Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, August 23, 2002
ON LANGUAGE: There's a nice interview with Kathleen Norris in the new issue of The Other Side, an ecumenical Christian magazine. Norris is a poet, and she has some interesting things to say about the use of traditional religious language in her poetry:

Certainly I use traditional language at times, when I feel like I can use it appropriately and well and maybe in a fresh way. That poem has the body and blood, but it also has a bumblebee. That's the thing--you have to have the bee. When you have something for people to look at, you can use a phrase like the body and the blood because you've earned the right to do it.

Once I wrote the phrase "the living Christ," slipping into Christian jargon. My Jewish editor wouldn't let me get away with it: "What do you mean by that?"

That's the challenge for people who are Christians and who are writing: You need to avoid jargon at all costs, but that doesn't mean you can't use the traditional language of the faith at all. You have to always make the language fresh and make it reach people. People don't really hear jargon. It just slides in one ear and out the other. You really want to avoid that.
How do we get people to hear an old word in a new way? It may be one of the central challenges of living as a Christian in the 21st century. Something to think about over the weekend.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:53 PM
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CULTURAL CONVERSION: Interesting piece from the News and Observer in NC about how Pentecostalism is attracting more Latinos who were raised Catholic (thanks to Holy Weblog for the link). Sean Gallagher also has some musings on this question over at Nota Bene. I think it's important not to assume that all Latinos have some kind of genetically coded preference for "emotional" worship services. I know a number of Latinos who are quite comfortable with the mass and a number of Anglos who are involved in the Catholic Charismatic movement. But to what extent is our liturgical practice more rooted in European culture than it needs to be? Some friends who have attended masses in Africa tell me that they would put some North American Pentecostal services to shame...

posted by Peter Nixon 12:50 PM
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JOHN ALLEN: While covering John Paul II's trip to Poland, NCR columnist John Allen visited the remains of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. He recorded a couple of compelling images from the visit. I was going to post an excerpt, but I was suddently seized with the feeling that these pages are too profane for that purpose. I'm going to respect that feeling, but you should definitely read Allen's column this week by clicking here.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:49 AM
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THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE OF AGING: Some thoughtful words from Fr. Ron Rolheiser this week about the spiritual challenges of aging. Interesting to read this on the week of my birthday:

In one way or other, it happens to all of us. It's not easy to age, to come crashing down from so much of what we dreamed for ourselves, to watch the young take over and receive the popularity and acclaim that once were ours. Like Saul, we fill with a jealousy that we don't recognize and, like Hagar, we grow ugly without knowing it. Others, of course, do notice.

It's not that we don't gain something as this happens. Usually we grow a lot smarter, wiser even, and often we grow into surprisingly generous people. But we're a lot more nasty than we once were. We whine too much, feel too sorry for ourselves, and generally curse more than bless those who have replaced us in youth, popularity and acclaim.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:35 AM
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DREHER: Rod Dreher’s essay about what the Pope should be doing about the clerical abuse scandal (which will be posted on the Wall Street Journal website on Sunday) has provoked a firestorm of posting and counterposting on Saint Blogs. Check out Amy Welborn’s views here (Amy has multiple posts so start at this one and then scroll up. Read the comments too). Eve Tushnet has a lengthy post too, as do Integrity, Mark Shea, and Fr. Rob. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

Me? I think the Pope should have accepted Law’s resignation a few months ago, and a few others should probably be encouraged to go to. I think the Pope’s failure to do so was an error in judgment. It should be noted the charisms of the Petrine office do not include protection from errors in judgment in matters other than faith and morals. History bears ample witness to this truth.

But it’s hard to say that nothing is being done when priests across the country are being removed from active ministry and the Vatican is planning a visitation of seminaries in the United States. It’s not clear to me what the removal of bishops will do, in a practical sense, to protect children and adolescents from abuse. It’s also not clear that such action would do much to restore the “credibility” in the Church as an institution, either among the faithful or among the general public. The latter process is clearly going to take a lot longer.

I don’t have any control over what the Pope does, but I do have control over what I do. I can live out the call of my baptismal priesthood to the best of my ability. I can go out to the jail this Sunday and see Jesus Christ in the face of the imprisoned. I can work to make my parish a place where the Gospel is heard, lived, and shared. The rest is in God’s hands.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:21 AM
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Thursday, August 22, 2002
LATE TO THE PARTY: Yes, yes, I know she's been around for a while, but I still feel the need to tell people to check out Karen Knapp's From the Anchor Hold if you haven't already. A moderate voice from Milwaukee, which is an achievement in itself.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:33 PM
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“FLARE PRAYERS:” This Washington Post article published last week talks about “flare prayers,” which it defines as prayers intended to advert an impending disaster. Those who have survived such a disaster often attribute that survival to the power of prayer. The recent experience of the miners who were rescued from the flooded mine shaft in southeastern Pennsylvania is offered as an example. Was it a miracle? Did God intervene? If so, what does that say about those who perished in the World Trade Center attacks? Were they not also praying?

When I heard the news about the trapped miners, I posted a request for prayers. When they were rescued, I posted thanks to God. Do I know, for certain, that God actively intervened to effect their rescue in response to my prayers and the prayers of others? No, of course not. But I believe that God wants us to offer prayers for those in need, and to give thanks for all of the good things that we receive. Is that not sufficient justification?

In early July, I posted a lengthy reflection on the topic of God’s will (click here to read it). I talked about the experience of praying fervently for the survival of a friend with cancer, a prayer that while heard, was not granted. I concluded with some thoughts that seem applicable to this issue as well:

In the end, I am thrown back, like Job, before the overwhelming mystery of God, who deals “with great things that I do not understand.” When I look up at the cross, I know that whatever suffering I must endure, I do not endure alone. Whether that suffering is the will of God, or something that gives Him great offense, I know that He loves me, that I can trust in Him, and that there is nothing, not even my death, that can separate me from Him.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:47 PM
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BREWER, PATRIOT, PIMP? Rod Dreher at NRO’s The Corner, and Fr. Jeff Keyes at the New Gasparian are reporting that the Boston Brewing Company, makers of Samuel Adams beer, seem to have had some involvement in the incident where a New York radio talk show encouraged two people to have sex in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The details are a little fuzzy at this point, but I certainly think it is in order to send an inquiry to the company asking about the details of their involvement.

Now I’ve received a little negative feedback in the past about printing allegations of this nature as if they were confirmed fact, and I think the criticism has some validity. So please, when you send an e-mail to try to be as polite as possible and ask the company to clarify its involvement in this incident. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say that you will withhold your business until such clarification is provided, but insulting the CEO's parentage or suggesting that he perform sexual acts that are physiologically impossible is probably counterproductive.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:31 AM
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Wednesday, August 21, 2002
PIUS ON THE PSALMS: Today is the memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope (1835-1914). The Office of Readings for today has an excerpt from the apostolic constitution Divinio Afflatu where Pius speaks about the Psalms. A good portion of it is quotes from Saints Athanasius, Basil and Augustine, but toward the end Pius speaks in his own words:

Who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the infinite qualities that deserve our praise? Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold?
ALL THE DETAILS: Florida has a
new law that requires women giving up their children for adoption to publish a legal notice in the newspaper listing their full name, height, weight and coloring--plus the names or descriptions of every possible father and the dates and places of their sexual encounters. The ads are supposed to run once a week for four weeks and must appear in newspapers in any city or county where the child might have been conceived. Anyone else think this might be a wee bit of a disincentive for putting your child up for adoption?

WITH THE POOR: In an essay in U.S. Catholic, Sister Helen Prejean argues that contact with the poor is an important spiritual discipline:

I have come to believe that every Christian who takes his or her faith seriously needs to be in contact with poor people. As Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine has said, we need to accept that one of the spiritual disciplines—just like reading scripture and praying and liturgy—is physical contact with the poor. If we never eat with them, if we never hear their stories, if we are always separated from them, then something really vital is missing.
MORATORIUM: While we’re on the subject of Sister Helen, the Moratorium Campaign has a new action alert out over the impending August 28th execution of Toronto Patterson in Texas. Patterson was 17 years old when he was sentenced to death for the murder of three of his cousins. Texas has the dubious distinction of leading the United States in the execution of juvenile defenders. You can join others in requesting clemency for Mr. Patterson by clicking here.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:51 PM
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Tuesday, August 20, 2002
WHAT'S YOUR ORDER? Hmm, I would have guessed Jesuit or Franciscan before I took the test, but here's how it came out:

what's your order?

posted by Peter Nixon 8:21 PM
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GLOBAL JUSTICE: I don’t think anyone who calls themselves a Christian can be complacent about the dramatic inequalities in wealth between the developed world and what we used to call the Third World. The extent of poverty, hunger, disease and other forms of human suffering in many of these countries simply stagger the imagination.

The hard question is what to do about it. Supporters and critics of what many now call “globalization” often engage in what one might term the “forensic use of anecdote,” showcasing the best (or worst) aspects of globalization in order to make their case.

Last Sunday’s
New York Times Magazine had one of the best articles I’ve read about globalization in years. Written by Tina Rosenberg, it takes on a lot of liberal and conservative 'conventional wisdom' about globalization. Rosenberg argues that economic growth is indispensible to moving people out of poverty and that closed economies have often been burdened by inefficiency and corruption. But she also notes that many international trade agreements contain clauses favorable to special interests in United States and Western Europe.

Rosenberg’s analysis of agriculture is a good example of her evenhandedness. She points out that the United States and Western Europe, while pushing for the liberalization of agricultural markets in the Third World, continue to heavily subsidize their own agricultural industries and that these subsidized exports have devastated agriculture in many developing countries. Unlike many liberal critics of globalization, however, Rosenberg does not romanticize small-scale agriculture:

One prominent antiglobalization report keeps referring to [small scale farms] as ''small-scale, diversified, self-reliant, community-based agriculture systems.'' You could call them that, I guess; you could also use words like ''malnourished,'' ''undereducated'' and ''miserable'' to describe their inhabitants.
So what are Rosenberg’s solutions? You can read the article for the details, but in general she calls for a middle-way between those who believe the market can solve all ills and those who seem to want to return to the days of autarkic, state-run economies. She contrasts, for example, the experience of Mexico and South Korea, both of whom have created incentives for export industries to locate in their countries. South Korea, however, insists that such companies work with local firms and transfer technology to them. Mexico has no such strategy, and has simply relied on low wages to be its competitive advantage. But as transport costs drop, Mexico is losing out to countries where wages are even lower.

The Catholic Church has no shortage of individuals—up to and including Pope John Paul II—who have raised serious concerns about globalization. It is important to voice those concerns, but we need to be more specific about what we would do differently.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:11 PM
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COURSE CORRECTION: Jim Post, the President of Voice of the Faithful, has sent out a letter that attempts to clarify the views of the organization and address some of the controversy about the speakers at their first meeting. Post reiterated that the objectives of VOTF are "(1) to support those who have been abused; (2) to support the vast majority of priests who are faithfully living their ministry; and (3) to shape structural change within the Church that will help ensure such abuse and cover-ups do not occur in the future." He stressed that the organization has not taken a position on any other issues within the Church and has not embraced "the end of priestly celibacy, the exclusion of homosexuals from the priesthood, the ordination of women, or any of the other remedies that some have proposed."

Post also addresses the controversy over some of the speakers at VOTF's first conference, particularly Thomas Arens--president of the German organization "We are Church"--and Debra Haffner, a non-Catholic and leader of a number of organizations that have taken positions at odds with the Church's position on abortion and sexuality. Post defends the decision to invite Arens, but concedes that the decision to invite Haffner was a mistake:

Some people believe we compromised our "centrist" position by inviting speakers who hold views that contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church. With respect to abortion and certain theories of sexual behavior, I agree. We should not have invited Dr. Haffner. She herself asked whether she might be too controversial for a Catholic audience. We invited her because we thought she had special expertise regarding the protection of school-age children. This judgment was in error. Although she spoke only about how to create a "sexually safe parish" and specifically urged her audience to develop Catholic solutions, Dr. Haffner's mere presence raised understandable doubts about VOTF's commitment to Catholic teaching.
One of the interesting things about the letter is that it implies that VOTF's advocacy of structural change will be limited to those changes aimed at ensuring "that clergy sexual abuse does not occur again in the Catholic Church." This would seem to be a more limited agenda than some of VOTF's earlier documents seemed to suggest. I suspect this will disappoint some and encourage others.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:49 AM
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COMINGS AND GOINGS: As Yoda might have said, "never fixed, always in motion is the Blogosphere." Martin Farkus, who closed down his blog 'Zounds a while back has returned with a new blog entitled Everything is Grace. On a sadder note, Mike Hardy has returned from vacation and decided to shut down his blog Enemy of the Church? As regular readers know, I think Mike is anything but an enemy of the Church and I think Saint Blogs will the poorer for his departure.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:27 AM
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Monday, August 19, 2002
PRAYING THE HOURS: John DaFiesole at Disputations has some good suggestions on how to make private recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours more, well, liturgical. They are all good suggestions, although they may be somewhat impractical for those who--like myself--recite the Hours on the train to and from work! Fr. Jim Tucker also has some interesting observations about singing the Office.

I think that those who are exploring the Hours for the first time should not worry too much about these complexities. If you feel more comfortable sitting, that's fine. Spending too much time trying to think about when to sit, kneel or stand can distract you from the words of the Psalms and the canticles. But after you've been doing this a few weeks or months and feel more comfortable, you might want to try some of John's suggestions. But above all, relax. It may be helpful to think of the Psalms praying you, rather than the other way around!

posted by Peter Nixon 3:01 PM
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WHEN A PASTOR IS REMOVED: There is a nice piece in this week's America (subscription to the print edition required for access) by Fr. Barry Strong, who replaced his pastor as administrator of his parish after the pastor was removed following an allegation of sexual abuse. Many of the press accounts of these situations have emphasized stories of pastors receiving the "strong support" of their parishes. Strong points out that the emotions of his parishioners are a good deal more complex:
After each Mass and in the week to follow, parishioners sought me out to tell me what they thought and how they felt. At the risk of oversimplifying, they fell into roughly three categories. The first group consists of those who express unrestricted, unqualified support for their pastor, disgust for diocesan procedures and mistrust of the motivations of the accuser. While they support me as administrator of the parish, they want to know what they have to do to get their pastor back. They equate reconciliation with reinstatement. Some of these feel guilty that they cannot identify with the pain of the accuser. At the other end, and less vocal perhaps, are those who wholeheartedly agree with the pastor’s dismissal, who fear for their children’s exposure to him and think that it would have been better had he been removed 25 years ago. Some of these feel guilty that they do not share the same level of support for the pastor voiced by their friends and neighbors. Needless to say, they do not want to see him again. In the middle are all the rest, who like many of us, are searching for ways to reconcile the church’s message of supreme healing and reconciliation through the mystery of forgiveness with the social demands of justice, professional codes of responsibility and the utter finality of “zero tolerance.”
An important reminder, perhaps, that those whose voices are recorded by the media may not always be truly representative of the diversity of opinion within any given parish.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:46 AM
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A DEFENSE OF VOTF: Writing in this week's America (subscription to the print edition required for access), columnist Terry Golway offers a measured defense of Voice of the Faithful. He is disheartened by the reaction of some in the hierarchy to VOTF:

It is hard not to conclude that some members of the American church’s hierarchy resent or are fearful of the laity’s voices. All those voices, they seem to believe, will only add to confusion and doubt—and they unwittingly conspire with the church’s enemies and critics in the secular world who are eager to publicize the church’s failings.

But Voice of the Faithful and groups like it are not, thankfully, Catholics for a Free Choice. They are not advocating positions at odds with core Catholic dogma, nor do they gleefully trash the church on cable television programs. While it is certainly true that some members are open to the idea of women priests and at least a reconsideration of celibacy, the group itself is not chartered to advocate such positions.

These are lay Catholics—eucharistic ministers, lectors, members of choirs, committee members, parents of altar servers, active parishioners—who simply wish to feel more connected with their bishops. And, sad to say, they make the undeniable case that the sexual scandals have demonstrated that the bishops could use all the help and advice they can get.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:15 AM
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THIRTY SIX: At 11:33am EDT today I turned thirty-six years old. I have absolutely nothing profound to offer at this moment. But I do thank the Lord for thirty-six wonderful years. Pray that I may receive each year, each day, each hour, each minute as a gift.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:07 AM
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JOHN EUDES: Today is the memorial of Saint John Eudes (1601-1680), a priest of the diocese of Seez in France. You can learn more about him by clicking here. The Office of Readings for today has a nice excerpt from one of his essays:

I ask you to consider that our Lord Jesus Christ is your true head and that you are a member of his body...He belongs to you, but more than that, he longs to be in you, living and ruling in you, as the head lives and rules in the body. He desires that whatever is in him may live and rule in you: his breath in your breath, his heart in your heart, all the faculties of his soul in the faculties of your soul, so that these words may be fulfilled in you: Glorify God and bear him in your body, that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in you.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:16 AM
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THANK YOU! Thanks to all of you who offered your prayers for the success of our parish Bonfire retreat this weekend. Most of the candidates I talked to said they had an amazing experience. Pray that they may hold on to this experience as they continue their walk with Christ.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:10 AM
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CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: Emily Stimpson at Heart, Mind and Strength and Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things both linked to my Friday post on the Psalms. While I am, of course, appreciative, I think they may have given the mistaken impression that many of the thoughts there were my own. Most of the post was actually a quote from Father Ron Rolheiser's weekly column. I apologize if I gave a mistaken impression.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:08 AM
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