Regarding “Caving In or an Act of Goodwill?” (Nation, Sept. 21 issue): The failure of Cardinal Timothy Dolan to oppose the acceptance of “gay marchers” in the St. Patrick’s Day parade is a setback for the Church in the United States, and it’s actually an indicator of deeper problems in the Church.
We blame it on the lack of leadership by priests and bishops, but where do priests and bishops come from? They come from the laity, and it’s we who are the problem. Too many Catholics are seeking lives of comfort and entertainment, which is basically a lack of faith, since the faith we profess to have is simply an intellectual knowledge (sort of) regarding what the Church teaches, rather than a faith that expresses itself in love for God and a self-sacrificing determination that with his help we will keep his commandments.
This striving for comfort and entertainment is most obvious in our acceptance of recreational sex.
The concept that sex is primarily recreational is what leads to pornography, hookups, cohabitation and then contraception in marriage — and also to the willingness on the part of Catholics, even those who do not offend this way themselves, to be soft on remarriage after divorce and even to accept “gay marriage.”
Those who are mired in this mental outlook must pray earnestly for the help they will need to do what they must do — make Christ the guiding force for their lives, seek guidance from a genuinely good confessor and stay close to the sacraments of reconciliation and holy Eucharist. It is a difficult struggle, but Christ will help those who are sincere about it.
Yes, one cardinal has failed to stand solidly for Catholic teaching. But there are a number of bishops, many recently appointed, who are firm in proclaiming Christ’s teaching. We must pray earnestly that these will provide the leadership necessary to get back to fundamentals and build a truly Christ-centered, faith-oriented Catholic laity.
New York, New York
Pertinent to “On East and West” (Letters to the Editor, Aug. 10 issue): The letters by Evan Lambrou, editor of the National Herald, the country’s oldest Greek-American newspaper, and Peter Beaulieu (“Elusive Unity,” Sept. 7) perpetuate misunderstandings of Catholic doctrines.
Lambrou wrote: “For the Orthodox, the Catholic doctrines on purgatory, procession of the Holy Spirit and papal primacy, as well as the use of unleavened bread for the sacrament of holy Communion, represent theological differences.” Theological differences have always existed in the ancient Church, and it was only when the Byzantines took it upon themselves, after 1054, to elevate theological differences into dogmatic ones, thereby accusing the entire Church in communion with the Successor of Peter of falling into “heresies,” that unfortunate doctrinal and disciplinary quarrels consolidated into formal schism.
The result has been the historical multiplication and repetition of endless grievances, as reflected in Lambrou’s letter and often refuted by Catholic historians and theologians.
Nor can it be said that Lambrou and Beaulieu accurately reflect the views of all Orthodox. The fact is there are Orthodox who certainly believe in an intermediate state of purification and cleansing that is termed “purgatory” and candidly admit that the filioque, the Immaculate Conception and the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist are not heretical. Nor are they troubled by transubstantiation, which has been defended in a major Orthodox confession of faith, the Confession of Dositheos (1672).
Lambrou happily accepts the apostolic succession of the pope and bishops in communion with him and the existence of seven sacraments, along with Catholics. But there are Orthodox who do not and even declare those Orthodox patriarchs and bishops seeking theological dialogue with Catholics as having embraced the “ecumenical heresy.”
The 14 or so autocephalous Orthodox Churches have yet to agree on or determine the dogmatic issues (other than the Roman primacy) that are believed to prevent the reunion of the Churches. There was the welcome resumption, Sept. 15-23, in Amman, Jordan, of the International Theological Dialogue for further study of “the crucial role of the Bishop of Rome in the universal Church.”
Let all Catholics and Orthodox pray that the Holy Spirit will further the way to unity by illuminating the proper relationship between papacy and conciliarity already set forth in the documents of Vatican II.
Montour Falls, New York
Tempted and Inspired
Early one morning, I was watching EWTN before heading to work. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen was presenting a lecture on temptation. It started me thinking, “Should we say ‘tempted’ or ‘inspired to do something good’?”
So I would ask you: When you hear the word “temptation,” who do you first think of: Jesus being tempted in the desert or the temptations of Adam and Eve? Or maybe you think of the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask Jesus not to lead us into temptation. Is there a good kind of temptation? “Why is it that anytime we speak of temptation we always speak of temptation as something that inclines us to wrong? We have more temptations to become good than we do to become bad” (Venerable Fulton Sheen).
Wikipedia defines temptation as the desire to perform an action that one may enjoy immediately or in the short term but will probably later regret for various reasons: legal, social, psychological (including feeling guilt), health-related, economic, etc. In the context of religion, temptation is the inclination to sin. But the Catechism states God’s first commandment and “condemns the main sins of irreligion: tempting God, in words or deeds, sacrilege and simony” (2118).
“Tempting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed. Thus Satan tried to induce Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple and, by this gesture, force God to act. Jesus opposed Satan with the word of God: ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ The challenge contained in such tempting of God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt about his love, his providence and his power” (2119).
Without a doubt, the temptation to sin is what we should avoid at all costs. What about the temptation to do good? If you witness an accident and people are hurt, what inspires you to pull over, get out of your car and try to help? When a truck driver sees boxes on the highway, he tries to run over them, like a game. But this time, he swerves and misses the box. After pulling his massive semi to the side of the road, he is inclined to see what is in the box. Upon lifting the box, he finds a 3-year-old boy who was trying to cross the highway. What inspired the man to swerve this time?
If you see a homeless person on the street corner asking for money, would you say that you are tempted to give him or her money or inspired to do so? Is it inspiration from God leading us closer to becoming the saints that we are called to become? Or can we be tempted to do good deeds or acts, demonstrating our faithfulness to the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself?
Prior to 1960, Catholics were all opposed to contraception, cohabitation, homosexual lifestyles and abortion. Priests were never addressed by their first names. Church services were faithfully attended, confessions frequent and children dutifully raised in the faith.
Mass was said in Latin by priests and altar boys facing the tabernacle, while the congregation followed along with reverence and devotion. People wore their “Sunday best” and avoided idle conversation before and during Mass. Parishioners who had not been to confession did not leave their pews for Communion. Moreover, no one assumed anyone could circumvent confession simply by reciting the Confiteor during Mass.
The Eucharist was distributed only by priests and received on the tongue while kneeling at an altar rail. Services might include a few hymns piously sung by a choir, but never included band instruments or contemporized lyrics. Congregational singing occurred, but it was never the focal point of the Mass.
Today, Catholic traditions and values have changed. Many say, “For the better.” Parishioners now openly disagree with Church teachings about contraception, premarital sex or the need for confession to a priest.
Some even question the authority of priests or the jurisdiction of the Pope and the magisterium.
Incredibly, many Catholics voted twice for a president who boldly campaigned for abortion rights.
Mass now seems less like an opportunity for reverent Eucharistic worship and more like an informal social event. Services are marked with casual attire, public greetings, singing, hands in the air or swaying to the music. Altar boys are rare, tabernacles no longer prominent and kneelers absent; Communion is distributed in the hand by laypeople. All too often, Our Lord seems to be received with little more reverence than lining up for a sample from a supermarket vender. No solemn worship, no confession to a priest, no kneeling, no reception of Communion on the tongue — no problem.
What happened? When did the beliefs of Martin Luther and John Calvin re-emerge? Progressive “changes” have resulted in declining attendance and disunity. Most young Catholics today are blithely unaware that the Church had traditions vastly different from today’s liturgy.
Those of us who do remember are alienated and feel pressured to accept the idea that our former traditions are passé.
Like America, our Church is being negatively impacted by “change” in our culture. All these “changes for the better” are making me feel more like a Protestant than a Catholic.
Amelia Island, Florida
The editor responds: American culture has moved far, indeed, from a moral and religious framework. Unfortunately, many Catholics, and parishes too, have allowed the increased secularism of society at large to water down our witness to the truth of the faith and the beauty and solemnity of the sacraments.
The causes of the changes you cite, some of which predate the 1960s, are too many to cover here. As Catholic faithful — laity and clergy alike — we need to be leaders and apostles, and we need to do everything we can through prayer, fasting and active participation in the life of the Church, so that these diseases that infect society can be stopped. And we need to trust Christ at his word: that the gates of hell will not prevail.