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, May 31, 2002
SIN: Last night I was giving our two children a bath and I was in a hurry because it was getting late. My son was refusing to sit down and I could feel my fuse burning down to the end. I finally got him to sit down, but as he began to sit, he suddenly stood up again and caught the back of his head on the faucet. It was a small cut, but it bled profusely and he began to wail. I was angry at him and angry at myself, and it was at this precise moment that my wife walked in and said something relatively innocuous, at which point I blew up at her—on her birthday, no less.

There are times—and this was certainly one of them—when my “Christianity” feels like the thinnest of veneers covering wood that is fundamentally diseased and rotten. One might argue that this overstates the case. I was under stress, after all. But most of our bad decisions, and many of our good ones, are made under such conditions. It was under conditions of extreme stress that the members of Charlie Company massacred almost the entire village of My Lai in Vietnam. But it must have been equally stressful for helicopter pilot
Hugh Thompson, who risked his life and that of his crew to stop that massacre. If we are unable to “do the right thing” under stress, then it is unlikely that we will do the right thing when it really matters.

How might we prepare for such a moment of decision? As a Christian, I believe that it is not primarily by my own efforts, but by the grace of God working in me. Through the practice of faith—private prayer, communal worship, confession, service to others—I can clear a path and give Him room to work. Master craftsman that He is, I know that he can take a diseased and rotten piece of wood and make of it a thing of stunning beauty. If only I will let Him.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:25 PM
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FRUIT OF OUR WOMB: Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The gospel reading is taken from Luke and is the familiar story of Mary’s visit to her sister Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leaps for joy and Mary cries out “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

I’ve had a soft spot for this reading ever since I heard it during Advent in 1997 when my wife was pregnant with our son. He was kicking up a storm throughout the gospel and the homily, giving an extra layer of meaning to the words.

One of the things that struck me during both of my wife’s pregnancies was how women tend to come together and support each other during this period, very much as Elizabeth and Mary come together in today’s gospel. Sisters, cousins and friends share baby clothes and furniture and mothers and grandmothers pass on wisdom from their own experience. There seems to be an implicit understanding that having and raising children is a collective enterprise, something in which the extended family and the community as a whole has a stake.

Our Christian faith is also a collective enterprise. While that faith brings something unique to life within each one of us, we are also called upon to support one another—as Mary and Elizabeth supported one another—as that process unfolds. The person who asks “why do I have to go to mass if I can pray in my room alone” is missing a key part of the message. God does not merely want you there because it is good for you. He also wants you there because your presence may be helpful to others.

We are called to be a Christian people, not merely a collection of individual Christians. We gather together to worship and praise, to become one body, and to wait in joyful hope for a new world that is waiting to be born.

For a different perspective on today's readings, read Sean Gallagher's musings at Nota Bene.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:55 AM
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Thursday, May 30, 2002
I WANT TO SEE: In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd. There is a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, on the side of the road. Upon hearing that Jesus is in the crowd, he begins shouting out “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me” over and over again. Many in the crowd rebuke him, telling him to be silent. But Jesus stops and calls him over. “What do you want me to do for you,” asks Jesus. “I want to see,” says Bartimaeus. Jesus says “Go your way, your faith has saved you” and immediately the man regains his sight.

To understand what Mark is trying to tell us about Jesus, we might look at where this story is placed in his gospel. It comes at the very end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, just before his entry into Jerusalem. Throughout this ministry, Jesus has revealed the fact that He is the Messiah only to the Twelve, and even they have misunderstood what he means by that term. But now we are poised to enter Jerusalem, where the truth about Jesus will be revealed.

So it is interesting that the march of Jesus and the crowd to Jerusalem is, in a sense, interrupted by a blind beggar who “outs” Jesus in front the crowd by using the messianic title “Son of David.” It is ironic that this blind man, an outcast in his society, sees so clearly what Jesus is.

Perhaps Mark is trying to tell us that if we want to see who Jesus is, we need to see with a different set of eyes. We need to see with the eyes of a poor beggar, the eyes of a child, the eyes of a servant. Rather than trying to make make Jesus the leader of our “crowd”—our own religious or political project—we should confess our blindness, our own lack of understanding and simply ask “I want to see.” .

For a different perspective on today's readings, read Sean Gallagher's musings at Nota Bene.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:59 AM
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Wednesday, May 29, 2002
ANOTHER ONE: Michael Shirley is a new Catholic Blogger who deserves a little more traffic. In addition to liking his posts on Catholic matters, I have to love a guy who links to Andrew Greeley, Josh Marshall, and the Baseball Reference website. How come no Baseball Prospectus link Mike?

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU'VE BEEN READING? If so, share Sursum Corda with friends. If not, you should still share Sursum Corda with friends. Why should you be the only one to suffer?

posted by Peter Nixon 10:58 AM
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LEAD: In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, the Church is faced with its first power struggle—and we don’t even have a Church yet! Jesus has just finished explaining to the Twelve what will happen to Him in Jerusalem when James and John approach Him. They ask if they can sit on either side of Jesus when He enters into his glory. The others become indignant. Jesus tells them all that disputes over power and authority should not characterize the community of disciples: “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave of all.”

This is easy to affirm and hard to live, as anyone who has ever served on a parish council can tell you. Obviously, the Christian community cannot survive without leaders. But how do we know whether those who put themselves forward for leadership are responding to an authentic call or merely thirsting for power? When does “prophetic witness to the truth” cross the line into authoritarianism and intolerance of other viewpoints?

Because we care about the direction of our community, it is very easy to get focused on who is serving in positions of authority. This is a weakness of Catholics across the ideological spectrum. “I hope our new bishop is like Chaput/Bernadin so he will kick the dissenters out of the seminaries/put some compassionate people on the marriage tribunal.” There is a feeling that if “our guy” gets the job—be it priest, bishop, or pope—the Church will move in the right direction. To some extent, this focus is inevitable in a community with a hierarchical structure of authority.

But most of those who have embraced the Christian faith over the centuries have not been drawn to it because of the example of those who held formal positions of authority. Millions know the name of Saint Francis. But how many can recall who was Pope when Francis preached? Who was Mother Teresa’s bishop? Who were Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoffer accountable to? These people were able to lead others to Christ because they followed Jesus’ words and example and placed themselves at the service of others, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

If, as many seem to believe, the credibility of Catholic Christianity has been damaged recently, it is not merely up to the Bishops to restore it. They can't, at least not by themselves. We are all called to be leaders, people who can lead others to Christ by the way in which we live what we believe.

For a different perspective on today's readings, read Sean Gallagher's musings at Nota Bene.

posted by Peter Nixon 7:16 AM
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Tuesday, May 28, 2002
CATHOLIC PRESS ROUNDUP: The new America has been posted (subscription to the print edition required for access). This week’s editorial examines two of the issues confronting the Bishops at their June meeting, mandatory reporting and the meaning of “zero tolerance.” With regard to the former, America endorses reporting allegations of abuse to the police “even if the allegation is flimsy or concerns victims who are now adults.” However, “the secrecy of the confessional must be respected by law.” With regard to the second issue, the editors believe that “no priest guilty of abusing a minor should remain in priestly ministry” but argue that whether or not such priests should be defrocked is a much more complicated question, particular for those priests who are retired and have no other means of support.

There are also four articles by prominent Catholic laypeople that examine the future of the Church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis. Mary Jo Bane, a professor of Government at the Kennedy School, asks how the Church’s governance might be restructured to give more of a voice to laypeople in ways that still respect the need to preserve the faith that has been handed down to us. Russell Shaw, a former communications officer for the U.S. Bishops, argues that “clericalism and clerical culture” are at the heart of the current crisis. Generation X theologian Tom Beaudoin examines the impact of the crisis on younger Catholics. Theologian Christopher Ruddy argues that the Church must recover and reinvigorate an ecclesiology that stresses the importance of baptism, collegiality, and poverty.

The cover story of the current issue of Commonweal is an article by William Pfaff that questions many of the defining assumptions of U.S. foreign policy and the war on terrorism. Pfaff argues that “the United States is not at war with "evil," a moral or metaphysical reality. It is at war with a limited and self-motivated group of individuals, possessing limited resources, who employ terrorism against the United States for mixed political and religious reasons.” Commonweal also editorializes in favor of a “zero tolerance” policy for priests and religious who abuse minors and, after some deliberation, calls on Cardinal Law to resign.

The National Catholic Register takes issue with Catholic colleges and universities who invite politicians or others who support abortion rights to be commencement speakers or receive honorary degrees. There is also an article about the recent U.N. Special Session for Children where delegates, led by the United States, removed the word “services” from the reproductive health section of the final document because of the concern that it could be interpreted to include abortion.

The theme of this week’s issue of the National Catholic Reporter is food. The cover stories look at the ethics of our nation’s food system and examines the efforts of the Catholics around the country to preserve family farms, practice sustainable agriculture and protect the rights of migrant farm workers. Vatican correspondent John Allen’s weekly column has also been posted, and has a wealth of interesting information on the Pope’s visit to Azerbaijan, the relationship between Cardinal Ratzinger and Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, and the history of theology.

This week’s Tidings has an article about the Water Station Project, a volunteer effort led by physician John Hunter that provides drinking water at select points in the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border. Because of stepped up border enforcement in more populated areas, more migrants are crossing in desert areas where water is scarce. "Should people be crossing the border illegally?” says Hunter. “No. But should we just let them die? No." In his weekly column, Father Ron Rolheiser asks how we might move from fear to love:

How do we remain tender when so much around us is hard? How do we remain free of fear when we there is so much anger around? How do we continue to share what is deep and intimate inside us when we live inside of circles rife with gossip, cynicism and jealousy? Indeed, how do we continue to even strive to deal with this when, so often, we are just as guilty as everyone else?
The current issue of Our Sunday Visitor details the settlement between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Catholic Healthcare West, which is the largest hospital system in California. CHW initially opposed union organizing efforts by SEIU, but after substantial dialogue (some of which involved senior Church officials, including Cardinal Mahony) agreed to an election process that resulted in SEIU winning the right to represent CHW employees.

Those who believe that the clerical sexual abuse scandal is a uniquely American problem should probably read the article by Elena Curti in this week’s Tablet. She chronicles the difficulties faced by the Catholic Church in England and Wales in crafting policies to respond to clerical sexual abuse. The new policies are tough, but many priests believe there is inadequate protection for priests in cases where the allegations are without merit.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:47 PM
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VIA CRUCIS: Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark comes immediately after the story of the rich young man. The young man was unable to give up his possessions to follow Jesus. Peter quickly jumps in to remind Jesus (as if He needed reminding) that “we have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus reassures Peter that all who have taken this path will receive back what they have given up “a hundred times more now in this present age” and will receive “eternal life in the age to come.”

But there is a slight catch. Did you notice it? Jesus says that those who have given up everything to follow him will receive it back a hundredfold: “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”

The word “persecutions” stands out in that sentence. It doesn’t seem to go with the other benefits of following Jesus. It’s not a very positive word. Certainly it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing one tells one’s followers to inspire them. Why does Jesus say this?

The Gospel of Mark was written during a wave of persecutions against Roman Christians instigated by Emperor Nero, who wished to blame them for a fire that had destroyed a large portion of the city. Christians were crucified, torn apart by animals at public games, and even made into human torches. In this historical period, to choose Christ was to make a radical choice, one that could lead to being cut off from one’s family and lead to a diminishment of social status. In writing his life of Jesus, Mark wished to emphasize those aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings that would give comfort to those who had made such a radical choice.

The “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands” that Jesus promises to His followers in this age are not the same as the ones they have given up. Jesus is speaking of the Church, of the community of faith. The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross. But Jesus promises us that we will be given companions on that way. We are not asked to walk that way alone.


For a different perspective on today's readings, read Sean Gallagher's musings at Nota Bene which will be posted later this afternoon.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:54 AM
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WHOOPS: I seem to have accidently deleted the reflection on today's gospel that I was going to post this morning. Arrgh. Check in a bit later to see if I've found it. In the meantime, you should definitely avail yourself of Sean Gallagher's reflections on today's readings which can be found on his site, Nota Bene.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:21 AM
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