In defense of mortification

God bless you for taking on the thorny subject of corporal mortification in two excellent articles by Father Robert Barron (“How ‘taking the discipline’ can get us into better spiritual shape”) and Emily Stimpson (“Sacrifices of the flesh”) in the March 7 issue. 

The argument that physical penances are too easily abused or done from disordered motives would apply equally well to other forms of penance like prayer and almsgiving. Many people pray or give out of guilt or to gain public recognition. But would anyone suggest suspending the offering until everyone is fully catechized and sufficiently holy and humble to give with a perfect heart? We need penance precisely because we’re not perfect. It is both a means and a fruit of grace. 

So do we merit salvation by inflicting pain or hunger on ourselves? Of course not! However, gluttony, sloth and self-indulgence can hinder or even prevent our cooperation with the grace that saves us, the grace by which God imparts to us the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (see Heb 12:14), and by which he works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13). 

I’ve found that unless I fast regularly and frequently, I simply don’t have the desire to do God’s will or to serve others. Only when my body is kept in the place of an obedient servant is it possible for me to respond with joy to God’s grace and to want his will more than my own comfort. Far from being a burdensome, legalistic duty, such penance is part of the easy yoke and light burden which Christ shares with us out of love, and which makes the road to heaven a joyful journey! 

— Margret Meyer, Jacksonville, Fla.

Medieval throwback

As a member of the so-called Silent Generation, I will not be silent on your recent article on corporal mortification. I believe it is a relic of medieval times and has no place in the 21st century (Pope John Paul II notwithstanding). 

There are many ways we can sacrifice in positive ways by giving of our prayers, time, talents and financial offerings. 

— Joan Millar, Paso Robles, Calif.

Defund the immoral 

I was very disappointed to read the March 7 article by Russell Shaw (“Group cries foul over USCCB’s coalition memberships”) in which he defends the bishops’ conference’s funding of groups and organizations that are contrary to Catholic teachings. I have read other sources of information (such as on this topic, and this problem goes way beyond memberships in coalitions. 

Why should I donate my hard-earned money to organizations that may go against my basic beliefs? If the bishops’ conference has funded even one questionable organization, that means their screening and monitoring processes are inadequate. 

Just because we have some common goals with people who don’t share most of our other beliefs, doesn’t mean we should donate money to them. We can still interact with, talk to, meet with, pray for, etc., those who disagree with us. Thus not donating money and not joining a coalition doesn’t mean we are “severing contact with the ‘immoral of this world.’” 

It seems there is no incentive for “the immoral of this world” to change if we are going to give them financial support to carry on with their contrary ways. 

— Laura Gidley-Feltz ,Columbia, Ill.

Who says equal? 

In Jesuit Father William J. Byron’s article on “The Ten Commandments of Catholic social teaching” (March 14); in point No. 9 he writes of human equality. I would like to know where in the Bible do we find a basis for the teaching on equality and fairness? Who has been given the authority to define equality and fairness? If we are called the “elect of God,” “the Chosen People,” “a royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” are we the same as nonbelievers? Could it be that the only thing all men are created equal in is that we must pick up our cross and follow Jesus up to Golgotha? 

— Tom Ortowski, Haverhill, N.H. 

Editor’s note: What Father Byron means is consistent with Acts 10:34: “God shows no partiality” (see Rom 2:11; Gal 2:6; Eph 6:9). Made in God’s image and likeness, all people share the same dignity as creatures. And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39, Mk 12:31, Lk 10:27). And, “If you show partiality, you commit sin” (Jas 2:9).

Good writing gone 

Re “Word Games,” March 7, by Greg Erlandson. Good writing skills seem to have fallen between the cracks, overshadowed in the primary grades by the importance of teaching reading and basic math skills, and in the later grades by the pressure to teach specific subject matter. Parents write at work, but seldom at home. Is it any wonder students don’t think writing is important? They have no writing models. 

In this era of technology, soldiers e-mail home something that might not weather the test of time. But, historically, letters have been valuable on a personal level. 

The discipline of writing teaches more than penmanship, grammar or typing. It helps us to develop a fuller, richer voice. 

If we as a nation are to improve our ability to communicate in writing, some constituency at some stage in the educational process must make writing its No. 1 priority. 

— Aubert J. Lemrise, Peru, Ill.