Sursum Corda
"an insightful Catholic Blog that eschews extremism in any direction."
--Commonweal Magazine
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, March 29, 2002
3:OO PM: It is finished. In manus tuus commendo spiritum meum. Into your hands I commend my spirit. "And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom." (Mt 27:51)

posted by Peter Nixon 3:02 PM
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GOOD FRIDAY. The worst day of the year—of any year. He is dead and we are shattered. We cower in the Upper Room, afraid, knowing that we have abandoned him to his executioners and despising ourselves for it. We left everything for him and now our hopes are scattered like ashes in the wind.

MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME? In the Holy Land today, the absence of God seems palpable. Abraham weeps as the blood of the sons and daughters of Ishmael and Isaac runs in the streets. Vengeance is sworn and sworn again. All seems lost. Like Jesus from the cross, believers in the One God in every part of the land cry out “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

THE PASCHAL MYSTERY. The other night, my daughter’s two-year molars were coming in and she was in pain and unable to sleep. She knew that she hurt, but she did not understand why and so she clung to me, fiercely, finding comfort in my arms.

AGNUS DEI: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” We say it every Sunday. Do we believe it? Do we understand it? I don’t. How can today’s bloody deed be salvific? Why did Christ need to die for us? Why was it necessary? Why does a God who is Love need a sacrifice of blood?

Perhaps He doesn’t. Perhaps it is we who demand a sacrifice of blood. Perhaps it was the only way in which God’s offer of forgiveness would seem meaningful to us. As Christians we believe that even the most heinous crimes can be forgiven if repentance is sincere. But where does that leave the victims, the voices from Auschwitz and Srebrenica? Is there to be no justice? Is it not monstrous of God to extend such forgiveness? We cannot accept it. We must have blood.

So Jesus says, “You want flesh? You want blood? Here, take mine. Take this as payment and let go your wrath. The demands of justice have been satisifed.” He did not have to do this. He did it because He loved us.

Far better minds than I have pondered this. I hurt and I do not understand why. So I cling, fiercely, finding comfort in His arms.

FOR FURTHER READING: If you, too, wrestle with these questions, I highly recommend the book
Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine.

MANY THANKS: Amy Wellborn has graciously cited me on her In Between Naps Blog. She has also helped me fix my e-mail link. Also, Amy is 125 percent correct that Bill Donahue of the Catholic League has gone off the deep end in his condemnation of an advertisement that supports breast-feeding. Repeat after me Bill: BREAST IS BEST!

FR. RON ROCKS: Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, has another excellent column in his series on the meaning of the cross. Regular readers will quickly discover that I am a big Fr. Ron fan. You can check out his past columns and order his books at this website.

DEATH PENALTY: Almost two millennia ago, Jesus was executed after a unfair trial riddled with procedural errors. Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years. If you believe its time to stop the madness, check out Sister Helen’s Moratorium Campaign website.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:09 AM
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Thursday, March 28, 2002
PANGE LINGUA GLORIOSI: Holy Thursday may well be my favorite day in the Church calendar. I love the Mass of the Lord’s Supper: the drama of Saint John’s gospel , the blessing of the oils, the ritual washing of the feet, and the transportation of the Blessed Sacrament while the congregation sings the hymn "Pange Lingua Gloriosi." I know, I know, the meaning of the event is bigger than these externals. But that’s what I like about Catholic worship, particularly this time of year. It’s a feast of the senses, not merely a Left Brain experience. Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum, a three day period where the Church celebrates the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. If you want to know more click here.

One of the Holy Thursday traditions is to have the presider at mass wash the feet of a few members of the congregation. This reenacts Christ’s action in the Gospel reading where he washes the feet of his disciples. Given the emotions that people are feeling about the abuse scandal, I think this may be a powerful moment in many parishes tonight.

My parish has made a slight modification to the traditional ritual. It begins the same way, but after the presider has washed the feet of a small number of parishioners, those parishioners then offer to wash the feet of other members of the congregation who have lined up at the washbasins. In this we carry out the Lord’s command at the end of the Gospel: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” I have found this to be a very moving experience that reinforces our collective call to discipleship.

Alas, I will not be in attendance this evening. My wife and I are using our babysitting budget to hire a sitter for the Easter Vigil. She gets to do Holy Thursday this year while I stay home and put the kids to bed and we'll reverse the process on Good Friday. I suspect the last thing my fellow parishioners want at these evening services is a couple of overtired pre-schoolers disturbing the proceedings.

LITANY OF THE SAINTS. Before I get much farther along in this project, I should acknowledge those who have paved the way. Bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Mickey Kaus, are fairly well known and have a national following. But I also want to acknowledge my debt to rising stars such as Father Shawn O’Neal, and Amy Wellborn. Thanks to all.

HOLY WEEK READING: The Commonweal web site has an interesting set of articles on Christology: What It Is and Why It's Important. It’s a nice effort to summarize some recent theological debates in this area. The National Catholic Register has a symposium on the death penalty, with a focus on the recent remarks by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on the subject. Those interested in the latest handicapping on Pope John Paul II’s successor should check out John Allen’s column at the National Catholic Reporter web site. Okay, this sort of thing is a little morbid, but don’t pretend you’re not interested.

IS CELIBACY THE ISSUE?: Anna Quindlen, writing in Newsweek, certainly thinks so. Andrew Sullivan seems to be leaning in this direction lately. On the other hand, Jesuit Father James Martin disagrees. Those of you who have not read Fr. Martin’s delightful autobiography can purchase it by clicking here.

Personally, I’m not convinced. Quindlen’s piece is a rant, but (as far as I can make out) the core of her argument is that the process of seminary formation turns otherwise normal individuals into abusers. I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that this is the case. The vast majority of priests who become abusers almost certainly were at high risk of becoming abusers before they entered the seminary. It’s true that some potential abusers are attracted to the priesthood because they believe that celibacy will solve their problem. It doesn’t, of course, but that is not the fault of celibacy.

There may be good reasons to end the celibacy requirement for Latin-rite Catholic priests (I’ll leave that topic to another time), but the need to protect the Church from sexually abusive priests is not one of them. What we do need are better procedures to identify potential abusers while they are still in seminary and, most importantly, to permanently remove abusive priests from active ministry once credible evidence of their abuse has come to light. In the diocese where I live, policies like this have been in place for years and while we have had cases of abuse, people are not feeling the kind of rage at the institution that Boston Catholics are clearly feeling.

Once again, comments can be mailed to The link still doesn’t work. Give me time.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:16 PM
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Wednesday, March 27, 2002
INVITATORY: Welcome! I’m writing this to an audience that I am not sure is even there. After reading so many other blogs, I felt compelled to test the waters myself. My name is Peter Nixon and I live in Northern California. I am married, with two young children and I work in the health care industry. I’ll provide a little more personal detail as time goes on.

The name of this Blog is “Sursum Corda: Topical Musings from a Catholic Perspective.” Sursum Corda is Latin for “lift up your hearts” and it is taken from the Catholic Mass. It’s one of my favorite lines from the mass and it seemed to fit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives you a nudge and you just go with it.

Now I suspect there are some that see the Latin in the title and assume that they can predict where I fall out on any number of issues. Don’t assume. I can generally be found to the right of the National Catholic Reporter and to the left of the National Catholic Register. That gives me a fair bit of room to roam and I like it that way. If you are looking for a hardcore partisan of a particular “faction” in the church—liberal, conservative, traditional, orthodox—look elsewhere!

I’m a fairly ordinary Catholic. I attend mass on Sundays and my wife and I usually have one or two church-related meetings a week. I try to pray and read scripture regularly. I volunteer with the parish jail ministry. I take my discipleship seriously. But I’m not an expert and if you are looking for expertise, there are better places to go (try
here and here . I’m just a fellow pilgrim on the way to Canterbury, striking up a conversation with my fellow pilgrims. That’s what this is about. Hope you enjoy it.

You can e-mail me at As I grow in proficiency as a Blogger, I’ll convert that into an e-mail link, but for now you can just cut and paste it into your e-mail program.

“SURELY IT IS NOT I, LORD?” Today’s gospel reading is from Matthew and describes how Judas negotiates with the chief priests to hand Jesus over to them, and then returns to eat the Last Supper with Jesus. He says “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Of course they all deny it saying “Surely it is not I, Lord?” In the end, of course, Matthew makes clear that Jesus knows who his betrayer will be.

What struck me in reading this today was how the other disciples fell over themselves in assuring Jesus that they would not betray him. But in a few hours, of course, they would. Perhaps not in the way that Judas did. But each in their own way, they betrayed him. They cowered in the Upper Room and did not even come to stand by the man they called “Lord” and “Rabbi” as he was nailed to a cross and died in horrible agony. Traitors and cowards. That’s how our Church got its start, my friends. We’re a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.

OBLIGATORY SCANDAL POST: I’m not sure there is much more to say on this issue that hasn’t been said elsewhere. As this editorial in the National Catholic Reporter makes clear, this problem has been brewing for some time. One thing I think we do have to insist on is that this is not merely the failure of individual priests. It’s too easy to blame this on a few "weirdos and sickos” in the words of one Washington, DC priest. Because of the nature of the job, the priesthood is always going to attract a small number of individuals who are at risk to become abusers. It is the responsibility of the Bishops to ensure that such individuals are not ordained in the first place and, if their condition comes to light after ordination, to remove them from active ministry. It’s that simple.

But while angry at the current situation, I wouldn’t say that my faith has been shaken. Perhaps this is because I am a post-Vatican II Catholic (age 35) and did not grow up with the kind of exalted views of priests and bishops held by previous generations. I am not shocked to learn that the Church is a flawed institution run by flawed individuals. Indeed, that is the only thing it can ever be. The mystical Church may be the “Spotless Bride of Christ,” but here on earth she’s six months pregnant before she gets to the altar.

What I would like to see, particularly on the part of someone like Cardinal Law, is a greater spirit of personal contrition. Even Bill Clinton managed to say (eventually) “I have sinned.” Perhaps he could take a leave of absence to clean bedpans in a Catholic hospital in Jamaica, or a similarly demanding penance. I say this not out of a desire to humiliate the man but out of a sincere concern for his soul. I realize such a course of action would be deeply embarrassing, but do we think Jesus was joking when he said his disciples must be willing to take up their cross and follow Him? Something to think about this Holy Week.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:32 PM
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This is another test. This is a link to

posted by Peter Nixon 9:49 AM
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This is a test. This is only a test. At this time, I have no pithy observations to offer. Check back soon!

posted by Peter Nixon 9:45 AM
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