To receive the name of your pen-friend, please write to me at the address below. I would be grateful if you included a self-addressed stamped envelope. Thank you.

Sister Mary Immaculee Heinl

Toledo OH 43606

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