March 14th, 2007

Clanmacnois Tower

Theological Notebook: Odder Articles: A Theme of Cardinal Portraiture; Muskrat for Lent in Michigan

Here's a few articles that I thought interesting and a bit more "off the beaten path." In the first, I thought the artist's idea of a theme of exploring the cardinals in portraiture an interesting one, particularly given the rather predictable reactions he relates. In the second, I just thought it one of those fascinatingly diverse and human aspects of how Catholicism get lived, historically. I mean, muskrat?!!

New York artist sets up easel in Rome to paint humanity of cardinals
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- When New York artist Alex Melamid watched the funeral of Pope John Paul II on TV in 2005, he was struck by the way the cardinals all looked the same -- as iconic dignitaries in red vestments.

This year, Melamid has set up his easel in Rome. He is hoping to get below the surface image of cardinals and other church figures by painting their portraits.

"Cardinals should be seen as individuals. I think they have something to communicate, and that's what I want to capture in my art," Melamid said.

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Muskrat love: A Lenten Friday delight for some Michiganders
By Kristin Lukowski
Catholic News Service

RIVERVIEW, Mich. (CNS) -- There's an alternative to fish for some Michigan Catholics abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent -- muskrat.

The custom of eating muskrat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent apparently goes back to the early 1800s, the time of Father Gabriel Richard, an early missionary in Michigan whose flock included French-Canadian trappers. Legend has it that because trappers and their families were going hungry not eating flesh during Lent, he allowed them to eat muskrat, with the reasoning that the mammal lives in the water.

The story varies on just where in Michigan the dispensation extends. Among areas mentioned are along the Raisin River, along the Rouge River, both of which flow into Lake Erie south of Detroit, Monroe County in the southeast corner of Michigan, or all of southeast Michigan.

The Detroit archdiocesan communications department said there is a standing dispensation for Catholics downriver -- in Detroit's southern suburbs and below -- to eat muskrat on Fridays, although no documentation of the original dispensation could be found.

A 2002 archdiocesan document on Lenten observances, in addition to outlining the general laws of fast and abstinence, says, "There is a long-standing permission -- dating back to our missionary origins in the 1700s -- to permit the consumption of muskrat on days of abstinence, including Fridays of Lent."

The prospect of eating muskrat, a foot-long rodent, might be less than appetizing to some, but to many people downriver it's part of Lenten life.

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Vatican/St. Peter's

Theological Notebook: Vatican criticizes and qualifies Jon Sobrino's work and method

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put out some pointers of where they concluded that Jon Sobrino's theology so under-emphaizes certain points that it threatens to produce an image of Christ or of the Church that is less than that of the faith. This perhaps isn't so surprising, as his theological method attempts to overtly base itself in one particular social and political experience: a method that would lend itself to making expressions so particular or parochial that the wider, more universal aspects of the faith might be insufficiently expressed. The statement issued by the Vatican seems focused on making such methodological qualifications and lacks any overt "condemnation" of Sobrino of the sort that might turn this into a more "personal" fight of the like seen before, where a theologian then is cast in news reports as the lone righteous voice representing Individualism and Freedom standing over and against the [evil] Church representing Retrogression, Conformity, and Repression. That's a much-loved and much-repeated caricature we can do without. I hope here, instead, we'll continue to see the kind of collaborative and civil engagement of a creative theologian exploring a new articulation working out his vision in communion with the wider experience of the Church today and throughout history.

Vatican criticizes Jesuit liberation theologian, issues no sanctions
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican strongly criticized the work of Jesuit Father Jon Sobrino, a leading proponent of liberation theology, saying some of his writings relating to the divinity of Christ were "not in conformity with the doctrine of the church."

In publishing a detailed notification March 14, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said it wanted to warn pastors and ordinary Catholics of the "erroneous or dangerous propositions" in Father Sobrino's work.

The notification did not, however, impose any disciplinary measures on Father Sobrino, such as limiting his right to teach or publish as a Catholic theologian. Father Sobrino, 69, was born in Spain and has taught for many years at the Jesuit-run Central American University in El Salvador.

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Thomas More

Theological Notebook: The Supreme Court discussing Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc.

A new case in the Supreme Court putting a new twist in the convoluted history of the relation between the government of the United States and religious organizations.

High Court Mulls Faith-Based Initatives
Feb 28, 10:08 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court wrestled Wednesday with the question of whether taxpayers have the right to challenge the White House's aggressive promotion of federal financial aid for religious charities.

At issue is whether a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics have legal standing, by virtue of being taxpayers, to bring their complaint in the federal court system.

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