The Key Word
Congratulations to Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., for his article, “The Magisterium in the New Millennium” (8/27). Father Sullivan feels he has no “prophetic gifts” with which to foresee how the magisterium will be exercised in the future. I believe he is a prophet foreseeing the future magisterial thrust using his own insights rooted in the teachings of Pope John Paul II in Novo Millennio Ineunte and the teachings of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
In his apostolic letter, Pope John Paul II says, “The unity of the church is not uniformity, but an organic blending of legitimate diversities... therefore the church of the third millennium will need to encourage all the baptized and confirmed to be aware of their active responsibility in the church’s life.”
As pointed out by Father Sullivan, the pope makes much use of the key word “participation” in explaining the third millennium communion of the church. Regarding this communal ecclesial participation of the laity in the new millennium, Father Sullivan quotes Vatican II: “To the extent of their knowledge, competence, or authority, the laity are entitled and indeed sometimes duty-bound to express their opinions on matters which concern the good of the church.”
With great respect to Father Sullivan, Pope John Paul II and the Fathers of Vatican II, I think St. Paul long ago, in one sentence, set the agenda for the magisterial thrust of the third millennium when he said, “Paul [the priest/bishop] plants, Apollos [the layman] waters, and God gives the growth” (1 Cor. 6). Amen!
I would have been even more excited by “Magisterium in the New Millennium,” by Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., (8/27) if it had scope to address the structure and proper use of the magisterium’s teaching prerogative. Hope for Christian unity in this millennium dies unless the form, functioning and hence the authority of the magisterium becomes acceptable to other Christians. Examination of the role of the papacy in this regard has already been solicited by Pope John Paul II.
Stress exists in Catholic theology because of formulations of faith made when biblical research, knowledge of anthropology and science generally were primitive. Basis for a fundamentalist outlook has eroded.
History will undoubtedly reveal that the problem, though pressing now, is not great. Biblical scholars thought the authority of the Bible was in danger at the time of Galileo. Similarly, a critique of the magisterium will be an enhancement rather than a threat to its authority and proper respect.
(Rev.) Connell J. Maguire
A Good First Step
I read with interest “Magisterium in the New Millennium” by Francis A. Sullivan, S.J. (8/27). I was certain as I read along that he would never broach the subject of lay participation in the spirituality of communion. But there it was at the end, following papal infallibility, general councils and the deliberative role of bishops in the decision-making process. Father Sullivan recognizes the important role lay persons should have in matters affecting the church. A consultative role for lay persons in plenary or regional councils is a good first step. Nonetheless, until lay persons are involved in “full communion” in church decisions that so intimately affect their lives, the spirit that pervaded Vatican II remains dormant. But Father Sullivan gives us hope.
Leo J. Jordan
Drawing on his experience as supervisory chaplain in the U. S. Marine Corps, Msgr. Eugene T. Gomulka explores the damaging consequences of the “aloneness” facing priests in today’s one-priest parishes (“‘Home Alone’ in the Priesthood,” 8/27). He points out how different this is from the ministry of Jesus, who although celibate did not lead a solitary life because he was supported by a loving band of Apostles. However, Jesus’ unique “Abba” relationship with God may be an even more significant difference. This extraordinary relationship with God was the source Jesus continually turned to for emotional sustenance. The passage in Jn. 14:7-14, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” describes an unequivocal, unwavering absolute oneness with God that is not accessible to us ordinary mortals. Only after we leave this earthly life behind can we hope for anything like the oneness with God Jesus relied on during his earthly life. During our earthly lives, the emotionally close togetherness of a loving marriage is the most effective human source we can turn to for emotional sustenance—a source the priesthood may now need.
I just read the Aug. 13-20 issue. I keep reading America, even when I don’t really have time (I am a pastor with two other full-time jobs), because you are addressing the real problems, the present problems, with theological precision, incisiveness and courage. My subscription copy is actually delivered to the Monastery of St. Clare (Poor Clares), and when it is given to me the best articles are already flagged for me by one of the sisters. In particular, I want to commend you for being in the forefront of the fight to save Vatican II from the centralizing tendency that has become a mania in recent years.
(Rev.) David Knight
At a recent social gathering of priests—a dozen or so—I asked for a show of hands of all who had friends among the laity, whom they had not known prior to ordination, who called them by their first name. All hands went up. Then I asked how many addressed by first name a bishop whom they had not known prior to his episcopal ordination. This time there was one raised hand. I thought of this when I read Msgr. Eugene T. Gomulka’s observations about aloneness contributing to clerical malfeasance (“‘Home Alone’ in the Priesthood” (8/27).
Forty-two years ago, when I was ordained, there was a clerical caste system, a tightly-closed circle that widened just enough to admit each newly ordained man. It was within this circle that we lived and moved and had our being, socially. The fresh air of Vatican II and its emphasis on all the baptized as the church has broken down this caste system. This is beautiful and wholesome, but it has resulted in the breakdown of what was previously a support system for the priests. This system has not been supplanted by support from the bishops—not an institutional support, but a warm, fraternal support. Until some changes are made—alluded to by Monsignor Gomulka—priests will be in this “Home Alone” condition: lacking a real sense of fraternity with bishops and bereft of identity with the laity. This equals aloneness. (I would hazard the guess that bishops struggle with this issue also.)
(Rev.) Joseph N. Sestito
Retired Navy Chaplain