John Cavadini's criticism of George Weigel's thesis in Evangelical Catholicism ("Church as Sacrament," August/September) refuses to engage the book on the grounds upon which it seeks to engage. He takes umbrage with Weigel's un-Catholic emphasis on friendship with Christ, arguing that the Church begins with "Christ's undeserved, atoning love," not a "subjective" experience of friendship. But wasn't the whole purpose of Christ's sacrifice to bring man back into communion with him? Cavadini's argument seems to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what true friendship--and true religion, for that matter--is, which at its core is defined by undeserved, atoning love: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Cavadini is wrong when he essentially argues that the manner by which one lives out the faith received through baptism has no effect on whether or not one can still be considered fully Catholic. He is also wrong when he assumes that any further effort by the Church to curtail the horrendous and wide-spread scandal constantly encountered when the label "Catholic" is allowed to rest on public persons who oppose the Church's teachings will inevitably result in a puritanical stifling of the mystery of God's grace.
Any well-catechized confirmation student knows that to be called a Catholic one must not only partake in the sacraments of initiation but also follow the precepts of the Church. Without this completing element of a life of faith "between sacraments," as Weigel puts it, one becomes simply an ex-Catholic, and the indelible mark on one's soul is no longer a mark of salvation but a mark of eternal shame.
Cavadini begins his closing remarks by admitting that all of his problems with Weigel's work are not so much with the book itself, but with where someone might take some of his more ambiguous statements. If his greatest fear of Weigel's book is that it might create another Luther-a rejection rather than a reform--so be it. Not even a book written by God himself could preclude this possibility.
T. J. and Alycia Nielsen
GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA
John Cavadini replies:
My thanks to the Nielsens for these comments. I had not meant to communicate any of these points. I had intended to communicate, and I here reiterate, my general appreciation for George Weigel's book, as well as my agreement with almost all of the specific suggestions made for reform.
I mentioned a worry, and I tried...