Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Saturday, December 20, 2003
O CLAVIS DAVID: Fr. Jim Tucker reflects on tonight's antiphon here. Fr. Jeff Keyes chants it here. The text of the antiphon follows:

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:52 PM
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Friday, December 19, 2003
O RADIX JESSE: The O Antiphon for the 19th of December is O Radix Jesse. Fr. Jeff Keyes makes good on his promise to audioblog it in Latin. Here is the English translation:

O Root of Jesse, you who stand as a sign for the people, before whom kings will remain silent, before whom the nations will plead, come to free us now, do not delay.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:25 PM
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BEYOND RED-BLUE: Robert David Sullivan drills down beyond the simplistic red states/blue-states divide to look at 10 distinct political cultures in the United States. Check it out.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:20 PM
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SHOULD HE RUN AGAIN? Ralph Nader is asking. Take this on-line on-line survey and tell him what you think.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:08 PM
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THE GATES OF HELL: While we're on this topic, I keep seeing people referring to Jesus's line about the "gates of hell" not prevailing against the Church (Mt 16:18) and using it in the sense of some kind of spiritual warfare, i.e. that the gates of hell is some kind of metaphor for the forces of evil we are battling against. I must confess I never read that way. My understanding of the line was that the Church was going to be marching into Hell to redeem the souls of the dead and that the gates would not keep us out. I don't think the term is meant in the "defensive" sense (i.e. that the Church is somehow protected from the gates) that many are using it. But I could be wrong there. Any comments?

posted by Peter Nixon 1:47 PM
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WHY TRUST THE CHURCH? A lot of the debates surrounding the DaVinci Code, the Gnostic Gospels, etc. come down to the question: do you trust the Church? Or, at the very least, do you trust the Church that put together the scriptural canon even if you think it may have gone off the rails later? Lynn (who has been blogging a lot of these topics lately) raises this question and promises an answer. I'm sure it will be worth reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:41 PM
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IMPACT? Haven't gotten around to blogging anything about the the vote of an expert advisory panel to recommend the FDA allow the so-called "morning-after pill" to be sold over the counter. Given the margin of the vote, the FDA is likely to accept the recommendation.

So what will the impact be? Hard to say for sure, but there are a number of things to think about. For starters, making the drug more easily available might well--over time--reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thus the demand for surgical abortion. Many Catholics, of course, would still hold that this drug is an abortifacent, but there is no question that the public is far more accepting of technologies that prevent implantation than they are of abortions (surgical or chemical) peformed later in pregnancy.

On the other hand, by making later abortions less common, this drug has the possibility of making them less acceptable. If this option is available, would the general public be more supportive of stronger restrictions on abortions performed later in pregnancy? Would free-standing abortion clinics be able to perform enough abortions to stay in business?

Another impact to be considered is the impact on STDs. An economist would tell you that if you reduce the cost of something, people are more likely to engage in it. By reducing the "cost" of unprotected sex, it is possible that this drug will encourage some couples to forgo using condoms, which in turn could lead to an increase in STD rates.

Of course, all of this is just speculation right now. But given the dramatic social impact that the introduction of oral contraceptives had on our culture, we shouldn't be surprised if the introduction of the morning-after-pill creates similar aftershocks.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:30 PM
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A POSTHUMAN FUTURE? Dr. Christopher Hook looks at emerging technologies for genetic manipulation and "enhancement" and at some of the "transhumanist" thinkers who think this is just fine and dandy, thank you very much. Scary.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:05 PM
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ALLEN ON MARTINO: As expected,
John Allen looks at the dustup over Cardinal Martino's remarks after the capture of Saddam Hussein. Allen confirms that Martino was expressing his own views, and not those of the Holy See. He also suggests that Martino's comments about Hussein's "heavy responsibility" was probably meant as a reference to the former Iraqi leader's human rights abuses. But Allen concedes that the issue of whether Martino's comments "should have been balanced by a more clear acknowledgment of Hussein’s victims is a matter for reasonable discussion."

posted by Peter Nixon 12:57 PM
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Thursday, December 18, 2003
O ADONAI: Last year Fr. Jim Tucker did a little series on the O Antiphons, which started yesterday with O Sapientia (O Wisdom). The antiphons are recited or sung before the recitation of the Magnificat at Vespers/Evening Prayer. Tonight is O Adonai. Here is the text:

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush, and gave him the law on Sinai; come and with outstretched arm redeem us.
You can here a sung version of this by clicking here. See Track 19, available in both Real Player and Windows Player format.

ADDENDUM: Fr. Jeff Keyes sings a nice version of the antiphon and the Magnificat in English over at his blog.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:01 PM
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003
THE HAMMER: Christians aren't the only ones worried about commercialization of religious festivals. Jews have been wrestling with both religious and commercial pressure to turn Hanukkah into some kind of mini-Christmas. The irony is that, more than any other Jewish holiday, Hanukkah celibrates Jewish resistance against the forces of assimilation.

The story of Hanukkah dates back to the 2nd century B.C. when Jews in the Holy Land were living under Syrian-Greek rule that outlawed the practice of Judaism and desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews took Greek names, worshipped Greek gods and were Hellenized.

But a small group of devout Jews resisted and formed a guerrilla army. After three years of fighting, the Maccabees (Hebrew for "hammer") drove the Greeks out of Israel and reclaimed the Temple.

There in the ruins, they found only a tiny amount of oil that had not been defiled. Oil was needed for the menorah to burn day and night.

But there was only enough for one day, yet, it burned for eight days — enough time for a fresh quantity to be procured. A miracle.

As Feder fumed, the Maccabees "did not eat latkes (potato pancakes) or bestow presents on each other. They were too busy fighting for the God of Israel to shop."
Maybe both Christians and Jews need to recover a little bit of the spirit of the Maccabees...

posted by Peter Nixon 3:20 PM
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THE WHOLE TRUTH: Amy Welborn comments on the Martino flap and makes a good point:

Choosing words carefully, as Martino should have done, is not important simply to avoid offense or scandal, but in order to communicate the entire truth. The entire truth is that Hussein was a dictator and a tyrant and a murderer and that the competent authorities have the right to do what they want with him, within the confines of international law. What bothers those bothered by Martino's statement is the absence of the whole truth, which, of course, also includes the suffering of Hussein's victims.
It's not that I am unable to see some elements of tragedy--in a classical sense--in the downfall of Hussein (see Bill Cork's point on this today). But this isn't a classical drama. I agree with Amy that any discussion of what has befallen Hussein personally that fails to take into account the monstrous evils that he has committed does violence to the truth. Was the classical fault of hubris a factor in the downfall of Hitler, Mussolini, Milosovic, and Bagosora (the primary architect of the Rwandan genocide)? Of course. One could say the same about the downfall of the Cosa Nostra. But to view these stories primarily in terms of tragedy gives these individuals a dignity they do not deserve. By all means, let us respect their God-given dignity as human beings. But no more than that. Not while the bodies of the dead are still being exhumed and the torturers have still to receive justice.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:48 AM
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CHRISTMAS: America's Christmas editorial is worth reading. Here is an excerpt:

The story of Bethlehem was never meant to comfort the complacent or to reassure the timid. When the Lord of history, the God of Abraham and Isaac, broke the silence of the centuries and spoke in the darkness of that first Christmas night, he did not present an explanation of the future. He offered no triumphant design for global and personal peace. Instead, he spoke through a vulnerable infant in a manger, who faced a most uncertain future and who lacked the resources that can shield children born in greater security to wealthier parents. God did not enter human history to bring us a set of guarantees about the future. Rather, God entered our history as a gracious presence that can liberate us from the paralysis of the past, but only if we have the confidence necessary to want to be liberated. The past cannot be undone, either in the histories of nations or in the lives of individuals, but the meaning of the past will be defined by our decisions in the present and the way we act and live in the future.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:15 AM
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Tuesday, December 16, 2003
WOODWARD ON ALLEN: Newsweek religion correspondent Kenneth Woodward covers NCR's John Allen. Apparently, the Word from Rome column has 50,000 readers.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:09 PM
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COMPASSION? Much is being made of the comments from Cardinal Renato Martino after the capture of Saddam Hussein: "Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," he told reporters.

Okay, let's make a couple of quick points: 1) it's not clear that Martino was speaking on behalf of "the Vatican." As far as I can tell, Martino was offering his own personal opinion and was not speaking on behalf of the Holy See, which has been fairly restrained in its public comments; 2) I think that there is certainly room for debate on whether it was appropriate to display the videotape of the medical examination.

That said, I find the Cardinal's choice of words stunning. I can't imagine using the word "tragedy" to describe anything connected with the fall of Saddam Hussein. While I recognize that Christians are called to love our enemies, the use of the word "compassion" in a public statement at this time is singularly inappropriate. I almost feel it defames the dead. Hussein is a butcher, a man responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. He is a man who, at this point, shows not the slightest sign of contrition. By all means, demand that he be treated with the same respect due any captured person charged with serious crimes. But the words "tragedy" and "compassion" do not fit this moment.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:01 PM
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AT THE GATES: I am not generally known as a tribune of cultural decline. But the latest Cingular Wireless radio ad had me banging my head on the steering wheel in frustration. A smart-aleck kid is asking Santa what he is going to get for Christmas. "I don't know Johnny," says Santa, "it hasn't been a very good year: teasing your laundering..." Johnny goes on to bribe Santa with a new Cingular Wireless phone. At the end, Santa just laughs and says "Naughty? Nice? Who am I to judge?" Sigh.....

posted by Peter Nixon 10:43 AM
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BEYOND BELIEF: Frederica Matthews Greene reviews Elaine Pagels Beyond Belief and looks at the growing popularity of Gnostic texts from the early history of Christianity. Greene is sensitive to the longing for mystical experience that makes the Gnostic writings attractive to contemporary seekers. But Greene notes that there were good reasons that the early Christians rejected Gnosticism:

The problem wasn't the insistence that we can directly experience God. It was that the Gnostics' schemes of how to do this were so wacky. Preposterous stories about creation, angels, demons, and spiritual hierarchies multiplied like mushrooms. (Even some Christians, like Origen and Clement of Alexandria, dabbled in these fields.) The version attributed to Valentinus, the best-known Gnostic, is typical. Valentinus supposedly taught a hierarchy of spiritual beings called "aeons." One of the lowest aeons, Sophia, fell and gave birth to the Demiurge, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. This evil Demiurge created the visible world, which was a bad thing, because now we pure spirits are all tangled up in fleshy bodies. Christ was an aeon who took possession of the body of the human Jesus, and came to free us from the prison of materiality.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:31 AM
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GETTING AN EDUCATION: High-school students in the Diocese of Erie, PA slept in cardboard boxes in freezing temperatures to raise consciousness about homelessness. I know a few high schools in Northern California that do this, but winter in Erie, PA is quite different from winter out here.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:15 AM
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NOT A GOOD SIGN: "Reflecting the severity of this year's flu epidemic, Catholic Church officials in parts of the San Francisco Bay area have abandoned some of their normal communion procedures, such as sharing a chalice of wine and placing wafers on parishioners' tongues," reports AP.

Personally, I haven't received the Precious Blood since the epidemic started, and I'll probably keep that up for at least another month. Christ is fully present under either species, of course.

On the other hand, the ID guys here in the office tell me that while the flu is certainly more virulent this year, it does not seem--as yet--to be particularly more deadly. Most of the children who have died have had underlying comorbidities that depressed their immune system response.

For those who haven't been immunized, you can still take simple precautions--such as washing your hands regularly--that will cut down the risk of transmission.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:03 AM
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Monday, December 15, 2003
REST IN PEACE: I am saddened to report to you that my godfather Ken passed away this morning, shortly after 7am Eastern Time. He was surrounded by family and friends. Thanks to all of you who prayed for him. Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Requiescant in pace.

From out of the depths I cry to you Lord
O Lord hear my prayer.
O let your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleading.
If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness and for this we revere you.
My soul is waiting on the Lord, I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord, more than the watchman for daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak, and Israel on the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Israel he will redeem from all its inquity.

Psalm 130

posted by Peter Nixon 9:15 AM
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Sunday, December 14, 2003
HIDING IN A HOLE: There is something attractive about the idea of Saddam Hussein wearing prison orange. When you think of the large number of dictators of the last hundred years or so who have escaped any meaningful accountability for their crimes, today's capture has to be counted as a significant victory for humanity.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:23 PM
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Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily
Third Sunday of Advent

Zeph 3:14-18a
Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Phil 4:4-7
Lk 3:10-18

Go ahead and laugh for a moment as I repeat from the second reading, “Have no anxiety at all.” Few people here might have laughed as I repeated that phrase, but numerous Christians shrug off a phrase such as that these days. Numerous Christians could respond with: “Well, that’s easy for Paul to say, but I have gifts to buy – and they all need wrapped. Also, I need to plan for Christmas dinner. Oh, the choices! Should I follow the tips I read about in Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living or Real Simple? Maybe I’ll get my recipes from the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” website. That’ll start a wild conversation at the dinner table, would it not? Have no anxiety at all. Oh, please, Saint Paul! Paul and all those celibates who preach these days are just sticks in the mud. They can live in their own Christmas dream world. The people in the real world have company to prepare for! We need to get everyone coming to our homes in the Christmas spirit!”

Saint Paul beautifully gets us into the Christmas spirit. The true Christmas spirit consists of the peace of God that surpasses understanding. The true Christmas spirit enables us to bask in the awe and wonder that God is here with us in obvious and subtle ways. The true Christmas spirit is the same spirit who bestowed loving covenants upon His chosen people, most importantly, the new and everlasting covenant, Jesus Christ, in whom all people have been called to be united eternally in peace and joy.

Have no anxiety at all; the Lord is near. If we forsake worldly holiday anxiety, then we will discover that the Lord is not only near, but He is with us. If we use this time to stay with God, then, in the words of Saint Paul, we can discern all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise. We can discern the will of Him who is and who is the source of all of these qualities. We can make manifest His will on earth as we pray in the “Our Father”. The gift that comes as a result of this discernment is magnificent: Jesus dwells within all of us. If we seek to welcome Him, then He will welcome us into His peace forever so we may rejoice in the Lord always.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:17 PM
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