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, March 20, 2004

A Prayer for Refugees

Almighty and merciful God,
whose Son became a refugee
and had no place to call his own;

look with mercy on those who today
are fleeing from danger,
homeless and hungry.

Bless those who work to bring them relief;
inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;
and guide the nations of the world towards that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.


An Invitation to Prayer

posted by Peter Nixon 3:55 PM
. . .
Friday, March 19, 2004
PLEASE PRAY: There are seven couples preparing for the Sacrament of Matrimony who will be making a retreat at our parish this weekend. Gina and I will be doing a presentation at the retreat tomorrow. So I would ask you to pray for them and for us! Thanks.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:22 PM
. . .

Jesus Christ my God, I adore you and I thank you for all the graces you have given me this day.

I offer you my sleep and all the moments of this night, and I implore you to keep me safe from sin.

To this end I place myself in your sacred side and under the mantle of our Lady, my Mother.

Let your holy angels surround me and keep me in peace; and let your blessing be upon me. Amen.

--Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

posted by Peter Nixon 5:18 PM
. . .
FAMILY VALUES: The lectionary provides two choices for today’s reading, the first being the traditional story from Matthew of the angel appearing to Joseph which fits well with today’s feast day. But there is second option, the reading from Luke about Jesus remaining in Jerusalem after Passover and his parents having to come look for him. This sets up an interesting tension I want to explore.

The Feast of Saint Joseph is often a time for reflection on the importance of families and there are many fathers, including myself, who see Joseph as a model. But in this story from Luke, the family is already placed in a secondary position. “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business,” says Jesus.

Family is always a relative value in Luke. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple (Lk 14:25).
Raymond Brown has argued that even the veneration given to Mary in Luke’s Gospel flows from her role as disciple, rather than because of her biological relation to Jesus.

The Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas was once asked by the New York Times whether he supported family values. His response was “Hell no, I’m a Christian.” It may sound strange, but there is support in the tradition for Hauerwas’ claim. There are many saints and martyrs who went against the wishes of their families to embrace the Gospel. Jesus’ call to love strangers, to pray for enemies, and to embrace celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom force us to look at the family in new ways.

I know that in my own life, my adult decision to re-embrace the Catholic faith made me something of an anomaly in my family. Of the four of us—all baptized Catholics—I am the only one who practices his faith. This is not to say my family is opposed. But they are somewhat mystified by my decision. “You weren’t like this in college,” said my sister once, which is something of an understatement. There were times when I was not open with them about my return to the Church because I feared rejection which, given what a warm and loving family I came from, was an absurd fear. But it was precisely the passages in the Gospels that stressed the duties of discipleship over filial duties that gave me the courage to be clear with my family about what I believe and why. A small victory, perhaps, but an important one.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:15 AM
. . .

Blessed Joseph, husband of Mary,
be with us this day.
You protected and cherished the Virgin;
loving the child Jesus as your son,
you rescued him from the danger of death.
Defend the Church, the household of God,
purchased by the blood of Christ.

Guardian of the Holy Family,
be with us in our trials.
May your prayers obtain for us
the strength to flee from error
and wrestle with the powers of corruption
so that in life we may grow in holiness
and in death rejoice in the crown of victory. Amen.

Icon by
Fr. John Giuliani

posted by Peter Nixon 6:50 AM
. . .
Thursday, March 18, 2004

Prayer of a Prisoner

Dear Lord, I did wrong - I thought it was right. You forgave me.

I tried again - I made it worse. You forgave me.

I resented your will - I bitterly fought. You still forgave me.

Although others despised me, they can't understand. I live with their hatred but I continue on and I gain strength, because - you forgave me.

Pray for young people in prison. Lord we ask you to help all young people to develop into mature and responsible young adults.

We ask you to comfort parents who are worried about their children passing through this difficult time of their lives.

Pray for the victims of crime and their families.

God of justice and compassion we pray for all who bear the wounds of crime that they may be healed in body, mind and spirit, given freedom from bitterness and the grace to forgive. Pray for all men and women in prison.

Heavenly Father of us all, you alone can truly judge your creation. Help us to pray for all prisoners, no matter what their crimes may be, that they may find your grace, mercy and forgiveness, Amen.

--A prisoner in Holloway Prison, England.

posted by Peter Nixon 5:16 PM
. . .
THE TOUGH PART: Living as I do in the San Francisco Bay area, I often end up in conversations with people who are part of the single largest religious denomination in Northern California: Liberal Agnostics. Now I was an LA myself in my late teens/early 20s, so I can usually find some common ground with these folks. But at some point they usually pose a question that comes down to “isn’t it tough to be liberal and Catholic?

Well maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. And maybe it depends on how you define liberal and conservative, and whether I really fall into either of those two categories. But I have to say that on my top ten list of things that drive me crazy about the Church, it’s alleged “conservatism” isn’t one of them. Obviously, some of the things that led to the clerical sexual abuse scandal are pretty high up there. But even those things are not things I encounter on a daily basis.

So what’s the tough part about being Catholic? People who don’t read their e-mail.

I’m serious. You’re planning a major parish event, you’ve got a team of volunteers working on it, and some of these folks only read their e-mail once a week. So they miss the e-mail where you told them you needed to hear back from them by Wednesday. It makes me want to bang my head against a keyboard in frustration.

Okay, the tongue is sort of poking into my cheek right now. But my experience has been that toughest part about being Catholic is the person sitting next to you on Sunday morning. And the toughest part for them about being Catholic is you.

And it’s not just on these big philosophical issues like whether we should be reading Scot Hahn or Henri Nouwen in the reading group this month or whether we should have more contemporary or more traditional music at the mass.

In fact, there are people in my parish who would probably answer those questions the same way I do who I still have a very difficult time working with. I tend to be highly organized and they want to “leave room for the Holy Spirit.” I suspect some of them see me as a micromanaging control freak, and they probably aren’t completely wrong about that. And you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a parish nearly come to blows over a building program.

The reality is that most of us sitting in the pews—myself included—are a little broken. And we bring that brokenness to the table whenever we try to work together on something. A casual remark that you thought nothing about may unearth someone’s deep trauma. Someone’s style of decisionmaking may remind you of that authoritarian boss who hounded you out of your job six years ago.

It’s easy to see this stuff as ancillary to the Big Issue: following Jesus. But following Jesus isn’t just about getting to a destination. It’s a way of traveling. If our way of working together as a community doesn’t reflect Jesus, what message does that send?

So for me, at least, that’s the hard part. It’s hard to remember that the process is as important as the product and that a process that runs roughshod over people to get the right result isn’t really what Jesus had in mind. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” goes the proverb. I know that I still need a lot of sharpening.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:01 PM
. . .
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Bruderhof sent this quote from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero out as a Daily Dig the other day. I thought you might enjoy reading it:

How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt, and everyone is responsible. We are all sinners, and we have all contributed to this massive crime and violence in our country. Salvation begins with the human person, with human dignity, with saving every person from sin. And in Lent this is God’s call: Be converted!
Bruderhof also has a downloadable "e-book" of some of Romero's writings, The Violence of Love, available free on its site.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:59 AM
. . .

Say 'no' to peace
If what they mean by peace
Is the quiet misery of hunger
The frozen stillness of fear
The silence of broken spirits
The unborn hopes of the oppressed

Tell them that peace
Is the shouting of children at play
The babble of tongues set free
The thunder of dancing feet
And a father's voice singing

Say 'no' to peace
If what they mean by peace
Is a rampart of gleaming missiles
The arming of distant wars
Money at ease in its castle
And grateful poor at the gate

Tell them that peace
Is the hauling down of flags
The forging of guns into ploughs,
The giving of the fields to the landless,
And hunger a fading dream.

--Brian Wren,
Christian Aid

posted by Peter Nixon 6:25 AM
. . .
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

give us courage to face the ways we have hurt or forgotten others;
courage to face the hurt we ourselves have suffered;
courage to face those who have made us suffer.
Let us not make forgiveness cheap;
but give us strength to believe in it and to let our lives be shaken and renewed by it -
by your forgiveness of us
and by your call to us to forgive in the liberty of your Spirit,
the first gift of the resurrection life.

--Archbishop Rowan Williams

posted by Peter Nixon 8:22 PM
. . .
KILL JESUS VOL I? During Lent, I've been avoiding wading into the fray on the issue of the day. But I don't mind posting on The Passion of the Christ, because I think the movie does provide a good opportunity for us to reflect on the meaning of the paschal mystery, even if we come to different conclusions about the merits of Gibson's work.

I came across an essay in
Godspy yesterday by one of the editors that did a much better job than I ever could expressing why I was unable to emotionally connect with Gibson's portrayal of Jesus:

But why? Why does Gibson miss the mark? Why has he not broken our hearts, but simply turned our stomachs? Ironically, it’s precisely because his Jesus is so utterly crushed, so entirely overwhelmed by his torments, as he quivers, writhes, shudders, moans, and rolls back his eyes all the way to Calvary. In short, Gibson causes this man to be so swallowed up by his stripes that the person of Jesus disappears. So rather than causing us to grieve over the tragedy of a God whose heart breaks for and is broken by those whom He loves, the film merely oppresses us with the image of a poor young man who is being slowly reduced to a bloody pulp. Yes, a viewer could see in the suffering of Gibson’s Jesus the tragedy of our rejection of the one who loves us beyond all understanding—but if he does, it is because of what he supplies from his own faith, not because of what he is shown by the filmmaker.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:41 AM
. . .
HAPPY SAINT PATRICK'S DAY: Let us celebrate this day by living our lives the way Patrick did, committed to preaching the Gospel in a land not always receptive to it, and committed to persevering despite persecution and frustration. Saint Patrick, guí orainn

posted by Peter Nixon 4:15 AM
. . .

Come Lord,
do not smile and say
you are already with us.
Millions do not know you,
and to us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point of your presence
if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives,
shatter our complacency.
Make your word our life's purpose.
Take away the quietness
of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus
that other peace is made,
your peace.

--Dom Helder Camara, Brazil

posted by Peter Nixon 4:03 AM
. . .
3:59AM: Ugh. I'm awake because my current dosage of the big purple pill has gradually lost the power to keep my stomach acid at bay. Need to call the doctor tomorrow. So now I'm working on a presentation my wife and I are giving at the Engaged Couples weekend on Saturday. Despite what it may seem, we really don't spend every waking hour at the parish. This is going to be a surgical insertion: parachute in, facilitate two hours of discussion on "Communication," then leave. Of course, we do have a Catholic school auction event that evening...pray for us, brothers and sisters!

posted by Peter Nixon 3:58 AM
. . .
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
ELEGANT? Well the good press just keeps rolling in. The Revealer--a daily review of religion and the press from the Center on Religion and the Media from New York University--has described Sursum Corda as "an elegant selection of ideas, sermons, and prayers that tries to remain above the fray." As I noted in a comment on the Revealer site, I'm not adverse to wading into the fray from time to time, but I've more or less given it up for Lent...:-)

posted by Peter Nixon 4:34 PM
. . .
FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS: I was struck today by the juxtaposition of the OT reading, with its overtones of sacrifice and the Gospel reading, which focused on forgiveness. The Cross of Jesus connects these two concepts in ways that I often struggle with.

Some of my ancestors were slaveowners. They owned farms in Northern Virginia, near Leesburg. Although my grandfather’s family lost most of their wealth in the Civil War, they retained enough political connections to have my grandfather receive an appointment to Annapolis. He, in turn, made quite a fortune as a shipbuilder and a gunpowder manufacturer. Although he lost a lot of that fortune during the Depression, and most of what remained went to the son of his first marriage after his death, my grandmother was still able to send my father to excellent schools. This allowed my father, in turn, to provide our family with a solid, upper-middle class lifestyle, which included some fine schooling for his children. My own family lives reasonably comfortably as a result.

I have often wondered how the descendents of my ancestors’ slaves have fared. It is true that at some point we all bear responsibility for the hand we are dealt. I am clearly not responsible for the crimes of my ancestors. And yet there is no denying that in some small way, I have directly benefited from an injustice, the enslavement of human beings. It seems to me that there is a claim against me, a debt that I owe.

If forgiveness means merely forgetting that debt, then I don’t want that forgiveness. Those who have suffered in slavery—and their descendents who have had to wrestle with the consequences of that experience—deserve better than that. They deserve to have their suffering taken seriously, not cast aside as if it were no account.

But there is no way that I, as an individual living more than a century and a half after these terrible events, can possible hope to restore justice, to wipe away all the tears that have fallen, to bind up all the wounds. Even if I work collectively with others—as I should—to redress some of the harm that has been done, it is beyond my power to restore justice. I have a debt I cannot pay.

Which brings me to the foot of the Cross. What I cannot do, Jesus does. What I cannot pay, Jesus pays. Without this sacrifice, I truly don’t know if I could follow this madman from Nazareth who counsels me to forgive endlessly and who tells me I am forgiven. Without the Cross, that forgiveness seems cheap, a breaking of faith with those who have suffered. With the Cross, we can forgive and be forgiven with a clear conscience and receive the peace that is promised us.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem

posted by Peter Nixon 12:10 PM
. . .
FINDER OF LOST TOYS, SLAYER OF SHARKS: The author of Correction has some stories about trying to explain Jesus to his daughter. Since I have children about the same age, I can relate:

My daughter approached my wife recently and said, "I'm going to tell you a story. It's called 'Jesus and the Fishermen.'"

"Oh, how wonderful!" my wife said. "How does that story go?"

"Well," my daughter began. "Jesus and the fishermen went out on the boat. Then they saw some sharks. Jesus said, 'Don't be afraid.' Then he took out his gun and shot the sharks. The end."
He goes on to note:

I'm certain that whichever well-meaning Sunday School teacher planted the seed of my daughter's rendition of "Jesus and the Fishermen" would blanch to hear my little girl's retelling of it. We tend not to think of Jesus as the kind of person who would pre-emptively blow away sharks with an Uzi. My daughter, of course, knows nothing about what kind of person we think Jesus is supposed to be. In her heart, she knows that if sharks are threatening, Jesus will mow them down. I don't know how she knows this, since my wife and I are both gun-control nuts who don't even use the word "gun" around her. But it is her three-year-old faith, and I'm loathe to mess with it.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:18 AM
. . .

O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life:

Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy.

Grant that all who believe in your son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time.

Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives, and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build, together with all people of good will, the civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life.

--Pope John Paul II

posted by Peter Nixon 8:30 AM
. . .
Monday, March 15, 2004

I pray, Lord, that you enlighten my mind, inflame my will, purify my heart, and sanctify my soul. Amen.

--Pope Clement XI

posted by Peter Nixon 4:52 PM
. . .
MORE ON PRAYER: One of the other challenges I face in prayer is, of course, encouraging my children to pray. My children are very high-energy kids and getting them to sit quietly for prayer is always something of a challenge.

On other hand, sometimes my children come up with spontaneous prayers that just take your breath away. I remember one morning when I was sick and lying in bed, my three-year old daughter came in. I told her that I was sick, and she got a very concerned look on her face, clapped her hands together and said “Dear God, please help Daddy feel better, love Megan.” A couple of weeks ago my six year old son Joseph, while putting some change into the Rice Bowl, said “I pray that no one will be poor again.” So when it comes to prayer, my children are certainly teachers as much as they are learners.

One innovation my wife came up with that I quite like was to ask each child during the dinner grace one thing that they are thankful for. Of course, I’ve lost count of the number of times that Megan has given thanks for the Disney Princesses (whose ranks she fully intends to join one day) and that Joseph has given thanks for dinosaurs. Well why not, I say, since I believe that gratitude for all things in our lives is the wellspring from which prayer flows.

Night prayer is perhaps the most difficult time. The children are tired, but also very hyper. Getting both of them to kneel for more than three seconds at a time has proven quite difficult. Sometimes they’ll spontaneously decide they want to do a decade of the rosary, but they often give up after three or four Hail Marys. I encourage them to finish, but I don’t force them because I don’t think that’s what prayer is about.

One thing I do try to do is end with the Our Father. Sometimes they say it with me, sometimes they don’t. I try to pull them both up on my lap and hold them close while I say it. I’m hoping that in years to come, when they say the prayer on their own, they’ll remember the feeling of being held close by their father, which is, of course, what I hope we all might feel when saying our prayers.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:28 AM
. . .

O Lord, you came to bring peace,
to offer reconciliation, to heal the separation between people,
and to show how it is possible for men and women to overcome their differences
and celebrate their unity.
You revealed your Father as a Father of all people,
— a Father without resentments or desires for revenge,
— a Father who cares for each one of his children

with an infinite love and mercy and
who does not hesitate to invite them into his own home.

But our world today does not look like a world that knows you, Father.
Our nations are torn by chaos, hatred, violence and war.
In many places death rules.

O Lord, do not forget the world into which you came to save your people;
Do not turn your back on your children who desire to live in harmony
but who are constantly entangled
in lust, violence, greed, suspicion, jealousy and
hunger for power.

Bring your peace to this world, a peace we cannot make ourselves.
Awaken the consciousness of all peoples and their leaders;
Raise up those who can speak and act for peace,

and show us new ways in which hatred can be left behind,
wounds can be healed, and unity restored.

O God, come to our assistance. O Lord, make haste to help us.

--Fr. Henri Nouwen

posted by Peter Nixon 7:50 AM
. . .
Sunday, March 14, 2004
SITE FEED: Blogmatrix went belly up, so I've just changed my RSS feed to Atom, which is the Blogger supported feed. Link is on the right hand side at the bottom of the Navigation tools.

Here's a question to readers who use Newsreaders: I opted to only feed the first few sentences from each post so you wouldn't have to wade through everything to decide what to read. But if I get feedback that you'd rather be fed the full text from all posts, I'll change it. So let me know.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:57 PM
. . .

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily
Third Sunday of Lent

Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15
Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11
1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12
Lk 13:1-9

Everything happens for a reason, or so we have been told by many people as well as we have told many people. Would it not be wonderful if we knew the reason why a tragedy occurred soon after it did? Well, some of us believe we know the reasons, and unfortunately for many people, these speculations can cause greater hurt and anxiety. I am never going to forget how many people claimed that what occurred on September 11, 2001 was some type of mysterious response in objection to some aspect or another of our culture. People needed charity and compassion; they didn’t need the words of imitation pundits who spoke before they reflected. If someone is in the mood to try such an act again, then take a flight to Madrid and tell grieving family members that their loved one died as some type of return payment from the divine against a culture of sin.

We do not know fully why some things happen – and we may never attain comprehensive reasons for things while we walk in this world. Speculation over reasons for events and tragedies can cause at times only greater fear and anxiety in both personal and societal spheres. Rather than speculate, we need to turn to God. We need to ask the Father for his providence. We need to ask the Son for his forgiveness. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for his guidance. God might not seem to provide us with instant answers as we would like to have them, but he certainly and constantly gives us what we need.

We need to ask God for these things as soon as possible. We do not know when our last minute on earth will come; therefore, it makes little sense to hold out until the last minute of our lives to ask God to save us. This type of behavior has been a common pattern for many Christians. During the early years of the Church, many people did not ask to be baptized until they were on their deathbed. Also, many Christians did not receive Jesus in the Eucharist except for during the Easter Mass, and that could have been only because they were required to do so at least once per year according to Church law. Even now, some people hold out from receiving forgiveness now for the sake of receiving indulgences in future weeks. I am here neither to abolish nor discard any traditions of the Church as much as I am here to tell you in the spirit of the Gospel reading that we should not put aside until tomorrow what we can easily do today. God offers himself to us today in all three of his persons so we can be greater united to him today. God does not want any of us to wait. I am here to help you today. I will be glad to serve you in the future, but I want to help you today.

Perhaps we will never know while we walk this earth why things happen as they do, but we can learn from Jesus today that the greatest thing that he wants to happen today is for all of the people of God to return to him so that he can cleanse them and nurture them. Perhaps the reason we have these readings today is because God wants us to wait no longer to be united with him.

Fr. Shawn O'Neal is the Pastoral Administrator at Saint Joseph's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Cherokee, NC.

posted by Peter Nixon 7:30 AM
. . .

. . .