Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Saturday, December 07, 2002
IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IT, IT'S NEW TO YOU: I've been meaning to add Bill Cork's Ut Unum Sint to my bloglist for some time. Messing around with my template is not my favorite task. I'm always afraid I'm going to delete some critical line of code. In any case, I suspect most of you are familiar with Bill's site. If not, check it out. Bill seems to be one of those people that whether you agree or disagree with him, he always makes you think.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:47 PM
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PHILIP BERRIGAN: Catholic peace activist Philip Berrigan has died at the age of 79 from cancer (thanks to Amy Welborn for the link to this story about him). Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:52 PM
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WHAT IS HIP? Saint Blog's own Princess of Pop Kathy Shaidle (and I mean that in the nicest of ways Kathy!) opines on how many Christians' aversion to pop culture makes them unable to communicate with the many, many people who live and breathe this stuff:

I was once with a group of people talking about the most romantic movies ever made. I noticed that almost all of them -- Casablanca, The Apartment -- centered on extra-marital affairs, and pointed that out. Why is that situation 'romantic'? Because it is secret and therefore exciting? No one had noticed this before, and probably some of them were surprised that someone was gently raising the notion that affairs were wrong (Gasp! Judgment! Rules! Morality!) even if they sometimes made for good movies. I left people with a little something to think about, without wagging my fingers or quoting Leviticus. I couldn't have had that conversation if I was a Ned Flanders Christian.
Now while I'd have to disagree that Casablanca centers on an extra-marital affair (Ilsa thinks Victor is dead when she begins her relationship with Rick and the film is more about Rick's recovery of a moral compass), I think Kathy's point is well taken. I think I have noted on more than one occasion here that I feel that Buffy the Vampire Slayer may be one of the most "Christian" shows on television because it deals constantly with issues of sin, suffering, redemption, temptation, vocation, etc. in such an engaging way. Perhaps the popularity of the show suggests an unmet hunger that the Church could speak to, if only we could find the right words.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:33 PM
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PSALMS EVERY CATHOLIC SHOULD KNOW: Disputations has a great post on this topic, complete with a list of suggestions.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:27 PM
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Friday, December 06, 2002
PART OF THE LITE BRIGADE? George Wiegel talks about the Catholic just war tradition in his weekly column. In the middle of the column, he makes this statement:

The just war tradition does not begin (as, against the historical evidence, so many religious leaders today insist), with a "presumption against violence" or a "presumption against war."
Now, I’d ask you to keep this statement in mind as you read the following three paragraphs (my emphasis added):

With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force.—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Statement on Iraq, November 13, 2002.

Just war teaching has evolved…as an effort to prevent war; only if war cannot be rationally avoided, does the teaching then seek to restrict and reduce its horrors. It does this by establishing a set of rigorous conditions which must be met if the decision to go to war is to be mostly permissible. Such a decision, especially today, requires extraordinarily strong reasons for overriding the presumption in favor of peace and against war. This is one significant reason why valid just-war teaching makes provision for conscientious dissent.—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace, 1983 (#83).

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the 'just war' doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.—Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2309
Wiegel’s argument is clearly not with vaguely defined “religious leaders” or even the Jesuits. He is arguing with the Bishops of the United States and even the Bishop of Rome himself about the meaning of the Catholic tradition.

I think a case could even be made—although I don’t know if I would agree with it—that Wiegel has it right and the Bishops have it wrong. Although a layman, Wiegel certainly brings an enormous amount of expertise to this debate. He has probably read more widely on the subject than the vast majority of Bishops who voted on the statements excerpted above. His views are certainly worth hearing.

It would be easier to have sympathy for Wiegel if he did not spend so much of his time excoriating other Catholics who also find themselves wrestling with the meaning of Catholic tradition. Married couples, for example, whose experience with marriage may have given them some expertise at least as deep as that which Wiegel possesses on the subject of the Just War teaching. Perhaps they, like Wiegel, see themselves as faithful Catholics who honestly wrestle with the meaning of that tradition in their lives. Perhaps before he pens another caustic attack on those he considers insufficiently orthodox, he might take the time to read Luke 6:39-42.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:45 PM
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HOPE: In keeping with one of the themes of Advent, Fr. Ron Rolheiser talks this week about hope.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:50 AM
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ASIAN DAWN: In his weekly NCR column, John Allen talks about a recent colloqium in Rome about the Catholic Church in Asia. An interesting read.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:47 AM
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NOT BANNED IN BOSTON: By now, most of you have heard or read about the revelations that James Foley, a Boston priest, fathered two children in the 1960s. Later, when the woman with whom he had fathered the children collapsed from an apparent drug overdose, Foley waited for a long period of time before dialing 911. The diocese apparently didn't get wind of this until 1993, at which point Cardinal Law ordered Foley to resign his post as pastor Our Lady of Fatima Church in Sudbury and get treatment.

A memo from Bishop John McCormack that was released yesterday read, in part: "Cardinal Law thinks that (Foley) should not be in pastoral ministry due to potential scandal. His remark is that this man should spend his life in a monastery doing penance." But that's not what happened. After returning from treatment, he was allowed to return to limited ministry, and was eventually returned to parish duty in 1995.

So what happened here? Law had all the information he needed to make the right decision. He even had concluded that Foley should not be in pastoral ministry. So what changed his mind? Was it because he was convinced that the story would never come out?

I'm trying to be moderately constructive here. A common characteristic of "systems failures" in large complex organizations is that the information needed to avoid the failure was available to someone, but it was not acted upon. Figuring out why it was not acted upon is one of the things we try to do to prevent failures in the future. So why didn't Law act in the way that common sense would tell you he should have?

posted by Peter Nixon 10:04 AM
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Thursday, December 05, 2002
NOT ONLY FOR OURSELVES: Nice essay in The Priest about the Psalms. Sometimes we can find the Psalms difficult to pray, particularly when the emotions expressed in the Psalm--lament, anger, despair--are much stronger than our own. Fr. Charles Miller reminds us that "liturgical prayer does not exclude our personal, individual sentiments, but it does seek to raise us above and beyond our own limited world to be like Jesus, who opened His arms on the cross to embrace everyone." When we pray the Psalms, we can, in a sense, pray them on behalf of those who are experiencing those sentiments.

A good example of a prayer that some find difficult is the Salve Regina, a.k.a. the Hail Holy Queen, often said at the conclusion of Compline or Night Prayer. The middle of the prayer has these evocative lines:

To you do we cry, poor, banished children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.


When I first started to pray the hours, I tended to stumble over these words. I certainly have my days from time to time, but in general I don't feel this way about my life.

But there are certainly others who, at the moment I am praying this, are feeling this way. I try to unite myself with their suffering, to stand with them and pray with them. I think of refugees, banished from their homelands, or prisoners, banished from their communities. I think of the many who are indeed "mourning and weeping" and sending up their sighs to heaven. Some of these people may not even be consciously praying; they may feel alienated from God or religion, and feel a terrible loneliness in their time of trial. I can pray this prayer in their name.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:59 PM
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FAMINE: Over 16 million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea are facing a potential famine due to prolonged drought and that number continues to grow every month. Current estimates show that in a worst-case scenario, total food aid needed in 2003 could be between 1.3 and 2 million tons of cereal in Ethiopia alone. You can get more info by visiting the Catholic Relief Services web site here, where you can also make a contribution on-line. Catholic News Service also has a related article here.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:39 PM
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RATZINGER: Some folks are finding their way here this morning because Amy Welborn was nice enough to link here after citing something I said on one of her comment boards. If you are looking for the comment I made about Cardinal Ratzinger's statement about press coverage of the scandal, I've posted it below. I was trying to draw a distinction between the kind of criticism of the media coverage of the scandal made by people like Peter Steinfels and Cardinal Ratzinger's recent comments:

I think there is a distinction between Steinfels criticisms and Ratzinger. Steinfels has not alleged any kind of "conspiracy" to defame the Church. Rather, he argued that latent anti-Catholic bias coupled with the business imperatives of the media have sometimes led to shoddy, decontextualized reporting. But this is a problem one finds in other "big stories" as well.

Ratzinger is alleging something quite different: a deliberate, intentional effort to defame the Church. This is just loopy.

I work in an industry (health care) that enjoys occasional bouts of negative coverage from the press. The axiom I live by is to conduct our business in such a way as to never hand a reporter a loaded gun, because they will certainly pull the trigger. By the way it conducted its business, the Archdiocese of Boston handed the media a few hand grenades. Now we have to clean up the mess.


posted by Peter Nixon 11:58 AM
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WHO WILL RID US OF THIS TURBULENT PRIEST? Okay, let me get this straight. When confronted with credible allegations of sexual abuse, criminal conduct and other behavior unbecoming a priest, Cardinal Law moves with a speed only slightly less dilatory than maple sap on a cold Vermont morning. On the other hand, when priests and laity in the Archdiocese of Boston try to meet to discuss problems that have been created by his inaction, the Cardinal moves with the swiftness of Mercury.

After Rev. Walter H. Cuenin of Our Lady Help of Christians invited more than 100 priests to a meeting at his parish to discuss concerns about the archdiocese's current fund-raising drive, Law banned all "archdiocesan-sponsored or archdiocesan-related meetings, programs, workshops, etc." from being held at the parish. Law gave no explanation for the move and did not even bother to send a copy of the e-mail to Fr. Cuenin. You can read the entire
Boston Globe story here.

Time to go. Time to go. Time to go...

posted by Peter Nixon 11:18 AM
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Wednesday, December 04, 2002
SAY THAT AGAIN? The Rev. Mark Bigalow, a member of Planned Parenthood's clergy advisory board has issued a letter where he suggests that Jesus was pro-choice. Bigalow sent the letter to talk show host Bill O'Rielly after O'Rielly condemned Planned Parenthood's "Choice on Earth" holiday cards, which have caused quite a stir. Here is the relevant paragraph (click here to read the entire letter):

In your show you said that Jesus was not pro-choice and you were sure he would be insulted were he to see this card. Even as a minister I am careful what I presume Jesus would do if he were alive today, but one thing I know from the Bible is that Jesus was not against women having a choice in continuing a pregnancy. He never said a word about abortion (nor did anyone else in the Bible) even though abortion was available and in use in his time. In addition, his compassionate stance toward all individuals causes me to believe that he would want us to do what we can to ensure that women have full access to all necessary medical care in order to have healthy and happy families. Jesus was for peace on earth, justice on earth, compassion on earth, mercy on earth, and choice on earth.
First of all, can we agree that importing terms from a 20th century policy debate into first century Palestine is just absurd? I would make this criticism of O'Rielly as well. But he, at least, has the excuse of being a talk-show host. Bigalow is an ordained Christian minister, who has presumedly received some training in biblical exegesis. On what basis does Bigalow assume that Jesus' silence about a matter presumes his consent and even support?

But Bigalow really goes off the edge with his statement that Jesus was for "peace on earth, justice on earth, compassion on earth, mercy on earth and choice on earth." Even if the last term is omitted, this summary of Jesus' message still distorts what He was trying to say. It turns Him into some kind of advocate for liberal social reform. It ignores the apocalyptic and eschatological dimension that was central to Jesus' preaching. It is an ideologically motivated distortion of the Gospels, aimed at giving a religious imprimatur to a cause that Rev. Bigalow clearly supports on other grounds.

At best, Bigalow's comments demonstrate how sola scriptura starts running off the rails after a certain point. While abortion is not mentioned in the New Testament, the evidence is strong that the early Christian communities opposed the practices of abortion and infanticide that were common in the Roman Empire. To claim that the absence of an explicit mention of abortion in the New Testament means that Christians did not oppose the practice is to rip the scriptures out of their historical and cultural context and impose on them a hermenuetic that the authors of the scriptural books would find unrecognizable.

It is hard to escape the conclusion the Planned Parenthood's clergy advisory board is little more than a cynical political exercise, on the same level as politicians surrounding themselves with police officers during the election season. If Planned Parenthood wants to make an ethical case for its position on abortion and other issues, then well and good. But it should not do violence to the Christian scripture or tradition in order to do so.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:53 PM
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FREE CARDINAL LAW: Yeah, you read that right. The unofficial line is that Cardinal Law tried to resign earlier this year, only to be told by Rome to stay put. But after this latest round of disclosures, perhaps the Vatican might reconsider. As the Boston Globe recounted today:

Desperate to contain the burgeoning scandal in the priesthood, the Archdiocese of Boston for years dealt in secret with allegations that a priest had terrorized and beaten his housekeeper, another had traded cocaine for sex, and a third had enticed young girls by claiming to be ''the second coming of Christ,'' newly released church records show.

In some cases, church officials - including Cardinal Bernard F. Law - reacted to the explosive charges by quietly transferring rogue priests to other parishes and treating them with a gentleness and sensitivity apparently unshaken by the heinous allegations against them.

In 1999, Law, for example, held out the prospect of a return to ''appropriate'' ministry to a priest who had, years earlier, told church officials that he knew one of his abuse victims had killed himself.
This was in 1999! Not ten or twenty years ago. What does a Bishop need to do to get fired around here? Rob a bank?

posted by Peter Nixon 2:48 PM
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Tuesday, December 03, 2002
A PARTISAN MANIFESTO: In this week's Tablet, Catholic historian Eamon Duffy marches through George Weigel's The Courage to be Catholic like Sherman marched through Atlanta, denouncing the book as a "partisan manifesto." Duffy himself is hardly a partisan of the Catholic Left; he wrote an equally blistering review of Garry Wills Papal Sin two years ago. He is also the major "revisionist" historian of the English Reformation. His book The Stripping of the Altars showed that English Catholicism, rather than collapsing under its own weight as generations of English Protestant historians liked to believe, remained popular among the English people and had to be destroyed by force. He is also the author of a well-regarded (and beautifully illustrated) history of the papacy, Saints and Sinners. So Duffy brings some bona fides to this debate and his critique of Wiegel is worth reading.

Duffy takes particular issue with Weigel's continued emphasis that priests are meant to be "living icons of the priesthood of Jesus Christ:"

This curious formulation is repeated like a mantra through the book as “the classic Catholic view”. It is of course no such thing. Emphasis on the priest as an “icon” of Christ is a comparatively recent theological fashion, often deployed in arguments against the ordination of women. It has some roots in tradition, but is far from central within it. The notion of the priest as “representing” Christ was normally applied by scholastics like St Thomas not to the priest’s status but to his actions – for example in celebrating the liturgy, and classic treatments of priesthood by writers like St John Fisher make no use at all of the notion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the bishop (not the priest) as the “type” or image of God the Father, rather than Christ, and emphasises the priesthood’s “ministerial” character. And what are we to make of the human priorities in evidence in the claim that when a priest abuses a child, “the issue is iconography”, the fact that the priest has “disfigured himself as a living re-presentation of Christ”?

Weigel is an intelligent man, and his analysis of the theological, liturgical, and moral failures of post-conciliar American Catholicism hits real targets. But his argument is partial and reductive. The sexual revolution of the Sixties, and its echoes in the Church, certainly contributed to our present disasters, but many abusing priests were formed long before what Weigel dismissively calls “the silly season”, and were products of the age of Pius XII, not Paul VI. There is something repellent about his disparagement of fellow-Catholics in “the Lite Brigade”, his glee that they are dying off, his hawkish endorsement of a cocksure “orthodoxy” which has all the answers. He thinks the buck stops at the top, yet he excoriates the American bishops, while praising extravagantly the pope who has appointed them all.


posted by Peter Nixon 9:43 AM
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THE ROAD TO JOY: The Tablet continues its series on the legacy of Vatican II with an excellent essay by Joseph Komonchak on the history of one of the Council's most well known documents, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, often referred to by its Latin title, Gaudium et Spes. One of the things that Komonchak makes clear is a truth that is not widely understood: the present divisions one often finds in the Church between "liberals" and "conservatives" have their roots in differences within the pro-reform majority at the Council.

For example, when the first draft of Gaudium et Spes was circulated, both Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger offered equally strong criticism of the document as unbalanced in its praise of human progress. Both theologians argued that the draft needed to reflect the ambivalence of human progress and the ineradicable depths of human sinfulness. This history may surprise those who have stereotyped Rahner as a "liberal" and Ratzinger as a "conservative," as both theologians were firmly within the progressive, or pro-reform majority at the Council. Komonchak concludes:

Consideration of such differences within the majority of bishops and theologians permits a richer appreciation of the council than the tired division between “Cowboys and Indians” generates. It would probably also yield a better understanding of one of the remarkable features of the post-conciliar period: the rapid divisions among the “progressive” conciliar theologians, reflected in the founding of the rival journals Concilium and Communio. The seeds of this schism were planted long before the council opened, slept in the soil for the first two sessions, and then broke into the light as the council moved to its close. Anyone interested in healing the divisions would be well advised to trace them to their roots.


posted by Peter Nixon 9:23 AM
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SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER: Today is the feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary and companion of Ignatius of Loyola. After his ordination, Francis sailed to the East, preaching the Gospel in India, Malaysia, and Japan. For more information about Saint Francis Xavier, click here.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:08 AM
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REMEMBER: Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of the deaths of four American Catholic women who were murdered in El Salvador. On the evening of that December 2, 1980 Sr. Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan drove their van to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford who were returning from a Maryknoll regional assembly in Managua. After leaving the airport, their van was commandeered at a road block by members of El Salvador's National Guard. They were taken to an isolated location, raped and murdered, then buried in a shallow grave along a roadside. In meeting their deaths this way, they shared the fate of so many others in El Salvador in that terrible time. You can learn more about these remarkable women by clicking here.


posted by Peter Nixon 9:04 AM
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Monday, December 02, 2002
SCENES FROM A COUNTY JAIL: If you like preaching in front of a large congregation, then preaching at a jail is probably not for you. I think the largest crowd we ever had was 21 men, and usually it hovers between 10 and 15.

On the other hand, you can’t beat it for immediate feedback. You can see everyone’s eyes and whether they are closed, open, interested, bored, or completely confused. We also usually have our own version of an “Amen Corner,” one or two guys who like to call out “Amen” during the sermon. As a Catholic, I wasn’t used to this sort of thing, and it took a while before I was able to hear those Amens without getting distracted.

I got some wonderful feedback yesterday. During my reflection (which I posted on Saturday), I talked about how Advent teaches us the importance of waiting and preparation. I noted that inmates often have a deeper appreciation of these concepts then people on the outside. I speculated that maybe we need Advent because we’re not yet ready for Christmas. Maybe we’ve got a little more work to do, a little more time to get ready.

Well in the congregation yesterday was a young man who originally expected to be released before Christmas. Well, now it looks like he won’t be getting out until after Christmas. Having to spend a couple extra weeks in jail is bad enough; missing Christmas makes it a lot worse.

During the prayers of the faithful, the young man talked about his situation. But then he said something that surprised me: “I want to thank God for the preacher because I think he has helped me understand your will for me and why this is happening to me right now.”

The temptation, of course, was to be pleased with myself for crafting such a wonderful reflection. But I think that sort of temptation is an important one to resist—not that I am always successful in doing so. Rather, I should be pleased that God was able to use me to accomplish His purpose of bringing consolation to this young man.

One of the toughest things to remember when you are leading prayer is that it’s not about you. The temptation is to be “active,” when in reality one needs to be “passive.” The beauty of a stained glass window is revealed not by steel, lead or glass, but by the light that shines through it. As Christians called to preach the Good News, we, too, must learn to be similarly transparent.


posted by Peter Nixon 12:31 PM
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