Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, October 10, 2003
TAKE OFF YOUR RING: In his weekly column, John Allen recounts the moment when Pope Paul VI gave the ring that he had worn as cardinal-archbishop of Milan to Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey:

The night before, on March 23, Paul VI had dispatched a member of the papal household to the English College on Via Monserrato to find [Fr. John] Andrew, who was then Ramsey’s private secretary. The pope wanted to give the ring he had worn as cardinal-archbishop of Milan to Ramsey, the messenger said. He wanted to know if the archbishop should be forewarned, or should it be a surprise?

Andrew consulted another aide, and both agreed: let it be a surprise.

The next morning, Pope Paul and Archbishop Ramsey led an ecumenical liturgy in Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul’s-outside-the Walls. In telling symbolism, they entered side-by-side and sat on the same level, close to each other. They also signed a “Common Declaration,” affirming their desire that “all those Christians who belong to these two communions may be animated by these same sentiments of respect, esteem and fraternal love.”

After the ceremony was over, Paul VI pulled Ramsey aside to show him some frescoes on an interior wall of the basilica. As Ramsey gazed up, Paul asked him, in his rather accented English, to remove his ring. Ramsey didn’t understand, so he turned to Andrew, who said: “Take off your ring.”

Ramsey did, handing it to Andrew.

Paul VI then took Ramsey’s right hand and placed the green-and-gold ring, with a cross in the center and four diamonds around it, on his finger. Ramsey paused a moment, allowing the significance of the gesture to sink in: the Bishop of Rome was, in effect, recognizing him as a fellow member of the episcopate, and in some sense the church he led as a “sister” to the church of Rome.

Ramsey burst into tears. Paul reached out and embraced him, and for a moment, the two men stood in one another’s arms, almost alone within the immense basilica.

Ramsey then said his tearful farewell to Paul. Andrew suddenly realized that he had a protocol problem, because he too had to take his leave of the pope, who now had no ring to kiss. Andrew knelt, gathered both papal hands, and kissed them. Paul then put his hands on Andrew’s cheeks, gently lifting him to a standing position, and bade him goodbye.

Ramsey wore Paul’s ring for the rest of his life. It subsequently became the property of Lambeth Palace in Canterbury, and it is the custom of archbishops of Canterbury to wear the ring when they visit the pope.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:10 AM
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NO DISAPPOINTMENT: For anyone who is disappointed that Pope John Paul II was not chosen for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, A Cautious Man has thoughts about Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian activist who won the prize, that are worth reading. Looks like a good choice to me and very timely.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:45 AM
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TWENTY FIVE YEARS: John Allen offers a retrospective on the pontificate of John Paul II in the National Catholic Reporter that notes that this pope seems to be beyond easy categorization:

Is John Paul II liberal of conservative? Is he pro- or anti-Western? Is he the liberator of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain, or someone many women regard as an obstacle to their emancipation? Is he the pope who gave away his episcopal ring in the Brazilian shantytown to express the church's solidarity with the poor, or the pope who broke the back of liberation theology? Is he the pope who apologized for Galileo and Jan Hus, or the pope who cracked down on Hans Küng and Charles Curran? Is he the pope who visited the Rome synagogue and the Western Wall, or the pope who beatified Pius IX? Is he the pope who gave the archbishop of Canterbury a gold pectoral cross, a symbol of episcopal authority, or is he the pope who approved a document elevating to quasi-infallible status the teaching that Anglican ordinations are invalid?

posted by Peter Nixon 5:32 AM
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Thursday, October 09, 2003
THE MOVEMENT OF THE SPIRIT: Douglas LeBlanc writes for Christianity Today and has covered a number of denominational conventions. He’s in Texas right now for the American Anglican Council meeting.
He wrote something recently that got me thinking:

One of the most consistent themes among liberal Protestants is of a continuing revelation that transcends even God's self-revelation in the Old and New Testaments. Here is one of the central conflicts between conservatives and liberals, and certain proof that if we were not fighting about sex, we would have to fight about something else, like the meaning of the Atonement. The ease with which Episcopal and Presbyterian clergy and laity speak of an open canon is arresting. Their usual proof text is John 16:13, in which Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will lead Christians into all truth. Challenging such fluid understandings of Scripture will be a decades-long task of reforming seminary education.
Like LeBlanc, I am concerned with the ease with which some reformers invoke the “movement of the Spirit” to justify conclusions they’ve clearly reached on other grounds. But I am aware of at least one scriptural precedent for the idea that the Spirit can lead the Church to make a leap beyond where fidelity to tradition might ordinarily lead it.

I’m thinking of the Council of Jerusalem recounted by Luke in Acts 15. As you may recall, the issue at hand was whether Gentile converts would have to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas travel to Jerusalem where they are met by James and the other leaders of the Jerusalem Church and they discuss the matter. Acts recounts Peter and James arguing that Gentile converts did not need to be circumcised and that, of course, was Paul’s position as well (his letter to the Galatians suggests that it was he who stiffened Peter’s spine on the issue).

The late Catholic scripture scholar Raymond Brown once noted that what is interesting about the arguments that all three men make is what they don’t say. None of them cite Jesus. They talk about Moses and Abraham and Paul and Barnabas use their experience of ministry among the Gentiles to point to the “signs and wonders” that God has worked among them. It is hard to see in their tradition as Jews and in the life and teaching of Jesus any explicit warrant for giving the Gentile converts a pass on circumcision. But that is what they do.

Discerning the movement of the Spirit, of course, is a tricky business. It is one thing to make a Spirit-inspired leap to confront a new problem where scripture and tradition are perceived to be unclear (even if the problem is more our understanding of them). It is quite another to invoke the Spirit to overturn teachings that have been settled for centuries. To be fair to the reformers, though, part of their argument when it comes to something, for example, like homosexual relationships is that we really are facing something new here, something where scripture and tradition provide less guidance than one might think.

No big conclusion here. Just some food for thought.

posted by Peter Nixon 5:34 PM
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THE NOONDAY DEVIL: Theologian Rusty Reno has an extended reflection on the sin of acedia, or sloth. He notes that in our contemporary culture, sloth--particularly spiritual sloth--is more of a temptation than pride. Few of us these days are bold, Emersonian individualists who believe it is better to "rule in Hell than serve in heaven." We are more likely to succumb to the temptation that nothing in our lives really matters and that the spiritual life is more of an aimless stroll than an arduous climb. Reno suggests that Christians need to recover more of the classical spiritual disciplines to combat acedia. Above all, we must be willing to commit ourselves:

We must wet our claws. Neither Dante’s urgent rush toward the truth nor Evagrius’ patient stability leads to an exhausted or desiccated existence. On the contrary, the spiritual disciplines they urge serve the end of intimacy. Their strategies awaken and tether, energize and focus. They wish us to become persons with distinct outlines and deep purposes. Only as such persons can we be partners in fellowship—with the truths we seek and with each other. One can no more desire the blessings of marriage with indifference or a wandering eye, than seek a lasting truth with languid disregard or lack of concentration. This holds true in our relation to God. We must desire holiness to allow the burning coal to touch our lips, and we must be attentive and focused to hear the still, small voice. We should rush toward our Lord, for we can never become too intimate, and we should wait patiently with Him, for He always has something more to give. To do so, we must place the pedagogy of critical distance and the dictates of conscience within a larger vision of journey toward the truth, a journey in which the warm and enduring embrace of love is to be cherished rather than mocked or feared.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:15 AM
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THE CLOCK IS TICKING: The current issue of First Things has an editorial in favor of a "Marriage Amendment" to the Constitution aimed at preventing the courts from interpreting the Constitution (or state Constitutions) to require that marital status be conferred on unmarried couples or groups.

Advocates of such an amendment might want to move quickly, as some poll results blogged by Andrew Sullivan yesterday suggest that time might not be on their side. A recent CNN poll suggested that while public opinion is currently split about 50-50 on gay marriage, 67 percent of those ages 18 to 29 say gay unions "would have no harmful effect or might make society better."

I'm a little skeptical about the wording of the questions and this doesn't mean that 67 percent of that age group supports gay marriage. But it certainly suggests that the youth of the nation are not going to be filling the streets to demand an amendment to the Constitution. I suspect that the campaign for this amendment will end up doing as well as the last major campaign for a constitutional amendment supported by the Bishops....

posted by Peter Nixon 10:49 AM
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Wednesday, October 08, 2003
WHAT NARRATIVE THEOLOGY FORGOT: Fascinating piece in First Things last month (now posted) about narrative theology and its relationship to individual testimony. Narrative theology--which places great emphasis on the communal aspects of Christian life--has at least some roots in a reaction to the centrality of sentimentalized personal testimony in many Christian communities. But Alan Jacobs argues that this reaction runs the risk of becoming an overreaction:

It’s this kind of Christian “testimony”—the airbrushed past and the sugarcoated future—that causes Christian “testimonies” to set people’s teeth on edge. We may therefore find ourselves tempted to neglect or even abandon the practice of testimony, absorbing all individual differences of vocation and experience into the one great story of the Church—and to some degree that is just what recent narrative theology has done. Embarrassed by the presumption, the triumphalism, and the sentimental self-absorption of the testimonies that have arisen especially from the evangelical movement, narrative theologians have drawn our attention back to the great narrative arc of God’s work among His people in the world. Yet Christians are commanded to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), and unless one is determined to do no more than mutely wave people towards the nearest church, this can only be achieved by giving some account of the coherence (not perfection) and development (not fulfillment) one discerns in one’s own life.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:51 PM
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THE RECALL: I did not vote for the recall, nor did I support Mr. Schwarzenegger. But fairness compels me to note the following:

In 2002, Gray Davis received 47.4% of the votes cast, a total of 3,163,903 votes. In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger received 48.2% of the votes cast, a total of 3,601,797. I would say that Mr. Schwarzenegger has at least as much of a mandate from the people, if not more so, than Governor Davis had after last fall's election.

UPDATE: Updating returns show that Schwarzenegger has now received 3,744,132 votes, with some absentees still to count.
Mickey Kaus has numbers suggesting that I undercounted Davis's 2002 votes, which he puts at 3,469,025. Let the record reflect, however, that I beat Kaus by almost 24 hours to the observation that Arnold had gotten more votes than Gray did last fall. As Mickey might say, that's almost a century in internet time...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:59 AM
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MISSING THE POINT: Sean Gallagher at Nota Bene writes about a school in Columbus, Indiana that has cancelled a production of To Kill a Mockingbird because the local NAACP objected to the use of the 'n' word in the play.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:34 AM
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Tuesday, October 07, 2003
THE GATHERING STORM: The Houston Chronicle reports on the Dallas meeting of Episcopalians opposed to the ECUSA's decision to confirm Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire:

Conservative Episcopalians upset with denominational approval of a gay priest as bishop and national church blessing for same-sex couples will begin drafting "a new alignment for Anglicanism in North America" today.

Nearly 2,700 Episcopalians gathered Tuesday at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel to open a three-day conference aimed at distancing themselves from the 2.3-million-member U.S. church while remaining in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

"There is an unwillingness to go any further with the Episcopal Church on these (sexuality) issues," said the Rev. David H. Roseberry, rector of Christ Church in Plano. The Plano church is hosting the meeting for the American Anglican Council, or AAC, a national network of conservative lay members, priests and parishes.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:10 PM
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KASPER: For those of you who may be interested, here is a link to the statement of Cardinal Walter Kasper during the Archbishop
of Canterbury's visit to Rome.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:39 PM
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WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR: Man, I get tired of saying that. Of course, my father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and had to say it a lot longer than I did. Next year is the A's year, for sure...

posted by Peter Nixon 12:05 PM
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CEPHAS: Nice article about Cephas Prison Ministry in the Anthonian, the magazine of the Holy Name Province of Franciscans (OFM). Cephas was formed in 1972 in the Buffalo and Rochester prison systems. To learn more about Cephas, click here.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:03 PM
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I'VE LOST THE HOLY FATHER: Saint Anthony Messenger publishes a collection of stories on the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's pontificate. Cardinal Mahoney had an amusing one:

On the first night of the pope's stay in our cathedral residence, after we had returned from a large public Mass in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Holy Father was running a bit early on his schedule. It had been planned for him to have a late dinner in the small dining room on the third floor of the residence.

When the Holy Father, then-Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz (his secretary) and I exited the elevator for dinner, we could smell the food cooking in the kitchen but there were no cooks, waiters or other personnel anywhere. Feeling that overwhelming sense of panic, I assured the Holy Father that the staff must be nearby somewhere, and invited him to be seated in the dining room while I searched for them.

It seems that the Secret Service had brought everyone down to the first floor as part of their security protocol but had failed to inform the cooks and waiters that they could return to the dining room area.

When I went back into the small dining room, the pope and Monsignor Dziwisz were nowhere to be found. I heard voices in the kitchen, and upon entering, I saw the Holy Father lifting the lids on various pots and pans on the stove. Before I knew it, they were serving themselves a nice helping of soup!

The pope seemed so relaxed, truly enjoying his time in the kitchen, and made us all feel like mutual friends enjoying a meal together.
There's also a good piece on Mother Teresa in this issue.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:46 AM
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Monday, October 06, 2003
THE WORLD SEEN FROM ROME: Zenit had the following correction today:

NEW YORK, OCT. 5, 2003 ( Retired U.S. General Wesley Clark is running for nomination as a Democratic presidential candidate. A ZENIT analysis on Saturday mistakenly identified him with the governor's race in California. We regret the error.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:26 PM
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THE LEAST OF MY BRETHREN: Bill Cork is on a roll and blogs an excellent reflection on a recent experience he had with a ministry that goes out to the streets to reach out to men involved in prostitution. Must read.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:14 PM
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THE LONG HAUL: Bill Cork beats me to it and blogs something from an August 4th issue of America that I had meant to blog weeks ago and forgot. It's from an article entitled Marriage and Eccclesial Commitment by the theologian Richard Gaillardetz. Here's the excerpt that Bill blogged:

A profile has emerged in my experience of a surprising number of leaders in the “orthodoxy police” of the Catholic right who turn out to be adult converts to Catholicism (these must be distinguished from the many genuine conservatives who teach us much by their profound love of our tradition). This is only a trend, I hasten to point out, admitting of many exceptions. But still I wonder if there is not some unconscious need to justify their conversion by asserting a new form of Catholic triumphalism. Do they feel secretly compelled to “out-Catholic” the lifelong Catholics? As a mentor of mine once wryly observed, lifelong Catholics seem less likely to believe that the Catholic tradition needs to be saved from its critics....

We lifelong Catholics have our own baggage, to be sure, and many of us are certainly not innocent of triumphalism. Still, most believe that our fidelity to our baptismal vows also gives us a freedom to embrace the brokenness of our church. We can criticize the church because our commitment to her has been chastened; we know we are in it for “the long haul.” We have long since learned to distinguish between the ruptures in fidelity that can call vows into question, and the daily gripes and reconciliations that are the stuff of vowed living. We have sorted out the essentials of our faith from the ambiguities, inconsistencies and, too often, even contradictions that are bound up in all that might count for “being Catholic.” We find we can embrace a whole set of tensions without losing fidelity.
Bill goes on to make what I think is a very good observation that our criticism of each other and our leaders should be rooted primarily in our relationship with one another:

This is not to suggest that lay Catholics return to the days of "pay, pray and obey." It is, rather, to urge them to see that they should first concern themselves with their own parish and their own diocese, and what advice they give to their pastors should be rooted in their relationship with them, and not from an abstract legalism. Of course, it is easier to send quick, anonymous e-mails. It is much harder to write a letter to someone who might actually call you back, or invite you to come in to speak face-to-face.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:11 PM
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FRANZ KAFKA, CALL YOUR OFFICE: The Supreme Court today let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court that Arkansas officials may force a convicted murderer to take drugs to make him sane enough to be executed.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:06 PM
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POVERTY AND EVANGELIZATION: Cardinal Francis George writes about Poverty and Evangelization in the latest issue of the Catholic New World. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Addressing the causes of poverty is not just a humanitarian task. The Archdiocesan Evangelization process, being brought to our parishes over the next three years, has three goals: personal conversion (believe); communion in the Church (share); and transformation of the world (solidarity). When one’s life has been turned around by the grace of God, sharing the gifts of Christ in his Church should lead to a desire to share these gifts universally and to change whatever in a given society is an affront to the Gospel. Working for justice, peace and universal charity are part of evangelizing. Social justice concerns are integral to the Gospel and must be part of an evangelizer’s personal concerns. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development finds its place in the third goal for evangelizers...

The Missionaries of Charity give their lives to the service of the poor. But they are not simply humanitarians. They give their lives to God by serving the poor, and they are missionaries because clearly they do what they do in Jesus’ name. Years ago, on my way to visit my Oblate confreres in Bangladesh, I stayed overnight at one of the houses of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. One night was enough to convince me that their vocation was not mine! And yet it is, for every disciple of Jesus Christ is called to be a servant of the poor. The poor are our passport to God’s kingdom. The poor are not objects to be helped but guides to be followed. The rich must walk the path of salvation in the footsteps of the poor, who will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven. Mother Teresa was a saint because she knew that Gospel truth and lived it each day of her life. May we, who are called to be evangelizers here, do the same.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:00 AM
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WHITE SMOKE: Brendan Koerner writes a Slate Explainer about how the next conclave will work.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:26 AM
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SUICIDAL IDEALISM: Bill Saletan writes in Slate that the public policy battles over abortion suggest that narrow agendas win and broad agendas lose. He cites the recent passage of the PBA bill as an example. The pro-life movement focused on the narrowest, most indefensible share of abortions performed in the United States and won. But Saletan thinks the movement will be defeated if it, thinking that the PBA amounts to a significant turnining point in the abortion wars, tries to push for more far reaching measures.

Similarly, Saletan looks at how pro-choice activists may be poised to make a similar mistake. He looks at a new book by Gloria Feldt, Behind Every Choice is a Story, which argues that pro-choice activists need to move beyond a narrow defense of abortion's legality to a broader defense of "reproductive freedom" that includes public funding of abortions, contraception, etc. But Saletan's analysis of the history of the abortion debate suggests that broader agendas merely broaden the coalition opposed to you without necessarily expanding one's own base of support. Interesting reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:21 AM
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Sunday, October 05, 2003
PLEASE PRAY for a young man named Tony I met out at the jail today. His girlfriend is pregnant and scheduled to deliver in January. Tony is due to be released in November. He's looking forward to getting out, getting his life back together and becoming the kind of father his son needs. Let's pray he makes it.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:20 PM
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ANOTHER BLOGGER MAKES GOOD: Looks like the National Catholic Register will have Mark Shea writing a regular column.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:17 PM
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HOLDING A GUN IS NOT GOOD: A chilling story about child soilders in Liberia, with perhaps a hopeful note at the end.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:15 PM
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