Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, August 30, 2002
JEREMIAH WAS A... Read Fr. Shawn O'Neal's homily at Nota Bene before you go to mass on Sunday.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:55 PM
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THAT'S "WRESTLING" NOT "WILDLIFE": Nihil Obstat wonders whether I really believed the World Wildlife Fund was responsible for the recent fracas over the "Grip and Grin" over at Heart, Mind and Strength Blog. In this case (see post below), WWF was meant to stand for the World Wrestling Federation. Clearly, Nihil and myself have very different tastes in entertainment...

posted by Peter Nixon 3:23 PM
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NO REPRIEVE: Last week I posted an item about the impending execution of Toronto Patterson in Texas. Unfortunately, the clemency board did not recommend clemency and on August 28th, Patterson was executed. Patterson was 17 at the time of his arrest and his case has highlighted the fact that Texas leads the nation in the execution of inmates who were minors at the time of the crime. The Moratorium Campaign is asking people to send faxes to Texas Governor Rick Perry asking him to end this practice. Click here if you are interested.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:17 PM
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NO SURPRISE: Father Rob Johansen has finally posted his own opinions on what Mark Shea has artfully dubbed the "Grip and Grin" before mass. As you probably could have guessed, Fr. Rob's agin' it.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:54 PM
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JOHN ALLEN: John Allen's new NCR column has been posted. He discusses the differing responses among Catholic leaders to the challenge posed by the emigration of large numbers of Muslims into traditionally Catholic countries like Italy and Austria. Some bishops have been quite welcoming, while others are less so. Allen cites Bishop Kurt Krenn, who is close to far-right political leader Jörg Haider, and who recently warned that Vienna is facing a "third siege," a reference to the attacks on the city by Muslim invaders in 1529 and 1683. Allen speculates on John Paul II's views:

In this tension, I have little doubt where John Paul II himself comes down. It is no accident that he chose his 1983 visit to Vienna, precisely on the 300th anniversary of the siege whose memory Krenn invoked, to repeat the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate that the Catholic Church “looks upon Muslims with great respect, who worship the one God, creator of heaven and earth.”

John Paul has met with Muslims more than 50 times. I was present in Damascus on May 5, 2001, when he became the first pope in history to enter a mosque. It was the Grand Mosque of Omayyaid, and the pope, like all visitors, showed respect by taking off his shoes before he went it. (Personal secretary Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz removed the reddish-tan papal loafers and placed slippers on his feet). The pope then shuffled across the carpeted floor in the company of 86-year-old Shiekh Ahmad Kuftaro, the grand mufti of Syria. The two made a charming pair, both leaning on canes and on each other, struggling to make themselves understood. It was an icon of brotherhood, of two aged and wise religious leaders wishing peace, worth hundreds of learned theological tomes.
Allen also has some interesting observations on the culture of Catholicism in Poland. Those disposed to think of the Pope as a "conservative" might be surprised to learn that he has generally been associated with the more liberal elements of the Polish Church.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:50 AM
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I CHOOSE TO LAY IT DOWN FREELY: In this week's column, Father Ron Rolheiser (that's one drink for you folks playing the Saint Blogs' Drinking Game) speaks of the little ways in which each of us, every day, are called to lay down our lives for others. He cites his own experience with two airplane trips where he was asked to trade his seat with someone else. In both cases he ended up with a less comfortable seat for a very long flight. The first time it happened, he was somewhat resentful. But the second time, he had learned from the first experience and was able to relinquish his seat without bitterness, and even with a little joy. Rolheiser says that he "felt wonderful, having just done a godly thing, however minute that might appear in the great schema of things." He continues:

But it was the great schema of things Jesus was referring to when he stood before Pontius Pilate and refused to be moved by the threat: "Don't you know that I have power over you! I can put you to death or set you free!" Jesus' answer: "Nobody takes my life, I choose to lay it down freely! Nobody has that power over me!" Nobody can take by force what has already been freely given out of love. Love can make a preemptive strike.

And it is this preemptive strike that we are daily invited to make when duty calls. Our families, friends, communities, churches, and the poor are going to ask for our lives. We may as well give them over freely. The choice is not between giving our lives over or not giving them over, but rather between giving them over conscriptively in resentment or giving them over freely in love. They will be taken from us in any case.
This may seem a little mundane, but I think Fr. Ron is on to something here. The vast majority of us are not going to be called to lay down our lives for others in the way that Jesus did. Rather, we will be called to lay down our lives a piece at a time, in large ways and small.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:20 AM
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Thursday, August 29, 2002
THE RITE OF PEACE: NOT JUST A HANDSHAKE Excellent explanation of the Rite of Peace from Fr. Jim over at Dappled Things. Let me just excerpt a couple of paragraphs:

The rite of peace is not a time to greet our neighbor and be friendly. It's not the moment to wish someone happy birthday or comment on the loveliness of her new dress. The peace that flows from the Lamb of Sacrifice has just been invoked upon the people, and they exchange that peace with each other, a peace that they will receive in the Body and Blood in a few moments. They exchange with each other the bond of peace that binds all Christians together in holy charity, a charity that grows in perfection with each Communion. The Pax is a solemn rite in which we offer each other the peace that can only come from the Prince of Peace...

How often in our parishes does the offering of peace live up to this vision? The problem lies both on the side of those who dumb it down into a cheap greeting and on the side of those who disdain it with a sneer. Both sides miss the beauty of this solemn rite, in which we receive peace not as the world gives it. Partly, I think, it's due to an overuse of the Pax. Chiefly, though, it's because we've done a poor job in teaching what it means, both by lack of catechesis and by poor example. No doubt, we'll find the right balance eventually.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:09 AM
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HMS GOES WWF: The various contributors to Heart, Mind and Strength Blog are going at it fast and furious over the pre-mass handshake issue! Amy Welborn and Emily Stimpson have Greg Popack in a punishing choke, wait...Popack executes a stunning reversal and launches himself off the ropes, taking both his antagonists to the mat...

posted by Peter Nixon 10:39 AM
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Wednesday, August 28, 2002
11:30PM: Installed new valve on the toilet and finally figured out how to fix the leak in the hot water spigot on the master bedroom sink. Sometimes I think the Lord made me a homeowner to teach me patience and humility. You would think having a couple of kids would be enough. I must be a really hard case...:-)

posted by Peter Nixon 11:28 PM
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HI, MY NAME IS… If you thought Rod Dreher got people excited, wait until you check out the debate over the practice of exchanging greetings with your pew-mates before mass. You know the drill: the priest or the cantor asks everyone to “rise and greet one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Father Rob Johansen’s parish has recently introduced this practice and he asked readers of his blog what they thought about it. As of this writing, he has received close to 70 comments and an as-yet undisclosed number of e-mails. Amy Welborn posted a link to Fr. Rob’s site and added her own perspective, which also produced a large number of comment postings. So check out those two sites if you want to see the range of debate.

My two cents? Well my parish has been doing this for years. We also ask visitors to introduce themselves prior to the beginning of the mass. I’m not a great fan of either practice, but it doesn’t keep me up nights either. I suppose I could say it disturbs my silent contemplation before the mass, but that’s nonsense. Usually I’m trying to keep our two children from disturbing the silent contemplation of other parishioners, something that generally requires my full attention and a fair bit of prayer.

Theological issues aside, I’m not convinced the practice really accomplishes much in the way of either building community or welcoming people. I tend to forget the names of the people I have shaken hands with almost immediately. It also feels a bit silly to be doing the same thing again at the kiss of peace.

A parish I attended in Washington DC had the practice of asking visitors to stand at the end of the mass, at which point the priest thanked them for coming and strongly encouraged them to return. This is actually a perfect time to do this, because it is very easy—once the people have sat down—to tap them on the shoulder and say “By the way, we’re doing coffee and doughnuts downstairs after mass. You really should come,” or something similar.

I think building a sense of community among parishioners and being welcoming to newcomers are both very important things. At our parish, someone from the welcoming committee calls every newly registered parishioner and invites them to a “newcomers potluck.” We also invite them to meet with one of the priests on our pastoral staff. Our parish makes extensive use of small faith-sharing groups, parish retreats, and social events to build community within the parish.

So if a parish is doing all these things, I’m not sure the pre-mass handshake adds much. Does it hurt? I suspect that it doesn’t bother most people, but it clearly bothers a few people who feel very strongly about it. While I do not always advocate submitting to what one of my Protestant friends calls “the tyranny of the weaker brethren,” it may be in this case that we should follow Saint Paul’s advice in Romans 14 to “not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.”

posted by Peter Nixon 4:56 PM
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I WONDER IF THEY'LL KEEP DRINKING SAM ADAMS: Interesting article from the National Catholic Reporter about "Theology on Tap," a four-week summer program sponsored by Catholic dioceses in more than 40 states across the country. Thousands of young people across the United States have participated in the program, which includes presentations, discussions, and the option of throwing back a few cold ones. You can get a list of web sites for TOT programs in various parts of the country by clicking here.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:33 PM
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JUST WAR? Our Sunday Visitor has a well-balanced article that discusses the application of Catholic just war teaching to the debate over whether to invade Iraq.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:15 PM
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AUGUSTINE: Today is the feast day of Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop, Theologian and Doctor of the Church. Augustine straddled the patristic and medieval eras of the Church and his influence on Christian theology may well be second only to Saint Paul himself.

All this can make approaching him a little intimidating. I had never read one of his major works until Lent of this year, when I decided to work my way through the
Confessions as a Lenten penance (giving up pizza just wasn’t cutting it anymore). I expected it to be like eating Grape Nuts: healthy but not terribly enjoyable.

I was wrong. Augustine speaks to the modern believer in a way that medieval and even early modern theologians never can. Augustine lived in a time when Christianity had yet to become the dominant religious and philosophical worldview of the Roman Empire. Christianity was competing with pagan religions and secular philosophy for the hearts and minds of Senators and slaves alike. The parallels with our own age should be obvious.

But it was Augustine’s personal journey that I found most compelling. Trained in Greek philosophy, he was strongly attracted to Christianity, but found it difficult to embrace. In some ways, the Confessions is less a story of how he resolved his doubts than it is a tale of how a power greater than himself pulled him through those doubts. This was a story that certainly paralleled my own experience, although I would never claim to be able to describe it as powerfully as does Augustine:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you…You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
In her book, The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris has a wonderful reflection on Augustine that suggests why his story continues to compel after so many centuries:

This is why Saint Augustine is so precious to me. He helps me see, in the lengthy story of his own conversion--with its fits and starts, its meanderings and deep desires for faith--that mine has been a traditional Christian journey. When I'm at church at home, or worshipping as a guest in a monastery choir, I often think of the Augustines in our midst, who are still wandering in and out of the faith. I think of my own inconstancy in prayer, my own hypocrisies that I know by now are among the reasons I go to church: to burn them off in singing hymns, and in listening and responding to scripture.
A good companion to reading the Confessions is Gary Wills' book on Saint Augustine from the Penguin Lives series. It is brief, to the point, and free from hagiographic excess. Enjoy!

posted by Peter Nixon 12:57 PM
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Tuesday, August 27, 2002
NO DISPUTE: Those of us who have participated in the little contretemps over the Rod Dreher essay would be well advised to read an excellent post at Disputations today. Actually, even if you haven't participated, the advice is still good:

If you develop habits of belligerence -- of thinking in terms of enemies to fight, for example -- then you will become habitually belligerent. If you develop habits of pride -- of publically telling one group what another group should be doing, for example -- then you will become habitually prideful. When habitually belligerent and prideful people turn their attentions on each other, they fight each other.

It is a situation to be regretted, but the solution isn't to keep their attentions turned on some common enemy. The solution is for them to develop habits of peace and humility.
Click on the link and read the whole thing.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:26 PM
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MUST HAVE HAD A FEW TOO MANY: Those of you who have e-mailed the Boston Brewing Company (maker of Sam Adams) to indicate your displeasure with their involvement in the sex-at-Saint-Patrick's stunt may be interested to know that Jim Koch, the company's Chairman has posted a statement on its web site (thanks to Amy Welborn for the link), which reads as follows:

We at The Boston Beer Company formally apologize to all those upset or offended by the incident on the "Opie and Anthony Show" and by our association with it. We were not in control of the program, and it was never our intention to be part of a radio station promotion that crossed the line. Everyone associated with The Boston Beer Company has worked for 17 years to build a good company with world-class products and a quality reputation. My presence on the show was a lapse in judgment, a serious mistake, and I regret it. We are re-evaluating our policy on radio station appearances.
Well Koch may not have been "in control" of the program, but as this Boston Herald column makes clear (thanks to Mark Shea for the link), he was certainly an active participant in it.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:02 PM
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WHERE DO WORLDCOM EXECS GO TO CHURCH? Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, poses some hard questions. He notes that both Ken Lay (Enron) and Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) were active members of their churches:

Both these “godly” men have engaged in ungodly activities and have then attempted to evade their responsibilities by proclaiming their ignorance. So, where do these men go to church? Stated more painfully, does church really make a difference in the personal and public behavior of corporate leaders? Does teaching Sunday School shape the character of the teacher? Does the biblical witness carry any moral weight?
I'm reminded of a scene in The Godfather, Part III, where Michael Corleone is talking to Cardinal Albino Luciani (the future John Paul I). Luciani picks up a stone out of the water of a fountain and says "men have been surrounded by Christianity for hundreds of years, but"--he breaks the stone in two to show that it is dry inside--"it has not penetrated."

posted by Peter Nixon 1:27 PM
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ARE WE PRAYING ENOUGH? One of the deacons in my parish likes to tell the story about how Henri Nouwen went to visit Mother Theresa in Calcutta. It was a difficult time in his life, and Nouwen found himself pouring out some of the troubles he was having to Mother Theresa. Her response? “You’re not praying enough!”

Are we praying enough? I know I’m not…

posted by Peter Nixon 11:25 AM
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MONICA: Today is the feast day of Saint Monica (331-387), the mother of Saint Augustine, whose feast day—appropriately—is tomorrow. Sean Gallagher over at Nota Bene has some nice thoughts about Monica today.

In his Confessions, Augustine recounts how his mother prayed often to God for his conversion to Christianity. Today’s Office of Readings has an excerpt from the Confessions where Monica and Augustine speak about this shortly before her death:

The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life…My mother said: “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know what you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant.”
There are many modern Monicas in the Church today, praying for children who have left the faith or have yet to find it. Let us ask Saint Monica to pray for them and their children today.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:58 AM
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Monday, August 26, 2002
DREHER: THE COMMENTARY CONTINUES: Fr. Jim over at Dappled Things strikes the right balance in his approach to the much-commented-upon Rod Dreher essay in the Wall Street Journal.

The reactions to Dreher's article have been across the spectrum, and one can find reactions aplenty in the Catholic blogs. As to the point of whether or not the Pope bears a load of responsibility in the current mess, most of the bloggers' positions (whether in agreement or not) strike me as tenable. What I don't find tenable, though, is the visceral reaction that it's somehow un-Catholic to criticize a Pope (or this particular Pope) or to disapprove of his decisions. I may not agree with all of Dreher's ideas about the best use of the Petrine authority, but it's completely absurd to say that he's arguing from a flawed ecclesiology or from a spirit of disobedience or out of spite for a holy man. The Church needs a healthy dose of internal critique, and there's no reason why Supreme Pontiffs should be exempted from that criticism. Certainly, it should always be done with charity and respect, but nowhere is it written that one cannot vocally disagree with points of papal governance. To think otherwise is seriously to misunderstand the nature of authority in the Church.
There's also been some reaction to a letter to the WSJ about Dreher's essay written by Opus Dei's Man in Washington, Fr. John McCloskey, which began "Mr. Dreher, as a convert to the Catholic Church, does not seem to realize that the church in this world is made up of a 100% fallible sinners from the pope on down." The tone of condescension towards converts--somewhat bizzare coming from a man who specializes in high-profile conversions--was skillfully skewered by Amy Welborn this morning. She also excerpts Dreher's blistering response.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:25 PM
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LOVE IS PATIENT: A moving reflection in this month's U.S. Catholic by the husband of a woman with advanced Alzheimer's disease.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:46 PM
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SCENES FROM A COUNTY JAIL: I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the things we do at the Sunday service at the jail is to pray over the men who will be leaving before next Sunday. We had an amusing moment yesterday. One of the lines of the prayer is that the men will find jobs that will be fulfilling and meaningful. The oldest of the three men who was leaving spoke up, “but I’m retired!” causing us to chuckle.

Seeing both the very young and the very old at the jail is always difficult. I always shake my head when I see kids who are barely old enough to drive a car and not yet old enough to drink. You wonder what will happen to them. Will their incarceration be the experience that turns them around and sets them on a new path? Or will it merely be a way station on the way to a longer and much harsher stretch of time in a state prison?

But with the young, at least there is always hope. There is still so much time. That’s not the case with some of the older inmates. In the county system, you often find men who have been struggling with alcohol or drug addiction for a very long time and there’s a fairly good chance that this will not be their last stay in this facility. It’s a hard thing to see. A man that age should be bouncing grandchildren on his knees and imparting the wisdom of his years, not wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.

Pray for all of those incarcerated, that God might give them the strength to walk a new path, to seek forgiveness and to make restitution. Pray for those they have harmed, both the victims of their crimes and their own friends and families, that God might heal their pain and give them the strength to forgive.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:59 AM
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