Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Leave it open

Papa's antim sanskar (last rites) were performed on Tuesday, January 30, the 59th anniversary of the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi, and, this year, Muharram, the Sh'ia day of mourning. Yesterday, along with some relatives, I took the asthi (literally "bones," the bone fragments and ashes that remain after cremation) in a simple red earthen pot to the sangam (confluence) of the Osrang and the great river of Gujarat, the Narmada. As the bright marigolds and the asthi floated away in the current, I chanted In Pardisum.

The besnu is this evening (kind of like a memorial service). Until the termu (thirteenth day), there will be the recitation of all the eighteen adhyaya (lessons) of the Bhagvad Gita at home, one hour a day. I have been praying the Office for the Dead daily.

The phone has rung off the hook, condolences, from the pharmacist around the corner, to the Prime Minister. Friends and colleagues. Very well meaning yet so wearisome.

My mailbox has been innundated by messages of condolence and sympathy. Needless to say, I simply am unable to respond to these yet.

St. Izzy left the following in the comments below:
"He thought he would become accustomed to [being orphaned], not yet understanding that it is useless to become accustomed to the loss of a father, for it will never happen a second time: might as well leave the wound open."
--Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, end of chapter 7
I miss him. So much.

Monday, January 29, 2007

From darkness to light ...

Asatoma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrityorma amritam gamaya

From untruth lead me to truth.
From darkness lead me to light.
From death lead me to immortality. (Brihadaranyakopanishad)

My father died today. As his breathing deteriorated through the night, his body had become restless and agitated as it fought for air, though the docs assured us that he was probably not aware of anything. At noon, I reminded him of our visits to Vijay Chowk when I was a kid on January 29, and, as I had envisioned for a while, I sang Abide With Me for him on his deathbed. Soon afterwards (and no doubt, it was the morphine kicking in as well), his agitation stopped. At about 1:10 pm, I finished praying the Liturgy of the Hours, joining in the prayer of the universal Church of Christ. And soon afterwards, his breathing shallowed, and he drew his last breath at 1:21 pm IST (2:51 am on the US East Coast).

It was exactly two weeks ago that we found out that his cancer had metastasized. The longest two weeks of my life.

Today was ekadashi in the Hindu samvant calendar. An auspicious day, as many remarked.

Be that as it may, I can feel only one thing. He's gone.

It rained today. In the middle of January. A grey, overcast, heavy sort of day.. It rained as we loaded his body into the ambulance to go to the morgue. It rained as we took it out.

A little while back, a noisy thunderstorm rolled through. A loud retort was heard nearby, and the house was plunged into darkness.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fast falls the eventide

This is one of my father's favorite hymns. When I was a child he would take me regulary to the "Beating the Retreat" ceremony, held three days after Republic Day, on January 29. The ceremony always concluded with the bands playing "Abide With Me."

He is nearing the end of his earthly life. I always knew I would sing this to him on his deathbed.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.


I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Friday, January 26, 2007

And now Charleston

My home diocese. From an AP story in The State:
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston announced Friday it will settle child sex abuse claims in South Carolina, designating as much as $12 million for damages.

"It is my fervent hope that this settlement will allow us, as the Catholic community of faith in South Carolina, to bring closure to an ugly period in our history," Bishop Robert Baker said.

The class-action settlement has been given initial approval by a state judge, said Larry Richter, an attorney for four victims whose claims were settled last summer.

Peter Shahid Jr., an attorney representing the diocese, said the church knows of at least eight other victims although others may come forward.

Under the settlement, abuse victims could get anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 while spouses and parents would receive $20,000.

Since 1950, there have been 50 abuse claims involving 28 clergy or others diocesan employees settled for almost $3 million, Shahid said. Those claims were not apart of the new settlement.

Richter, himself a Roman Catholic, said it is unclear how many other victims may come forward.
The Diocesan page with pdfs of statements and details. (if the page looks a little sparse, because the Diocesan webpage has this stupid oh-so-90s frames structure. And why .pdfs? Oh anyway.)

Pure Joy

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, RSV)
(This was the reading at Vespers today. In the older version of the NAB that the Liturgy of the Hours uses, the translation was "pure joy.")

The Name of Jesus Christ

[This is the full text of a piece that showed up in the daily news email from the Fides News Service. I can't seem to find it on their website yet, so I'm putting the full text up here.]

It's not an either/or between proclamation of the Name of Jesus and dialogue/solidarity/works of justice, of course. Nor am I entirely sure what they mean by the "spirit of Assisi," (perhaps that this "spirit" lead to indifferentism?) But their point is well taken ... the latter is (or ought to be) in the service of the former.
The ministers of the Church speak less and less about Jesus and ever more frequently about peace, justice, solidarity and dialogue …they are not convinced of the effectiveness of the Name in dialogue with the men and women of today. Perhaps they have forgotten that the name of Jesus is powerful and can save, whereas the rest are merely words which express merely a hope, as we see by the fact that the more they are spoken about, the less they happen.
It is known that the name of Jesus in Hebrew means ‘God saves’ and that this was the name given to the Child by Joseph, and also according to the Angel Gabriel’s instructions to Mary at the annunciation, to indicate the Child’s mission to save man from sin. Saint Bernard of Siena who described the name of Jesus as the splendour of preachers - according to the words of Psalm 71 - designed an emblem bearing the initials IHS in the form of the sun and its rays, which became a famous symbol. Saint Francis of Assisi pronounced the Name slowly as if to savour its sweetness. Now the Name neglected, they prefer to speak about values, peace, justice, solidarity …to organise marches, torchlight walks, demonstrations rather than psalm chanting processions invoking God, indeed the name of Jesus, for the salvation of humanity; religious men and women prefer to promote initiatives for fair trade and solidarity, rather than engage in mission to make known Jesus Redemptor Hominis.
And yet from the Apostles down to Paul VI in Manila it was not so. Did Peter and John cure the lame man at the door of the Temple in the name of the value of solidarity? Did Saint Stephan speak to his persecutors against the death penalty in the name of justice or human dignity? Did Augustine say the martyrs shed their blood in the name of dialogue?
Benedict XVI in his catechesis recalled that the life of Saint Stephen “teaches us never to separate social charity work from the courageous announcement of the faith”. The first Christian martyr “Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom.”. Indeed “the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church's life and also of our life” ha Pope Benedict XVI said. “In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian's famous words, becomes "the seed of Christians", the source of mission for Christians to come.” (general audience 10 January 2007).
This is the point: the name of Jesus rarely draws the applause of the world - especially today - whereas it often leads to persecution and martyrdom. Are we ready for this, as we were told at Baptism and as, renouncing the Devil, we believed?
In fact the Pope concluded his Wednesday teaching on 10 January as follows: “And by accepting our cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn Christian joy even in moments of difficulty. The value of witness is irreplaceable, because the Gospel leads to it and the Church is nourished by it. St Stephen teaches us to treasure these lessons, he teaches us to love the Cross, because it is the path on which Christ comes among us ever anew”.
As far as dialogue is concerned: Jesus revealed himself - as fundamental theologians well know- as Saviour. There is no other Name by which we can be saved. We can say that the Name is emanates the power of the Holy Spirit and hence the ministers of the Church and all Christians must always announce it. The news - the good news - the Gospel is the dialogue of salvation, come as Pope Paul VI used to say. Why are marches, torchlight walks, debates, meetings with bishop, priests and committed laity in front, not ‘rogations’ (processions of parishioners), supplications, litanies, processions to invoke the name of Jesus? “Whatever you ask in my name will be granted to you”. These are His words, words of God.
Unless the "spirit of Assisi" - so often mentioned in circles lovers of dialogue more than the name of Jesus - is drawn from the Holy Spirit it is senseless. The Holy Spirit blows on one side to form the Church body of Christ, on the other so that all men and women, believers and non, come to realise in all freedom that they are "called" towards Jesus Christ in the Church, as the Council said in Lumen gentium 2, 16 and Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Ecclesiam suam. Hence the "spirit of Assisi "must face this truth and allow itself to be verified and possibly modified and purified so that all humanity may be saved and find the truth (cfr 1 Tim 2,4) they seek which is enclosed in the Name of Jesus. (Agenzia Fides 25/1/2007; righe 53, parole 782)

Blessed are those who hear the word of God

... and put it into action. (Lk. 11:28). From the Holy Father's homily at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls yesterday.
Il primo insegnamento che traiamo da questo episodio biblico, richiamato anche nel rito del battesimo, è che, nella prospettiva cristiana, l’ascolto è prioritario. Al riguardo Gesù afferma in modo esplicito: “Beati coloro che ascoltano la parola di Dio e la mettono in pratica” (Lc 11,28). Anzi, a Marta preoccupata per tante cose, Egli dice che “una sola è la cosa di cui c’è bisogno” (Lc 10,42). E dal contesto risulta che questa unica cosa è l’ascolto ubbidiente della Parola. Perciò l’ascolto della parola di Dio è prioritario per il nostro impegno ecumenico. Non siamo infatti noi a fare o ad organizzare l’unità della Chiesa. La Chiesa non fa se stessa e non vive di se stessa, ma della parola creatrice che viene dalla bocca di Dio. Ascoltare insieme la parola di Dio; praticare la lectio divina della Bibbia, cioè la lettura legata alla preghiera; lasciarsi sorprendere dalla novità, che mai invecchia e mai si esaurisce, della parola di Dio; superare la nostra sordità per quelle parole che non si accordano con i nostri pregiudizi e le nostre opinioni; ascoltare e studiare, nella comunione dei credenti di tutti i tempi; tutto ciò costituisce un cammino da percorrere per raggiungere l’unità nella fede, come risposta all’ascolto della Parola.
[So far the text is only in Italian. This is my translation of the part that I've highlighted. It is not us, most certainly, who make or organize the unity of the Church. The Church is not herself made, and does not live [out] of her herself, but out of the creative word that comes from the mouth of God.]

Intentional discipleship

Amy has an interesting post up on this topic, one that is close to my heart. I have these inchoate thoughts rumbling about my head about "ethnic" Catholicism, versues (what I've termed) evangelical Catholicism. I've seen and experienced the former mainly in India, but it is certainly present in the US. The latter is what excites me, and is, of course, why I am Catholic.

Some of these thoughts were clarified and focused by reading Cardinal Newman's "Parochial and Plain Sermons." In many of these he took "respectable" religion (what I'd call "ethnic Catholicism," mutatis mutandis) head on.

Anyway, I haven't really had time to read all the stuff that's roiling around St. Blogs on this topic ... for me, I think of Catholicism in terms of "intentional discipleship," and, ideally, in that good Catholic both/and fashion, would like to see it wedded to the many strengths of "ethnic" Catholicism.

Yes, huge generalities there. No time (or mental energy) to put any of this down in any coherent fashion right now. Some day. Insha'llah.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Conversion of St. Paul

Today is the patronal feast for the Paulist Fathers, and a day that has been special for me for years now.

I, however, do not have much energy for a lengthy blogpost -- the day was spent running around and learning more about managing cancer pain. In fact, I have not managed to get to my Breviary until just now (it's nearing the end of the day in India)!

So, here's a link to last year's post, with that arresting image of the young Paul lying stricken on the ground, in Caravaggio's famous "Conversion of St. Paul," as well as the lyrics of the anthem of the Society: "Lead us great teacher Paul."

Fr. Z has a great post of quotes from the Fathers relating to the conversion of St. Paul. [Hat-tip Mike Aquilina]

St. Anthony Messenger Press's Saint of the Day for today's Feast.

The January Edition of the online Paulist magazine, The Catholic World, has a piece by Fr. Paul Robichaud CSP on the tomb of St. Paul, recently rediscovered underneath the Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls.

I'm heading to bed, so I won't wait up to read what the Holy Father said at the Vespers (probably going on right now) at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.

I stumbled across this interesting article from the archives at Time, about the Paulist Trailer Fathers, spreading the Word in the rural South. Somehow, I think, the Apostle to the Gentiles would have been proud.

Finally, I paraphrase the words of St. Paul to his friend Philemon, and make them my own ... to all those who are praying for my father and my family: "For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, [my brothers and sisters] because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed in you." (Phlm 7)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Emptiness and pain

Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong; Most of them are sorrow and toil; they pass quickly, we are all but gone. (Ps. 90:10, NAB)
I always pause when these lines from the nineteeth psalm come up in the Breviary. The Grail Translation (which is used by the official text of the Liturgy of the Hours) translates the second half of the first sentence as: "and most of these are emptiness and pain."
Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. Relent, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Fill us at daybreak with your love, that all our days we may sing for joy.

The uses of turmeric

No, not a new Arundhati Roy novel. An article in Scientific American about the possible uses of that traditional Indian spice in the fight against cancer.

Now I know why my grandma made me drink that yukky haldi milk as a kid.

Online discernment reatreat

... for women and men looking into religious life. An online retreat sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington that begins on Ash Wednesday.

Sounds intriguing. Do publicize it far and wide!

Monday, January 22, 2007

March for Life

It's about 11:45 am Stateside, and the March for Life would have started in the nation's capital. I would have missed it anyway had I still been in DC -- the novitiate had something else scheduled for today. (And that's all I'll say about that on here).

I did attend last year, with two van loads of college kids from SC. It was an awesome experience!

Amy, of course, has a cool set of links and stories.

Of course, this date doesn't have any significance in India (where abortion remains legal throughout pregnancy. Sex-selection tests are illegal however, as is aborting children solely because of their sex. Killing them for some other reason is ok, it would seem. I still recall the common ads in the Bombay suburban trains, advertizing cheap abortions for Rs. 90, about $4 back then.)

And finally, the stories about the decision of the American OB-Gyn association to recommend tests to screen for Downs Syndrome in every pregancy (several are linked at Amy's) reminded me of my visit to Karuna Vihar, a school for mentally handicapped children, started by Commonweal columnist and author Jo McGowan in Dehradun in the north of India, which I had the privilege of visiting in 2005. Jo and her dedicated folks are selflessly fighting amazing cultural hurdles to promote the dignity and respect for an almost invisible class of people in Indian society. The following is from the essay in the promotional 2005 calendar of Karuna Vihar.
People with disabilities enrich our lives in ways we cannot begin to fathom and those of us lucky enough to be ecologists in this particular ecosystem can make grateful lists of rocks they have disintegrated and nitrogen they have created from thin air. But that's a bonus. Like the rest of us, they are here because God made them. There is no need for them to justify their existence. For just as “every cubic inch of space is a miracle”, so every single species is a keystone species.
Pray today for respect for all human life, and for an end to abortion.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Driving in search of Jesus

At 6:25pm I pulled up in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary here in Baroda, the place I normally go for Mass. The church was dark and the doors were locked. "Uh oh!" Not a good sign! I wandered around the grounds -- some kids were playing in the field at the school next door, but there was no other sign of life. The board very clearly lists a mass at 6:30 pm in English. Eventually, I found a security guard ("watchman" in Indian parlance). "Oh Mass today is at Jeevandarshan" he says. "What's that?" "It's over there in Fatehgunj." Darn. Guess I missed the memo. I get some (in good Indian fashion) very imprecise directions -- "oh over there, just ahead of that petrol pump" [i.e. gas station]. "Near Lehripillar Hospital," which I've never heard of. I launch back into the traffic melée. Several petrol pumps and one helpful rickshawallah later, I end up at the hospital, whose proper name turns out to be "Our Lady of Pilar Hospital." Ah, Spanish missionaries at work again I see! (The most impressive Shrine of Our Lady of Pilar is in Zaragoza in Spain) "Is there Mass here?" "Yes ... at the Shrine ... just on the other side of that building."

The first thing I see as I turn the corner is an open space with a colonial style church in the middle -- St. James Church, CNI (Church of North India). Lots of cars parked outside, but not much going on inside that I could see. And then just a little ahead, a sign points to the left, "Our Lady of the Forsaken." Another Spanish import, devotion to her being popular in Valencia.

I park the car and walk into a large open ground, which is full of worshippers. A stage is set up at one end, with a bank of concelebrating priests sitting on plastic chairs, while one is standing at the altar preaching. Darn, I missed the Gospel! However, I need to be here, and most especially, I need to receive Communion. I trust that the Lord will not hold the deficiences in my piety against me. I find a place towards the back, against the back wall of the ground, next to a tree and a pile of firewood. (Yes, firewood! They take "winter" seriously!) There's easily a thousand people here, the chairs are completley full and hundreds are lined along the back, filling most open spaces.

The homily is in a flowerly and polished Gujarati that I generally associate with TV. I catch the tail end, about emulating the qualiteis of Mata Mariyam, Mother Mary. And something about today's youth being interested only in mobiles (i.e. cell phones) and SMSing (i.e. sending text-messages).

This is only the second time I've been to Mass in Gujarati. I don't know any of the prayers or responses, so I use English. No one really seems to be responding anyway, and the songs, which, but for the words, could have been bhajans at an aarti or puja anywhere, are sung solely by the choir it seems.

Most uncharacteristically, I find myself getting impatient, as the Eucharistic prayer progresses. I'm waiting for Paramprasad, the "Supreme Prasad," Holy Communion. At the end of this week -- which is barely the beginning of my journey here in this dark moment -- I am exhausted and drained. I try to recall a time since my Baptism that I've hungered so much for the Eucharist.

For Communion an army of sisters and young priests and seminarians spread out from the altar. I receive, aware so strongly of my own weakness and pride and inadequcy, most gratefully.

Just before the final blessing, the main celebrant asks the people to remember his advince from the homily. "We need to focus on those qualities," he says, and then, in a beautiful voice, launches into an undulating refrain, "Amhe to ekla javana re." "Because we will be leaving [this world] alone." I freeze. I've no idea what he really means.

After the blessing, I join the masses thronging the circular concrete building which houses the Shrine, reaching out over the crowds (I am by far the tallest person around. At 6'3" I tower over most of my countrymen, especially in Gujarat), and touch the glass enclosing the statue of Our Lady, and pray a heartfelt "Hail Mary."

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Vocation Surge?

Well any increase in candidates for the priesthood these days could be called a surge I guess. This is an interesting piece in the NC(register) about which dioceses have the largest classes of ordinands as well as ordinands-per-Catholic. The answer? Smaller dioceses in the Midwest and the South. (The article focuses entirely on the secular clergy.)
Dioceses such as Boston, Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia and St. Paul/Minneapolis continue to have the largest ordination classes, in part because of their larger Catholic populations. When the number of seminarians is compared with the total number of Catholics in the diocese, however, a very different list emerges — one that shows that the largest number of priests per capita are coming from the Midwest and the southern United States.

“The south is very religious,” said Father Tim McKeown, vocation director for the Diocese of Savannah, Ga. “We’re about 3% to 4% Catholic, but there is a strong Christian ethos. I think that certainly helps.”
Among the things that "work" is a personal invitation from priests ...
The Diocese of Memphis has quadrupled its number of seminarians in the past five years. Father Keith Stewart, vocation director, cited personal contact as the key.

“I’ve really worked with our priests to get them to extend a personal invitation to men,” said Father Stewart, who has been at his post for five years. “It’s been one of my biggest priorities because I’ve seen it borne out in experience that the personal invitation is what gets the ball rolling.”

According to Father Stewart, those interested in pursuing a priestly vocation come to him only after having initial contact with a priest.

“The priests are the real recruiters,” said Father Stewart. “Ninety percent of them come to me only after someone else got the ball rolling. I’ve only had one or two who have come to me on their own.”

A U.S. bishops’ conference survey bears that out. According to the study done by the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation, 78% of the men being ordained said they were initially invited by a priest to consider the priesthood. That same survey showed that very few men are inspired to consider the priesthood by a website or advertisement.
And while we foreign-born continue to dominate the stories, the picture presented by the American-born candidates is a little different
While studies conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate have tended to show that priests are trending toward being older, more educated and foreign-born, that’s not quite the case among American-born ordinands.

“Our seminarians are getting younger, especially when you look at the American-born seminarians,” said Father Stewart. The Diocese of Memphis currently has 18 men studying for the priesthood. “We have only two second-career vocations. Most are right out of high school or college.”
So, if you know a young man who is serious about his faith, ask him if he has considered being a priest! I suspect that every Catholic guy growing up thinks about it. No harm in inviting guys to consider a challenging and exciting calling!

On praying to the Holy Spirit

Mark Mossa has some thoughts. Yours truly left the following comments at his blog (unless he doesn't approve them!). And glad to see Mark back in the blogosphere, however occasinally.

Angelus: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The Holy Father focused on the upcoming week of prayer in today's Angelus address.
The Pontiff said that this year’s theme was prepared by “faithful from Umlazi, South Africa, a very poor city, where AIDS has reached pandemic proportions and where there are very few human hopes. But the Risen Christ is hope for everybody, especially for Christians. Heirs to past divisions, they have tried on this occasion to launch an appeal: Christ can do everything, he “makes the deaf hear and (the) mute speak" (Mk 7, 37),” can instil in Christians the ardent desire to listen to and communicate with one another as well as speak together with Him the language of mutual love.”

Talking about the ecumenical commitment to Christian unity, Benedict XVI stressed that such a commitment is not limited to the experts but is for everyone. “Ecumenism is a deep dialogical experience; it is listening and talking to one another, knowing each better. It is a task that everyone can accomplish, especially in terms of spiritual ecumenism based on prayer and sharing that are now possible between Christians. I hope that the yearning for unity, translated into prayer and fraternal collaboration to alleviate man’s suffering, can spread more and more at the parish level as well as in Church movements and religious institutes.”
(Emphasis added) And ... Societies of Apostolic Life as wel! ... Ecumenical (as well as inter-faith) dialogue is part and parcel of the mission of the Paulist Fathers.

[And at the very end of the address, the Pope added the following ...
In greeting Italian pilgrims, the Pontiff cited the promoters of the ‘Cambia gioco’ [Change the Game] project, who in the city of Lecce invited children to give up their toy guns.

“I congratulate you for this initiative,” the Pope said, and “I want to broaden the appeal: Let us keep children from the contagion of violence!”
I trust that the Holy Father has not heard of Grand Theft Auto! Toy guns are peanuts!]

The Oasis Panel

... held at the United Nations in honor of the scholarly journal Oasis which focuses on (largely Christian-Muslim) inter-faith dialogue. The panelists were Dr. Seyyed Hossain Nasr, of George Washington Univ., a leading Islamic scholar (who will also be part of a panel on Christian-Muslim relations at the annual Hecker Lecture at St. Paul's College in DC later this month), Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Rabbi Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress and Angelo Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice. John Allen has a decent summary at his blog. Fr. Guy Selvester of Shouts in the Piazza also has a brief summary, along with the full text of Cardinal Scola's remarks at his blog. (A summary of the panelists interventions is also present, in Italian, at the Oasis website.)

[The name of the review comes from the 2001 speech of Pope John Paul II at the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus:
The place of prayer is dear to both Christian and Muslim
as an oasis in which one meets the Merciful God
along the walk towards eternal life
and with one's brothers and sisters in the bond of religion.]
From John Allen's summary it seemed that Rabbi Singer talked about Egyptian muftis at Al Azhar in Cairo who had issued a fatwa denouncing violence in religion, and Dr. Nasr reminded the audience that all the three religions represented in the panel had violent histories (apparently responding to the Pope's remarks in his now famous Regensburg lecture.)

I've read through Cardinal Scola's remarks a couple of times. He seems to compare the American model of secularism favorably to the European one (with a much more "naked public square"), and talks about the need for a secular state which will nonetheless respect pluralism and the "hybridization of civilizations" that is one of the significant global phenomena of our day. What the resulfts of this "hybridization" will be is unclear, and will only be clear in the encounter itself. And the central way this encounter can take place peacefully, aided by the kind of State that he envisions, is one where the "testimonies" of the human experience of people (including believers) is taken seriously. No one can, of course, deny anyone else's experience.
The road that wish humbly to propose is the one which has seen come to birth the review "Oasis" and the Centre that promotes it. We can identify it in the theme of testimony, understanding this category in all its theoretical and practical force. Testimony challenges every man and every woman, inviting them to become persoanlly involved, to pay with their persons, and not to prejudge the limits of what can be achieved in encounter and dialogue with the other. Given the risk implied by freedom that is never definable a priori, nobody can ever evade testimony. Human freedom can never be "deduced", for its full significance is given only in the act which embodies it.
I like this! Especially because, in my experience and in my circle, the sense is that the only way the religions can coexist is if believers start taking their religion less seriously -- if Christians become lukewarm Christiand and if Muslims become lukewarm Muslims, for instance. That is, the only true way forward that favors peace is secularism. Religious seriousness is equated (not unreasonably!) with fundamentalism and therefore with violence. What Cardinal Scola (and the Popes have kept saying in their own fashion) proposes is a way that respects the integrity of different religious traditions, as well as their universalism (something which is certianly true of the Abrahamic religions) while inviting dialogue -- especiall in the form of giving and receiving "testimony" -- in a peaceful manner.

I will look forward to getting my hands on copies of some issues of Oasis to see what this looks like on paper.

Sound formation

... that's what seminarians need to be good priests, according to the Pope (also via Zenit.)
"The quality of the clergy depends on the soundness of their formation," said the Pope in his address to the seminarians.

In addition to studies, seminarians should receive an "integral formation, centered on the spiritual dimension," whose "pillars are the daily sacrament of the Eucharist and the sacrament of confession."
A little more from the story at CNA
Benedict XVI also recalled how the study program "was incorporated within a framework of integral formation, focusing on the spiritual dimension and having as its pillars the Sacraments of the Eucharist (every day) and of Penance (at least once a month), and supported by the devout practices prescribed or encouraged by the Church. Great importance was also given to education in charity, both in everyday fraternal life and in helping the sick, and in what today we call 'pastoral experience'."
[Hmm. I'm coming due on that "once a month" confession thing. And given the situation here, I really can't make it to Mass every day ... but boy, do I hunger for it come weekend!]

Fr. Cantalamessa on the composition of the Gospels

At Zenit. In a nutshell, just because it wasn't written as history (in the modern sense) doesn't mean it's not reliable. Which is exactly the conclusion that large chunks of those engaged in historical-crtical study of biblical texts have wanted, and continue to want one to draw.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Muslim converts in Germany

... and also at Der Spiegel, an interesting piece on Germans converting to Islam.
A soon-to-be-published study on Islamic life in Germany confirms the Cologne doctor's impression. The study sheds light on a phenomenon that may seem surprising given the image of Islam in Germany, where the religion is often associated with terrorism, forced marriages and honor killings: In Germany, some 4,000 people converted to Islam between July 2004 and June 2005. The study, which was financed by the Interior Ministry and carried out by the Soest-based Muslim institute Islam Archive Germany, reveals that the number of converts increased four-fold in comparison to the previous year.

The figure of 4,000 conversions means the usual explanations for why Germans convert are no longer sufficient. The annual number of converts remained constant -- at about 300 -- until three years ago. The converts were mainly women "who married a Muslim partner," Muhammad Salim Abdullah from the Islam Archive points out. Today, people are increasingly converting "of their own free will," he says, adding that the converts still include many women, but also plenty of university graduates -- middle-class citizens like Kai Lühr.
The article goes on to try and find some sociological links -- personal crises, wanting to stand out, etc.
Sometimes the newly-acquired Muslim values can clash with Western principles, in the opinion of some. The key question is how literally Islam's holy book is interpreted. "Converts tend to practise their religion in a more puritanical fashion," says Wohlrab-Sahr. "Born Muslims are often more liberal."

A Hamburg lawyer's office provides an intriguing example of what she means. Thirty-six-year-old Nils Bergner prays to Allah five times a day. The German convert works together with a Turkish friend Ali Özkan, also a Muslim. The two visit the mosque together, but it's only in the German's office that the prayer rug is regularly rolled out. "I just can't manage it," says Özkan. "The first prayer is at 6:00 a.m. -- much too early."

Recently, they were invited to dinner. The desert was tiramisu. Bergner hesitated because of the alcohol in the recipe. "I said, you can't be serious," Özkan recalls. "Go ahead and eat it, I said. It's just a flavoring." But Bergner left the tiramisu untouched.
As one says in Hindi for the zeal of a convert ... naya musulman. New Muslim.

The Shilpa Shetty Row

For those Stateside, who're missing the Biggest Story on the News ... here's a neat summary at the English section of Der Spiegel on the racist treatment that Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty has gotten on a reality TV set in the UK, and how this has almost become an International Incident. And some wisdom at the blog of the Telegraph's Delhi correspondent, Peter Foster.

Tempest in a teacup. Not that the treatment she got wasn't bigoted. Racism is quite real in the UK. But puh-lease, Indians are as racist as the rest. How do we treat African students in this country? (I recall all the "bandar log", "monkey-folk" nonsense back in college) Or how the diaspora talks about blacks? (And God forbid our daughters date a black guy!) And let's not even start on the treatment of domestics, or caste in India.

Yep, we're hypocrites. And since India is in the global spotlight, and everyone loves making Westerners guilty, let's make this into a tamasha.

(Oh, at some point I guess I'll put up the "effing-Paki" taxicab story from Vegas a few years back. It was stunningly funny to hear that in the US! Especially since the cabbie obviously dind't think I was a "Paki" ... :))

Kai eucharistoi ginesthe

"And be thankful." (Colossians 3:15)

Incredible (or trite) as it may sound, I am incredibly thanfkul. I'm so glad to be here. Everything is in stark relief, as if light were shining on the world for the first time. Like one is seeing reality for the first time.

And each moment is precious.

And I'm so thankful for the emails and comments and Facebook messages that have come in. I can feel the support from friends and loved ones and Paulists, as well as strangers. Thank y'all. I apologize that I haven't been responding to individual emails yet. (And for my friends -- keep the emails coming. Let me know what's going on with you. Talk to me on AIM. And don't worry about what to say ... I'll be glad to hear from you. Heck, even call ... I'll be emailing out tips on how to make cheap calls to the subcontinent soon. I'm very keenly aware that my primary support group is some 9000+ miles away.)

Right now it looks like my body clock will be sticking to Eastern Time ... I'm with dad at night, and he wakes up several times. So, I've been sleeping in the afternoon.

I do plan to continue blogging, but not about what's going on here (it's really too personal for such a public medium), apart from the occasional updates so folks can fine tune the prayers. Blogging, I've decided, is a good way to tune out of here for a little bit, and exercise the mind, read a bit and do what this blog mostly does -- share what I've been reading and what thoughts emerge from that interaction.

Finally, prayer has become even easier. I was a little surprised by this actually. It's a grace that I am, yet again, grateful for. How dependent are we, every moment of our existence, on God's grace!

The hymn we sang (the first time really that the novices sang in the choir -- or rather, as the choir! -- at the Saturday community Mass) last week has been floating around my head, and is, right now, the prayer of my heart.

Lead me, guide me along the way,
For if you lead me I cannot stray.
Lord let me walk each day with Thee.
Lead me, oh Lord lead me.
I am weak and I need Thy strength and power,
To help me over my weakest hour.
Let me through the darkness Thy face to see,
Lead me, oh Lord lead me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The faith the size of a mustard seed

Well, I'm back in India, in Bombay, at the cousin's place. Tomorrow morning the train to Baroda. I left less than two weeks ago. I'm not sleepy, and in a bizarre and weird, wired mood. Everything is in slow motion.

I didn't sleep much on the plane, despite the exit row. (Delta's 777's are by far more comfortable than Continental's, or Northwest's A330s. The service on board was great. Three Indian flight attendant, as opposed to the normal hassled looking one on the others, very friendly.) Ended up having some good conversations with my seat companions, one of whom was a good Bombay Catholic lady who has lived in in the Dallas area for a quarter of a century.

"Are you Catholic?" she asked, after she saw me praying Lauds. "Yep ... " She shared her own family's stories of the suffering and death of loved ones. Her mother sounded like a really formidable character, who also believed implicitly in the power of prayer. "Whenever my daughter had issues at work, mom would light a candle, and it would be ok!" She then gave me a medal of the Infant Jesus of Prague. "It's been blessed at the Shrine." I took it most gratefully, and I think it will remain on my person throughout this period.

I got to thinking about her mom, her faith in the power of prayer. I am supposed to be a man of prayer. I pray. I intercede and ask the saints for intercession for my friends and family, for a long list of people and intentions that inhabit the inside cover of my breviary, a crumpled piece of paper with hopes and pain and suffering and joy scrawled in the ink of faith.

But do I really believe it? How much faith do I really have? I know I need to accept the reality ahead ... but do I really believe in miracles? For myself, my family? Am I too prideful to dare to approach the Throne for my own needs, boldly? Or am I, despite it all, deep down, really a skeptic?
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. (Mt. 17:20, RSV)
Lord, I need your help!

Monday, January 15, 2007

In the twinkling of an eye...

... things can change so rapidly.

My dad's cancer has spread to his liver and bones. The prognosis is not really very good. (How this remained undectected all this while is a mystery!) I found this out just after our van had a flat tire this morning off I-95 (on our way to the conference mentioned below in CT. Let me tell you changing a tire on a narrow shoulder in 30s/40s temps is not fun!) in New York, when I saw that my brother had called. Dad was admitted to the hospital over the weekend, and I knew that something was up so I was prepared to hear bad news, or as prepared as one can be.

Right now I'm at R's place in Queens, and I'm booked to fly out on Delta's nonstop to Bombay tonight from JFK, leaving 9:20 pm, arriving in Bombay tomorrow night at 10:10 pm and then the early morning flight to Baroda Wednesday morning. I need to be with my father and my family.

How this affects my formation will depend on how long I'm away, and how things develop. All that is unclear right now. The Paulists are being splendidly supportive, of which I am immensely grateful.

I'm so glad that as I packed my bags yetserday, something prompted me to throw my passport in the suitcase.

I've talked to some of you on the phone ... and some will get an email. I really appreciate the outpouring of prayer and support I've felt. Keep it coming y'all.

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Maybe it should have been longer...

(Taken at the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum on Saturday.)
 Posted by Picasa

On Immigration

Katerina and Michael at the cool Evangelical-Catholicism blog have a great round up of stuff, including Papal and other magisterial statements, on immigration as one ends National Migration Awareness week, including this neat video.

Aaargh I missed Rome!

Season 2 of the HBO series ... it's being repeated all week. Maybe in the hotel at New Haven? Or next Friday night?

Accountability, folks?

I've been sitting in the common room with my visiting friends (while watching the rather exciting Patriots-Chargers game ... which the Patriots just won ...), discussing the case (Amy has the links) of the priest in the Richmond Diocese who embezzled $600,000 from two small rural Virginian parishes over a period of five years (One of the friends is from Virginia originally)... and now the revelations that he lived with a woman in Fredericksburg (Arlington Diocese) and apparently had three children, one of which was baptized in at an Arlington church!

Yes, such things are shocking. And concubinage among the clergy isn't exactly unheard of in some parts of the world (this priest is from the Philippines, from the Order of St. Camillus).

It is, however, quite mind-boggling that (based on the apparent details of the case as reported in the press) he got away with such a double life for so long (he'd been in the Diocese since 1993). But, when one thinks of it -- who exactly will be keeping tabs on Father? Especially in places where it's rare for a parish to have more than one priests (here, two parishes had one priest), there is no oversight of the clergy. And of course, especially if the priest is charismatic (as was the case here), parishioners are not going to complain about anything. And if he shows up and says Mass and at a few meetings, people are satisfied. And then there's that rather disheartening Villanova study.

The point is: what kinds of structures of accountability are really possible given the exigencies of today? I don't know ... but it's high time we talked and did something about it. (And yes, there's parallels with the sexual abuse scandal, of course.)

Overseas Mission ... in New Haven

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, the novice class is back on the road, heading up I-95 some 300 miles to New Haven, CT to participate in a week long conference/seminar/class at the Overseas Ministry Studies Center, which, according to this brochure (warning: PDF link) is a kind of non-denominational Protestant mission training center -- "to provide the best in residential programs for the renewal of missionaries and international church leaders, advancement of mission scholarships through research and publication and continuing education in cross-cultural Christian ministries."

The entire month of Janurary there are number of workshops on overseas mission, "Constrained by Jesus' Love: Christian Mission Today". We are going to participate in week three, which focuses on "Culture, Values and Worldview: Anthropology for Mission Practice." The week long seminars are lead by Dr. Darrell L. Whiteman, of The Mission Society (A World Wesleyan Partnership, based in Norcross GA), who "will help us understand both the 'Other' and ourselves as we encounter unexpected insights gained in cross-cultural mission." Some of the workshops in earlier weeks looked really interesting (For instance, "The Ministry of Reconciliation in Muslim Contexts", "Prophetic Dialogue: One Roman Catholic Approach to Mission Today" and "Mission in the Orthodox Tradition: Lessons from Albania.") -- however, I guess we're going to learn something about cross-cultural dialogue/exchange/mission. Paulists are missionaries -- to North America.

I'm actually quite looking forward to this -- I've had opportunities to talk with several (mainly evangelical Protestant) missionaries one-on-one. I'm quite excited about being in a milieu, which, at least on paper, seems ecumenically sensitive and serious about the Great Commission.

(Of course, last year, according to one of my seminarian brothers, they encountered a young lady who was on her way to bring Christ to Poland ... Hmm.)

(I just noticed that there is a pretty extensive reading list in the conference brochure. I haven't heard of any of these books ... oh well. I think I'll prepare by reading Ad Gentes again.)

(Some more parenthitical thoughts: it will be also interesting to be among people who might not quite share the same sense of the "eternal fate" of the unbaptized as the Catholic Church -- at least in the light of Nostra Aetate. I'm looking forward to some fruitful conversations and dilogue!)

Just to get a flavor for things, here's a selection from the editorial from the last issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, a publication of the OMSC,
Several of the articles in this issue relate directly to the extraordinary World Missionary Conference convened in Edinburgh from June 14 to 23, 1910. At that time, Europe’s global hegemony was unrivaled, and old Christendom’s self-assurance had reached its peak. That the nations whose professed religion was Christianity should have come to dominate the world seemed not at all surprising, since Western civilization’s inner élan was thought to be Christianity itself.

The Great War of 1914–18 soon plunged the “Christian” nations into one of the bloodiest and most meaningless paroxysms of state-sanctioned murder in humankind’s history of pathological addiction to violence and genocide. At least for European missionaries, the war exposed the naïveté of missionary apologetics. Missionaries were unable to offer any credible rejoinder to the charge that the West neither believed nor practiced what the Bible actually taught.

Christopher Anderson’s article on the 1919 Methodist Missionary Fair is a reminder that although old Christendom’s claim to moral superiority had been exposed as a farce, it would take some time before U.S. missionaries began to reach similar conclusions about their own nation. But within the fifty years following the Second World War, profound uncertainty arose concerning the moral legitimacy of America’s global economic and military modus operandi, fueled by the nation’s ethically indefensible and militarily disastrous escapades in Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Only now, when it may be too late, have Christians on this continent—for long seeing nothing amiss in the unholy union between personal piety and blind nationalism—begun to sense the nation’s precarious position. U.S. Christians, at least in some quarters, seem increasingly troubled by the thought that their nation may be on its way to joining the long list of expired empires, each blinded by hubris, deluded by self-absorption, addicted to exploitation, and—if need be—determined to wreak destruction on those who stand in its way.
Ok, I'm officially psyched about this now! :-)

Next week, incidentally, is also the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Please keep us, and this meeting in your prayers as well.

Fishers of Men

I finally got around to seeing the "Fishers of Men" vocation video recently put out by the USCCB. The full film (about 18 minutes) is now available at Google Video.

Two words: It Rocks! Spread it far and wide!

Friends in town ...

Friends from SC are in town visiting ... so it's been a wonderfully busy weekend! Yesterday afternoon we headed over to the Sackler Gallery to see this exhibit, which, unfortunately ended on January 7. Dinner was in the fun setting at Buca di Beppo on Connecticut Ave. followed by ice-cream.

Today, we headed out to the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space museum near Dulles -- neat stuff! (Photos to follow when I get a breather, for sure!). Y'all know I was in hog heaven. The observation tower was a bit disappointing, since it was a gray and dreary day, and the planes were landing to the north on Rwy 1L&R, and the tower is north of the airport. It would have been cool if they were landing from the north! Oh well.

Mass and dinner with the community and then the obligatory night tour of the monuments, which is now a standard offering whenever anyone comes up to the District. The Lincoln Memorial, the Korean and Vietnam memorials and tonight the Jefferson Memorial as well.

And all those aircraft making their cool maneuvers on the River Visual approach to Rwy 19 at DCA ... :-)

Now to bed!

Article on Fr. Hecker's cause in NY Daily News

(Via the community listserv). Sainthood push for founder of Paulists. Not a bad overview ... though I should gently add that it's not just up to the Pope and the Vatican to make Fr. Hecker a saint, or, more accurately, for him to be declared a saint by the Church. Fr. Hecker himself has to do his stuff from heaven, and intercede in a miraculous way. Twice, actually. And his petition has to be heard.

Ultimately, of course, it's God, who makes saints. We hope and pray that is the case with Fr. Hecker. And, whether in the canon of saints or not, with each one of us as well.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker in the Times

Also at Titusonenine, a link to a column by the Diocese of Charleston's most recently ordained priest in the Times (UK) on his journey into the full communion of the Catholic Church. Fr. Longenecker was ordained in Greenville, SC last month, and is the third married Catholic priest in the Diocese.
The reaction to the married men on both sides of the Atlantic has been almost universally warm-hearted and generous. There have been a few grumbles from traditionalists. There have also been grumbles from liberal Catholics who want married priests, but not this type of married priest — ones they perceive to be “dangerous conservatives”. There have also been hard feelings from some Catholic priests who left to get married and would very much like to return to ministry.

What exactly is Rome up to? Is it feeling the heat from all those who are pushing for married clergy? Is this a safe way to test the water? Is it getting ready to relax the rule about clerical celibacy? Probably not. Three years ago there were discussions about this issue and Rome came down in favour of the status quo. In November Pope Benedict met Vatican officials to discuss the matter again, and again they decided to retain clerical celibacy.

The best way to understand what the Catholic Church is up to is to reflect on the words of John Paul II to Cardinal Basil Hume when he was faced with the large number of convert Anglican clergy. The Pope was reported to have said: “Be generous to these men.” That’s all. It’s quite simple. The Catholic leadership is watching the situation in the Anglican Church very carefully, and wants to offer every gesture of generosity and support to those who wish to become Catholic.
Congratulations again, Father!

Diocese educates on needs of disabled

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an interesting piece on the religious education of children with disabilities. Diocese educates on needs of disabled
When a parish refuses to prepare a child for sacraments because of a disability, it's like slamming the church door on an entire family, experts from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh told diocesan religious education directors from across the state yesterday.

"We reject that child and the whole family is rejected," said Grace Harding, former director of the Pittsburgh diocese's office for ministry to persons with disabilities. She gave the workshop in Penn Hills with her successor, Sister Michelle Grgurich.

"I'm sure you've all experienced that situation, when a family comes to you in tears saying 'My child was put out because he couldn't say the Our Father.' They're in agony," she said.

Such situations are far less frequent than they once were, but still occur, she said. The decrease is due in part to pioneering work in the Diocese of Pittsburgh on religious education for those with mental retardation, autism and physical disabilities.
Pioneering work, to be lauded. It's always good to remember that when it comes to the sacraments, we shouldn't get so caught up into the (not unimportant) need for proper preparation and disposition, that we lose sight of the fact that what we celebrate is God's action, not our own. Hat tip to Walt (who got this at Titusonenine)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

St. Hilary of Poitiers

Hilarius, the joyful one, of Pointiers -- more info at Mike Aquilina's.

The following is from today's Office of Readings, from his treatise On the Trinity, forged in the midst of the Arian heresy.

I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of you.

In fact, you have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at your service. It is for making you known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows you not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in you.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of your help and your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before you, fill them with the breath of your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming your truth. We have been promised, and he who mad the promise is trustworthy: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek you and to open when we knock.

There is an intertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to your teaching and by obedience to hte faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in you to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophest and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that you are one nad not born form another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of you from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that he is begotten of you who are the one God; nor must we assert that he is other than the true God, born of you who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about you, the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny you, to honor you as God, who not alone, and to proclaim this as truth.

Friday, January 12, 2007

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Mark Steyn :: Complaints? Where there's wool, there's a way

I'm not always thrilled by what Mark Steyn has to say, but this column is both hilarious and right on the money. It's written in response to the story that scientists have discovered a way to possibly make, um, gay rams into straight ones. (Via the CT Weblog)CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Mark Steyn :: Complaints? Where there's wool, there's a way Money quote:
Gay groups (human gay groups, that is: Even America does not yet have a 24/7 gay sheep lobby group with offices on K Street) are not happy about this. Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Wimbledon champ, has called for the project to be abandoned and for scientists to respect, as the Sunday Times put it, "the right of sheep to be gay." Many of us can sympathize. The poor old sheep gets it coming and going. If he's going to end up bleeding to death while turned toward Mecca, he ought at least be able to choose his orientation in the runup to it. Might as well be hung for a ram as for a ewe. Surely a sheep should be able to celebrate his own sexuality without a lot of crazed ovine eugenicists strapping him to a gurney and shooting him the hetero-juice. As they sing in the first act finale of ''La Cage Aux Folles'':

Life's not worth a damn

Till you can say, hey, world

I ram what I ram.

Meanwhile, Udo Schuklenk, professor of Bioethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, has warned that this research "brings the terrible possibility of exploitation by homophobic societies. Imagine this technology in the hands of Iran, for example. It is typical of the U.S. to ignore the global context in which this is taking place."

Nobody in Scotland seems to be spending much time imagining, say, nuclear technology in the hands of Iran, but in Glasgow they're up in arms about the mullahs getting sheep-straightening technology. If President Bush is looking for a casus belli against Tehran, the gay-ram angle may be the best shot at bringing the EU on board. "E U," by the way, is the abbreviation for "European Union" and not what a gay ram says in distaste when the lady sheep come strolling by en route to the dip.
And, if that happens, at what point will a woman's right to choose intersect with a farmer's right to ewes? Under Beijing's one-child policy, Chinese women exercised their "right to choose" the sex of their baby so radically that they now have the most gender-lopsided demographic cohort in history: millions of surplus boys for whom all the girl babies were aborted. Professor Schuklenk is right: "Homophobic societies" may well choose to de-gay their offspring. After all, much abortion practice is already explicitly eugenicist: If a woman can decide she doesn't want to carry a baby with Down syndrome or a cleft palate or because she only wanted one of the triplets, why should she be obliged to accept his orientation? Once you've redefined pregnancy in the radically individualist terms that abortion absolutists have, why should the modish pieties of political correctness prove any more effective a restraint than conventional social and religious morality? In 2005, responding to a highly hypothetical possibility of parental screening for a "gay gene," a Maine state representative introduced a bill for the protection of unborn gays. But it's hard to see why, in liberal abortion theology, unborn gays should be any worthier of protection than unborn straights.

Which brings us back to the streets of Brussels. Ann De Greef, a Belgian animal-rights activist, does not enjoy the annual Eid massacre. "It's not normal to have thousands of sheep slaughtered like this in the middle of a major European city," she complained.

Au contraire, it is. And, given Islam's demographic advantage, it's going to get ever more normal. Muslims pay Belgian farmers about 250 bucks to acquire a sheep for the ritual sacrifice, which suggests they're pretty serious about it. Indeed, given Islam's political muscle, it's more likely that the remaining restrictions on ritual sacrifice will be rescinded. Tired of standing in line at crowded slaughterhouses, many Brussels Muslims sacrifice the sheep at home -- which is illegal under Belgian law but which the state already turns a blind eye to.

The left carelessly assumes that the various factions in their identity-group coalition are allies in perpetuity who can be rounded up like sheep and pointed in the same direction. They're not. The Belgian sheep story is about demographic advance, the Oregon sheep story is about technological advance. But the most potent combination is technology yoked to demography: In other words, how much demand will there be for the latest innovation? Abortion for genetic abnormalities? Quite a lot in America. Abortion to decrease unwanted daughters? An awful lot in China and India.

And a patch to de-gay your baby?

We're poor little lambs who have lost our way. Baa-baa-baa.
And, somehow I think the voices that are crying themselves hoarse, "keep your faith off progress and scientific research" when it comes to the destruction of human embryos, are suddenly concerned that scientific research might be a bit, um, heartless.

Such is the world, I would suppose, of moral relativism.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It will be interesting to see how this plays out ...

Similar attempts have been made before but until now no judge has allowed a case to go forward. I don't understand all the legalities, but I doubt that the Vatican, a sovereign state, can really be sued by a US plaintiff or be considered under the jurisdiction of a US court. Kentucky judge allows sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican to go forward -

The Church can be so cold ...

Literally. A church has been built of snow and ice near a mountain resort in Romania. Props for creativity for sure! Check out the story and the video!

I wonder what happens in summer?

False priest arrested for selling Pope tickets | Oddly Enough |

Great headline! And duping the faithful is surely the second oldest profession in the world ? False priest arrested for selling Pope tickets | Oddly Enough |

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Better is one day in your house ...

... than a thousand elsewhere. The words are from the refrain of a Matt Redman song. The setting was the student chapel at Catholic U, which was packed with students (and a few seminarians other than yours truly, I would imagine) for the weekly Wednesday night Adoration. I am certain that when this beautiful chapel was built and Masses were being offered daily on the side altars, no one would have envisioned evangelical Praise & Worship music rising to the rafters along with incense and the prayers of young people adoring the Real Presence in the Most Holy Sacrament.

It was a beautiful and powerful experience, moving and prayerful. And yes, so wonderful to see so many college students out! It brought back fond memories of our State Wide college retreats back in SC, which also featured night-time adoration, with Praise and Worship, followed by confession (where the lines stretched forever). Tonight, there was a reading from the Gospel, followed by a decent homily by a Conventual Franciscan vested in a cope, and time for silent prayer, before Benediction, and the Salve Regina (in Latin. And most everyone around me seemed to know the words and didn't need to refer to the program).

It's been ages since I've been to Adoration and I was most grateful for this opportunity. I will most certainly be back.

A familiar and sad story

Another piece from Der Spiegel -- on the continuing hemorrhage of Christians from the Middle East. Fighting for their Survival: A Christian Exodus from the Arab World. Apart from the usual catalog of harrasment, discrimination and emigration, the article gives helpful profiles of Christians in the major Arab countries ... some with a surprise, such as Syria and the Kurish area of Iraq
Many Christians currently see a ray of hope in neighboring Syria. Since the fall of Baghdad, the regime in Damascus, isolated by the United States, has taken in many thousands of Iraqi refugees. In doing so, it has demonstrated to the West the long-forgotten merits of the Arab nationalist Baath Party's non-denominational doctrine. "Nobody here cares whether we are Sunnis, Shiites or Christians," says Farid Awwad, a souvenir vendor who fled Iraq.

Awwad's 12-year-old daughter was killed in an attack on a Chaldean church in Baghdad two years ago. "No one can take away our pain," he says. "But at least we can live here, where we are treated like brothers."

The number of Christians within the Syrian Baath Party organization is disproportionately high, although most are non-practicing. Their presence in government service, including the military and intelligence agencies, is unprecedented in the Arab world. President Bashar Assad recently opened a conference of Arab law associations under the motto: "The fatherland is for everything, but religion is a matter for God" -- words that would be alienating if not impossible in countries with a stronger Islamic influence. In Saudi Arabia, for example, which has no Christian minority of its own but employs tens of thousands of Christian guest workers from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, Christian church services are banned and punishable with severe penalties. Bibles and crucifixes are routinely confiscated. The Wahhabite religious police, the Muttawah, have even been known to raid private religious services.

Other Gulf states are more liberal, although religious freedom in the Western sense is virtually nonexistent in Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The Islamist opposition in Damascus, especially the banned Muslim Brotherhood, disparages the country's unpopular Christians as "worshippers of a godless regime."

There is only one other region of the Middle East where Christians enjoy freedoms comparable to those in Syria: the Kurdish Autonomous Zone in northern Iraq.

Several Christian parties recently introduced an unusual bill in the regional parliament in Arbil, the Kurdish capital. They proposed the establishment of a Christian autonomous zone in the eastern portion of the Iraqi province of Nineveh, the traditional homeland of Assyrian Christians and now partly controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. Under the bill, the Chaldean, Syrian and Assyrian Christian minorities would be granted official status under the constitution -- first by the Kurdish regional parliament and then by the National Assembly in Baghdad.

Be doers of the Word ...

The reading at Vespers was from that rather under appreciated book of the New Testament, the Letter of St. James. Somehow, these words really struck me powerfully this evening.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing. If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:22-27, RSV)

The Catholic Church in Poland: Battle for souls

With the resignation of the Archbishop of Warsaw after he admitted being involved with the security services during the Communist era, the Catholic Church in Poland has come into the media's focus. George Weigel had a piece in Newsweek a couple of days back, and Amy provides some other good links as well about the concerns this raises about the selection of Bishops. Now, this article in the International edition of Der Spiegel focuses on the declining authority of the Church in Poland, and seems to be largely critical of the Polish hierarchy. Radio Maryja features prominently as well (the implication seems to be that most of Poland's hierarchy, and clergy are sympathetic to the perspective of this station.)
Nonetheless, the Polish episcopacy cannot simply assume that its followers will go where it leads. For centuries - through the country's multiple partitions, the Nazi occupation and the communist rule - the church fought to save the Polish nation, paying a heavy price in the process. Today it is fighting to prevent its flock from being shepherded to the verdant pastures of capitalism. A battle has begun, with minds and souls at stake: the new Poland, intoxicated by its freshly acquired wealth, is battling the millennium-old Roman Catholic Church.

Ninety-five percent of all Poles are Roman Catholics, and well over half say they attend mass at least once a week. The Poles, along with the Irish, are among the most pious members of the European Union. But the fact remains that "the majority of the Polish faithful have grown impervious to the moral teachings of the church," according to Warsaw sociologist Pawel Spiewak.

Bringing "the real Christ" to Polish Catholics

This story showed up in the ENI wire yesterday.
Evangelical group critical of Catholics launches drive in Poland
By Jonathan Luxmoore

Warsaw, 9 January (ENI)--A British-based organisation has
launched a mission to bring what it says is "the real Christ" to
Poland in response to shortcomings it sees in the country's
predominant Roman Catholic Church.

"Poland is a country in transition and it is at such times that
the door stands wide open for the Gospel," the European Christian
Mission (ECM) said in a press release on 1 January. "The death of
Pope John Paul II in 2005, coupled with rapid economic and
cultural change since Poland joined the EU, means that many of
the old certainties no longer prevail. Increased materialism and
secularisation present a huge opportunity."

The ECM was founded in 1904 and says it is active in 19 European
countries. It said the project, "Real Hope for Poland," would
distribute information material to 14 million Polish households.
It noted that the Next Generation Alliance of born-again
evangelist Luis Palau was backing the mission and appealed for
Evangelicals to provide funding and "short-term missionary

"For the great majority of Polish people, Jesus Christ has never
been more than a distant religious figure. He belongs on a cross
high above an altar or in a beautiful stained glass window, but
seems absolutely irrelevant to the everyday lives of ordinary
people," said the ECM.

Although Catholics make up about 90 percent of its 38.5 million
inhabitants, Poland is also home to around 150 registered
religious groups, including more than 70 Christian denominations.

Catholic leaders have expressed concern about the influence of
new and alternative religious groups, and have backed leaflet
campaigns against "sects" and "cults".

In January 2006, the Catholic Church threatened excommunication
for its faithful attending services of the breakaway Society of
St Pius X, or Lefebvrists, who run chapels in a dozen towns, as
well as a school in Warsaw. They often call themselves
traditional Catholics and support Mass services in Latin and
oppose attempts at modernising the church.

Separately, in October, Catholics were warned not to talk to
Jehovah's Witnesses, whose claimed 129 000 members make them
Poland's third largest religious community after the Catholic and
Orthodox churches.

"The Catholic Church was the rallying point for resistance to
Russian communism, but its popularity now drops every time it
flexes its political muscles, since it is accused of trying to
create a repressive religious state," asserted the ECM. Them
mission group runs a language school in Wroclaw with Poland's
Baptist church, as well as a "church-planting ministry" near

The Lutheran director of the Polish Ecumenical Council, grouping
the country's seven main minority Christian churches, told
Ecumenical News International he was aware of the ECM, but
stressed that the organisation had no links with the ecumenical
movement. "This isn't the kind of language we use here," said the
council's director, Andrzej Wojtowicz. [477 words]

Ecumenical News International
PO Box 2100
CH - 1211 Geneva 2

Tel: (41-22) 791 6088/6111
Fax: (41-22) 788 7244
Email: (Emphasis added)
I was reminded of a conversation with one of my seminarian brothers -- they were at a (largely Protestant attended) conference on missions, and had an intriguing conversation with a young lady who was heading to Poland to bring Christ to the people there!

There is no doubt that among some (many?) evangelicals, a traditionally Catholic country can be considered to not "really" know Christ. And the Catholic Church in Poland seems to be responding with the same kind of defensiveness that the Russian Orthodox seemed to react to the presence of Western missionaries after the collapse of Communism. In a time when the authority of the Church is diminished, I doubt that ukases from on high do much good. Better to learn how to compete, so to speak. And catechize the faithful as well -- read and study and internalized Scripture! A "personal relationship" with Christ ought to be at the heart of a well-formed Catholic!

Mere Mission | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Christianity Today presents a fascinating interview with Tom Wright, (Anglican) Bishop of Durham. I read Wright's "Simply Christian" this summer -- I don't know if it was consciously styled on Lewis' "Mere Christianity" or not, but that was the sense I got. It's not the same book, of course. And I did find it to be repetitive (often, very) at times. But, a very compelling vision of Christianity in the 21st century -- one that is concerned as much with piety and orthodoxy as well justice and "putting the world to rights." Mere Mission | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction Here's some neat quotes:
There's an old evangelical saying, "If he's not Lord of all, he's not Lord at all." That was always applied personally and pietistically. I want to say exactly the same thing but apply it to the world. We're talking about Jesus as the Lord of the world—not the Lord of people's private spiritual interiority only, but of what they do with their money, with their homes, with the wealth of nations, and with the planet.
On historical-critical scholarship
My major work has been designed to refute the wilder claims made by some so-called historical critical scholarship. Because now we see only too clearly that the whole historical critical movement was not, as it tried to claim, a neutral, objective, scientific account of the Gospels. It had its own agendas that were heavily driven by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The movement really started out with the assumption that if there is a God, this God does not intervene in human affairs. In other words, the Enlightenment has already settled Lewis's question one way. It has decided that any Jesus who said John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," would be completely out of his skull. Therefore, Jesus couldn't have said it, because we know he was a good man and we want to follow him for other reasons. It becomes a circular argument. Lewis breaks into the circle by simply ignoring the critical possibility.
There's a certain kind of modernist would-be orthodoxy, which uses the word God in something like the old Deist sense. He's a distant, absentee landlord who suddenly decides to intervene in the world after all, and he looks like Jesus. But we already know who God is; now I want you to believe that this God became human in Jesus. The New Testament routinely puts it the other way around. We don't actually know who God is. We have some idea, the God of Israel, or of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator God. But until we look hard at Jesus, we really haven't understood who God is.

That's precisely what John says at the end of the prologue: No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the father, he has made him known. John's provided an exegesis for who God is. And in Colossians 1 as well, he is the image of the invisible God. In other words, don't assume that you've got God taped, and fit Jesus into that. Do it the other way. We all come with some ideas of God. Allow those ideas to be shaped around Jesus. That is the real challenge of New Testament Christology.
And now, on Gnosticism
The Gnostic conspiracy theory says that orthodoxy hushed up the really exciting thing and promoted this boring sterile thing with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And of course there's a great lie underneath that. In the second and third centuries, the people being thrown to the lions and burned at the stake and sawed in two were not the ones reading Thomas and Judas and the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary. They were the ones reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Because the empire is perfectly happy with Gnosticism. Gnosticism poses no threat to the empire. Whereas Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do. It's the church's shame that in the last 200 years, the church has muzzled Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and turned them into instruments of a controlling, sterile orthodoxy. But the texts themselves are explosive.
He's as hard on the "Right" (worshiping Mars and Mammon) as he is on the "Left" (worshipping Aprhodite). Intriguing and thought-provoking. Do read it!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Eliminate the threat!

[Blogger's up!] The threat that Downs Syndrome children are. Amy has the scoop. How blind we've become!


That's the sound of a gator making a swift meal out of some stray deer. It's rare that I say this, but one has to stand by an SEC team, of course. So, GO GATORS!

I'll draw the line at doing the Gator Chomp in my room, though.

(Apparently, since the CSPs run the campus ministry oufit at OSU, I was supposed to root for the Buckeyes. Yeah, whateva ... :-))

Monday, January 08, 2007

Vicar sets fire to sermon

Vicar sets fire to sermon. Literally.

Now, if only more vicars set their hearers on fire (figuratively speaking, of course ...)! :-)

Harrius (Henricus?) Potter ...

Harry Potter in Latin -- Fr. Z has the goods. Delightful! Do read the quote at the bottom of the post on the consequences of divorcing faith from reason.

Colbert takes on Peter Singer

This is marvelous! And he's in a life-sized Creche no less!

Comedy Central Mother Lode [Via dotCommonweal]

(And I just don't get it -- Singer goes on and on about "speciesism" but seems to advocate infanticide [taking the abortion-on-demand arguments to their logical conclusion, really]. I wonder, does he use bug spray? Stamp on cockroaches? Use drugs to fight bacteria? I mean, who gave me the right to mess with cellular life forms, eh?)

The Scandals: five years later ...

It's hard to believe that it was five years ago that the storm broke in Boston. Sean Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston penned this op-ed piece in the Globe to mark the occasion.

I pray and hope that our bishops and leadership don't just return to "business as usual." I hope we've learned something -- about the need for holiness among priests and bishops for sure, but also the need for greater transparency and accountability.

The scandals affect not just those who were abused (though, it goes without saying, they remain the focus of the Church's care and compassion) -- they affect all of us, in ways small and big.

Last month I received an email from Jennifer, a reader of this blog from Virginia. She had just found out that the pastor in the church she grew up in, in Grand Rapids MI, had been accused of sexual abuse of a minor. This news was, understandably, quite devastating. She penned a blog post about her experiences -- I invite y'all to head over there and share any thoughts and prayers that you might have.

Fr. Augustine Tolton

The first African-American priest in the United States. Rocco has a decent profile, and as he points out, more people need to hear of his story of courage and determination. And it's really troubling to read just how much opposition he faced from within the Church. He was not allowed to study in America; however he managed to get to Rome and study at the Collegium Propaganda Fide (the college of what eventually became the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Its current Prefect is Ivan Cardinal Dias, former Archbishop of Bombay.) Ignatius has reprinted a biography, which deserves attention. I'm going to see if it's in the library here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Oh my goodness ...

I just found out that the young woman mentioned in the story below was the daughter of Drs. Kevin and Becky Lewis, both profs at USC. This is simply awful! Prayers, please! Just Days Into the Year, Killings Toll Hits 8 in New Orleans - New York Times

::UPDATE:: More information, including services and memorials, at

All Hail ...

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Reverend Earl Gashwin the Harmonious of Fritterton on the Marshes
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
[Via Happy Catholic] :-D

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Epiphany around the world.

In the Vatican (as in the East), it continues to be celebrated on January 6, even as in many parts of the world (including Rome and all of Italy, I think, and the United States), the fest is translated to the nearest Sunday.

And of course there are some fascinating customs associated with this feast.

In Bulgaria, young men dive into frigid waters to touch a cross, which has been thrown in to bless the waters. This is a practice common to many Orthodox countries, including Greece.

There's the Three Kings Parade in New York. The gift-giving tradition at Epiphany is also followed in the Philippines.

Gift-giving and parades are also part of the celebratin of Epiphany in Spain.

In Italy, a wizened witch, La Befana (a corruption of "Epiphania") brings gifts to little children.

In Ethiopia, they celebrate Timkat. According to Ethiopian tradition, the Three Kings brought the gift of the Arc of the Covenant to Ethiopa. Here's a YouTube video with a some documentary footage on Timkat, including some beautiful liturgical chanting. (The Ethiopian Orthodox still follow the Julian calendar, so Timkat falls during the third week of January).

From the Pope's homily today (Asianews):
On the day when the Church celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, represented by the Magi who came from the East, Benedict XVI launched a heartfelt appeal to “today’s Magi”: politicians, scientists and representatives of non-Christian religions, that they may discover that Christ is the fulfillment of their searching. In the setting of St Peter’s Basilica, in a Eucharistic celebration, with Asian, African, Polynesian ministrants, the pontiff presented the message of the Epiphany once again, of a “God who revealed himself in history as the light of the world, to lead and finally to introduce mankind to the promised land, where freedom, justice and peace reign”. To “today’s Magi” and “to all men of our time”, the pope repeated: “Do not be afraid of the light of Christ! His light is the splendour of truth. Let yourselves be illuminated by Him, all peoples of the earth, allow yourselves to be covered by his love and you will find the path of peace.”
You have revealed Yourself to the world today, and Your light, O Lord, has shined upon us. We recognize You and exclaim to You: "You have come and revealed Yourself, O Inaccessible Light. (Kontakion of the Theophany, from the pages of Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church, Roswell GA). [Photo credits: Yahoo News and CNN]

New Catholic radio station in Sudan

[This one's especially for Mitch and family, who currenlty live in Khartoum. Well, right now they're in Colorado, where their daugther is getting baptized :-)] New Catholic Radio Station Launches in Sudan
The Catholic Church in South Sudan has a new voice: a radio station dedicated to the country’s first saint, Josephine Bakhita. Bakhita Radio 91 FM, based in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, went on air on Christmas Eve with carols and Christmas messages from Catholic and Anglican church leaders.

John Allen on the Vatican and Saddam's execution

Great analysis in his weekly column:
In effect, recent Vatican interventions on matters such as the Hussein execution suggest the Catholic church now has two categories of moral teachings: what we might call "ontic" or "inherent" absolutes, such as abortion, euthanasia, and the destruction of embryos in stem cell research, which are considered always and everywhere immoral because of the nature of the act, and "practical" absolutes, i.e., acts which might be justified in theory, but which under present conditions cannot be accepted.
Nowhere in Vatican commentary was there a concession that the church's position on the death penalty is not absolute, nor any indication that it's up to the secular authorities rather than religious leaders to make this sort of decision in concrete circumstances. Instead, the tone was of clear moral condemnation, suggesting that as a practical matter, the execution of Hussein -- or of anyone in this day and age -- is unambiguously wrong.
The fact that neither the death penalty nor war (for reasons other than what John Paul called "humanitarian intervention") are considered "ontic" evils probably means there will always be room for differing opinions in the church about the extent to which existing circumstances render them justifiable.

For example, in a recent interview with me, Cardinal Avery Dulles said he would prefer a more "traditional" position on the death penalty than that espoused by John Paul II. (Dulles laughed that the pope's record on such issues, among other things, illustrates the emptiness of media labels of John Paul as a "conservative.") While Dulles said capital punishment should be used "sparingly" and only "with absolute certainty of guilt," he argued that in some cases it's justified, and that such a permissive stance is more consistent with the church's tradition. Dulles added that he would say much the same thing about "just war" theory.