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A celebration of beauty, truth, and goodness, and, of course, love...and perhaps a little nastiness

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Saturday, December 06, 2003
A Real War

Fighting the worst fascists since Hitler

I read more and more about Islam and find more and more articles that seem important to me. This article in The National Review online strikes a chord in me and seems to make much of what I am reading "up to date." I hope my readers don't mind that I may be pointing to more such articles; but I am convinced, as I have been for several years but far more since 9/11/01, that the issue of Islam is one of the major issues of our days, especially for Catholics and Christians who share with Islam a vision of a universal faith.

The Silence of Saint Thomas

A phase of the Angelic Doctor's Life that began on December 6, 1273

"All my works seem like straw after what I have seen", St Thomas told Brother Reginald

The last word of St. Thomas is not communication but silence. And it is not death which takes the pen out of his hand. His tongue is stilled by the superabundance of life in the mystery of God. He is silent, not because he has nothing further to say; he is silent because he has been allowed a glimpse into the inexpressible depths of that mystery which is not reached by any human thought or speech.

The acts of the canonization process record: On the feast of St. Nicholas, in the year 1273, as Thomas turned back to his work after Holy Mass, he was strangely altered. He remained steadily silent; he did not write; he dictated nothing. He laid aside the Summa Theologica on which he had been working. Abruptly, in the middle of the treatise on the Sacrament of Penance, he stopped writing.

Reginald, his friend, asks him, troubled: "Father, how can you want to stop such a great work?" Thomas answers only, "I can write no more." Reginald of Pipemo seriously believed that his master and friend might have become mentally ill through his overwhelming burden of work. After a long while, he asks and urges once again. Thomas gives the answer: "Reginald, I can write no more. All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw."

Reginald is stunned by this reply. Some time later, as he had often done before, Thomas visits his younger sister, the Countess of San Severino, near Salerno. It is the same sister who had aided Thomas in his escape from the castle of San Giovanni, nearly thirty years ago. Shortly after his arrival, his sister turns to his traveling companion, Reginald, with a startled question: what has happened to her brother? He is like one struck dumb and has scarcely spoken a word to her. Reginald once more appeals to Thomas: Would he tell him why he has ceased writing and what it is that could have disturbed him so deeply? For a long time, Thomas remains silent. Then he repeats: "All that I have written seems to me nothing but straw... compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."

This silence lasted throughout a whole winter. The great teacher of the West had become dumb. Whatever may have imbued him with a deep happiness, with an inkling of the beginning of eternal life, must have aroused in the men in his company the disturbing feeling caused by the uncanny.

At the end of this time, spent completely in his own depths, Thomas began the journey to the General Council at Lyons. His attention continued to be directed inward. The acts of the canonization report a conversation which took place on this journey between Thomas and Reginald. It seems to have arisen out of a long silence and to have receded immediately into a long silence. This brief exchange clearly reveals to what degree the two friends already live in two different worlds. Reginald, encouragingly: "Now you are on your way to the Council, and there many good things will happen; for the whole Church, for our order, and for the Kingdom of Sicily." And Thomas: "Yes, God grant that good things may happen there! "

The prayer of St. Thomas that his life should not outlast his teaching career was answered. On the way to Lyons he met his end.

The mind of the dying man found its voice once more, in an explanation of the Canticle of Canticles for the monks of Fossanova. The last teaching of St. Thomas concerns, therefore, that mystical book of nuptial love for God, of which the Fathers of the Church say: the meaning of its figurative speech is that God exceeds all our capabilities of possessing Him, that all our knowledge can only be the cause of new questions, and every finding only the start of a new search.

- Joseph Peiper

Thankfully, this truly beautiful book is still available, from which the brief selection above is taken: the great Thomist Joseph Pieper's The Silence of Saint Thomas. Pieper is a lay philospher-theologian whose writings radiate a sense of proportion and reverence. He always creates in me a desire to know Thomas Aquinas better. Highly recommended (and even in this latest paring down of mine I keep this treasure!).

God on the Quad

New England's liberal college campuses have become fertile ground for the evangelical movement, which is attracting students in record numbers. But after they graduate, will they keep the faith?

December 6 345 (traditional date): Nicholas, bishop of Myra, one of the most popular saints in the Greek and Latin churches—and Santa Claus's namesake—dies. Many stories abound as to why he is associated with Yuletide gift-giving. An early bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, he is the patron saint of Russia and of sailors, perfumiers, and children.

December 6 1273: Following a tremendous mystical experience while conducting Mass, Thomas Aquinas suspends work on his Summa Theologica. "I can do no more," he told his servant Reginald. "Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life." After this experience, this great writer and thinker and contemplative entered a period some call "The Silence of Saint Thomas".

Winter Storm Watch

ONION, not looking his age (sixteen and a half years old), prepares for the next phase of the winter storm

Friday, December 05, 2003
Marking the IV Centennial of the Arrival of the Spanish Priest Pedro Páez in Ethiopia

An interesting piece in the Addis Tribune online about a yet another fascinating Jesuit!

Pastor Eveline

Depressing article in Commonweal. The situation of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands seems dismal (maybe there are some signs of hope?). I recall Father Henry Nouwen speaking of visiting Holland and saying that among his nephews and neices Christ was but a vague memory with no living effect at all. And it stuns me that some can still seemingly think that the Church in Holland is a beacon for the rest of the Church! (And the islamization of Holland continues apace, from what I have read).

May God preserve us!

P.S. My comments are not a reflection on Pastor Eveline, who strikes me as a find person and generous Catholic. It is about the situation that has made things like this necessary.

The Blessed Evangelical Mary

Why we shouldn't ignore her any longer.

"Christianity" Today publishes an article calling for a deepening of appreciation of the Mother of Jesus among evangelical Protestants.

"... Evangelicals can and should join with other Christians in celebrating the virgin Mary as theotokos: or as historian Jaroslav Pelikan translated the classic theological word, as "the one who gave birth to the one who is God." This title takes us back to the debates about Christology in the fifth century...."

Cardinal Francis George on Liturgy

John Allen in his weekly column The Word from Rome gives a report on a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in Rome:

"Dec. 4 marked the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum concilium, the document on liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The occasion was marked in Rome with a daylong conference sponsored by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The morning’s major address was delivered by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Liturgy.

George laid out his talk in terms of questions about the anthropological and philosophical underpinnings of liturgical reform. He stressed that he did so not as an opponent of the reforms, but to promote a deeper reflection than the immediate post-conciliar work of implementing Sacrosanctum concilium allowed.“Liturgical reform was treated too much as a program and a movement for change, without enough thought being given to what happens to a community when its symbol system is disrupted,” George said. He took the example of the liturgical calendar.

“Since time is a condition of human thought … the doctrines of the church will be done differently when liturgical time is changed,” George said. At a practical level, he said, every bishop has had the experience of someone asking why, if the church no longer recognizes long-established saints such as St. Christopher and St. Philomena, it can’t change its teaching on women’s ordination and so on.

George said one question requiring reflection is the subject of the liturgy.

“In the post-conciliar period, a limited understanding of the ‘People of God’ has often led to a limited, horizontal concept of the subject of the liturgy,” George said. Instead, he said, the primary actors are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, followed by “the heavenly powers, all creation, Biblical saints, the martyrs, the all-holy Mother of God and the great multitude of the elect.” Only then comes “the local celebrating assembly, ordered hierarchically in such a way that each person has his proper role.”

Second, George said, the church needs to reflect on what liturgical “participation,” an overriding concern of Sacrosanctum concilium, actually means. Construed as speech and gestures, participation leaves little space for silence, interior devotion, and attention to the Trinitarian dimension of worship.

Without a deeper sense of participation, George argued, “the Eucharist can be imagined as a recreation of the Last Supper,” a simple meal.

George said that much contemporary liturgical discussion is dominated by two rival anthropologies. The Enlightenment anthropology affirms reason as the ultimate test of truth; Romantic anthropology emphasizes imagination, sentiment, and sense experience.

“The reality is a complex one, different in different places, but liturgical polarization between a rationalist and a romantic position is common, and few people have the tools necessary to move beyond the present impasse,” George said.

George’s bottom line was that in addition to “wise pastoral action,” the liturgical field today needs “renewed theoretical study.”

How refreshing after reading Bishop Donald Trautman's odd address on the Liturgy!


First snow of season. Seems like 6 or 7 inches here in Catonsville MD. Lovely! And good to be inside, warm, with a special dog snoring nearby.....

Remembering Thomas Merton

It is 35 years since Thomas Merton died in Bangkok. But his vision of humanity retains its power, particularly at this season.

America's New Model Army

I am unfamiliar with the author, but sense his own agenda pretty much dominates his article in this week's Tablet; I am left very uncomfortable with his tone and assertions and do not see what he sees. Of course, I may be wrong. But, of course, he may be wrong too! I suspect my own "politics" and Anatol Lieven's would be quite different!

BC eyes archdiocese land; loans for church seen

"...The acreage the church is planning to sell makes up just under half of the archdiocese's 60-acre campus in Brighton. The church is keeping the western portion of the land, which includes the chancery -- its adminstrative headquarters -- and St. John's Seminary.

The land being sold is largely undeveloped, but includes the bishop's residence, a gymnasium, and a garage. It also includes the tomb of Cardinal William H. O'Connell, which would likely be moved, depending on who the buyer is, church officials said.

All indications yesterday, from college, church, and political officials and from real estate executives, were that BC, a Catholic university that is located just across Commonwealth Avenue from the archdiocesan headquarters, is likely to wind up owning the land because of its location, its religious affiliation, and its resources..."

Contacts With Orthodox Seen as "Very Positive"

Vatican Delegation Takes Papal Message to Bartholomew I

Here the brother apostles Peter and Andrew embrace. Peter, the patron of the Church of Rome; Andrew, the patron of the Church of Constantinople. This beautiful icon was presented by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras to Pope Paul VI when, after so many centuries of estrangement, they met in Jerusalem in 1964 and exchanged the Kiss of Peace.

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2003 (Zenit.org)

"...Representatives of the Holy See took a message from John Paul II to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, for the feast. St. Andrew, founder and apostle of the Church in Constantinople, was brother of St. Peter, first Bishop of Rome.

Every year on this occasion the Holy Father sends a delegation to Constantinople - modern-day Istanbul, Turkey. The patriarch, in turn, sends representatives to Rome on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

"These patronal feasts allow us to live better the joy of being brothers and of participating in a single communion of intentions, which it is necessary to encourage and continue, so that it appears with greater clarity before the world," the Pope said in his message to Bartholomew I.

The Vatican delegation was headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president, of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity..."

"Traditionalists preparing for Catholic conversion"

From The Church of England Newspaper
20-26 Brunswick Place, London, N1 6DZ
Telephone: 020 7417 5800 Fax: 020 7216 6410

American and Australian traditionalists are preparing to submit to papal authority should Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Primates fail to restore order to the wayward American Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Representatives from the North American and Australian branches of Forward in Faith (FiF) travelled to Rome in October and November to discuss a reunion of traditionalist Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Rev Dr David Moyer, president of the North American FiF, confirmed that the two sides were speaking, but declined to elaborate. "I can't go into what people like me are willing to do," he told us. "There are simply too many sensitive people and issues involved at this point."

He was in Rome as an ambassador for the international FiF organisation, and the Australian representative, David Chislett, has also been involved in discussions, together with the head of the Traditional Anglican Communion.

Long-simmering tensions between the traditionalist Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church and the Church establishment reached boiling point following Gene Robinson's consecration.

"The bottom line is that the Anglican Communion is being stressed to breaking point," said Fr Moyer. "It seems the responsible thing is to look to those whose passion for, and commitment to, biblical faith and order is solid and unwavering for a way forward together."

The Anglican participants are proposing communion with the Catholic Church, whilst retaining Anglican doctrine and liturgy.

"There are many Uniate churches with their own tradition, their own liturgical expression of faith, their own bishops and their own governing authority," Fr Moyer has noted. FiF (NA) hopes that a grouping of orthodox Anglicans would be looked upon by Rome in the same way.

The consecration of Gene Robinson appears to have set the break-up of the Episcopal Church in the USA in motion, with these latest revelations coming a week after a new parallel structure was set up in America of conservatives opposed to him becoming bishop.

Dr Williams intervened on Fr Moyer's behalf last year to offer support when he was sacked by his bishop, Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania. Yet the Archbishop faces a difficult task in persuading traditionalists to remain within the Anglican fold if he cannot assure them that the liberal tide will be stopped.

The Russian Orthodox Church has expressed its sympathy with the dissenting dioceses and parishes in ECUSA.

While breaking of all relations with the American national Church hierarchy, the Russian Orthodox Church stated it would "maintain contacts and co-operation with those members of the Episcopal Church in the USA who clearly declared their loyalty to the moral teaching of the Holy Gospel and the ancient undivided Church."
The Church of England Newspaper has learned that Orthodox participants at the 8th Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches, which met last week in Yaounde, Cameroon, privately asked several Anglican participants to consider ties with Orthodoxy, should the Robinson crisis not be resolved.

Today in Christian history

December 5 220 (traditional date): Clement of Alexandria, the first early church theologian to show an extensive knowledge of pagan and Christian writings (in his refutations of pagan criticisms), dies.

December 5 532: Sabas, a monk since childhood, dies at age 91, five days after returning from a diplomatic mission to Constantinople. Though his primary desire was always for solitude with God, he founded a monastery in Palestine, Mar Saba, that still stands today

December 5 1862: C.T. Studd, pioneer missionary, is born in England. Originally famous as a cricket star, he converted at age 21 under the preaching of D.L. Moody, and he dedicated his life and considerable inherited wealth to Christ. In 1885 he and six others, the "Cambridge Seven," sailed to Asia to serve with the China Inland Mission. He later ministered in India and Africa as well.

December 5 1933: Prohibition comes to an end as the twenty- first amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. The ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages had been fervently sought by fundamentalist Christians in the social reform movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Working on two major projects these days. I am eager to learn more about Islam and have gotten any number of recommended books. Already fascinating reading. But I also realized that I don't have any more space for these books - and thus have decided to attempt a radical "paring down" of my books and possessions (don't have too many though). Hard to decide what to give away or hold on to. Luckily I have a young teacher who is truly interested in the kinds of books I have and is most eager to receive whatever I part with. That makes it easier to give some treasures away (e.g. just decided to part with my 3 volume translation of Thomas' Summa).

It's not easy for me pyschologically or physically (luckily I have some help on the way). I find it disconcerting, too, when things are in chaos in my room but right now I can't help this mess. At any rate, just thought I'd let you know what's going on. I hope and pray these projects don't interfere with celebrating a good and solid Advent. I am trying to work on that too!

I would deeply appreciate a prayer or two so that I can finish what I have begun and don't go through the "discarded" pile too often and say "maybe I'll save this for now and read it soon......"

Forty Years Later

As I've mentioned more than once on this blog, December 4th, today, is the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. The Constitution itself is in obvious continuity with the liturgical tradition of the Church (e.g. Archbishop Marcel Lefevre voted "yes") and its directives seem rather mild and moderate (though the text itself leaves room for local adapatations, etc., which tended to make of SC a quite liberal and even "revolutionary" document).

I have to chuckle a bit when in the "odd" lecture of Bishop Donald Trautman I already reference below, the good bishop asks whether the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has lost much of its influence. Well, if he is referring to SC's directive that Latin be retained as the liturgical language of the Roman Rite, and that, all things being equal, Gregorian chant should be given pride of place, that no change should be made unless necessary, and that all changes must be organic, etc. perhaps the good bishop is correct. But somehow or other I don't think this is exactly what Bishop Trautman speaks of!

That's why some of us are promoters of a "reform of the reform" - seeing that some of the very principles of this great Constitution have not been honored sufficiently in the implementation of the liturgical reform mandated by Vatican II. Here I stand squarely with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger! And, disagreeeing with bishop Trautman on this issue, I would see the reform of the reform as an attempt not to quench the Spirit but to fan the Spirit into a living flame in a living liturgy, in continuity with the past and dynamically open, faithful and beautiful, glorifying the Triune God.

I believe that now, after 40 years, the tide has turned and the implementation of SC is back on track, for the most part. The worst excesses seem far less than during the 70s for instances and some signficant signs of hope abound. I am struck by the newer churches being built - far lovelier than the structures of the 70s and 80s!. The implementation of the new GIRM seems a stept towards more "uniformity" in the basics of the Mass of the Roman Rite. And in my own parish I have the privilege of participating in a Mass that honors the principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium and is a witness to the best of the old liturgical movement incorporated into the new liturgical movement: the "recatholicizing" of the sacred liturgy so pared down by the implementations.

For me, it's a happy Anniversary! The best is yet to come.....

Diocese to sell residence

Brighton parcel to help finance abuse settlement

"The Archdiocese of Boston will sell one of its most symbolic and coveted properties, the ornate cardinal's residence in Brighton, and 28 surrounding acres to help pay the $85 million settlement with 540 victims of clergy sexual abuse, a spokesman for Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley said last night..."

Humbling move marks a new era

Today in Christian history

December 4 749: Eastern Christian theologian and poet John of Damascus dies near Jerusalem. One of the great doctors of the Church, he wrote comprehensively on the theology of Eastern Christianity and fought against those who wanted to rid the church of icons.

December 4 1093: Anselm, sometimes called "the founder of Scholasticism" and the greatest scholar between Augustine and Aquinas, is consecrated archbishop of Canterbury.

December 4 1584: Colonial American preacher John Cotton is born in Derby, England. Sometimes called "the father of New England Congregationalism," he was colonial Massachusetts's most eminent minister. People regarded him so highly they "could hardly believe that God would suffer Mr. Cotton to err".

December 4 1674: French Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette erects a mission on Lake Michigan—the first building in what would become the city of Chicago.

December 4 1930: In response to the Anglican Lambeth Conference, which cautiously approved birth control, Pope Pius XI issues the encyclical "Casti connubii." Though the document condemned any human effort depriving sex of "its natural power of procreating life," it tacitly legitimated the "rhythm method.

December 4, 1963: The Second Vatican Council approves the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which revolutionized the way Catholics worship. The vote was 2,147 in favor; 4 against. Among those voting "yes" was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Do not quench the Spirit!

Rather odd words about the liturgical situation, from Bishop Donald Trautman - odd, at least to me:

"When we encounter those who advocate a “reform of the reform”, we must say, 'Do not quench the Spirit!'"

I find his entire acceptance speech rather odd.... See what you think.


I received this in a longer email - a response to an Advent-Christmas Message I sent out. The author of this is a young man who teaches at Saint John's College in Annapolis. It touched me deeply and I share it for our Advent season:

"Thanks for the vivifying message. I've been in the habit of saying the stations of the cross while walking the dogs in the morning, but worried that it had perhaps become stale and unproductive, so I began adding an intention for a particular person to each station, and choosing a place or time of life to inspire memories of particular people, so: family; grade school; college; Belgium; priests; teachers....All kinds of grateful memories of the kind you talk about come back, of dear, dear people I had hardly thought of again - cafe waitresses, janitors, everyone - and it is just as you describe in your Advent greeting."

I am so touched by this unselfconscious testimony. I am so blessed to know this fine young Catholic! And, of course, I am hoping he will at times remember me....

It is a True Story after all!

A few days ago I posted the following story (about some Christians in Egypt who use the fish symbol as a sign of faith in Christ and the response of some Muslims by using the symbol of a shark), and said it it "almost unbelievable" and I really wondered if the AP Story was accuarate. Well, here is a photo and I guess it is true after all. Amazing!

Stickers Produce Unique Battle in Egypt

Almost unbelievable - and yet so telling.....

Today in Christian history

December 3 1552: Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, one of the founding members of his the Society of Jesus and one of the greatest missionaries ever, dies awaiting admission to China. Before that, he had converted 700,000 people in Portugal, India, Indonesia, Japan, and elsewhere.

December 3 1846: Presbyterian widow Leslie Prentice leads a pro-life rally outside the home of New York City's foremost abortionist, Anna Lohman, a.k.a. Madame Restell.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Islam for Catholics

The Washington Times has a review of Robert Spencer's Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics.

Christianity and Islam Battle Fervently for African Souls

"Add Africa to the list of dangerous arenas where Christianity and Islam are clashing. Anyone charting global hot spots may know as much, but viewers of "Battle for Souls," on the Discovery Times Channel tonight, can get a lesson in compounded pain. The continent is already gasping through pandemics of poverty and AIDS, so bloodshed among true believers seems to inflict new lacerations on broken limbs..."

Advent Prayer

Come, Lord Jesus Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Word of all truth, you are the Son of man, the brother of us all, the Bread of Life, present among us, the beginning and end of our road.

Everything is wrought by your love and grace, both our prayer in the days of contemplation and our outward achievements. Therefore I pray in the words of the Church’s Advent cry: “Stir up your might and come!”

May I not only perceive more clearly but also feel more deeply that you alone are the God of my heart and my portion in eternity; that you are with us, you, the king of the whole world, though apparently hidden, helpless, forgotten, and ignored at this Advent season. Show yourself to me in the hidden omnipotence of your grace. Cleanse me from my sins. Enlighten my conscience.

Come! Only when you meet me halfway, can I set out in good heart to meet you. Before I can know that your coming is near, you must awaken the hidden powers of my heart.

Therefore I pray again with the Advent prayer of your Church: “Stir up our hearts, 0 Lord, to prepare the ways of your only-begotten Son!” Let me be neither deaf nor lazy, but fill me with the active readiness of one who is truly faithful.

With timid love I offer you my heart. Awaken it! For I hear your words: “My son, give me your heart” (Prv 23: 26). Make me a man of faith, hope, and charity, a man of joyful trust and of enduring patience, a man pure in body and loving the truth. May the Church’s plea be fulfilled in us: “That through his coming we may be worthy to serve you with purified minds.”

Grant that the words of the early Church may be fulfilled in us all in the darkness of the present time: “My brother, what does it avail you that Christ once took flesh, if he does not come into your soul also? Let us pray that that coming, which was the taking on of flesh, may be daily repeated in our hearts, so that we too can say: I live, but it is not I that live, but Christ who lives in me” (Origen).

And do you, our beloved Lady, bless this beginning and give us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus Christ, our only beloved Master and Lord. Amen.

- Hugo Rahner, SJ - from "Magnificat"

The sad case of the former priest John J. Goeghan

The Boston Globe has an extensive 3 part series on the tragic prison death of Goeghan.

Canada's View on Social Issues Is Opening Rifts With the U.S.

"..In his new book "Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values," he argues that greater Canadian tolerance reflects a fundamental difference in outlook about everthing from the ethnic and linguistic diversity of immigrants to the relative status of the sexes.

Mr. Adams notes that weekly church attendance among Canadians has plummeted since the 1950's while American church attendance has remained virtually constant.

To many commentators the two countries seem to be exchanging their traditional roles, one founded in America's birth as a revolutionary country and Canada's as a counterrevolutionary alternative..."

Not sure if church attendance among Catholics in the U.S. has remained "virtually constant" since the fifties (in fact, the statistics show quite a decline, I believe). But the article seems to imply that European style liberalism is somehow related to less church attendance. I wonder how true that may be?

Today in Christian history

December 2 1697: St Paul's Cathedral in London, designed by Christopher Wren, is dedicated. It replaced a medieval cathedral at the site that had burned in the Great Fire of 1666.

December 2, 1804: Pope Pius VII, in order to keep peace, travels to Paris where he is asked to crown Napoleon Bonaparte emperor of France. When he attempts to place the crown on the little general's head, Bonaparte grabs it and places it on his own head in defiance of Rome. Shortly after he would show his disregard for the Holy See by invading Rome and the Vatican, forcing the Pope to flee for awhile.

December 2 1859: Militant messianic abolitionist John Brown is hanged at Charles Town, (West) Virginia, for his attack on Harper's Ferry. He was convinced that only violent action could end the horrors of slavery.

December 2, 1980: Three American nuns and a lay churchwoman are killed by death squads in El Salvador. Some 70,000 Salvadorans are estimated to have died because of terrorists or civil war during the 1980s, including many Catholic clergy.

December 2, 1967: Death of Cardinal Francis J. Spellman, fifth archbishop of New York City.

Monday, December 01, 2003
Understanding Islam and the Theology of Jihad

Robert Spencer on Muslim Beliefs and Sources of Extremism

I post this rather long interview believing that the issues around Islam are among the most important facing our Church and our society. I am reading a bit on Islam these days and will be ordering Spencer's latest book mentioned below. I have just bought others by Spencer on Islam - without knowing he was a Catholic - and will mention them soon.

WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 27, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Catholics have a duty to be informed about Islam and the challenges it poses to Christianity. So says Robert Spencer, an expert on Islam who recently co-authored "Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics" (Ascension) with Daniel Ali, a convert from Islam.

Spencer shared with ZENIT why he and Ali are dedicated to informing Christians about one of the most misunderstood and fastest growing faiths in the world: They see it not only as the Church's chief rival for souls but as a serious threat to the peace and well-being of the Church and the Western world in general.

Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch and author of two previous books on Islam, is a board member of Ali's Christian Islamic Forum and an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Spencer: Daniel and I wrote this book in order to help Catholics become informed about Islam - to clear away common misunderstandings and distortions and to give Catholics an accurate and complete introduction to the Islamic faith and the challenges it poses to Christians.

Q: Why is it important for Catholics to understand Islam?

Spencer: Islam increasingly poses a challenge to the Church and every Christian. By most accounts, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Even if he or she never meets a Muslim, much less proclaims the Gospel to one, it is every Christian's duty to become informed about Islam since that faith is the Church's chief and most energetic present-day rival for souls.

Q: What is the theology of the Islamic jihad?

Spencer: Jihad literally means "struggle." It is a central duty of every Muslim. Modern Muslim theologians have spoken of many things as jihads: defending the faith from critics, supporting its growth and defense financially, even migrating to non-Muslim lands for the purpose of spreading Islam.

But violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history. Many passages of the Koran and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed are used by radical Muslims today to justify their actions and gain new recruits. No major Muslim group has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, which denies unbelievers equality of human rights and dignity, is available today for anyone with the will and means to bring it to life.

In a lengthy and well-attested tradition, Mohammed delineates three choices for nonbelievers -- choices which are derived from Koran's Sura 9:29: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, [even if they are] of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

Says Mohammed: "Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. ... When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to [accept] Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. ... If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [the special tax on non-Muslims prescribed by Islamic law]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them."

Q: Can you describe for us some of the different schools within Islam, for example, Sunni and Shiite, and how their interpretations of Islam differ?

Spencer: Sunnis comprise around 85% of Muslims worldwide. The word "Sunni" is related to "Sunna," or tradition. Sunni Muslims follow doctrines and practices derived from the Sunna of the Prophet -- that is, the Hadith as interpreted by Muslim scholars throughout history.

The Wahhabis, who have become famous lately for their role in Saudi Arabia and global terrorism, are a Sunni subsect. Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab -- he lived from 1703 to 1792 - was a reformer. He wanted to rid Islam of everything that developed after the first few centuries.

He stressed a literal reading of the Koran and Hadith that made the Wahhabis a furious, violent sect that even made war against other Muslim groups it considered heretical. The Wahhabis control Saudi Arabia today and from there aggressively export Wahhabism around the world.

The second largest Muslim group is the Shiites. The word "Shia" is a short for "Shiat Ali," or "the party of Ali." This is the largest non-Sunni sect: the group of Muslims who believed that Ali, the husband of Mohammed's daughter Fatima, was the Prophet's only rightful successor as leader of the Muslim community.

Shiites have traditions and practices that are quite distinct from those of the Sunnis. Notable among these is the belief that the Imams who succeeded Ali in Mohammed's prophetic line inherited Mohammed's prophetic spirit. Most Shiites believe that there were 12 such Imams, and that the last one disappeared from the earth and will return as the Mahdi, a Messianic figure, at the end of the age.

The Sufis are the mystical sect in Islam, although Shiite Islam also bears strong marks of mystical influence. The Sufis stress love for Allah and union with him in terms that often strongly resemble Christian mysticism. They have been and still are ferociously persecuted as heretics in many areas of the Islamic world.

Other notable sects include the Bahais of Iran, who have a presence in the United States as well; the Kharijites of Oman; and the Alawites of Syria. The larger Muslim groups often consider these sects to be heretics.

Q: When we talk of Islam, many think of the Middle East. What are the main contrasts with the form of Islam as practiced in African and Asian countries?

Spencer: While there are some differences in how Islam is practiced from place to place, there is a relative uniformity among Sunni Muslims in their understanding of the requirements of the faith as delineated by the Koran and the Sunna, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed that are second in authority to the Koran itself. Radical Muslims are found everywhere Islam is found, from Nigeria to Indonesia - as well as in Western Europe and the United States.

Q: Will the moderate elements within Islam be able to defeat the extremist interpretations being promoted by some groups?

Spencer: I hope so, but it will be difficult. As the great ex-Muslim scholar Ibn Warraq has noted, radical Islamic theology "was taken from the Koran, the Hadith and Islamic tradition. ... We must take seriously what the Islamists say to understand their motivation, [that] it is the divinely ordained duty of all Muslims to fight - in the literal sense - until man-made law has been replaced by God's law, the Shariah, and Islamic law has conquered the entire world. ... For every text the liberal Muslims produce, the mullahs will use dozens of counter-examples [that are] exegetically, philosophically, historically far more legitimate."

Q: How do you see the current and future state of Christian-Muslim relations? How have Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council influenced the relationship between the Church and Islam?

Spencer: Many believe that the Holy Father, by his kissing of the Koran, and Vatican II have taught that all religions worship the one true God to a greater or lesser degree, and that Muslims are included in the plan of salvation and thus should not be evangelized. This is in fact not the case.

The Catechism, working from Vatican II's "Nostra Aetate," does say that, "the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims. These profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us adore one Merciful God, mankind's judge in the last day."

This is a carefully worded statement. It does not actually say that Muslims believe in Abraham's faith, but only that they profess to hold the faith of Abraham.

Professing and possessing are two different things: Certainly there are many more Christians who profess Christ than there are people who actually live for him. Nowhere does the Catechism say that Muslims are not eligible for the salvation that is in Christ, or that the Gospel should not be preached to them.

A recent article published in La Civiltà Cattolica was most interesting. Nothing is published in La Civiltà Cattolica without the approval of the Vatican Secretariat of State -- so the article probably corresponds to the views of some very high placed Vatican officials, if not the ailing Pope himself.

The Civiltà Cattolica piece represents the first indication that any Catholic Church officials recognize the dimensions of the religious conflict that jihadists are waging against Christians and others around the world.

The article brushes aside decades of misleading historical revisionism about the Muslim conquests, daring to point out that "in all the places where Islam imposed itself by military force, which has few historical parallels for its rapidity and breadth, Christianity, which had been extraordinarily vigorous and rooted for centuries, practically disappeared or was reduced to tiny islands in an endless Islamic sea."

Charity is essential; but it must not be confused with the temptation to ignore or deny unpleasant truths. This Civiltà Cattolica article is a step in the right direction.

- Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics (Ascension).

Andrew and Aelred

On his Daily Dish (which I read daily), Andrew Sullivan seemingly enlists Saint Aelred of Rievaulx to the cause of gay marriage and the OKness of gay sex. That is how I read this post Marriage and Love at any rate.

This is nothing new. For a while, those promoting such causes have found, they think, in Aelred a kindred spirit and one who somehow transcends traditional Catholic understandings, etc. etc.

Of course, Aelred was one of the early Cistercians (from the 12th and not the 10th century as Andrew writes of him), and this was a new Order known for its austerity and evangelical purity - as well as for its deep fraternal charity. Some years ago, a priest in the Baltimore area wrote something similiar to Andrew Sullivan's piece about Aelred in the archdiocesan paper. To my surprise there was a response from one of the leading experts on Saint Aelred, the Cistercian Abbot (and psychologist), John Eudes Bamberger.

Here's what he wrote (I am sening a copy to Andrew but don't expect much by way of response!):

Article on Saint Aelred misleading, objectionable

In the Jan. 8 issue of the Catholie Review, Father Paul Thomas writes of St. Aelred as a model for homosexuals in a way that is highly misleading and objectionable. Indeed, it is an equivocal article that presents a distorted picture of St. Aelrecl based upon a tendentious intepretation of data lifted out of context.

There is not the slightest evidence that St. Aelred was homosexual; indeed, if he were to have cultivated erotic relationships along the lines suggested by Father Thomas, he would have gone against the very raison d’etre of his Cistercian vocation.

His teaching on friendship and his praxis is actually very exacting and requires much depth and ascetic denial. It does not exclude some minor physical expressions such as are commonly seen among heterosexual men in certain cultures even today — Africa and Latin America. There is not the slightest indication that his past or his monastic life included a single homosexual expression or relation.

It does no honor to the church to present as a model for the gay community a man given to austere penance as if he had cultivated eroticism. Friendship, as he describes it, is not based on eroticism but on dedication to the spiritual well being of the friend. I believe that the distinction is decisive and that it does not help homosexuals to present St. Aelred as a model for reasons which are untrue and misleading.

Homosexuals are capable of the same kind of high spiritual achievement that the heterosexual is, provided they are helped to conceive of the spiritual life as a way centered on the cross of Jesus, which includes the body as an expression, not of erotic attraction, but as an expression of mutual and chaste and manly affection.

I write this in the hope that articles which serve to confuse the faithful in this matter will not be accepted by the archdiocesan newspaper, and because St. Aelred is an important witness to our Cisterican monastic tradition.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
Abbey of the Genesee
Piffard, N.Y.

Today in Christian history

December 1, 1580: Death of Edmund Campion, English Jesuit priest who was martyred for his faith through hanging because he dared to disobey Queen Elizabeth and follow Rome.

December 1, 1917 - Father Edward Flanagan, with very little in his pockets, but a heart of gold, founds a small community just outside Omaha, Nebraska and calls it "Boys Town." He would open the doors of Boys Town less than two weeks later.

December 1, 1916: Charles de Foucauld (Brother Charles of Jesus) died on at Tamanrasset in the midst of the Sahara, an innocent, defenseless victim of an assassin's bullet. Eventually he became known and his life and witness impacted many. He is the spiritual father of the Little Sisters and Little Brothers of Jesus.

December 1, 1989: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II meet at the Vatican, announcing an agreement to reestablish diplomatic ties. Gorbachev also denounced 70 years of religious oppression in his country.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

"O that you would rend the heavens and come down!" (Isaiah 64:1)

Rorate, coeli, de super and nubes pluant justum.
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above and let the clouds rain down the Just!

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

A most blessed New Year of Grace and Hope to all!

Bishops call SJC decision 'tragedy'

The Boston Globe - "The state's Catholic bishops are calling for church members to mobilize against the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling allowing gay marriage and demanding a strict definition of marriage in a letter being read at Catholic services across Massachusetts this weekend..."

Sacrosanctum Concilium

Sorry that I haven't continued posting selections as we approach the 40th annivesary of the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II. I fear I bit off more than I can chew at this point.

Today in Christian history

November 30, 1215: The Fourth Lateran Council closed, under Innocent III. It was this council that made first official use of the term “transubstantiation,” with reference to the Eucharist.

November 30, 1554: Recently crowned Queen of England, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, restores Roman Catholicism to the country. Nearly 300 Protestants would be burned at the stake by "Bloody Mary," including Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley.

November 30, 1979: John Paul II attends an Eastern Orthodox Liturgy, the first pope in 1,000 years to do so.

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