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

Friday, April 23, 2004
PRAY FOR THOSE WHO HAVE TO LISTEN TO ME: We're a little short of musicians for one element of this weekend's Cursillo, so yours truly is dusting off his guitar and getting up at a ridiculously early hour on Sunday morning. Pray for the poor bastards who have to listen to me....

posted by Peter Nixon 10:46 PM
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NO, THAT'S NOT QUITE RIGHT: My local CBS radio station got two major things wrong in its story about the new liturgical document, which focused entirely on Cardinal Arinze's off-the-cuff comment that Catholic politicians who are pro-choice should be denied communion. First, the reporter called Arinze's comment a "Vatican directive," which it most definitely was not. They then compounded the error by saying that "the decision about whether to obey the directive is up to the local bishop," making it sound like the bishop would be disobeying the Vatican if they didn't do what Arinze suggested, even though Arinze specifically and clearly stated that it was up to the local ordinary to make the call. The image conveyed was of renegade bishops defying the Pope, which is not what this is about at all. Couldn't they have called at least one competent theologian before going with this story? Sheesh...

On the other hand, a reader sends in these two possible headlines about today's story for your reading pleasure:

Boston Globe: Vatican Paper Tigers Oppress Lay Faithful Prophets

The Wanderer: Goofball Liberals Continue to Allow Girls to Defile Altar

posted by Peter Nixon 10:42 PM
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CULTURE WARS: HerbEly has some interesting comments on the culture wars.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:03 PM
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MAKE NO SMALL PLANS: Much worth reading in today's The Word From Rome column by John Allen. Allen provides some brief analysis of the liturgical document Redemptionis sacramentum, which was released earlier today. But the part of the column I liked best was his take on biblical scholar and Passionist Father Donald Senior's Raymond Brown lecture:

As an educator, Senior said he is conscious of the large numbers of young men and women who are seeking something vast, something transcendent, to which to commit themselves. A Chicagoan, Senior quoted the famous advice of architect Daniel Burnham to Chicago’s city planners a century ago: “Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

In this context, Senior suggested the recovery of the deep sense of mission implied in the New Testament, and especially the life of Christ. This is more than the mission ad gentes, meaning the conversion of non-Christian peoples, though this remains valid. “Mission” in the Biblical sense means nothing less than the salvation and reconciliation of humanity.

“Its spirit is not imperialistic or dominating,” Senior said. “Even as the gospel is proclaimed with confidence and with gratitude for its proven beauty, evangelization is done in a spirit of respect for others and their sacred traditions and the integrity of their cultures.”

Senior characterized Jesus’ sense of mission in terms of “reaching out and drawing in,” which constituted one fluid movement analogous to breathing. Even though Christ did not pursue a mission to the gentiles, since his direct concern was for the lost sheep of the House of Israel, his outreach shattered religious and cultural boundaries. Jesus was, in the words of Matthew 11:18, “a lover of tax collectors and those outside the law.” Hence it was natural for Paul and the other leaders of the early church to extend this saving mission to non-Jews.

Having reached out, Christ then gathered in — drawing people into a loving community, both a sign and an anticipation of communion with God. That, Senior suggested, is the “inner meaning” of the numerous meals that punctuate the New Testament — “meals with Levi and his friends, meals with Simon the Pharisee, meals with crowds on the hillsides, meals with disciples, the ideal meals described in his parables.” (Senior laughingly quoted another New Testament expert to the effect that “you can eat your way through the gospels.”)

“The enterprise to which we are called,” Senior said, “is far more fundamental than any of our concerns and far more crucial than we can imagine.”

posted by Peter Nixon 1:45 PM
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IT'S STARTING: Yesterday my doctor called to say that my abdominal ultrasound had revealed a small gallstone in my gall bladder, so he wants to run an additional test to see if it's impeding the function of the gall bladder. Last night, one of my poker buddies couldn't make it because he badly pinched a nerve in his back and would take awhile to recover.

Message: we ain't as young as we used to be...

posted by Peter Nixon 11:22 AM
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REDEMPTIONIS SACRAMENTUM: here is the new Vatican document on the liturgy and here is a CNS news story about it. I have no comments at this time. Maybe next week

posted by Peter Nixon 11:20 AM
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HOW I GOT THIS WAY: My posts on the whole Kerry contretemps has generated a lot of mail and comments. Some readers think I’m being too hard on Kerry while others don’t think I’m being hard enough. It reminds me of an e-mail I got from a frustrated reader awhile back who said: “You never come to a conclusion. You just muse.” To those who believe the only thing in the middle of the road is “a yellow stripe and a dead armadillo,” I understand why my difficulty in committing completely to one point of view or another in disputed social and political questions is frustrating. So I thought I might tell you a story about how I got this way and maybe it will help you understand.

When I was in college, I was a radical leftist. I was really hardcore. I was involved in everything: anti-apartheid, Central America, abortion rights, support of obscure armed liberation struggles no one had ever heard of, etc. I was an angry young man and often the people I was most angry at were the folks in the middle of the road, the half-convinced, the sympathetic who couldn’t go all the way. This is an old theme in leftist politics, of course. The refusal of the German Communists to work with the Social Democrats (who they called “social fascists”) was one of the things that helped bring Hitler to power.

Now one of the real temptations when you are “in the struggle” as we used to say is to take a very casual and somewhat instrumental attitude toward the truth. After all, what’s a few fudged facts when you are struggling to prevent death squads from massacring Salvadoran peasants? It’s not so much that you explicitly lie (although the line becomes very blurry sometimes), but rather that you stop critically evaluating sources that agree with your point of view. If it sounds good and it supports your cause, you use it. You stop asking the question “is this true” and ask instead “will this help?” And of course, when you encounter material that is not helpful, you subject it to a degree of critical scrutiny that you never apply to the sources that support your point of view.

Now after I graduated, my politics gradually became more moderate. But I was still involved in political work of one form or another, and I found that the same rules applied: use the “good stuff,” discredit the “bad stuff.” But there was a voice inside of me—a voice that gradually became louder and louder—that kept asking the question “but is it true?” “Is what you are saying, writing, or putting on that picket sign the truth or something else?” I think there is probably a relationship between this voice and my “re-version,” but I’ll leave that for another time.

At some point, I made a decision that I was going to stop letting my worldview drive my assessment of the facts. I wanted to begin with the question “is this true?” And if it was true, what were its implications for my worldview? I also resolved that I was going to apply the same standard of evaluation to evidence regardless of what it said and where it came from. I’m not perfect at this—I’m still a sinner after all—but it seems to be a worthy goal to strive for.

I find sometimes that there are people who have gone through a similar experience that I have, but they have responded in a different way. They get disgusted with the Left, so they switch sides. But they don’t really change they way they think. They go from treating everything published in The Nation as Gospel to seeing the National Review as the font of all wisdom. And of course there are people who make a similar move from Right to Left. This is certainly change, but I would be hard pressed to call it growth. Because the reality is that the tendency to sacrifice truth in the interests of the “the cause” is a problem that crosses ideological boundaries. And perhaps it is most manifest in the marketing and advertising for products that surrounds us every day.

The problem that my letter writer noted is a real one, though. At some point you have to make a decision and take action. I find it’s sometimes harder to do that. With the recent grocery workers strike, for example, I felt that both sides had some good arguments and I was often uncomfortable with some of the union’s rhetoric that ascribed motivations to management that I didn’t think were true. But in the end, I felt that management’s proposal was unreasonably hard-line so I ended up supporting the strike. Longtime readers will remember that I went through a similar period of intellectual struggle about the war in Iraq.

I’m not trying to claim that I’m particularly virtuous here. I still see in myself a tendency to exaggerate in order to tell a good story (maybe it’s an Irish thing). It’s something I struggle with. But it seems to me a battle worth fighting, particularly when we find ourselves involved in a struggle for something that seems very important to us. The prophet Isaiah tried to remind Judah that if God’s people ensure their political survival at the cost of their communal identity, then the price is too high. Better to be conquered, to go into exile, than to betray the covenant with the Lord. It’s good advice.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:59 AM
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Thursday, April 22, 2004
TERROR, FEAR AND THE ARMOR OF PRAYER: Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhoff Community recently wrote an essay by this name. While I can't completely agree with every line in the essay (my analysis of Spain's withdrawl from Iraq is somewhat different), these paragraphs struck me:

Along with love, we have forgotten another biblical tactic: prayer. The early Christian Tertullian calls it the “fortress of faith” and says it is a “shield and weapon against any foe.” Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks of it too, when he admonishes his fellow believers to put on the “whole armor of God” and thereby enlist his aid.

As someone who firmly believes that all war and all killing is wrong, I should say here that I cannot accept the simplistic idea that God is on the American side of the current struggle to control Iraq. I was brought up with the conviction that peace is the only answer to violence; that hatred is best countered and overcome by love. To quote Käthe Kollwitz, “Each armed conflict carries within it the seeds of the next”– and this has certainly been true of every war in my lifetime.

At the same time, I cannot simply stand on the sidelines and say that I am “against war.” The world is mired in a conflict of massive proportions. It stands at a momentous juncture. Each of us needs to consider his task—and to find it out, doesn’t each of us need to pray like never before?

Henri Nouwen says that when we pray, we “put our entire life in the balance.” And when I think of the countless soldiers (and civilians) whose lives are currently on the line throughout the Middle East, it seems the least I can do is pray that God is with them.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:10 PM
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NEGROPONTE: Interesting discussion of John Negroponte over at Open Book. With regard to some of the comments, I'll just say you don't see too many defenders of Augusto Pinochet and Francisco Franco these days.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:30 PM
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A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP? A couple weeks back, Michael Spencer("The Internet Monk") posted an essay on "Why I Hate Theology." His friend, Jim Nicholson, now presents the other side of the story with an essay "Why I Love Theology." Both are worth reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:18 PM
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L’AFFAIRE EKEH: Amy Welborn and Todd Flowerday (hardlink not working, scroll down) both have comments up about Ono Ekeh’s article in the National Catholic Reporter. Ekeh was fired from his job at the USCCB after Deal Hudson and others raised concerns about Ekeh’s public support for John Kerry.

All I have to say on the subject of Ono’s firing is that it continues to highlight the speed at which lay employees of the Church who screw up are disciplined as opposed to….well, perhaps I better not go there.

Since I don’t share the hostility to political liberalism and the Democratic Party evidenced by most other Catholic bloggers, I thought I would offer my own thoughts on Ekeh’s essay. I find myself in general agreement with his position that abortion is not the only life issue, and that life issues are not the only issues that Catholic must consider when making choices among candidates and political parties.

On the subject of abortion itself, Ekeh draws a contrast between what he calls a “supply side” and “demand side” approach to reducing abortions. In his view, a supply side approach is about “criminalizing abortion providers” while a demand-side approach “seeks to address the social issues” that lead women to seek abortions.

Amy raises a very legitimate question of why these strategies need to be mutually exclusive. In my parish, for example, the couple that has led the pro-life work for years support legal restrictions on abortion, but spend the bulk of their time supporting the work of a local pregnancy center and Project Gabriel. They, at least, seem to have no problem walking and chewing gum at the same time.

For myself, I have said on multiple occasions that I do not support a return to the pre-Roe abortion laws. Whatever I may think about “protection of the law” in the abstract, I think a blanket prohibition on first-trimester abortions would lead to civil disobedience on a scale that would make a mockery of our system of law enforcement.

But that does not mean that the law or public policy can do nothing. Indeed, what is striking about abortion law in the United States—as compared to many European countries—is how unbalanced it is and how the tragic conflict between the interests of the mother and the interests of her unborn child has been resolved almost completely in the favor of the former. We can, and should, do better than this.

I’ve offered the following thought experiment before: imagine that there was a mysterious disease that caused more than one million women a year—most of them low-income and many of them women of color—to spontaneously miscarry halfway through their first trimester. Would we not see this as a national tragedy worthy of public attention? Would we not expect the Democratic Party, the historic defender of the health and welfare of working class people, to offer some solutions?

Where I must dramatically part company with Ekeh is his implication that someone like John Kerry wants “to change the culture, not just a law” with regard to abortion. I see no sign—absolutely none—that John Kerry or most Democrats with national stature have the slightest interest in this. There is nothing that John Kerry has done or said that suggests that there is even an ounce of daylight between him and the National Abortion Rights Action League. He fails even the minimum tests for sincerity on this issue.

The Catholic historian Eugene McCarraher recently wrote in The New Pantagruel about the problem of “embedded” Catholic intellectuals who have become apologists for the Bush Administration’s imperial pretensions and libertarian economics. But the problem McCarraher describes is not unique to Catholics with Republican leanings. There is a real need for Catholics in both parties to be exceptionally clear-eyed about the limitations of their own parties and candidates with respect to the demands of the Gospel. We need to be able to speak the truth to our own people, despite the personal and political risks that might entail.

I agree with Ekeh that one can be a committed Catholic and a committed Democrat. I even believe that one can be a committed Catholic and support John Kerry for President, if on no other grounds than that the incumbent has done such a poor job that he should not continue in office. There are certainly other things in John Kerry’s record to suggest that he has been, at times, an exceptional leader. But don’t try to convince me that John Kerry cares deeply about reducing abortions, because I see no evidence that it’s true.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:20 AM
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Wednesday, April 21, 2004
LATE ADOPTER: Other bloggers who see Sursum Corda showing up less often in your Site Meter should not despair. Lately I've started using a web-based newsreader service called Bloglines . It allows me to check one site and see if any of the blogs I read (or even publications like Slate) have been updated, which means I don't have to click on every single blog and wait for it to load only to find out there's nothing new. This is an important consideration since I don't have the highest speed Internet connection. Of course, it assumes an RSS or Atom feed, which not all bloggers have.

Lately I've been wondering if my template is too dull. But with the advent of RSS readers, I'm wondering whether there is much point in changing it.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:06 PM
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WRITING A DIFFERENT ENDING: The other day my son and I got into a conversation about Judas. He asked me what happened to Judas after he betrayed Jesus (his children's Bible is silent on this point). I went ahead and told him that Judas had killed himself. "Why?" he asked. "Well," I said, "Judas realized he had done something very bad, but he didn't think Jesus would ever forgive him." I explained that Peter had betrayed Jesus too, in a different way, but that Peter ultimately trusted in Jesus' forgiveness. A fairly heady conversation for a six year old.

Well tonight before bed, Joseph comes to me and says "Daddy, I want to be Judas."

"You want to be Judas?" I responded. "Why? Judas did a very bad thing."

"I know," said Joseph. "But I still want to be Judas. But this time I will ask Jesus for forgiveness and not hang myself."

Joseph also prayed tonight that God would give him "a wise heart." I think his prayer has already been answered.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:00 PM
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THE MASAI CREED: My wife sent me this version of the Creed developed by Catholic missionaries working with the Masai Tribe in African in 1960. I have no background on this and can't speak to the issue of why this version as opposed to the traditional one:

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the Bible, that he would save the world and all nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He was buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from that grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love, and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.
I have to say I like that part about the hyenas not touching him.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:00 PM
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CROSSING THE BORDER: Catholic News Service tells the story of a Catholic migrant shelter in Tijuana called Casa del Migrante. The shelter, run by Scalabrinian missionaries, provides hot meals, showers and a place to sleep for about 80 migrants each night. Doctors come to the shelter twice a week, usually to treat blistered feet or wounds from a beating. Father Kendzierski, the director, and another priest offer spiritual guidance to the migrants, who are overwhelmingly Catholic.

This story raises some hard questions about our loyalties. I suspect there are many who believe that Father Kendzierski is aiding and abetting criminal activity, since most of these migrants are trying to cross the border into the United States. But where do our ultimate loyalties lie? As Christians, is our task to defend the borders of the United States of America? Or are we called first to minister to fellow Christians who are suffering?

And having thrown that out there, let me make it even more complicated. What about those inside in the United States in low-wage jobs who, in some sense, are in competition with new migrants for jobs? Can we ignore the labor-market realities of the situation? Do we, as Christians, have obligations to them as well?

Tough stuff, this following Jesus Christ...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:55 AM
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Tuesday, April 20, 2004
WOMEN'S LIVES: There has been a fair amount of coverage and commentary about the upcoming March for Women's Lives, a pro-choice demonstration being held in Washington, DC this weekend.

Without getting into a shouting match, I would at least suggest that women are hardly of one mind on the subject of abortion. Silent No More, for example, will be having a silent counter-demonstration during the march. Feminists for Life will, not surprisingly, not be participating in the march. And one can always read the blog After Abortion to listen to the experience of women who have had abortions but do not think others should have to undergo that experience.

One can, of course, agree or disagree with the positions of any or all of these organizations. There are millions upon millions of Americans--women and men--who do not find that the organized pro-choice or pro-life movements speak to their deep ambivalence about abortion. I think there's a real need for their voices to be heard too.

posted by Peter Nixon 5:26 PM
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PRAYERS: My friend "Mike" who has renal cancer went under the knife today. Please keep him in your prayers for a full and complete recovery.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:45 PM
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WHERE ARE THE DOUGHNUTS? "Saint Blog's Parish Hall" offers a forum to discuss any and all things Catholic.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:40 PM
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CALL TO RENEWAL: Call to Renewal, an interdenominational anti-poverty campaign (Jim Wallis of the Sojourners Community is its most well-known spokesperson), is having a conference in Washington, DC May 23-25. Click here for more info. And while we're on the subject of poverty, you can click here to find out more about the work of the USCCB's Campaign for Human Development.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:48 AM
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RECORDAMOS: President Bush has appointed John Negroponte, his UN Ambassador, to be his ambassador to Iraq after the transfer of power.

Negroponte has, one might say, something of a past. He was ambassador to Honduras during the Reagan Administration, where he played a key role in the prosecution of the contra war in Nicaragua. As part of that work, he helped airbrush Honduras' atrocious record on human rights. See this brief from Maryknoll for more information. Some of us have long memories, Ambassador Negroponte...

posted by Peter Nixon 10:04 AM
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THINK EDUCATION IS EXPENSIVE? TRY IGNORANCE. John Cavadini, chair of the theology department at Notre Dame, writes in Commonweal about the religious illiteracy of "so many otherwise well-educated young Catholics."

Cavadini calls for a "renewed pedagogy of the basics," by which he does not mean a return to the days of the Baltimore Catechism. By "basics" he means the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith as summarized in the Creed and the catechism. By renewed, he means that the faithful will not only learn these doctrines, but understand why they are important. He concludes with a warning about the stakes:

We are at a crucial turning point. In thirty years we may find, as Hesburgh warned me, that we have “nothing to build on”—that we can no longer explain why we resist destroying the environment, why we should oppose abortion and capital punishment, why we should defend the family or workers’ rights, why we believe that evil will not triumph in the end, why the good is worth pursuing no matter what the cost, or why we find the courage to love in the practice of the sacraments. There will always be saints who cannot explain any of these things, but even saints depend for their ideals on an articulate, intellectual Catholicism that can nurture a culture that will go on generating ideals of heroic virtue. Without prejudice to any other area of catechesis—in fact, to enhance them all—let us return in a renewed way to a pedagogy of the basic doctrines of the faith. Those very doctrines will stretch our horizon for inquiry and action to a consummation as unbounded as the mystery they represent.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:42 AM
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Monday, April 19, 2004
BLOOD POURED OUT: There have been four funerals in the Bay Area in the last week for soldiers killed during the recent spike of fighting in Iraq: Marine Lance Corporal Kyle Crowley, Marine Lance Corporal Travis Layfield, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, and Army Major Mark Taylor, MD. The funerals, coupled with the announcement of an extended deployment of the Army Reserve’s 341st Military Police Company, have brought the reality of this war home to people in this area. Those inclined to look askance at the “Left Coast” might note that California has the largest number of military deaths in Iraq of any state in the union.

Although it’s odd to feel pride for people you don’t know, I do feel proud of these young men who sacrificed themselves for a people they did not know. If any good at all comes out of this war, it will be because of the men and women who poured out their own blood on behalf of others. I hope that something good does result, so that the families of those who died need not fear that their loved ones died for no purpose.

But I remain angry about this war. I feel angry because I believe that from the very beginning our leaders misled us with exaggerations and distortions about the threat that Iraq posed. I feel that we were misled about the reasons for the war, about how long it would take, and about the cost—both in money and in lives. I don’t believe the Administration has ever come clean about these distortions, about the exaggerated intelligence of WMDs, about the specious “links” between Hussein and Al-Queda, and about the idea that we would be welcomed as liberators.

I did not support this war. I do not believe that the United States has the unilateral right to determine which regimes (e.g. Iraq) are so dangerous they need changing and which regimes (e.g. Sudan) are apparently not yet sufficiently evil to require changing. I had to think hard about this position a number of times, both after reading Ken Pollack’s excellent book The Threatening Storm, and after listening to Colin Powell’s presentation of the (now largely discredited) evidence of Iraqi WMDs to the United Nations. But in the end, I did not feel the justifications for war met the criteria for a “just war” that are part of the Catholic tradition.

At the same time, I do not believe that the United States can simply pull out of Iraq at this point. Whatever one feels about how we got in, we are there now and we are the only source of political and social order that Iraq has right now. We need to stay and clean up the mess that is at least partly (but not completely) of our own making.

But my hands almost shake as I write those words, because I know that others have uttered them before, sometimes with disastrous consequences. How many more must die or be wounded—American, Iraqi, British, Polish, Italian, and others—before peace comes to this troubled land? And what if it never comes? How long are we willing to stick it out? As one wise military planner once said, “hope is not a plan.”

posted by Peter Nixon 1:31 PM
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FAITH, TERROR AND MARTYRDOM: Godspy has an essay about the Trappist monks of Tibhirine, Algeria who were killed in 1994 by member of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), who slit their throats. What is remarkable (or perhaps not so remarkable) about these men were their courage, their love of the Algerian people, and their commitment to loving and praying for men who they knew might well come to kill them one day.

In December 1993, several weeks before the monks were killed, Dom Christian de Cherge, the Abbot, wrote a letter that served as his final testament. I'll except the opening and closing below, but you should really read it in its entirety:

If it should happen one day - and it could be today - that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value...

...And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD-BLESS" for you, too, because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:00 AM
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SODAKMONK: Benedictine priest Fr. Matthew Kowalski finally breaks down and gets into the blogging thing. You, too, will eventually become a blogger. Resistance is futile...

posted by Peter Nixon 8:20 AM
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SCENES FROM A COUNTY JAIL: Not mine this time! Saturday, I was at a formation meeting for Kairos, which is an interdenominational ministry that works to create Christian communities inside prisons. It's very similar to Cursillo and other three-day renewal movements (Tres Dias, Walk to Emmaus, etc.). We're planning a retreat for Memorial Day weekend. I met a man there, a Catholic deacon, who volunteers in a county jail in the county next to ours and he told me a great story.

In this jail, there was a man I'll call "Big Red." Big Red had been in and out of this jail for years and had a serious addiction. But he was also a Christian and he knew a lot about his faith. Well, one time after he was released from a stretch he overdosed and died.

Well the next Sunday this Deacon went out to the jail and during the service, the men began to eulogize Big Red. One man after another spoke of things that Red had said or done that had made jail life more bearable for them. It was clear that despite his past and present struggles, he had had a profound influence on the men around him in this environment.

All of which goes to show that no matter who you are, where you are, or what you've done, you have the ability to bring Christ into people's lives.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:16 AM
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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily
Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5:12-16
Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Rv 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
Jn 20:19-31

In the Book of Revelation, we have heard Jesus described in a manner meant to strike awe within us. We do not encounter a weak image of Jesus here; we see an almighty, powerful Jesus – far from cute and cuddly. This might is magnified even more if I describe him as He is presented within the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth verses of the first chapter, not provided within the Lectionary reading: “The hair on his head was like snow-white wool, and his eyes like flaming fire, his feet like bronze from the furnace, and his voice like the roaring of the waves. In his right hand were seven stars, from his mouth came a sword sharpened at both its edges, and his face was like the sun when it shines at full strength.”

If I caught sight of those images, I would probably fall down at his feet as though dead, too. I would fear that the blade of the sword has my name written all over it. I would fear that the mighty feet were going to step on me as if I were a tiny insect. I would fear that the mighty voice was going to speak words unto me that I would not want to hear – as if this Jesus came to cast me away rather than draw me closer unto Himself. Yet this is the same Jesus who describes Himself within the Gospel of Matthew as being gentle and humble of heart. This is the same Jesus who calls himself the Good Shepherd within the Gospel of John – the shepherd of whom the sheep follow because they recognize His voice as He calls them by name.

Can it be possible that the roaring of the waves comes from the same mouth that speaks words of comfort to me? I know the answer is “yes”, but it would not surprise me that people are accustomed to seeing Jesus in only one way, or, even worse, that Jesus cannot exist beyond their ideas and impressions. Such people make for terrible disciples. Jesus should never be held captive according to the limits of finite human reason and imagination. Jesus reveals His power to us, but we do not reveal to Jesus how He can be and how He can behave. When we do that, we make Jesus become our disciple. It simply doesn’t work that way.

I present these images for more than one type of people. Some people want to force Jesus to play a role that fits their whim. They like the fact that Jesus calls for forgiveness and unity, but they do not wish to recognize why Jesus called them. It is as if the words of Jesus when he spoke that sick people needed a doctor have been replaced with the concept that good-enough people living adequate lives simply need affirmation.

At the same time, some people find it difficult to believe that Jesus calls out to sheep other than the ones whose company they prefer to keep. If all decisions were up to these people, then the workers hired near the end of the day as presented within the Gospel of Luke would receive only a small percentage of what was paid to the workers hired at the beginning of the day – with the first chosen workers being able to hurl an insult or two such as “You should be so thankful!” These people find it difficult to believe that the Lord offers compassion and an invitation to conversion to people not included on their short lists.

These images of Jesus are far from comprehensive, of course. This supposed lack of comprehension can confuse disciples who want to know the infinite God in a concise manner. As confusing as Jesus may seem to us, we can rest assured in the trust that Jesus wants to reveal Himself to us constantly in ways that will edify us, cause us either to rejoice or to repent, and perhaps cause us to be so shaken for whatever reason that we fall at his feet as though dead. If such a thing happens to us, then we must trust that Jesus will touch us with his right hand and tell us not to be afraid. Jesus wants to reveal of himself as many images as he can reveal to us during our earthly lives so that we can grow in desire to see him as he is in the world to come – in the world that he has called us to be part of. He wants us to reveal his many images, too, so that we bring all people to him in order for all people to look upon him in awe, wonder, love, and security forever and ever.

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 2:03 PM
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