National Catholic Reporter
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January 11, 2008


Phan’s theology

We read with a certain amount of humor and disbelief your article “U.S. bishops fault Phan for ‘considerable confusion’ ” (NCR, Dec. 21). Doesn’t it seem alarming that the bishops spend their creative talents searching a person’s writing for years only to discover (horrors!) “significant ambiguity”?

Many of us are delighted when we find a little hoped-for ambiguity in theological writings rather than didactic certitude. In this 21st-century global society, an outdated Eurocentric perspective is no longer meaningful to many people of goodwill. Answers forged principally from the experience of Western culture cannot begin to satisfy the questions modern religious seekers pose. If we Catholics choose to hold that somehow all salvation is through Jesus, that’s fine. But we must allow that people of other religions will probably not find this thought congenial. A conversion mentality that does not respect the deeply held beliefs of our fellow human beings or allow opportunities for true interreligious dialogue can hardly be what Jesus intended. The Good News that the apostles were to share with all nations must have been something happier than unquestioning conformity to inscrutable dogmas.

We applaud Fr. Peter Phan’s insightful and nuanced efforts to further interreligious dialogue. What he is proposing is a thought-provoking and significant contribution. We are grateful to him for his honest efforts to talk theology in a multicultural idiom.


Liturgy reform

Your editorial, “Liturgy reform: No going back” (NCR, Dec. 28), exemplifies the cliché of whistling past the graveyard. Bravely, you are trying to convince yourself and your readers that all is well in liturgy land, but your fear and trembling are evident.

You know the reform has failed. It has failed because in the new, revised, improved church, “liturgy is the visible expression of the arrangement of power.” What has that expression given us? Banners, balloons, clowns, circuses, guitars and tambourines.

You still dream that the Vatican II reforms will achieve “full, active, conscious participation,” but look around. The reform has driven away millions. Only a portion of those who remain take part in the show. These, I guess, are the wielders of power who sit on liturgical committees, lead the songs, read the texts and distribute the hosts.

You are worried that people will remember that the liturgy is not about the human ego, but about God. It is not about the exercise of power, but about adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition. You are terrified that they will return to the true Mass.

Seven Hills, Ohio

* * *

Your editorial on liturgy reform makes some valid points about the relationships at Vatican II and the church’s understanding of herself. It is simply incorrect to state that “though the discussion was liturgy, the real subject was ecclesiology,” as if somehow liturgy was secondary. First of all, as we learned from the document on the liturgy itself, liturgy is the source and summit of the church’s and the Christian life. It is not secondary to anything else, including ecclesiology. Secondly, and perhaps the key to the issues you raise in the editorial, liturgy is organic. Lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief) is what liturgical reformers like Virgil Michel taught us. Liturgy properly understood and celebrated naturally inspires the church’s mission for justice and peace. The genius of the council was precisely to start with the liturgical reform that had been percolating for a long time. This reform was based on the recovery of the historical tradition of the liturgy. The expectation was that this would naturally and organically lead to other necessary reforms in the church’s life and institutional structures, as well as proper engagement with the world in which the liturgy was being celebrated. The hope was that the people of God would attend to the Word and Sacrament in which they were supposed to be “fully, consciously, and actively” participating.

De Land, Fla.

* * *

The new Mass is a contrived, man-centered, as opposed to God-centered, social gathering that does not come near the Tridentine worship of our Lord, nor for that matter any other rite of the church. It is banal and casual with all the insipid, saccharine-sweet music one can stand. Its underlying theology is weak and its emphasis on the attendees rivaling the Triune God is shameful. Since the time of its inception, more Catholics have left the church and religious life, do not believe in the Real Presence and have no concept of mortal sin and the need for confession. Meanwhile, homosexual predators have become legion. Once and for all, for the love of our Lord, stop the defense of the new Mass and its fruits.

Wayne, N.J.

The Dutch strategy

Thank you for the cover story, “The Dutch plan,” on the booklet “Church and Ministry” from Dominican priests in the Netherlands (NCR, Dec. 14). The most important thing to note here is that these Dominicans have taken a new approach to the priest shortage, grounded in ancient church tradition. Perhaps it will stimulate Catholics in many parts of the world to consider the place of the Eucharist in the practice of our faith and how to ensure that all Catholics will continue to celebrate this key sacrament. I agree that our bishops have much to answer for in taking the Eucharist away from the people and closing down parishes due to the lack of priests to staff them. Depriving people of the sacrament of the sick is a terrible thing to do, given our understanding of the nature of sacraments.

However, the Dominican proposal does call into question the meaning of the sacrament of holy orders, as perhaps it should, and one thing the article did not address sufficiently is whether these ideas will bring younger people back into the church or whether there will be a new Catholic traditionalist movement in Holland, perhaps in response to the growing number of Muslims.

As Catholics, we need to be able to discuss these issues freely, and our leadership should stop being frightened of such conversations. We are not trying to destroy our Christian faith; we are trying to preserve it.

Fairport, N.Y.

Contemplative prayer

Thank you for the wonderfully informative presentation of the diverse facets of contemplative prayer (NCR, Dec. 14). I have a much better sense of the common base of the varied practices. I could almost feel the Spirit moving on the pages and bringing new hope to a spiritually starving humanity. I live in a secular retirement community, the last place I might expect to find contemplative practice. And yet we have available a biweekly mindfulness meditation time, guided by a gentle, gifted woman. The Spirit is blowing where She will, free from any institutional restraints, and my spirit is lifted in joy and freedom. Alleluia!

Cupertino, Calif.

* * *

The article on meditation by Tom Fox raises many questions. There is no doubt that sitting quietly and repeating a mantra is calming and aids the practitioners to focus their lives, but is it prayer? Traditionally, meditation is a form of prayer, that is, speaking to God from the heart. The traditional way of meditation starts with reading a short scriptural passage, giving time to let it sink into your heart, thinking about what it means for your life and then, the real prayer part, speaking to God from the heart. From the first day, the person is praying. Gradually, the time for thinking decreases and the time for praying increases. Then the prayer gradually becomes simple, a slow repetition of some very short prayer, like “My God and my all.”

In Mr. Fox’s interview with Fr. Thomas Keating, Fr. Keating says, “It is my belief that people who have practiced the Christian religion for some years don’t need a lot of discursive meditation.” I agree, if by “practiced” he means they have seriously reflected on scripture, really have come to know God’s love and have struggled to transform their lives into the life of Jesus. For how many young students would this be true?

How many of those who start meditation by repeating a mantra eventually enter contemplation? The article does not indicate this. I know that if people are faithful to the traditional way of meditation, they will enter contemplation, to which every person is called in virtue of their baptism.

Fukishima, Japan

Women priests

My wife and I get a large charge out of the bombastic letters to the editor you print. Their latest railing at your presentation on women priests (NCR, Dec. 21) fires us up to come out from under the radar to invite these women priests to come and celebrate the Eucharist at the Great Outdoors RV and Golf Resort, St. Christopher’s Faith Community, in Titusville, Fla., anytime.

We are a eucharistic community of Christians, 70 percent Catholic, 15 percent Episcopalian, 15 percent Lutheran et al, served by a few married Roman Catholic priests. The priests do not accept any salary or stipend and are not trying to start a new church, but just trying to implement the norms of Jesus Christ and his inspired council, Vatican II.

We would love to have any of these women priests come to preach and concelebrate the Eucharist with us, not as in a caste system but as a simple community ministered by priests who have the ecclesiastical impediment of having received too many sacraments, just like the new women priests.

Titusville, Fla.

A ministry of presence

Each year I await with great anticipation the letter of Fr. Bob McCahill (NCR, Dec. 21). I see him as an example for the whole church and its mission.

Recently, a friend related to me his conversation at the office. He was telling his colleagues that they must believe in Jesus and be born again or they cannot go to heaven. I avoided argument by reciting the mantra of some sage, “Preach the Gospel always, and sometimes use words.”

The Vatican II document “The Church in the Modern World” states that “the split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” Fr. McCahill’s ministry of presence is the ideal I have tried to keep before me each day. Erin Ryan’s quote from Gandhi is so right: “If you want us to feel the aroma of Christianity, you must copy the rose. The rose irresistibly draws people to itself.”

Fr. McCahill is doing it in Bangladesh. We can do it here. Jesus lived among us and went about doing good. “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.”

Brecksville, Ohio

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National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2008