Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, December 13, 2002
THE PROSPECT OF WAR: Brian Urquhart, a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, has written a lengthy and thoughtful review of Ken Pollack's The Threatening Storm in the New York Review of Books. In general, Urquhart is more sanguine than Pollack than a robust inspections regime can strengthen the containment of Iraq. He also cautions that there are other global threats that require the cooperation of the international community, and a decision by the United States to invade that was made over the objections of the Security Council could have long-term consequences for such cooperation.

Urquhart also questions one of the most powerful analogies of Pollack's book, i.e. the idea that the United States is in a similar position vis-a-vis Iraq as England and France were vis-a-vis Germany in 1938. Pollack argues that then, as now, the choice facing policymakers was between a potentially costly war today versus a far worse war in the near future. Urquhart disagrees:

I am wary of this analogy. For one thing Hitler had already committed aggression—in the Rhineland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria—that would have amply justified the military reaction of France and Britain, so there was no question of preemptive action. Unlike today's United States, the strongest military power in history, Britain and France were practically, psychologically, and politically unprepared for war and by no means certain of their military superiority. And unlike the United States they did not possess, as a deterrent, the last-resort capacity to destroy an adversary at one blow. In fact, in 1938 Britain and France had little or no capacity, let alone policy, to contain or deter Hitler. In 2002 the United States, if it decides to use it, has overwhelming military power and is therefore in a far better position to exercise peaceful pressure, patience, and restraint.
Agree or disagree, this is definitely an essay worth reading for those still struggling to form their consciences on this difficult issue.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:56 PM
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NOT DEAD YET: First Things has a review of The Case Against Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care. It looks like a book worth reading. The reviewer's discussion of the chapter written by Diane Coleman, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet was particularly bracing:

Attorney Diane Coleman, president of the disabilities rights group Not Dead Yet, demonstrates how the same society that cannot be bothered to provide the necessary assistance to enhance the lives of disabled people seems to jump to support any disabled person’s request for assisted suicide. Ordinarily a request for assisted suicide from a young woman experiencing a recent miscarriage, impending divorce, death of a brother, and the cancer diagnosis of her mother would be recognized for what it is—the deperate cry of a clinically depressed person. But when that person was Elizabeth Bouvia, “confined” to a wheelchair, a legion of lawyers leaped to secure her right to suicide. “All they see is the wheelchair,” as a disabled friend of mine once remarked. Coleman notes the contempt for the disabled that is inherent in laws that would allow assisted suicide on demand.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:18 PM
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GET READY FOR SUNDAY: Read Fr. Shawn O'Neal's homily for this coming Sunday over at Sean Gallagher's Nota Bene. The latter Sean also has some good thoughts on Law's resignation.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:36 PM
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THE REAL SAINT NICHOLAS: Forget about the rosy-cheeked guy in the red suit. Get the skinny on the real Saint Nicholas by reading this piece in Saint Anthony Messenger.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:39 PM
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LOTT: For those of you interested in the Trent Lott story, Joshua Micah Marshall has been all over it. I think it's fair to say that if it hadn't been for bloggers like Marshall and Andrew Sullivan, this story would probably have died pretty quickly.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:34 PM
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THANK YOU FATHER: David Farrell has some good thoughts on this difficult day: "All I want to do for today is remember the good priests. As of today, they can begin to get back to what they do and have done throughout the long years of their vocations." It's worth reading the whole thing. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:28 PM
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LAW RESIGNS: By know most of you have probably heard the news. Here's a link to the Boston Globe coverage. Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the rector of Saint John's Seminary in Brighton will serve as Apostolic Administrator until a new Archbishop is chosen.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:24 AM
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Thursday, December 12, 2002
RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME: NCR's John Allen describes the rather amazing coincidence that allowed him to be the first journalist to spot Cardinal Law in Rome. Allen's conversations with Vatican insiders also suggest that Mark Shea's analysis of why the Holy Father refused Law's offer to resign last spring may be right on target:

Only the pope can request a cardinal’s resignation, and John Paul II’s personal bias undoubtedly leans against doing so. The pope himself, it should be remembered, has faced calls for resignation, albeit for very different reasons — on the grounds that he is too old and weak to govern. He has consistently spurned those suggestions. “Jesus did not come down off the cross,” he recently said. Hence his inclination would doubtless be that Law should stay put and clean up the mess he’s made.

That view is widely held in the Vatican. Seen from Rome, the life of a retired cardinal seems fairly sweet. One enjoys the privileges of high ecclesiastical office with few of the burdens. Staying on the job in the midst of crisis, on the other hand, is a daily ordeal. (Recall that the Vatican never removed Cardinal Michele Giordano of Naples, even when he was facing a criminal trial for loan-sharking in 2000 that could have landed him in jail. Privately, several curial officials opined that resignation was too good for him). Hence keeping Law where he is, which can look from the United States like letting him off the hook, seems instinctively to a certain Roman way of thinking like the most fitting sentence possible.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:43 PM
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TEMPERING OUR RESPONSE: Mark DB at Minute Particulars continues the dialogue about what our attitude should be toward bishops like Cardinal Law. Greg Popack responds. Karen Knapp also has some good words. All are worth reading.

I think I've said my piece on this and most of you know where I stand. I don't know how things are going to play out this week. I'm trying to keep all the people of Boston--including the Cardinal--in my prayers right now.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:12 PM
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WHO'S HAVING THE TOUGHER WEEK? Trent Lott or Cardinal Law? This page from the Boston Globe has stories on the woes of both men. President Bush has just described Lott's remarks as "offensive," as new revelations about Lott's past associations with segregationists are making the rounds. It is being reported that Law will submit his resignation to Pope John Paul II tomorrow. Law and several other bishops have received subpoenas to appear before a state Grand Jury. I'm thinking that Father Carr should change the name of his blog from The Middle of the Storm to The Shark Cage, which would more accurately describe the experience of being in the middle of a media feeding frenzy.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:46 AM
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IRAQ DEBATE: The American Prospect has posted the transcript of the recent Georgetown debate between Ben Barber, Bill Galston, Ken Pollack and Jonathan Chait on U.S. policy towards Iraq. Worth reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:30 AM
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GUADALUPE: Nice reflections on Our Lady of Guadalupe over at The New Gasparian and at the Saint Anthony Messenger site. Alas, I was not able to get up early enough for the mananitas. Perhaps next year. Today I am reminded that during the 1980s, the government of Guatemala banned the public recitation of the Magnificat:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his handmaid.
From this day all generations will call me blessed
for the Mighty One has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, and scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

Can't imagine why, can you?

posted by Peter Nixon 9:52 AM
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Wednesday, December 11, 2002
PREACHING TO THE PERPLEXED: Wonderful essay in Priests and People by Dominican (of course!) Timothy Radcliffe. Lots of good thoughts, including this one:

Often the Church is incomprehensible because of its failure to live the gospel. But also much of modern culture is founded upon a consumerist culture that goes deeply against the gospel. So the first step towards a new preaching of the gospel is to face the abyss between the culture of our time and the language of the gospel. We must be touched by the doubts and incomprehension of our contemporaries. We may fear to let this happen, because we are modern men and women, and their questions are probably lodged somewhere in our own hearts too. Faced with doubts and puzzlement, the temptation is to have a quick and easy answer. We may be so afraid to really let the puzzlement touch us that we do not really listen. We produce a defensive answer with the speed of John Wayne in a shoot-out. If we do that, then we shall convince no one, for they shall see that we have not heard. They will certainly see that we are afraid.

So the first step towards renewing our preaching is to dare to listen. We must begin in silence, with open ears, attentive to the puzzlement and the doubt. We must let down our barriers, and lose our easy answers, our facile words. I think that sermon preparation has never begun until one is brought face to face with one’s incomprehension of the gospel. Real preparation begins when one says, like the disciples, ‘What does this man mean?’ Then we beg for illumination. Then we say to God, ‘I believe; help my unbelief.’ Then God may give us a word worth speaking. It comes as a gift.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:40 PM
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YES, VIRGINIA, IT'S CLONING: Stanford University is setting up a research unit to experiment with "therapeutic" cloning. Except they don't want to call it that. They issued a statement yesterday stating that ''Creating human stem cell lines is not equivalent to reproductive cloning."

Well that's true. It's not reproductive cloning. They are not trying to make babies. But it's still cloning. You are taking the nucleus out of the cell from an existing organism and transplanting it into an egg, and stimulating it to begin the process of cell division. The technique is known as Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, a.k.a "therapeutic cloning."

My question to Stanford is this: if you are truly convinced that what you are doing is ethical, why do you feel the need to lie about it?

posted by Peter Nixon 3:21 PM
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Tuesday, December 10, 2002
ADVENT SCENES: I love the way my children have taken to the stories about the birth of Jesus this year. My wife e-mailed me today at the office to tell me that they were both lying in the living room with the various sheep toys that we have, pretending to be shepherds. We have a nativity scene playset, and not only can my son retell the "official" story, he has also constructed variations on it. Didn't you know, for example, that the three wise men and their camel rode a red fire engine to see the baby Jesus? Joseph also seems mystified by the idea that the stable would be considered inferior accomodations to the inn. After all, that's where the animals get to sleep so it must be a great place, right?

Joseph will be one of the four wise men (you didn't know about Larry, the fourth wise man? He took care of the camel) and Megan will be an angel in the pre-school parish Christmas play this year. They are both very excited. So far, neither of them seems terribly interested in presenting us with an itemized list of demands for various Christmas presents. They understand that Santa Claus brings presents, to be sure, but they haven't quite grasped the idea that they have any say in the matter. Right now, they think Christmas is just another opportunity to play dress-up and lets pretend.

The Advent wreath has been kind of a bust this year. I've had a devil of a time locating the long purple candles. I bought some short scented votives, but they didn't fit properly into the candle holders and my wife and I decided they were unsafe. Safeway usually carries purple candles, but for some reason they only stock red and white candles in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

All in all, it's been going pretty well. I'm generally not a big fan of the Christmas season. I'm one of those people who gets stressed out by the whole thing. But this year, I'm doing okay. Please pray that this continues.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:45 PM
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THE RETURN OF ANTHONY MARQUIS: Some of you may remember the blog Veni Sancte Spiritus, which went inactive a few months ago. Well Anthony is back with a new blog entitled The Accidental Catechist. It's getting tougher and tougher to find new names for all the Catholic blogs...

posted by Peter Nixon 2:09 PM
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THE NEXT AFRICA? Nick Kristoff has an excellent NYT column today about the economic collapse of South America and the need for the United States to develop a sense of urgency about the situation. This anecdote was particularly depressing:

The economic historian Angus Maddison has calculated that in 1900, Argentina's per capita income was almost $2,800, behind the United States then but about the same as Canada and France and more than twice the figure for Japan.

Argentina has been one of the great failures of the last 100 years, for today its per capita income is about $2,500 — that's right, less than it was a century ago. The trajectory is evident in families like that of Eduardo Alberto William, who owes his surname to a great-grandfather who immigrated from England to give his descendants better prospects. It was a bad bet; Mr. William is one of Argentina's 125,000 garbage sorters, who collect recyclables, earning about $2 a day.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:49 PM
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WHAT WOULD ISAIAH DRIVE? I confess the thought occurred to me after reading this bit from Chapter 22 (v. 17-18) in the Office of Readings this past Sunday:

The Lord shall hurl you down headlong, mortal man! He shall grip you firmly
And roll you up and toss you like a ball into an open land
To perish there, you and the chariots you glory in, you disgrace to your master's house!

posted by Peter Nixon 9:21 AM
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Monday, December 09, 2002
OVER THE LINE? Mark over at Minute Particulars takes yours truly and a few other Catholic bloggers to task for our intemperate comments about Cardinal Law. He has a couple of lengthy posts about the issue which are worth reading (be sure to scroll down to 12/5 for the second one, entitled Shoveling Snow).

Now to be clear, Mark is not defending Law. But he is concerned about a general tone of contempt toward the office of the Bishop that seems to be creeping into (some) Catholic discourse as a result of the scandal.

I think many of Mark's points are well taken. His ability to maintain detachment and take the long view of this crisis is a good thing. I have usually tried to do that myself.

But I just lost it last week. I'll freely admit that the latest revelations pushed me over the edge into a blinding rage that made me want to bang my head against my keyboard in frustration. Why these revelations in particular? Who knows? They were certainly no worse than some of the things we heard earlier this year. Maybe I just reached my personal tipping point.

Like Mark, I believe that the office of Bishop is one of God's gifts to his Church. It's precisely because I believe this that the actions of Law and other bishops who have concealed abuse make me so angry. Does the sacrament of orders confer grace? You bet it does. But as with all graces, the recipient must cooperate. Respect for an office becomes increasingly hollow if the actions of the officeholder himself continues to undermine that respect.

If my words were excessively rude, I do apologize. I am not always successful at keeping my temper under control (something my children can attest to).

But I cannot withdraw the central conceit of my posts: Cardinal Law should resign and his resignation should be accepted by the Holy Father. Whether it happens in six weeks or six months seems of less import. Would a new Bishop face enormous challenges? Certainly. But I have to note the speed with with Archbishop Dolan has established his credibility with the people of Milwaukee, both Catholic and non-Catholic. An appointment of similar quality in Boston could staunch the bleeding and begin the process of repairing the enormous damage that has been done.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:13 PM
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MARY IMMACULATE: I’ve always sort of struggled with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Reading descriptions of its development is sort of like reading a very complicated legal brief. Lots of talk about the “imputed merits of Christ,” the theology of Duns Scotus, and all that. Most of the time, I enjoy that sort of thing. But not today.

Today I’m thinking about mothers. One of the reasons that Mary is so important is that, in some sense, she is the guarantor of the humanity of Jesus. Jesus had a mother, just like all of us. Much of what Jesus became as a human being, he became because of his mother.

If you met me and got to know me for a while, and then met my mother, you would immediately see some of the traits that she passed down to me. I suspect that those who got to know Jesus, and then met Mary, had the same experience. Maybe it was her smile, maybe certain turns of phrase. Maybe Jesus inherited his fiery passion, his fearlessness from her. She must have been a formidable woman!

One of the ongoing temptations in Christianity has been to deny, sometimes without even meaning to, the humanity of Christ. A lot of us are still carrying around a mental image of a fleshy “costume” animated by an all-knowing, all-seeing deity. The idea that Jesus could have been shaped in some fundamental way by his human environment sometimes seems threatening. But that is precisely why the Incarnation is so stunning.

It doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to me that if God was going to become incarnate in human flesh, that he would do a little advance planning. And perhaps one of the things He might be most concerned about is the woman who would bear Him, who would shape Him and guide him to adulthood, a poor peasant girl from the Judean countryside. How would she ever have the strength to bear the burden that would be laid upon her?

The answer? He gave it to her.

Oh, I’m sure this is very poor theology and someone far more learned than I could poke numerous holes in it. But in some sense, I think this is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is all about: a son’s love for His mother.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:53 PM
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RATZINGER: The Tablet continues its series on Vatican II with a profile of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is authored by John Allen, who wrote a book about Ratzinger that was published in 2000 by Crossroad (and which I happened to pick up in one of my favorite used bookstores the other day, but have not yet read). Ratzinger was a peritus, or theological consultant, at Vatican II, and was clearly part of what might be termed the "pro-reform" majority at the Council. But in the post-conciliar period, Ratzinger and some others began to fear that things were going too far. Allen concludes with an interesting thought:

Perhaps the most bitterly contested issue in the Church today is who has a better claim to the legacy of Vatican II – reformers who seek a servant Church, or restorationists who want to accent strong papal authority? Which better expresses what Vatican II intended? What was the council’s “legislative intent”? Whoever controls how Vatican II is remembered to a great extent controls the direction of the Church. Ratzinger’s testimony is critical, but an assessment of it would be incomplete without asking how and why it has shifted. One must ask which Ratzinger is a more reliable witness to the intent of the council – the Ratzinger who penned the 1963 commentary on the first session, or the Ratzinger of today?

posted by Peter Nixon 2:13 PM
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GAFFE: Here's what incoming-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said at Senator Strom Thurmond's (R-SC) 100th birthday party:

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.
Now as a general rule, I like to give people a certain degree of leeway with off-the-cuff remarks. But this seems a little more than the garden variety Freudian slip.

In 1948, Thurmond ran for President as the candidate of the segregationist Dixiecrat Party. He carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and his home state of South Carolina. During his campaign, he made a number of memorable statements, including this one: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches."

To their credit, a number of conservative commentators such as Andrew Sullivan and Bill Kristol have expressed horror at Lott's remarks. Lott himself, however, has been curiously reticent about issuing a retraction.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:43 AM
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Sunday, December 08, 2002
DRUMBEAT: The Boston Globe is reporting today that a group of Boston-area priests has been circulating a statement calling for Law's resignation. According to the Globe, the statement reads, in part:

(The) events of recent months and, in particular, of these last few days, make it clear to us that your position as our bishop is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston.
I started this blog in late March of 2002 and those who have been reading awhile know that I do not generally engage in gratuitous attacks against the U.S. bishops. I think most of them are good men trying very hard to do a job that is extraordinarily difficult. I have seen my own bishop, for whom I have enormous amount of respect as both a teacher and pastor, made the target of vicious attacks by a well-organized group of extremists who specialize in shouting "Judas Bishop! Judas Bishop!" at the top of their lungs at public forums. I think such tactics are contemptible.

But there can be times--and I think in Boston we are faced with such a time--when the words of the statement cited above seem unquestionably true, not merely to a group on the fringe, but to a large majority of the faithful. There have certainly been cases where Rome has moved against other American bishops, in some cases with far less justification that would seem to exist in Boston.

I am trying to understand why, for example, the Holy Father was willing to allow Archbishop Weakland to retire early in response to the scandal that engulfed him, but does not seem inclined to allow Cardinal Law a similar exit. I am trying to understand why the doctrinal and liturgical irregularities that existed in Seattle under Archbishop Hunthausen were severe enough to justify the appointment of an auxiliary bishop with special powers, but no similar action has yet been taken against Cardinal Law. Have we ever had a Catholic leader in this country so thoroughly discredited in both the eyes of Catholics and the public at large? Can one seriously doubt that the appointment of a bishop of the caliber of, say, Archbishop Dolan of Milwaukee, would go a long way toward repairing the damage that has been done?

After hearing Cardinal Ratzinger's comments last week, it is hard not to escape the conclusion that the authorities in Rome still believe that this entire scandal is part of a broad media conspiracy to defame the Church. In this view, to allow Law to resign would be to give the press the power to depose a Bishop. It is not Cardinal Law that they are protecting, you see, but future Bishops. Richard Nixon would have approved.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:24 PM
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A THOUGHT: You know, if people spent a tenth as much time actually trying to support women with crisis pregnancies as they did $%&^ing about Planned Parenthood's holiday cards, it might actually do some good. Click here to find a crisis pregnancy center near you. Give 'em a call and find out what's on their Christmas list this year...

posted by Peter Nixon 1:39 PM
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