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Monday, March 30, 2009

Written on our hearts

Sometimes I listen to Sunday Soundbites, very short weekly homilies from Franciscan Radio given by by Fr. Greg Friedman, O.F.M. (who wrote that article I posted earlier, What Does It Mean to 'Be Church'). The Sunday Soundbites are in audio format but you can also read them. Here's the transcript for last Sunday's mini-homily ....


Archaeologists have unearthed thousands of stone tablets—surviving evidence of the life in the ancient Near East. This stone record gives us a glimpse of the cultures that are the background of the Bible. Hello, I’m Father Greg Friedman, with the “Sunday Soundbite” for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Especially helpful to Biblical studies has been the record of covenants—agreements made between merchants, traders or rulers in biblical times. By studying these business or legal relationships, we can understand the religious concept of covenant—our Scriptural theme all through this Lent.

In today’s first reading, however, the prophet Jeremiah wants us to move from covenants recorded on stone to another kind of covenant. Jeremiah is thinking of the Ten Commandments, written on stone by God and given to Moses. Now God tells the prophet that henceforth the covenant will be written in the hearts of the people. They will know their God with the intimacy of a lover. They will respond from the heart.

Lent is about renewing our Baptism. In Baptism God has “written on our hearts” a personal, covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel Jesus refers to his own act of self-giving, in the beautiful image of the grain of wheat, which dies in order to allow new life to grow. In the same passage he invites his followers to imitate him in that selfless act of love.

In these final weeks of Lent, let us seek to respond to that covenant invitation. I’m Father Greg Friedman with the “Sunday Soundbite” for St. Anthony Messenger Press, on the Web at


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Life imitates art

I saw a story in the news today - Researchers Say They Uncover International Cyber-Spy Network ....

Security researchers said they have discovered software capable of stealing information installed on computers in 103 countries, an apparently coordinated cyber-attack that targeted the office of the Dalai Lama and government agencies around the world .... he researchers say the infected computers acted as a kind of illicit information-gathering network, and that they observed sensitive documents being stolen from a computer network operated by the Dalai Lama's organization. They traced the attacks to computers located in China, but stop short of blaming the Chinese government ....

It's interesting because this is so like the storyline of an audio book I picked up at the library last week - Breakpoint by Richard Clarke. It tells of a Chinese-based threat to the US government and science community cyber communications networks. Here's a bit about it from The New York Times .......

Richard Clarke, the former National Security Council staff member whose 2004 book, “Against All Enemies,” chastised the Bush and Clinton administrations for not doing enough to prevent terrorism before Sept. 11 (and became a best seller in the process), is continuing his career as a novelist. In “Breakpoint,” his second thriller, Jimmy Foley, an N.Y.P.D. detective on loan to the feds, and Susan Connor, head of the Special Projects Branch of the Intelligence Analysis Center, try to uncover who is behind a series of attacks on America’s scientific elite and cyber infrastructure. They discover that a lot of surprising science, from babies being given an extra set of chromosomes to something called “human brain reverse-engineering,” is being carried out far from the public eye — and that more than one group might have reason to be upset. Though the book is set in the near future, Mr. Clarke ends with an author’s note pointing out that much of his science is not entirely fictional. “Sometimes you can tell more truth through fiction,” he writes.

The writing is not the best I've read, but the science stuff is interesting .... technological singularity .... darpa ... transhumanism, etc. Here below is an audio excerpt from the book, at a point where the internet flow to and from the US has been almost completely cut off and now the good guys are investigating the mysterious explosion of a high tech computer lab ....

* Breakpoint (mp3)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Scrunching the Spiritual Exercises

- The Last Supper by Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret

This time of year I'm reminded of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and the online retreat based on it that Creighton University offers, A 34 week retreat for Everyday Life. If the retreat is begun in coordination with the liturgical year then it seems sort of scrunched to me because it's always ahead of what's happenng in the liturgy - for the week of March 29-April 4 we'd be starting week 28 of the retreat - Jesus Surrenders to his Passion - which covers the gospel story from the last supper through the praying in the garden, the arrest, the trials, and the procession with the cross (April 5-1covers the crucifixion, and April 1-18 Jesus' resurrection). This allows the retreatant to spend a whole week in imaginative contemplation of a particular event.

- Christ in the garden of olives by Gauguin

Here's some of what the retreat materials have for this week ....

At this point in our retreat, we are prepared to contemplate, in detail, the passion of Jesus. Our desire is to enter into the gospel story and to be there with Jesus. We want to be touched by the power of this drama. The one we love, and want so much to be with, invites us into his story to experience his suffering, with him. The depth of our compassion for him leads to an even deeper intimacy.

Take each part of the story and experience its meaning. The garden struggle to surrender; the betrayal, the arrest and abandonment by his disciples; the trials; the mockery, the crowning with thorns, the beating, and the way of the cross are scenes we want to become very much a part of our consciousness this week.

- Ecce homo by Mihбly Munkбcsy

The retreat materials have a link to a Stations of the Cross page, but I came across another stations of the cross page that I think is worth a look as well ..... Stations of The Cross of a Person with AIDS. The drawings are by artist William Hart McNichols, SJ.

- The Road to Calvary by Giusto de Menabuoi

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hallowed are the Ori

- Daniel (Michael Shanks) and Cam (Ben Browder) search Merlin's hidden cache

I haven't watched any movies lately on DVD because I'm going through the 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1 instead. Right now I'm watching season 9 and it's the year when a god-like group of ascended beings called the Ori are introduced. They corruptly wield incredible power, adjuring their followers to worshipfully toe the dogmatic line or be destroyed as heretics.

- Vala (Claudia Black)

The first few episodes of year 9 are interesting - the SG-1 team consisting of archaeologist Daniel and Jaffa Teal'c, along with Cam and Vala (Ben Browder and Claudia Black, formerly of Farscape), discover that Merlin was actually an ascended being who hid his magical booty under Glastonbury Tor, an item of which is a device allowing Vala and Daniel to instantly travel to the galaxy/homeworld of the Ori, where they are discovered as unbelievers and ordered killed, their presence alerting the Ori to a whole other galaxy of heretics in the Milky Way in need of some evangelical tough love.

- Daniel and Vala about to become crispy critters

And here's a short video trailer for The Ark of Truth, in which the battle with the Ori is concluded ......

Watch Official Stargate: The Ark of Truth Trailer in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Woman of Samaria

- by William Dyce


- Sylvia Plath

Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new

Whose name you meditate --
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tom Resse SJ, Notre Dame, Obama

Earlier I had posted a short note about the Notre Dame/Obama thing, but since have seen Jesuit Thomas Reese's longer comment on the situation at The Washington Post's On Faith and thought I'd post it here .....


Notre Dame Right to Invite Obama

By Thomas J. Reese

Controversy over commencement speakers at Catholic universities pops up every spring along with the tulips. This year the controversy is over President Obama speaking at Notre Dame University May 17. Some have objected that this is a violation of the bishops' statement Catholics in Political Life. This is absurd.

According to Catholics in Political Life, "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

I would argue that having Obama as a commencement speaker and giving him an honorary degree does not violate Catholics in Political Life because:

1. In his personal life, Obama has never acted in defiance of the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.

2. Publicly, Obama has never spoken out against the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.

3. He supports legal restrictions on third trimester abortions with a health-of-the-mother exemption.

4. Although he does not believe that other abortions can be made illegal, he supports programs to reduce the number of abortions.

5. Notre Dame is not honoring Obama because of his views on abortion but because he is President of the United States, as has been made clear by the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president.

A fundamental principle of canon law is that it should be interpreted "strictly," which means "narrowly," that is in a way limits its restrictions.

How do I know that Notre Dame is not violating Catholics in Political Life? Because Notre Dame is doing nothing more than what has already been done by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who taught canon law and worked as a judge in the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a church court based in the Vatican.

If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from "Catholics in Political Life"?

Canon law aside, people need to recognize that Catholic universities have to be places where freedom of speech and discussion is recognized and valued. Not to allow a diversity of speakers on campus is to put Catholic universities into a ghetto.

When I was a student in the 1960's, Jesuit-run Santa Clara University was attacked for performing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" and for having a Marxist speak on campus. Now we are fighting over the "Vagina Monologue" and pro-choice politicians. If Catholic universities are afraid to have people on campus who challenge our views, then we are not training students to listen and think critically. We are admitting that our arguments are not convincing.

For a report on the organization leading the attack on Notre Dame, see "Catholic academic ayatollah shows true colors" by Joe Feuerherd in the National Catholic Reporter.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Annunciation

- by Edward Reginald Frampton

Gary Wills on Paul

Here is a video of Gay Wills talking about his book What Paul Meant. I found both his talk, and his answers to questions asked by the audience afterward, very interesting - I've always sort of hated Paul because I saw him as a misogynist, a homophobe, and something of a snake-oil salesman :) but Gary Wills paints a picture of him that's quite different (though I still think Paul falls down in the slavery dept.) ......

Monday, March 23, 2009

What the Gospels Meant

On my last foray to the library I picked up a non-fiction audio CD book by Gary Wills - What the Gospels Meant. I'm only in the beginning but it's really interesting and I'm already beginning to think differently about the gospels (in a good way :). Looking around just now, I saw a review of the book from the New York Times and thought I'd post part of it ....


What Jesus Really Did

Published: March 2, 2008

Garry Wills is not only one of the country’s most distinguished intellectuals, but also one of its most provocative, bringing his learning to bear on great questions of history and contemporary politics, often at the same time. Add to this his regular disquisitions on the church (he is Roman Catholic) and you have a combustible mix that can delight, infuriate or illuminate, usually all three. The irony of Wills’s latest work, “What the Gospels Meant,” is that it lacks polemics yet is full of observations sure to rile fearful souls who view ambiguity as the enemy of faith .....

What readers will find here is an engaging look at the Gospels, informed by the best biblical scholarship, as well as by Wills’s own faith, which he discusses openly. Wills relies almost exclusively on the writings of the late Raymond Brown, a Catholic priest whose works are the gold standard of New Testament exegesis.

“What the Gospels Meant” starts straightforwardly with a helpful explanation of just what a Gospel is: “a meditation on the meaning of Jesus in the light of sacred history as recorded in the sacred writings.” Wills then parses the Gospel of Mark, the earliest account, as a “report from the suffering body of Jesus,” written to comfort early Christians facing persecution. Matthew’s is the teaching Gospel, recounting many of Christianity’s most familiar sermons. The erudite Luke presents “the reconciling body of Jesus,” a Gospel of poignant stories like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan that display the humanity of Jesus and the universality of his message. John is, as ever, the theologian, a prophetic voice from “the mystical body of Jesus.” .....

Wills emphasizes the eschatological power of Jesus’ message, and the revolutionary fire that his words, now banked to a dull glow by familiarity, kindled in his contemporaries. The adage that “Jesus began as biography and ended as creed” is an article of faith to those who believe that the truth of what really happened 2,000 years ago has been buried under layers of dogma and deception. Wills shows that the reverse is true: Jesus’ disciples followed him to the cross because they believed he was the Messiah, and then spread his message as they — like generations after them — came to believe that he had been raised from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures. Creed came first, then the Gospel truth. Or truths .....




Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bishop Kevin Dowling

No doubt you've been reading about the Pope's visit to Africa and also his statement made on the plane beforehand asserting that the use of condoms doesn't stop the spread of AIDs but actually makes it worse. I thought I'd post something about Kevin Patrick Dowling, C.SS.R., a South African prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, a Redemptorist, and the second and current Bishop of Rustenburg. Why? Because he disagrees with the Pope on this - South African Bishop Opposes Vatican's Ban on Condoms - NPR.

The NPR story is current, but I thought I'd post this short 2005 story from TIME about him below ......


European Heroes 2005 - Bishop Kevin Dowling: Lives in the balance

breaking with catholic doctrine, bishop kevin dowling advocates the use of condoms to help save lives

In 1998, when Bishop Kevin Dowling first got involved in setting up a health clinic in Freedom Park, one of the massive shack settlements in his diocese of Rustenburg, South Africa, the suffering shocked him. He watched countless young women—many of them driven to prostitution by poverty—die of aids. He knew that condoms could have prevented most of these deaths.

The dilemma has placed him at odds with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception. Four years ago, he became the first African bishop to call on the church to consider lifting its absolute ban on condom use. They should be accepted as a tool for protecting millions of vulnerable lives against aids, he argued, rather than denounced as a form of birth control. “The challenge to the church is a challenge to all of society,” says the 61-year-old bishop. “We have to find the best means to protect life, and the best means to prevent the transmission of this virus.”

Over the past seven years, Dowling has developed his initial makeshift clinic into a program that provides comprehensive treatment and counseling to hundreds of people a year. “He is the aids bishop,” says Father James Keenan, a professor of theological ethics at Boston College, Massachusetts. “The issue of the Catholic Church and condoms has to be resolved by listening to men of the church who have the experience, tenacity and wisdom of Bishop Dowling.”

Dowling’s argument hinges on the church’s teaching on the sacredness of life: without condoms, people will continue to die unnecessarily, he argues. “There are hundreds of thousands of women in sub-Saharan Africa facing the same situation,” he says. “They look into my eyes and tell me there is no hope.” Dowling reasons that the church has always allowed exceptions to its 1968 Papal ban on contraception; when, for example, a woman’s health is at risk. Likewise, he argues, in poor communities where aids is rife, the church must allow condoms for the same purpose. Bishops and Cardinals are beginning to agree with him, although when addressing African church leaders in June, Pope Benedict reiterated the church’s opposition to condoms. But to Dowling, the church’s credibility is at stake. With thousands of poor men and women dying, he says, the church needs to send the message that “we are authentically pro-life, in the widest sense of that word.” —By Megan Lindow


Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

- Muiredach's High Cross

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What Does It Mean to 'Be Church'?

- Sacred pilgrims by Trygve Skogrand

There have been many instances lately in which the church has been criticized, but I've also noticed a lot of counter-criticism of that criticism ..... just read the Pope's recent letter (Pope on the defensive...and it's not pretty - David Gibson) ... another example - one comment I read at dotCommonweal for a post about law suits against the church for sexual abuse accused those suing of being the enemies of the church. I think this is untrue. I don't know if I'm a representative example of others who criticize the church, but though I do hate some of the hierarchy's interpretations of and stances on certain subjects, I love Ignatian spirituality and so much else. Maybe part of the problem is the question of what and who the church actually is. Here's a bit of an article at American Catholic by Franciscan priest Greg Friedman on that subject .......


What Does It Mean to 'Be Church'?

"Hey, Father, what is the Church’s position on divorce? On homosexuality? On birth control? On priests in politics?" I hear this "what-is-the-Church’s-position" question time after time while giving weekend retreats to the engaged. And whenever I hear it, I start to feel uncomfortable—no matter what the topic. My discomfort has to do with the whole question of what the Church is or what being Church really means for Catholics.

You see, as a priest I am used to giving answers to questions about points of Catholic teaching. It is my job, after all: The priest is ordained to assist the bishop in the role of teacher. But there’s an attitude underlying the way we ask questions about "the Church’s position on..." that bothers me. It seems to say, "Father, we’re all here waiting to hear what 'the Church' (namely, the priest) has to tell us ordinary folks about...."

Their plea, I fear, betrays a misleading way of looking at Church: namely, one that presumes a gap between the "official" Church, represented by pope, bishops and priests—and all the rest of the folks. That’s what makes me uncomfortable! As long as we keep this chasm between "us" and "them," then we’re distorting what it means to be Church. In these pages I hope we can come to a greater sense that we are all the Church ....

(big snip)

The [Vatican II] Council took a dramatic step in changing the way we see ourselves as Church. The Council decided we should not conceive of the Church primarily in a way that sets us apart from pope, bishops and clergy. The term People of God is the key to that change.

We get a clue to this from the Council’s decree on the Church, Lumen Gentium. When the Council fathers met for their discussions, they had a first draft of that document before them. It set forth in traditional theology a definition of Church that spoke of the hierarchical structure of the Church—pope, bishops, priests—before going on to treat of the People of God.

There was an important debate at the Council which resulted in a reversal of these two sections. It was decided that the chapter on the People of God should come first. The bishops were determining that the traditional view of the Church as a hierarchy was secondary to a wider view which encompasses all of us in the Church, not only pope, bishops and priests. We all make up the one People of God.

This does make a difference in how we understand Church today. It means a new image of Church—one that sees all of the members of the Church together. Together we have one common call from Jesus: to be holy, to be his Body here on earth. Even though the Body has a variety of members, each with a special function, we are still one Body, as St. Paul puts it ....

(another big snip)

And yet, even with the changes of Vatican II, it is still a human Church, marked by human imperfection. We are not a flawless Church (either hierarchy or laity) but a bunch of sinners trying to make it together. We are one in our common humanity-in-need-of-redemption .... We see throughout history that there are certain structures and ways of being Church that have worked, and some that have not. Most of these were responses to needs someone saw within the Church—they were "people solutions" to problems. To use a drastic example, the Inquisition, a system of insuring that people held to authentic Church teaching, may have had a good goal, but we have come to recognize that the end does not justify the means and that sometimes the Church’s means, or methods, were cruel and vicious. No one, we hope, would propose such a solution today! There, human sinfulness caused a good objective to turn sour. Greed and oppression, abuse of power and corruption are no strangers within the Church.

And this is true throughout the Church. We shouldn’t think of a "split-level" Church in the matter of sin—as if the laity are expected to succumb to the world, the flesh and the devil, but the hierarchy are of a superhuman order. Some of the popes of the Renaissance times were often worldly monarchs with glittering courts and immoral habits. Thankfully, that sort of corruption is no longer much of a problem within the Church, but the human weakness of the Church—on all levels—should not surprise us ........

(and another snip)

In examining where we’ve come as a Church, from the massive building high on a hill where I went as a boy to the friendly parish in the suburbs, I’m still left with a slightly defensive feeling. I still hear those questions directed my way, and yet I’m beginning to see, from my vantage at the altar, a Church growing in its awareness of its unity as the Body of Christ. Lately, when I’ve been tempted to sigh and deliver a quick, "authoritative" or "holier-than-thou" answer, I recall the words of a wise Jesuit teacher and preacher, Father Walter Burghardt. In a book aptly titled Tell the Next Generation, he shares how he sees the Church. Rather than speak from a distant pulpit, or from a purer atmosphere than the rest of us breathe, he makes what he calls "an uncommonly honest confession":

"In the course of a half century, I have seen more Catholic corruption than you have read of. I have tasted it. I have been reasonably corrupt myself. And yet I joy in this Church—this living, pulsing, sinning people of God, love it with a crucifying passion. Why? For all the Catholic hate, I experience here a community of love. For all the institutional idiocy, I find here a tradition of reason. For all the individual repressions, I breathe here an air of freedom. For all the fear of sex, I discover here the redemption of my body. In an age so inhuman, I touch here the tears of compassion. In a world so grim and humorless, I share here rich joy and laughter. In the midst of death I hear here an incomparable stress on life. For all the apparent absence of God, I sense here the real presence of Christ."


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jesus and the woman from Samaria

- Edward Burne-Jones

Hard cases

The news around blogdom is of B16's letter to bishops on the way he handled de-excommunicating the SSPX bishops, but I thought instead I'd post something else about the story of the nine year old Brazilian girl who was pregnant with twins through rape, who had an abortion at her doctors' advice, and whose mother and doctors were then excommunicated by the local archbishop, who was backed up by the Vatican.

I've not seen many posts about this story in the Catholic blogosphere and one of the reasons given for why it's not worth discussing is that it's unusual and that "hard cases make bad law". I think this attitude is wrong, and as the most recent Tablet editorial - Casting stones in Brazil - points out .....

Hard cases make bad law. Such a thought may even have gone through the mind of Jesus when they brought before him a woman taken in adultery. Mosaic law required her execution by stoning; not to enforce it might be seen as condoning the sin and setting a bad example to others. In the Brazilian case, furthermore, there were two innocent foetuses, which an abortion would kill. Nevertheless, Jesus' response displayed a profound compassion that seems absent in this case. He did not condone the woman's behaviour; he told her to sin no more. But the rest of his remarks ask searching questions of the Catholic Church in Brazil and elsewhere. Down the generations, has it allowed and condoned a misogynistic attitude on the part of men that has led to the widespread sexual exploitation of girls and women and resulted in tragedies like this? Is it entirely "without sin", and should it therefore be "casting the first stone"?

Here's an update on the story that I saw at U.S. Catholic's blog ......


Hard cases, part 3

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By Bryan Cones

The bishops of Brazil have finally done something right on this terrible case. (See my previous posts on this story: part 1 and part 2.) According to the Catholic News Agency, the leadership of the Brazilian national conference of bishops has condemned the child abuse that led to the pregnancy of the nine-year-old girl, who underwent an abortion earlier this week over church objections.

This condemnation of her stepfather's behavior should have been the first thing out of the mouth of her local bishop, who stirred up this controversy. Unfortunately we've had to wait five days for bishops to state the obvious: The source of this whole problem is the morally outrageous, damnable behavior of her stepfather.

No matter what you think about the morality of the final decision to end the child's pregnancy, I think this case highlights the importance of thinking broadly about "life" issues. Issues of direct killing, such as abortion, certainly have pride of place, but child abuse and rape--which always kill spiritually if not physically--certainly deserve attention, especially if the church means what it says about the human dignity of women and girls.

But I also think it asks of us some serious moral thinking and praying: If the girl had been compelled to carry her unborn children to term, what if her uterus had ruptured and she died? What if her children died anyway? What if she miscarried and was left unable to have children in the future? These all seem likely outcomes for a 9-year-old body. Such questions deserve not only our intellectual moral reflection but prayerful silence before the gravity of the situation.

Even with a moral issue as clear as abortion, there can be problematic gray areas that could vex even the most well-formed consciences. I for one pray never to face such a circumstance. We should be wary of judging them too quickly, especially when we consider Jesus' own words on the danger of judging others.



Today's calendar picture of Italy is of the coastal town of Portofino. Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of it ....

Portofino (Ligurian: Portofin) is a small Italian fishing village, comune and tourist resort located in the province of Genoa on the Italian Riviera. The town crowded round its small harbour is considered to be among the most beautiful Mediterranean ports .... According to Pliny the Elder, Portofino was founded by the Romans and named Portus Delphini, or Port of the Dolphin, because of the large number of dolphins that inhabited the Tigullian Gulf .... After 1229 it was part of the Republic of Genoa .... In 1409 Portofino was sold to the Republic of Florence by Charles VI of France, but when the latter was ousted from Genoa the Florentine gave it back. In the 15th century it was a fief of families such as the Fieschi, Spinola, Adorno and Doria. In 1815 it became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and, from 1861, of the unified Kingdom of Italy.

Perched above the harbor is Castello Brown and in the harbor under the sea is a bronze sculpture of Jesus, Christ of the Abyss (1954).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

God in his mercy lend her grace

Here's a video of Loreena McKennitt's, The Lady of Shalott, live at the Juno Awards ....

I like this song and had saved the 11 minute version on my old computer, but it died with the machine. Here below are just the lyrics of the shortened song in the video, but you can read all the words in Tennyson's (1842 version) poem from which they came here.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road run by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.


A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.


She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.


Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Small Wire

Another poem from that Creighton Lenten retreat, this one by Anne Sexton .....

Small Wire

My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Let Evening Come

- Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Not the transfiguration

It's Sunday and maybe I should post something about the beautiful readings instead of this icky mess, but here it is anyway ....

Doubtless you've seen the story (Nine-year-old’s abortion stirs Brazil debate) about the nine year old, 80 lb Brazilian girl who was pregnant with twins thanks to rape by her stepfather, who was advised by doctors to have an abortion for the sake of her physical health, and whose mother and doctors were then excommunicated by the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife,? Latest news is that the Vatican backs the Archbishop up. Guess I don't need to mention the stepfather wasn't excommunicated. Here's a little of the story ...

Debate in Brazil about the long taboo subject of abortion — which remains illegal except in cases of rape and when the mother’s life is in danger — has sprouted in recent years. The country’s Supreme Court is due to rule this year on whether the exceptions can extend to anencephalic pregnancies, when the fetus has no brain. But despite a rise in the number of legal abortions in recent years, opposition to reform remains stiff — principally from the Catholic Church, but also among a majority of Brazilians, polls show. Pope Benedict made opposition to abortion the cornerstone of his visit to the world’s most populous Catholic country two years ago.

Human Rights Watch voiced concern in a recent report that some states and cities were being pressured by the Church and other groups into making it harder for women to get reproductive health care and contraception. It also criticized a “recent resurgence of police raids of alleged clandestine abortion clinics and prosecutions of its clients and providers.” At least 200,000 clandestine abortions are performed in Brazil every year, officials estimate.

And this from the BBC story Vatican backs abortion row bishop ....

Brazil only permits abortions in cases of rape or health risks to the mother. Doctors said the girl's case met both these conditions, but the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho said the law of God was above any human law. He said the excommunication would apply to the child's mother and the doctors, but not to the girl because of her age.

Cardinal Re, who heads the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, told La Stampa that the archbishop had been right to excommunicate the mother and doctors ....

The girl, who lives in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, was allegedly sexually assaulted over a number of years by her stepfather, possibly since she was six. The fact that she was four months' pregnant with twins was only discovered after she was taken to hospital in Pernambuco complaining of stomach pains. Her stepfather was arrested last week, allegedly as he tried to escape to another region of the country. He is also suspected of abusing the girl's physically handicapped 14-year-old sister.

And this bit from a TIME artucle ....

The Church excommunicated the doctors who performed the procedure as well. "God's laws," said the archbishop, dictate that abortion is a sin and that transgressors are no longer welcome in the Roman Catholic Church. "They took the life of an innocent," Sobrinho told TIME in a telephone interview. "Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent. Taking that life cannot be ignored."

Strange, I never got that "innocent life is worth more than non-innocent life" memo. Sometimes I hate the Church.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Of The Empire

I'm listening to the seventh session (mp3 file) of Creighton University's Lenten retreat, and it begins with a poem, this time by Mary Oliver ......

Of The Empire

We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

Jesus on marriage & divorce

I'm still reading some of the lectures that can be found at Gresham College by Keith Ward, past Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. The one I just finished is There's nowt so queer as folk - Gender and sexuality and I thought it was really interesting. It's long, though, so I thought I'd just post the part of it that is on what Jesus said about marriage and divorce ......


There's nowt so queer as folk - Gender and sexuality
- Keith Ward

[...] At last I come round to mentioning sex, which I have deferred for as long as possible. Jesus says, 'Anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery' (5, 28). The interpretation I prefer seems to fit this case very well. Jesus is talking about inner attitudes. We can interpret his statement (but it is an interpretation) as saying that anyone who inwardly desires a married woman has committed a sin which is a sort of adultery. But he goes on to say that if your right eye offends you, tear it out. That is certainly not literal. It is a hugely exaggerated statement to make the point that the nourishing of an active desire for a wrong (in this case, sex with another's wife) is itself a wrong. Then comes a very mysterious passage. 'Anyone who divorces his wife (except on the ground of unchastity - porneia), causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery' (5, 32). Divorce is allowed by Torah, and it was relatively easy for a man to divorce his wife, for 'indecency' (porneia), which could be very widely interpreted to mean anything shocking or unacceptable, not just adultery. But now Jesus says that if the man divorces a wife, it is she who commits adultery. This could only be so if she marries again, and it seems to prohibit remarriage after divorce, even for women who do not want to be divorced, and who will be socially disadvantaged if they do not remarry.

This seems surprisingly uncharitable, if it is meant to be a rule. In some manuscripts, at Matthew 19, 9, Jesus says, 'Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery'. This formulation is found in Mark and Luke also. That makes more sense, and at least puts the blame on the man.

Matthew certainly represents Jesus as saying that divorce is a bad thing, arising from human hard-heartedness. 'It was not so at the beginning' (Mat. 19, 8). But is Jesus cancelling the Biblical permission of divorce? Or is he rather saying (by analogy with the 'law of retaliation' case above) that divorce is permissible, but disciples should not divorce their wives? If we follow the analogy of that case, however, we might expect that this is not a specific rule, but points to an inner attitude. Just as you are not expected literally to let evildoers do as they wish without resistance, so you are not expected literally never to divorce, nor is a divorced woman guilty of adultery if she remarries. The point in the former case is to be non-vindictive, but what you are to do in specific cases depends on the situation. If the analogy was pursued, in the case of divorce the point would be to condemn an attitude of frivolity or lack of seriousness about marriage, and to encourage an attitude of loyalty to a partner 'for better or worse, until death'. Jesus would be pointing out that commitment to another in marriage is to be serious, life-long and genuine, not a matter of momentary inclination or convenience.

But he would not be saying that in hard cases (as when a man deserts a woman), she is condemned never to remarry. Christian churches differ considerably in their interpretation of Jesus' reported remarks about divorce. The Church of England, strangely, has the harshest doctrine - that marriage is life-long and re-marriage after divorce is forbidden. Fortunately, perhaps, Anglicans rarely keep their own rules. The Roman Catholic Church also forbids remarriage after divorce, and holds that divorce is impossible, for marriage is indissoluble.

This is a strongly literal interpretation of Jesus' teaching. But the Catholic Church nevertheless annuls many marriages, saying that they were not genuine, so in practice people can marry 'again', even while children of the previous 'non-marriage' still live. The Orthodox Churches permit remarriage after divorce, as long as a public confession of regret for the breakdown of the previous marriage is made. Many Protestant churches permit divorce and remarriage, and so they are presumably committed to taking Jesus' words on this issue non-literally, as an exaggerated way of saying that ideally one should not divorce, and that one should do all one can to prevent divorce. But sometimes it happens, and we must then make the best of a bad job - and 'making the best' will often mean marriage to someone else. This shows how difficult it is to interpret Jesus' moral teaching on this central matter of sexual ethics, marriage and divorce. My own view is nearest the Orthodox and Protestant view on this issue, and for three main reasons.

First, Jesus' moral teaching in general seems to be stated in very exaggerated terms that cannot be taken literally, but that point to the ideal moral attitudes that should govern human life (we might think of Jesus' statement that a camel cannot go through a needle's eye as such a case, pointing out the difficulty, but not the absolute impossibility, of combining great wealth and Christian discipleship). So if we try to take one consistent way of interpreting Jesus' moral teachings, it has to be a non-literal way, but a way which does not in any way undermine the importance of absolute moral commitment. The commitment will be, however, not to external acts but to inner attitudes. Such attitudes will normally issue in external acts of a specific sort. Life-long commitment will normally issue in no divorce. But in hard cases, the required attitudes of true care for another and respect for their wishes can remain, or even be strengthened, by making an exception to the normal rules.

Second, Torah permitted divorce, as did all the Rabbis of Jesus' day. The disciples may have been shocked at the severity of Jesus' teaching, but it was shock enough to them that he made divorce extremely difficult, when they were obviously expecting him to have a more liberal attitude (that itself is perhaps a clue to the general nature of Jesus' moral teaching. He was generally liberal or humane in his interpretations of Torah, arguing for healing and for picking ears of what on the Sabbath - both allowed by liberal interpretations of Torah, but contested by very conservative readings). And according to Matthew, Jesus did not mean actually to contradict Torah in his teaching.

Third, the literal interpretation of the divorce aphorism in the Sermon on the Mount would be uncharitable to innocently divorced women, and I cannot accept that Jesus' teaching was ever uncharitable. True love of neighbour will sometimes involve marrying, and taking care of, women who have been left alone through no fault of their own, or by a tragic breakdown of marriage. And it will sometimes involve letting a wife of husband go, when they do not wish to continue a relationship further. These are hard cases, and it would be a mistake to build a set of moral laws on hard cases. It is better to do as I, at least, believe Jesus did, and that is to set out the moral ideals that should govern human life, and leave hard cases to careful and particular consideration in often unforeseen situations. The underlying principle that I would find in the sermon with regard to sexual morality is that life-long commitments of loyalty and trust, for better or for worse, are of great value, and should never be intentionally undermined (5, 31 - 32). In addition, it is wrong to make such relationships merely instrumental to gaining momentary pleasure, so that personal gratification is regarded as more important than a fully personal relationship of shared concern and experience (5, 27 - 30). Both these principles are fully consistent with love of neighbour, and they spell out what such love implies. In the form in which I have described them, they do not mention sex or gender at all. They are about friendship in general. And that, in my view, is how they should be taken .....

Professor Keith Ward, Gresham College, 1 March 2007


Friday, March 06, 2009

Jesus pics

- Sermon on the mountain by Károly Ferenczy

- St. Mary Magdalene in the house of Simon the Pharisee by Jean Béraud

Pisa Baptistry

Today's picture on my Italy calendar is the Pisa Baptistry - something I missed on my one visit to Italy. Here's a little about it from Wikipedia ...

The Baptistry of St. John (Italian: Battistero di San Giovanni) is a religious building in Pisa, Italy .... completed in 1363. It's the second building, in the chronological order, in the Piazza dei Miracoli [Square of Miracles], near the Cathedral [the Duomo] and the famous Leaning Tower. The architect was Diotisalvi .... Constructed on the same unstable sand as the Tower, the Baptistry (as well as the Cathedral) leans 0.6 degrees toward the cathedral.

And some pics ....

- the entrance to the Baptistry

- interior

- the Baptistry, the Cathedral, and the Leaning Tower (click to enlarge)

The visitation

- Konrad Baumeister's 1881 painting of the first vows of Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Peter Faber, among others, at Montmartre

I saw an interesting post at America magazine's blog by Fr. Martin SJ - Ready for the Visitation? - about the coming Vatican visitation to women religious of the US. I'm intrigued because every now and then I wonder what it would be like to be a nun. I know almost nothing about them aside from movie portrayals. Never met one in real life. I have to admit, if I was to ever join up, I'd rather be a Jesuit. Ignatius of Loyola proposed a new kind of religious order - one where the members didn't have a particular dress code, didn't live in cloistered monasteries, didn't always pray and eat together, but went out into the world in myriad ways (I've been reading The First Jesuits by John W. O'Malley SJ :). And I see a little of what Ignatius proposed in what's written below.

Here an article/email - We have given birth to a new form of religious life - by Sandra M. Schneiders I.H.M., a professor at The Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, posted at The National Catholic Reporter about the coming visitation ........


Editor's note: When the Vatican announced in January that it was undertaking a study of institutes of women religious in the United States, many women religious were taken by surprise. Reactions were mixed, some welcoming the study, others anxious about it. Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders shared her thoughts with some colleagues and friends in an e-mail that was not meant for publication. But her letter did become public and NCR received several requests to publish the letter. We contacted Sr. Schneiders and she gave us permission to share her letter with our online readers.

Author's Note: The following is not and never was an article nor intended for publication. It originated as a spontaneous response in an e-mail conversation among a few colleagues. It became public, so I am making a few changes [in brackets] to clarify references for readers who may not be conversant with the subject matter.

Dear [Friends]

Thanks for your e-mails.

I am not inclined to get into too much of a panic about this investigation -- which is what it is. We just went through a similar investigation of seminaries, equally aggressive and dishonest. I do not put any credence at all in the claim that this is friendly, transparent, aimed to be helpful, etc. It is a hostile move and the conclusions are already in. It is meant to be intimidating. But I think if we believe in what we are doing (and I definitely do) we just have to be peacefully about our business, which is announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, fostering the Reign of God in this world.

We cannot, of course, keep them from investigating. But we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house. When people ask questions they shouldn't ask, the questions should be answered accordingly. I just hope we will not, as we American Religious so often do, think that by total "openness" and efforts to "dialogue" we are going to bring about mutual understanding and acceptance. This is not mutual and it is not a dialogue. The investigators are not coming to understand -- believe me, we found that out in the seminary investigation. So let's be honest but reserved, supply no ammunition that can be aimed at us, be non-violent even in the face of violence, but not be naive. Non-violent resistance is what finally works as we've found out in so many arenas.

In my work on the renewal of Religious Life over the last eight years I have come to the conclusion that Congregations like ours [the kind represented by LCWR in this country] have, in fact, birthed a new form of Religious Life. We are really no longer "Congregations dedicated to works of the apostolate" - that is, monastic communities whose members "go out" to do institutionalized works basically assigned by the hierarchy as an extension of their agendas, e.g., in Catholic schools and hospitals, etc. We are ministerial Religious. Ministry is integral to our identity and vocation. It arises from our baptism specified by profession, discerned with our Congregational leadership and effected according to the charism of our Congregation, not by delegation from the hierarchy. We are not monastics at home. We are not extensions of the clergy abroad. Our whole life is affected by our ministerial identity: searching out the places (often on the margins of Church and society) where the need for the Gospel is greatest (which may be in Church institutions but often is not); living in ways that are conducive to our ministry; preaching the Gospel freely as Jesus commissioned his itinerant, full time companions to do. Our community life and ministries are corporate but not "common life" in the sense of everyone in the same place at the same time doing the same thing.

The phase of postconciliar "up-dating" for us was brief. We realized, by our return to the Gospel and to our own foundations, that we were called to much more radical [meaning in-depth] renewal than surface adjustments of lifestyle. There is no going back. But I think we may have to claim this, calmly and firmly, in the face of this now organized effort to get us back into the older form. We are as different from "apostolic Religious Congregations” [such as those represented by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, or CMSWR] (of whom the Vatican is much more approving) as the mendicants were from the Benedictine monks. The big difference is that they [apostolic Religious Congregations] read Perfectae Caritatis and did what it asked: deepened their spirituality (I hope), and did some updating -- shorter habits, a more flexible schedule, dropping customs that were merely weird, etc. We read Perfectae Caritatis through the lenses of Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium and we were called out of the monastic/apostolic mode and into the world that Gaudium et Spes declared the Church was embracing after centuries of world rejection.

There is no problem with CMSWR-type communities continuing the older form. Benedictinism didn't disappear when the Franciscans were founded. There is only a problem if they feel called to halt the journey we are on. That's where, in my view, we just have to be as courageous as our forebears like Angela Merici [founder of the Ursulines] and Mary Ward [IBVM) and Nano Nagle [PBVM] and Marguerite Bourgeoys [CND] and Louise de Marillac [DC] and all those other pioneers of apostolic Religious Life long before it was officially approved in 1900. The institutional Church has always resisted the new in Religious Life, especially among women. But the new will continue to happen. At this moment in history, we are it. So, let's be what we are: Religious who are not cloistered and ministers who are not ordained. Canon law has no categories yet for that combination. But we exist. Law follows life, not vice versa.

On the subject of the Stonehill "symposium" [held at Stonehill College, 2008, and very critical of LCWR-type Congregations] - it wasn't a symposium where people come together to share diverse views in the effort to reach greater truth. It was a pep rally for those convinced they are right and can only be right if people not like them are wrong. They were listening to themselves. That's fine -- provided they don't go after other people. We are not after them. This is a fake war being stirred up by the Vatican at the instigation of the frightened. Let's not get into it. Also, what is the worst thing that can happen from this investigation? They are surely not going to shut down 95 % of the Religious Congregatons in this country, even if they'd like to, any more than they closed all the seminaries that were not teaching 19th century moral theology or buying the official line that the clergy sex abuse scandal was caused, not by corrupt bishops protecting pedophile priests, but by homosexuals in seminaries.

Well, that's where I am on this. I refuse to go into a panic over it. There are better things to do. Always glad to hear from any of you on any of this.

Peace and courage,

(Sandra M. Schneiders, a member of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Mich., is a professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, Calif.)