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Regarding James M. O'Toole's article "Hear no evil" (Fall
2000): I believe the sacrament of confession is lost on my (post-Vatican
II) generation due to the weak catechesis we received in the 1970s
and '80s. The average young American Catholic doesn't even understand
the concept of a sacrament, much less the necessity of repenting from
At 28, I decided to study Catholicism myself, and I was blown away
by what I had never been taught. I returned to confession after a
15-year absence, and the graces are indescribable.
Apostolates like Catholic Answers www.catholic.com
have been instrumental in helping poorly instructed Catholics discover
what we never learned in CCD.
LEILA MILLER '89
Since I'm not Catholic, I wasn't all that familiar with the history
of Catholicism, nor was I aware that confession was disappearing.
O'Toole did a fine job of conveying the story in a lively and interesting
LAURA S. CARTER, PARENT '04
Being one of the two sacraments that can be received often, confession,
like the Church, will always be with us.
People go to psychologists looking for justification. In confession
we lay down our defenses and humbly say, "Lord, have mercy on
me, a sinner," and we are forgiven, by the only One who has that
power, the One we have offended. How wonderful to be rid of our guilt
by acknowledging it. What peace! It is ours for the asking.
MARIA H. BACARDI, NC'63
Anyone who neglects any opportunity to share in the sublime and ineffable
joy of a deepening and more perfect union of the soul with God is
SANDRA VUONO BONDHUS '69
O'Toole seems to emphasize the predominant role of the laity in the
closing of the penance box. However, he fails to mention the silence
of the clergy on matters dealing with sin in the first place.
When was the last time we heard from the pulpit the words sin,
devil, Satan, Hell, eternal punishment?
The American Catholic Church is adrift in a sea of confusion where
the captain is no longer the Church hierarchy but the laity. This
leads to a reticence on the part of the clergy to use controversial
words in public. Now that the magisterium of the Church has been all
but eliminated among Catholic theologians, my guess is that the watering
down will get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.
GEORGE D. LEMAITRE '55
As a Catholic priest/liturgist for more than 40 years, I appreciate
O'Toole's statistical analysis of the decline (death) of confession
in recent years. I'd like to add a sacramental view that needs much
more publicity than either Rome or most priests provide.
As is true of all our formal sacraments, the rite of Reconciliation
is supposed to be primarily a celebration of God's merciful,
unconditional love in our lives, in this case, through reconciliation -- not
the cause of reconciliation.
Having talked about the sacrament with hundreds of laity, I'm convinced
they understand this. Unfortunately, most clergy, including Roman
hierarchy, haven't broken out of a very dysfunctional causal mentality.
O'Toole offers several reasons for the decline in the use of the sacrament.
I think the greatest reason is that both priests and laity have an
inner sense that the purpose of the rite, as explained in past years—to
"get" your sins forgiven -- just doesn't make sense.
Once Saturday evening Masses became the norm, little or no emphasis
was put on setting aside convenient, frequent, and sufficient times
for the faithful to go to confession. Hearing confessions, I am sure,
is boring and tedious -- but what an honor and a privilege to take the
place of Christ in people's lives!
When parishioners noticed priests becoming lax regarding homilies
stressing the necessity of being free from serious sin before receiving
our Lord in Holy Communion, they were only too happy to omit the sacrament
of Penance from their lives. I am praying this will change.
MARGARET A. WILSON '68
I was most interested in the article by my BC classmate and fellow
historian, James M. O'Toole. But I think Jim overlooked one important
aspect of confession, with a small c.
During the liturgy of the Mass, immediately before communion, we say
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word
and I shall be healed." This, to me—and I think to many Catholics -- implies
that we can receive God's forgiveness for sins during the Mass itself.
If so, then why go to confession unless one has committed some really
serious (mortal) sins and has a very serious need to discuss these
sins with a priest?
The idea that confession as a sacrament is meant only for mortal sins
was reinforced for me this past summer when my 80-year-old aunt told
a story from her childhood:
One Saturday afternoon, when the whole family was going to confession,
as families did in those days, my aunts and uncles were going into
the confessional booth one after the other.
Being among the youngest, my aunt was one of the last of the 11 Herlehy
sisters and brothers to go to confession, and by the time she got
to the old Irish priest, Father Ryan, he was apparently tired.
When my aunt started her confession, the priest said, "Wait,
wait, my dear. You wouldn't be one of the Herlehys, would you now?"
She said, "Yes, Father." And then he bellowed at her in
a loud voice, "Well, go on, away with you! I've had enough of
you Herlehys and your sins today. And don't you come back here till
you've murdered someone."
THOMAS J. HERLEHY, PH.D. '72
James M. O'Toole replies: That some still find the traditional
practice of confession meaningful is reassuring. That most Catholics
do not, however, emphasizes the need for different forms. Meanwhile,
let's not pretend that all would be fine if only the clergy hadn't
gone soft. Let the good-faith conversation continue.
Around this time 23 years ago, I sat in a makeshift rehearsal room,
desks pushed out of the way and masking tape marking out the bare
outlines of a stage on the floor. I was terrified, a geeky freshman
who'd auditioned for the Dramatics Society's production of "As
You Like It" on a dare, never dreaming I'd be cast as a secondary
lead. But then Joseph M. Larkin, SJ [Deaths, Summer 2000], made his
entrance. And as he walked through the play, mugging through the comic
bits, dancing around to illustrate the verbal sparring between Rosalind
and Orlando, I, like every other member of the company, began to feel
part of something special.
We were. All 20 fledgling Shakespearean actors had instantly joined
the thousands of others who'd been adopted as Fr. Larkin's kids.
When Larkin landed at Boston College as an assistant professor in
the late '50s, there was no theater department and no theater in which
to perform. Through sheer tenacity, combined with his disarming comic
skills, he convinced the University to establish a Department of Speech
Communications and Theater (now the Communication Department), talked
the administration into renting a theater in downtown Boston for student
productions, commandeered Campion Auditorium for Dramatics Society
productions (he even took on the role of Willy Loman in "Death
of a Salesman" in the '60s), and lobbied continuously for the
Robsham Theater Arts Center, which was completed just before his retirement.
Larkin was like a doting parent, who followed his "kids'"
progress after graduation. It never mattered to him if your stage
was in a law firm or a classroom or a kitchen. What was important
was committing yourself so completely that you earned a bow at the
curtain. Larkin has earned a standing ovation.
TERRY BYRNE '81
Editor's note: Terry Byrne is the theater critic for
the Boston Herald.
I would really appreciate some coverage of BC athletics in every issue.
Football and men's basketball are my main interests, but I could easily
read about other teams, as long as it was in addition to those two.
GREGORY COREY '69
Editor's note: See Fast times for a story on BC's top-ranked fall team. Detailed coverage
of all BC sports teams is available at www.bceagles.com.
I read with interest about Frank B. Campanella ("Transitions,"
Fall 2000). He is not an ex-marine. Once a marine, always a marine.
Semper fi, Mac.
ANDREW L. CARNEGIE, JR. '66
Nashua, New Hampshire
Re "Notorious," by Katherine A. Powers (Fall 2000): Society
is not perfect. Neither is Boston College. Printing the Capano story
shows that BC understands that there is life outside the world of
capital campaigns. Capano included, the fall issue featured a wildly
eclectic mixture of good reading.
MARK MULVOY '64
Rye, New York
Editor's note: Due to an editing error, Thomas Capano's
graduation dates were misstated. Capano earned his B.A. in 1971 and
his J.D. in 1974.
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