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

Friday, August 29, 2003
BLOGGING FOR GOD: Award-winning religion writer Susan Hogan-Albach has written an article in the Dallas Morning News about religious blogging as--what else--a weblog. A few quotes from yours truly are sprinkled throughout. For some reason, I'm listed as a "chat room" in a little blue box on the side. I'm not sure I get enough comment traffic to qualify!

posted by Peter Nixon 4:28 PM
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CHURCH WITHOUT BORDERS: The Southern Cross, the official newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego, reports on Church Without Borders, a a joint project of the Diocese and the Maryknoll Missionaries. The project raises funds to help students in Tijuana afford the cost of going to school (e.g. uniforms, supplies, etc.). Church Without Borders also runs daylong immersion trips for San Diego Catholics to experience the realities of Tijuana and witness Catholic social teaching in action. You can learn more about the project by clicking here.

I'm going to try to make a conscious effort to blog more about stories like this. I sometimes worry that people coming across Catholic blogs for the first time are likely to think that we are a peculiar community where we spend most of the time arguing about sex and the liturgy. The arguments are part of the charm, of course, but it's not really our "core competency" as we say in the management consulting biz.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:03 PM
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THE SMILING POPE: John Allen talks about the 25th anniversary of the election of John Paul I, a.k.a. the Smiling Pope, whose reign lasted only 33 days.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:16 PM
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LABOR MARKET LEFT BEHIND: The stock market may be rising again and even economic growth has started to look a little better, but the labor market remains decidedly weak this weekend of Labor Day 2003. Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute dives into current labor market trends in excrutiating detail in this report from EPI. Here in California, I can tell you, things are getting worse, not better and I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel yet, particularly up here in the North.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:02 PM
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Thursday, August 28, 2003
WHEN I WAS YOUNG AND IRRESPONSIBLE...: What's the statute of limitations on "youthful indiscretions?" I guess we're going to find out. The Smoking Gun has just posted the 1977 interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger that is causing such a stir. Let's just say that Arnold isn't exactly a "family values" sort of Republican.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:30 PM
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WHAT WE SHOULD DO NOW A cogent analysis of the current situation in Iraq from Fareed Zakaria. Here's a taste:

We have jealously held onto Iraq as if the rebuilding of it were some great prize to be denied to everyone else. In fact it is better thought of as a monumental, historic challenge that can best be accomplished with as many partners and as much support as possible. The best and obvious solution from the start was to turn the rebuilding of Iraq into a great international project, in which all the major countries in the world were invested. To accomplish this, other nations would have to be given some control over the future of the country. Giving the United Nations more of a hand in Iraq’s political affairs would actually help. The United Nations has developed skills and expertise in nation-building over the last decade that are worth having. Iraq needs more hardworking men like Sergio Vieira de Mello, not fewer. It is difficult to shift policy now and convince the world that we do so willingly. But it should be done.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:17 PM
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MIRACLE ON THE RIVER KWAI: Philip Yancey tells the inspiring story of Ernest Gordon, a British Army officer captured by the Japanese during World War II and assigned to the building of the Burma-Siam railway:

Gordon could feel himself gradually wasting away from a combination of beriberi, worms, malaria, dysentery, typhoid, and diphtheria. Paralyzed and unable to eat, he asked to be laid in the Death House. Gordon's friends, however, had other plans. They carried his shriveled body on a stretcher from that contaminated place to a new bed of split bamboo.

Something was astir in the prison camp, something that Gordon would call "miracle on the River Kwai." For most of the war, the prison camp had served as a laboratory of survival of the fittest, every man for himself. Men lived like animals, and for a long time hate was the main motivation to stay alive.

Recently, though, a change had come. One event in particular shook the prisoners. A Japanese guard discovered that a shovel was missing. When no one confessed to the theft, he screamed, "All die! All die!" and raised his rifle to fire at the first man in the line. At that instant an enlisted man stepped forward and said, "I did it."

Enraged, the guard lifted his weapon high in the air and brought the rifle butt down on the soldier's skull, killing him. That evening, when tools were inventoried again, the work crew discovered a mistake had been made: No shovel was missing.

One of the prisoners remembered the verse, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Attitudes in the camp began to shift. With no prompting, prisoners began looking out for each other rather than themselves.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:08 PM
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Wednesday, August 27, 2003
MOORE'S LAW: As Amy Welborn and some others have noted today, Christopher Hitchens manages to get the Ten Commandments spectacularly wrong today. Assuming that the Commandments are meant to be a moral code in and of themselves, he probes the obvious weaknesses of the decalogue as a tool for ordering society.

Even a cursory reading of the Jewish scriptures suggests that their central theme is not commandment, but covenant. The commandments and the rest of the Mosaic law are not meant to be transcendent reflections of an underlying "natural law." They are a particular law for a particular people, a people elected by God and bound to Him by a covenant. In the OT, the decalogue is rarely spoken about in isolation from the rest of the law. After the rebuilding of the temple after the Exile, Ezra reads to the people from a "scroll of the law," a scroll that is probably a version of the Book of Deuteronomy rather than Exodus. It is Deuteronomy, rather than Exodus, that contains the Shema, the daily prayer of the faithful Jew that begins "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength."

So the decalogue was never what Hitchens supposes it was. But given the behavior of a large number of Alabama Christians lately, it is not surprising that Hitchens might come to that conclusion. It is some contemporary Christians, as much as Hitchens himself, who have ripped the decalogue out of its scriptural context and forced it to bear a weight that it was never meant to bear. Sometimes I wonder what our Hebrew forefathers would have made of large crowds gathered in prayer around a graven image of the Ten Commandments. I suspect I know what Elijah would have thought...

posted by Peter Nixon 11:14 PM
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A GOOD SIGN: Today was my son's first day of Kindergarten (he cried, we didn't) and tonight was our first parent assembly. I noticed on the doors of all the classrooms was a sign with the following statement:

Be it known to all who enter here that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classrooms. He is the model of its faculty and the inspiration of its students.
I think it's going to be a good year.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:46 PM
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SCHIAVO: There's been a fair amount of commentary floating around about the Terri Schiavo case. Schiavo collapsed in her home 1990 from a medical condition that subsequently led to her suffering irreversible brain damage. Since that time, she has been in what most physicians would term a "persistent vegetative state" or PVS and receives nutrition through a feeding tube. Her husband and her parents (not to mention a plethora of advocacy organizations) have been bitterly divided over whether it would be morally licit and/or legal to remove her feeding tube. Here is a timeline of the case.

Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of Saint Petersburg, Florida has issued a statement on the case. There are some who are unhappy with it because it fails to take sides in the dispute. Personally, I think the Bishop has shown the proper degree of humility here. It's a complex case, and there is disagreement among theologians about the circumstances under which it would be licit to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration. Comparing the withdrawl of nutrition to "starvation" is sort of like comparing the withdrawl of artificial respiration to "suffocation."

Since I work in the health care field, I am familiar with the phenomenon of Catholic patients who believe that being a faithful Catholic means that one must do everything possible to sustain life, no matter what kind of burden it imposes on the patient and no matter how remote the possibility of a successful treatment outcome. That, of course, is not what the Church teaches, but there is no question that it is a popularly held view. As the population ages and our ability to sustain life at the very edge of its natural bounds grows, we are going to face more cases like Ms. Schiavo's. We would do well to consider some of the advice offered by Bishop Lynch when making plans for our own future.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:43 PM
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STARTING FROM SCRATCH: This is meant to be a link to the new Tom Friedman column about Iraq entitled Starting From Scratch, but it's really just a way to test this neat new feature on my Google toobar.

posted by Peter Nixon 5:04 PM
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GIRM WARFARE: There is a spirited discussion going on at Amy Welborn's blog about the implementation of the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal. Click here and here for relevant posts.

One of the key issues in dispute seems to be whether the new GIRM requires (or even recommends) that the congregation stand during communion or whether it does no such thing. It's been a tad busy lately, so I haven't had time to read the relevant documents for myself and decide. Personally, I'm fine with the current practice of kneeling for a period of personal prayer after receiving communion. I don't really think this takes away from the communal nature of the celebration and I don't feel any burning need to change it. But there are clearly some who disagree.

Sometimes I wonder whether the difference between liturgical "liberals" and "conservatives" is where they want to freeze the liturgy in amber. There are some who want to freeze the liturgy in amber at, say, 1955 whereas there are others who would like to freeze it around the year 155, and think that everything that has happened since needs to be swept away in the name of "simplicity." So if Christians in 155 didn't kneel during the Eucharistic prayer or after Communion, we shouldn't either.

I think this is a tad too simple. While preserving continuity with the past, we need to remember that certain gestures and symbols mean different things in different times and cultures. What kneeling meant to Christians in 155 is probably not the same as what is means to us today. My gut tells me that in our contemporary culture (at least in the West), we do not kneel as much as we need to. We are increasingly unwilling to acknowledge any source of authority other than ourselves. To kneel is to put in our bodies in motion in a way that makes the mind more receptive to the transcendent, to a power greater than ourselves. I think something similar could be said about raising our hands in prayer.

But having said all that, I find myself disinclined to "go to the mat" over this issue. As I said, I am not yet entirely certain what the GIRM allows or requires here and I am inclined to follow the lead of my bishop, even if I might make a different decision if I were in his place.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:51 PM
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MY SON started Kindergarten today. Pray for us...uh, I mean him...:-)

posted by Peter Nixon 12:00 PM
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Tuesday, August 26, 2003
YOU'VE GOT (A LOT) OF MAIL: My mailbox has been overrun with virus-generated e-mails. I'm basically deleting any e-mail address I don't recognize, so I would hold off on sending e-mail for a few days until Excite fixes the problem. Thanks.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:42 AM
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ATTENTION CHRISTIAN SHOPPERS....: An intrepid group of souls calling themselves The Mystery Worshipper file reports on worship services from around the United States. For your amusement. Perhaps they should avoid Catholic Churches until the latest round of GIRM implementation has settled down a bit. Thanks to the reader who sent this in.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:41 AM
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Monday, August 25, 2003
SAINTS IN THE MAKING? Emily over at After Abortion has some thoughts on a recent National Catholic Register article about post-abortion counseling that are worth pondering:

In the NCR article, writer Joseph Pronechen quotes five or six priests and diocesan employees who are not themselves post-abortive, as they talk about their work with post-abortive women. I don't know what all these people said to Pronechen when they were interviewed by him, but the quotes that he selected for the most part involve these people talking about their own experiences, feelings and thoughts as they work with post-abortive women.

That is to say, the article is much more about these people than it is about the men and women they serve, none of whom were quoted or interviewed. The priests and counselors quoted are also described in hagiographical terms: "the healing touch of a wise and caring counselor" is one example of that.

Within the Protestant church, post-abortion support comes across much more as peer support from others who have also experienced abortion. It has a horizontal flavor, with a "we're all in this together" tone.

Frankly, the NCR article left me feeling queasy. I am confident that effective post-abortion recovery requires a team approach--some combination of peer ministry and the unreactive, unbiased help of those who haven't had an abortion themselves. I don't think it benefits from the "we are saints-in-the-making" tone of this article.
I think what Emily has identified is actually a weakness in a lot of types of Catholic ministry, where those we serve (and perhaps it is that very word itself that is the problem) can become "occasions of grace" for us rather than people in their own right. On the other hand, I find that--perhaps for this reason--that Catholic ministry is much less prone to the kind of aggressive prostyletizing that one occasionally finds in evangelical Protestant service organizations. Clearly, some kind of middle ground needs to be found. I would note for the record that the director of the pro-life office in the Oakland Diocese is a woman who does speak about her own experience with abortion when she talks about the issue.

posted by Peter Nixon 7:42 PM
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STEINFELS ONE-STOP SHOPPING: Here are links to generally favorable reviews of Peter Steinfels' A People Adrift by Gary Wills and Colman McCarthy, and a somewhat unfavorable one by Russell Shaw in OSV.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:24 AM
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IRAQ: Josh Marshall has an interesting interview with Peter Bergen, author of Holy War Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden. Here is a link to Part One of the interview, and here is a link to Part Two. And while we're on the subject of Iraq, you might want to check out David Ignatius' recent piece in the Washington Post.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:54 AM
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