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, April 17, 2004
PRAYER: Jennifer at Scandal of Particularity has a good post on prayer featuring a story about Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (who died earlier this year). Worth reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:59 PM
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Friday, April 16, 2004
DEATH: And while we're on the topic of politicians this week, California Senator Diane Feinstein, attending the funeral of a slain San Francisco police officer, called for the killer to receive the death penalty from the pulpit of Saint Mary's Catholic Cathedral. Comments, anyone?

posted by Peter Nixon 7:50 PM
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CARDINAL FOR A NEW EUROPE: If the Cardinals at the next Conclave decide to go for a European, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, would be a leading candidate. The Tablet has an excellent profile of the Cardinal that talks about his theological perspective, the work he did on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and his role in helping the Church in Austria begin healing after its own version of the clerical sexual abuse scandal.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:49 AM
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OUR LAST REAL CHANCE: Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek about how bad things have become in Iraq. He notes that while the United States "has gotten thousands of things right in Iraq," it has also made crucial political mistakes. Zakaria outlines those mistakes--and what we might do now--in detail, and also notes one of the key problems:

The tragedy is that so much of this was avoidable. The Bush administration went into Iraq with a series of prejudices about Iraq, rogue states, nation-building, the Clinton administration, multilateralism and the U.N. It believed Iraq was going to vindicate these ideological positions. As events unfolded the administration proved stubbornly unwilling to look at facts on the ground, new evidence and the need for shifts in its basic approach. It was more important to prove that it was right than to get Iraq right.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:06 AM
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BISHOPS AND LAITY: John Allen is up this week, with lots of interesting stuff as usual. He notes that the U.S. bishops will soon be making their ad limina visits to Rome. The view in Rome is that the clerical sexual abuse crisis was primarily one of episcopal governance, and the Pope is expected to issue something of a "wake up call" in this regard.

Allen also provides highlights (in his own translation) of the new Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, which was issued in February 2004 and is a 300 page job description for a Roman Catholic Bishop. Allen offers an interesting excerpt on the role of the laity:

Laity may be called to collaborate with pastors, according to their conditions, in various ambits: 1) in the exercise of liturgical functions; 2) in participation in the diocesan structures and pastoral activity; 3) in incorporation in the associations erected by ecclesiastical authority; 4) and, singularly, in the work of diocesan and parochial catechesis. All these forms of lay participation are not only possible, but necessary. However, he must avoid that the faithful have a preponderant interest in ecclesiastical services and functions, aside from special vocations, so as not to distance themselves from the secular realm. Professional, social, economic, cultural and political [spheres] are the ambits of their specific responsibility, in which their apostolic action is irreplaceable.”
Hmmm...does Catholic Blogging amount to having a "preponderant interest in ecclesiastical services and functions?" Something to think about....

posted by Peter Nixon 7:57 AM
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Thursday, April 15, 2004
WANT TO GET INSPIRED? Then read this Catholic New World interview with Edward McGovern, who will soon be ordained a Maryknoll Priest. He talks about his work in Cambodia, working with HIV patients.

There's been a lot of talk on the blogs this week about whether someone like John Kerry is a "good Catholic." Well all I can say is that compared with someone like Edward McGovern, I don't feel like a very good Catholic either.

Maybe rather than kvetching about how others offer poor witness, we ought to ask ourselves how we ourselves can offer better witness.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:34 PM
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EXTENDED: There's a fellow here in my office this week doing some building maintenance work whose daughter is serving in Iraq. She's a reservist in an MP unit who is also a medic and who regularly drives convoys. She was due to come home in two weeks, but her tour has been extended. Her name is Samantha, and I'd ask you to keep her, her family, and all the men and women serving in Iraq in your prayers.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:37 AM
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TRUTH TELLERS: The other day I had some less than complementary words about Senator Kerry, which led some of my readers to ask if I’m signing up with Team Bush.


If you want to know why, check out these reports from the
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a DC think tank that works on poverty issues. In the name of “deficit reduction,” the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress are planning to freeze and/or cut a number of programs that serve low income families. There are proposed cuts in housing vouchers, WIC, Head Start, and the State Child Health Insurance Program, just to name a few. And despite the fact that there is so much concern about the deficit, the Administration continues to push tax cuts for people who seem to be doing very well indeed.

Now this being the Internet, I suspect that there will be many of a libertarian temperament who will try to convince me that government is the root of all evil and that all these programs are just a big waste of money, etc. Fine. I’m a veteran of far too many Internet debates on this topic to believe that I’m going to change anyone’s opinion here. Let’s just say that I share Abraham Lincoln’s view that “we must have only the government we need, but we must have all the government we need.”

I’m actually interested in making a broader point: to the extent that my Catholic faith influences how I vote—and it does—it often pulls me in opposite directions. There’s no question that when it comes to issues like abortion, the importance of families and fathers, and the role of religious communities in public life, the Republicans have generally been there in ways the Democrats just haven’t. But it’s equally true that when it comes to issues of economic injustice, civil rights, and some of the evils committed in the name of U.S. foreign policy, the Democrats have generally been there in a way the Republicans haven’t. It’s also true that the commitment of either party to any of these issues has all too often been more a matter of rhetoric than substance.

To some Catholics of a liberal or conservative stripe, or for whom a particular issue takes preeminence, it’s a scandal that Catholics are so evenly divided between the two parties. “If all Catholics could come together to support candidates who opposed abortion/cuts in social programs/gay marriage/the war then we could….” Given the diversity among American Catholics, I’m not sure such a vision is realistic. I’m not even sure it’s desirable. I’m not sure that “sanctification of the world” should be equated with the victory of a political candidate, movement or program.

I think we need Catholics in both of the major parties (and even some of the minor ones). And one of the roles we need to play there is that of truth tellers. Because we’re at the point where the rhetoric, the exaggerations and distortions, and the politics of personal destruction on both sides have gotten out of control. We need to call both parties back to their better selves. And sometimes we’re going to need to get in the faces of our own people and ask some tough questions.

Catholic Democrats need to be willing, for example, to ask how the party’s historic commitment to the excluded and disenfranchised is compatible with its aggressive opposition to any effort to protect human life in the womb. Catholic Republicans need to ask whether continuing to push tax cuts for the well-off while cutting programs for the poor really deserves the name “compassionate conservatism.”

Sometimes we’ll do this from a position of critical loyalty, remaining within a political party that—like us—is imperfect. Sometimes we might find ourselves led to the point where we have to vote against our own party or even switch parties. And, of course, there are the increasing number of people who will choose to affiliate with no party and who feel free to speak truth to all or none as the opportunity arises.

I think there is room for all of these in the Church. Because in the end, our Kingdom is not of this world and our ultimate loyalty is not to a candidate, a party, or even to our country. It is to Jesus Christ, our Messiah and Lord. Our challenge is not to win a political victory, because the most important victory has already been won—2,000 years ago at Calvary. Our political challenge as a Church is to live this truth, radically and fully, revealing a vision of human destiny that is beyond the imagining of our present politics.

“The overriding political task of the Church is to be the community of the cross…We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the Church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay it.”

--Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens

posted by Peter Nixon 8:00 AM
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Wednesday, April 14, 2004
THE "CATHOLIC SCORE": The Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill has a story about a group of Democratic lawmakers who are preparing their own Catholic Voting Scorecard in an attempt to show that Catholic lawmakers vote with the Bishops more often than their Republican counterparts. Not suprisingly, Catholic Democrats score higher on this "Catholic scorecard" than Republicans.

Beyond the partisan silliness (doesn't this remind you of that old Dr. Seuss cartoon about the Beetle Bottle Battle?), there is actually some interesting information farther down in the story about the work of the USCCB committee looking at how to deal with Catholic politicians whose positions do not reflect Catholic teaching:

[USSCB Government Affairs Liasion Frank] Monahan said a task force in the conference has been assembled to develop a policy for dealing with Catholic politicians whose positions do not reflect Catholic teaching.

But in a report published in March, the conference stated that Catholics should not become single-issue voters: “The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine.”

The task force “is looking at everything,” said Monahan, adding, “It’s not formed around Senator Kerry or members of Congress. It’s dealing with Catholic politicians at all levels. Everything is on the table. They haven’t got too far down the line in their work yet. You’re dealing with a lot of bishops and a lot of points of view.”

posted by Peter Nixon 1:04 PM
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800 YEARS: 800 years ago, European Crusaders sacked Constantinople, widening the rift between the Latin Church and the Orthodox Church. Pope John Paul II has apologized on behalf of the Church for the incident and yesterday Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios accepted that apology and forgave the Catholic Church during a liturgy in Instanbul marking the anniversary. Ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and the Orthodox is often a game of inches, and this can be seen as moving the ball downfield a bit. So let's give thanks for that.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:45 PM
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ALL THE RIGHT QUESTIONS: Real Live Preacher finds he is unable to answer a visiting deacon's questions about his church, but wonders whether they are the right ones.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:03 AM
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HARD QUESTIONS: Telford Work asks some hard questions about blogging today:

I have enjoyed doing this, but my experience has raised questions beyond whether my own commitment level is adequate. The immediacy of the medium has considerable costs and dangers as well as benefits. How many of our prayers are answered immediately? Are Jesus' disciples a discussion group? If so, doesn't Jesus rather often cut off their banter because they aren't getting anywhere? Is this tradition training us to be faithful to the apostolic tradition?

Someone claimed a while ago that if Jesus were alive today (and, er, he is) he would have a blog. Nope. I see the Athenian pundits of Acts 17:21 as the true bloggers.
To be honest, I'm not sure I would recommend blogging to someone at this point. I'm in so deep at this point it's hard to get out, but it consumes a dangerous amount of my time. Telford's questions are worth pondering.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:44 AM
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POST YOUR VIEWS: Feministe has an "open thread" on abortion where you are invited to post your answers to five questions. This is not a debate between posters, just a chance for you to speak for yourself. I would ask everyone to be civil, although with my readers that is generally not a problem. Thanks to Lynn for the link.

And will someone please explain to me how the whole "Track Back" thing works? Am I supposed to link to the TrackBack URL or what?

posted by Peter Nixon 9:40 AM
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Tuesday, April 13, 2004
SEEKER FRIENDLY: On my way to my Spanish class tonight, I passed the following sign outside a mainline denomination's campus ministry center.

We are an open, inclusive, tolerant campus ministry center open to people of all religions or no religion. If you are a seeker, this is the place for you.
I suppose they felt they had to one-up the denomination two blocks down the street that advertised itself as "Preaching the Inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Let's just say that churches in Berkeley compete on a different basis than churches in, say,

posted by Peter Nixon 9:12 PM
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STORIES: Doing prayers before bed with a six year old and three year old is always something of a struggle. My kids are pretty wiggly, and have trouble sitting still for the process.

Lately I've tried a new idea. One of the things my kids really enjoy is having me read them stories before bed. So, in addition to the two we do before they brush their teeth, I've agreed to read a story from their children's bible before lights out and we make up a prayer to go with it. Last night was Jesus turning water into wine and we prayed that, like Jesus, when we have the chance to do something nice for someone that we will do it. Nothing profound and the exegesis isn't exactly out of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, but it works.

My kids are fascinated by stories generally, and seem particularly fascinated by stories from the Bible. They ask all kinds of great questions. My son Joseph wants to be Peter right now. Why, you ask? Well, alas, it's not because Peter seems like such a great disciple. It's because he has a sword and gets to cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Last year, if you asked my son what his favorite bible story was, he would tell you "Solomon, because he cuts the baby in half!" When it comes to young boys, blood and guts will get them every time! Megan, of course, is fascinated by Mary. Often when we give her a bath, she puts the towel over her head like a hood and says "I'm Mary! I'm Mary!" and dances down the hall. Sort of a naked, Disney Princess Mary, but there you go.

Stories, particularly the stories we read when we're young, have the power to form us. So I'm glad that the stories from scripture are such a big part of my kids' imaginative world right now.

posted by Peter Nixon 5:25 PM
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WELL DESERVED: One of my favorite columnists, Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Pitts runs in my local paper and I really enjoy his work. He's able to write from a point of view without being preachy and about his family life without being sentimental. At the end of a recent column about winning the award, he had a great paragraph about writers and readers that really spoke to me:

Idealistic young scribes who insist their work is for them alone will disagree, but a writer without readers is like a person shouting in an empty room. And I'm humbled to think how much I owe to all the people who've kept me from shouting into that silence all these years. It is a line that stretches from you who are reading this right now all the way back to a woman in the projects trying to get dinner on, but still finding time to hear stories about a boy who can fly.
Thanks to all the Sursum Corda readers who make this place something more than an empty room.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:11 PM
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RE-PURPOSED: Methodist pastor Jason Byassee asks some tough questions about Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life" in The Christian Century. He has an interesting couple of paragraphs about Warren's views on liturgy:

My final questions concern liturgy. I know, Baptists don't have liturgy. (Saddleback is a Southern Baptist church, though it wears this affiliation lightly.) But Methodists and other churches do. We do not share Warren's exasperation at bringing a nonbeliever to church on one occasion and finding out that it was a communion Sunday. For some churches, communion--with God and one another, instantiated sacramentally--simply is church. Warren warns against churches that "overdo mystical, religious symbols" in their buildings. But what of church traditions for which these are nonnegotiable elements?

Furthermore, it is not obvious to me that nonbelievers are repulsed by what is foreign, odd or "mystical"--not when Hollywood movies gross billions precisely by delivering symbols that defy easy assimilation and require work to understand. I argue this point perhaps less against Warren and more against fellow church members in bodies whose ecclesiologies should drive them to act differently, yet whose lust for numbers and dollars turns them toward mimicking Saddleback (something Warren himself consistently discourages).

posted by Peter Nixon 1:51 PM
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Monday, April 12, 2004
SPRED: In the "good things Catholics do" department, I just wanted to put in a brief plug for SPRED (Special Religious Education), which is a network of services designed to assist persons with developmental disabilities and/or learning problems to become integrated into parish assemblies of worship through the process of education in their faith. Here's a link to the Chicago Diocese SPRED web site. A number of other dioceses, including my own diocese of Oakland, have worked with Chicago to develop their own programs.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:25 PM
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SUDAN Christianity Today has coverage and links of the crisis in the Sudan. Wracked for years by a civil war between the Muslim North and the Christian and animist south, the nation is now facing an intra-Muslim dispute caused by the negotiations to end the North-South conflict.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:49 PM
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EVENLY DIVIDED: A new poll from CARA shows Catholics to be about evenly divided between Kerry (46 percent) and Bush (41 percent). It's unclear whether an option for Nader (or any third-party candidate) was included in the poll.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:39 PM
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THE KERRY PROBLEM: Since I’m a Catholic blogger, I guess I’m supposed to have an opinion about the Kerry mess. So here goes:

First of all, let me say that whether Kerry is a good, bad or indifferent Catholic has absolutely no bearing on whether or not I will vote for him in November. I’d cheerfully vote for an atheist if I thought he would be a good president. In fact, it might be an improvement compared to the dime-store sanctimony one usually hears coming out of the Oval Office from both Democrats and Republicans.

For me, at least, abortion is not the only issue I will consider when making a choice of a candidate. Yes, I’d like to see the Supreme Court get out of the business of legislating on this issue and let the states have a shot at it. That’s the way it works in Europe. But that’s not the only issue I judge candidates for the Supreme Court by and, by extension, what a Presidential candidate may or may not do with the Court is only one factor among many that go into my decision-making process.

I would also note that the Democratic nominee doesn’t stand in a vacuum. One has to compare him to the gentleman currently holding the office of President. It seems to me that one could, if one were so inclined, conclude that the current occupant has done such a poor job that he must be removed, even if the man most likely to replace him suffers from numerous flaws. That is generally the kind of choice that our system leaves us with. But there are worse things in the world than a stable political system that generally produces flawed leaders. Look at Iraq, for example.

But there is this second issue of what the Church, internally, should do when it has a high-profile member who is “way off the reservation,” so to speak. And this really is a difficult issue.

I wrote a piece for
U.S. Catholic last July that tried to wrestle with this problem. It’s not just that the Bishops or the Vatican are getting tougher, although they clearly are. It’s also that pro-choice Catholic candidates themselves are becoming more extreme in their stands. Someone like Mario Cuomo clearly felt a sense of accountability to the Catholic Church’s historic witness against abortion, even if he felt that this wasn’t a reasonable basis for public policy. But increasingly, pro-choice Catholic politicians don’t even seem to be trying anymore.

There are some exceptions to this. I was interested to see, for example, former PA Governor Tom Ridge’s reaction when some of the Pennsylvania bishops started preventing pro-choice politicians from speaking on Church property. One of the things he said was “I’m the one who has created the problem, because I’ve moved away from my Church on this issue.” To me, that’s a very different response than the one CA Governor Gray Davis once gave: “Who is the bishop to tell Catholics how to practice their faith?” The latter response, even if it is not stated quite so boldly, undermines the teaching authority of the Bishops and the Catholic understanding of the Church. It cannot go unchallenged.

Statements like Ridge’s, alas, are increasingly the exception. Many pro-choice politicians—Catholic or otherwise-- seem to be as beholden to NARAL as the GOP is to the NRA. In my view, the comparison is quite apt, because NARAL opposes any legislation that would recognize the value of life in the womb, even if does not directly affect access to abortion. Pro-choice pundits like Bill Saletan at Slate have noted the increasing extremism of NARAL and its allies in this regard.

Politicians like Kerry simply cannot expect the Bishops to sit idly by and do nothing in this situation. I have often said (and there are many who disagree with me) that people committed to the proposition that abortion is the taking of human life can differ about the appropriate policy strategies for dealing with it. But indifference is not an option, and indifference—not to mention active support—is what the Bishops are increasingly faced with.

I’m not really competent to speak on the issue of whether Kerry should be denied communion. Given what we believe as Catholics about the Eucharist, I think that denial of communion would be a very, very big deal. I would note that both Kerry’s own bishop, Bishop O’Malley, and Francis Cardinal George have been reluctant to pull the trigger on this one. The Bishops have to find a way to be firm in their teaching without giving the impression that they are taking sides in an election. That’s not their role, and most of them understand that.

It seems to me that one thing they can say about Senator Kerry, though, is that he’s hypocrite. He says that he is “personally opposed” to abortion, but there is nothing in his record to suggest that he has even said anything negative about abortion, let alone done anything. Even Mario Cuomo was willing to say publicly that abortion was a “tragedy” and that “1.5 million abortions a year are too many.” Will there every be a Sister Souljah moment when Kerry looks his pro-choice supporters in the eye and says “you’ve gone too far.” Don’t bet on it.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:36 AM
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ABOVE THE FRAY? Well Lent is over, which means I can break my self-imposed ban on commenting on current events. It was very hard to stick to at times, but on the whole I think it was good for me. The focus on inner work paid significant dividents.

But I was a wee bit concerned when
The Revealer described Sursum Corda as "an elegant selection of ideas, sermons, and prayers that tries to remain above the fray." Now who can argue with being "elegant?" And I'll admit that I have little stomach for the kind of polemical assaults that seem to be the currency of exchange in certain parts of the Internet.

But I certainly haven't been shy about offering viewpoints on current events, hence this blog's subtitle: "Topical musings from a Catholic perspective." What I have tried to do is be reasonably civil and avoid characterizing those with different views as the spawn of Satan. If that makes me "above the fray" so be it. I guess I have the hope that "the fray" can be something more than a mosh pit.

You'll be hearing from me soon...

posted by Peter Nixon 6:17 AM
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Sunday, April 11, 2004
STILL TRYING TO RISE: Well, I missed it all, the whole dang Triduum. I was hoping I'd feel better this morning, but no dice. Gina went to the Vigil Mass last night and saw our pastor, who sardonically remarked that maybe God was trying to send me a message. He's a little worried that I don't seem to get enough sleep and he's right, of course.

So as Gina and the kids headed off to the big family Easter shindig, I was all set to feel sorry for myself. But then an e-mail from a friend arrived, with something written by Michael Garvey that cheered me up:

God does the choosing and you find out about the rest gradually from your folks: How you have landed in a turbulent and global household with the galaxy's most eccentric rules; that the lights are never to be put out and the stranger never to be turned away; that the meals are to be served whenever there is hunger; that the groceries must be generously depleted and generously replenished with everything everyone has; that those who fret and grouse and cheat and lie and steal and kill must be relentlessly sought out and brought back to life; that those who break the rules and those who abandon the house must be pursued to the remotest frontiers of their souls and forgiven; that those who pass judgment on the violators of house rules, like those who take their author for granted, are doomed. And that those who inhabit the household must always remember that what is outside is ending.
Amen, bro. Happy Easter everyone!

posted by Peter Nixon 12:30 PM
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