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 29, 2003
IT HAS BEGUN...: Saw this in the Chronicle this morning:

A mob of shoppers rushing for a sale on DVD players trampled the first woman in line and knocked her unconscious as they scrambled for the shelves at a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Patricia VanLester had her eye on a $29 DVD player, but when the siren blared at 6 a.m. Friday announcing the start to the post-Thanksgiving sale, the 41-year-old was knocked to the ground by the frenzy of shoppers behind her.

"She got pushed down, and they walked over her like a herd of elephants," said VanLester's sister, Linda Ellzey. "I told them, `Stop stepping on my sister! She's on the ground!"'
Hold fast to Advent, brothers and sisters, hold fast to Advent...

posted by Peter Nixon 12:31 PM
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Friday, November 28, 2003
PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD: The Precious Blood Communities of the United States will be sponsoring an on-line retreat during the season of Advent. You can read the daily reflections every day at The New Gasparian.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:17 PM
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THE HUNGER SITE: Thanksgiving is a good time to think about the hungry. Click here to learn more about hunger and to take action.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:05 PM
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Thursday, November 27, 2003
HAPPY THANKSGIVING: Just wanted to wish all of my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. Your wonderful fellowship this year is one of the things I'm thankful for. May Saint Christopher guide you safely in your travels!

posted by Peter Nixon 8:23 AM
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Wednesday, November 26, 2003
YO NO QUIERO TACO BELL? The Washington Post reports that the National Council of Churches has endorsed a boycott of Taco Bell and the Mount Olive Pickle Company aimed at pressuring those companies to be more vigorous in ensuring that their food supply contractors deal fairly with the migrant farmworkers who harvest the food.

I realize the NCC doesn't cut any ice with a lot of my readers, and perhaps for good reason. But since we're all about to chow down on a huge amount of food tomorrow, it might be a good time to say a prayer for the workers who grow and harvest our food. And if you are inclined to do something more, check out the web site of the United Farm Workers.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:42 PM
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SOLDIERS OR PILGRIMS? John Wilkins, editor of the Tablet, has an interesting essay in this week’s edition that looks at tensions within the Church on how we should relate to the “modern world.” Wilkins looks at how those tensions played out during the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath:

There had been a long and intense debate over the formulation of Gaudium et Spes. Afterwards the progressives who had come together to support its passage separated out. One of those who had always had his reservations was Joseph Ratzinger, who at Vatican II was one of the periti or theological experts. For Ratzinger, as an Augustinian, the pastoral constitution was too Thomist, too ready to see grace at work in the world, too hesitant to put the Cross at the centre of everything.

Later, at the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in 1985 to consider the work of Vatican II, there was a shift towards those who held Ratzinger’s position. The theology of the Cross was reasserted, and the “signs of the times”, which for Pope John XXIII were positive – the emancipation of women was one of them – were redefined negatively. The eastern Europeans, who now had a Slav Pope at Rome, had always felt that the Second Vatican Council reflected too much a Western optimism. With hindsight, other critics added that at Vatican II the Church embraced the world just as the world was preparing to move away from it.
I question whether the choice is really as stark as being “soldiers or pilgrims.” Is it really reactionary to wonder whether the authors of Gaudium et Spes were so caught up in a particular cultural moment that they missed certain shadows looming on the horizon? You don’t have to be a reactionary of the Lefebrevist variety to be critical of the shadow side of the Enlightenment. There is a strong tradition of European social theory—including Marx, Adorno, Habermas, Foucault, and others who make similar criticisms from a liberal and left direction. Even as stout a defender of democracy and political liberalism as Rheinhold Neibuhr was willing to acknowledge the spiritual dangers of liberalism.

I, for one, have no interest in retreating into a medieval castle. But I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more “monasteries,” communities that can be eschatological signs of a kingdom that is already present, and yet still to come. I offer the following paragraph from Lutheran theologian George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine as a counterpoint to Wilkins for you to ponder:

Religious communities are likely to be practically relevant in the long run to the degree that they do not first ask what is practical and relevant, but instead concentrate on their own intertextual outlooks and forms of life…As is true for individuals, so also a religious community’s salvation is not by works, nor its faith for the sake of practical efficacy, and yet good works of unforeseen kinds flow from faithfulness. It was thus, rather than by intentional effort, that biblical religion helped produce democracy and science, as well as other values Westerners treasure; and it is in similarly unimaginable and unplanned ways, if at all, that biblical religion will help save the world (for Western civilization is now the world) from the demonic corruptions of those same values.

posted by Peter Nixon 7:44 AM
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Tuesday, November 25, 2003
BUFFY AND THE BODY: Fascinating essay in Commonweal on feminism, Catholicism, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I freely confess to be a sucker (oops, bad word choice) for any and all things Buffy. But the article does have some interesting tidbits. Here is a comment on the "theology of the body" that is worth pondering:

It’s worth spending some time thinking about why it seems so difficult to engage some theologians of the body in an honest conversation. It would not be wrong, I think, to say that they are too naively romantic, or too lost in the tributaries of philosophical idealism, or too fixated on church teaching on contraception. Still, the fundamental problem, in my view, is squarely theological: they make the mistake of eliding the original state of grace with the state of redemption. The touchstone for the theologians of the body is the relationship of men and women before the Fall. West, for example, chides Johnson for being “locked in his fallen view and unable to cross the threshold back to ‘the beginning.’”

We are not called to retreat to Eden, but rather to move forward in pilgrimage toward the New Jerusalem. Redemption does not erase sin; it transfigures it. Redemption does not gesture distantly at brokenness; it conscripts it into the service of salvation and new life. To encourage young people to believe that with a lot of hard work and a little bit of suffering, they too can have a relationship like the one between prelapsarian Adam and Eve is deceptive and cruel. It is also the road to despair. Transfixed by the illusory promises of a return to the purity of creation, they may be blind to the possibilities for a gritty but real redemption in their own lives.
I have often wondered myself whether the theology of the body puts more weight on the early chapters of Genesis than they were meant to bear. Something to think about.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:24 AM
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Orthodoxy is not a fixed standpoint--it is a way, the way which the church takes, and which a person takes with the church. We must not deviate today from the path of the early and patristic church; but neither can we stand still on it. We must follow the path further, though certainly eodem sensu, in the same sense or direction.--Cardinal Walter Kaspar, Theology and Church.

posted by Peter Nixon 7:57 AM
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Monday, November 24, 2003
GET YOUR FLU SHOT! It's going to be a wild ride this year, folks. California's influenza tracking shows a dramatic surge in positive tests over the last week, mostly in children. But that means it's only a matter of time before we see a similar surge in adults. This will be the biggest flu season in years.

In addition to getting a flu shot, wash your hands regularly. It's one of the best ways to cut down on transmission.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:35 AM
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THE VIETNAMESE MARTYRS: Today is the feast day of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions. St. Andrew was one of 117 martyrs who met death in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Click here for more details.

posted by Peter Nixon 7:33 AM
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GAME OVER? David Brooks wades into the SSM debate in his New York Times column. Brooks was brought in to the NYT's Op-Ed page to be the conservative heir-apparent to William Safire. Which is why, of course, his comments are so interesting. He begins by looking at the challenges faced by marriage today and then says the following:

Still, even in this time of crisis, every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity — except homosexuals. Gays and lesbians are banned from marriage and forbidden to enter into this powerful and ennobling institution. A gay or lesbian couple may love each other as deeply as any two people, but when you meet a member of such a couple at a party, he or she then introduces you to a "partner," a word that reeks of contingency.

You would think that faced with this marriage crisis, we conservatives would do everything in our power to move as many people as possible from the path of contingency to the path of fidelity. But instead, many argue that gays must be banished from matrimony because gay marriage would weaken all marriage. A marriage is between a man and a woman, they say. It is women who domesticate men and make marriage work.

Well, if women really domesticated men, heterosexual marriage wouldn't be in crisis. In truth, it's moral commitment, renewed every day through faithfulness, that "domesticates" all people.

Some conservatives may have latched onto biological determinism (men are savages who need women to tame them) as a convenient way to oppose gay marriage. But in fact we are not animals whose lives are bounded by our flesh and by our gender. We're moral creatures with souls, endowed with the ability to make covenants, such as the one Ruth made with Naomi: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried."
Here's an interesting question to ponder: does a defense of traditional marriage that is more than dressed-up anti-gay bigotry rely on assumptions about gender difference and the purpose of marriage that fewer heterosexuals are willing to accept anymore?

posted by Peter Nixon 7:32 AM
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Sunday, November 23, 2003

Father Shawn O'Neal's Sunday homily
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

Dn 7:13-14
Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5
Rev 1:5-8
Jn 18:33b-37

Today, we celebrate another day filled with contradiction. We celebrate the king of glory, but this king whom we celebrate came into this world through a manner that runs contrary to what we have heard within the first reading. We honor the ruler of the kings of the earth and one who is coming amid the clouds, as we have heard Jesus described within the second reading. But as we can read with Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, this king who was in the form of God did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at; rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born to the likeness of men.

Four weeks ago, I preached about the apparent conceit held by the Apostles James and John. As you can recall from the Gospel I read five weeks ago, James and John caused friction within the body of the Twelve when they asked Jesus if they could sit at his left and at his right when Jesus was in his glory. It is possible that when they requested Jesus for a promotion, their minds were filled with visions of grandeur as portrayed within the book of Daniel. They would have been very familiar with that reading, as would have been much of Israel. After all, Israel awaited the Messiah. Many people within Israel would have had the words of Daniel in the forefront of their minds. The words painted a wonderful picture.

James and John, as presented five weeks ago, could represent a very bad side of all Christian disciples. I said then that we should avoid acting as they acted, but is incredibly easy to imitate their pursuit. Although many of us might not prefer to be in the main seat of power, we want to be near it. Many people want to enjoy the spoils of being in the royal court, including many people who live in a republic that sought independence from an earthly kingdom. It is as if people want all the spoils but few of the responsibilities that come with leadership. In the context of the Gospel five weeks ago, James and John did not want to lead as much as they sought to be seen. They wanted to look important. Yet Jesus told them that whoever wished to be first among men needed to be the slave of all. Jesus became a slave for the sake of saving humanity because he loves all people. I hope that no person imitates him out of belief that slavery is simply a pre-requisite for receiving glory. By imitating Jesus, he unites our lives with his. Such unity should be glorious enough for us.

Jesus physically entered into, physically lived in, and physically departed from this world in ways contrary to the expectations of the people who claimed to seek him most of all. The people who called for the crucifixion of Jesus believed He was an impostor. He did not fit the profile of a Messiah – or at least the profile that they had learned from the Book of Daniel. Thank God that some people were flexible in their acceptance of Jesus. For example, it would have been very easy for Mary to reply to Gabriel: “This is not how Daniel said it was going to happen.” Thank God she was more flexible. It would have been easy for Joseph to say to Mary that her story did not fit Daniel’s profile, but he was flexible, too. One of the Magi on his return trip could have turned to another Magi and said: “Were you as surprised as I was where we found Him?”

Jesus told Pontius Pilate his kingdom does not belong to this world, but there is a prayer Jesus taught us of which is found the phrase “on earth as it is in Heaven”. Jesus wants His Kingdom to be made manifest on earth not to replace Heaven, but rather to encourage us to seek being in His presence. If we humbly seek to be with Jesus, then we do not care on which side we will be told to sit. We will simply be thrilled that we have been called to sit in a special place. Jesus does not want to keep to himself the glory of his Kingdom.

--Fr. Shawn O'Neal is the Pastor of Saint Joseph's Parish in Bryson City, North Carolina.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:12 PM
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