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Bulletins from the Human Side

A leave-taking for us, a homecoming for him: a meditation on the death of a friend

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"Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?" the psalmist sang plaintively long centuries ago, raising a question that becomes our question, too, when a friend like famed Chicago lawyer Philip Corboy dies. The Old Testament bard answers his own question, and ours, before its echo dies away: "He that hath clean hands, and is pure of heart: who hath not lifted up his soul in vanity, nor sworn deceitfully."

Could words better than these be found to give us a feeling for Phil Corboy, who cleared the hill of the Lord this week after breaking time's hold on him? Finally free of its constraints, he entered the eternal field with which he was already so familiar that what seemed a leave-taking to us was a homecoming for him.

Indeed, those guarding this border waved Phil through, for he had nothing to declare and had made passage into the realm of the eternal often during his years in time. It was an easy transit for Phil because in his calling to serve the law and to love his family -- and the extended family that stretched out around him like the needy and sick at a shrine -- he forgot himself, because he was fully given to thinking of others.

On Cardinal Levada's right hand, the visionaries -- on his left, women religious

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I have pleasant enough memories of Cardinal William Levada who, as a young worker bee in the hive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, helped me find my way through the dim warrens of the old Holy Office when I was questioned there more moons ago than I can now count. I cannot erase my gratitude despite his persistent efforts, now that he runs the whole waxworks of the congregation, to make me, along with millions of others, wonder if he lets his right hand know what his left hand is doing. Or perhaps that is exactly what bright young clerics must learn to do if they are to reach their career goals.

Cardinal Levada -- I would call him Darth, but NCR's editor won't let me -- has, of course, also had to master a straight face when issuing, as he did this week, updated norms originally drafted when Paul VI was pope "regarding the manner of proceeding in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations."

The sorrowful Mystery of Mary Kennedy

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The death of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s estranged wife, Mary, makes us wonder if a demonic terrorist beyond anyone's cunning to capture has the freedom of the Kennedy compound and will not let the wounds inflicted on one generation heal before inflicting deeper ones on the next. The bell of sorrows groans in the No Man's Land fog stretching from then to now, from the changeless past that possesses us into a present that turns away from us before we can grasp its hand.

The death of Mary Richardson Kennedy seems a flag of distress raised uncertainly by someone who does not believe anyone will see it. There is something almost unutterably sad in the news reports, as if they came from a stark and distant desert, windless except for the long sigh of human loneliness that rolls across it.

Our age is marked by the search for a place deep and remote enough to store the radioactive waste whose deadliness is reflected in a hallway, endless and mirrored, of half-lives. This news reminds us that humanity's real problem is to find a place remote and deep enough to hold its sorrows, the sadness that has no half-life and that is stored, only half-hidden, within the human heart.

Wisconsin bishop has made a career as an orthodoxy enforcer

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Madison Wisconsin's Bishop Robert Morlino, displays, among other items on his coat of arms, a golden turret that, according to the designers of his heraldry, symbolizes a place "in which to take refuge on the journey, to reset ..."

It may be time for the good bishop, after months of contentious interactions with his people, to move, if not to a golden turret of refuge -- the kind many bishops are said to prefer -- then at least to a neutral corner in which to reset his relationships with his people.

The gods of irony wince at the news that in the very week of celebrating the Good Shepherd Morlino has threatened to deny communion, confession, and Christian burial to those of his flock who have objected to their treatment by the self-styled conservative priests of the Spanish Society of Jesus Christ the Priest whom he assigned to parish and other pastoral work in the diocese. (See the NCR news report here.)

Titanic lesson: More sorrow than sin in the world

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We gaze together at the seas long smoothed over at the place where the RMS Titanic went down a century ago. Like the psalmist who sang “Out of the depths I have cried unto you, O Lord,” so the Titanic still cries out to us from the depths of the iceberg-crowned waters, a thousand and more voices speaking to us of the wounds of loss that a hundred years of solitude on the sandy floor of the Atlantic have not healed.

Water is the medium of true Mystery, carrying to us the voices of the lost passengers from the wreckage strewn like the pearls spilled out of a dowager’s purse across what the marine investigators term the “debris field” of the great vessel.

Even as collectors try to scoop them up, these objects testify that this is not debris but rather a human field. These little fittings of ordinary life – razors and combs, pens and buckles and brooches – whisper of their owners, bringing them to life so that we stand on the deck next to them, knowing what they do not of the destiny that will suddenly engulf them along with plans and dreams not far different from our own.

Reform of reform out of sync with Easter season

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The Easter season, as we observed in the last Bulletin, is set, as is Passover, to the rhythm of the universe, to the springtime moon's throwing off its shadow, the symbol of our overcoming death with new life.

The powerful underlying theme of the season is our need to surrender old and deadened images of ourselves and our lives to embrace new and fuller spiritual realizations of our resurrected life. We must, as the association of eggs with Easter signifies, peck our way free of the shells that contain us if we are to be born to the resurrected life.

The sad, secular substitutes for Easter

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Perhaps no period of the year -- not even when Christmas is reduced to XMAS -- tells us better how impoverished are the sad, searching celebrations presented as stand-ins for Passover and Holy Week.

Like a journeyman basketball player who lacks the magic of Michael Jordan in his prime, these events, sent in as subs, lack the Mystery generated spontaneously by these feasts whose date is set by the first full moon after the spring equinox. They are born, so to speak, from the inexhaustible symbols whose energy affects the tides of the oceans as well as those that rise and fall within us.

The dating of these feasts flows from the ancient practice of attempting to coordinate the lunar and solar calendars, symbolizing the two modes of eternal life. At the vernal equinox, when dark and light are in balance, the sun and the moon stand across the sky from each other. The moon, as Joseph Campbell once explained to me, "represents engagement in Time, like throwing off death, as the moon its shadow, to be born again. The disengaged sun represents the Eternal, the moon's source of light and the source of light for all of us who live in Time."

Bishop Robinson and the redemption of Eros

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The blessed bishop from Australia who talks such good sense about human sexuality is a Robinson by name and by myth. For he is a Robinson Crusoe, building a ship with the help of Friday, avatar for all of us, that will allow the church to set sail into the deep of human sexual experience.

The bishop wants the church, in the phrase from the Pentecost season, to "speak an entirely new language" about sexual acts, but he understands that he must phrase his invitation in an old-fashioned vocabulary of legal distinctions and regulations that has become the institution's native and sometimes forked tongue.

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In This Issue

July 18-31, 2014

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