Monday, October 31, 2005

In Our Time

October 28, 1965. With a vote of 2224 to 88, the Second Vatican Council passes the groundbreaking declaration, Nostra Aetate (In our time), the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions. It is the shortest of the 16 statements produced by the Council. A continuing source of irritation and ire to the schismatic right-wing. A springboard for much theological reflection on the question of religious pluralism, with all the concomitant dangers and promises, in the forty years since. A broadening, if you will, of the interpretation of the ancient maxim, extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

I’ve seen a spate of articles commemorating the anniversary. Some laudatory, some cautious, some giving the behind-the-scenes lead up. Many focusing on the impact of the document on the relationship with the Jewish people.

For me, the discovery of Nostra Aetate was breathtaking. As I was exploring the Catholic Church, with all her grandeur and all her warts, as a bright-eyed college student in Bombay in the early 1990s, and finding myself slowly, but quite inexorably drawn to her embrace, the one huge stumbling block was the self-understanding of the Church in relationship to other religions and peoples. In India, a kind of religious relativism is in the air one breathes. “Many paths leading up the side of the mountain” is a truism when it comes to religion. Christ is revered by many Hindus, and it would not be rare to find a cross, or a crucifix, or a picture of Jesus residing in the household pooja (shrine). Gandhijis admiration of the New Testament, particularly, the Sermon on the Mount, is well known. Even with the long presence of Islam (and an even longer presence of Christianity), the idea of religious exclusivity feels unnatural. An alien arrogance, foreign to the great religious heritage of the subcontinent.

Besides, the commonest perception of Christianity on this count is one that is affirmed by every news story on Western Christian leaders, whether it be the Pope talking about evangelization, or the Southern Baptist Convention wanting to rescue Hindus from the spiritual darkness of their fate. Christians believe that everyone else is going to hell, condemned by their God to eternal punishment for the mistake of being born in the wrong family. Missionaries are sent from the West, brandishing a Bible in one hand and a baptismal font in another, to subvert the ancient heritage of India, to impose the Western colonial faith, to further subjugate a proud people. Conversion, understood as a formal change in religious affiliation, continues to be a hot-button issue. All the good that Christians do, for the poor, in the realm of social service (as the works of mercy are called) are simply means to an end. A kind of subterfuge that devalues and diminishes whatever good that they do achieve. They’re out to get you.

With this perception in mind, at one point I stumbled across a 1935 “Manual of Catholic Teaching” in a dusty corner of the St. Xavier’s library. It was triumphalistic in the extreme, and didn’t nuance (at least in my recollection) the possibility of salvation of those outside the visible Body of the Church in anyway (again, this is my recollection. There must have been some mention of the concepts of baptism by desire or blood, unless it was just a very flawed work). I was repelled by the seeming arrogance. And a bit puzzled; there seemed to be no trace of this kind of an attitude in any of the Catholics I knew, priest or lay.

A little later, I ended up taking an introductory Sanskrit class, taught by one of the Jesuits. The class met in the offices of (I think it was called) the Institute of Religious Studies. Of course, I was fascinated by the many books lining the walls, and my eye fell on that famous blue-covered copy of Austin Flannery’s translation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. I borrowed the book, and devoured the Council documents. Nostra aetate was beautiful.

In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely he relationship to non- Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.


Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4)
The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
Of course, Nostra aetate isn’t a complete treatment of the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions, nor is it the final word. But it marked a huge change in attitude towards followers of the world’s religions. A change away from a posture of suspicion of the other, that easily found the diabolical more common in non-Christian religions than the divine, that fostered, it seems, a kind of arrogance and club mentality among Christians (“all you need to do is to belong to this club”), to one of openness, of respect, even admiration, of dialogue, while maintaining what has been passed down from the apostles, from Christ Himself, that He is, indeed, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

How this seeming contradiction is understood has been, I would say, the history of the past forty years. I see a certain tension between dialogue and proclamation; a healthy tension, to be sure. But a tension that cannot be collapsed, either into a rigid exclusivity, making salvation contingent on membership in the visible Church, or into indifferentism or relativism, an “anything goes” mentality, that would practically eliminate the whole concept of mission, of evangelical proclamation.

For me, the most important thing to remind ourselves is that conversion is not, ought not to be, primarily about a change in religious affiliation (though, yes, I would say that this is not something to be ruled out as a result of dialogue, of evangelization, as some would). Conversion is the constant call to repentance, to metanoia, to holiness. The first ones that need constant conversion are those of us who have heard the Word and believed it. “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”

And, I feel strongly, the Gospel convicts us if we fall into the temptation of reducing conversion to membership in the correct club, and boast in this seeming wise after-life insurance decision of ours. “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, Douay-Rheims).

Recent Articles on Nostra Aetate

The continuing challenge of Nostra Aetate (from John Allen’s, “Word From Rome,” October 28, 2005), on a conference in Rome to mark the anniversary, focusing on the Jewish people.

Pope says committed to good relations with Jews (via Yahoo), which mentions Pope Benedict’s message to the conference that John covers in the previous link.

Forty-Years of Revolution (the former chief rabbi of Israel writing in Ha’aretz)

Editorial: In Our Time, America, October 24, 2005 (the issue was a special devoted to the anniversary with many articles on the declaration, none of which, apart from this editorial, are available to non-subscribers online. ( One of these, “The Genesis of Nostra Aetate” was so interesting, that I’m going to court a lawsuit and paste large chunks of it in the blog in a separate post”)

Archbishop Raymond Burke’s (St. Louis) Pastoral Letter on the Anniversary (Hosted at Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam)

Cardinal Fracis König’s recollections of the Council as a whole (Cardinal König was a chief architect of many of the documents) from the Tablet, December 2002. Nostra Aetate is mentioned towards the end. Via Christian Attitudes)

New spiritual leader for India's Malankara Orthodox

I have to say there is a bewildering variety of Indian churches, apart from the Latin Rite RC and the two big Protestant wings, the Churches of North and South India respectively.  Time to brush up on the fragmentation of the Body in this part of the world!

Oh this is just too funny!

Musum Pontificalis, Musings of a Holy Roman Pontiff. Papa Ratzi's blog. 
This will end up in the blogroll evetually ....

Gamecock article on the flu

Bird flu remains campus health issue.

(Remains? Like it's remaining an issue on campus, while it's not an issue elsewhere?)

दिवाली मुबारक और नूतनवर्षाभिनदंन

And as this Diwali is celebrated in the horrific shadow of the terrorist attacks of Saturday, we can all pray for the ultimate triumph of good over evil*, which is what this day celebrates.

I am reminded of one of Gandhiji's favorite bhajans, "Raghupati Raaghav,"

रघुपति राघव राजा राम
पतित पावन सीताराम
सीताराम सीताराम
भज प्यारे तू सीताराम

ईश्वर अल्लाह तेरो नाम
सबको सनमति दे भगवान
[Transliteration and translation here (a paraphrase, not literal)
And a link to an online recording of this bhajan. See the left column, half-way down]

"Your name is Ishwar, your name is Allah;
may God bless everyone."

An apposite prayer for this occasion. And prayers for peace. Especially since the calendars have conspired to put Eid-ul-fitr (the end of Ramadan, or Ramzaan in Urdu) immediately after the Diwali festivities, on Wednesday.

Happy Diwali to all! Best wishes for the new year! And, of course, Eid Mubarak in advance as well.

Several post-scripts:
  • Message to Hindus on the Feast of Diwali from the Holy See.

    Dear Hindu friends, let us continue to collaborate in finding solutions to the problems we face, whether they be small or great, whether local or international. Diwali celebrates light, goodness, reconciliation, peace, harmony and happiness. I wish you all a very happy feast.
  • Message to Muslims on the end of Ramadan from the Holy See.

  • As I've remarked on several occasions, it never ceases to amaze me how a festive greeting can be construed as offensive. All this anxiety over Happy Hanukah versus Merry Christmas versus whatever. This sense of walking-on-eggshells. I refuse to adapt to this bizarre mentality of my adoptive homeland. I'll wish everyone. Get over it. :)
  • *For Christians, the decisive victory over evil was won by Christ on the Cross. The seeming victory of evil turns out to be the death-knell of death itself, as He rises triumphant from the grave, "taking captivity captive" as the Fathers put it. How this squares with the continuing experience of evil and suffering is a mystery for sure, but that is a separate topic.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Flu blogging: tons of info

Way too much to really blog about, since I've not been reading on this for a few days now. Just follow the flu links on the side.

Have to mention this interesting piece on the H5N1 blog, "Talking about the Pandemic."

H5N1 is still basically a media issue, not a talk-to-the-neighbours issue. So the people I talk to tend to be media people: talk-show hosts, print journalists, and even some online journalists.

That's fine. As people listen and watch and read, a kind of silent preparedness develops—people aren't rushing out to buy masks and case lots of soup, but they're becoming accustomed to the thought of a crisis. In 1941, Pearl Harbor was a shock for Americans—but not the idea of going to war. They'd had years to get used to conflicts in Asia and Europe, and they knew it would eventually involve them.

And, in India, the Economic Times is talking about the flu. The most bizarre thing is that the article doesn't mention the word "pandemic" once, or the possibility of the mutation of the current H5N1 strain into a more contagious h2h variety. This is just incompetent!

News of the weird ...

This is really tragic. And highly unusual, I'd say.

Texas Pastor Electrocuted During Baptism

(Hattip to St. Liz for emailing this.)

Slipping out to pray ...

... Pope Benedict, i.e. showing up unannounced at the shrine of Mentorella, to pray. Hey, pretty resourceful, to give those Swiss Guard the slip, ya know! :) Jokes aside, he's just so darned cool. :) So, someone out there get me a "B16 Fan" tee for Christmas!

Oh, and here's Weigel in Newsweek, "A Pope of Quiet Surprises."

Benedict XVI has met, cordially, with representatives of the "progressive" and reactionary wings of Roman Catholic dissent. He's dropped hints about holding a joint synod with Orthodox bishops—something that hasn't happened in more than a millennium. He's taken a hands-on approach to the appointment of Catholic bishops throughout the world, influenced perhaps in part by his experience with malfeasant bishops who turned sexual scandal into crisis in the United States. He's challenged Islamic leaders to take a more publicly critical stance toward violence in the name of God, and he's challenged Europe to recover its greatness by rediscovering its Christian roots. (Benedict's forthcoming book on the subject, "Without Roots," is coauthored with a nonbelieving Italian intellectual who shares the pope's diagnosis of the secularist sources of Europe's civilizational malaise.)

Interpreting the coming papacy accurately is going to require a determined effort to get beyond the "liberal/conservative" taxonomy of all issues Catholic.
Amen to the last sentence.

Barbaric beheading

Three girls, all Christian, beheaded as they walk to school in Sulawesi province, Indonesia. The Holy Father condemns the attack. Fears that the 1999-2001 Christian/Muslim conflict might reignite.

An interesting Christianity Today piece on why this conflict might have ended in the first place.

Got an email about this story ... and the sender said that he thinks this shows more and more the "true face of Islam." I'm not of the mind to simply respond with "oh, it's really a religion of peace." I don't know what it really is or is not. But, simple fair-mindedness suggests that one cannot identify an entire group with the actions of a subset, however vocal and active that subset might be. However, as a Catholic, I am committed to learning, and to dialogue. And of course, I've grown up with Islam, in India. Which brings its own baggage -- both good and bad.

Triply good

Well -- what a treat. Georgia loses. Clemson tanks. And the Gamecocks hang on and beat the Vols in home territory! That makes for a very happy diehard Gamcock. GO COCKS!

And, cue the fight song ....

Hey, Let's give a cheer,
Carolina is here,
The Fighting Gamecocks lead the way.
Who gives a care, If the going gets tough,
And when it is rough,
that's when the 'Cocks get going.
Hail to our colors of garnet and Black,
In Carolina pride have we.
So, Go Gamecocks Go - FIGHT!
Drive for the goal - FIGHT!
USC will win today - GO COCKS!
So, let's give a cheer, Carolina is here.
The Fighting Gamecocks All The Way!
(Now to see if we can survive against FLA. And ... CLOBBER CLEMSON! :-D)

delhi blasts: more coverage

(Picture from Jaggys Corner)

For those who care, the Times of India and the Indian Express have good ongoing coverage of the blasts.

Why Delhi 10/29 should react like London 7/7 op-ed in the Indian Express

As suspected, it looks like Kashmiri terrorists are behind this.

Indiatimes has a decent blog on related events. Right now the top one lists the various terrorist attacks in Delhi since the 1990s.

It appears that with the big holiday just around the corner (Diwali tomorrow, New Year's Tuesday, Eid-ul-Fitr Wednesday I believe), life is continuing as normal.

And, from across the border, here's what Dawn (Pakistan's largest English daily) had to say.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Redemption of Our Bodies

Our Bishop's first pastoral letter is finally online!

The Redemption of Our Bodies (hattip to Dev for this!) (cavete: the link is to a .pdf)

Copies have been lying around the parish for a while, and I have to confess, I haven't yet read this (sheepish look). When I do, I'll blog about it.

(And since blogs are all about ego, let me just say that the week after this came out I suggested to the Bishop that he put this online. That was at Fire at the Beach. I'm glad he listened ... :-D)

The Delhi blasts ...

Scary news to wake up to .... "Deadly blasts hit Indian capital" (BBC). NDTV's coverage. And on the weekend before Diwali, in two crowded shopping centers. I cannot imagine, going out to shop in Sarojini Nagar ... and then ... this!

Got on the horn with the bro -- they're all fine, though a bit shaken. Brought back memories of the Bombay Blasts (gosh, over 1o years ago?), though this doesn't seem to have (thankfully) the same amount of carnage.

Kashmir? Assam/ULFA? Anti-Hindu? Anti-Muslim? Cowardly bastards.

Orate pro eis.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Suffering sartorial silliness!

(I like alliteration. So shoot me.)

Rocco's "Whispers in the Loggia" (thankfully he didn't follow through with his blog-retirement attempt) has some amazing gems. No one seems to be more clued in to the little details of Roman ecclesial life like he (Ok, no one that I know. Which means very little).

So here's two recent posts. One on the war between Gammarelli and Mancinelli on who will tailor the Papal Cassock. And the other, the Roman gossps wondering whether Benedict will don the camauro this winter (Nope, I didn't have a clue what it was either.)

Unlike some I know, my knowledge of ecclesial vesture is rather limited. I know about albs and chasubles and cassocks and stoles and surplices and fascias (um fasciae) and maniples and amices and copes and humeral veils and fiddle backs and zucchetti and mozzetti and dalmatics (This stuff just deserves to be made into a Gilbert and Sullivan ditty) . Ok. Faldas too. And the fanon ... Um. ... Somewhat limited. But all this other papal paraphernelia? I'm clueless. And the stuff that goes on sale on ebay? It boggles the mind.

[And don't tell anyone, but a few years back, this one favorite cleric we know decided to give me a birthday gift of my very first clerical shirt, while we were in Rome. I guess a kind of proleptic gesture. Which, I certainly hope, is prophetic. Gammarelli didn't carry my size. Hmph. So we got it from Euroclero. Shhh.]

[And while on subjects sartorial. How can one pass up the opportunity to mention that anecdotal tale of the election of Giuseppe Melchior Sarto, Pope (Saint) Pius X? Apparently, as the crowd in the piazza waited with bated breath for the new Pontiff to appear, someone appeared in one of the side windows making hand motions to indicate a giant scissor. Those who saw him understood that the tailor (sarto) had won!]

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Bible in 50 words

Cute. (Hattip to Jon S for sending this.)

God made
Adam bit
Noah arked
Abraham split
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled

Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh plagued
People walked

Sea divided
Tablets guided

Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peeked
Prophets warned

Jesus born
God walked
Love talked
Anger crucified

Hope died
Love rose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.

A disturbing trend

[Hattip to Mike L for this article]

Legislating religious correctness (Weekly Standard)

Scot, a diminutive 55-year-old bearded Pakistani with speckles of white in his black hair, was forced to flee Pakistan for Australia in 1987. As a devout Christian who says that he's filled with evangelistic zeal, Scot had never shied away from debating Muslims on theological matters. Unfortunately for him, in 1986 Pakistan adopted a vague and open-ended blasphemy law, section 295-C, which prohibited any speech that directly or indirectly defiled the Prophet Muhammad. Punishments included the death penalty and life imprisonment.

According to Scot, he came under official pressure to convert to Islam near the end of his time in Pakistan, and was charged with blasphemy when he refused. When he fled to the safety of Australia, he didn't imagine that he'd again face legal penalties because of his faith.

Australia going the European route, it seems. As the article notes, noted Italian commentator Oriana Fallaci is facing a trial for villifying Islam. I wonder how these laws would have dealt with the Satanic Verses?

And it's not just about Christians criticizing Islam. In a free country, Muslims should be free to criticize Christian views as well. The unintended consequences (or maybe they're not so unintended) of such laws are quite chilling.

Recall the case in Britain last year of the play Behzti (Punjabi, for, I think, Shame), which talked about sex-abuse in the context of a religious setting, within the gurdwara. The play was forced to be cancelled because of riots from offended Sikhs. I recall how appalled I was when I heard that on NPR. It reminded me of the thuggish behavior of Shiv Sainik goondas in Mumbai (the Shiv Sena being the neo-fascist ultra-right-wing Hindu nationalist party that has had a deathgrip on local politics for ages). Salman Rushdie condemned the event -- who should know better about the importance of free speech, offensive free speech, in a liberal society? What was more troublesome was the endorsement of this censorship by the (Catholic) Archbishop of Birmingham. Yes, a religious community should be treated with respect. And true, when it comes to Christianity, a lot of stuff is produced simply to offend (remember that Madonna in a jar of urine thingie in New York a while back?). Religious communities can and should have the freedom to protest. But not to censor, necessarily.

And where, o where did we come up with this inalienable right, the right not to be offended?

[Christopher Hart at the Sunday Times has interesting commentary on Britain's attempt to join the anti-vilification club.]

Naming the sin

The Nationcal Catholic Reporter has a frank, blunt, hard-hitting and right-on-the-money editorial on the scandals.

The sin must be named

With all respect for the power of prayer and the centrality of the Eucharist to the community, however, reparation for sins, the church itself teaches, does not occur magically. The sin must be named, and the sinned against, in this case the victims and the community at large, must be asked for forgiveness.
In speaking of the “disclosure of sins” in the sacrament of reconciliation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the church in order to make a new future possible.”
While that refers, of course, to individual confession, doesn’t the same hold true for institutional sins that block the path to a new future? That understanding of sacramental theology -- which none of us limits to just the encounter in the confessional, but which we also experience daily in relationships in every sphere of our lives -- is deep in our bones. We know that when a bishop asks forgiveness it is an empty request unless we know why he asks.

Conservative bloggers, like Michael Liccione at Sacramentum Vitae are chagrined that they actually agree with NCR.

The best, of course, is from Amy Welborn:

Several bloggers have commented on this, being rather chagrined that they are agreeing with NCR(eporter). I have no such chagrin. NCR has been on top of abuse reporting since the 80's in a way that not a single "conservative" or "orthodox" publication has.

... There is no great mystery here. Chancery Culture - I will not even call it clerical culture anymore because although clericalism defines it, there have been too many lay people culpable and enabling to simply limit it to that - is all but impenetrable, and the whole thing has become so awash in legal concerns, there is no climbing out. The bottom line is that these guys cannot admit they did anything wrong in any specific terms because even if they wanted to, the lawyers won't let them. It opens them up to even more lawsuits. And many of them don't want to because loyalty to their brother priests trumps almost everything. I will be brutal about this: those of you not in it just cannot fathom how, tragically, the habits of a career in the religious biz, the culture of a religious institution can deaden faith. It's the exact opposite of what we think it should be, but really...the greatest risk to losing your faith is working in the Church. Not just because of what you see, which is the way people usually think of it, but because the risk is high of matters of faith becoming just a job, becoming an agenda, becoming a corporation to protect and defend, becoming a place where people talk, talk, talk about faith but are spiritually empty.

Oh how true! (Aside: thoughts on these lines have been bubbling around since I saw a CT article on discipleship vs. spiritual character. I feel an essay forming.)

Amy says: "I said at the time, and I say again - I don't care if the bishops are accountable to me. I want them to be accountable to Christ."

I agree to an extent.


What does that mean? What does being "accountable to Christ" look like? Weren't the Bishops already supposed to be accountable to Christ? Given that Christ isn't actually sitting around, in the same way as you and I, and isn't holding people directly accountable (at least not in this life. What happens at the judgment is not transparent to us here), can this not become just another way to avoid accountability? Is it not simply saying, like Cardinal Rigali did, "we need to pray more?" Prayer is not a cop out, no. True, genuine, prayer puts us in touch with the living God, and we, like Peter, fall down on our knees saying, "Lord, stay away from me, for I am a sinful man." But prayer/being more holy/more faithful is not, IMHO, sufficient, insofar as these are not, well, in some way institutionalized. (Ok, that's not the best word. I need to flesh this out more, but I hope you get my drift.)

Now national-commissions and the like may not be the best way of doing it. We had one national commission, and one national study, and they did excellent work. The John-Jay study was groundbreaking and unprecedented. Yet, there's danger of just more bureaucratization here, of this being coopted into the "regular way of doing things." I perceive that's already happening, with, say, the annual audit of Dioceses. A "CYA" mentality in implementing programs for child-abuse awareness and so on (not bad in of themselves, of course). But, there's got to be some concrete way of holding our Bishops accountable. Canonically, of course, that has to come from the Pope. Maybe Pope Benedict will be in a position to listen in a way that Pope John Paul wasn't.

In "All the Pope's Men" John Allen suggests that different cultural assumptions and worldviews are part of the reason why the Church in the US (he sometimes uses the phrase "American Street") and the Vatican view this crisis differently. The Holy See, writes Allen, believes in a reform that is "primarily spiritual, rather than ideological, doctrinal, or managerial." As is the idea that the sacrament of orders ennobles with its spiritual power, rather than corrupts. I will readily admit that I'm quite American here. I distrust this spiritualizing of the problem. When it comes to governance, I am more sympathetic with the Founders' view of human nature, of the corrupting nature of temporal power, and a system of checks and balances. (Even in the church. No, I don't mean democracy, by no means. But in as much as the church is a human institution as well as a divine one, shouldn't we be aware of this human tendency?) Or rather, I wish there were a way to do both. Why does it have to be either/or?

St. Francis and St. Charles Borromeo and others did reform rotten institutions. Maybe we can learn something from history, then. (I don't know the history though -- were these reforms primarily what we'd call "spiritual?" Did they involve strcutural changes?)

Maybe, as one of Amy's commenters noted, there should be an Apostolic Visitation of the Chanceries.

Reading this over I can see that my thinking is a tad confused. I'm no expert. I don't know the answer. But at least we should keep asking these questions. Of our Bishops.

[Now you see why I write under a pseudonymn. :)]

Web indeed

... so [a favorite blogger of mine] links to this new blog, "Right Reason: The weblog for philosophical conservatism." Turns out one of the contirbutors is a professor in the Philosophy department of a Big University around the corner. I love this WWW thing.

Reading the blog makes me realize that a) I feel rather unedumacted b) I really would like to study this stuff c) I don't have time now and d) tempus volat. :: sigh ::

Miers is out ...


It's sad. Not because I am a Miers fan. It's sad the way this whole thing has been made a travesty by the White House.

The Witch-Hunt at Weston

Ok, that was unnecessary and purely an attention grabbing thing. Mark at You Duped Me Lord has a brief account of his experience of the seminary visitation at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, MA. Nope, no auto da fes.

Church to a --- health spa?

Also from the latest Economist (I think this might be in the free access portion on their website)

Ungodly use for churches and a second coming for old cinemas.

(Basically, with the huge decline in churchgoing in Britain, old churches are being converted into apartment blocks, pubs and health-spas. Congregations that are growing -- the immigrant urban charistmatic/Pentecostal churches, prefer to use old cinemas.)

Religion has long been in decline among Britain's middle classes. Since 1969, membership of the Church of England has fallen from 2.6m to 1.3m and 1,660 churches have closed to business. That represents 10% of the total stock. Rural churches are hard to find new uses for and so are generally either looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust or just left to rot. But churches in towns can be reincarnated. The most common new uses for an old church are as blocks of apartments and community centres, though some have found a more exotic destiny.


The Church of England isn't wild about this, though it acknowledges that even turning a church into a temple to vanity is probably preferable to knocking it down, which is what happens to a fifth of redundant buildings.


Some of the people who run the churches even think that the exotic architecture of the old cinemas helps to attract new recruits, and are prepared to spend a lot of money restoring them. “When a person comes in for the very first time, the looks of the church break the ice,” says Pastor Paul Hill of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Finsbury Park. The church has been busily restoring the cinema's intricate interior, which was designed to give the feel of sitting under the stars in a Spanish village. “When they realise the beauty of the building and its lack of connection with religion, they feel good about it,” says Mr Hill. Maybe even Larkin, a committed agnostic, would have been susceptible to the pull of such period-piece glamour.

Apropos the piece below. This seems to be the final step in the transformation from church to, well, cinema.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Evangelical Envy

Amy links to this excellent post at Internet Monk (an evangelical blogger) on the state of the evangelical church, what he calls "the Church on the Corner" and how the new Christian music, "Praise & Worship" and the like, has almost become the new god of evangelicalism.

That Flushing Sound: Evangelicals Worship Till There's Nothing Left

Amy's quote is quite apposite: "All of this is very much worth reading, not only to get insight into what's going on in other Christian denominations, but as a way to innoculate ourselves against Evangelical Envy...Oh, if we were only more like them...all they have is growth, growth growth..." The comments there are quite illuminating as well, particularly Sherry Wedell's (of the Siena Institute).

First, some selections from the essay that really struck me:

Today, nothing divides churches like music. You could deny the Trinity and fare better in most churches that you will if you criticize the direction of worship as done by the Praise Team.


How long should anyone have to STAND in a worship service? Today, it’s common to ask worshippers to all have the physical stamina and attention span of 13 year olds. This, perhaps more than anything, shows how juvenile much of the current “worship renewal” really is. It’s youth camp taking over the church while we all say “At least the younger people like it.”


The preacher in many a Church On The Corner is a marked man. He is an obnoxious fixture in a worship service that is turning into a concert. He is a reminder of what we don’t like about church.

The concert has won. The worship service has lost. We will trade one for the other, but it is not a fair trade. It’s a loss of what we once had and could count on in almost any church.


In the meantime, there’s another essay to be written: Just how much money does it take to be a megachurch? Is the megachurch ethical? Or does the enormous cost of keeping middle class, white, suburban evangelicals happy mean the megachurch can’t do it’s full-service thing without spending a fortune?
The triumph of entertainment. The victory of the culture. And less we Catholics feel all smug, there are valuable lessons to be learned, I think. It's been said that the Catholics now want to go down the road that liberal Protestants went down, to their woe rather than weal. Just when they're waking up to their mistakes, we gleefully dive in, thinking we've finally Gotten It. I've heard this with respect to biblical scholarship, especially historical-critical scholarship. It's probably true of other things as well. And it's true now with respect to evangelical Christianity.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm afflicted with Evangelical Envy. The prospect of growth, growth, growth, is of course, quite alluring. Of course, there are some "natural" innoculations against this in Catholicism. Despite everyone's best attempts, the Mass, even when shoddily done, simply does not lend itself to the kind of musical silliness the essay talks about. Um. Ok. I mean, it you can't replace Mass with a 40 minute Praise session. There's the intellectual tradition, and a well-educated clergy (rapidly graying but not quite vanished) and a growing theologically educated laity (who're doing a lot of what the clergy used to). And, the teaching office, quite impervious to winds of change (much to the lament of many).

Praise & Worship, contemporary Christian rock and so on, has made huge inroads into the Catholic world. Look at LifeTeen. Or the Steubenville conferences. And, in my experience, the younger Catholics who're actually still on fire with the faith (as opposed to the ones who simply can't wait to stop going to Church once they're in college) are the ones who've had some kind of grounding, not always but quite often, in the evangelical world: with IV or FCA in high school, or with LifeTeen or the Steubenville conferences (Of course, who knows what it's like outside the South. Here we "lose" kids as much to the para-church evangelical ministries as to secular indifference) There seems to be something there. Maybe it's just the entertainment value. Or maybe there's something deeper as well.

I do think that , the proper caveats in place, one can learn from our evangelical geschwester (siblings just doesn't cut it. Brothers and sisters is nice, and often automatic, but cumbersome. I digress) -- from their successes as well as their pitfalls. That was what I got at the Evangelical Catholic institute in Madison last Spring. Yes, they're turned on to Praise & Worship ("get over it, it's what the kids like" was one quote I recall :)). But, at least from what I saw, this was integrated with a well-rounded approach to Scripture -- I mean college kids actually studying Scripture, and praying it, and applying it to their lives! Catholic college kids. Not Cru or IV -- and an exploration of the intellectual heritage of the Church, especially the Fathers. A hearing and imbibing and internalizing the Gospel.

The other thing that struck me about the above essay: the lack of generational diversity. There's a value to intergenerational community, and intergenerational worship. A huge value, especially in a culture that is youth obsessed, afraid of aging, and looks askance at the elderly. I know of at least one place that's using the EC model, in a traditional parish setting. A place where I cannot imagine praise & worship music. And it seems to work.

We shouldn't try to compete. Or try to be Cru or IV. Being Catholic is just fine, thank you. Even if that involves using some of the best practices, so to speak, of some of our separated sisters and brothers.

Anyway, this isn't just to be an apologist for EC (which wasn't what the essay was about, anyway). The warnings in the essay are serious. It reminded me of what Jacques Maritain (I think) said, in a different context, of the dangers of "kneeling in front of the world."

Cardinal Lajolo in Moscow

representing Benedict XVI. Maybe, some day, the Holy Father himself can go to Russia ...

Vatican Official visiting Moscow (via Zenit).

A communal discussion on Catholic community

.... great discussion first over at Mirror of Justice on Catholicism and "Land Use", or "are the suburban life-style and the Catholic emphasis on community compatible?" Then Amy Welborn links it, and the active comboxes at Open Book start flowing. Several days worth of reading here!

The articles at Mirror of Justice:

Catholic Land Use
Community in Suburbia: Lessons from Evangelicals
Suburbs, the Old Parish and Goneness
Catholic Parish Community, the Evangelical Sensibility, and the Parish School
Catholic Communities


The Comboxes at Open Book.

[No, I haven't read all that. The real good stuff needs printing out you know. But apart from that, think of the old days of SW radio. Heard of a relay station? Guess part this blog's fucntion is just that ... :)]

Feeling domestic ...

Was just thinking (driving back from Wally World. I'd gone there to get some pseudephedrine. Ok, phenylphedrine now that the former is available only behind the counter. You know, sinuses and all. Yes, like any other trip to Wally World, I did buy quite a few things more than just a strip of phenylephedrine.) ... Anyway was just thinking that I really like Cayce-West Columbia. Yes, I know that's a silly thing to say. I always drive through the quiet neighborhood streets -- C Ave, B Ave, Augusta St. It's tranquil. It's so ... I don't know ... domestic. On the way out there, I pass a soccer field, lights blared on, with practice under way (Hmm. Do lights blare? They ought to ... ). The streets, like any good American town outside the Big Metros, are deserted. Except for the gaggle of cars around Zestos on 12th street. And this one kid walking a dog, jabbering on a cell-phone, next to the Thompson Funeral Home. On the drive back, along the slow incline down to the Congaree, the skyline of the city (the other one, across the river, you know, Columbia) twinkles pretentiously.

I say to myself that I should come out here on a nice fall day, blue sky, late in the afternoon, and get some pictures of that pretentious skyline. And of these nice little domestications around State St. Maybe I will.

Anyway, now I'm back. Perfect hot-chocolate weather. One of the many backburner projects frontburnered -- ripping, oh-so-slowly, the CD collection onto the laptop for eventual residence on the iPod. Allegri's Miserere wafting around the room. Now for some blogging .... [rubs hands and dives in] ... :-D


The Porn of War (from The Nation, via In Principio Erat Verbum. Yes I'm blogsurfing big-time tonight)

About a site with the delicate name of nowthat'sf***

Originally created as a site for men to share images of their sexual partners, this site has taken the concept of user-created content to a grim new low: US troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan are invited to display graphic battlefield photos apparently taken with their personal digital cameras. And thousands of people are logging on to take a look.

The website has become a stomach-churning showcase for the pornography of war--close-up shots of Iraqi insurgents and civilians with heads blown off, or with intestines spilling from open wounds. Sometimes photographs of mangled body parts are displayed: Part of the game is for users to guess what appendage or organ is on display.
Incredible. Or is it? The depths to which human nature can sink have no limits, it seems.

Turns out the website operator has been arrested under obscenity laws. If this stuff isn't obscene, then the word means nothing.

The Econonist on the Flu

First: a third outbreak in China, in Hunan. (I think I'm not going to eat any chicken while over there this winter ... ). 10 migratory birds found dead in Bengal (east India) are being tested for H5N1.

Now, to the Economists' leader in the latest issue: "On a wing and a scare: Preparing for an influenza pandemic makes sense. Panic doesn't" (I don't think the full-text is available to non-subscribers)

Or are politicians simply helping to feed public panic, and then covering themselves by promising to spend lavishly against a threat which may never materialise and to reduce a risk which they do not understand? To ask these questions is not to counsel complacency, but to apply the kind of test which is required in any kind of disaster planning, not least because the world is an inherently dangerous place and it is impossible to plan against every possible disaster. With the media full of warnings of impending mass death, an overreaction is all too possible.


These are all legitimate points, and there is undeniably a lot of uncertainty about the possibility of a pandemic. And yet it is also true that governments, companies and individuals regularly have no choice but to plan in situations of uncertainty. The trick is to do this in a way which is rational and proportionate. In the case of bird flu, most of the measures being contemplated so far can meet the sceptics' tests


The unpalatable truth is that if the current version of avian influenza turns into a human pandemic in the near future, there is probably not enough time for most countries to stop it from spreading or to cope well with its effects. Panic about this will do no good, and could do a lot of harm. But preparing now for an outbreak of a pandemic at some stage in the future does make sense. Even if the threat from today's bird flu fades, it is plausible to think that another virus, in the not-too-distant future, may pose another threat. In an increasingly inter-connected world, viruses, like people, travel more easily.
They're more on the "if, not yet when" stage, I guess. Cautious, but still. It's the Economist.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The iBelieve

You've got to see it to believe it.

The iBelieve is a replacement lanyard and USB cab for the iPod shuffle that turns the device into a crucifix. The The iBelieve is “inspired by the world’s obsession and devotion to the iPod” and is a “social commentary on the fastest growing religion in the world,” according the creators of the product. The iBelieve is priced at $12.95, and $2 from every purchase will be donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and various Children’s charities.

(Also via the Curt Jester.)

An external sign of ... No Interior Action

A sacrament, i.e. This is just way too funny! (Via the irrepressible Curt Jester.)

From Father/Mother Feelgood: “Welcome to our exciting and relevant faith community. We are a Catholic parish, but our understanding of the practices of the Catholic Church is slightly different to that of Rome. We are welcoming community to those who have been hurt or forced to abide by rules in other churches.”
Read on ... !

Church Ladies

An interesting column from the WSJ: Church ladies: Women dominate America's pews. Is that a problem?(Via An Aid to Memory)

... seems that Catholic scholar Leon Podles's prediction of a few years ago, that "the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation, like nursing, within a generation," may soon prove true ...
(And, I guess, it's being said, most famously by Fr. Donald Cozzens in "The Changing Face of the Priesthood " that the Catholic clergy is becoming a gay profession. At least in the US. Are these trends -- "feminization" and this one, related?)

Interestingly, ... among the major Christian denominations, it is the mainline churches that suffer the largest gender gaps in church attendance. These churches, still pilloried by feminists for their patriarchal pretensions, have in fact become spiritual sorority houses. It is the more conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, that have the most even ratios. In these more traditional churches, many of which do not have female clergy, parishioners hear less about cooperation and feel-good spirituality and more about spiritual rigor and the competition to win souls. Churches that embrace male leadership, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain the largest in the country, and the Mormon Church, which also does not have female clergy, is the fastest-growing.
I know many have written about this, and have derived a variety of conclusions. On the conservative end of things, the idea is tied with a decline in traditional masculine roles in society, the decline of fatherhood, and that all this is keeping "real men" away from church. The column provides good historical perspective -- this lamenting isn't new, apparently it's been present in the American church for centuries. And isn't it true that one of the early criticisms of this new religion back in Roman times was that it was favored by "slaves and women?"

Churches that embrace male leadership, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain the largest in the country." However, there's no acknowledgement of the fact that the mid-level of the Catholic professional world -- the world of DREs and church professionals, is overwhelmingly female. That most who show up to any Catholic event are largely women.
And what's it like overseas? I don't know, nor do I know of any studies. I remember one Saturday in Rome, the first in June, when it was wedding time. And every church that I went to (I was, of course, following one of Georgina Mason's celebrated walks) had a wedding Mass in progress, it seemed. The only men inside, one would think, were the groom and the priest! The rest were gathered outside smoking! All very anecdotal --- bottom line, I don't know what to male of all this. :)

The Church in Iraq

Or rather, The Chaldean Church. (Hat tip to Cacciaguida.)

The Chaldean Church, like some other autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches, is under the jurisdiction of its own patriarch and hierarchs in peace and communion with Rome and retains its own distinctive theological, liturgical and canonical traditions. Unlike the Byzantine, Roman and Coptic Churches, the Chaldean Church has no distinctive liturgical arts traditions in decorating its churches, but borrows heavily from the Byzantine and Roman traditions. The Assyrian Christians, however, eschew all representational art in their churches, possibly under the negative influence of Islam. The Chaldean and Assyrian Churches have similar liturgies of the same East Syriac origin, however, the Chaldean has been altered to conform to the theology of Ephesus and later Councils. Its version of the Nicene Creed, like that of the Armenian Church, is in the formulation which emerged from the Council of Nicea unamended by the later Council of Constantinople. The liturgical language of both Churches is Aramaic.

The Christian minorities in Iraq today are among the oldest in Christendom. They make up about 6% of the population numbering fewer than one million out of a population of 17 million. They consist of two main groups:

1. The Catholics (650,000)
A. Chaldean Rite: more than 600,000 with one patriarch (Babylon in Baghdad); four archdioceses (Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra & Arbil; and five dioceses (Alqosh, Amadijah, Aqra, Sulaimaniya & Zakhu)B. Syrian Rite: more than 47,000 with two archdioceses (Baghdad and Mosul)C. Latin (Roman) Rite: more than 4000 with one archdiocese (Baghdad).D. Armenian Rite: more than 3000 with one archdiocese (Baghdad).

2. The Other Christians (200,000)
A. The Church of the East, formerly Nestorian. More than 150,000.B. Syrian Orthodox: More than 40,000.C. Armenians. More than 5000.

The above figures are derived from CHALDEANS PAST AND PRESENT by Fr. Michael Bazzi (1993)
[The Assyrian Church of the East, of course, is the one most famously with the anaphora (Eucharistic prayer) of Addai and Mari, which does not contain an institution narrative. After a long study, the Holy See approved intercommunion between the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. You can listen to the anaphora being chanted in Syriac here. Sounds Arabic right? Simply haunting. Another reason I just love Eastern Christianity ... :)]

An article on the Assyrian Church from CNEWA (The Catholic Near East Welfare Association), whose magazine is an incredibly informative source on the goings on in the Eastern Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Christian worlds.

Pope Benedict recently met with the lone Christian member of Iraq's cabinet to urge the fair treatment of religious minorities in Iraq, and to press for religious freedom.

Rosa Parks dead

A legendary name. We'd even heard of her in India.

Via Yahoo/AP

Monday, October 24, 2005

A church of demands or acceptance?

Thankfully, Commonweal has put John Garvey's column, "Who's In & Who's Out," from the October 7, 2005 issue, online. Fr. Garvey is one of the main reasons why I shell out the nearly forty bucks annually to keep receiving Commonweal every other week (The other big reason is Jo Mcgowan).

He uses Philip Turner Johnson's First Things (June/July 2005) article, "An Unworkable Theology" as a springboard to explore issues of inclusion and exclusion in the Church, giving a very Catholic (and, it should be said, Orthodox -- he's an Orthodox priest) "both/and" answer.

[Incidentally, I've found Philip Johnson's explanation of the "inclusive" tendency he describes in the Episcopal church to be quite prevalent in the Catholic as well -- in priests, church professionals and laity. Of course, I don't agree with everything. And FYI, the latest (Nov. 05) issue of FT has a response which is critical of the article's understanding of CPE. Not online yet.]

Fr. Garvey:

When Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” he uses the words agapas me, that is, do you love me as God loves you, with the love that comes down from heaven. Agape is the word for love that Paul uses in speaking of the most important virtue in 1 Corinthians 13, and the word he uses in Romans when he says that nothing will be able to separate us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39). But Peter, answering, “You know I love you,” uses the words philos se...that is, I love you like a brother. It is a good kind of love, quite commendable, but not the same thing. Simon uses this word in all three responses. But when Jesus asks Peter the third time, he no longer asks do you love me with God’s self-emptying love-he no longer asks, “Agapas me?” Instead, he comes down to Peter’s level, asking him, “Phileis me?” Do you at least love me like a brother? At this moment, knowing that Peter is capable only of this level of love, it is enough; he knows that it is the best Peter can currently do. But then Jesus goes on to say that Peter will be led where he does not want to go; in his final suffering and martyrdom, Peter will have to learn that deeper love. For now, Jesus meets him where he is, capable of love, though not the love Jesus will ultimately ask of him, and of us.
I really found this to be helpful. Interestingly, the same story was used in a talk I heard last week on chastity, to much the same effect. (And, we heard it in the homily this past weekend as well! :))

Here's the both/and -- acceptance and a call to deeper transformation. Not a "you can't be here untill you're at this level" kind of "church-of-the-pure-only" standard. Nor, I should add, a "well, it's all ok -- God loves you anyway, and celebrates everything" kind of mush. A church of acceptance and demands.

While insisting that we must take the cross and transformation seriously, the church should also be a place where those who are weak, who are not ready for the whole of what is demanded, can feel welcomed and loved. In one way or another, we all fall into this category. The church is often seen as smug, doubt-free, and self-righteous, and Christians of all confessions are often guilty as charged. When one kind of sinning is seen as more important-more really sinful-than other kinds, we miss the point of the struggle, whether the sins involved are sexual, or have to do with greed or compassion or selfishness. We are called to empty ourselves, as Christ did, called to a radical humility, and morality is only part of this process.
(Ahh. How can I not mention that Amy Welborn blogged on inclusion/exclusion back in April. The day after the new Pope was elected, incidentally. Read it. Her comboxes are another story altogether ... :))

Encyclical coming ...

CNS (among others) is reporting that Pope Benedict has written his first encyclical letter, which will be published in December.

Pope Benedict has yet to publish a major papal document, although he recently completed work on a 46-page encyclical for release in early December. Sources told Catholic News Service that the encyclical was a spiritual meditation focused in large part on "eros" (love) and "logos" (the word) and their relationship to the person of Christ.
(The rest of the article is on whether he'll publish a post-synodal exhortation or not. All indications are that he will.)

And Rocco wants to remind you that he'd broken this story a while back. :) Go Rocco!

As to the topic, if CNS is right, then, well ... wow. [Breath bated]

Arrividerci Roma ...

... or so many of the 250 bishops who gathered in the Synod of Bishops must be saying. The Synod formally ended with a closing Mass yesterday (Sunday).

It's been quite interesting, following the meeting. The press, quite predictably, cared only about whether there will be some movement (as is said) on married priests and admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion. Some sign that the Church, you know, is being properly relevant. So, the stream of headlines in my inbox yesterday were predictably disappointed: "communion ban reaffirmed," "celibacy rule reaffirmed."

Quite so. But, Cardinal Kasper today says that this doesn't mean that discussion on these issues is closed. Not that the Synod saying something is meaningless or can just be ignored. However, the final message of the Synod will come from the Pope, in due course.

But, lots of little unprecedented things. The "free-discussion" in the first week. The regular news updates. The general sense that the Pope wanted the Bishops to speak their mind. The views of the visitors -- Orthodox, Protestant, lay Catholic movements. The sense of the catholicity of the Church, of the diversity of concerns and issues around the globe, and also, the sense of unity, especially around the Eucharist. And now, after they've submitted their 50 recommendations (called propositions) to him, he goes and publishes them.

Things to read:
The Synod's final message.
Pope's Homy at the closing of the Year of the Eucharist.

And of course, John Allen's continuing coverage.

Light from the East ...

Was talking with the pastor of an Eastern rite parish in the region earlier today (planning a trip for the Divine Liturgy there with students), and I asked him what he thought of the new Pope's outreach to the East (i.e. the Orthodox). I said, it seems that Pope Benedict is getting a slightly warmer (or, maybe, less cool) reception in the East, even in Moscow, than Pope John Paul II. That lead to an interesting conversation. "Maybe not having a Slavic Pope helps." And then this, "And if Bendict could do something about the Western liturgy, that will be enough!" (or something to that effect)

It's almost a truism (in some circles i.e.) that the way the Novus Ordo is celebrated has lead to an obscuring of the vertical, transcendental dimension. I wholeheartedly agree, and not just because this affirms my high-church liturgical tastes. Liturgy is not just about taste, or "what works for me/us."

This reminded me of what Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Archbishop of Quebec said in an interview this past week with Zenit:

"The Eastern Christians exploit the architecture of their churches to be respectful of the Church herself and of the holy Eucharist, which is the heart of the temple," said Cardinal Ouellet, 61. "They have a deep sense of the sacredness, and so to hear them speak about the holy Eucharist was very edifying for me." "In the West," he continued, "we need to recover the sacredness of the liturgy."
As y'all know, I am absolutely fascinated by the liturgy of the East (and this Easter, dagnabit, I am going to make it to the Orthodox Pasch service in town!). We could learn a lot from our Eastern sisters and brothers.

[And, just to clarify: I'm far from the restorationist camp. Turning the clock back to 195x (or, 16xx, if you ask some!) is not just impossible, but not desirable. A little more Latin, in the Latin rite, however, never hurt anyone! :)]

Flu blogging

An interesting post on the genetic distance between the current avian H5N1 and a potential human mutation (via "The Avian Flu" blog) -- short answer, it ain't much. Read the comments too.

Newsweek now has a cover story on the bird flu.

The WSJ has put it's helpful "Bird Flu Tracker" in the free section of its website. (I do think the "Preventing a pandemic" headline is a little optimistic. Is this preventable?)

India has started testing migratory birds, "to rule out bird flu" as Mr. K.K. Gupta, a state wildlife official rather optimistically put it.

And China might close its borders if a genuine h2h case is identified. Even one. Drastic. But effective?

(For those tuning in, or thinking I'm a scaremonger, follow the flu links in the sidebar. :))

Choose life or death...

Two stories on Amy's blog that really bring out the contrast, it seems to me, between the valuing of life, life as gift, and its opposite, life closed in on itself, Dante's idea of the self curvatus in se, curved in on itself.

The first one is from the Guardian, "My triple delight," about a mother who has triplets, writing about the reactions she gets, dismay, horror, pity, etc. from others. (She's not religious, and not married either, incidentally). This idea that children are a burden, who get in the way of our happiness and self-fulfillment seems to be quite dominant around us, it seems.

The second, appeared in the NYT last year. It really was chilling. About another mother, who had triplets, and decided to abort two of the three, "When one is enough." "Selective reduction" apparently it's called.

Having felt physically fine up to this point, I got on the subway afterward, and all of a sudden, I felt ill. I didn't want to eat anything. What I was going through seemed like a very unnatural experience. On the subway, Peter asked, ''Shouldn't we consider having triplets?'' And I had this adverse reaction: ''This is why they say it's the woman's choice, because you think I could just carry triplets. That's easy for you to say, but I'd have to give up my life.'' Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn't be able to fly after 15. I was already at eight weeks. When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It's not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I'm going to have to move to Staten Island. I'll never leave my house because I'll have to care for these children. I'll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don't think that deep down I was ever considering it.

But Peter [boyfriend] was staring at the sonogram screen thinking: Oh, my gosh, there are three heartbeats. I can't believe we're about to make two disappear.
Yup, because shopping at Costco was so unthinkable. Ok, that might be a bit flippant. Or is it? I don't know why this story has affected me so much. It just seems to be so, calculated, so premeditated. Whatever one thinks about the legality of this, it seems to me, there's no denying, that what happened here was that two human lives were extinguished (I'd say murdered. But that makes me a right-wing nutjob, it seems.) Too bad for them. Smaller jars of mayonnaise are so much easier to deal with after all.

I forget who it was who said it, but it seems that under the current regime, life doesn't begin at conception, but with the mother's choice.

And that, to me, is chilling.

(Aside: it's fascinating the little editorial clarification at the bottom of the story. How the editors, apparently, forgot to mention that the author was at one point an employee of Planned Parenthood and an abortion rights activist. Hmm.)

(Second aside: interesting conversation after Mass today with someone who's a survivor of sexual assault, on this. A very honest, refreshingly rancor-free conversation, dialogue even. I tried my best to explain that it wasn't just because I'm Catholic that I'm anti-abortion. Like this was just an article of faith, about a religious opinion, like, say, no meat on Fridays in Lent. This is about life and death. Human life. Yes, at one level, the issues are very complicated -- this coinhering of two human lives, one within the other. But, at another level, it's radically simple. The mother is a human being. But so is the child. She doesn't become human when the mother decides to keep her. She's human when she's conceived. And, correct me if I'm wrong, any objective embryologist would agree.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Arthur family graveyard

So there's this little graveyard just outside the fence of the recycling center in Cayce, on a road off Frink St. I've passed by there a few times, and yesterday, I finally went out to get some photographs. It's just a little sliver of land by the roadside, with these graves.

As I pulled up some dogs emerged from the recycling place, barking away. I hushed them in Hindi (in India, I could have bent to the road as if to pick up a pebble, and any of the many strays that inhabit every urban street corner would have instinctively understood and run away. Sad but true), which seemed to work. A worker emerged from the factory, gave me a suspicous look and then went back in after I waved at him. I thought about taking pictures of the train tracks and freight cars behind on the other side of the road, but figured that brown guy taking pictures of such stuff might be just too suspicious ... :)

Most of the tombstones were limestone, the lettering having dissolved in rainwater (which is naturally mildly acidic) a long time ago, but all seemed to be a variety of Arthurs, spanning the 19th century (1813 was the earliest date I could spot). A faded American flag was planted in front of the one granite stones, a few dusty plastic flowers in front of the others, poking up through the overgrown grass.

I wonder what the story is -- who this family is (someone remarked that there's an area of town called Arthurtown, so maybe it's them ... ), whose ancestors are lying out here, seemingly forgotten by the wayside, near the recycling center. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I am such a geek ...

So, it seems that Amy Welborn's "Decoding the DaVinci Code" has made it to Montengro. Just go there and see my linguistic geekery on display for all the world in the comboxes. Sheesh.


"My heart is not lifted up"

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.
That's the hundred and thirty first psalm (RSV), from this morning's Office of Readings. A little gem, a dose of reality and tranquility.

"The Design of Evolution"

Finally, the contents of the October 2005 issue of First Things is online. I recommend this article by Stephen Barr, which puts some of the recent flap over ID and evolution (within the Catholic Church -- I'm not talking about the trial going on in PA right now, or about teaching ID in schools) in context.

Gloucester Cathedral Choir

Earlier in the evening (ok, Friday evening i.e.), I ended up with a friend at Ebenezer Lutheran downtown, for their fall concert series, this one featuring the Gloucester Cathedral Choir. The beautiful sanctuary (why can’t modern churches be, well, beautiful? Ok, that’s a separate rant …) was packed. The Choir didn’t disappoint at all – selections from Byrd, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schütz and Elgar, with some piano pieces interspersed to give the choir a rest (thanks Bill, for that explanation … ). I hadn’t heard Haydn’s Little Organ Mass before, and it was a bit surreal the way the Gloria and Credo were shortened by having the different voices sing the lines simultaneously! Elgar’s Te Deum was just magnificent.

As is my wont, I scanned the crowd for other “people of color” (as the phrase goes. Yes, I do this reflexively). There were precious few. The conductor, however, looked suspiciously dusky – well, duh. Andrew Nethsingha; he’s of Sri Lankan descent!

I noticed, at the back wall, behind the choir, on the altar (set into the wall itself. “Oh, so pre-Conciliar, one would say in a Catholic context”), right next to the large cross, a little microphone, and next to it, a ritual book lying open, facing the church. Hey, guess what, at some point, the minister is facing away from the people! Imagine that! (More enlightened, post-Conciliar gasps follow. Ok, I’ll stop.)

At some point, I wondered if there were any other culture, other than the modern West, where religious music is performed simply as an aesthetic exercise, divorced from its ritual context. Maybe that’s part of modernity itself. Not that it's a bad thing, mind you.

Fruitless mental wanderings aside, my favorite was easily Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus. Byrd remained a closet Catholic in Elizabeth’s England, and (as the program suggested), the pain of persecution colors the piece. There’s something about the nature of boys’ voices lifted in song that is ethereal, and suggests a celestial purity. At one point, it seemed that the choir against the far side of the nave was but a canvas, the voices floating down directly from heaven. When it ended, the applause was jarring, such was the power of the hymn to inspire prayer. The words themselves are as beautiful as they are true, in proclaiming the Real Presence of the Christ in the Eucharist.

Ave Verum Corpus
Natum de Maria Virgine:
Vere passum, immolatum
In cruce pro homine:
Cuius latus perforatum
Fluxit aqua et sanguine:
Esto nobis praegustatum
Mortis in examine.

Hail, true Body, truly born Of the Virgin Mary mild.
Truly offered, wracked and torn,
On the Cross for all defiled,
From Whose love-pierced, sacred side
Flowed Thy true Blood's saving tide:
Be a foretaste sweet to me in my death's great agony.
 Posted by Picasa

"What it means to be a faith believer"

Well, it's been a few weeks that First Things has had a regularly updated blog "On the Square" on its website, with contirbutions largely by Fr. Neuhaus and occasionally by editor Joseph Bottum. The thing that makes the blog interesting is that it seems to be an ongoing serving of the fare that has made the periodical famous (well, apart from articles of serious heft), i.e. Fr. Neuhaus' incisive commentary and dry, acerbic, polemical wit in the monthly "Public Square." (Gosh, I hope polemics can be witty. Else I'm in trouble ... )

Here's this hilarious example, where Fr. Neuhaus skewers some of what Bishop Skylstad (and he is often at his polemical best skewering bishops) of Spokane says in a recent interview with John Allen:

Mr. Allen also interviewed Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. bishops conference. Despite his diocese of Spokane being in bankruptcy as a result of sex abuse pay-outs, Skylstad seems to be upbeat about things in general. He defends the high rate of annulments in the U.S. and says our marriage tribunals are something of a model for other countries. He recognizes ecumenical problems but adds, “There are lots of creative things we can do together. When I get home, I’ll preach at an ecumenical service.” The synod does “feel some urgency to move to greater unity about who we are as faith believers.” As he might have added, there are no doubt also those who feel a measure of urgency about what it means to be a faith believer. Some bishops are concerned about the state of liturgy but, says the Skylstad, “I have the sense that the guys in general don’t feel that way.” On what to do about politicians who defy the Church’s moral teaching: “I think the vast majority would like to approach this from the point of view of catechesis and dialogue rather than coming down in a harsh way. It’s a very difficult question, of how to make your personal belief and the teaching of the Church consistent with your public role. We need to dialogue about this, and address it.” With a strategy that combines dialogue and addressing it, the bishops may be on the way to a resolution. Bishop Skylstad is in favor of meetings. “We recently had Father Ron Rolheiser in Spokane, who pointed out that the Holy Spirit actually came for the first time in a meeting, meaning the gathering of the disciples in the upper room, so I’m hopeful.” Of the synod, he says, “There’s a collective wisdom that occurs when a group comes together.” Wherever wisdom occurs, collective or otherwise, attention must be paid. The occurrence of wisdom is, after all, a rare thing. As to whether it is occurring at this meeting in Rome we will have to, on the evidence of this interview, take the bishop’s word for it.
Now lest you get all huffy, I'll add the disclaimer: no, I don't always agree with everything Fr. Neuhaus says. His wit, however, I appreciate unapologetically. "As he might have added, there are no doubt also those who feel a measure of urgency about what it means to be a faith believer." Ha!

Trid Love Song

(Trid being Tridentine of course).

You HAVE to check it out! (Via Dev, via a bunch of other people).

Melody: Cole Porter's, "You're the Top" (Still in splits!)

हनुमान Hanuman

India's first animated film, about the monkey-god, Hanuman ("huh-nu-maan"), loyal devotee of Ram ("raam", "a" as in "father") in the Ramayana. Interesting story, of all things, on ABC.

The film's website is pretty slick, with two video clips. An animated "little Hanuman" keeps popping up around the screen, more reminiscent of a naughty Gopal really (the god Krishna as a child, known as makhan chor - butter-thief. Think stealing from the cookie jar.) . The clips (well, clip; one is just a truncated bit of the title sequence) have an Amar Chitra Katha feel about them ("Immortal Picture Tales" -- that popular series of children's comic books that has introduced at least one, if not two generations of Westernized urban Indian kids to the subcontinent's history and religious heritage. Yep, they have one about Jesus Christ [even there, rather lily-white looking], and Mother Teresa as well).

The AP story on ABC says that animated films are not that popular in India. Um, anyone who knows me, knows that Tom and Jerry Rocks. Surely a few of my billion compatriots would agree :-)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Word on the Synod ...

The 50 propositions (which were amended this week) will be voted on tomorrow (Saturday is not a holiday in the Vatican, one gathers). John Allen's "Word from Rome" has the scoop.

A few that caught my eye:

An amendment to proposition five, on "The Eucharist and the Church," adds a strong ecumenical note.

"The Eucharist stabilizes a strong bond of unity between the Catholic church and the Orthodox churches," it reads, "which have conserved the genuine and integral nature of the mystery of the Eucharist. The ecclesial character of the Eucharist could also be a privileged point in the dialogue with the communities born from the Reform."
Again, this is quite remarkable, and signifies a deep desire for unity with the East. There have already been quite a few symbolic steps in that direction in this pontificate. With the "communities born from the Reform" to consider the Eucharist to be a "privileged point" in dialogue seems, at least on the surface, to be naïve. The differences are just too deep. Or so it seems.

Proposition 36 suggests that in international celebrations the Mass be said in Latin, apart from the readings, the homily, and the Prayers of the Faithful, and that priests be trained from the seminary to use Latin prayers as well as Gregorian Chant. It also recommends that the faithful be educated to do so as well.
You know I like that! :)

Proposition 47 deals with "The Eucharist and Ecology," calling for "a change of mind and heart, facilitating a harmonic and responsible relationship between the human being and creation."
(I know at least one reader will beam at this ... :-))

Proposition 48 takes up the connection between the Eucharist and social justice.

It's pretty remarkable that the various propositions are public, another break in practice from the past. The relative openness and transparency of the synod is certainly refreshing. A sign, clealry, of Benedict's hand firmly on the helm. As Sandro Magister put it in his column, "Ratzinger's Revolution passes with flying colors,"

But it [Benedict's style] also has an effect upon the internal structure of the Church, that of its ordinary governance. The distance between the thought and action of Benedict XVI and the general mode of operating in offices of the Vatican is so clear that the curia has fallen silent and fearful at the prospect of the appointments and adjustments that the new pope will make.
A reminder, of course, that these propositions don't do anything in of themselves. It's what the Holy Father does with them that matters. For that we await the apostolic letter, which will be the Pope's response to the Synod. No hurry -- it'll be out in a year or so. :)

On a wing and a prayer ...

The Tablet wonders about Britain's response to a possible flu pandemic. The first coverage I've seen of the flu in a Catholic publication. Comparisons, naturally, to the black Death. Just a teeny weeny hint of smug anti-Americanism (it wouldn't be European othwerise, would it? Hmm -- is Britain European? I still think of the Continent ... oh well, that's another conversation).

After the mass casualties in the trenches, Britain had taken the Spanish flu in its stride. If an avian flu pandemic erupts, how will we react as a nation? After a long period of peace and prosperity since the end of the Second World War, we are unlikely to face the avian flu with anything like fatalistic equanimity.
Reading the runes of press coverage on the topic this past week, I was put in mind less of modern precedents and more of the historic example of that great fourteenth-century pandemic, the Black Death. During the Black Death many of the canny rich, guessing the contagious nature of the disease, quarantined themselves in bastions on protected hilltops waiting for the plague to spend itself.

What has been noticeably absent, however, in the “flu frenzy” coverage is sober discussion as to how the medically unqualified healthy will be able to care for their sick families and neighbours, including people who live alone. We are not talking sophisticated medicine here. During the 1956 flu outbreak, when I was a pupil in a junior seminary, the entire college came down with flu, including all our teachers, the nuns who cared for us, and the local doctor. That is how pandemics strike within many communities: everybody gets it. For the space of one whole day and night just two boys were free of the illness. Instead of “heading for the hills”, they rolled up their sleeves. There was a lot to be done: making sure that we had sufficient liquid, changing sheets, emptying urine bottles, distributing aspirins: just the basic corporal works of mercy. Simple nursing of this kind during a pandemic could mean, in many cases, the difference between a patient overcoming the virus or succumbing to it.
[snip] (Yep, yep. This is the kind of thing I'm wondering abou when it comes to local preparedness)

The Christian faith was founded on the selfless, non-conditional love that is agape. Yet the focus of our ethics has, in different eras, and under various pressures, tended to shift towards preoccupations that have little or nothing to do with selfless generosity and care for our neighbours. Avian flu may well put the fundamentals of our faith to the severest of tests.
Very possibly. If it is even remotely like the Black Death, I suspect we'll see the whole gamut of human behavior, from the most vile and selfish to the most saintly and self-sacrificing.

The wealthy will, as is the way of the world, weather this better than the poor.

Among all the practical things, time definitely to pray that one be not "put to the test."

Baby Charlotte gets a reprieve

Apparently a big story across the pond. An end-of life case of a severely disabled infant.

A victory today for the parents: judge overturns his own ruling on ventilation. Apparently because baby Charlotte is doing better.

The judge's previous ruling (April 2005).
An interview with the parents from August.

I have to admire the parentss tenacious love -- in the face of everything, they kept pushing, when it would have been easier (and not automatically immoral) to give up. Please keep this situation in your prayers.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Blogging Narnia

So, this morning I went to a sneak-preview of the upcoming Disney production of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, held at an Episcopal church in the suburban northeastern reaches of the city. A postcard had arrived in the mail a few weeks back promoting the preview, sponsored by the folks at It was slick, the website was slick, and it was free, so I signed myself up, for a meeting to share resources for outreach or teaching, for leaders of “schools, churches, groups and organizations.”

All Souls Episcopal turned out to be on one of those temporary tent-like prefab structures, often used as revival tents around these parts, you know, the ones that look like a giant Hershey’s kiss, surrounded by a newly paved parking lot, with some 30-40 vehicles. The crowd was almost entirely white (except for yours truly), across the age spectrum, with more men than women (you won’t see that at a Catholic event!). Turns out there were two other Catholic parishes represented, one local, and another from some 90 miles away to the north in the Diocese. I spotted one collar, most likely an Episcopal priest.

The preview itself was fine: a slightly longer version of the theatrical trailer, a few behind-the-scenes interviews with the director and production crew. Richard Taylor and the folks at WETA (who designed stuff for LOTR) are behind this movie too, as is New Zealand, and some of the Narnian monsters are quite reminiscent of Middle Earthly orcs (a lot of what was shown is available on the movie’s website). The cinematography will definitely be terrific. It certainly looks like it’s going to be a treat.

There followed a brief presentation on the various materials that were being given to us, gratis, by the folks at Narniaresources. A slew of promotional stuff – posters, postcards (um, apparently they’re called “buckslips” – “the perfect small piece to tell your friends about the movie and/or your event, door-hangers; a slick “event box” with a sample kit of all the above; a resource DVD and educator’s guide to follow; suggestions on how to incorporate the release of the movie into the life of your congregation and mission – book discussions, events exploring the Biblical connections in the movie, a Turkish delight party, showing the preview in your service (!), designing a Christmas service around the movie (!!), creating sermons on the movie (and if you submit your sermon, you might win a trip for two to England), neighborhood promotional drives, etc. etc. etc. An overwhelming torrent of slickly designed STUFF.

I have to confess that this was my first real encounter, from the inside, so to speak, of the mass-marketing muscle of American evangelical Christianity. The cynical tapes started at once. Gosh, how much money is being spent on this? Where’s it coming from? (Narniaresources is a division of Motive Marketing: Marketing Movies to Niche Markets. Well they’re doing well (And Disney might get a chance to redeem its image as the demon-spawn of the evangelical world). Besides, it’s so darned American. All this paper, this flashy stuff, these resource guides and manuals and DVDs and planning timetables. All designed to … what … get someone into church? Bring them to Jesus? This naïve belief that we can facilitate and plan and task and organizationalize (oh I love the verbing that occurs in these contexts!) an encounter with the living God? Don’t provide a neat little road map from Narnia to the Bible to eternal life! Don’t package this whole darn thing, please! Connect the dots, you know, and get those nice Sunday School answers – God, Jesus, Bible (and, if you’re Catholic, Church). Salvation by committee, redemption through Power Point. It’s slick. It’s oily. It’s phony. It’s like a used-car salesman. Gah! Just let the story speak, with its own power!

And yet.

Well, first of all, as Catholics, we can learn a huge whole lot. I was reminded of Fr. Bob’s talk from Fire at the Beach, “From maintenance to mission.” How mission means not just focusing our energies on our members, on those who’re already “in,” so to speak (one of our parishioners, a relatively recent convert from Protestantism, said after that talk, “This is new?”). If we really believe what we say, that through the Church (warts, sinfulness, institutional arrogance, hypocrisy, internecine wrangling, and all), one does, indeed encounter the living Lord; that, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, the Church is, truly the sacrament of the Lord, then, sure – anything and everything can be an evangelical opportunity, an opportunity to share the Good News of life in Christ (Of course, a huge part of the problem for Catholics is this large slew of uncatechized members, who are definitely “mission territory” so to speak). And everything in the culture can become an opportunity for this. Especially the release of the celluloid version of those beloved books of Lewis.

If this leads to a genuine encounter with the Lord, with lives changed and transformed, well, then, that’s why we’re here, right? (Those darned prejudices of mine, this residual cynicism about evangelicals.)

So, I carted back the mound of marketing, buckslips and all. Back at the office, I skimmed through, admittedly with some trepidation, one of the little booklets (“Getting to know Aslan,”) that is basically, a little tract on why one needs Jesus, and how much God loves us. It wasn’t at all as bad as I’d feared. A little incomplete perhaps (The Word of God is mentioned as a way in which “Jesus’ presence continues to endure.” No mention of the Eucharist, of course), and maybe a bit too focused on just the individual. Not quite just self-help. Very suburban (No mention of the intimate connection between following Jesus and concern for the poor and injustice in the world, for instance). And, of course, one doesn’t expect a mention of the Mother of God in any of this (well, Lewis avoids that in Mere Christianity as well). Still, pretty decent.

Ok. Chalk this up to an ecumenical lesson learned. Maybe planning something around the movie isn’t so horrible.

Of course, it won’t be phony. Suggestions welcome.

[And, for those who care, Barb Nicolosi at Church of the Masses share her impressions after seeing a preview of more-or-less the final cut of the Narnia movie. Oh, and this sad, but true, comment in a slightly later post on the same preview event: “Note that I was the only Catholic invitee in the room...evidence that Catholic leaders are pretty much worthless at rallying their troops....oh for the healing of the Reformation!”]