The Pen Is Mightier Than the Hammer
I cannot help envying the mighty pen of the learned carpenter, Will Hoyt, who wrote so clearly and accurately against contraception and abortion. How I wish people would read his May 1994 article (“Be Fruitful & Multiply?”) and then courageously condemn the views of those apparently disillusioned with life, who view their bodies as “pleasure machines.” The Church should be grateful to Will Hoyt: He is a friend of children and God-fearing families, and a respecter of both the Creator and His creation.
The Rev. Vincent N. Chiakwa
Doctoral Student, University of Salzburg
Regarding Patricia Stoll’s letter (May 1994), complaining that Edmund Miller’s article, “‘Progress’ Comes to a Small Town” (Jan.-Feb. 1994), insulted her intelligence: I reread Miller’s article to try to figure out what she’s talking about.
The burial of the nine preborn babies in the Miller family cemetery, which seems to have agitated Stoll so much, is effortlessly woven into the rest of Miller’s article, and then left behind, as his sad and gentle story continues. The story is not a deceptive “nostalgia trip” that “suddenly becomes a story about a man who has rummaged in the dumpster of an abortion clinic….” To go on to call Miller’s heroic act of charity “dumpster diving” is reprehensible almost beyond words.
I feel a great sadness, because Stoll is only one of millions of Americans to whom “choice,” however undiscriminating and arbitrary, is everything. Her letter merely reflects the current attitude that “truth,” if it exists at all, is subjective, which means that neither God nor the Church has any legitimate authority.
Edwina J. Conason
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
Mt. Kisco, New York
As a chemist who has studied scholastic philosophy, I was surprised by the howler about Transubstantiation in Donald Whidden’s letter to the editor (June 1994). Whidden, a Catholic who rejects Transubstantiation, says the truth or falsity of the doctrine “can be settled in the science lab,” and he proposes a test to see if the biochemical makeup of a consecrated wafer is different from an unconsecrated one.
The theological explanation for what happens at the Consecration is that, both before and after Consecration, the accidents of the wafer — its visual appearance, taste, touch, frangibility, dissolution in oral fluids — are the same. Before Consecration the substance of the wafer is bread, but after the Consecration the substance is Christ’s body (blood, soul, and divinity).
Chemical (biochemicabpmethods of analysis touch only the accidents, not the substance. Therefore, these methods, revealing no difference between the consecrated and unconsecrated wafer, cannot verify or falsify Transubstantiation.
San Anselmo, California
Read This, My Dear Moldweed
My June 1994 issue came with an unexpected something extra, whose presence I cannot begin to explain. Wedged between pages 4 and 5 was a piece of very expensive stationery, all singed around the edges and smelling foul. But it was the contents of that misdirected letter that I found most chilling: I reproduce them here for the edification of your other readers.
“My dear Moldweed, please read the letter to the editor written by the human Donald Whidden, entitled ‘I’m Close Enough.’ Since you already have in your possession my correspondence to your cousin Wormwood — that failed Tempter! — you should be able to profit from a close study of this human’s attitudes, which are a perfect example of the mentality you must seek to bring about in your patient.
“Note, if you will, the human’s spiritual pride, as evidenced by his contempt for Anglo-Catholics.
“And notice the letter-writer’s ability to dismiss as an oversight his confusing one of the greatest Doctors of the Enemy’s Church for another of its Servants whose views are supposedly more tractable to the point the human wanted to make. Never let your own patient’s failure to understand doctrine or even his failure to check basic facts prevent him from asserting his position vehemently.
“But of course, my dear Moldweed, the best part of the letter is the way the human has been blinded by science. As if the Enemy’s gift of Himself in the ‘Eucharist’ — such a vulgar concept! — could be analyzed in a laboratory, as the letter-writer proposes! This human has been rendered oblivious to Transubstantiation. He cannot grasp that even at the atomic, subatomic, or biochemical levels, he would still be dealing with the mere physical manifestation, the ‘accidents,’ as the one called ‘Saint’ Thomas Aquinas taught, and not with the essential substance — the Enemy Himself.
“Every sentence of this human’s letter proclaims the wisdom of what I wrote to Wormwood in my 16th and 25th letters: If go to church he must, have your patient pick one on the basis of some reason in addition to the Enemy’s fundamental message — social issues in the letter-writer’s case, apparently. Let him find a ‘suitable’ church, one that ‘makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.’
“Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
With apologies to C.S. Lewis. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
After reading the letters to the editor in the June 1994 issue, I was surprised and somewhat mystified that arguments persist on who is “wrong” and “right,” who is a “heretic,” and on “Transubstantiation” vs. whatever. Dear me!
Maybe we should all stop pointing fingers. The real issue is not whether Christ is present in the sacrament, but whether we are truly present.
The Rev. Frederick Stecker
New London, New Hampshire
From Descartes to Woodstock to Our Public Schools
It is risky criticizing a review of a book one has not read, but here goes. John Warwick Montgomery’s puzzlement about Roger Scruton’s Modern Philosophy (Letter from England, June 1994) is perhaps due to his forgetting that it is a book on modern philosophy, where since the time of Descartes subjectivism (the only direct items of awareness are ideas, perceptions, impressions in one’s own “mind”) has reigned supreme, resulting in the predominant metaphysics of materialism and the predominant epistemology of skepticism. Hence, one of the classic themes of philosophy, “a serious interaction between philosophical questions and religious solutions,” has received short shrift from modern philosophers. Moreover, pursuit of the truth about what is has been abandoned in modern philosophy. Richard Rorty has put a nice twist on it by accusing those who persist in pursuing it of being immoral.
With respect to God’s existence, Montgomery’s quick summary of the argument from the second law of thermodynamics is impressive for those of us who still believe that human rational experience can be in direct touch with reality, but for the modern philosopher, for whom reason and experience are split apart from one another, no argument for God’s existence, no matter how sophisticated or valid or meaningful, can ever be sound. How could it be? We cannot even know the truth about nature, let alone supernature.
And so with the other issues puzzling Montgomery. Perhaps Scruton is preparing another book, on classical philosophy. If so, doubtless Montgomery will find the classical issues he is concerned about properly addressed.
The educational fruits of modern philosophy are poignantly addressed in the same June 1994 issue by a young hero (James Prothero) and heroine (Barbara Blossom), whom I admire and will pray for. But may I suggest to Blossom (“Why Public Schools Have Become Circuses”) that schools started the downward slide, not in the Woodstock era but in the John Dewey era — or, if we push it back a little further, in the Descartes-Bacon era.
Theodore A. Young
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Bring Back Curfews
Only minutes after reading “Why Public Schools Have Become Circuses” by Barbara Blossom (June 1994), I discovered a bright glimmer of hope on the front page of our local newspaper: “Supreme Court Lets Curfew Law Stand.” Lawyers were able to show that curfews do combat juvenile crime. Even though this ruling is not binding on a national level, one Dallas attorney predicted that eventually every major city will have a curfew.
Janet L. Forsman
Catholic Schools Are in Danger Too
I found James Prothero’s article, “A Catholic Public-School Teacher Looks at Public Schools” (June 1994), interesting. His “view from the trenches” was inspiring (because of the job he’s trying to do, and his dedication) and also very sad.
Here area few thoughts from the Catholic school trenches.
The Entertainment Culture is winning here too. The motivated parents/students who Prothero says are in Catholic schools are still here, but the percentage is dropping year by year. Many parents formerly motivated by religion, discipline, smaller school population, etc., to send their progeny to a Catholic school would now put discipline before religion because of fears about public schools. Moreover, many parents (even many with Catholic school backgrounds) are weak in the faith themselves and pass on this attitude to their kids.
Prothero has one Carlos (composite D student, with thoughts and appetites but no heart) for every two other kinds of student. My school has one Mary or John (composite A to F students, with thoughts and appetites but weak hearts) for every five other kinds of student. I think that the M & Js are gaining on us. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are A or F students; the Entertainment Culture grabs them.
Where Carlos finds education boring, many M & Js use it to gain college and success, without any real desire for beauty or truth. So, like Carlos, they are close to being “morally neutral.” More of our Catholic students, in this atmosphere, should be focusing on First Things. Prothero laments being forbidden to speak of Christ, “muzzled from saying that which just might be a door out for Carlos,” and that is sad. But in a Catholic setting we can say those things in the classroom, at school liturgies, on school retreats, etc., and what are the results? Many find it boring and want only their feelings to be their guide — feelings that don’t have Christ as the First Thing, but themselves. Is not this situation even sadder, in a way, than the Carlos problem?
Moves by our bishops to set up parallel bureaucratic departments of education to mimic the public school system are ludicrous. The local autonomous school has always been one of our great strengths.
We can build “chests” for our students in Catholic school; we do in the great majority of cases; but more and more I see students and parents opting for the plastic chests offered daily by the Entertainment Culture.
The grass is still greener over here, Mr. Prothero, but the edges are turning brown — from lack of the Living Water, no doubt.
South Bend, Indiana
I’ve been known to enjoy a bit of pedantry as much as the next fellow, but it’s important that the pedantry be got right. So when James H. Ford, M.D., in his letter that appears in your June 1994 issue, refers to “‘theologians,’ inter alia,” you ought to have added a “[sic]” — because “inter alios” was obviously meant.
Minor quibbles aside, I enjoy your journal thoroughly, and am encouraged that so many others esteem the life, tradition, and mystery of the Church so highly.
John F.P. Lamb
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Legacy of the Catholic Worker
Regarding the controversy in the June 1994 letters section about the state of the Catholic Worker movement today, I would like to add a few comments.
When Dorothy Day died on November 29, 1980, a quality passed with her that had given the idea called “The Catholic Worker” a prophetic force — that had held that idea together.
Dorothy left no detailed instructions, no organizational charts, that would provide for the on-going of the Catholic Worker as an institutional form. What she and Peter Maurin did leave was a disposition toward life and its uses. We are here to affirm life and to invest it with all the beauty and sacredness that comes from the Catholic vision of what it means to be human. This was what Peter, the “saint and genius,” had said so many times. To the end of her days she saw Maurin as the source of the central idea of the Catholic Worker. And to both, it goes without saying, few things could be so crudely blasphemous as the denial of life by sexual perversion. Moreover, I remember once at the Tivoli place that Dorothy, gathered with a few of her friends, concluded a late afternoon prayer service by commenting on some lines of a prayer that had just been said. That means, she said, that “the Catholic Worker is without sex.” But at Tivoli, as she well knew, the ideal was far from the reality.
What now of the Catholic Worker? It is for all of us, where we are, a turning toward community, toward simplicity and creativity, to a life made full with the hope of its fulfillment in eternity.
Dorothy and Peter were saints, two great signs on history’s pathway that pointed out the vital need for reordering time’s course, away from death, from the mounting stridency of the banal and corrupt, toward beauty.
William D. Miller
Shortcomings of the Catholic Worker
As a person who volunteered one summer in the late 1960s at the Catholic Worker house on the Bowery in New York City, I would like to comment on “Dorothy Day’s Crumbling Legacy” by Ann O’Connor (March 1994) and the ensuing controversy in the June 1994 letters section. I found my summer at the Catholic Worker to be a stimulating, deepening, and broadening experience. Amid the bleak poverty there were exquisite moments of beauty and truth, truly Catholic moments. My Catholic faith was strengthened and deepened, mainly from socializing with and learning from the poor who were served. Compared to other services for the poor in the area, the Worker seemed to surpass them in being less patronizing and treating the poor with more unconditional acceptance and respect. In fact, the Worker welcomed any and everyone. A refreshing change from so many of those stuffy, insular religious organizations that one runs across. Dorothy Day herself impressed me as a devout and solid Catholic.
However, I don’t know that the overall experience for me was a truly Catholic one. Most of the Workers seemed to be seekers, but not necessarily seeking Catholicism. Daily picketing of corporations and selling the CW newspaper outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral were more virtuous than daily Mass. Reforming society and feeding the poor took priority over reforming oneself and keeping one’s “own closet” in order. In my estimation, many of the Workers were in need of direction, help, or counsel. I could be wrong, but from what I observed there seemed to be no leadership or direction offered. Everyone seemed to be left to believe in and do his own thing. It didn’t seem to me that Dorothy Day wanted to take responsibility for leading those who were following her — perhaps because of her principle of anarchy, I don’t know. If so, then I think there’s something we can all learn from the shortcomings of this approach.
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