Letters to the Editor: July-August 2021
Dispatch from a Dusty Room
By the standards Pieter Vree set in his column on the McCarrick report (“Dispatch from the Dead Letter Office,” New Oxford Notebook, May), I qualify as a pessimist who fears that “many Church leaders aren’t so much interested in professing the truth as they are in protecting their prestige and preserving their power.” Despite repeated promises of transparency, the Vatican clearly has not provided a full and honest accounting of Theodore McCarrick’s rise to power, or an appraisal of how the former cardinal’s influence endures in the prelates whose promotions he helped arrange. The new policies and procedures that are now in place invariably depend on the credibility of the cardinals and bishops who implement them, which is precisely the matter in question.
As Vree rightly notes, the Vatican report was put together by Jeffrey Lena, a very capable attorney. He was working under the aegis of the Vatican Secretariat of State, and, like any good lawyer, he put his client’s claims in the best possible light. But anyone who has been following the news from Rome carefully during the past few years should realize that the Secretariat of State is not the broom that sweeps clean, but the dusty room that needs a good sweeping.
Philip F. Lawler, Editor
Catholic World News
A “Magisterial” Text
It was wonderful to see that even after her death, the good deeds of Anne Barbeau Gardiner continue, namely, in her review of the second edition of Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (April).
Bauckham threw his immense expertise into an attack on the Christian exegetes of recent decades who have tried to debunk the Gospels as inventions by later generations, especially in their so-called search for the historical Jesus. I cited the first edition of his book in my article “The Crisis in Biblical Scholarship” (NOR, Dec. 2014; for which I had suggested the title “Destroying the Figure of Jesus & Dismantling the Faith”).
Those like Fr. Philip M. Stark (letter, April) who seek to uphold the orthodoxy of Fr. Raymond E. Brown’s writings have apparently not closely studied either them or my article, in which I noted Fr. Brown’s writings that dismiss the authenticity of the canticles of Mary and of Simeon and challenge the historicity of the dialogue between the Archangel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary’s vow of perpetual virginity, the dialogue between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the virginal conception of Jesus, the visit of the Magi, the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, and the massacre of the Holy Innocents. (Citations, omitted in my article for reasons of style, are to Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah [Image Books, 1979] at 346, 307n.35, 304, 340, 525-527, 188, and 227.)
Bauckham’s book strongly supports the traditions about the Gospels, except, as Dr. Gardiner noted in her review, for a nontraditional answer to the question of the identity of the “beloved disciple.” This part, too, is well researched and argued, drawing on such facts as the statement in John 18:15 that the disciple who accompanied Peter into the courtyard of the high priest “was known to the high priest” — something most unlikely for John the fisherman from Galilee.
Bauckham’s text deserves the adjective “magisterial,” although its prose is readily understandable by a layman. I heartily recommend it to those with a scholarly interest in the Gospels. And, for readers who also have an interest in the underworld and apocryphal texts, I recommend his book The Fate of the Dead: Studies on the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (Brill, 1998; 425 pages).
Ed. Note: Anne’s good deeds continue in this issue. See her review of Le Coran révélé par la Théorie des Codes.
The Sterility that Destroys Genuine Self-Gift
I appreciated Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk’s article “Conveying the Message of Humanae Vitae to the People of Today” (May) on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin. The essence of his message is the simplicity of a man and a woman’s accepting God’s plan for their sexuality and living it to its fullest within the Sacrament of Matrimony. As Cardinal Eijk points out, it is the absence of this pure love between men and women that has created the chasm of suffering we find today. Contraception has not borne positive results but has destroyed man’s understanding of the actual meaning of love.
There can be no absolute mutual gift between spouses when the marital act itself is impaired by contraception. Cardinal Eijk underscores the tragedy of this situation when he quotes from Pope St. John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body: “God’s gift of Himself to man, which is what the analogy of the spousal love speaks about, can only have the form of a participation in the divine nature [cf. 2 Pet. 1:4]…. Nevertheless, according to such a measure, the gift by God to man in Christ is a ‘total’ or ‘radical gift,’ which is precisely what the analogy of spousal love indicates.”
The sterility that contraception brings to the sexual union destroys any hope of genuine mutual self-giving, but the world today rejects this truth. There are many reasons that this is so, the most apparent being the idea that self-love supersedes everything else, thus rendering impossible the pouring out of oneself for love of another. This is why Catholic teaching that contraception is morally illicit is repugnant to so many, including a majority of Catholics, today.
Narcissism has robbed men and women of their desire to seek truth and embrace it, no matter the cost.
Cardinal Eijk has done a masterful job of explaining the difference between the contraceptive act and the practice of periodic abstinence within marriage. We should be grateful that he has conquered the myth that tells those unaware of the facts that Catholics who practice periodic abstinence are no different from those who use contraception.
But there is one aspect of this contraceptive morass that the cardinal did not address, and that is the damage it has done to the children of parents who not only use contraception to “plan their families” but make it clear to their children that what they are doing is right and wise. Raising children with this sort of disjointed perspective on marriage and family has resulted in the great sadness of total disregard for the dignity of the human person. This is why we confront the tidal wave of adolescent sexual behavior and single-parent families, both of which contribute to the culture of death, which has spawned millions of aborted children.
This tragedy has laid waste to man’s respect for human dignity. The antidote is obedience and love, as John Paul II taught in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981). Christian spouses and parents are required to offer “the obedience of faith” (no. 51). They are called upon to welcome the word of the Lord, which reveals to them the marvelous news — the Good News — that their conjugal and family life has been sanctified and made a source of sanctity by Christ Himself. Only in faith can they discover and admire with joyful gratitude the dignity to which God has deigned to raise marriage and the family, making them a sign and meeting place of the loving covenant between God and man, between Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church.
It is this sign and meeting place that begins with the fundamental truths set forth by Cardinal Eijk. We owe him thanks for beginning this insightful discussion. We can only hope it continues and reaches those most in need of hearing the truth.
Judie Brown, President
American Life League
Cardinal Eijk raises the question about how to convey the key message of Humanae Vitae to people today, and he suggests further study of the philosophical and theological analyses developed by Pope St. John Paul II and Carlo Cardinal Caffarra. I hope that bears fruit.
For now, I suggest that more emphasis be placed on section 14 of Humanae Vitae. After ruling out abortion, sterilization, and contraceptive behaviors, Pope St. Paul VI responded to the “big picture” argument advanced by contraception advocates. “To justify conjugal acts made intentionally infecund,” the Holy Father wrote, “one cannot invoke as [a] valid reason the lesser evil, or the fact that such [contracepted] acts would constitute a whole together with the fecund acts already performed or to follow later, and hence would share in one and the same moral goodness…. Consequently it is an error to think that a conjugal act which is deliberately made infecund and so is intrinsically dishonest could be made honest and right by the ensemble of a fecund conjugal life.”
Contraception advocates had put forth the “big picture” principle to try to justify contraception, but a principle cannot be limited to one behavior; it applies to the entire body of human sexual acts. Sexual morality would become a matter of personal preference, and that has certainly been illustrated by the current LGBTQ situation.
Catholic parents and educators need to realize that section 14 of Humanae Vitae responds to the key argument of the dissenters. Everyone needs to realize that marital contraception not only contradicts the intrinsic meaning of the marriage act but also includes acceptance of the idea that sexual morality is merely a matter of personal preference. That means that dissenting parents can’t say a firm no to any imaginable sexual activity because they don’t recognize what is evil in the order of creation. Today, as perhaps never before, educators and parents need the authoritative teaching of the Church to rise above the culture of personal preference. That might help many couples to reject their implicit dissent and stop contracepting.
Cardinal Eijk writes that in 1968, when the encyclical was published, “There was no philosophical or theological analysis of marriage and human sexuality available that was generally known and provided arguments that could make comprehensible traditional Church doctrine on contraception.” On the contrary, Contraception and the Natural Law by Germain Grisez was published in 1964. In February 1967 Ave Maria magazine published my article “Holy Communion: Eucharistic and Marital,” in which I used a fivefold analogy between Holy Communion and the marriage act to show that each and every marriage act ought to be a renewal of the marriage covenant, for better and for worse. Granted, it was not well known. It did not occur to me to send it to the Pope.
Does “renewal of the marriage covenant” theology help make traditional Catholic doctrine on contraception comprehensible? I think so. That’s the theology that helped Scott and Kimberly Hahn accept Catholic teaching on birth control when they were Protestants. They learned it from the 1981 edition of my book Birth Control and the Marriage Covenant.
Cardinal Eijk writes about the theology of Cardinal Caffarra. In my 1981 visit to the Vatican, I gave Cardinal Caffarra a copy of my book, and I had the privilege of talking with him for a bit. He was not familiar with “renewal of the marriage covenant” theology, but he raised no objection to it. It is not included in John Paul II’s very large “theology of the body,” completed in 1984. I was, however, happy to see it in his Letter to Families (1994), in which the Holy Father wrote, “In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant” (no. 12; italics in original). To the best of my knowledge, that is the first time a theological statement about the “renewal of the marriage covenant” appeared in an official teaching document of the Church, but I stand ready to be corrected.
John F. Kippley, Cofounder
WILLEM JACOBUS CARDINAL EIJK REPLIES:
To Judie Brown
I thank you for your positive reaction to my article. You rightly observe the aspect I did not address: that by using contraception and teaching their children that this is morally licit, parents undermine their kids’ moral sense concerning marriage and sexuality. Parents often make their teenage daughters use hormonal contraceptives to prevent them from becoming pregnant. In the Netherlands, we are proud of the low occurrence of involuntary pregnancies and, therefore, procured abortions among teenagers. But many overlook the fact that this is achieved because most teenage girls have hormonal contraceptives at their disposal. These contraceptive are intrinsically evil for married people and, in the case of teenagers, they increase the intrinsic evil of their extramarital sexual acts.
Teenage contraception conceals another danger: By placing hormonal contraceptives at teenage girls’ disposal, the risk is great that those for whom casual sex is now possible do not develop the virtue of chastity at an age when it is vital to do so. The lack of chastity deprives them of the awareness of the good and the beauty of marriage and the integration of sexual impulses and instincts. This makes it difficult for them to make a total gift of themselves in sexual union, which is the very essence of marriage.
This also explains the high rate of divorce and the fact that many young people do not marry at all, preferring to live together, or do so late in life, after having experimented with sexual relations for a long time.
I do not agree with you that only in faith can one discover the dignity of marriage and the family. It is also possible through philosophical analysis. We can know the natural law without being cognizant of Christian revelation (cf. Rom. 2:14-16). There were, and are, many pagans who live the dignity of marriage and sexuality according to higher standards than most now do in the modern West. This is not to discount the fact that we can much more easily discover the truth concerning marriage and sexuality through the Christian faith. The grace we receive from prayer, hearing God’s Word, and the sacraments strongly assists us in developing the virtue of chastity, which has always been a struggle but is especially so in our day.
To John F. Kippley
In the hyper-individualistic secular culture, dominant at present, sexual morality is merely a matter of personal preference, as you observe. The individual is encouraged to choose his own religious belief or philosophy of life and his own ethical values. For this, the individual does not need a Being that transcends him.
You are right that several thinkers have proposed philosophical or theological analyses of marriage in order to convey the Church’s teaching concerning contraception. The first who described the essence of marriage as a mutual gift of spouses to each other was the German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book Die Ehe (Marriage, 1929). And in the early 1960s, Willem Duynstee, a Dutch professor of the philosophy of law at the University of Nijmegen, applied von Hildebrand’s thought in defending the Church’s teaching on contraception. However, their influence was limited. In my article I mentioned the two men, Pope St. John Paul II and His Eminence Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, who would ultimately be most influential in formulating arguments for the teaching of Humanae Vitae through their philosophical and theological analyses of marriage, which became part of the Church’s magisterial teaching in this field.
A Real Hero
This letter of gratitude is long overdue, as it relates to Pieter Vree’s column “Love on Trial” (New Oxford Notebook, Dec. 2020). I sincerely thank Vree for bringing to my attention a real, modern hero. I am speaking of (now resigned) Episcopal Bishop William Love, whose beautiful regard for God’s Holy Scripture, especially as it informs Christians of what the Sacrament of Matrimony is and isn’t, led him to please God instead of men, namely, by opposing Episcopalians’ choice to be formed by our hedonistic culture.
I have often found myself in discussions about the critical distinction between the Sacrament of Marriage and what legally passes for marriage (and is, unfortunately, recognized by some Protestant churches). Individuals in homosexual unions should certainly be afforded the same legal rights as heterosexual spouses; however, the Church has no means to confer God’s graces on what He has revealed to be contrary to His intentions.
Ed. Note: Try telling that to Germany’s Catholic bishops! To read about their “determinedly deaf” reception of this truth, see my New Oxford Notebook column “Some Dare Call It Schism” in this issue.
Keeping it Together
David Mills’s reflections on “trying to keep a marriage till death do you part,” despite the hard work and suffering that often comes with it (Last Things, May), struck a sympathetic chord in me. I recently moved to a senior community, where I have been asked frequently about my life experience. I tell questioners that my husband and I met in high school and we married in the last year of college, living 58 mostly good years together and raising three children. For the most part, I spare them the hard parts: helping children through major crises, caring for aging parents, surviving job loss, facing alcoholism and serious challenges to the faith, etc. Several times, people have remarked about what a sheltered life I must have lived, as they recount the various ups and downs in their marriages, often due to their or their spouses’ bad choices.
I have been asked what kept my marriage together, and I explain that my husband and I both worked hard to follow the Catholic ideals we affirmed in our wedding vows. We also had the good fortune to have strong marriages among our most admired relatives, and when the going got tough, we knew to whom to turn for help. And when that failed, we knew enough to get on our knees and pray as though our lives depended on it. And they did!
Mills is right about compassion being learned more easily by those who fail more frequently to keep their vows, and we know Christ’s parable about the lost sheep. And Mills is also right to say that those of us who choose to “try to live by the Church’s rules, to inhabit them,” come to understand them in the end. We come to realize that there is such a thing as God’s grace when we need it most.
Thanks again to Mr. Mills for pointing out the things that matter in this life and for defending the faith with a broad and hopeful vision.
Nora L. Ernst
Santa Rosa, California
A Life Left Behind
I was really informed by Mark J. Cherry’s letter, “Fasting: The Orthodox Way” (May). I know so little of the Orthodox Church. “Fasting requirements,” he writes, “are not juridical…they function as a way to humble the body and guide us as a community to Christ.”
I grew up prior to Vatican II and still practice the rules of fasting the Catholic Church once decreed, especially during Lent: fish on Fridays, of course; no eating between meals; two meals lesser than the third; no sweets or decadent foods that delight the palate; etc. As a child I found a black jellybean from Halloween under the washing machine and quickly ate it, and then I remembered it was Lent. Oh, the guilt! How do children enjoy their Easter baskets unless they’ve gone without sugary sweets for the previous 40 days? The reward is meaningless.
Gone now are the fasting requirements for those over age 60, pregnant women, diabetics, or those who merely imagine a reason not to fast. Even abstaining from food before receiving Holy Communion — once past midnight, now down to an hour before reception — is rarely mentioned.
The Church’s leniency doesn’t end with fasting. Confession is only required once a year, during Lent. There is no dress code for Mass, let alone women covering their heads. We children had our own Daily Missal when I was growing up, in which we placed holy cards and special prayers. Now the missals are in the pews because who would buy one and remember to bring it? The only tradition still emphasized is the collection basket; we have not one collection but two or three, and now printed envelopes are used to identify who gives how much.
Many of us older Catholics lament the loss of all the Church once taught and stood for. As David Mills wrote in the same issue, the Church “liberalizes, because it can’t escape the culture in which it lives” (Last Things).
San Augustine, Texas
Having been born in 1954, I had some experience with the Mass and Church life before Vatican II.
The joke back then was that because St. Peter was a fisherman, he declared that everyone should eat fish on Fridays so he could make some money.
Our table was not always set with fish on Fridays. There are other simple dishes that don’t have meat, such as bean soup, potato pancakes, and cabbage casserole. These days, however, Lenten meals in parish halls often feature sumptuous fish, shrimp, or lobster. I don’t know who got the idea that these are appropriate for a Lenten meal. That’s the kind of feast I would expect on Christmas or Easter!
When I was in second grade, we boys were introduced to the station called Acolyte. We were at the altar, all six of us, and our main function was to watch, learn, and hold candles during the Consecration. Later, as an altar boy, I had to learn the Latin responses to the prayers at Mass: “P: Introibo ad altare Dei. S: Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.”
In those days, many people prayed the Rosary during Mass, as they really didn’t know what was going on. But there were two Masses on Sundays at our church, 8:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m., and both were packed. Not everyone received Holy Communion, no one ever thought of touching the Host, and those who did receive knelt at a Communion rail as the priest distributed the Sacred Host and an altar boy held the paten under each communicant’s chin.
And then, just as I learned the Latin Mass, all the prayers and rituals, it was gone!
CHRISTOPHER BEITING REPLIES:
As I noted in my reply to Dr. Cherry’s letter (May), I was born near the end of the Second Vatican Council, so I lack the experience of the preconciliar Church that Loretta Bedford and Joseph Droddy have. Debates about Vatican II are endless, and will doubtless continue until Vatican III. I will be the first to admit that a lot of damage was done, and valuable Catholic customs and practices lost, by a generation of vandals operating in the name of the Spirit of Vatican II. Fasting is one of those practices.
Mind you, there’s fasting and there’s fasting. Early in our marriage, my wife and I decided to keep up the “no meat on Friday” practice, even though it’s no longer mandatory outside of Lent. Insofar as I love seafood, having fish one day a week seemed like a treat rather than a sacrifice.
In my younger days, I experimented with a bread-and-water fast on Fridays. I never really had much success with that practice. I once had leftovers from a parish function and “fasted” on croissants and Perrier. I remember thinking, “This satisfies the definition of what I want to do, but is it a sacrifice?”
The important word here is sacrifice, and that’s a thing that’s different for every person. I get the most out of a no-food-and-water-only (or juice or broth) fast because that’s a tremendous sacrifice to me. But there’s no one right way to do it. What matters is sacrifice, and participating in a work of the Holy Spirit.
I mentioned in my article (March) how convincing I found Jentezen Franklin’s point that every single significant figure in Scripture is mentioned as fasting in one way or another. But I didn’t mention the one that sold me: Anna in the Temple. When presented with her fasting example, I said to myself, “Fercryinoutloud, buster; if a little 84-year-old lady can do this, what the heck is your excuse?” When I realized I didn’t have one, I knew I had to get serious about fasting.
So, for Loretta and Joseph and any other NOR readers out there old enough to remember the Church in Better Days, I have a humble request: Don’t think of yourselves as relics of a lost age. Carefully read Luke 2:36-38 and contemplate the example Anna the Prophetess. Her fasting and her witness had power. Yours can, too. Follow her example and be Anna to the rest of us. Fast. Pray. Bear witness. Be our prophets, and don’t let us forget what we have lost.
The Oxford Movement did a lot to rejuvenate the Church of England in the 19th century, and I’ve long had hope that a similar movement could rejuvenate the Catholic Church in the 21st century. It would be fitting if it had its origins in the pages of the NOR.
Atheism of Words & Deeds
Kudos to Jason M. Morgan for his trenchant review of Victoria Smolkin’s book A Sacred Space Is Never Empty (April). Now that socialism has taken hold in Europe and North America, we have to worry about atheist pollution in our own sacred spaces. There are different kinds of atheism, including atheism of words and atheism of deeds. We have supposedly religious government leaders whose deeds are obviously atheistic. It doesn’t help that we have a “Catholic” President and a “Catholic” Speaker of the House whose words might not be particularly atheistic but whose positions on morality are scandalously anti-Catholic. And yet they are treated most politely by Catholic prelates of the type who used to kiss Henry VIII’s derrière, lest they lose favor with the throne — and their heads, to boot.
Anyone who doubts this should read A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Ralph Martin (2020). Indeed, a review of Dr. Martin’s book by Dr. Morgan would be most welcome, as Martin has shown in many powerful ways how the spiritually empty smoke of Satan is being wafted through the Church, thanks to the many willing and useful idiots of Marx and Engels. Then again, perhaps this is already so obvious to most readers that it hardly needs to be pointed out.
In his letter “Dereliction of Duty” (May), James Farrell coined a new word, maskophobia, to describe people who “use religion as an excuse to flaunt masks.” For months I have been using a related word among my friends to describe a different coronavirus-related phenomenon. Maskophilia is the term I created to describe people who wear masks even when they are not necessary, presumably as a visual statement of solidarity with — well, I’m not sure with what. Examples would be fully vaccinated politicians who speak muffled incoherence through a mask even though they are safely distanced from their hearers who are undoubtedly also fully vaccinated. Other examples would be people wearing a mask while driving alone in their cars or jogging alone outdoors. I am sure readers can think of more examples.
Preston R. Simpson, M.D.
After reading an issue of the NOR, I am often left contemplating a seemingly trivial mystery: How are the bands of color chosen for the covers? For years, when the NOR arrives in the mail, my wife has asked me to guess the color, and I am usually wrong.
But after months of lockdown, I started to wonder: Is there a meaning to these bands? For example, does red connote inflammatory articles? Does purple suggest they were approved by Pope Benedict XVI? And is brown a hint that within this issue are clues to the as-yet-unrevealed secrets of Fatima?
If you are allowed, enlighten your readers!
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Yes, I am allowed to divulge the “secret” of the color bands on the covers. Really, though, it’s not a secret. For years I’ve been eager to share this information. Finally, someone has asked!
When I took over as editor in 2008, the covers featured a different set of color bands than they do now, and there seemed to be no real rhyme or reason to them. Though purple in March and green in December made sense to me, most others didn’t. Dark brown in May and navy blue in September? Why?
So I made the decision to refresh our look with a revised color scheme and more vibrant hues. Having purple on the cover of the March issue made sense because that’s the color of Lent, the liturgical season that typically takes up the majority of that month. And so, conforming the rest of the issues to the liturgical calendar seemed a good first step.
As Advent begins in November, that month’s issue would also have a purple bar. Pentecost is a major holy day that often falls in June, so that month’s issue would have a red bar. (To my chagrin, Pentecost has fallen in May in recent years, but next year it will return to June.) After that, I stumbled.
The color of the great feasts of Christmas and Easter is white, and that presented a problem for our December and April issues. A white bar on a white background would essentially be invisible, rendering the covers colorless. This was a problem with our combined January-February issue, too, as the significant feast days in those months — Epiphany, the Baptism of Our Lord, the Conversion of St. Paul, and the Chair of St. Peter — all call for white, a no-go. This issue, too, would need further consideration.
For December, the solution was simple: Keep that issue green, a color commonly associated with Christmas.
Green is, of course, the color of Ordinary Time, but it wouldn’t do to have one issue with red, two with purple, and seven with the same color, green. Following the liturgical calendar, it turned out, wasn’t a cure-all. How else to order the colors?
If we can do evergreen in December, as a nod to the enduring power of life during nature’s harshest season, I reasoned, why not take cues from nature for the remaining issues? April showers: Make it blue! Summer sunshine in July and August: Make it yellow! The cycle of autumn in September and October: Make them orange and sienna! At last, nine issues were accounted for.
But the tenth? January-February was vexing. The liturgical calendar was no help, and neither was nature: Like the liturgical season, the dominant color of the natural season is white, as in white as snow. There was no obvious color to apply to this anomalous issue. So there was really nothing left to do but revert to tradition: Keep it red.
In 2012 we rolled out the new colors, and they haven’t changed in the years since. So now, with this cheat sheet in mind, when your wife challenges you to guess the color of the cover bar on any given issue, you’ll be correct every time. And won’t she be impressed!
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