Saturday, December 29, 2007

Back home

It's so nice to be back at the home parish in Columbia, where this morning I was privileged to co-cantor a wedding of two friends.

It was about a year ago that they were visiting me in DC, and all of us were like, "are they dating?" I think they figured out that their friendship had deepened and grown soon after ... :)

Sean & Steph: thank you so much for y'all's wonderful witness and inspiring courage. It does take courage in our times to enter into marriage, especially into Christian marriage, and y'all have done this with prayer, faith and thoughtfulness.

Many many blessings to y'all!

I'm in SC for a few more days, hanging out with friends. Blogging will be light.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Overheard in the security line at EWR

"So the guy asked me, 'Do you have anything dangerous or sharp?' And I was like, 'Sure I do. The Word of God is sharper than a two-edged
sword.' Luckily, he was a believer ... "

Heh. I'm back in the US of A. :)

Pakistan: The Day After

Indian newspaper headlines. Images courtesy the NYT.

Obituary in the NY

Christopher Hithcens in Slate.

Reactions from Pakistani bloggers.

Multimedia piece by John Moore of Getty Images who wass present at the rally in Rawalpindi where Bhutto was assassinated. (NYT)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated

Have been glued to the TV for the past half an hour as the news from Rawalpindi comes in. Some horrific scenes of carnage at the site where a suicide-bomber and a gunman assassinated former Pakistani PM (and opposition leader) Benazir Bhutto.

This is absolutely horrible, and the effects on the already fragile stability in the region can only be imagined.

Please pray for her, and for all those killed, and for the people of Pakistan, as well as peace in the region.

Travel travel ...

Left Baroda this morning (6E277 absolutely on the dot), after a rather short but fantastic visit. Tons and tons of people milling around the house, just like a family gathering should be. Apart from the visit of my friend Barry from SC (which I have yet to blog on), my brother and his family, and cousins from Bombay and Ahmedabad and their families came down, as well as a cousin from the US who's in India right now. We called her in Bombay on Monday at 3:00 pm ... "We've got a ticket for you on the 6pm flight to Baroda. This is the confirmation #. Head to the airport 4 o' clock!" :)

A great time was had by all, especially my mother, who, I'm sure, really enjoyed having a full house. At one point all us adults were laughing so hard, that the kids stopped playing, fell silent and stared at us. "Aap sab pagal ho gayey hain!" "You've all gone mad!" my nephew declared.

In Bombay this afternoon (visiting more family: my uncle and aunt from Chicago who routinely winter in Bombay) and then tonight to the airport to catch the nonstop to Newark (CO49) and then to Columbia SC tomorrow morning. I'm cantoring a wedding this weekend (sorry! Co-cantoring with St. Lizzy!), serving a baptism on Sunday, and then for a few days of R&R with friends, before heading back up to seminary next week.

A packed vacation. I think I'll need another one to recover from this one. :)

Compliments of the season, y'all (as they say in Bombay. Without the "y'all."). :-D

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Churches burnt on Christmas

... the persecution of the church in India continues.

The incident in Kanwant (see below), where priests and nuns were brutally attacked, is finally getting some coverage in the local media. In today's Indian Express, there's a front page story, about those attacked being arrested by the police for violating some rules about assembly of large groups!

And at the other end of the country, in the eastern state of Orissa, apparently half a dozen churches were torched by mobs (allegedly lead by the radical right-wing VHP) on Christmas day. The incident, which was reported very briefly last night on NDTV, is now making international headlines. (The Telegraph [Calcutta], BBC]


Asia News: More than 500 cases of anti-Christian violence in under two years.

"Conversion." It seems one can invoke that word like some kind of magic talisman, and it can justify any kind of behavior against Christians.

The Protomartyr I

The very day after the Church marks with great joy the celebration of Christmas (and indeed, the festive spirit carries through the Octave of Christmas: a simple 24-hour period isn't enough to celebrate the magnitude of what God has wrought here!), we have the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, the first disciple who publicly lived out the pattern of the Messiah, who followed in his footsteps. From the wonderful folks who maintain The Daily Gospel (with a useful quote from the Fathers every day), we get this segment from St. Caesarius of Arles (a late 4th century Bishop)
"Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps," (1Pt 2,21). Which of the Lord's examples will we have to follow? Is it his raising of the dead? Is it to walk on the sea? Not in the least. But it is that of being meek and humble of heart (Mt 11,29) and of loving not only our friends but even our enemies (Mt 5,44).

"So that you might follow in his footsteps," writes St Peter. The blessed evangelist John also says the same thing: "Whoever claims to abide in Christ ought to walk as he has walked," (1Jn 2,6). And how has Christ walked? He prayed for his enemies on the cross, saying: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," (Lk 23,34). They have actually lost their senses and are possessed by an evil spirit, and while they are persecuting us, they themselves are undergoing a far greater persecution from the devil. Hence we should be praying more for their deliverance than for their condemnation.

That is indeed what Blessed Stephen did, he who was the first so gloriously to follow in the footsteps of Christ. For, when he was struck by a hail of stones, he prayed standing for himself; but, falling to his knees, he cried out with all his strength for his enemies: "Lord Jesus Christ, do not hold this sin against them," (Ac 7,60). So even if we think we cannot imitate our Lord, let us at least imitate him who was his servant as we are.

The Senses of Christmas

Mike Aquilina has a fine essay up. Great reading for the Christmas season. Celebrate God's enfleshment! Celebrate God's creation! For, Jesus Christ, God has entered into the world and glorified it.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hey I played him once!

Дед Мороз, Ded Moroz, Father Frost. At a holiday party (it was so not a Christmas party) at the House of Soviet Culture in Bombay. Years ago, in college. I studied Russian for about 4 years, in HS and college, taking classes at the HOSC (now the Center for Russian Culture). Yes, it was still Soviet back then. I don't remember any of my lines (which I'd painfully memorized, including a rather lame joke that no one got. I didn't write the script though); the costume was great -- all green, a long white beard, and no pillow-padding. Father Frost is a skinny fellow. [The highlight of those years of classes was not playing Ded Moroz, however, but an all-expenses paid 10-day long trip to the USSR: Tashkent, Samarkand, Alma Aty and Moscow.]

Meet Russia's Antidote To Santa , Father Frost Looks Like Santa, But What About The Elves And Reindeer? - CBS News

And for a Christmas present Mob attack: Indefinete curfew in parts of Orissa after attacks on Christian churches.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in India

A roundup of YouTube videos of various Christmas songs from India.

Immanuel Church, Chennai (CSI), Tamil song.

Mary's Boy Child in Tamil.

Wild Voices Choir singing Go To Bethlehem at the historic Afghan Church in Bombay.

This Christmas, the Holy Father has reminded us about the centrality of evangelization. Here are some videos about Christianity in India.

Ibadat Karo
(a Hindi Christian song by Anil Kant, a convert to Christianity)

Anil Kant's testimony. (Interview on CNN-IBN)

Pray for India, another song by Anil Kant.

Natal mubarak!

The festival of a restored creation

AP Image

The Holy Father's homily at Midnight Mass at St. Peter's. READ IT!
In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.
Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: "Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created" (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory's vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation.


A snapshot of the TV which blared all morning yesterday as the talking heads exploded and Narendra Modi sailed to a landslide victory for a third term as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and secured his standing as a leader with national aspirations.

Not the result I wanted, but hardly unexpected, despite the desperate wishful-thinking of the English speaking media. The pogroms of 2002 didn't really figure in the campaign, despite the attempt by the English-speaking media to focus on them, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Modi ran on a development platform. He also has a reputation as a tough autocrat, is personally clean (no small feat in Indian politics) and publicly cracked down on corrupt members of his party (enough to give him beau coups of brownie points with the common man).

It seems good governance is what brought him back to power. This, say commentators, is democracy at work. The common man saw his lot improve, and voted as such. In areas where development faltered (as in some tribal areas), the incumbents fared poorly. As for 2002, according to an op-ed piece in the Business Standard written by a family friend (I can't find it online; the text was emailed to me yesterday), an overwhelming majority of Gujaratis are unrepentant. Sabak sikhavyo. They were taught a lesson. Collateral damage to keep them reined in and under heel. Muslims and minorities are increasingly marginalized, and that's just fine.

Good governance, it seems, doesn't include fair treatment of minorities, or a guarantee that the state would do its utmost to protect the life of its citizens. Democracy perhaps, but of the most brutish kind: mob rule.

NYT: Hindu Radical is Re-elected in India.
Juzar S. Bandukwala, a Gujarati Muslim and retired physics professor, watched the election results with a friend who is a Roman Catholic priest. He said his spirits were sinking. "We both felt very let down," Mr. Bandukwala said by telephone from the city of Baroda.

He said he fully expected Mr. Modi to win, but not by such a wide margin. He did not think it would make life any better for his fellow Muslims in Gujarat, who he said were already "second-class citizens in this state."

"I thought he would just barely make it and he would be, in the process, weakened," said Mr. Bandukwala, who was awarded the Indira Gandhi National Integration Award in November. "That did not happen."

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hard as Nails

Was chatting online with Mattheus, who was freaking out (his phrase was "cognitive dissonance") watching a special on HBO on a controversial teen ministry run by an "unordained Catholic minister," Justin Fatica, Hard as Nails.

The HBO show page.

Story at Pop Matters.

Blog post: Kansas City Catholic.

Anyone know anything about this?

The EME Temple in Baroda

Image courtesy a French blogger who's been traveling in India for a few months, it seems.

In 1965 the Electrical & Mechanical Engineering Corps of the Indian Army, under the direction of a retired Brigadier-General, built a unique structure in the Army Cantonment near Baroda: a temple incorporating elements from all the major religions of the world.

The EME Temple is a popular tourist destination, and is set in a quiet shady grove of five banyan trees (panchavati, the idyllic setting for an ashram). The structure itself is unique, dominated by an aluminum geodesic dome, and a tall spire. The gateways (in the shape of an Asoka leaf) represent Jainism; the dome, Islam; the spire, Christianity [a church steeple]; the pagoda like structure atop the spire, Buddhism; Sikhism is not at all. The structure itself is a Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiv, in the aspect of Dakshinamurthy, the south-facing god, who imparts knowledge and wisdom (of the Transcendent, the Ultimate) to the seeker. Surrounding the temple are shrines to a variety of Hindu deities: Durga, Krishna and Ganesha, as well as an artificial cave, a replica of the cave at Amarnath, with an ice-covered lingam. In the gardens are dozens of beautiful temple sculptures, ranging in age from the 8th to the 12th centuries, in various states of preservation, from around the country.

Photography isn't permitted (it is on Army grounds after all. Besides, Indians love prohibiting photography at the slightest provocation.), so I don't recall details from the plaque. The aim is to promote religious harmony and understanding. While this is immensely laudatory, the approach is uniquely Hindu: absorb various cosmetic elements of other religious traditions into a structure that is, and remains, Hindu. The philosophy: that every religion is simply a path, an expression or manifestation of the ineffable Divine, and essentially the same, is not just modern post-Christian secular, but also Hindu (there are significant differences between the two perspectives, of course). The core of revealed religion -- of a transcendent Deity who reveals himself to human beings out of love, rather than the Deity who is glimpsed at the end of a long and arduous mystical or philosophical search by man -- is completely missing.

Besides, I'm not entirely sure that a Muslim would be content in having Islam reduced to a dome, in a structure with an idol at the center; and as a Christian, the preeminent symbol of Christianity is the Cross, in all its scandalous particularity, not a church steeple which is entirely incidental.

In attempting to promote social harmony between the followers of the world's religions, the temple (or rather, its builders; incidentally, the retired Brigadier who designed this was a Christian!) assumes that the only way to combat religious violence is to ignore the differences between the world's religions, and, more than this, to subsume all these differences under one banner, that of Hinduism.

With all due respect, I disagree.

Taare Zameen Par

[Stars on the earth, part of a phrase from the title song, "lest these stars not fall to the earth."] Bollywood star Aamir Khan's directing debut is a heart-warming and touching story with a consciousness-raising message much needed in a culture that almost uniformly treats disability as a curse.

The following is synopsis from the website:
Isaan Awasthi is an eight year old whose world is filled with wonders that no one else seems to appreciate; colours, fish, dogs and kites are just not as important in the world of adults, who are much more interested in things like homework, marks and neatness. And Ishaan just cannot seem to get anything right in class.

When he gets into far more trouble than his parents can handle, he is packed off to a boarding school to 'be disciplined.' Things are no different at his new school and Ishaan has to contend with the added trauma of his separation from family.

One day a new art teacher bursts onto the scene, Ram Shankar Nikumbh, who infects the students with joy and optimism. He breaks all the rules of 'how things are done' by asking them to think, dream, and imagine, and all the children respond with enthusiasm, all except Ishaan. Nikumbh soon realizes that Ishaan is very unhappy, and he sets out to discover why. With time, patience and care, he ultimately helps Ishaan find himself.
Fantastic photography, a great score and soundtrack, and stunning performances, especially by Darsheel Safary playing Ishaan. Of cousre, this is Bollywood, so there are song-and-dance sequences (even in the classroom); subtlety is unheard of, and the screenplay often takes a stridently didactic tone. And yes, there are shades of "Dead Poets Society" as well.

I loved it! And at the end of the performance, I don't think there was a single dry eye in the house. [Some comedic relief was provided by my five-year old nephew: in a scene at the end, as Ishaan's father starts crying, he pipes up, "Oh, he's started crying too?" :)]

And a very pro-life message as well. (Though not in the overly politicized way that that phrase evokes in the US.)

I was also reminded of Jo Mcgowan and the folks at LRMF up in Dehradun who do some heroic work battling stereotypes and raising awareness about the dignity of all God's children. [A post about my visit to Dehradun in August 2005.]

A piece in Outlook on TZP.

Churches come tumbling down

A rather dismal assessment of the state of Christianity north of the border. This includes Pentecostals as well. Money quote:
As Peter Beyer puts it, Protestants leave their churches and don't go anywhere else. With Catholics, nobody leaves the church but no one comes.
h/t Mac, who asks the salient question: why is America so different? Of course, I want us Americans to remember, things may be different, but it's best not to take anything for granted, and be complacent. Which is why I am, like our friends at the Catherine of Siena Institute, focused on intentional discipleship. The article's favored sociological explanation is that Canadian women, influenced by the sexual revolution and liberated gender roles, rejected the patriarchy of Christianity, and since women are the bastions of institutional religion, it collapsed. This is a fascinating explanation (of course, like all sociological explanations, it isn't sufficient). I've no idea about its merits. It certainly isn't a trend that occurred south of the border. And, if true, it should also be remarked that all the collapsing Protestant denominations had ordained women clergy. That, in of itself, didn't seem to matter.

Advent IV in Baroda

I haven’t really adjusted completely to Indian Standard Time on this trip (nor do I particularly want to. I’ll be heading back Stateside in a few days), so getting to the 8:00 am Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary wasn’t a problem.

Outside, there was a sea of cars and auto-rickshaws, and vendors selling a variety of Christmas trinkets. The church was quite full (and more than full by the time the homily rolled around), a sea of saris and chaniya cholis. Indians are nothing if not colorful. As I took a seat half-way down the nave of the modern (yet not completely tasteless) church, a group of the faithful was concluding a novena. The homily was given by a young seminarian (he wasn’t vested as a deacon, but I suspect they’re not too strict about that rule here) who spoke with a thick Gujarati accent. He alluded to the pivotal State Assembly election results that are being announced today -- the headline in today’s Gujarat Samachar was “parivartan ke punaravartan?” conversion, or repetition? – but applied this to our celebration of Advent. Do we focus on our conversion, or is this all just mindless repetition? I thought that was a good framework with which to approach Advent.

In the past I’ve tended to focus rather critically on some aspects of the celebration of the liturgy in India that I, from a very American perspective, find problematic. While I think those concerns are quite valid, they’ve tended to obscure the rich devotional life of the people in the Church in India. I’ve always noticed this, and been inspired by it, but haven’t remarked on it too much. There is the genuine reverence and piety of Indians (this is true for the followers of all religions. Indians are a pious people), the love for the Blessed Mother (rosaries and novenas proliferate; after Mass, there are always clusters praying around icons of the BVM), and in several places (in Baroda, though not so much in Bombay, which is a little more Westernized), the clergy celebrate Mass barefoot.

In many ways, it seems that the Catholic subculture that bolstered and supported the faith and whose loss and rapid disappearance after the Council is remarked upon so much in the West, never dissipated here. (See, for instance, William Portier’s thoughtful essay, “Here Come the Evangelical Catholics” in Communio 2004 [Description of article here], where he suggests that the main development in Catholic life in the US in the 20th century was the loss of the subculture and the integration of Catholicism into the voluntaristic nature of American religion in general, rather than the liberal or conservative theological and ecclesiological divides that are often invoked) As globalization and Westernization continue to make inroads into Indian society, I wonder how this Catholic subculture will adapt and respond.

At the end of Mass, various wedding banns are proclaimed, and then the liturgical schedule for the week is read out. There is midnight Mass tomorrow, and masses starting at 6:15 am on Christmas morning, in three languages: Gujarati, Malayalam and English. There is a special celebration and blessing of children on the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28.

And, in a somber reminder that this is a Church that faces regular persecution, the incident in Kawant was mentioned. Apparently, one of the brothers lost three fingers of his right hand. A delegation is going to the Collector’s office this week to protest and petition for justice. There has been no coverage in the local press, as far as I am aware; such attacks are it seems, distressingly regular. Besides, the utter lack of concern for the welfare of minorities seems to have become a hallmark of Gujarati society. No one really gives a d—n.

On the way back, I drove through a sea of khaki near a branch of the University, one of the counting stations for the elections. Large crowds milled about, and the police were everywhere. On TV, the talking heads were blathering on about a landslide victory for the BJP and a third term as Chief Minister for Narendra Modi, whose star is clearly on the ascendancy.

And though he is quite obviously very popular, and no one seems to really care about his implication in the pogroms of 2002, or his autocratic ways (that is, actually, a plus in Indian politics), and though it is far from inconceivable that he might one day be Prime Minister of the country, somehow, no matter how improbable it seems, one takes comfort in the fact that this little, helpless infant whose birth we are celebrating (and indeed, the whole world is, even Hindu Gujarat), is, in the final analysis, the Lord of the world, the Ruler of all, who has conquered all principalities and powers, and whose flock has survived despots and tyrants, even democratically elected ones, and against whom “the gates of Hell shall not prevail.”

Maranatha. Come, Lord.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tony Blair becomes Catholic

BBC NEWS | UK | Tony Blair joins Catholic faith

Rocco's coverage

And ... Britain is now a Catholic country.

Joyful chaos

The house is overrun. The brother and his family and cousins and their families have arrived. Nieces and nephews proliferate and play and shout and cavort. (In India, cousins' kids are as much nieces and nephews as one's siblings. There is, in fact, no word for "cousin" in Hindi, or Gujarati, or Marathi.) Was it such a long time back that we were going to our grandmother's house over the holidays and plotting various schemes while those boring old grown-ups sipped their chais and sat on the jhoola (swing)?

Exchange with my five year old nephew earlier in the day:

Nephew: "You always bring me something. Where is it?"
Me: "Umm. Not this time. You have to wait till Santa Claus brings it on Christmas."
Nephew (after slight pause and a withering look): "But, you're Santa Claus, aren't you?"
Me: "Hey! Watch it! My mid-section isn't that big yet!"

Well there you have it!

Right now the house is quiet. They've all gone to see a flick. I am feeling a bit poorly (a mild fever of all things. I can't recall the last time I had a fever!), and not wanting to overdo things on a very short holiday with a lot of travel, I stayed home. I've been listening to Bach's magisterial Mass in B Minor. When was the last time that I actually just sat and listened to music and did nothing else?

Gaudete! It's almost Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christ Our Hope

Website for Pope Benedict's visit to the United States. Christ Our Hope Can't wait!

And from Catholic India ...

New Indian cardinal urges outreach | Spero News
Cardinal Toppo was addressing Church leaders, union ministers, government officials, leaders of different religions and media persons at a Christmas get-together held at CBCI Centre, New Delhi.

“Religious leaders need to avoid restricting their relationships to their own religious communities. They need to expand their relationships to other communities too,” he added.
Let me tell you in a country where the link between religion and violence is deep and strong, these are not mere platitudes. The only thing is: Cardinal Toppo was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 2003, not in the latest one in November.

And, the persecution of Christians continues, in the "vibrant Gujarat" of Narendra Modi. Catholic nun, priests attacked in Gujarat. (See post below on the Gujarat Bishops stance on the Assembly elections in Gujarat.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Show your support to Mepkin!

Mepkin Abbey to stop selling eggs under pressure from PETA I had no idea that PETA had such an organized campaign to force the monastery to cave in.

Here's an NCR story from February. [I'd commented on this story briefly back then as well.]

PETA must have been keeping up serious pressure, if the monks could say this (from a statement from the Abbot on their website):
While the monks are sad to give up work that has sustained them for many years, a hard and honorable work of which they are proud, the pressure from PETA has made it difficult for them to live their quiet life of prayer, work and sacred reading. The monks have also found it difficult to extend hospitality, which is their hallmark, under such conditions.
I have no idea about the actual details of procedures and so on here -- I'm no expert, as the phrase goes. I do have a prejudice against PETA and extreme animal-rights activists, and I absolutely adore the monks at Mepkin, and simply cannot believe that they would treat their chickens less than humanely. Of course, for PETA perhaps the fact that humans eat chicken eggs is an abomination. How the heck can one talk to such folk? I can only imagine what kinds of protests PETA must have been indulging in, making life hell for these peace-loving men, who radiate such warmth and charity, who take seriously their stewardship of some pristine Low-country marshlands (and refuse to give in to pressure from developers), and who share the natural beauty of their lands, and the produce of their hands so generously, with the local people.

Please write to Abbot Gumula and the monks expressing your support and prayers for them. And go to their online store and show your financial support as well.

[H/t Word Wench. Also check out Leonardo's post.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The O Antiphons

On Dec. 17, we enter the octave leading up to Christmas. The daily office takes on a more anticipatory tone. One highlight of this period are the "O Antiphons," which are the antiphons preceding the Magnificat, that is prayed during Vespers (evening prayer) during this week.

What are the O Antiphons?
(Catholic Education article)

More at the Anchoress.

Love to be Catholic has a video up with the chanted antiphon for each day.

Another one for Dec. 18 (O Adonai), a YouTube video of the Domonican brothers singing the antiphon, at ID, and another one for Dec. 17. (O Sapientia).

Christmas: a Pagan festival?

Think again!

Mark Shea has the scoop.

You know, this is the first time I'm reading anything that challenges the reigning belief that Christmas was a "baptized" pagan Roman holiday.

A steeple for the Cathedral!

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is finally going to get a steeple! Details in the Post & Courier. [H/t Mattheus Mei.]
It seems that downtown Charleston's skyline soon will get its most welcome new addition in more than a century: a brand new church steeple.

In Charlestonians' hearts, if not necessarily always in their eyes, their historic city's skyline remains dominated by steeples, despite a handful of high rises, container cranes and, most recently, a new bridge.

So it's no wonder why plans to add a steeple to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist breezed through the Board of Architectural Review so easily last week.

Architect Glenn Keyes actually was anticipating at least some nay-saying, if only because the Broad Street church has existed for a century in its current form.

The cathedral was begun in 1890, and it finally was consecrated in 1907. Patrick Keely, a prolific architect for the Catholic church, designed it to resemble the 1851 Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and St. Finbar, which burned in 1861 and whose ruins finally collapsed in the 1886 earthquake.
This is awesome! Now to find the money .... :) And hopefully, Bishop England's See will have a new Shepherd before work on this steeple starts! Anyone in Rome listening? :)

It's 6:00 am ...

... so it's time for the azan, wafting across the cool winter morning. I was awake well before this today, of course. However, even when it wakes me up, there is something quite enchanting about the Muslim call to prayer...

President Bush visits the Little Sisters

Image courtesy the White House. The photo shows one of the residents, Mr. Dignazio, playing the accordion. He's quite a fellow! The previous week, I helped him write some letters so he could be free to practice for upcoming events. Such as this one, I guess!

Last Friday at my apostolate, the place was abuzz. On Tuesday, the President was going to pay a visit (the first one by a sitting President since Ronald Reagan swung by in 1984), and promote volunteerism. As I took the van out to take some residents to the grocery store, I noticed a few guys in black suits wandering around outside, pointing at things, taking notes. It looked like they were real-estate appraisers; of course, it was the Secret Service. "Oh they've been wonderful," a Sister told me later.

Well, President Bush's visit was yesterday ("earlier today" for y'all on the US East Coast. My body-clock is still there. Which is why I'm awake at 530am here :)).
First, there are volunteers here in the community who have taken time out of their busy schedules to volunteer to help somebody. And that's one of the messages of the Christmas season, that I hope our fellow citizens reach out and find a neighbor in need, find out somebody who needs a loving pat on the back, or somebody who could use a little help in learning how to read, or an elderly citizen who wants to know that somebody cares for them. It doesn't take much effort; it takes a little prioritization. And during a season in which we count our blessings, I would hope those of us who are blessed help somebody else.
Here's a photo of the President surrounded by members of the Congregation, including one of their postulants.

Image courtesy the Anchoress.

[Now, I'm far from being a fan of President Bush. However, I'm glad his visit is highlighting the wonderful work done by the Little Sisters, as well as promoting volunteerism.]

New Jersey bans capital punishment

New Jersey bans capital punishment

Sandro Magister on the CDF Note

... which I haven't yet had a chance to read. This is what the note tries to address ("overturn" as the headline of his article says).
At the origin of this chilling of the Church's missionary spirit, to the point of its extinction, the note indicates various causes.

Above all, there is the idea that every religion is a way of salvation as valid as all the rest.

Then there is the conviction that proposing Christian truth to others is an attack on their freedom.

Then there is a conception of the Kingdom of God that is not identified in the person of Jesus Christ, but in "a generic reality that overarches all the religious experiences or traditions, toward which these should incline as toward a universal and indistinct communion of all those who seek God."

Then again there is the idea that "the pretense of having received as a gift the fullness of God's Revelation conceals an attitude of intolerance and a threat to peace."

Indian church leaders hope poll clips Gujarat's Hindu extremism

This showed up in my inbox, with respect to the Gujarat elections ...
Ecumenical News International Daily News Service 14 December 2007 Indian church leaders hope poll clips Gujarat's Hindu extremism ENI-07-0973 By Anto Akkara Bangalore, India, 14 December

(ENI)--Church leaders in India's western Gujarat state have expressed optimism about the outcome of an ongoing election in the state, due to a higher number of voters turning out which they hope will signal a decline in Hindu extremism. "It seems the people are taking the election seriously. The higher voter turn-out gives us hope," Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Ignatius Macwan of Ahmedabad told Ecumenical News International on 12 December. More than 60 percent of the votes were cast in the first leg of the polls for 87 of the 181 constituencies of the state legislature on 11 December, already exceeding the number cast in the 2002 elections in which the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained power. "We have been waiting for this opportunity [elections] to register our protest," said Bishop Macwan who noted that Christians and Muslim minorities in Gujarat had "to suffer a lot" under BJP rule. In February 2002, more than a thousand Muslims in Gujarat were massacred by people thought to be Hindu fundamentalists following the torching of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. The state administration, under BJP control, was accused of condoning and later even protecting the perpetrators in the carnage. Prior to that, Gujarat under BJP rule had witnessed a number of instances of anti-Christian violence including the burning down of churches, desecration of cemeteries, assaults on Christian workers and harassment of church institutions by the government. "We will continue to pray for good results and exercise our precious votes," Church of North India Bishop Vinod Kumar Malaviya told ENI. On 16 December, during the second phase of the voting, Bishop Malaviya said he would go to the polling booth to cast his vote before heading to church for the Sunday service. "The people are well aware of the choices before them and we hope they will exercise their voting rights," replied Bishop Malaviya, when asked whether the CNI had issued any pastoral guidelines in the run up to the elections. Christians number slightly more than half a percent of Gujarat's estimated 55 million people. The Catholic Church had taken a clear stand against the ruling BJP administration with a joint pastoral letter by four bishops in Gujarat reminding voters that exercising the franchise is a "God-given responsibility". "Even routine government permission has become difficult for us under this government," pointed out Bishop Macwan. "Another five years under them [the BJP] will be too much for minorities," he added. [422 words]

ENI News Headlines and Featured Articles are now available by RSS feed. See All articles (c) Ecumenical News International Reproduction permitted only by media subscribers and provided ENI is acknowledged as the source. Ecumenical News International PO Box 2100 CH - 1211 Geneva 2

Jet lag

Uneventful flights from IAD-AMS-BOM (St. Lizzy, in response to your query below, take-off from Dulles was on 19L, landing in AMS on 4 :)). Lots of sleep -- thanks to emergency exit rows (the joys of being a loyal Skyteam customer). KLM food is much better than NW. And the flight attendants are a darn sight prettier too :) I had about 15 minutes in AMS. Tried to pick up some Scotch for my cousin at the duty free, but was informed that liquids were not permitted on flights to India. Stupid desi babus.

About 10 minutes out of Bombay (or rather, 10 minutes before landing; we reached Bombay on time at 1130pm, but circled for about 45 minutes before lining up to Rwy 27) a middle-aged Dutch lady came up to me, pointed to my cross, and said, "Nice to meet you brother!" She was wearing a cross as well, along with what looked like a Miraculous Medal. I guess she was happy to see another Christian on the plane ... ? I've got her card and will drop her a line.

Immigration and customs in Bombay were a breeze, but the airport was phenomenally crowded and it was 1:30 am before we got back to my uncle's place, just in time for a few zz's before heading out at around 645am for the morning flight to Baroda, which was, amazingly, on time.

A friend of mine from South Carolina (well, he's from Louisiana), who's backpacking around the world, is in India, and has come to Baroda for a few days.

Right now I'm battling jet lag by watching a really pathetic Bollywood movie (the hero and heroine just broke into song in the middle of a glacier in the Himalayas); the subtitles are so pathetic it's almost worth it!

It's nice to be on vacation. :)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

LSU shootings

:: UPDATE :: You can contribute to the LSU foundation's special fund for the families of the victims online.::

I only heard about the shooting of two doctoral students from India in their on-campus housing at LSU earlier today (I was away from the computer most of Friday). This is simply HORRIBLE!


FBI Joins probe. (NDTV)

Gulf News: Students' murders shock families.

From the LSU website: memorial service; support fund established.
The LSU Foundation has established the Komma & Allam Support Fund to assist the students' families. To contribute to the fund, donors should make checks payable to the LSU Foundation, 3838 West Lakeshore Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808. For more information on the fund, call 225-578-3811
I'm sending in a check. If y'all feel so moved, please do so as well.

Facebook group

Having been an ex-pat graduate student in this country, I can only imagine what the families are going through.

Requiescant in pace. May the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Travel update...

Well, I was a bit concerned that traveling through Newark tomorrow (Sun, Dec. 16) would prove to be problematic, given the crummy weather the Northeast is getting. I called Continental earlier in the day and got moved up to a 10:15 am flight from BWI-EWR, so that I'd have ample time to connect to the EWR-BOM flight at 8:20 pm. Heck, worst case, I'd get to take the train into the City and hang out a bit, maybe meet up with cousins, etc.

Imagine my shock when I went to print out my itinerary and the screen gave the date of departure as Monday, Dec. 17! I got on the horn. The first guy put me on hold to talk to his supervisor and then dropped the call. The next agent explained that basically almost all flights from BWI-EWR had canceled, so the system had automatically bumped me to the next day. There was a 645am flight scheduled to leave Baltimorw, but that was subject to change. "What if I take a train to Newark? Can you put me back on the Dec. 16 EWR-BOM flight, and I just board at Newark?" Well, that would require a ticket reissue (change in departure city), and since Northwest issued my ticket, I'd have to call them.

So, I dialed the NW Elite Services Reservation line (real live human right away most of the time!) and explained the situation. I pulled up Amtrak's website on the laptop -- trains more or less on the hour from Union Station to the City, stopping at Newark Airport. Fare $122. Ugh. Long hold. "Yes sir, we can put you on the Newark flight." "Hmm. Hang on. What if you get me out of Dulles on KLM to Amsterdam and then to Bombay?" More hold. "Done!" And an emergency exit too! This is how loyalty programs work ... fast, efficient, courteous service!

So, I avoid Newark altogether. Leave Dulles Sunday at 555p on KL652, arrive AMS 730am on Monday. Leave AMS 1010a arr BOM 1130pm on NW34, about two hours later than I would have arrived on the CO flight. Both are comfortable Airbus A330s. I can still go and crash at my uncle's place, and take the flight on Tue morning to Baroda.

The weather in the DC area is supposed to be rain and wind. That shouldn't affect flight operations too much.

And thank goodness for flexible frequent flier tickets!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 13

[I repeated Day 7 below! So this is 13, not 12. :)]

The work of the Holy Ghost began on the day of Pentecost, when he descended visibly to the Apostles and disciples. It is in this dispensation we live, and when He reigns on earth, the work of the Holy Spirit will be finished. When is realized the petition of the Saviour, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Through the Holy Spirit the world was called out of chaos.
Through Him the patriarchs and prophets were inspired.
Through Him the way to the Incarnation was prepared.
Through Him the Church was established.
Through Him every Christian soul is regenerated.
Through Him all things receive their perfection and are glorified.
Through the Holy Spirit the martyrs received the strength to sustain triumphantly their sufferings.
Through Him the apostles of nations were filled with zeal and the power to convert nations.
Through the Holy Spirit we receive all that is Holy, Good, True and Beautiful.

Sanctity is the result of the primary or immediate action of the Holy Spirit in the individual soul and its faithful correspondence with this inspiration.

Gaudete in domino! Iterum dico, gaudete!

The Third Sunday of Advent is known as "Gaudete Sunday," from the first word of the Introit of the Mass. "Gaudete" is Latin for "Rejoice," and this Sunday marks, in a sense, the half-way point of the subdued, penitential season of Advent. [Catholic Encyclopedia article.]

The Saturday vigil is the main weekend Mass for the seminary; this frees folks up to help out in parish apostolates on Sunday. Today also marked the last liturgy of the semester. I'm sure there was a definite sense of rejoicing for my seminarian brothers who have just gone through finals and papers and the like!

I'd made a request that, if possible, we chant the actual Introit for today's Mass. Much to my surprise (and delight!), the powers that be were amenable to this. It ended up being placed as a solo chant for the offertory, chanted by yours truly.

And it was quite nice, after a long time, to sing with the choir as well.

The text is taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, 4:4-6, with a verse from Ps. 85 (84) as a response.
Gaudete in domino, iterum dico, gaudete! Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus. Dominus prope est. Nihil soliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitione vestrae innotescant apud Deum.

Benedixisti Domine terram tuam, avertuisti captivitate Iacob.
I think the Douay-Rheims is perhaps closest to the text of the Vulgate:

Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.

Lord, thou hast blessed thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
("With thanksgiving" isn't in the actual text of the chant itself, but does occur [cum gratiarum actione] in the Vulgate.)

[It's really not surprising, but I don't think any of the musicians had seen a Graduale Romanum before, which I'd brought to practice. More on the Gradual.].

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 11

Undoubtedly the Bible is a precious book. It is the most precious of all books. The Bible is "The Book." The reading of the Bible is the most salutary of all reading. We say to Catholic readers: Read the Bible! Read it with prayer, that you may be enlightened by the light of the Holy Spirit to understand what you read. Read it with piety, that you may have the dispositions which will enable you to profit by what you read. Read it with gratitude to God's Church, which has preserved it and placed it in your hands to be read and to be followed.

The Church and the Bible are, in their divine origin, one; they co-operate together for the same end, and are in their nature inseparable. But the written Word is relative or subsidiary to the Church, having for its aim to enlighten, to strengthen, and to perfect the faithful in that supernatural life of the Spirit in which they were begotten in the laver of regeneration, in the bosom of the holy Church. The purpose of the written Word is, therefore, to effect a more perfect realization of the Church, and to accelerate her true progress in the redemption and sanctification of the world. Hence the written Word presupposes the existence of the Church, is within and in the keeping of the Church and depends on her divine authority for its authentication and true interpretation. The Church is primary, and not enclosed in the written Word; but the end of the written Word is enclosed in that of the Church.
(1886, The Church and the Age.)

The CDF Note on Evangelization



Intentional Disciples


Link to full text. (PDF of full text. On the Vatican's website, for some reason, only a summary is available.)

Sorensen announces retirement

USC President to step down in July. Sorensen announces retirement - News

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 10

It is a sad, sad time for religion when the prelates and priests of the Church appear to sympathize more with the oppressors than with the oppressed, and are more concerned in enforcing the duties of the people than in enlightening them in regard to their rights. The work of the Church is "to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke." (Is 58:6)

It is not to be wondered at that in such a state of society there should spring up a radicalism which is atheistic, revolutionary and destructive.

Intellectual renewal such as Leo XIII aims at will bring about religious, moral, social and political regeneration. But it must not be forgotten that the application of Christianity to the social and political state of society is a part of the duty of the leaders of the Church. This latter needs be brought forward if the Church would not lose its hold on the most numerous classes of society. It was the failing in this duty of the French clergy which led mainly to the Revolution of [17]'98.
(Diary, October 1880)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thoughts on repentance

"On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry ... " At the beginning of the week we were confronted again with that powerful scene of St. John the Baptist confronting the Pharisees and scribes, the "brood of vipers" for whom the ax is about to cut the root ...

What brings about repentance? I share below some thoughts from an email I wrote, correspondence between a seminarian friend and myself.

I always wonder: what brings about repentance? What actually causes change? How is someone predisposed to hearing the Good News? And what ways and methods work? I'm sure there are methods and ways suited to different times and places. For instance, one needs a bold and public proclamation of the Truth, especially in places that are resistant to hearing it, or where it has been distorted and twisted. Challenging the powers that be, and risking all, being willing to give all up, in the service of truth ... But there are other times -- and in dealing with other aspects of things -- that when all one has is a proclamation of this sort, without, as you rightly see, any love in it, we do a disservice to the truth. Real love, lived love, the love that actually is willing to suffer for the other (and not just be a martyr to a cause or an ideology -- for do recall, despite our best intentions, even truth itself, can simply become an ideology). Love that suffers with [that is what "compassion" means], that tries and imagines how it is like in the other's shoes,you know, as Christ did, who became like us in all things but sin, who was tempted like us in all things. Without this love, people are tuned out. They hear the condemnation, and they turn away, and are closed off from the Truth. As Christians, I think, we cannot be satisfied with just this.

Condemnation does not change hearts (It can shatter things open [as you've rightly articulated], at times). Love does however. And love pursues, and goes after the one lost sheep, ignoring the ninety nine, and is not satisfied having simply said, "this is sinful." That, if you see, is just the Law. The Law makes us aware that we are sinners, but it gives us no ability to actually change our lives. Only love does. The love of Christ, poured out into us, by the grace -- the free, unearned gift -- of God. "For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!"

Of course, we don't have God's cosmic vision, nor do we know really what is in mens' hearts. We do what we can, for, as the Apostle puts it, "the love of Christ compels us."

Ministry is first and foremost relational -- establishing trusting relations of love. Christ calls us friends after all, not slaves. This is, I am convinced (and I've seen and experienced) what invites people into an encounter with Christ. It is what leads them to experience His love, and that is what brings faith to life, and leads to conversion. Without that encounter with Christ we are a hollow shell, of beautiful ritual (and gosh, the way the "reforms" have gone, it's not even that half the time!), and sublime dogmas, and a fine exterior, but, as St. Paul said, that is only as good as a clashing cymbal or a sounding gong.

One can be completely orthodox, and faithful to the Church on the outside, and have a heart of stone. Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom.

We are called always to proclaim, to embody, "the truth in love."

Love causes repentance and conversion. And, St. Paul tells us, Love never fails.

Evangelization vs. proselytism

According to Catholic World News (CWN) that's the thrust of an article to be released tomorrow (Dec 14) by the CDF.

Can't wait to read it.

Weather ...

... there's a winter storm on its way here. This might affect my travel plans Sunday (BWI-EWR-BOM). So, say a prayer that things go smoothly. This is a very short trip to India, and it would suck to lose a day sitting in Newark airpot.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 9

To wish to enlarge the action of the Holy Spirit in the Soul, independently of, or without the knowledge & appreciation of the necessity of the external authority of the Church, her discipline, her laws, her worship, etc. & the spirit of obedience, would only be opening the door to eccentricity, schism, heresy, & spiritual death.

He who does not see the external authority of the Church, and the internal action of the Holy Spirit in an inseparable synthesis, has not a right or just conception of either.

Hindu extremists raise Catholic parish to the ground

Hindu extremists raise [sic] Catholic parish to the ground

Bishop Spong redux?

Just saw this on ENI.
Dutch pastor says he can believe in a 'God who doesn't exist' Utrecht (ENI). A Dutch Protestant cleric who describes himself as an "atheist pastor", saying he does not believe in God's existence, has become a publishing success in the Netherlands. The Rev. Klaas Hendrikse published a book at the beginning of November entitled "Believing in a God who does not exist: Manifesto of an atheist pastor", which by the end of the month had gone into its third printing. In his book, Hendrikse tells how his conviction that God does not exist has become stronger over time. He suggests, however, that it is still possible to speak of God, but in this case it refers to the quality of a relationship rather than the existence of a divine being. [415 words, ENI-07-0964]

INDIA More than 500 cases of anti-Christian violence in 23 months - Asia News

INDIA More than 500 cases of anti-Christian violence in 23 months - Asia News

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 8

The supposition that the aim of Christianity was to impose on the race, or any individuals of the race, a human personality, arises from a false view of the purpose of Christianity; the aim of the Incarnation was to elevate our human personality to the capacity of receiving in a higher degree the Divine Personality, man's Archetype. "God became man that man might become God."

Let us remember also that God gave man intelligence to seek the truth and it naturally seeks after it, and inclination of our will, when the truth is seen, to embrace, love and follow the truth. All life, strength and salvation to souls, to society, and to nations lies in that direction. Would not more be gained by relying more on the positive side of religion, in making known the beatitudes, than on its woes? It is from this source that renewal of the life of the soul and regeneration of society will follow.

The Holy Spirit is at work among Chinese, Moslems, and all nations, people and tribes, in every rational soul. The love of God, so to speak, compels this. We may not see or understand its secret operations, but the truth of this is none the less true for that. We may be nearer to the conversion of these races, & the unity of the race, & the triumph of Christianity, than any one of us is aware of ...
(Diary in Egypt, 1873)

The anti-humanism of some environmentalists

Environmentalist proposes “baby tax,” financial disabilities for large families -- the thing is, I don't think this philosophy ("babies = bad for planet") is a fringe belief anymore.

Mañanitas a la Virgen

Waiting for La Guadalupana. (Photo from the Basilica de Guadalupe in Tepeyac.)

A few videos of mañanitas from YouTube:

This one is a famous Mexican singer, Belinda, singing a hymn to the Virgin at the Shrine here. Lyrics here (Spanish).

[Even the Episcopalians offer mañanitas!]

American Catholicism's biggest night

Whispers in the Loggia: The People's Virgin Seven million gathering in Mexico City.

The Dallas Morning News on the celebration.

Cardinal Kasper presides over Methodist Event

ZENIT - Cardinal Presides Over Methodist Event
Cardinal Walter Kasper led an anniversary celebration Dec. 3, marking the birth of Charles Wesley (1707-1788), one of the initiators of the Methodist congregation. The ecumenical event was organized by the World Methodist Council and held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. It was attended by the highest Methodist leaders and the Anglican Communion.

Christians arrested for reading the Bible together in China

CHINA About 270 Christian leaders are arrested in Shandong for reading Bible together - Asia News

The battle for Gujarat

I hope it's true, but I'm not sure I trust the exit polls of the hyperventillating 24/7 news channels. Besides, phase 2 of the poll is on Dec. 16. The results will be announced on Dec. 17 or 18.

At least phase 1 went off peacefully. Neck and neck fight in Gujarat: Exit Poll

School shooting near New Delhi

I can't recall another incident like this! BBC NEWS | South Asia | India boys 'shoot classmate dead': "Police say they believe one of the boys they are questioning managed to smuggle his father's gun into the school and hid it in a toilet. After school closed for the day, the boy and one of his friends retrieved the gun and took turns to fire five shots at their classmate, killing him on the spot, Mr Lal told the BBC."

Bible Belt state may be crucial in election

Reuters story on the role of SC in the elections.Bible Belt state may be crucial in election | Top News |

Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 7

[Whoops! I missed Sunday! Mea culpa!]

The prime postulate of a sound Catholic is this: the Church is divine, moved by the instinct of the Holy Spirit in all her supreme and vital acts. The Catholic who does not hold this as a firm and immovable basis has lost, or never had, the true conception of the Church, and is in immediate danger of becoming a rebel and a heretic, if he not be one already. Whoso fails to recognize this permanent divine action in the Church, the light of the Holy Spirit has departed from his soul, and he becomes thereby external to the Church ... [T]he Divine spirit embodied in the Church and the Divine Spirit embodied in the Christian soul are one and the same Divine Spirit, and they bear testimony to each other, and work together for the same end. (1886.The Church And the Age)

Elections in Gujarat

Narendra Modi is rounding up a campaign season to stay on as Chief Minister. Well, campaigning would have ended: in India, it's illegal to campaign within 48 hours of an election. The polls are taking place over two days: Dec. 11 (tomorrow ... right now, actually, IST) and Dec. 16.

Critics denounce Hindu nationalists in Gujarat
. (Spero News)

Don't mention the massacre. (The Economist)

Bloodshed in '02 Shadows Indian Politician in Race That Tests Nationalist Party. (NYT)

Religious Divide takes centre stage in Gujarat poll. (Reuters India)
A state election that was supposed to be about India's booming economy has turned into a war of words over Hindu-Muslim divisions, riots and extra-judicial killings.

Gujarat, one of India's most developed and also one of its most communally divided states, votes on Tuesday and Sunday in a two-stage poll that is being closely watched for clues about the fortunes of the country's two main parties.
Polls say he might win, but not by a landslide. I hope he loses. Badly.

Say a prayer for a peaceful poll, y'all.

Gordon Zahn RIP

The founder of Pax Christi. Whispers in the Loggia: Gone to Meet God... and Franz

Of Sacrifice, Mission, Ecumenism, and Christ

Reflections on the shootings in CO yesterday. Intentional Disciples: Of Sacrifice, Mission, Ecumenism, and Christ

Christianity Today report.

U.S. bishops fault Phan for 'considerable confusion' on Christ, non-Christian religions

U.S. bishops fault Phan for 'considerable confusion' on Christ, non-Christian religions John Allen reports. [Full text of the USCCB statement. (pdf)] (Summary at Touchstone Magazine [h/t Mike Aquilina].)
In a nutshell, Phan's thesis is that God doesn't necessarily want everybody to be Christian. He quotes Dupuis to the effect that different religions are "gifts of God to the peoples of the world."

On that basis, Phan defends the idea of multiple religious belonging, meaning that it's possible for someone to be a "Hindu Catholic" or a "Buddhist Catholic," drawing upon doctrines and practices of both traditions – though only to the extent, he adds, that the elements drawn from the other religion don't contradict the truth revealed in Christ.

That point alone would probably be enough to bring Phan into the censor's scope, but most experts believe it's two other assertions that have truly set off doctrinal alarms.

First, Phan believes that while Christ may be absolute and universal, the same thing cannot be said of the institutional Christian church. Exclusive claims about the church, he argues, are stained with the memory of "colonialism and religious imperialism," and "smack of spiritual arrogance and historical blindness." As a result, he advocates a decidedly low ecclesiology, with assertions of a special status for the church "abandoned, or at least severely curtailed."

Second, Phan doesn't shy away from asserting that converting people to Christianity isn't a top-shelf priority. What's more important is building God's Kingdom, he says, especially through solidarity with the poor.

"If people come to church, that's great," he said at a June gathering of the Catholic Theological Society of America in Los Angeles. "But if they continue as Hindus or Buddhists, that's great as well. Our concern is not to increase the number of Christians, but to promote the Kingdom."

Phan has written more than three hundred essays and twenty books, including a trilogy published by Orbis Books: In Our Own Tongues (2003), Christianity with an Asian Face (2003), and Being Religious Interreligiously (2004). Along the way, he left the Salesians and became a priest of the Dallas diocese.

"He's the most respected Asian-American theologian in the country," said Christina Astorga, a Filipina moral theologian at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Phan's admirers say he's trying to develop a language that can resonate in a post-modern milieu, in which "meta-narratives," meaning sweeping claims to absolute truth, are greeted with deep suspicion.

Others sympathetic to Phan argue that Western church authorities may lack the background to appreciate his Asian outlook.

"He's raising a whole different set of practical and methodological issues not addressed in the European context of even a few decades ago," said Terrence Tilley of Fordham University, the current president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

On the other hand, even some theologians willing to give Phan credit for good intentions argue that somebody has to draw a line when core doctrines about Christ and the church are put in jeopardy.

"Both the magisterium and theologians are governed by 'the rule of faith,' the constitutive truth claims of the Catholic tradition," said Fr. Robert Imbelli of Boston College. "It is the responsibility of the magisterium to safeguard the rule of faith and, when necessary, to call theologians to accountability."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Oprah in SC

Good friends Yogin, Leonardo and Dogwood were "tailgaiting" this morning at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia (that's the football stadium, for all you Yankees :)), in anticipation of the rally to be held there for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey. [And Leonardo (aka Mattheus) managed to get interviewed by WOLO too ...]

A text message from Leonardo from the rally itself said that the estimated turnout was about 30,000. And Dogwood sent this photo.

Looks like a football game to me! I'm sure they'll have more on their blogs soon.

The AP story.

Kyrie Eleison

Gunman Kills 2 at Denver-Area Mission - AOL News [The comments, however, are most unenlightening.]

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 7

The real effect of the theory of the Church is to isolate ourselves from the outward world, withdraw from its enjoyments and live a life of sacrifice of the passions. This is one statement. Another would be this: All these things can and should be enjoyed but in a higher, purer, a more exalted state of being than is the present ordinary state of our minds. The only opposition to them is when the soul becomes sensual and falls into their arms and becomes lost to higher and more spiritual objects. Then there is the life of the man of wealth, of pleasure, the scholar, the divine, etc. all of which have their pleasures and griefs. (Diary, May 4, 1843)

Immaculate Conception Parish

For Mass today, I decided to forgo the solemn liturgy at the Basilica up the street, and instead, went with my good friends A&B to their parish, Immaculate Conception, a beautiful, historic church on 8th & N NW.

The Mass was sparsely attended; the celebrant (and new pastor) was superb. A very gentle, reverent, self-effacing style, with a fantastic homily that gave the basics about today's feast and how it relates to our lives.

Here are some shots of this beautiful church.

According to my friends, this is a historical Spanish statue that the previous pastor acquired.

The beautiful high altar and apse.

Each of these shields has a Marian title on it, such as Mystical Rose, Virgin of Virgins, Morning Star, Gate of Heaven etc.

Stained glass showing the Immaculate Conception and the BVM with St. Anne.

This is a little chapel at the very back, dedicated to Our Lady of Miraculous Healing.

Immaculate Mary

Screen-shot courtesy Columbia Museum of Art.

This painting of the Immaculate Conception is part of the collection of the Columbia Museum of Art. In 2004, it traveled to the Vatican for an exhibition of artwork of the Immaculate Conception, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the definition of the dogma. Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston blessed the painting in the museum one Sunday afternoon, prior to its journey to the Eternal City. I recall that day, there were several hundred people crammed into the little room where this painting hung, and in the surrounding room. A vested Catholic Bishop (I think he wore a cope, but I don't recall), blessing a painting of the Immaculate Conception in a public museum in the heart of Protestant South Carolina -- that was quite an image in of itself.

St. Lizzy shares some fascinating quotes from Stanley Hauerwas on today's Feast.

One could do worse than meditate on the sermon by St. Anselm that are part of today's Office of Readings.
O Virgin, by whose blessing all nature is blessed!
Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to the power or use of man – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendour by men who believe in God.
The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary's womb.
Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.
Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.
To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.
God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Saviour of the world. Without God's Son, nothing could exist; without Mary's Son, nothing could be redeemed.
Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.
And make sure to get to Mass soon!

Happy Feast!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 6

All our difficulties are favors from God; we see them on the wrong side, and speak as the block of marble would while being chiseled by the sculptor. When God purifies the soul, it cries out like little children do when their faces are washed. The soul's attention must be withdrawn from external, created things, and turned inward towards God exclusively before its union with Him; and this transformation is a great, painful, and wonderful work, and so much the more difficult and painful as the soul's attention has been attracted and attached to transitory things.

All the sacraments of the Church, her authority, prayer, both mental and vocal, spiritual reading, exercises of mortification and devotion, have for their end and purpose to lead the soul to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. St. Alphonsus says in his letters that the first director of the soul is the Holy Ghost Himself.

Fr. Tucker retires his blog

Dappled Things

NYC Manhole Covers

I've noticed this for years ... most (all?) manhole covers in New York City say "Made in India" in bold letters.

A NYT photojournalist visited a factory in Howrah (just outside Calcutta) where these covers are made. A neat photo-story! [h/t TG]

John Allen on the state of ecumenism

Full, visible communion is only an eschatological hope. Let's not overlook just how much progress has been made.
Here's the unvarnished ecumenical truth: Pluralism is an almost immutable fact of life in a globalized world, akin to the law of gravity. In that context, and given the weight of history, it's deeply unlikely that we'll see full, visible communion among all the branches of Christianity anytime before the Second Coming. The Orthodox are not going to accept papal jurisdiction, Catholics are not going to tolerate the kind of doctrinal and ecclesiological flexibility one finds in the Anglican Communion, and so on. That doesn't mean renouncing full communion as a dream, but it implies not broadcasting it as the primary motive for ecumenical work, because doing so is a sure prescription for heartbreak.

In practical terms, the point of "ecumenism of life" is not overcoming ecclesiological and theological differences, but living with them in a spirit of common purpose. By that standard, success abounds, from joint social and charitable projects to common efforts to resist the inroads of secularism and what Benedict XVI calls the "dictatorship of relativism." To take one small but telling example, this week Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz and Orthodox Metropolitan Filaret in Belarus signed a declaration, along with Baptist and Lutheran leaders, outlining a common strategy against HIV/AIDS. In Eastern Europe, that kind of ecumenical cooperation would have been unthinkable even a generation ago.

If ecumenical success were defined that way, the dominant impression would be of unstoppable momentum rather than malaise.

Fans of "The Simpsons" will recall an episode in which Bart donates blood to Mr. Burns, thereby saving his life. Homer greedily anticipates that Burns will shower his family with riches, but instead Burns presents the Simpsons with a massive stone head carved by ancient Olmecs, called Xtapolapocetl. A dismayed Homer looks at the head and asks, "What does it do?" His long-suffering wife Marge replies, "Whatever it does, it's doing it right now."

In a similar vein, I would say that whatever a unified Christian church does -- at least one that's realistic to expect in this order of history -- it's doing it right now. This isn't an ecumenical winter, it's spring, even if there are still clouds on the horizon, and the trick is to enjoy the weather rather than longing for an utterly flawless day that's just not in the forecast.
Lots of other good stuff in his weekly column too, including a brief mention of the reception of Jeffrey Steenson, former Episcopal Bishop of Rio Grande, by Bernard Cardinal Law into the Catholic Church.

Advent Tapers, Autom, and Indian names

So, as asst. sacristan, it's my job to make sure we have a sufficient no. of Advent candles to last the entire season. Of course, as we were setting up the chapel for Advent last week, we realized that we had none on hand. I did some research, dashed across the Potomac to Pentagon Fashion Mall and picked up the last two Advent taper sets at Yankee Candle. I was hoping for more, but two sets is better than zero.

Two, however, won't last the entire season. (With daily prayers and Mass, we go through these fast!) So today, I called every Yankee Candle store in the area. Not one had any Advent sets on hand. No purple tapers either (only gold or red)! Their website says that new orders will simply not ship till after Christmas.

So, I turned to that trusted supplier of Catholic parishes: Autom. A lot of their Advent stuff is on backorder, but one set was listed in stock. I called the 800 number, and am immediately connected through to a live human, let's call him Dave. It's in stock, yes it will ship out, and should be here by the end of next week. When I give him my name (in the normal laborious fashion -- spelling each letter out, slowly. The real name, not Gashwin. It sounds a tad stranger to American ears.), he says, "is that an Indian name sir?" I was like, "Yeah! Very good!"

It's only then that I realized that I was talking to someone in India. I've used Autom for years. I had no idea they had outsourced their call-centers to an Indian company! The last time I spoke to an Autom rep (when I was in the parish in SC, so, oh about a year and a half ago), she was in Ohio. "Sir, aap Hindi boltey hain?" (Sir, do you speak Hindi?) Hahn bilkul! (Yes, of course!) So we chatted a bit in Hindi, I asked him what the weather was like in Delhi and so on. And complimented him on his fake American accent, which had me fooled. Normally, I can hear through the call-center-Amrikan-accent rather easily. "Besides, if I'd even had a clue that you were Indian, I'd have just said my name, in the proper desi way. Hindustan mein mera naam aisey bolta to log mazak karte!" (If I ever said my name in that way [the way I do here], people would laugh!)

Ah globalization!

Doctrinal note concerning evangelization

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), headed by Cardinal William Joseph Levada, is about to release an important document on evangelization and catechesis, Vatican sources told CNA this week.

According to the Vatican sources, the document, which could be made public this Advent, "can be regarded as an application of the principles of the document "Dominus Iesus" to the way evangelization is transmitted and catechesis is taught within the Catholic Church."
Hmm. Should be interesting! Commentary:

Amy. ("This one gets a high-level intro to the world. Very high level.")

American Papist.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Advent with Fr. Hecker: Day 5

Exterior mortifications are aids to interior life. What we take from the body we give to the spirit. If we will look closely, two-thirds of our time is taken up with what we shall eat, and how we shall sleep, and wherewithal we shall be clothed. Two-thirds of our life and more is animal -- including sleep. We do not despite the animal in man, but we go for fair play for the soul. The better part should have the greater share. The right order of things has been reversed; conversion is necessary. Read the lives of the old Fathers of the Desert: they determined on leading a rational and divine life. How little are they known or appreciated in our day! Their lives are more interesting than a novel, and stranger than a romance.

Humility and obedience are also absolutely essential to the interior rule of the Holy Spirit. Self-love, self-activity, self-hood, is something not easily destroyed. It is like a cancer which has its roots extending into the most delicate fibers of our mental and moral nature. Divine grace can draw them out. But how slowly! And how exquisitely painful is the process! The more subtle the self-love, the more painful the cure. But mortification of a considerable character is never to be practice without counsel. The devil, when he can no longer keep us back, aims at driving us too far and too fast.
(Emphasis added)

In honor of camauros ...

© Tom Gibbons CSP, 2007. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

This is the Christmas card that my seminarian brother came up with for this year. HILARIOUS!

[Wikipedia: Camauro]

How to understand Unam Sanctam

... and other medieval "embarrassments." Mark Shea starts out with the end of the bull of Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam ...
"We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff."
and then goes on to analyze the various possible responses to this kind of a Papal statement, and how it might still make sense, with all the development of doctrine that has taken place since 1302.

Long, but worthwhile.

The commonest response is ... "oh that's so darn outdated/medieval/pre-Vatican II" (and, of course, we all know that the Church really started only in 1965, right?) (this is "position 2" in Mark Shea's scheme)

Ecumenical Papalia

The Holy Father praises the wisdom of the Christian East ... and meets with some Baptists. All in an ecumenical day ...