National Catholic Reporter
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October 5, 2007


Mother Teresa’s darkness

Regarding your editorial and Eileen Markey’s article (NCR, Sept. 14) on Mother Teresa: Her darkness is a warning in more than one way. Her statement that she was “willing to suffer for all eternity if this [is] possible” isn’t theologically sound but an indication her spiritual advisers lacked discernment, left her to struggle alone and added significantly to her suffering. That the postulator for her sainthood could have published these letters 10 years after her death without clarifying this is beyond shocking. Eternal suffering after death is hell. Jesus instead shows us how to walk through unavoidable suffering and transform it; he doesn’t call us to accept a cross without a resurrection. How could they have missed the obvious?

If the church is to promote Mother Teresa’s cause for sainthood, it must first do a major reexamination of spirituality that is grounded in experience. This is something that’s centuries overdue. After all, religions are founded on religious experiences. I’m not speaking of another history of mysticism or a New Age-style unquestioned acceptance of everything but of a careful examination of accounts of spiritual experiences. Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux and Simone Weil are places to start. The church hierarchy encourages an excess of suffering as “heroic” saintliness. But Jesus’ only commandment to us doesn’t call us to purity and perfection but to love.

Farmington, N.M.

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I was encouraged by three examples of courage and faith you presented: Mother Teresa, Archbishop Rowan Williams and Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. Each was an example of faithfulness, even when not experiencing comfort and consolations. Each was an example of seeking “the God of all consolation” even when that God did not console and encourage. Each was an example of being a person of faith in a turbulent world and church.

Topeka, Kan.

Miter should go

It was refreshing to read “Bishop’s book calls for ‘a better church’ ” by Penny Edman (NCR, Sept. 14). Among Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s ideas is doing away with the bishop’s miter. I see the miter not as a symbol of service to Christ but as a representation of absolute power from the times when the bishops were also royal officials in service to kings and emperors. Perhaps the abuses of power referenced by Bishop Robinson are rooted in the symbol of royal authority represented by the miter. Yes, it is time to lay aside the bishop’s miter.

Kansas City, Mo.

Anglican unity

The juxtaposition of the cover story on the Anglican communion and the report on Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s book about power and sex in the Catholic church caught my eye (NCR, Sept. 14). As an Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst, I’ve dealt firsthand with the pastoral and clinical ramifications of the church’s difficulty with sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. The increasing ability of the Episcopal church to bless gay people and their relationships fully and honestly is important for gay people and for the church. Our gay members no longer are pushed to split their spirituality from their sexuality. They can be whole people, and I don’t think any of us, gay or straight, can be holy unless we first are whole.

We are also discovering that what benefits gay women and men also benefits the church. Gay people now are disproportionately represented in our parish leadership. Their contributions are wonderful and exciting. Greater acceptance allows greater holiness and service. That’s a classic Christian equation that the proclaimers of certainty overlook.

I take seriously the unity of the church, but I cannot imagine God asking my parish to turn away from the welcoming and accepting theology that is bringing us such vitality. We know that our gay members are no more “intrinsically disordered” than our straight members. It may be some time before it becomes clear what new thing God is doing in the Anglican communion and the church universal. But I am grateful for what God has been doing in my particular church and in my denomination.

Elk Grove Village, Ill.

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The article “Anglican crisis in brief” explains that the biggest threat faced by the Anglican communion is “severance of links between the churches of the communion. Separatist pressure groups in the global North, especially within the Episcopal church in the United States and the Church of England, are using the primates of the global South, notably in Africa, as their agents.”

What an unbelievably biased description of the facts surrounding the threat! The unilateral and wholly unprecedented decision of the Episcopal church to ordain as bishop a divorced man and practicing homosexual threatens the internal unity of the worldwide communion -- as well as its ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic and Orthodox churches -- and you choose to paint with a negative light those Episcopalians who oppose such an act of in-your-face arrogant disregard for others within and without?

Would it be too much for me to guess that whoever wrote those lines supports the understanding of “church authority” and “diversity” that the most liberal branch of Anglicanism holds?

Charlotte, N.C.

Hispanic youth

I was pleased by the article by Fr. Ken Davis regarding Hispanic youth and young adults (NCR, Sept. 7). I believe that Hispanic/Latino youth are stewards of a future already present in the U.S. Catholic church. If the church does not seize this opportunity, many of our young people will be drawn into other denominations or, worse, to no denomination at all. This article is also a challenge to Hispanic Catholics who are in positions of leadership in their respective dioceses to make a concerted effort to address and engage Hispanic youth in their ministries. In addition, diocesan youth ministry programs need to acquire the necessary competencies to engage and promote Hispanic youth ministry within their structures, respecting the gifts and organizational strategies that Hispanic youth and young adults bring to reaching out to one another, organizing their meetings, and so on. I applaud NCR for making this article accessible for church leaders to discern.

New York

Saving small farms

It was encouraging to read “Local Food” (NCR, Sept. 14). The Oklahoma Food Co-op is a shining example of what can be done on a local level. The people involved and all small farmers and those interested in securing local food for all should be aware of the provision for a National Animal Identification System that is part of the 2007 Farm Bill, which will soon be debated in the Senate. This system is promoted by agribusiness conglomerates and will compel all owners of cows, horses, pigs, sheep, etc. to register their premises and livestock in a federal database, to buy microchip devices and attach them to every single animal, to log and report each and every event in the life of each animal, to pay fees for the privilege of having their location and animals registered, to pay fines of up to $1,000 a day for noncompliance.

Obviously, the cost of raising animals on a small farm would become prohibitive and put co-ops that sell meat out of business. All of us interested in saving local and organic small farms need to strongly protest to our senators about passage of the current bill with provisions for such a system built into it.


Women clergy

There will be no feminization of the church until we have female priests and bishops (NCR, Aug. 17). The American church will not wait for Rome to recognize that women are as capable to serve as clergy as men. I suggest that female priests and bishops would be guilty of virtually no sex abuse of minors. Are we facing a schism, or should we continue to watch our priests and nuns fade away?

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Pope’s book

Both reviews of the pope’s new book Jesus of Nazareth were written in arrogance and intellectual ignorance (NCR, Sept. 21). They accuse readers who accept and enjoy the pope’s new book of being simple-minded and out of touch with the intelligent truths of theologians, exegetes and those trained in patristics. But Jesus’ message is for the simple. Have the academic world and writers of Catholic newspapers forgotten this truth? And why do they wish to continue to demonstrate their ignorance of God as they defend their divisive partisan views in opposition to the magisterium’s guidance, governance and holiness? The reviewer mentions that if Benedict is right, a whole century of New Testament scholarship will have to be corrected or disposed of. He writes: “For most readers of Benedict’s book this will be received as an immense liberation, a recovery of the fullness of Christ in every page of scripture, but for critical exegetes and theologians it is more likely to induce gnashing of teeth and the sense of doors being locked.”

Catholicism is favorable to our Jewish brothers and sisters. The Jewish faith and its people are the very roots of Catholic Christianity. Jesus, the Jew, fulfilled the law and brought the Jesus of Catholic Christianity in continuity with the old as he exemplified the new, the Holy Spirit. Alan Brill presents an extreme and exaggerated version of our traditional Christian treatment of the Jews. Both viewpoints are empty of God’s wisdom.

Pekin, Ind.

Spain’s Catholics

Regarding Mary Ann Cejka’s article “Defending the faith” (NCR, Sept 14), the question needs to be asked: Why in a traditionally solidly Catholic country like Spain did most Spaniards side with the secular-trending, elected Republican government and feel animosity toward the church, while church officials sided with Franco’s rebels and the Nazis and Italian fascists?

In the first free elections after Franco’s death, interestingly, the distribution of votes from left to right was just about the same as in the Spanish elections of early 1936.

When I was in Spain during the 1981 elections there, I was pleased to hear that the cardinal primate of Toledo apologized publicly for the church’s support for Franco and declared that it would not be a sin to vote for the Socialist Workers party, which won.

Silver Spring, Md.

Future church

I think Pope Benedict XVI is on the wrong side of the issue of relativism. I’m sure he can silence Fr. Peter Phan (NCR, Sept. 21), as he has others before him. There seems to be an increasing number of people he will need to silence: for example, Rosemary Radford Ruether (NCR, Sept. 7) for teachings like those expressed in “Creativity at the grass roots.” Her kind of discussion can’t be allowed.

Then we have Sr. Pascaline Coff (NCR, Sept. 21). In her article, she so beautifully expressed the attitude of many of us. “We were created for the truth, and the wisdom from these traditions [other religions] leads to a truth which is already in our hearts.”

If the pope persists, his one prediction that the future church will be much smaller will probably come true. I just wonder how he is going to finance that future church.

Clinton, N.J.

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National Catholic Reporter, October 5, 2007