WHILE WE'RE AT IT.

 
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* Craig J. Rolwoods of Titusville, New Jersey, spotted this explanation from the U.S. Postal Service. It accompanies a commemorative postage stamp series on insects and spiders. "Insects have been around for about 350 million years. Today their numbers reign supreme. More than a million species are known, but scientists estimate that millions of species may remain undiscovered. At this very moment, there are some 200 million live insects for every human on Earth. Insects as a group have achieved something that has eluded humans--sustainable development. Insects are the primary consumers of plants, yet they do not merely exploit plants, they also pollinate them, thereby ensuring the plant's reproduction. Humans have yet to strike such a balance between use and conservation of nature. Spiders, in comparison, are a lesser group. Only about thirty thousand species are known. Most survive by feeding on insects, using venom to kill their prey." We may not be as good as insects, but at least we're superior to spiders.

* We had some deservedly kind things to say about Father Anthony Ruff at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota and what he's trying to do with sacred music. Dr. Kurt Poterack, who edits Sacred Music, a quarterly published by the Church Music Association of America and advocating what it is not embarrassed to call a more "traditionalist" approach, thinks a little equal time is in order. In truth, there is an encouraging competition today among groups and publications that, whatever their differences, are united in trying to retrieve and renew the Catholic musical legacy in accord with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Sacred Music is available from 134 Christendom Drive, Front Royal, Virginia 22630. While we're at it, so to speak, there is also Adoremus, published by the Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, P.O. Box 3286, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, and Antiphon, c/o Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, 331 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111.

* A seriously Catholic friend whose line of work has him hanging out with equally serious evangelical Protestants has a problem. "I'm not very good," he says, "at giving the kind of formulaic `personal testimony' that they seem to expect." I know what he means. For many years I've been responding to evangelical friends who want to know when I was born again or, as it is commonly put, when I became a Christian. "I don't remember it at all," I say, "but I know precisely the time and place. It was at 357 Miller St., Pembroke, Ontario, on Sunday, June 2, 1936, when twelve days after my birth I was born again in the sacrament of Holy Baptism." (I was baptized at home because the chicken pox was going around.) That usually elicits a wry smile, and then the question, "Yes, but when did you really become a Christian?" In sober truth, there have been not one but several moments in my life that would no doubt qualify as what most evangelicals mean by a conversion experience. In circumstances appropriate to the disclosure of intensely personal experiences, I have told others about these moments. And some day, in pathetically pale imitation of Augustine and other greats, I might write about them in detail. My public testimony, however, is not to my experience but to Christ. It is not upon my experience but upon Christ that I rest my confidence that I am a child of God. The same set of questions is addressed from a Calvinist viewpoint in a recent issue of that mordant publication, Nicotine Theological Journal The article includes this from the 1902 Heidelberg Catechism, Twentieth-Century Edition: "Nor need you doubt your conversion, your change of heart, because you cannot tell the day when it took place, as many profess to do. It did not take place in a day, or you might tell it. It is the growth of years (Mark 4:26-28), and therefore all the more reliable. You cannot tell when you learned to walk, talk, think, and work. You do not know when you learned to love your earthly father, much less the heavenly." The editors add, "This is the Reformed doctrine of `getting religion.' We get religion, not in bulk but little by little. Just as we get natural life and strength, so spiritual life and strength, day by day." Of course, some do get it in bulk, and with a bang. One thinks, for instance, of the zealot from Tarsus on his way to Damascus.

* John L. (Jack) Swan was a piece of work. Friends and foes agreed on that, and he had plenty of both. He was called a "community relations consultant," but that doesn't come near to suggesting the half of it. He believed in the capacity of people for self-government, and worked quietly, relentlessly, and effectively against those who don't. In 1977, working with only $11,000, he organized the campaign in which 60 percent of the voters of New York rejected the Equal Rights Amendment. He devised the strategy that twelve times defeated the "gay rights" bill in this city. He was crucially important in overturning the infamous Children of the Rainbow Curriculum in New York's public schools (remember Heather Has Two Mommies?). In addition to everything else, he orchestrated the publication of the forty-six-volume Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, published by Ignatius Press. He was always a gentleman. His friend George Marlin recalls a time when Jack was trying to do the Lord's work with the legislature in Albany. A reporter wagged his finger at Jack's nose and declared, "I know you're orchestrating this session, and I am going to interview you." Jack smiled his choirboy smile and calmly replied, "I do not grant interviews to the New York Times." When Jack died just short of his seventy-first birthday, Cardinal O'Connor said, "Jack was a scandal to the modern world and I thank God for that." Another friend, Donald Barr, a distinguished educator, was inspired to undertake what he says is his first attempt at poetry in ten years. I think it gets the man just right:

Life was his trade and Innocence his care. He fought in silence in the dreadful strife. His fingers, like Commandments, straight and bare, He spread between the infant and the knife. And the bath-house bravoes; the unfaithful priests; The milkless Liliths of a Second Fall; The artificers of decay; the beasts In the forest of our nerves--he fought them all. We loved to see him, leaning on his cane And smiling slowly, coming from the field: Smiling his answer to his bodily pain, To loss, to hope deferred, to truth concealed; Smiling in answer to the shrieking guile, Ultimate victory in his slow smile. * Michael McManus is a syndicated columnist and founder of Marriage Savers, an ecumenical program that has had significant impact in reducing the incidence of divorce. A recent column begins with the words, "Confession time." His confession is that he left the Catholic Church and became a Protestant "in part because I did not believe in the Catholic Church's position on birth control." At the time, he believed the line about the dangers of a population explosion. Rather than joining legions of Catholic dissenters from Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, he writes, "I thought it more honest to be a Protestant." Now he recognizes that Paul VI was right, and that his prophetic words about the consequences of contraception have been vindicated many times over. McManus notes that "evangelical Protestants are reconsidering their once solid support of contraception." The column does not say whether he is considering a return to the fold of the Catholic Church.

* Now in the "whatever happened to" category is the once prominent German Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann. His Theology of Hope made a considerable splash in 1967 when a school of theologians known by that title, including the distinguished Wolfhart Pannenberg, was stirring widespread interest. Moltmann's The Crucified God in 1974 also received deserved praise, although mixed with criticism for his cavalier dismissal of aspects of the tradition of Christian orthodoxy. Now he has completed his five-volume "messianic theology" with The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (Fortress), a book that is something of a curiosity piece. The overall thesis is that God created Heaven and Earth in order to dwell upon Earth as His home. Rather than our leaving the world to be with God, the Christian hope, according to Moltmann, is God's utopian transformation of the world. Short of that happy prospect, the whole world is divided into the murderers and the murdered, with America and Americans being the chief murderers, since they are the bearers of the modernity that is at war with God's purposes. Reviewing the book in Pro Ecclesia, Randall Zachman of Notre Dame says that Moltmann's claim is that "American society murders everything it gets its hands on: women, children, the Third World, and the natural world itself." Moltmann writes, "If the whole world were `America,' the whole world would already have been destroyed." American capitalism is the Beast from the abyss described in Revelation, threatening the entire world "with its open sewer of unemployment and homelessness, hunger and nakedness, despair and death." Zachman describes the book as an extended "antimodern frenzy." Zachman observes, however, that there is finally something very modern, and very American, about Moltmann's position. "Nothing could be more in accord with the spirit of the modern era, and more in accord with the traditional view of the sin which destroys us, than Moltmann's vision of an eternal life, given to everyone [including the murderers] by divine necessity, for which we need to sacrifice nothing, and which leads us to affirm unconditionally our life in this world." For all the sounds of radicalized frenzy, it would seem that the message is pretty much what is to be found in innumerable books of feel-good spirituality: I'm okay, you're okay, and don't worry about salvation; it's a done deal.

* The way in which some Catholics have...

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