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

Saturday, November 01, 2003
CATHOLIC SENSIBILITY: A very sensible new Catholic blog. Here's a sample:

Earlier today while I was cruising the bloghood, I ran across an opinion that struck me. A person whom I admire said he would not consider reading authors such as Rohr, Steinfels, or Chittister, whom he felt were dissenters. Leaving aside for the moment the issue of what constitutes dissent or disloyalty, I'd like to ask a few questions.

Do we ever read outside our comfort zone? Would we invest time in reading someone with whom we disagreed?

Personally, I find it refreshing to read the conservative Catholic viewpoint from time to time. (Maybe that's why I have lurked in blogdom for so long.) With a decent supply of antacid, I've even read Michael Rose and Thomas Day. And though I disagree strenuously with their opinions, I find it valuable to keep updated on the various positions that would be counter to my own.

I've discussed many issues with friends and it seems clear they have never bothered to see matters from outside their own perspective. Even if dialogue is completely off the table, isn't it valuable from time to time to spy on one's adversaries, getting inside their heads, as it were? Or am I just crazy for being a progressive Catholic trying to get something out of George Weigel?

posted by Peter Nixon 9:03 PM
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Friday, October 31, 2003
O'MALLEY: Boston Archbishop Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley is interviewed by James Martin, S.J. in the October 27th issue of America. The interview is, like all of America's content, available to subscribers only. Martin asked O'Malley what he would say to those so angered by the sexual abuse scandal that they considered leaving the Church:

I tell them not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As I have said many times, this is a very sad chapter in the history of the church, but it’s not the whole book. So we want people to look beyond this and realize that there are many wonderful things about the church. Here in Boston I am very impressed by the enthusiasm and love I see in the parishes. So certainly people are hurt and disappointed—I understand that. We are all acutely aware of the human side of the church, but we have to remember that Christ is with the church, and Christ is the bridegroom, not the widower; he doesn’t exist separate from the church. We live in a society that has become so individualistic that the temptation is to retreat into a New Age type of spirituality. But Jesus came to found a people of the church. Again, that’s part of God’s will for us; it means being connected to one another in the church and in that connectedness being connected to Christ.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:53 PM
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WHAT WAS NOT SAID: Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and a professor of ethics and political philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, has written an article for First Things on the Church and the Holocaust. While critical of polemic works aimed at the Church like those by John Cornwell and Daniel Goldhagen, Rhonheimer is equally critical of efforts by some apologists to whitewash the Church's record and suggest that it was a stronger opponent of Nazism and anti-Semitism than it actually was:

What is at issue, then, is not the question of guilt or innocence of individuals but recognition that the Catholic Church contributed in some measure to the developments that made the Holocaust possible. The “official Church,” to be sure, was certainly not one of the causes of the Holocaust. And once the trains started rolling toward Auschwitz, the Church was powerless to stop them. Yet neither can the Church boast that it was among those who, from the start, tried to avert Auschwitz by standing up publicly for its future victims. Given the undeniable intellectual and moral quality of the German episcopate of that era and the bishops’ impressive ideological opposition to Nazi persecution of the Church, their failure with regard to the Jews can only be described as tragic.

Well-intentioned Catholic apologists continue to produce reports of Church condemnations of Nazism and racism. But these do not really answer the Church’s critics. The real problem is not the Church’s relationship to National Socialism and racism, but the Church’s relationship to the Jews. Here we need what the Church today urges: a “purification of memory and conscience.” The Catholic Church’s undeniable hostility to National Socialism and racism cannot be used to justify its silence about the persecution of the Jews. It is one thing to explain this silence historically and make it understandable. It is quite another to use such explanations for apologetic purposes.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:31 PM
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PRAYER IS THE GOAL: At a recent session on GIRM implementation in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Fr. Paul Turner made the following observation:

It's not enough simply to address and master all the details and the various changes. If you're distracted by factors like whether the furniture is in exactly the right place, or whether the procession moves in exactly the right way, you've blown it. We are gathered at liturgy for prayer, to be one Christian community. Yes, be attentive to details, but know also what the big picture is. Prayer is the goal.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:22 PM
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PRAY FOR YOUR ENEMIES: Fr. Ron Rolheiser suggests that our challenge is to move beyond strict justice and reciprocity if we are to follow where Jesus would lead us:

The litmus test for Christian orthodoxy is not the creed (Can you believe this set of truths?) but this particular challenge from Jesus: Can you love an enemy? Can you not give back in kind? Can you move beyond your natural reactions and transform the energy that enters you from others, so as to not give back bitterness for bitterness, harsh words for harsh words, curse for curse, hatred for hatred, murder for murder?

Can you rise above your sense of being wronged? Can you renounce your need to be right? Can you move beyond the itch to always have what's due you? Can you forgive, even when every feeling inside of you rebels at its unfairness? Can you take in bitterness, curses, hatred, and murder itself, and give back graciousness, blessing, love, understanding, and forgiveness? That's the root invitation inside of Christianity and it's only when we do this that we move beyond "an eye for an eye."

posted by Peter Nixon 12:18 PM
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Thursday, October 30, 2003
ON THE "DO LIST" THIS WEEK: One magazine article, two reflection papers for pastoral ministry school, team recruitment for the retreat my wife and I are planning, several pages of Spanish homework, and preparations for the Sunday communion service at the jail. Oh, and now our kids have strep throat...

posted by Peter Nixon 8:49 PM
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PRAY FOR VOCATIONS: About once or twice a week, my son will pick up his dinner plate and his milk cup, lift them into the air and say "Look Daddy, I have the bread and the wine!"

A sign of a vocation? Well, my daughter does it too...

posted by Peter Nixon 8:40 PM
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THE GENDER GENIE: Andrew Sullivan links to this interesting little device that tries to predict your gender from the style of your writing. It nailed me pretty well, with about a 2:1 male-female score. Don't know if the underlying science makes any sense, but it's interesting.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:49 AM
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WHAT WOULD JESUS DOWNLOAD? Father Mike Kowalski OSB ponders this question.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:37 AM
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CHINESE CATHOLICS DETAINED: BBC reports that 12 Catholic priests and seminarians have been detained by the authorities in northern China. More details from the Cardinal Kung Foundation.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:32 AM
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A FOND FAREWELL to Sean Gallagher, who blogs Nota Bene. Sean is leaving his job as a DRE to work as a full-time writer at The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Sean started Nota Bene around the same time I started Sursum Corda. We were both part of a wave of Catholic bloggers who got started in the Spring of 2002. I will miss his love of our shared faith, the depth of knowledge he brought to his posts, and the charitable way he engaged with everyone with whom he came in contact. I suspect we'll also miss Fr. Shawn O'Neal's homilies, which were a regular feature of the site. Best of luck in your new venture, Sean!

posted by Peter Nixon 8:27 AM
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003
I AM THE LORAX, I SPEAK FOR THE TREES! Or so this little quiz tells me, anyway...

Which Dr. Seuss character are you?

brought to you by Quizilla

posted by Peter Nixon 4:10 PM
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CATHOLIC CHARITIES RESPONDS: CC is collecting donations to help victims of the Southern California firess.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:36 PM
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A CHURCH DIVIDING ISSUE? The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation issued a statement earlier this week about the "filioque" controversy. Here is a link to the statement and here is a press story about it that summarizes the statement for those who want a quick overview.

For those unfamiliar with the controversy, one of the issues that has divided the Catholic and Orthodox Churches for more than a millenia has been our different ways of thinking about the origin of the Holy Spirit. When Catholics say the Creed on Sundays, we say that "We believe in the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son." But the last bit, "and the Son" (filioque in Latin) was not part of the original Nicean Creed but was added later for a variety of reasons (the statement provides more detail on this). While there were many reasons for the Catholic-Orthodox split, this was sort of the straw that broke the camel's back.

It's not surprising that this statement came out of the North American dialogue, because relations between Catholics and Orthodox in North America are far better than they are in Europe.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:33 PM
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CLASH OF THE TITANS: Amy Welborn goes mano-y-mano with uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan posted something on the Schiavo case which Amy objected to, prompting a response from Sullivan and now another response from Amy (scroll up for some additional posted thoughts from her).

Part of the problem here is that Sullivan doesn't usually hang down here with the blogging hoi polloi and doesn't seem to be able to put Amy's comments in context with everything else she's written about him over the past few months, much of which has been reasonably sympathetic to his spiritual struggle, even if she disagrees with his conclusions. Sullivan also favors a "shoot from the hip" rhetorical style on his blog on everything from sexual ethics to the war in Iraq, which is, of course, part of his charm.

On the other hand, I can see (and Amy has already conceded) how suggesting that Andrew shouldn't refer to the Catechism because of his well-publicized disagreements with the Church's sexual teaching could have been misinterpreted as a form of rhetorical excommunication. I suspect Sullivan is a little sensitive on this point right now, although you would think a guy who gets published in The London Times and The New Republic would have a thicker skin.

Over the last couple of years, I have engaged in debates with readers and other bloggers over certain "hot button" issues in Catholic teaching, including celibacy, the restriction of ordination to men, contraception, contemporary just war theory, etc. Like many--perhaps most--American Catholics, I often find the theological arguments that support some of these teachings unconvincing (which, by the way, I think is different from explicitly rejecting the teachings themselves). So I myself would probably react badly to the suggestion that I have forfeited my right to continue to draw on my own tradition in wrestling with something like the Schiavo case.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:02 AM
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THE DANGER: Michael Kinsley is angry at President Bush because he feels that Bush's policy on stem cell research is "cynical." Bush opposes embryonic stem cell research but is not opposed to the creation of embryos in fertility labs, many of whom will not be used and therefore destroyed. Kinsley feels that Bush's stance is "insulting to the people (including me) whose lives could be saved or redeemed by the medical breakthroughs Bush's stem cell policy is preventing." Kinsley suffers from Parkinson's disease, a disease where the use of treatments derived from embryonic stem cells shows some promise.

One of the problems with Kinsley's argument is that it blurs the distinction between "killing" and "letting die." Kinsley essentially says that since the embryos are going to die anyway, it's okay to harvest their stem cells. But that's a little bit like saying "it should be okay to take the heart of a person who is terminally ill or on death row because, after all, they are going to die anyway." Harvesting the stem cells from an embryo is an act of killing.

Kinsley doesn't see a problem with this, because he doesn't see the embryo as a human person:

The week-old embryos used for stem-cell research are microscopic clumps of cells, unthinking and unknowing, with fewer physical human qualities than a mosquito. Fetal-tissue research has used brain cells from aborted fetuses, but this is not that. Week-old, lab-created embryos have no brain cells.
To me, Kinsley's words bring home the great danger inherent in the stem cell research debate. Because of the great good that embryonic stem cell research could bring, we face a terrible temptation to distance ourselves from the human embryo, to deny our kinship with it so that its deliberate destruction to further our ends will not trouble our consciences. Michael Kinsley was once such an embryo, as were you and I. To suggest that we have more in common with a mosquito than that which is "flesh of our flesh" is a lie. To suggest that it is merely a "clump" and not a dynamic living organism is a lie.

Last year, I posted some thoughts on the report of the President’s Commission on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry, where I tried to wrestle with the questions that Kinsley raises, and I think those thoughts are still on point:

First of all, I think what an understanding of the biology of conception leads to is that we can never be completely certain of the moral status of the early human embryo. Those who favor cloning-for-research seem to believe that if we lack certainty it is morally acceptable to conduct such research. I would argue the contrary position: if there is at least a reasonable chance that to use embryos for research would, in fact, be homicide, we should not proceed.

Second, I find I must reject the position of those Council members who hold that it is possible to have a “special respect” for the early human embryo and still exploit it for research. As the Council members opposed to cloning-for-research noted, “things we exploit even occasionally tend to lose their special value.” Once the destruction of embryos becomes widespread, it will quickly become routine and gradually come to seem of less ethical import. As Dostoevsky once observed, “man gets used to everything—the beast!”

Third, even if one accepted that there was a narrow set of circumstances under which the destruction of early human embryos would be licit, those circumstances would have to bear a strong resemblance to the traditional criteria for a “just war.” But one of the key criteria for a just war is that it is a last resort. But there is no way that the advocates of cloning-for-research can claim that we are currently in anything like a “last resort” situation.

Fourth, even if one remains agnostic on the questions of whether the early embryo is a “person,” and whether its destruction would be “homicide,” there is no question that it is a form of human life. To create a human life for no other purpose than to serve our needs is deeply wrong. As I have noted elsewhere, this seems like such a fragile reason, but almost everything we believe about human rights and human dignity depends on it.

Finally, I think it legitimate to question whether the 14-day limit on the use of the early embryo--proposed by the pro-research Council members--can be sustained. What if it turns out that research using more developed embryos could lead to life-saving treatments for various diseases? Many of the arguments offered in favor of using early embryos (e.g. immature nervous system, limited organ development, etc.) could be just as easily deployed in favor of using an older embryo or a fetus. Are we willing to consider harvesting a kidney from an eight-week old fetus if it would keep someone in renal failure alive? What are the moral limits on what we can do to preserve life?

This final point illuminates the central tension of the entire report. Our judgment about whether early human life is inviolable is heavily influenced by the benefits we might obtain if we decide that it is not. If nothing else gives us pause, this should. Given such a clear conflict of interest, can we really trust ourselves to make the call?

posted by Peter Nixon 10:24 AM
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Tuesday, October 28, 2003
INFERNO: Please pray for the thousands of people who are fleeing their homes in Southern California, the 16 who have died, and the 10,000 firefighters who are battling the blaze.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:35 PM
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CHRISTIANS AND WAR: Christianity Today provides an interesting overview of early Christian thinking on warfare. The selections are taken from a set of books on the early Fathers written by evangelical commentators entitled Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). The CT plans a regular series where they will look at how ancient Christian writings inform our understanding of contemporary issues. Should be an interesting series.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:01 AM
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CLEANING UP THE MESS: John Langan, S.J., the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, offers his thoughts this week in The Tablet about what should be done in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandal:

What is needed in the present situation where the Church is humiliated and divided is not so much a constitutional transformation of the Church, desirable as that might be, but the development of a style of leadership which emphasises listening and inclusion. Leadership in this new style must be committed to an effective primacy of service and must demonstrate a genuine ability to meet the needs of people who are religious seekers and who are often living on the fringes of the Church. Dismissing such people because their faith is weak or confused or because their lives are not conformed to Catholic teaching in key respects, and even exulting in the prospect of a smaller but purer Church when these people have departed, should be seen as incompatible with the example of Jesus who came to save the lost sheep, the prostitutes and the collaborators with Rome’s imperial rule who seemed so clearly unrighteous to his Jewish contemporaries.

On the other side, the task for new lay protest groups such as the Voice of the Faithful is to make proposals which show a realistic imagination about new possibilities for church life under new conditions and which can elicit the support of a broad range of people in the Church. There are two areas where such proposals are urgently needed. The first is the process of selecting bishops, a process in which considerations of organisational reliability and a partisan version of theological orthodoxy seem to have effectively eclipsed the wider concerns of pastoral service and cultural sensitivity. The second is clerical formation, in which the recent tendency in many conservative seminaries has been to emphasise the “ontological” superiority of the clergy to the laity, a tendency which is rendered absurd by the current wave of scandals.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:43 AM
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Monday, October 27, 2003
ORDINARY OR EXTRAORDINARY? Mark Shea has linked to a 1998 ad limina address to the Bishops of CA, HI, and NV by Pope John Paul II. Paragraph 4 reads, in part:

As ecumenical witness in defense of life develops, a great teaching effort is needed to clarify the substantive moral difference between discontinuing medical procedures that may be burdensome, dangerous or disproportionate to the expected outcome - what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment (No. 2278; cf. Evangelium Vitae, 65) - and taking away the ordinary means of preserving life, such as feeding, hydration and normal medical care. The statement of the United States Bishops' Pro-Life Committee, Nutrition and Hydration: Moral and Pastoral Considerations, rightly emphasizes that the omission of nutrition and hydration intended to cause a patient's death must be rejected and that, while giving careful consideration to all the factors involved, the presumption should be in favor of providing medically assisted nutrition and hydration to all patients who need them. To blur this distinction is to introduce a source of countless injustices and much additional anguish, affecting both those already suffering from ill health or the deterioration which comes with age, and their loved ones.
Mark appears to believe that this is proof positive that Bishop Lynch is failing to defend the teaching of the Church on this issue. I don't believe the document provides sufficient evidence on that score.

There doesn't seem to be anything here that differs markedly from either the CDF's Declaration on Euthanasia or the statement from the U.S. Bishops PLC on Nutrition and Hydration. The paragraph begins by implying that nutrition and hydration are "ordinary" means of preserving life, but ends by talking about a "presumption" in favor of continuing nutrition/hydration, which suggests that under some circumstances that these means could be considered "extraordinary." The Pope reiterates that it is never morally licit to withdraw nutrition and hydration with the aim of causing death.

It's possible to see this document as strengthening the existing teaching of the ordinary magesterium, but it's clearly not meant to be a definitive statement aimed at closing theological debate on this topic. While obviously possessing some importance, it is my understanding that ad limina addresses are generally not used to make definitive doctrinal statements.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:32 PM
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RECOVERING GRACE: Great piece in U.S. Catholic about 12-Step programs. I know too many people whose lives were saved by AA and similar programs not to accord them a great deal of respect. The article also probes the relationship between AA and Catholicism.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:23 PM
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NO MORE POVERTY! Saint Anthony Messenger has an article on how the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is working to break the cycle of poverty in rural New Mexico, which has one of the highest rates of poverty in the nation. CCHD is funded by an annual November collection in most U.S. parishes and...goodness, look at the calendar, it's almost November....

posted by Peter Nixon 2:13 PM
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ABSTRACT APPEAL: A weblog that bills itself as "the first weblog devoted to Florida Law and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals" offers some helpful legal analysis of the legal issues in the Schiavo case. Thanks to Lynn at Noli Irritate Leones for the link.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:23 AM
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PRAISE GOD! Does God need our praise and worship? Probably not, says Fr. Ron Rolheiser, but we certainly do:

A friend of mine likes to tease the Jesuits about their motto: "For the greater glory of God." "God doesn't need you to enhance his glory," he likes to kid them. Partly he's right, but the Jesuits are right, too. God doesn't need our praises, but we need to give praise; otherwise our lives degenerate into bitterness and violence. Why?

Spiritual writers have always told us that we are either growing or regressing, never neutral. This means that we are either praising someone or demanding we be praised, offering gratitude or muttering in bitterness, blessing or cursing, turning attention away from ourselves or demanding it be focused on us, expressing admiration or demanding it, praying a doxology or doing violence.

We are always doing one or the other and it's only by deflecting attention away from ourselves, which is what we do in essence when we give glory to God, that we save ourselves from egoism, jealousy, bitterness, greed and violence.
And, of course, one might argue that we should be led to praise and worship out of a simple sense of gratitude if nothing else.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:05 AM
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CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES: The Tidings interviews Ken Hackett, executive director of Catholic Relief Services.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:03 AM
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TWO MONTHS I've had to work on a contract article, and now I'm five days from deadline and it's still not finished. Not good, not good....

posted by Peter Nixon 12:03 AM
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