Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

With the kids off from school, I’m taking the rest of the week off. And part of next week, too.

I’ll resume blogging when I’m back, probably after the new year.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all.

Here’s a nice shot of this year’s Christmas Pageant at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Suffern — with 64 children singing.

With the inauguration coming, is Rick Warren downplaying his ‘answers’?

Okay, so there’s been all this controversy over Obama’s decision to have Rick Warren — “moderate” evangelical pastor who opposes gay marriage — give the invocation at the inauguration.

Interestingly, the Website of Warren’s Saddleback Church appears to have removed a Q&A from its “What We Believe” page that offered some provocative church positions. Among them:

Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one’s life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at a member at Saddleback Church. That does not mean they cannot attend church we hope they do! God’s Word has the power to change our lives.

In equal desire to follow Jesus, we also would not accept a couple into membership at Saddleback who were not willing to repent of the sexual sin of living together before marriage. That does not mean this couple cannot attend church – we hope they do! God’s Word has the power to change our lives.

But then there was this:

The Bible tells in Genesis 1 that God made the world in seven days, and that he made all of the animals on the fifth day and the sixth day. All of the animals were created at the same time, so they all walked the earth at the same time. I know that the pictures we all grew up with in the movies were that dinosaurs roamed a lifeless, volcanic planet. Remember these are just pictures drawn by someone today! The Bible’s picture is that dinosaurs and man lived together on the earth, an earth that was filled with vegetation and beauty.

What happened to the dinosaurs? The scientific record lets us know that they obviously became extinct through some kind of cataclysmic event on the earth. Many scientists theorize that this may have been an asteroid striking the earth, while many Christians wonder if this event could have been the worldwide flood in Noah’s day. No one can know for certain what this event was.

And this:

Those who choose to be with Christ here on this earth will be with him throughout eternity. Those who choose to be apart from Christ on this earth will be apart from him throughout eternity. That is what hell is, a place where we are totally apart from God – his goodness, his grace, his power and his love. The truth is that God doesn’t send anyone to hell. He sent his only son to earth to die for us so that none of us would have to go there. The only way that we can go to hell now is by rejecting God’s saving solution in his son Jesus Christ.

These are not uncommon Christian positions. But it’s odd that Saddleback has removed them from its Website. It still says “Bible Questions & Answers” at the bottom of the page — but the questions and answers are no longer there.

You can see the “cached” version here.

Is Notre Dame football suffering from a weakening Catholic community?

I’ve got two football-related items:

1. Driving in today, I was listening to an interview on ESPN Radio with Bob Knight, the controversial but very intelligent and always provocative former college basketball coach. He was asked about the poor play in recent years of Notre Dame’s football team, and he suggested several factors.

I don’t have his exact words — I was driving and couldn’t take notes — but one factor he offered is that the American Catholic community is not as strong as it once was. Knight said that during the Notre Dame heyday, which lasted for decades, Catholic families wanted their football-playing boys to play for the Fighting Irish. This is no longer a given, he said.

I don’t know if there’s any truth to this, but it sounds like an interesting subject for a sports writer to explore.

And I don’t know what Knight’s faith is. I can’t find any clues on the Web.

2. Football fans who go back to the 1980s surely remember Mike Singletary’s eyes.

He played middle linebacker for the great Chicago Bears defenses of those years, and TV cameras loved to show his wide, ridiculously intense eyes as each play started.

Now he may become known for something else: A large wooden cross that hangs around his neck as he coaches the San Francisco 49ers.

Singletary became interim head coach of the Niners a few weeks back, and wears the large cross over his Niners shirt each Sunday. You can’t miss it.

He told the SF Chronicle:

If it were not for God, I would not be here. God is the role in my life. That is the No. 1 thing in my life. I start my day with him and I end my day with him in prayer.

From the first day I started coaching, I decided to wear the cross as a reminder of who I am and not lose my mind on the field and not become somebody else.

If Singletary keeps the job next year — and I would say it’s looking good for him — all of America may soon come to know him as the coach with the cross.

Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy is also a committed Christian who wrote about his faith in his best-selling book Quiet Strength.

But Singletary wears his faith on his sleeve. Or make that — you know what’s coming — his chest.

(Photo by Lacy Atkins / The San Francisco Chronicle)

Pass it On

Not a bad idea: Religious leaders will help disperse financial information through its congregations to people who may need to apply for benefits or look for a new job.

Religious leaders from across New York announced yesterday that they will work with the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment to make New Yorkers aware of all the information that’s out there.

They’re calling it “Pass It On.”

It was a pretty diverse press conference, as you can see.

Cardinal Egan said: “These are difficult and uncertain times, and many New Yorkers are hurting. As it has done for more than two centuries, the Archdiocese of New York continues to extend a caring hand to those in need, particularly through our well-respected schools, healthcare institutions, and Catholic Charities. This is essential because every human being is made in the image and likeness of God; and accordingly, every human being in need has a call on our compassion and care. The Archdiocese looks forward to collaborating with the City of New York and private agencies as well in the hope that we can make available to our fellow citizens the assistance they need and deserve.”

NYC plans to train “hundreds” of faith leaders on how to deal with people in financial distress and where to send them for more in-depth counseling. The city also plans to host financial literacy workshops at participating congregations to provide basic information about budgeting, banking and debt management.

These are very interesting ideas that show, I’m afraid, how bad things are getting.

Rabbi Yechezkel Pikus, director of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, put it like this: “During times of crisis, people often rely on their religious leaders for advice – spiritual and financial. Now with the City’s assistance, we will be better able to help people make the right economic choices and point them to expert services. Our work together here today to overcome our current economic challenges is a fitting reminder during a time of year in which people of Jewish faith remember that no odds are ever insurmountable.”

Does the economy need a miracle?

Defining Hanukkah (quickly)

Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukkah).

The little Jewish holiday that could.

It’s so hard to explain what Hanukkah is about (I mean in a short and meaningful way). So I checked some “definitions” (looking for one to adopt):

From Merriam-webster.com: “an 8-day Jewish holiday beginning on the 25th of Kislev and commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after its defilement by Antiochus of Syria.”

Okay, but a little too dictionaryish.

From Judaism 101: “Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.

Eh.

From Torah.org: “The Talmud tells us that beginning with the 25th of Kislev, eight days of Chanukah are observed, during which no eulogies are delivered, nor is fasting permitted. For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils, and when the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees) defeated them, they searched and found only one remaining jar of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest). Although it contained only enough oil to burn for one day, a miracle occurred, and the oil burned eight days. A year later the Rabbis designated these days as Yomim Tovim (Holidays) on which praise and thanksgiving were to be said. (Tractate Shabbat 21).”

Solid, but too long…

From About.com: “Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins this year on Sunday night, December 21. The eight-day festival is a celebration of Jewish national survival and religious freedom.”

Pretty good, without too many words.

From My Jewish Learning: “Hanukkah, or the Festival of Rededication, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE. Although it is a late addition to the Jewish liturgical calendar, the eight-day festival of Hanukkah has become a beloved and joyous holiday. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and takes place in December, at the time of year when the days are shortest in the northern hemisphere.”

Not bad, but no mention of religious freedom.

I’ll keep looking….

ADD: Rabbi Chaim Z. Ehrenreich of the Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center in Chestnut Ridge suggests the Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center website: “Chanukah — the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of Kislev 25 — celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materialism.”

Very interesting. This paragraph goes for the Big Themes. It draws you in. But you have to read on to get the lyrical details:

“More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully  Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.”

Nuns defend Bourgeois to Vatican

To my knowledge, there has been no word yet on the fate of Father Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who faces excommunication from the Vatican for taking part in a woman’s “ordination” ceremony (and refusing to recant).

But National Catholic Reporter reports that 113 nuns have signed a letter to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that pleads Bourgeois’ case. The letter was organized by the National Coalition of American Nuns and explicitly supports the ordination of women as priests.

Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, one of the coordinators of NCAN, told NCR: “We hope the excommunication is not issued. The medieval punishment of excommunication serves only to embarrass our Church in the eyes of the world and fuels further anger and resentment among the U.S. faithful.”

Here’s the letter, addressed to Cardinal William Levada, head of the congregation:

*****

“Dear Cardinal Levada:

The Vatican’s threatened excommunication of Fr. Roy Bourgeois because of his belief in the priestly ordination of women has diminished our Church.

As women religious who love our Church and who have served the People of God for decades, we support our brother Roy. As a Maryknoll priest for 36 years, he has followed the Gospel of Jesus in his ministry for peace and justice by speaking out against the war in Iraq and against the torture of countless human beings, aided and abetted by the U.S. government’s School of the Americas. He has been a prophetic voice for thousands in our society.

Roy is now a prophetic voice in our church because of his support for women’s equality in all Church ministries. Excommunications depend not on edicts or laws, but on compliance. We do not believe Roy is outside the community and we embrace him wholeheartedly. Like Roy, we know women who testify that they are called to priesthood. We know that Jesus did not discriminate in calling both women and men to ministry. And we know that our church needs the gifts of everyone called.

So we join Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the majority of U.S. Catholics, who believe that women are called to priestly ordination in the Catholic Church. We look forward to the day when Catholic women, following in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene who announced the Resurrection to the male Apostles, will minister as full equals in our church.”

Breaking down the new Congress (by religion)

In terms of religious affiliations, the incoming 111th Congress looks, more or less, like America.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has charted the religions of current and incoming congresspeople and senators.

From Pew:

*****
“Collectively, Protestants account for more than half (54.7%) of the 111th Congress, about the same proportion as their share of the U.S. adult population (51.3%). But American Protestantism is very diverse and encompasses more than a dozen major denominational families, such as Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, all with unique beliefs, practices and histories. When these Protestant denominational families are considered as separate religious groups, Catholics are the single largest religious group in the 111th Congress. Catholics, who account for nearly one-quarter of the U.S. adult population, make up about 30% of Congress. Indeed, the number of Catholics in Congress is two-and-a-half times the size of the next largest religious group, Baptists, who make up about 12% of the members.”

*****

Very interesting stuff.

Here’s some of Pew’s findings:

Civil rights vet to balance out Rick Warren at the inaug?

So Pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the presidential inauguration.

The benediction, though, will be given by the Rev. Joseph Lowery, 87, a retired United Methodist minister and a veteran of the civil rights movement. In 1957, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth.

Obama’s more liberal supporters should be more comfortable with this choice. At the funeral for Coretta Scott King in 2006, Lowery hammered away at the war in Iraq even though President Bush was sitting right near him.

Warren, by the way, has released a statement commending Obama for choosing him despite opposition from his “base.” Here it is:

I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.

Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.

The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God’s blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America’s leaders during this critical time in our nation’s history.

Obama yesterday also defended his choice of Warren, who recently told Beliefnet that gay marriage to like allowing siblings to marry:

“We’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere … where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans,” Obama said.

Egan bids farewell to a cardinal classmate

And now I’m back from St. Patrick’s.

The funeral Mass for Cardinal Avery Dulles was quite touching. There were dozens of Jesuits, as you might expect, not to mention five American cardinals (not counting Cardinal Egan). Egan, who gave the homily, seemed to have real affection for “our beloved Avery Cardinal Dulles.”

Egan told Dulles’ always fascinating life story, in detail. “He was born into a well-to-do illustrious family,” Egan said. “He was reared in comfort and given the best in academic formation.”

But Dulles gave it all up, Egan said, despite the family troubles that his conversion to Catholicism caused: “The young convert accepted their hurt and moved on.”

The Rev. David S. Ciancimino, head of the New York Province for the Jesuits, spoke of how much Dulles appreciated his friendship with Egan. He spoke of regular phone calls that Egan made to the ailing theologian and of how Egan accompanied Dulles this past April — when Dulles could no longer speak or hardly move — to a Mass for Dulles’ 90 birthday at Fordham.

It was back in February of 2001 that Dulles, Egan and retired Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick all got their red hats in Rome.

Egan also mentioned something else that he shared with Dulles: polio. Dulles was suffering from post-polio syndrome and Egan has battled the effects in recent years, as well.

At the conclusion of the Mass, as Dulles’ casket was carried up the center aisle of the cathedral and out of its great doors, the assembly cheered the life of a man of faith and intellect. It was quite a scene as cardinals and bishops accompanied the casket to a waiting hearse on 5th Avenue. Hundreds of people stopped to watch on both sides of the street, although I got the feeling that many of them did not know who had died.

Dulles, who had a good sense of humor, might have laughed at the sight of shoppers and tourists craning their necks to see the casket of a bookish theologian.