Sursum Corda
"an insightful Catholic Blog that eschews extremism in any direction."
--Commonweal Magazine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, September 12, 2003
PLURALISM: John Allen reports on a four day summit of religious pluralists from around the world. He also has an interview with John Haight, S.J., a theologian whose book Jesus: Symbol of God, has gotten him into a little bit of a row with the CDF.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:15 PM
. . .
HEY, I THOUGHT SHE WAS A SHIKSA. Saudi Arabia's religious police have declared Barbie dolls a threat to morality, complaining that the revealing clothes of the "Jewish" toy — already banned in the kingdom — are offensive to Islam:

Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful.
A major point of contention seems to be Barbie's clothing. A Muslim preacher who is leading the campaign notes that "These revealing clothes will be imprinted in their minds and they will refuse to wear the clothes we are used to as Muslims." Just in case you forgot, women in Saudi Arabia must cover themselves from head to toe with a black cloak in public. They are not allowed to drive and cannot go out in public unaccompanied by a male family member.

posted by Peter Nixon 7:56 PM
. . .
SELF-PROTECTION? OR FOOD FOR ALL? Fr. Ron Rolheiser asks us to remember that Christians are in the world, for the world, however much we might be inclined to circle the wagons in a culture that is increasingly hostile to the claims of faith:

We need, I believe, to keep that horizon always in front of us as we journey through a time of anti-ecclesial and anti-clerical sentiment. Today the church, its teachings and its clergy are often under siege, sometimes for good reasons but many times simply because of ideology and bias. In the Western world today, the only intellectually-sanctioned bias is that against Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism. To be bigoted here is not interpreted as intolerance or as being narrow-minded. Rather it's seen as the opposite, a sign that one is enlightened and liberal.

The danger in that is not that the church will somehow collapse, but that the church, us, will become too-defensive, too-self-protective, lose the vulnerability that Jesus demonstrated and asks for, and instead see the world as an enemy to be fought rather than as a precious body to which we are asked to give our lives (akin to a parent who has a child whose hostility makes an easy loving relationship difficult, but who must then resist the temptation to write off his or her responsibility for that child). The first task of the church, no matter the difficulty, is not to circle the wagons and defend itself. Even when the world doesn't welcome what we have to offer, we're still asked to give ourselves over to it as food.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:33 AM
. . .
WHY I LOVE THE GOLDEN STATE: As most of you aware, we here in California have a political system that is a little, well, different than some other states. In a few weeks we will have an opportunity to recall our current Governor and, if that recall is successful, to elect a new governor. Many of my fellow Californians have taken it upon themselves to seek the office of Governor. Now that our Secretary of State has sent out the voters guide, I figured I would share with you some of the more interesting personal statements written by the candidates:

Here is the statement of Kurt E. "Tachikaze" Rightmyer, from West Covina:

The name Tachikaze stands for "wind from a sword stroke." As the leading middleweight of the 2003 California State Sumo Series and a serious, well-educated candidate for governor, I will attack the 800 pound gorilla of big government from every angle and fight determinedly to restore California to a state where all citizens and legal residents can be proud to live. Say goodbye to increasingly restricted, more expensive, poorer quality of existence...and say hello to Tachikaze--"because being governor is no party."
More to come....

posted by Peter Nixon 9:22 AM
. . .
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Let us pray...

posted by Peter Nixon 12:26 PM
. . .
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
ADIOS TATUAJES: I went to a fascinating discussion at Maryknoll last night with Fr. Dave La Buda, a Maryknoll priest working in Honduras who founded a program to remove tattoos. Gang violence is a serious problem in Honduras and elsewhere in Central America, and youth with tattoos—even if they are not gang related—find that they are harassed by the police and unable to find work.

Fr. La Buda was walking along one day when he encountered a young man who said “Hey Padre, give me two dollars.” He asked the young man if he had tried to find a job. The young man said he couldn’t, and rolled up his sleeves to show a number of gang tattoos. The youth explained that no one would hire him because of the tatoos. This started Fr. La Buda on a journey to find a way that the tattoos could be removed.

While the most common approach to tattoo removal in Western countries is laser removal, the procedure requires professional medical expertise and is too expensive for most third world countries. Eventually, Fr. La Buda encountered a Texas physician named Tolbert Wilkenson who had developed a procedure that used infrared light to burst the skin cells holding the pigment. Fr. La Buda was able to secure the equipment and had a local nurse, Suyapa Bonilla, trained in the procedure.

After two and a half years of operation, the Adios Tatuajes program has treated more than 14,000 youth. At present it operates two full time clinics in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. The program expanded to Guatemala in March of 2002, where it is run out of the Social Pastoral Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala. In June of 2002, the program expanded to El Salvador.

Here is a link to a
web site that will give you a little more information about the program. The text is in Spanish, but even if you don’t speak Spanish the pictures are fascinating.

I think this work has a lot of theological and spiritual depth to it. The Church is reaching out to youth who are poor, who are marginal, and who have been marked—and have marked themselves—as criminals and as outcasts. They want to make a change in their lives, but they find their way blocked by those marks. Through a slow (the process requires multiple visits) and painful (the procedure creates small second-degree burns on the skin holding the tattoo) process, they are gradually “made clean” and can get a fresh start.

Let’s pray for the youth who have chosen this particular “catechumenate,” those who still find themselves unable to leave the gang life, and for the Maryknoll missionaries who continue to support this important work.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:29 PM
. . .
SHUTDOWN? Everyone's favorite MFT Greg Popack sounds like he's been taking lessons from anti-globalization protestors. He's pitching an idea to create a network of faithful/observant/orthodox (choose your adjective) Catholics who will flood chancery offices with mail and phone calls when something that displeases them is happening in the diocese (e.g. Call to Action conferences, performances of the Vagina Monologues, etc.):

I promise you, an effort like this would totally overwhelm Chancery staff. Even if a bishop refused to do the right thing this time, if he knew that his office would be essentially shut down for a week every time he allowed Call to Action to have a conference in the diocesan retreat center or Dignity to have a Mass at the Cathedral he would think twice next time, if not out of consideration for fidelity, then out of consideration for his own, and his staff's, peace of mind.

I suggest that the organization should be called The Catherine of Siena Project and I suggest they should take as their motto Luke 18: 2-5. "In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 "There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, `Give me legal protection from my opponent.' 4 "For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, `Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out."
Greg's essential argument seems to be "Look, if liberal groups like VOTF and CTA can do this sort of thing, why can't the conservatives?" It's hard to disagree, although I must say I'm not terribly fond of the idea of the Church as a place where dueling theological factions use organized pressure tactics to move the Bishops to and fro.

On the other hand, what this dueling series of high level meetings has revealed--and what the scandal itself revealed in many ways--is the real lack of any structures beyond the parish (and sometimes the diocese) for lay Catholics to provide feedback to those in positions of authority. Say what you will about the national conferences of the mainline Protestant denominations, at least those conferences provide some forum for discussion among bishops, clergy and laity. In the absence of some organized means for people to express their views, we shouldn't be surprised if the result is a resort to the kind of tactics that Greg describes.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:28 AM
. . .
IN THE RUINS OF THE CHURCH: Meant to blog this a while back and forgot. It's a review of Rusty Reno's In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity in First Things. Reno is an Episcopalian theologian. Here's a quote from him to ponder:

To recover a coherent, public theological vision, we must train ourselves to think with premodern theologians whose lives and minds were disciplined by a no-doubt imperfect but nonetheless functional common life. . . . Our scriptural exegesis must be primitive . . . [and] reiterative rather than innovative or exploratory. Our engagement with the creeds must be submissive. We must suffer the contradictions of the historic episcopate. We must persevere in baptism and Eucharist.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:52 AM
. . .
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
AD GENTES: I came across this interesting essay by Peter Phan, a theologian teaching at the Catholic University of America: Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom, and How?. Phan talks about how the Church's theology of mission has changed over the last half-century. Worth reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:31 PM
. . .
THOSE WHO FAIL TO LEARN FROM HISTORY...: An organization affiliated with the Catholic Church in Keyna is seeking to have some of the works of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe banned from classrooms. It would be nice if some of the newer Catholic Churches in Africa were able to learn from some of the past mistakes made by their European brethren...

posted by Peter Nixon 12:28 PM
. . .
Monday, September 08, 2003
THE WIDTH OF OUR ECCLESIAL EMBRACE: Those who have been reading, posting or otherwise engaging in some of the conversations about the "decline" of the Church occurring on a number of Catholic blogs might do well to read Fr. Ron Rolheiser's column this week. In the course of the column, he draws in some thoughts from the late Fr. Raymond Brown about the "tensions"in the canon of scripture that reflect tensions within the Church itself, and that we continue to live with today in new forms:

The late Father Raymond Brown, in his wonderful book on "The Community of the Beloved Disciple," traces out how the early church, immediately after Jesus' departure, already struggled with many of the tensions we have today. The communities of Mark, Matthew, Luke and Paul emphasized very different things than did the communities that followed John.

However, in the end, the church chose to canonize both of them, chose to accept different Christologies and different ecclesiologies, and to carry the tension and truth of both. It chose to put these differences into paradox rather than opposition.

Brown's words at the end of this fine book are ones that we, within every denomination and within every ideology within a denomination, might well take to heart.

He tells us the church's decision to place the Gospel of John in the same canon as the writings of Mark, Matthew, Luke and Paul was a decision to live with tension, to imitate God's wide embrace. As Brown puts it, by choosing to keep both, the church "has not chosen a Jesus who is either God or man but both; has chosen not a Jesus who is either virginally conceived as God's son or pre-existent as God's son but both; not either a Spirit who is given to an authoritative teaching magisterium or the Paraclete-teacher who is given to each Christian but both; not a Peter or a Beloved Disciple but both....

"This means that a church such as my own, the Roman Catholic, with its stress on authority and structure, has in the Johannine writings an in-built conscience against the abuses of authoritarianism. So also the 'free' churches have in the Pastorals an in-built warning against abuses of the Spirit and in 1 John a warning against the divisions to which a lack of structured authority leads. Like one branch of the Johannine community, we Roman Catholics have to come to appreciate that Peter's pastoral role is truly intended by the risen Lord, but the presence in our Scriptures of a disciple whom Jesus loved more than he loved Peter is an eloquent commentary on the relative value of the church's office. The authoritative office is necessary because a task is to be done and unity is to be preserved, but the scale of power in various offices is not necessarily the scale of Jesus' esteem and love."

In a time of much ecclesial quarrelling, especially over authority, Raymond Brown reminds us that "the greatest dignity to be striven for is neither papal, episcopal nor priestly; the greatest dignity is that of belonging to the community of the beloved disciples of Jesus Christ."

posted by Peter Nixon 1:24 PM
. . .
THE WALL: Tom Friedman opines about the wall the Israelis are constructing to separate Israel from the West Bank. Or part of the West Bank. Friedman notes that as the wall snakes south, decisions about where it should go are likely to become increasingly heated:

Good fences make good neighbors, but only if your fence runs along a logical, fair, consensual boundary — not through the middle of your neighbor's backyard. If this wall is used to unilaterally bite off chunks of the West Bank to absorb far-flung Israeli settlements, then "it will just become a new and longer Wailing Wall," said the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi. "But unlike the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, this wall will have people wailing on both sides. Jews will be mourning the collapse of their dream of a Jewish democratic state, and Palestinians will be mourning their own lost opportunity to translate all their sacrifices into a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel."

posted by Peter Nixon 1:10 PM
. . .
Sunday, September 07, 2003
BOOK NOOK: Scott Appleby reviews Peter Steinfel's "A People Adrift" and David Gibson's "The Coming Catholic Church" in the New York Times. Fr. Robert Imbelli does the same in America. David O'Brien reviews Steinfels alone in National Catholic Reporter.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:10 PM
. . .
THE FIXER: Wire service story about Patrick Wall, a former priest and Benedictine monk who served as something of a "fixer" for Church officials in Minnesota. Wall was shuttled from assignment to assignment, taking over positions from priests and religious removed due to allegations of sexual abuse. He eventually left the priesthood and the Benedictine Order and now serves as a consultant to a law firm that represents abuse victims.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:01 PM
. . .

. . .