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Sacred music


If the definition of sacred music is a series of chords that helps you reach the transcendent, than please place James Taylor and Carole King in my personal choir loft.

I've resisted musical nostalgia for years -- unlike most friends, I've avoided bulking up on digital remasters of tunes from my teen years out of sheer dread over the awkward memories they were likely to conjure up in my brain. But recently I have begun to relent: I got the new Beatles box collection, and a concert set by Simon and Garfunkel, which includes a DVD of their performance that unavoidably drove home the fact that time marches on relentlessly.

Benedict brings 'Marian Cool' to fevered Fatima devotion


Fatima, Portugal

tTry as he might to insist that a tight focus on the details of the Fatima revelations is a prescription for mischief, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the world’s most celebrated Marian shrine inevitably evokes the undercurrent of secrets and cosmic mysteries long associated with the reported appearances of Mary to three shepherd children between May and October 1917.

tThat body of lore includes, most famously, the “three secrets” of Fatima:

•tA vision of Hell and world wars;
•tA request for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary;
•tA vision of a bishop in white slain by bullets and arrows, often taken to be a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.

Debate continues to swirl in Fatima circles as to whether the Vatican ever complied with the request to consecrate Russia, even though two popes – Pius XII and John Paul II – claimed to have done so. Some Fatima devotees, however, argued that the consecrations were inadequate, either because they lumped Russia in with the rest of the world or because they weren’t carried out in concert with all the bishops of the church.

An ëAffirmative Orthodoxy' tour de force in Portugal


Lisbon, Portugal

t If anyone other than Pope Benedict XVI had delivered the speech he gave this morning in the Cultural Center of Belém in Lisbon, Portugal, it might well have been taken as a throwback to the great liberal Catholic lions of yesteryear.

Among the highlights of Benedict’s address to the “world of culture” were: The urgency of constructive dialogue with secularism; moving beyond mere tolerance of other worldviews and value systems to being “enriched” by them; and praise of the Second Vatican Council for taking the Enlightenment and the Reformation seriously, and for laying the basis for a “civilization of love.”

Someone conversant with recent Catholic history might have wondered if Benedict was somehow channeling Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan.

In reality, this morning’s address was not a matter of Benedict stepping out of his own ideological skin, but rather a classic example of what is arguably the most under-acknowledged feature of his pontificate: Its spirit of “Affirmative Orthodoxy,” meaning an unyielding commitment to classic Catholic identity, but expressed in the most relentlessly positive fashion possible.

The Right's Attack on Kagan


You have to love the way some conservative “thinkers” have a way of fulfilling the caricature of them they claim to loathe. Among the experts assembled by the Washington Post to assess the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court was Edward Whalen, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The Center may be better known to NCR readers due to one of its senior fellows, George Weigel, another “thinker” who constantly steps in his own nonsense.

Whalen, who once clerked for Antonin Scalia, starts with the concern that Kagan lacks judicial experience, a requirement unknown in the Constitution whose strict interpretation Mr. Whelan so much insists upon, and a requirement not met by such justices as Felx Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis and, closer to Whalen’s home, William Rehnquist. I offer a deal: Obama will nominate someone else if all of Rehnquist’s opinions are thrown out.

Patners in faith, water for southern Sudan


Jack Skvorak and Frances Grillo are members of two different Catholic parishes, one suburban, one city. Brought together by a shared commitment to Water for Sudan, they teamed up to do something that would expand their faith-communities’ local charitable giving to include a humanitarian cause beyond their immediate area, providing water in the war-torn southern Sudan.

With the help of fellow parishoners, they organized a series of fund-raising activities for Water for Sudan. As Frances says, “It was almost effortless!” Through a number of small, easy-to-do, and imaginative efforts the parish partners in faith raised over $17,000. That kind of partnership demonstrates, as the saying goes, how to “think globally and act locally.”

Pope's antidote to secularism: saints, not structures


Lisbon, Portugal

tChristianity’s love-hate relationship with secularism is a core theme of Benedict XVI’s four-day trip to Portugal, and this evening he asked an especially evocative question: In a social context in which basic Christian belief can’t be taken for granted, is the church too worried about structures and power and not enough about the fundamentals of the faith?

tThe pope raised that query, without quite supplying an answer, during an open-air Mass for an estimated 80,000 people in Lisbon’s Palace Square. It’s certainly an evocative spot to contemplate the demise of Europe’s once-intact Catholic cultures: It was here in 1908 that the penultimate Catholic monarch of Portugal, Charles I, was assassinated in 1908, with the erection of a secular republic not far behind.

Filled pews


My 23-year-old cousin from Italy has been staying with us for three months. A lot of things have surprised him about Los Angeles -- the wide streets, old buildings that were only built forty years ago, and that fact that people actually fill the churches around here.

My cousin is a business graduate student back at home, and is staying with us while doing a corporate internship in town for his master's thesis. He's gone to Disneyland and downtown, to Hollywood and Malibu -- but our local parish has made a real impression.

A trace of reality in hierarchy's take on abuse


Perhaps a trace of reality is beginning to insinuate itself into the hierarchy’s understanding of the clergy sex abuse scandal. Although it took him sometime to get to the point, Pope Benedict XVI, in a plane on the way to Portugal, described the crisis as “terrifying” and further stated unequivocally that the problem did not originate with sources outside the church or with the media but within the Catholic community.

A few days before, as John Allen notes here, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, in a clear breach of hierarchical protocol, directly accused another cardinal, Angelo Sodano, the secretary of state or number two figure in the Vatican, under Pope John Paul II, of complicity in covering up sex abuse allegations against the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna. Schonborn told a news conference that Sodano had blocked an earlier investigation of Groer.


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