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

Friday, July 11, 2003
RODRIGUEZ: John Allen sits down for an interview with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. You may recall that Rodriguez made some intemperate remarks at the height of the clerical sexual abuse scandal last year in which he compared the American press coverage to the Roman persecution of the church and even suggested that the press was biased against the Church because of its support for the Palestinians.

When they sat down, Rodriguez was clearly reluctant to reopen the issue. But when offered the chance to recant his comments, he declined: "I don’t repent,” he said. “Maybe I was a little strong, but sometimes it’s necessary to shake things up.” Allen offers the following analysis of Rodriguez' position:

In its most provocative form, Rodriguez’s challenge is this: In a world of massive poverty, racism, and environmental degradation, in which drug trafficking is choking off democracy in Latin America and HIV/AIDS menaces a generation of Africans, in which 1.2 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water, in which the combined annual income of 12,000 laborers at a Nike factory in Indonesia is less than one American basketball player is paid for wearing their shoes, does the sexual abuse of minors by perhaps 2 percent of Catholic priests really merit saturation coverage? In a world dominated by the profit motive and the pleasure principle, is the Catholic church really public enemy number one?

On the scale of the world’s problems that the American media might address, with all of its awesome capacity to focus public attention, where does the sex abuse crisis really rate?
I think Rodriguez' points are well taken and certainly the press coverage of the scandal is not above criticism. But I think comparing the Boston Globe to Diocletian was probably over the top.

Allen also has some good stuff on the Vatican's finances, the role of lay movements in the Church, the status of canonical trials for priests accused of sexual abuse, etc.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:55 AM
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OUR TASK: Fr. Ron Rolheiser offers some provocative thoughts today:

In some ways, life at the level of parish and church-community has never been more finely-tuned, more biblically literate, or more healthy liturgically than it is today. We have wonderful programs for nearly everything, a clergy that's well-trained, and a laity that's participating more and more in the ministry of the church. For the most part, at the level of parish-life at least, we're doing a lot of things right.

But we're less apt at something else. Today, it seems, we know what to do with someone who walks through our church doors, but we don't know how to get anyone who is not already going to church to enter those doors. We are better at maintaining church life than at initiating it.
This goes to a question that Amy Welborn posed last week, which is the question of belief in contemporary culture. There are a lot of people out there who live reasonably happy and content lives without ever crossing the threshold of a Church. They are generally not "bad" people. Many volunteer their time for others, recycle their garbage, vote regularly, etc. They just don't see the point of what we Christians believe and what we do. How do we speak to such people?

posted by Peter Nixon 10:37 AM
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BEST BOOKS: The Tidings has a list of the Catholic Press Award winning books for 2002. Far too much to read...

posted by Peter Nixon 10:19 AM
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WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT BEING CATHOLIC? Amy Welborn poses the question. The count so far is 47 responses. You may have to scroll down past the book reviews.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:12 AM
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Thursday, July 10, 2003
NO SAFE ZONE? If this study can be replicated, it's going to rewrite a lot of what we know about the biology of the menstrual cycle. Interesting reading. Thanks to Jesus Gil for the link.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:41 PM
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GIRM IN BRIEF: Saint Anthony Messenger's Catholic Update for July focuses on the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal. A good summary for those of us who don't have time to read the whole thing. I must say that standing for all of communion is going to be a bit tricky for those of us managing small children, but so be it.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:56 PM
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CITIZEN OF THE WORLD: Well, this is how I scored on the "What Country are You" test:

the United Nations!

Most people think you're ineffective, but you are trying to
completely save the world from itself, so there's always going to be a long
way to go.  You're always the one trying to get friends to talk to each
other, enemies to talk to each other, anyone who can to just talk instead of
beating each other about the head and torso.  Sometimes it works and sometimes
it doesn't, and you get very schizophrenic as a result.  But your heart
is in the right place, and sometimes also in New York.

Take the
at the Blue Pyramid

posted by Peter Nixon 1:10 PM
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TRUST: And while we're on the subject of trust, I really enjoyed this post by Steve Riddle over at Flos Carmeli.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:49 AM
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FOR MY SPIRIT FAILS: After reading my rant about prayer yesterday, a friend sent me a news story about John Paul II's commentary on Pslam 143, offered yesterday at an audience. Here is an excerpt:

The disappearance of the divine countenance makes man fall into desolation, in fact, into death itself, as the Lord is the source of life. Precisely in this sort of extreme limit flowers trust in God, who does not abandon. The man of prayer multiplies his invocations and supports them with declarations of trust in the Lord. "For in you I trust ... for to you I lift up my soul ... I have fled to you for refuge ... for you are my God." He asked that he be delivered from his enemies (see verses 8-12) and freed from anguish (see verse 11) but he also makes a repeated request, which manifests a profound spiritual aspiration: "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God" (verse 10a; see verses 8b, 10b). We must make our own this admirable request. We must understand that our greatest good is the union of our will with the will of the heavenly Father, because only in this way can we receive all his love, which brings salvation and the fullness of life. If it is not accompanied by a strong desire of docility to God, our trust in him is not authentic.
I really needed to read something like this right now. Thanks.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:29 AM
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CAN THE U.N. WORK? Pope John Paul II has spent a lot of time lately praising the United Nations and stressing its importance in dealing with international conflicts. But hasn't that view been discredited by the ineffectiveness of the institution in dealing with Iraq? Not according to Heidi Pauken, who writes in the American Prospect that the U.N. has been more successful than many believe.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:03 AM
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Wednesday, July 09, 2003
GENTLE SOLICITUDE: Great post by Minute Particulars. Go read it.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:44 PM
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CLUTTER: Telford Work has a lot of good stuff to read about debates over the historical Jesus, narrative theology, the particularlity of Jesus and a few other items.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:26 PM
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PUT OUT INTO DEEP WATER: Last night, I learned that a friend, a member of our small faith-sharing group, has metastatic lung cancer. She’s one of our “saints,” one of those people who do a lot for the parish and the community at large. She and her husband have raised ten kids. She’s a pillar of our Cursillo community.

She’s not the only one. My godfather has metastatic colon cancer and has gone through a couple pretty intense clinical trials. He’s essentially fighting trench warfare with the disease and it seems to be gaining ground an inch at a time. He’s wrestling right now with whether to enter a third trial or forgo further treatment and enjoy the time he has left. There are others, of course: a co-worker with prostate cancer, an extended family member with end-stage kidney disease. The list goes on.

I have to say right now that I’m tired of praying for miracles. I’m just tired of it. I’m not necessarily raising theological issues about the efficacy of intercessory prayer. I’m not questioning the value or the importance of it. I’m just worn down by the work of it. It’s emotionally exhausting.

The truth is, I’m never sure how to pray in these situations. Sometimes I favor Mary’s words “let be done according to thy word.” I pray that God’s will be done, whatever the outcome. I’m comfortable with the idea that prayer is more about my relationship with God and those I am praying for than it is about having a specific request granted. Let me accept what He wants to give me rather than what I am demanding of Him.

But there are times when that feels like a copout, like I’m failing to take seriously Jesus’ instructions that “My Father will grant you whatever you ask in my name” and “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move mountains.” I know people who believe passionately in the power of prayer and really do pray with the expectation that their petitions will be granted. I try to do that, I really do. But it’s hard to continue to invest that kind of energy, particularly given—if I may be blunt—my rather dismal track record in praying for the healing of those with terminal illness.

What makes it more difficult, of course, is that I am part of a tradition that holds to a belief in the miraculous. I know people who firmly believe that they have beaten terminal illness and other life-threatening conditions through the power of prayer. I’m in no position to doubt them. But in my heart I wonder “why this person, and not this other person?” It’s an old question, of course, and one that has no answer.

In some ways, I wonder whether our contemporary theology has made wrestling with this question harder. We’ve stressed the love of God, the friendship of God, the compassion of God, the nearness of God. All of that is indisputably true, but right now, I don’t need that kind of God. I need the whirlwind, I need the mysterium tremendum, I need Him whose thoughts are far above my thoughts and whose plans are far above my plans. Right now, I don’t need a Friend who can—but won’t—do what I ask.

In some ways, the apparent epidemic of people in my life with serious illness is bringing me face to face with that whirlwind. It reminds me that God must listen to the prayers of suffering billions, all asking for the same thing: that they might not suffer, that they might not die, that they might not lose those they love. If we disagree with the “choices,” could we make better ones? Where were we when the foundations of the world were laid? We must know that the ultimate desire behind these prayers cannot be granted in this life, but that we are promised a life in which it can.

In the end, I have to trust. Perhaps it is a trust born of exhaustion, like the trust of the fishermen who “put out into deep water” and lowered their nets at the request of Jesus, despite having caught nothing after a hard night of fishing (Lk 5:4-5). Perhaps I pray for the same reason Simon Peter lowered the nets; not because he trusted that it would succeed, but rather because he trusted in the Lord who gave the command.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:39 PM
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Tuesday, July 08, 2003
HOLY WEBLOG Holy Weblog is back!

posted by Peter Nixon 10:18 AM
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HOLY LAND: Jerome Murphy-O’Connor OP explains in Priests and People why the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is holy to the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:15 AM
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CREDIBILITY: Our Sunday Visitor wonders whether the Bishops have regained it yet.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:13 AM
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ANGLICAN NEWS: Christianity Today's weblog covers the decision of Canon Jeffrey John to withdraw from consideration as the Church of England's Bishop of Reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:11 AM
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PLEASE PRAY: A good friend of mine from way back called me last night to tell me she is getting a divorce. Pray that she will receive the Lord's consolation in this difficult time.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:30 AM
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LABELS REDUX: Continued good discussion on this topic over at Dappled Things, HMS Blog, and In Between Naps.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:27 AM
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Monday, July 07, 2003
POLLACK: Josh Marshall has the first part of a new interview with Ken Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:09 PM
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LABELS: Amy Welborn, as is her wont, has posted some provocative topics for conversation over at In Between Naps. The first is as follows:

Reclaiming "Catholic" without qualifiers. Before Vatican II, the only subgenres of Catholics, it seems were lapsed ones and ethnic ones. Since then, no one is satisfied to be just Catholic and no one believes the person next to them in the figurative pew is a real Catholic. Why? How did this happen? What can we do about it?
I share Amy’s concern about this, as readers of my FAQ can attest. Fr. Jim Tucker had an interesting observation that this is a problem that seems to be particularly concentrated among English-speaking Catholics in the United States. He has not observed it in Europe nor among Hispanic Catholics in the United States.

I suspect that Fr. Jim is on to something here. In parts of Europe (particularly Southern Europe) and Latin America, one’s relationship to the Church is arguably shaped more by specific practices (e.g. participation in the sacraments, celebration of certain feast days, devotion to the saints and Our Lady, etc.) than it is by the explicit affirmation of a specific set of beliefs. To put it another way, “faith” is defined as much by what one does as by what one believes in an intellectual sense.

In the United States, our religious culture is strongly influenced by Protestant forms of Christianity, which usually stress the importance of a personal act of belief. “Works” (the sacraments, devotions, etc.) are irrelevant if the specific intellectual content of belief cannot be affirmed. We are saved by what we personally believe, not by what we do, and not because of our membership in a community of belief.

I wonder how much this kind of cultural background has crept into the consciousness of American Catholics. Early on in the history of this blog, I posted some thoughts on the difficulties I had with the teaching that priestly ordination must be reserved to men. A number of letter writers (these were the days before comments) suggested quite seriously that I should leave the Church and join a different Christian denomination.

Now in one sense, this seems very logical. The Catholic Church believes x, y, and z if I cannot affirm z, then I should find a denomination that only requires me to believe x and y. But if you really hold to what the Church teaches about baptism (i.e. that it confers an indelible character and incorporates a person into the Mystical Body of Christ, etc.) then the suggestion becomes bizarre. One should no more suggest that a person who has difficulties with certain teachings of the Church find a new denomination than one would suggest to a man having difficulties with his marriage that he find a new wife! Even the Church’s most serious penalty, excommunication, is not a denial of the person’s baptism. Its aim is to help the believer understand the seriousness of the breach that has emerged between the believer and his community so that he might repent and return to full communion. As we know, it is a penalty that is rarely employed.

So I suspect that the anxiety of at least some American Catholics that the people sitting next to them aren’t “real” Catholics has its roots in a cultural mindset that we’ve taken over, almost without realizing it, from American Protestantism. Explicitly professed loyalty to “the Magisterium” or to “the Faith that does Justice,” becomes almost the cognitive equivalent of accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior. We wonder whether the people sitting in the pews next to us are “really saved.”

It’s easy to say that we should just stop doing this. But I think it’s harder than that. It’s harder because in an increasingly secular society, corporate belief may not be enough. Karl Rahner once said that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not be. In our culture, at least, people really do need to be able to articulate to themselves and others what they believe and why it’s important. I think that it’s no accident that among Catholic laypeople some of more vociferous boundary police are converts from Protestantism. It’s easy for cradle Catholics to get bent out of shape about this, but I think the past experience of those individuals—particularly those who have come from Mainline denominations—has made them sensitive to the perils of not being clear about what the boundaries of your community are.

In the end, I think we have to understand that arguments about both the cognitive and practical aspects of Christian faith have been with us since the beginning. We need to find ways of having these arguments without tearing our parishes and the wider Church apart. Sticking labels on ourselves or on others usually a means of cutting off the discussion. It suggests that I don’t really have to listen to what someone else is saying because, after all, they are an EWTN-watching reactionary/a National Catholic Reporter reading dissident.

My own view is that, theological musings about the mystical Body of Christ aside, we really do need each other. Without the “liberals,” I suspect we’d harden into some kind of sect, huddled in the Upper Room and fearful of the world outside. Without the “conservatives” I fear we’d lose our connections to the Tradition as we tried so hard to be “welcoming and inclusive” that we became indifferent to the content of our faith and the difficult demands of Christian discipleship. Sometimes you get the impression that there are people in both camps that see themselves locked in a titanic struggle for the soul of the Church. All I can say is God forbid either side should ever “win.”

posted by Peter Nixon 11:41 AM
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NO WAY BACK: Fr. John Hughes, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, comments on Elena Curti's Tablet article from last week on the Tridentine Mass. Hughes offers a vigorous (and to my mind, on target) critique of efforts to revive the old rite. He also offers, I think, a judicious assessment of what is really needed:

The solution to the lack of reverence in worship of which many complain today (with justice) is not to be found in nostalgia for a past which most of those afflicted with this nostalgia cannot remember – and which the dwindling number of those with actual experience of the old rite remember very selectively, or not at all. The German parish priest whose assistant I was in the late Sixties commented one day on his experience of the then recently abandoned old Mass: “The Latin went in here” (pointing to his head), “but not here” (indicating his heart). His assessment was generous. A 75-year-old Jesuit university professor recently conceded: “Few of us ever really understood the prayers we were reciting.”

Urgently needed today is truly reverent, prayerful celebration of the rite used daily by the Pope, and by Catholics of the Latin rite throughout the world. We need also to repair the devastation wrought by the musical iconoclasm of recent decades. And we need doctrinally sound preaching, inspired and permeated by the Bible, which joyfully and enthusiastically proclaims the good news of the Gospel: that God loves sinners. These are the elements of what I learned, half a century ago, constitutes “the beauty of holiness, and the holiness of beauty”.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:38 AM
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