Sursum Corda
"an insightful Catholic Blog that eschews extremism in any direction."
--Commonweal Magazine
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Thursday, June 26, 2003
CHIAPAS: Interesting article about the ongoing religious struggles in Chiapas, Mexico which sounds like a modern version of the "burned over district" in Western New York, where progressive waves of revivalism and utopian social movements spread like wildfire in the 19th century. In Chiapas, Catholic, Protestant and now even Muslim missionaries have been exhorting the population to embrace the faith.

posted by Peter Nixon 5:18 PM
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DO THE DEMOCRATS HAVE A PRAYER? Fascinating piece from the Washington Monthly about the problems that Democrats have reaching out to religious voters. Princeton sociologist Amy Sullivan argues that the votes of "religious moderates," a group that she says includes "Muslims, most Catholics, and a growing number of suburban evangelicals" will be important in 2004.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:10 AM
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DELUSIONS OF EMPIRE: Fred Kaplan writes in Slate about why Americans aren't cut out for empire. Actually this is really two essays folded into one. The first is a suggestion that the neo-con intellectuals inside and outside of the Administration who told us that reconstructing Iraq would be a "less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan," (Bill Kristol's phrase) be somehow held to account for their very poor advice. Kaplan suggests that we remember the quality of that advice before we "take the fight to Iran" and attempt to "change the North Korean regime" (also from Kristol).

The second half of the essay suggests that Americans may not have the stomach for what may be required if we truly want to remake the world in our image. Allegedly hard-headed realists like Robert Kaplan (no relation to Fred) suggest that the United States should learn from its experience in the Phillipines a century ago. Fred Kaplan agrees, but the lessons he draws are somewhat different:

[The]three years of fighting killed 4,234 American soldiers, 16,000 Filipino combatants, and as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians. The ultimately successful U.S. strategy—isolating the Filipino guerrillas—was accomplished by forcing the civilian population out of their towns and into "protected zones." (Any able-bodied male found outside these zones without a pass was arrested or shot.) Other tactics included burning, pillaging, and torturing. By 1902, the guerrillas were decisively defeated. Even so, sporadic conflicts persisted, and American forces continued to occupy the place, for another 44 years.
Are we really up to this? Having thoroughly destroyed civil order in Iraq, I believe we have an obligation to remain until it is restored and help the Iraqi people build a better future for themselves. Let's focus on the task at hand before we start talking about taking out Iran and North Korea, shall we?

posted by Peter Nixon 9:44 AM
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BREAKING NEWS: On the drive in this morning, CBS news was reporting that the Supreme Court had thrown out the 1994 California law that essentially erased the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases. The Court apparently ruled that a state could not retroactively overturn statutes of limitations. This story is being overshadowed by the gay rights case the Court also decided today, but it is going to have major implications here in California I suspect.

UPDATE: Finally found some press coverage on this thanks to an alert reader. Here's the

posted by Peter Nixon 9:07 AM
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Wednesday, June 25, 2003
PRECIOUS BLOOD RETREAT: Fr. Jeff reports that the Precious Blood Community is sponsoring an on-line retreat during Lent. For more details, check out The New Gasparian.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:31 PM
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PRAYER: My parish held a prayer vigil for peace yesterday evening, which included Evening Prayer and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In the atrium of the church we have set up a prayer board for the soilders who have some relationship to our community, either parishioners themselves or (in most cases) the children or grandchildren of our parishioners. Many people have brought photos to stick on the board. I know many of the parents of these soilders and it was sobering to see their children on this list.

The tradition of reserving some of the bread that is consecrated at the mass is very old. In the earliest days of the church, the principle purpose of doing this was to be able to take the sacrament to those who could not be in attendance at the Eucharistic celebration. When I am present at Adoration, one of the things I try to do is call to mind those who are outside my circle of community. It avails me nothing to adore the presence of Christ in the monstrance on the altar and ignore the presence of Christ in the beggar on the church steps. Ideally, Adoration should draw me closer to the Jesus who is present in the sacrament and the Jesus who is present in my neighbor.

Last night, I prayed for the soilders--American and Iraqi--who are far from their families, who are prepared to do their duty and to fight and, if necessary, die for their country. Unless something changes, some of them will not be coming home. Some children will lose fathers and mothers. Some parents will lose children. Some of those not involved in the fighting will die as well. That is what war does. When I consider this, when I truly take this suffering into my heart and ponder it, the words of Psalm 46 rise up in me as a heartfelt prayer:

Come consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.
He puts an end to wars over all the earth,
the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps.
"Be still and know that I am God,
supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth!"

Let us pray that it might be so.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:31 PM
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LENTEN READING: Thanks to those of you who have written to say that you will miss Sursum Corda during Lent. However, Amy Welborn has created a new blog with lots of suggestions for Lenten reading. Enjoy!

posted by Peter Nixon 12:31 PM
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Tuesday, June 24, 2003
ANGLICAN NEWS: For those who are following the ongoing dispute within the Church of England over the appointment of a gay bishop, Christianity Today's weblog contains an exhaustive list of links.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:53 PM
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400,000: A new study, by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and the RAND Corporation, found that fertility clinics in the United State have nearly 400,000 frozen human embryos in storage—twice the highest previous estimate. This article from Christianity Today talks about the implications.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:46 PM
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NOT OVER: 19 U.S. soilders have been killed by enemy fire in Iraq since "major combat" was declared over on May 1st. Yesterday, six British troops were killed in a string of attacks by Iraqi irregulars. This thing isn't over yet, not by a long shot. The American Red Cross is still soliciting donations for its work providing Red Cross services to military families and U.S. forces overseas. Click here for an on-line donation form and select "AFES-Iraq response" as your option. You might also consider a donation to Catholic Relief Services for its humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:11 AM
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THOSE PAGAN IDOLATROUS CATHOLICS: Lynn of Noli Irritare Leones, a member of the Society of Friends, has written one of the better pieces of Catholic apologetics I've seen in a while. Check it out.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:58 AM
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UNITED NATIONS: Here is the text of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano's letter to U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan. Sodano writes that "Pope John Paul II, recognizing the importance of the United Nations, has directed me to express to Your Excellency the Holy See's support for the fundamental role of the United Nations Organization at the present time."

posted by Peter Nixon 10:53 AM
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EUROPE WITHOUT GOD: Alain Woodrow notes the bizzare combination of secularist bias and historical amnesia that is leading European leaders to omit any reference to the continent's Christian (not to mention Muslim and Jewish) past in writing the new constitution for the European Community:

Those who want the constitution to recognise Europe’s religious past are not asking that the document should include a profession of faith, even less are they nostalgic for a return to some mythical theocracy, they simply wish to correct the text’s incomprehensible amnesia. How can one build the Europe of tomorrow if one ignores the debt owed to Judaism, to Islam and especially to Christianity? These religions have structured European society and provided the building blocks of European culture and civilisation.

The Church, with its common language (Latin), scholars and scientists (Erasmus, More, Copernicus, Pascal) and monastic missionaries who travelled the continent unceasingly, did more for European unity in the Middle Ages than the present feeble attempts, based largely on national rivalry, greed and commerce. It was Christianity which developed agriculture, preserved culture and learning from the barbarians in its monasteries, founded schools and hospitals and based its laws on the Judaic tradition, namely the Decalogue. The Christian Churches were the principal patrons of the arts, producing masterpieces of architecture, painting and music, unrivalled throughout the world.

And medieval Europe owes as much to the Muslim tradition as to its Greco-Roman heritage. It was Islam’s philosophers, doctors, scientists, mathematicians, astronomers and architects who fashioned European culture and influenced Europe’s greatest thinkers. The Arab philosopher and physician Avicenna (980-1037) played a central role. His major medical work Qanun, the greatest single influence on medieval medicine, was taught in European universities until the seventeenth century. His philosophical writings, combining Aristotelian with neo-Platonist ideas, greatly influenced scholasticism. Another Arab philosopher and physician, Averroës (1126-88), who attempted to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with Islam, influenced Thomas Aquinas.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:48 AM
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SPEAK UP FOR GOD'S SAKE: Marian Tolley opines about the poor quality of lectoring in many parishes.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:44 AM
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Sunday, June 22, 2003
AIN’T THAT SPECIAL? Amy Welborn had a couple of interesting posts last week about lay ministry and the problem of what one might term “churchy-ness,” i.e. the tendency of those involved in parish activities to think that doing “church stuff” is the real meat of Christian discipleship. Here’s an excerpt:

Parish programs are supposed to be about strengthening parishioners to live the gospel out in the world. That would, you would think, be the point of religious ed programs or liturgy committee meetings.

My experience is that the interest and inclinations of those in charge - from clerics to lay employees to volunteers - works against this ideal final result. They are churchy types. They naturally think that the end goal of all Christians is really the same as theirs - to get "involved" in Church, so their heads are usually in that space, rather than in trying to really, really encourage those in their charge to go out and spread the Gospel. Their emphasis, in the end, often comes down to stay here and talk about the Gospel.
Now I think this is a fairly apt description of many of our parishes. But we need to be careful, because this is not solely a post-conciliar phenomenon, nor is it exclusively Catholic.

I might argue, in fact, that contemporary Catholics tend to spend less time involved in parish- or Church-related activity than Catholics in the middle years of the 20th century, for example. In those days—at least in the major urban centers—Catholics lived from womb to tomb inside a more or less hermetically sealed subculture of Catholic institutions. Kids attended Catholic schools and played CYO basketball, Dad was a Knight of Columbus, Mom a member of the Altar Society or Saint Vincent de Paul. Boy met girl at parish and school-sponsored dances and families socialized at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Patrick’s dinners. Nobody called it “ministry” in those days, but the parish was absolutely a major center of social life and that life depended on a lot of volunteer labor.

Now one can argue that most of these institutions had more to do with immigrant self-help than with preaching the Gospel and I might not disagree (although I’m not sure it’s an either/or). But one thing that this network of institutions did very well was instill in young people the sense of Catholicism as a comprehensive way of life. But there is no question that the message was more “stay here” (or even “circle the wagons”) than “go out” to use Amy’s terminology.

Some of our evangelical brothers and sisters appear to be moving toward a model that looks very similar to the Catholic Church of the post-war era. The large suburban megachurches are becoming “one stop shopping” for a full range of community needs: worship, youth sports and other activities, dating services, contractor referrals, even shopping. If you play your cards right, your hard earned money will never cross the palm of someone who hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

Is this too insular, too “churchy?” Perhaps. But we should remember that the internal life of the Christian community has always been one of the things that has attracted people to the Gospel. “See how these Christians love one another,” goes the famous quote from Tertullian. During the periodic plagues that afflicted Rome from time to time, fewer Christians tended to die because the community did a good job looking after its own. Cloistered monastic communities have always been a powerful means of evangelization even though, by virtue of their vows of stability, the members seldom travel outside the community. So it’s not only that parish life should prepare us to “go out,” but that parish life itself, if it is well lived, can be a form of witness to the Gospel.

A second point I might make is that the idea that Catholics should “go out” (and we should) assumes that we are well formed enough in our faith that the way we live in the world will bear witness to that faith. I don’t think we can assume that degree of formation, particularly for younger generations of Catholics. But it’s hard to see how ongoing formation is going to occur if not through the parish and its associated structures. And this, in turn, presumes that the parish can sustain enough of a volunteer base to do formation, because you can’t do it all with paid staff.

So I’m a little skeptical about one of the comments in Amy’s boxes that suggested that instead of asking Father where we could help, we should just do a better job taking care of our families and being good Christians at the office. Yes, we should do those things and, no, we don’t need to (nor should we) spend every available minute at the parish (I don’t). But is 2-3 hours a month too much to ask? Don’t we have some responsibility to sustain the community that sustains us?

But I do agree with Amy that the bias tends toward supporting and recognizing people who are doing work in the parish and for the parish. Even our own Catholic school credits parish volunteer hours toward your required 40 hours, but does not generally credit your volunteer activities outside the parish (such as youth soccer, tutoring, serving on community boards, etc.). Perhaps “ministry fairs” should focus as much on the needs of the local community as on the needs of the parish and invite (gasp!) some non-Catholic organizations to recruit for volunteers. I’m sure there are a lot of other ideas I’m not thinking of, but it’s 20 minutes to midnight and I probably ought to be hitting the sack!

posted by Peter Nixon 11:45 PM
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