Herewith a few items, definitely not in order of importance: "Group invites world to come together for Orgasm Day ." That’s the headline in the Princetonian . "This year’s winter solstice will be hotter than usual, if a Princeton-inspired movement has its way. The antiwar group Baring Witness is organizing what it calls ‘Global Orgasms for Peace,’ an effort to persuade people worldwide to orgasm [sic] on Dec. 22 while concentrating on peace. The purpose is to ‘effect change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy,’ founders Donna Sheehan and Paul Reffell say on the movement’s web site." Princeton has a Global Consciousness Project (GCP), which apparently uses some high-tech machinery to detect global reactions when a very large number of people in the world concentrate on one thing, such as Princess Diana’s funeral or 9/11. On such occasions, the GCP meters register all kinds of random fluctuations, although nobody seems to know quite what they mean. The organizers say, “We hope that a huge influx of physical, mental and spiritual energy with conscious peaceful intent will not only show up on Princeton’s [random event generators], but will have profound positive effects that will change the violent state of the human world.” The jaded might think Orgasm Day just another excuse¯as if another excuse were needed¯for students to have random sex. One wonders, however, if this does not represent, however perversely, a return of the much pilloried Victorian ethic: Lie back, close your eyes, and think of world peace.

And there is this from the BBC : "Archaeologists working for the Vatican have unearthed a sarcophagus containing what they believe are the remains of St Paul the Apostle." The story continues: "The tomb dates back to at least AD390 and was found in a crypt under a basilica in Rome. It has long been thought that the crypt contained the tomb of St Paul but the altar had hidden it. St Paul was an influential early Christian who travelled widely in the Mediterranean area in the 1st Century. His letters to the early churches, found in the Bible’s New Testament, are arguably some of the most influential on Christian thinking." Ah, that St. Paul.

The New Republic has this cover story on Sen. Sam Brownback, who may be making a bid to head off Mitt Romney as the favorite of social conservatives for the Republican nomination. The author, Noam Scheiber, reflects on the significance of Brownback’s conversion to Catholicism under the spiritual direction of the noted convert-making priest, Fr. John McClosky. Scheiber writes: "There are less flattering explanations as well. Brownback had always had a weakness for elite societies. He applied twice to be a White House Fellow before being admitted. When he got to Congress, Rolling Stone has reported, he sought admission to a small ‘cell’ overseen by ‘The Fellowship,’ an organization of evangelical elites. Catholicism in general, and McCloskey’s flock in particular, may have been just another upscale fraternity to pledge." Catholicism as an elite society? I think I’ll stay with James Joyce’s Catholicism as "Here Comes Everybody."

On his visit to Turkey, Pope Benedict paused for a moment of reflection in the Blue Mosque. In view of Cardinal Ratzinger’s well-known criticism of interreligious observances that might suggest relativism or syncretism, some were puzzled. John Allen writes : "The pope discussed his visit to the mosque at greater length during his Dec. 6 general audience in Rome, describing it as an ‘initially unexpected’ and ‘very meaningful’ gesture that Divine Providence had allowed him to undertake. He characterized what happened as ‘a few moments of recollection in that place of prayer,’ and suggested that he had addressed himself ‘to the one Lord of Heaven and Earth, the merciful Father of all humanity,’ deliberately using imagery that Muslims could share. He said he hoped the act would lead ‘all believers to recognize themselves as creatures,’ and said that it was ‘a witness to true fraternity.’ "There was no caveat about relativism, no theological commentary on the limits of such ‘witnesses to true fraternity.’ "Why the explanatory vacuum? The answer, at least implicitly, seems to be the following: This pope is his own gloss. "In other words, precisely because this was Joseph Ratzinger, it is difficult to imagine that the prayer at the Blue Mosque, at least on his side, had anything to do with a relativistic approach to religious belief. It was unnecessary to slap a warning label on the event saying, ‘Syncretism is hazardous to your faith,’ because the mere presence of Ratzinger communicated in a flash all the doctrinal caveats that form part of his understanding of such events, including his criticism of the 1986 Assisi summit." That’s a nice line: "This pope is his own gloss." But a gloss is really not necessary. There is no change from the constant teaching of the Church, as set forth in John Paul II’s 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer). By virtue of creation, all are children of God to whom, through the Church, God offers the salvation achieved in the mission of Jesus Christ, in whom we become by faith the adopted sons and daughters of the new creation. Whatever saving grace is to be found apart from the profession of Christ and outside the formal boundaries of the Church is because of Christ and his continuing mission through his body, the Church. The Church does not negate truth, no matter where it is found¯including in other religions¯but brings it to fulfillment and explicit expression in Jesus Christ, who is "the way, the truth, and the life." Or, as Redemptoris Missio puts it, "The Church imposes nothing. She only proposes." And so it is that, in interreligious engagement, the universal is not pitted against the particular. Rather, the universal is proposed in the particular, who is Christ and his Church. In view of this constant teaching, it is a little puzzling that anyone should think there was an "explanatory vacuum" with respect to Benedict’s reflection in the Blue Mosque.

Before you send us that letter in response to "Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy" (December, First Things ), please wait to read the follow-up exchange between Alyssa Lyra Pitstick and Edward T. Oakes, S.J., appearing in the January issue, now available on newsstands. But you would already have read it had you taken out a subscription¯so why not subscribe today ?

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