National Catholic Reporter
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January 28, 2005

Letters Liturgy for children

Tom Jablonski’s “Starting Point” essay on the homily at his child’s school Mass (NCR, Jan. 7) was not angry enough. I taught in the Catholic schools for 25 years and now work with teachers and catechists in the area of liturgy and prayer. Most Catholic schoolteachers are unaware of the Directory For Masses With Children and yet are routinely given the responsibility of preparing eucharistic liturgies for their schools. In some places where the teachers are informed about the resources, the pastor will not allow them to use the excellent and wise adaptations the directory suggests.

Rarely will a priest seek advice from an experienced educator about how to speak to children. Homilies at Masses with children very often lack the simplicity and concreteness needed to get the good news across. And then we get a homilist like Jablonski describes who has no good news to share!

It should be no surprise to us that our children are shortchanged liturgically. Many of us experience it every Sunday.


Dubious democracy

Thirty-five years ago, I was told that I was fighting for democracy in Vietnam. Now we’re fighting for democracy in Iraq. Our leaders tell us we have the greatest democracy in the world.

I wonder. If our form of democracy is so good, why do we have to force people to accept it? Are we leading by example? Women and blacks couldn’t vote in this country until recently. Some areas still make it difficult. In 2000 we stopped counting votes and had to get the Supreme Court to pick a president. In 2004 there were over 30,000 voting irregularities reported. In some cases there were more votes cast than voters. An independent audit group could not certify our election. We have no national standard for casting votes or counting votes. Seventy percent of the people of voting age did not vote for the president. Our system seems sick to me, but neither of our two major parties seems to care.

A ticket to the inaugural ball only costs $100,000. I doubt if many of our young folks in the military, who are being told that they are fighting for democracy, could have afforded that.

Maybe our form of democracy is the greatest if you’re very rich. I suspect our form of democracy wouldn’t appeal to Jesus.

Grass Lake, Mich.

* * *

Almost a year after the Bush-sponsored coup that ousted the elected government of Haiti, the country has been dubbed by foreign correspondents “The Iraq of the Caribbean.” And with good reason.

Violence and insecurity are now reaching epidemic proportions. Hundreds of political prisoners languish in horribly overcrowded cells -- and most have not even been charged with a crime. Innocent people are killed every day. The interim leaders have no control over the majority of the countryside. Sound familiar?

Well, there is one big difference between Iraq and Haiti: The Bush administration is adamant about the need for elections to proceed in Iraq -- and for them not to proceed in Haiti. Why the disparity?

In Iraq, a country that has never had an election, Bush says that we must have elections -- despite the increasing level of violence; in Haiti, a country that has had elections before, he supports the interim government’s position that the situation is “too violent to have free and fair elections.”

The American Indians used to call this “speaking with forked tongue.” And they were right. Centuries later, Thomas Merton said this: “We make ourselves real by telling the truth.” And, I must add, by being able to distinguish the truth from propaganda.

Bardstown, Ky.

Editorial exploitation?

During my last five years of Jesuit formation, I have spent a lot of time working with people who have suffered physical, spiritual and emotional trauma. I have worked as a chaplain in the trauma center of the local county hospital, and I was a chaplain at O’Hare Airport in Chicago in the aftermath of Sept. 11. What I have learned is that traumatic events, as your editorial of Jan. 7 points out, do confront us with ourselves, but they do so with the masks ripped off our faces so that we are left only with our vulnerable true selves.

I have come to view such traumatic events as sacred ground because it is in that vulnerability that God is able to touch us most profoundly. It is that weak, vulnerable true aspect of ourselves that God especially loves. The realization that a cataclysm such as the Dec. 26 tsunami could have affected any of us has confronted us with the sacred ground of this utter devastation, and we have opened our hearts, our hands and our wallets in response.

None of us would knowingly want to trivialize or desecrate that sacred ground by crassly exploiting such human suffering. Yet when the editors of NCR use this tragedy as a club with which to bash the Bush administration, that is exactly what they are doing. It gives the impression that trauma and suffering only matter insofar as they can further their own ends, and reduces the victims and their families to mere pawns.

The difficult questions will undoubtedly need to be asked, but it is better to do so after some time has elapsed to the point where we can look at our successes and failures objectively. Ultimately, though, NCR editors will also be left to deal with how they responded when nothing was at stake -- no agenda, no editorial bias, no ecclesial ideology -- but their humanity.


There can be only one

I take exception to L.G. Kaiser’s reference to this president as George II (Letters, NCR, Jan. 7). Doesn’t Kaiser realize that President Washington was the first George?

New Cumberland, Pa.

Ricing Condoleezza

Alan Rettig complains in his letter of Jan. 7 about Pat Oliphant’s political cartoon of Condoleezza Rice, which NCR printed on its editorial page in its Nov. 26 edition. However, just because Rice is a person who has “a host of personal and public accomplishments who happens to be a woman and black,” that does not excuse her from having a severe problem with the truth.

Rice claimed in May 2002, concerning pre-9/11 intelligence, that she did not think anybody could have predicted that people would try to use an airplane as a missile; the fact is that on Aug. 6, 2001, the president personally received a briefing advising him that Osama bin Laden’s plot could include the hijacking of an American airplane (Los Angeles Times). In March 2004, she claimed that Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and that he chose not to; the fact is that Clarke sent a memo to Rice and other White House principals on Jan. 24, 2001, marked “urgent” asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending al-Qaeda attack, and the White House said that “principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat” (CBS “60 Minutes”). She claimed in March 2004 that no one believed that Saddam Hussein was without weapons of mass destruction; the fact is that in that same month the Bush administration’s top weapons inspector, David Kay, resigned his post saying he did not believe banned stockpiles existed before the invasion, and Kay urged the Bush administration to come clean about misleading America (Chicago Tribune).

Dubuque, Iowa

* * *

Regarding Alan Rettig’s comment that “Liberals need to get a new playbook”: When President George W. Bush was selected in 2000, he specified Condoleezza Rice to be his national security adviser. Though I had not voted for Mr. Bush, I thought at least he had had the sense to choose intelligent and experienced people to assist him in guiding the country.

During her appointment as national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice has been about as useful as a bump on a log. She was supposed to pester the CIA, the FBI and other intelligence-gathering agencies on an hourly basis to be aware of threats to the United States. She was supposed to keep President Bush’s attention focused on real threats to this country like al-Qaeda instead of imaginary threats like Iraq. Whether she and Richard Clarke could have prevented the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is uncertain. What is certain is that our foreign policy is being dictated in the Defense Department by people who shoot first and never apologize for mistakes. What is highly probable is that the Iraq war will pull Iran and Russia into the fracas as we steal every drop of oil in the Iraqi oil fields (the northern Iraqi oil fields border the Caspian Sea, where Russia’s chief petroleum reserves lie).

Springfield, Ill.

Comic talent

If NCR readers are lucky to have any copies of Pat Oliphant’s super cartoons, they should start a collection. They will be the owner of a rare fortune.

Pat belongs to a prestigious club of cartoonists that includes George Herriman (“Krazy Kat”), Walt Kelly (“Pogo”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”). Pat tells it like it is.

His details are spectacular. I love the little goof who always has the last word. Take a good look at his drawings. Nothing is missing that might add to the whole meaning of his cartoon, unlike the messages we get from television, radio and newspapers.

John Weisman of TV Guide magazine can’t say enough about Pat Oliphant’s work. Who can? I thank God that NCR brings class to its cartoons.

I had to write this since Pat is my favorite cartoonist. Thanks for listening.

Oakland, Calif.

A real artist

I could not believe the cover of the Dec. 24 NCR, which I just got around to reading today, Jan. 6. I recognized the artistic style of the flight into Egypt cover picture right away and couldn’t get over what I saw and read inside. I met Mr. Sadao Watanabe and his wife and once had tea in their home.

In about 1971 or ’72, I was a Navy nurse stationed on the island of Guam. My friend and I took leave together to tour Japan. We attended Mass one day, celebrated by a Maryknoll missionary. We struck up a conversation with him and he invited us to go with him to visit a friend. Mr. Watanabe was gracious and welcoming. Mrs. Watanabe was the perfect hostess. We were highly interested in the intricacies of the kimono, and Mrs. Watanabe showed us how to tie the obi. She served tea, answered all our questions patiently. When we were leaving, Mr. Watanabe gifted each of us with one of his handmade Christmas cards for that year, signing them in pencil.

I framed it right away and it still graces my home. I knew instinctively that this man was a real artist, but it wasn’t until today that I knew whom I met and what I have. Mine depicts the Epiphany, and today, on the traditional feast of the Epiphany, I thank you for sharing the story of Mr. Sadao Watanabe with me.

San Antonio

Sexual identity

I have just read the Chris Roberts essay on the Vatican’s letter “On the collaboration of men and women” (NCR, Dec. 10) and remain unconvinced.

Growing up in the much overvalued 1950s, I learned at every turn that the human body was a loathsome thing and that being a girl made me inherently inferior -- simultaneously unqualified to make a decision and responsible for all the world’s ills.

I learned this in a totally Catholic environment: home, school, church, social activities. It was a long time before I even came to know anyone who wasn’t Catholic.

I have spent the years since Vatican II (the true origin of “The Sixties,” along with the Pill) recovering from this early indoctrination. I’m not interested in the fine points of theology; I’m interested in learning to live within my own skin.

Given how destructive the church-on-the-scene (as opposed to the lofty pronouncements) was in my life, I can find no reason why I should give credence to the church’s teaching about my gay son. I got no help from the church, but I got a lot of help from PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), through which I learned of serious biblical scholars who argued that being gay is part of God’s creation and indeed “God loves what he [sic] has made.”

Those in power are fond of holding a self-serving position and entertaining no ideas that don’t support that position. That seems to me to explain the church’s hostility to gay marriage.

St. Petersburg, Fla.

Frustration in Boston

As a Catholic in my eighth decade in the Boston archdiocese, I read with much interest your excellent editorial in the Jan. 7 edition, which began, “Poor Boston!” Indeed, it was a poor show when they arrested parishioners in church on Christmas Eve!

Yes, Archbishop Sean O’Malley has much work yet to do in order to set the archdiocese in order. Yes, it would be better if he set his goals on listening to people who aspire to real participation in the decision-making processes. There is one such organization already in place, Voice of the Faithful. But, from my observations, it receives more derision than the respect that it deserves.

The reasons stated for the closures of some parishes are: declining numbers of parishioners, financial problems due to lawsuits, and fewer priests. The first two would ease if Catholics were to regain trust in and respect for the leaders of the church. (Respect was not gained by the plum assignment allotted to Cardinal Bernard Law.) And as for the third: Well, listen up, hierarchy, there are plenty of vocations out there that could be tapped. Like married people, and, good heavens -- women. Do you think perhaps the Holy Spirit is talking to you? Are you listening?

Plymouth, Mass.

Pro-life Democrats

This morning I sat down with a few free moments to catch up on reading. Imagine my surprise upon reading Joe Feuerherd’s article on the need for the Democratic Party to rethink its abortion stance (NCR, Jan. 7). This afternoon, we have the first meeting for a new group considering setting up a Dallas/Fort Worth chapter for Democrats for Life here in Irving, Texas. Democrats for Life president Carol Crossed will be here.

Yes, the Democratic Party can become the pro-life party by simply working to make the desire for abortion less common. The real victory will be when the desire for abortion is eliminated!

Following the apparent increase in abortions for the past four years, it appears Democrats are much better at making the desire for abortion rare.


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National Catholic Reporter, January 28, 2005