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Sursum Corda

Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Updated: 2014-05-21T05:52:40.937-07:00



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RETURN FROM EXILE: Or perhaps I should title this "falling off the wagon?" Yes, the rumors you have heard are true. I'm returning to blogging on a limited basis. Starting today, I'll be blogging over at the new Commonweal magazine group blog, known as DotCommonweal. My own posting activity will probably be a little more sporadic (that is, from my perspective, the advantage of a group blog). Also, I expect DC to be a little more on the practical side, so I may post more spiritual pieces here at SC from time to time. But I wouldn't advise checking every day. Use an aggregator or newsfeed like Bloglines, which will alert you when a new post is up.

Also, haven't figured out whether or not to restore comments over here. Not expecting to need them and you have to monitor them for spam. If posting activity back here becomes frequent enough, I'll restore.

Until then, see you at DotCommonweal!


HE'S NOT QUITE DEAD YET: Stayed tuned for an important announcement regarding future blogging by the proprietor...


OKAY, OKAY, I WON'T DELETE IT: You guys are just too much. I've been tearing up all afternoon and evening reading my comments and mail.

Okay, here's the deal. My wife will change the password and keep it to herself. Since she has about a dozen things she'd rather have me doing than blogging, there is little chance of me getting it out of her. So the temptation will be removed, but the archives will sit here as long as Blogger will support them.

You guys are amazing. Take care of yourselves.


CLOSING TIME: Well I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to say it:

I’m shutting down the blog.

It’s been a good run, an amazing run in fact. Two years ago, would I ever have predicted that this thing would be written up favorably in Commonweal? No, I don’t think so. Traffic has risen dramatically over the past few months. I feel like a career .250 hitter who decides to retire after his first .300 season. It’s nuts.

But I’ve got too much to do and something has to give. I start a graduate program in theology at the GTU—part time—this fall, which means I’m going to have to get even better at time management. Joseph starts Kindergarten again in the fall, which means I’ll have more things to do at night. Work is getting more intense. I’ve also got a lot of house projects I need to do before the rains come next fall. And to top it off, we just lost a musician from our jail ministry team, which means that I have to practice my guitar more frequently so I can provide music when I lead the service.

I could try to “cut back,” of course, but I’ve tried that before. It doesn’t seem to work. I just don’t seem to have the willpower. And the truth is that this is a medium that favors immediacy. It just wouldn’t be the same if I only updated it once or twice a month.

So here’s the really hard part, and this may even upset some people: when I talk about shutting it down, I’m not just talking about letting it go dormant. I’m talking about deleting it. Because as long as it’s sitting there, it’s going to be a temptation to me and I can’t have that right now. And I’m not comfortable having something with my name on it floating around in cyberspace unless I’m actively maintaining it.

I’ll keep the site up—without new posts-- for another week or so. I’ve got copies of everything that’s been posted on the site. If you want a copy of something, I’m happy to oblige you. Just send me an e-mail. Maybe someday I’ll throw it all together into a book. Or maybe not, who knows. In any case, feel free to keep sending me e-mail. I’m happy to correspond anytime.

I’ve had a wonderful time out here and I’ve met a lot of great people. The hardest part about this decision is the letters and comments I’ve gotten from people who really enjoy the site and find it spiritually and intellectually helpful. I don’t want to let anyone down. But I need a break—a long one.

I know that I was sometimes a little out-of-step with the general zeitgeist at Saint Blogs. That was fine with me because I was being challenged and stretched in ways that might not have happened if I was surrounded by people who saw the world the same way I did. I hope it was fine with you. I think it’s helpful to get out of our own ideological or theological apartments on a regular basis and take a walk around the neighborhood. It might inspire us to do a little redecorating. Or maybe not, but at least we might realize we’re part of something that’s a lot bigger than we are.

It’s hard to stop writing when you know it will be the last post. But it’s time to turn out the lights and lock the door. Be careful about anger, okay? Cultivate the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. Always remember that you are the only Gospel that someone might read.

Vaya con Dios, hermanos y hermanas,



SCENES FROM A COUNTY JAIL: This morning was a bit of an adventure for a variety of reasons. We just had a musician leave the ministry team (she and her husband moved out of the county) so I have agreed to provide my own music when I lead the service until we can find a replacement. This was the first time playing guitar in front of an "audience" for...well, longer than I can remember. I think I had longer hair back then and very little of the music I played was suitable for a Catholic worship service! In any case, the men love to sing and their loud voices covered my fuzzy chord changes.

This was also the launch of my (reasonably) bilingual service. After three semesters of Spanish, I figured it was time to give it a try. I did the opening and closing prayers, the Gospel and the Our Father in Spanish as well as English and threw a few lines of Spanish into my reflection.

How did it go? Well, there were a few moments where I saw a couple of the Spanish-speaking guys look at each other as if to say "What did he just say?" But I talked to one of the guys afterward who has been at the jail for a while and he said the guys appreciated the effort, because none of the other services out there are in Spanish.

"So how bad was my Spanish?" I asked him.

"'s improving," he said with a smile.


LEARNING TO PRAY: George Weigel makes an important point about prayer in his weekly column:

Looking through the well-stocked "spirituality" section in your local bookstore, you may think that Americans are doing the same; in today's jargon, there seem to be a lot of "searchers" out there. Catholic faith, exemplified in this season's readings from Acts, teaches us something different about searching, however. Catholic faith teaches us that the spiritual life is not our search for God, but God's search for us --- and our learning to take the same path through history that God does. Our prayer must somehow reflect that truth.


MCCARRICK: NCR has posted the transcript of John Allen's interview with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick comments on a wide range of issues, including the bishops' role in politics, abortion, war, and the United Nations to name just a few. Allen's weekly column is here.


CATHOLICS AND POLITICS: I saw several stories today about Catholic bishops in other countries commenting on certain political issues. In Kenya, the Bishops have appealed to the wrangling factions in the ruling coalition to put an end to their power struggles. In the Philippines, a spokesperson for Bishops Conference reiterated that the Church will not be endorsing political candidates, although lay movements like El-Shaddai may do so. In Uganda, the Bishops there are calling for a "transparent" transition to multi-party government. In the United Kingdom, the Bishops Conference issued a statement on the Israel-Palestine conflict.


THE BARQUE OF PETER: A friend of mine once joked that I was the “last man standing,” by which he meant that I’m the only person in my family who actively practices his faith.

But if you are looking for the family saint, don’t look here. My sister eclipses the rest of us in that regard. She is the mother of four children, one of whom has a genetic condition. When she was working, she was an early-childhood special education teacher who volunteered to teach in urban school districts because, as she once put it “these kids really need good teachers.” She would regularly tell me stories about her students that would have me in tears.

So I’ve never really cottoned to the idea that Catholics or Christians or even religious folks generally have cornered the market on holiness. The Spirit bloweth where She willeth and all that.

Which sort of raises the question: why bother? Why should someone pray, or believe in God, or follow Jesus, or do any of the things that believers tend to think are “necessary?”

I’ve tried in the past to offer answers to that question, but the truth is that I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer it. Because in the end, for me at least, it wasn’t a choice. I’ve never really sat down and analyzed the pros and cons of belief versus unbelief, or tried to compare the relative merits of various religious traditions. In my late teens, I tried to walk away from all of it. But in the end I was seized by something that pulled me back.

It’s one of the reasons I find the doctrine of “election” so interesting. Because that’s the way it feels sometimes. As the force of habit and custom in determining religious practice declines, it seems the churches are increasingly filled with people who need to be there, who were somehow called to be there.

And what of those who don’t have this call? I’m not sure. Subjectively, at least, it seems to describe a fair number of people I know, many of whom are “good people” by any reasonable standard. They are happy, well adjusted, and don’t give any outward sign that their lives are somehow deeply uncentered because they are oblivious to a central aspect of reality. Perhaps there’s something going on inside, but usually I can’t see it.

Since I’m still more of a failed poet than a theologian, I can take refuge in metaphor. It seems to me sometimes that the Church is a large ship manned by a reasonably competent but fractious crew who have been pressed into service. The ship sails through the seas, leaving a great wake behind it. There are many smaller craft who sail in the great space of calm created by this wake, sometimes unaware of its source. Perhaps it would be better to be aboard the great ship; certainly it would be safer. But as long as the great ship continues to move forward, the armada in its wake has a good chance of making it home.

But dangit, I’m never going to get the hang of tying these knots…


WHY RAISING KIDS IN CALIFORNIA IS DIFFERENT: Yesterday my wife and 3 year old daughter were shopping in one of those premium grocery stores that are very popular out here when my daughter saw some snails--excuse me, escargot. She asked my wife about them and my wife told her that people ate snails. My daughter was very excited and said that she wanted to try them. So my wife bought two, along with some pesto sauce for dipping. My daughter loved them!

Let's just say that no one ever offered me snails for dinner when I was growing up in New Jersey. Of course, if they had, I probably would have had the same reaction my son had when my daughter cheerfully informed him he would be eating snails for lunch: he burst into tears!


THERE'S NOTHING ORIGINAL IN ME, EXCEPT... Eve Tushnet has a fine post about the meaning of original sin. Much better than simply repeating that old Reinhold Niebuhr quote...


VOTING: Well, if you want to get the spectrum of Catholic opinion on what issues should influence our voting, you can read this post from Fr. Rob Johansen and this editorial from the National Catholic Reporter.

I'm still a little skeptical of this idea that you can create some kind of algorithm in which you crossmatch Catholic teaching with the candidates' positions and "poof" out pops the appropriate way for a Catholic to vote. What if, for example, you are opposed to the death penalty, but doubt that there will be any legislation of significance on this topic during the next four years. How does that weigh in your consideration? Does the possibility of a candidate doing something positive in one area outweigh the certainty that he will do something negative in another?

Or let's take another thought experiment: let's assume that one candidate wanted to strongly increase the penalties for infanticide, while the other candidate thought they were fine the way they were. Let's even assume that the penalties in that state were rather mild compared to neighboring states. Do I have to vote for the candidate who wants to increase the penalties, even if I think the legislation is mostly symbolic and will have no impact on the rate of infanticide?

One might argue that these scenarios bear little resemblance to reality, and I'm willing to concede the point. But if you are going to articulate some kind of "general theory of Catholic voting," you need to take into account that there is often a very large gap between what candidates say and promise and what ultimately ends up happening in the legislative process.


MICROCREDIT: The NYT takes a look at "microcredit." Organizations like the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh have been offering small loans--mostly to poor women living in rural areas--to encourage them to start small businesses. The idea has captivated development experts around the world, although the jury is still out on their overall impact on poverty and economic development.


PLEASE PRAY for a friend, a pastor, who is going through a very difficult trial right now.


TALES FROM THE BART: I had an interesting experience this morning as I was riding the train on the way into work. I had my bible open and was reading the Book of Job when a man across the aisle leaned over and asked “Can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I replied. “Where do you fellowship?” I told him the name of my parish, which he didn’t recognize. “Where are you getting off?” he asked. “19th Street,” I told him. “I’m going to 12th. I’ll get off with you. I want to ask you a couple of questions and maybe we can pray.” “Sure,” I told him.

When we got off, I got a better look at him. He was a tall, slender African-American man with an unruly beard that was speckled with gray. He wore thick glasses that were in need of repair, and that magnified two eyes whose gaze was uncomfortable in its intensity. He had a green roll-away suitcase in reasonably good condition, a thick winter coat over his arm, and a cloth briefcase that was stuffed with papers. I strongly suspected that he was carrying everything he owned.

There are some homeless guys who tell you their stories, and there are some whose stories tell them. This guy was one of the latter. It all came out in a torrent, rising and falling like an arpeggio, with the occasional observation about Christianity, 9-11 and the Veterans Administration offered as asides. He showed me a veteran’s ID card that was obviously fake as well as a beat up credit card with the activation sticker still on it that looked like it had been fished out of the trash. The ID card said Albert, which for all I know was his real name.

He talked about money and I kept waiting for him to ask for it, but it was almost as if he couldn’t stop. He just kept telling his story, adding a detail here, a flourish there. But his eyes pleaded, and it was almost if what he was pleading for was not so much money as for me to break in and given him a brief moment of respite from the power of his disordered imagination.

I pressed some money into his palm. Then I asked him if we could pray together. We held hands and I asked Jesus to watch over Albert, to let him know that he wasn’t alone, to give him peace and health. It seemed to comfort and calm him, if only for a moment. Then we parted. I headed up the escalator and Albert boarded the next train, perhaps to tell his story—or an entirely different story—to someone else.


CATHOLIC IRELAND: An Irish Catholic blog (from the old sod and everything!).


195 DAYS TO GO: Are we really going to have to sit through six more months of this?


DEBUNKING DA VINCI: The New York Times notices, although no mention of our friend Amy Welborn's new book.


THE WRONG DEBATE: Richard Clarke argues the key to victory in "the war on terrorism" is the outcome of an internal struggle within Islam rather than a "clash of civilizations" between East and West. Interesting reading.


THE MARCHING SEASON: Some interesting discussion of the March for Women’s Lives over at After Abortion, Open Book, and Scandal of Particularity. Lynn at Noli Irritate Leones has some good links. Annie Banno and her colleagues at Silent No More seem to have had a rough time of it at the hands of some particularly vociferous pro-choice demonstrators. I’ve been to my share of demonstrations—all kinds of demonstrations—where things have gotten ugly. In the summer of 1989—the last time when abortion was as much of a front-burner issue as it is now—it seemed like things were getting ugly all the time in Washington, DC. In addition to the big NOW march in April, there were numerous other smaller demonstrations, as well as regular battles at local abortion clinics between Operational Rescue and the local clinic defenders. And I was in the middle of all of it, because as longtime readers know I was strongly pro-choice in those days. So I spent a lot of time at demonstrations. And boy did it get ugly. I remember a surreal moment in front of the Supreme Court where it just degenerated into one side yelling “Baby Killers! Baby Killers!” and the other side shouting “Women Killers! Women Killers!” I have photographs of that demonstration where a pro-life demonstrator (a young man) and a pro-choice demonstrator (an older woman) are just screaming at each other and shaking their fingers in each other’s faces. I did some things back then I’m not proud off. There was the time at a clinic during a face off with Operation Rescue, I was asked to shadow a guy who was walking around with a sign that read “Hurting After an Abortion? Call xxx-xxxx.” I kept putting my placard up to block his, and we engaged in this absurd little dance for about 30 minutes. Why did I do this? Well, he was…well…one of them, you know, the bad guys. And I was a good guy. Except he was the one who seemed peaceful and calm and I was the one who was flushed and angry. At the same demonstration, I ran into an older couple. Among the 20 or so other buttons and stickers I had on, I was wearing a Catholics for a Free Choice sticker. At that time in my life, I was wearing it pretty much for its propaganda value. Or maybe not, given my subsequent direction in life. In any case, the conversation turned round to religion. “Well, do you go to mass?” said the man, looking at the sticker. He seemed confused more than anything else. “Uh…well no, actually,” I admitted. “I’ve got some problems with the Church.” “Oh, that’s very sad,” he said. “Well we’ll pray for you to come back.” His wife nodded. “Uh…thanks,” I said, not knowing what else to say. There I was, ready to argue, to go eyeball to eyeball, to match angry word for angry word. And what I got was a “we’ll pray for you.” I remember feeling ashamed. Not because I suddenly decided at that moment that I was wrong about abortion and this old man was right. But because I wanted to be the kind of guy who prayed for his “enemies” rather than harassing them and trying to prevent them from getting their message across. I guess what impresses me the most about what Annie and the other folks at Silent No More did was the way they did it. No screaming, no getting in people’s faces. They just stood there silently holding signs that read “I Regret My Abortion” or “I Regret My Lost Fatherhood.” They absorbed a torrent of verbal abuse and did not return it. I have to wonder [...]


ROLHESIER ON TPOTC: Fr. Ron Rolheiser has some balanced commentary on The Passion of the Christ. After reviewing the film's strengths and weaknesses, he concludes with a good point:

In an age obsessed with celebrity, reality-TV, entertainment as an anesthetic, in an age which has turned with a nasty adolescent grandiosity upon its Christian roots and thinks "The Da Vinci Code" carries theological depth and meaning, perhaps this kind of portrayal of Jesus is a wake-up call. A wake-up call isn't intended to be deep, it's intended to rouse you from sleep.

Tens of millions of people are flocking to see this movie. Whatever else, they're leaving the theater a bit more awake and infinitely more cognizant of what it cost Jesus to die for us.


GLOBAL SOLIDARITY: Interesting piece in U.S. Catholic about the work of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's Global Solidarity Initiative. The initiative is trying to raise awareness among area Catholics--including local business leaders--about the impact of economic globalization. Many companies in Cincinnati--including the well-known Chiquita fruit company--have a strong presence in Central America. The Global Solidarity initiative is raising a number of important questions:

What responsibilities do Catholic business executives have to seek the greater good, even when it may be in conflict with achieving financial goals or other corporate objectives? What can individuals do to effect change, to make sure that their own companies are doing what they can to provide for the poor?

Do Catholics have an obligation within their secular vocations to place the church's call for social justice in front of other demands? In a difficult economic environment, how should a company deal with issues such as just wages and workforce reductions? Do Catholic businesspeople actually embrace the tenets of Catholic social teaching and act upon them, or do they either ignore or pay lip service to them and carry on with business as usual?


ALL OF IT: I accidently left off about half of Fr. Shawn O'Neal's homily yesterday, for which I apologize. Click here to go read the rest of it now.


BODY AND BLOOD: Catholic News Service provides a summary of 28 "grave matters" that the recent instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship "put at risk the validity and dignity of the most holy Eucharist."

One thing that caught my attention was the moderately negative attitude expressed toward communion under both kinds (i.e. bread and wine). The instruction argues the practice should be avoided in situations where there is such a large number of communicants that is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a danger that "more than a reasonable quantity" will remain to be consumed after communion. In my experience, large numbers are the rule, but long experience has allowed for fairly accurate estimates of how much wine is needed. Usually, the problem is one of running short rather than having too much.

A related instruction proscribes the widespread practice in the United States of pouring the blood of Christ from one vessel (e.g. a large glass container) to another after the consecration. However, there is no problem with having multiple chalices filled with wine on the altar during the consecration as long as the main chalice is larger than the others.

I have to say that--in terms of something happening that would "be to the detriment of so great a mystery"--I'm a little more nervous about having so many chalices on the altar. The priest's hands are moving around a fair bit during this process: finding pages in the Sacramentary, the epiclesis, raising the bread and the wine during the institution narrative, etc. Lots of chalices creates what one might call a "target rich environment." This may be more of a problem in very large parishes. But I recognize that there are problems the other way too. My gut tells me that with sufficient intentionality, either approach could be done reverently.