Words and music of a captured heart. With some vagrant thoughts.

Saturday, April 16, 2011  

Holy Spirit, enable us to turn towards you at every moment.
So often we forget that you dwell in us, you pray in us, 
and that you love in us.  
Your presence within us is trust and continual forgiveness.
A prayer sent from the community of Taize during this week in 2008 

Francis | 4/16/2011 02:25:00 AM | Comment |

Friday, April 01, 2011  

Debating what Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow called “one of the most important public policy issues and one of the most important constitutional issues,” three law professors offered different perspectives on whether the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violates the commerce clause of the Constitution and infringes on personal liberties.

Charles Fried, Lawrence Tribe and Randy Barnett debate the issues and implications.

Francis | 4/01/2011 05:33:00 PM | Comment |

Saturday, March 26, 2011  

How many people do you suppose filled out their NCAA basketball tournament brackets with a Final Four featuring Princeton and Hampton, Brigham Young and Nevada- Las Vegas? Throwing darts at the brackets would probably work out better, right? But the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy had a different point to make.

Jenna Ashley Robinson of the Pope Center posted a couple of surveys that she calls March Money Madness. Here's her bracket of the tournament field where the contest isn't a series of basketball games, but the comparative debt of graduating students. This analysis follows her Tournament of Starting Salaries last week.

For those scoring at home, the only school to make the Final Four in both contests -- high starting salaries and low student debt burdens -- was Princeton University.

A different scale of reckoning than the honor and laurels of Princeton's great Hobey Baker, certainly, but the brackets are a clever way to highlight some facts that are worth a look, and whose implications are worth some thought.

Francis | 3/26/2011 11:32:00 PM | Comment |

Friday, March 25, 2011  

Elizabeth Scalia, the Anchoress, writes of today's Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord: This is a moment of such profound import that Catholics are called to remember it every day, in the prayer of the Angelus: The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.” 

All Christians are called to realize that holiness is not our only vocation: that we are meant also to be active participants in the work of salvation, active in bringing others to knowledge of God. And that can mean active in a particular way, congruent with the special gifts and charisms that we possess. Pope John Paul II described a particular way of understanding the Annunciation event, and the special dedication of our heart and purpose that observance of this great Feast proposes:

Mary shows us the path towards a mature freedom. In our days, many baptized Christians have not yet made the faith their own in an adult and conscious way. They call themselves Christians and yet they do not respond in a fully responsible way to the grace they have received; they still do not know what they want and why they want it.

This is the lesson to be learned today; an education to freedom is urgently needed ... With the Virgin Mary's example before us, we are invited to reflect: God has a project for each of us, he "calls" everyone. What is important is knowing how to recognize this call, how to accept it and how to be faithful to it. 

My older brother, Joe, a sculptor, gave me an impressionistic pencil sketch of the Annunciation for my birthday ten years ago. It hangs in the hallway between my bedroom and living room, and faces the entrance to the kitchen. A prominent hanging, then, so I see it several times each day. It's a welcome reminder to me of one of the central events in the history of our salvation, a pointer to all the poetic loveliness of the first chapter of Luke and, since the Annunciation is among the most frequent subjects of Western art, echoes in a particular way the richness and depth of our Christian tradition and inheritance.

And the sketch is a reminder, of course, of my brother and his family. Fittingly so. In a happy coincidence, the Feast of the Annunciation is also the birthday of Joe's wife, Diane.

Francis | 3/25/2011 09:49:00 PM | Comment |

Thursday, March 24, 2011  

With thanks to Michael Potemra, who writes: "From Books & Culture: A Christian Review, a fascinating assessment of how Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican, secular, aristocratic, and commercial influences combined to shape a man with a serious claim to the title of England’s greatest composer."

The assessment is part of a stimulating, insightful and suggestive review by David Martin, a Fellow of the British Academy, of The Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia, and well worth your time.

Potemra gives a tip of the hat to Rev. Victor Lee Austin, theologian-in-residence at St. Thomas Church (Episcopal) in Manhattan, for the link..

Francis | 3/24/2011 11:25:00 PM | Comment |

Tuesday, March 22, 2011  

We owe a good measure of respect and forbearance to the decisions of those in positions of properly constituted authority. Part of the reason for that is that they may have information unavailable to us. There are also, undeniably, serious responsibilities that flow from the fact  that our country has reserves of power and strength unexampled in human history. But we are as a country, yet again, committed to engagement in armed conflict on presidential authority alone. No declaration of aims, no statement of purpose, no fitting resolution has issued from the Congress of the United States. President Obama, in response to a question in Rio de Janeiro, spoke -- briefly and unsatisfyingly -- to the question of aims and purpose of this latest engagement but, to the extent that he's addressed the question of authorization and its proprieties at all, seems to believe that it's only the United Nations apparatus, and not the prerogatives of the co-equal branches of the American government, to whom he should show comity and respectful regard.

Francis | 3/22/2011 03:39:00 AM | Comment |

Monday, March 21, 2011  

There was good and bad in that autumn of 2008 that seems already so far away. The Phillies won the World Series 4 games to 1 over the Tampa Bay Rays after a lot of great post-season baseball, but even the joy and celebration of that achievement was clouded for some of us by the nasty economic news of the preceding months and the resultant damage done to financial nest eggs and stock holdings.

It didn't register on the same scale of public moment and interest, certainly, but another event from that autumn has had a lingering effect on my life: a club that I'd frequented for several years closed. It wasn't a glamorous place or even scrupulously clean, but I was comfortable there, especially in the pool room. Not that I played much. But it was a good and companionable room to watch some shooting, and was the beginning ground of some much-valued friendships.

Those friendships continue, but in a necessarily different way, and usually individually rather than as a group, since we no longer have an established common gathering place. We manage to get together occasionally, although much texting and adjustment of schedules seems to occur first. We enjoy each other's game and company and laughter as before, but Philadelphia is, unfortunately, a very segregated city and it doesn't seem likely that we'll easily find a replacement spot so convenient and congenial as we had. It's been a loss of something good and happy. The passage of time and the development of new interests among us might well have brought us to the same point eventually, but that kind of thought doesn't really help much.

Francis | 3/21/2011 11:39:00 PM | Comment |

Saturday, March 19, 2011  

It was the final year of President Ronald Reagan's first term, the Dow Jones average passed 1100 for the first time, Michael Jackson's Thriller album was the pop music phenomenon, and I was writing a thesis on church endowments in medieval England for a History M.A. at the University of Virginia. It was the last time that my living quarters didn't include cable TV. In fact, there wasn't a TV in my Charlottesville apartment at all that year, a source of open-mouthed wonder to some of my acquaintance.

I haven't banished the television entirely from my Delaware County home, but I had the cable service removed earlier today. I'll have a few network channels remaining, and Jethro Gibbs and the NCIS team may show up for an occasional visit. And I'll get some Phillies games. But, as for Don Draper and the Mad Men, top chefs and classic movies. Well, they'll have to flourish without my eye on them.

Francis | 3/19/2011 09:30:00 PM | Comment |

It's a very unusual year when I don't mark the mid-March feasts with a culinary treat, but the week's ending without my indulging either soda bread with Patrick or zeppoli with Joseph. Not a penitential decision, just bad planning. And not a happy break with tradition, or one I want to repeat.

Francis | 3/19/2011 08:07:00 PM | Comment |

Saturday, March 12, 2011  

The first two paragraphs below are from the newsletter of 15 January 2011 from the Community of Taize.

Psalm 139 (138): Few passages in the Bible speak of God’s closeness to human beings with as much subtlety and force as Psalm 139. “Lord, you have searched me and known me”, say the very first lines. God, the psalm tells us, is not a distant observer but one who looks deeply into individuals, who knows them not partially or one-sidedly but rather in the entirety of their existence, indeed as no one else can.

As the psalm unfolds, the tone becomes more pressing. “Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” The psalmist pictures himself going high and low, and from east to west before hiding finally in darkness in order to elude God, but to no avail. God’s hand now is not only upon him, as earlier (v. 5), but holds him fast (v. 10). The realization seems all at once frightful and reassuring: there is no way to escape from God, but, at the same time, God never abandons individuals, no matter how far they stray from Him.

Let's amend that last line and bring the thought closer: God never abandons us, no matter how far we stray from Him. There's always richness and comfort and support in the notes and messages from Taize, and I've been blessed in receiving them. It's a continuing blessing to the world, too, that the horror of Brother Roger's assassination on that grim August day in 2005 hasn't blighted the influence of his life's work nor dimmed the witness of the community that he founded as a living parable of John17:21: ut unum sint.

That they may be one. Ut unum sint is also the title Pope John Paul II gave to his encyclical and exhortation on ecumenism in 1995,  reminding us that:  

At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord.

And heeding that call must be central to our journey. Even out of the terrible sufferings and persecutions that have scarred the human family in the modern world, the Holy Spirit asks for -- demands -- our renewed commitment to the cause of unity in Christ.

The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigour to the Council's call and reminds us of our duty to listen to and put into practice its exhortation.

Taize stands as a beacon to those who hear the words of John 17:21 in humility, and following the brothers in their practice of prayer -- short, repetitive song; a reading from Scripture; long, contemplative silence -- works almost as an introduction to lectio divina and deepens our immersion in the Word. Deepens, too, our sense of fellowship with all those who bear the cross of Christ on their forehead.

Gideon Strauss, with whom I had an online connection through our blogs and who's now president of the Center for Public Justice, left a comment here a few years ago. I'd written often of hymns from various Christian traditions and several times of my deep debt to James Montgomery Boice and of the power of his preaching. Gideon, of the same Calvinist tradition as Dr. Boice, took note of some of the things that I'd entered here and left a comment, writing that I "practice a bracing ecumenicism." I was grateful for his visit and support and hope that his words remain true. And I'm grateful, certainly, for the friendship and fellowship of brothers and sisters of other faiths. Much of the good in my fumbling I owe to them, and to the witness of Taize.

Francis | 3/12/2011 07:15:00 PM | Comment |

Friday, March 11, 2011  

I like my tea brewed long, dark and strong. I make the iced tea that way, too. When I made a fresh couple of quarts earlier this afternoon, I remembered that I still had a pint container remaining in the refrigerator, and poured it in to the fresh batch.

Here's the unexpected danger of dark tea and unmarked containers: I also had a pint of au jus gravy in the refrigerator. I suppose I should really have realized my mistake before drinking several tall glasses of the brew. And I wouldn't feel so bad, certainly, were today not a Friday in Lent.

Francis | 3/11/2011 06:16:00 PM | Comment |

Saturday, January 06, 2007  

"He so loved us that, for our sake, he was made man in time, although through him all times were made. He was made man, who made man.He was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute."
Sermon 188, 2

Prayer: I realize what I am and praise you for it. Come to my aid, that I may not stray from the way of salvation.
Sermon 67, 9

Saint Augustine

Francis | 1/06/2007 03:24:00 PM | Comment |

Saturday, November 25, 2006  

Christus Rex.

Francis | 11/25/2006 07:57:00 PM | Comment |

Friday, June 09, 2006  

June is the month of countless academic culminations and I've had the happiness this past week of thinking of four nieces and nephews in the special light of their graduations. I've had the additional honor of being present for three of those ceremonies. Warm congratulations to Mary Peg, Teddy, Brian and Joe as they complete their studies at, respectively, Naperville North High School, Ss. Peter & Paul School, Germantown Friends School and Holy Child Academy.

Every good wish to each of them as they prepare to continue the path of discovery and learning at Loyola University Chicago, Naperville North High School, Haverford College and St. Joseph's Preparatory School.

Rich in gifts, talented of mind, generous of heart, may their journey be gift and blessing to themselves and to those who share it.

Francis | 6/09/2006 07:50:00 PM | Comment |

Tuesday, July 20, 2004  

On July 20, 1969, the human race accomplished its single greatest technological achievement of all time when a human first set foot on another celestial body.

Six hours after landing at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining), Neil A. Armstrong took the “Small Step” into our greater future when he stepped off the Lunar Module, named “Eagle,” onto the surface of the Moon, from which he could look up and see Earth in the heavens as no one had done before him.

Francis | 7/20/2004 03:52:00 PM | Comment |

Sunday, July 11, 2004  

The Gospel reading for this Sunday, Luke 10: 25-37, is among the most familiar in all of Sacred Scripture and allusions to the Good Samaritan are common even among folk who are unaware of the source and unmindful of the Lord Jesus Himself.

The parable is not only familiar, but the central question haunting. Who is my neighbor? And the circumstances of the story add to its richness and make reflection on it more profitable. What, for example, would have been our obligation had we been on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and come upon the traveler not after he'd been set upon by thieves and left for dead, but while the thugs were robbing and beating him? And has reflection on this question anything to tell us about the limits and implications of pacifism?

William B.O. Peabody, a graduate of Harvard College and a member of the faculty at Phillips Exeter Academy, who became a Unitarian minister and who was born on 9 July 1799, wrote a hymn on this text from Luke.

Who is thy neighbor? He whom thou
Hast power to aid or bless;
Whose aching heart or burning brow
Thy soothing hand may press.

Thy neighbor? ’Tis the fainting poor
Whose eye with want is dim;
O enter thou his humble door,
With aid and peace for him.

Thy neighbor? He who drinks the cup
When sorrow drowns the brim;
With words of high, sustaining hope,
Go thou and comfort him.

Thy neighbor? Pass no mourner by;
Perhaps thou canst redeem
A breaking heart from misery;
Go, share thy lot with him.

Francis | 7/11/2004 12:35:00 PM | Comment |

Wednesday, June 23, 2004  

The Brood X periodical cicadas have made their presence clearly heard and felt to the south and west of my corner of southeast Pennsylvania these last weeks, but here there's been nothing on the scale of what's been true elsewhere. Paolo, whose Amy yesterday began posting some very fine photographs of the small-scale natural world, himself posted a picture of one of his buggy visitors a few weeks ago, and people have told me that the cicada's racket is a constant background of telephone conversations with folk in the affected areas.

They're not the locusts of the plague of Egypt, of course, and in fact do relatively little damage to the world on which they descend. But I've been thinking of them in that connection, and in connection with the great Malcolm Muggeridge who, though having enjoyed extravagant worldly success and acclaim as an author and a vendor of words -- Paul Johnson considers him, with Evelyn Waugh, one of the great masters of English prose in the twentieth century -- yet, in looking back over his life, called his autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time. Like most of his work, it's informative and vastly entertaining but still the sense of having spent much of his time on trifles is strongly evoked.

We've all spent part of our time on trifles and on immediate and quotidian concerns and enthusiams. Some of us so much of our time in such trifles that conscience scalds at the memory. And such pursuits can lay waste to our time in the way that locusts ravage the land. But the Lord God remains faithful, and rich in blessing. And, of His abundant mercy and grace, has promised that He will, in the words from Joel 2, restore the years that the locust has eaten.

The hymn of Robert Bridges, later Poet Laureate, is based on that chapter of Joel.

Rejoice, O land, in God thy might,
His will obey, Him serve aright;
For Thee the saints uplift their voice:
Fear not, O land, in God rejoice.

Glad shalt thou be, with blessing crowned,
With joy and peace thou shalt abound;
Yea, Love with thee shall make His home
Until thou see God’s kingdom come.

He shall forgive thy sins untold:
Remember thou His love of old;
Walk in His way, His word adore,
And keep His truth for evermore.

Francis | 6/23/2004 03:18:00 PM | Comment |

Tuesday, June 22, 2004  

It is easier for us to get inside Augustine's unregenerate skin than perhaps it would be for any of the intervening generations. The similarity between his circumstances and ours is striking if not to say alarming. There is the same moral vacuity, leading to the same insensate passion for new sensations and experiences; the same fatuous credulity opening the way to every kind of charlatanry and quackery from fortune telling to psychoanalysis; the same sinister combination of great wealth and pointless ostentation with appalling poverty and unheeded affliction. As Augustine wrote, O greedy men, what will satisfy you if God Himself will not?

Malcolm Muggeridge, in A Third Testament, a series of studies and meditations on seven "wrestling prophets."

Francis | 6/22/2004 12:11:00 PM | Comment |

Sunday, June 20, 2004  

There's no season of the year when I'm not conscious of how greatly I've been blessed by sharing in the lives of sixteen nieces and nephews. Some fairly near, some at a distance, all treasures. And, as was true at this season last year, it's a time of advances in educational careers and I'm an especially proud and happy uncle. It's fitting that I'm posting this on the eve of the memorial of Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron of youth, and I ask his prayers for all of this year's graduates. He's also, since Confirmation, been my own patron and also that of two family Josephs, one my uncle and the other my nephew and godson.

Family graduations this year from Naperville North High School, Archmere Academy, and Pennsylvania State University. Warm congratulations to Deirdre, Maggie and Charles on their achievements and every good wish and blessing as another stage of the academic journey begins at the University of Illinois, Goucher College and Widener University Law School.

Francis | 6/20/2004 11:25:00 AM | Comment |

Monday, June 14, 2004  


Traditionalists say I was born of a woman's hand -- fashioned from bits of colored cloth by a seamstress in a small house in Philadelphia, a year after the new country was born.

Historians are less certain of my origin. Yet, no one doubts my existence. I was
created out of necessity to serve as the emblem of a people whose experiment in
nationhood was as unique as the arrangement of my stars and stripes.

I have proved my adaptability to change. I've accommodated growth. I've stood up to
time and troubles. I fluttered in the Fall air with General Washington and his loyal
French allies at Yorktown. My fabric was shredded by cannonballs from British frigates
in the War of 1812 and I was carried in triumph by Andy Jackson at New Orleans. The
British could see me clearly in the mists of "dawn's early light," waving from the
standards at Fort McHenry.

I've witnessed turmoil and bitterness, even lost some of my glory in mid-century in a
war between brothers, but I was restored as a nation's emblem at Appomattox.

I traveled West with the new frontier. I flew from the headlamps of the Iron Horse in
Utah. I was with the prospectors at Sutter's Mill, with the cavalry against cattle rustlers, with the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill.

I crossed the Marne with the doughboys anxious to make the world safe for democracy.
I was with brave GIs storming the beaches at Normandy. I was raised over a shell-pocked hilltop at Iwo Jima and I stood by the grim-faced negotiators at Panmunjom. I was on that last helicopter from Saigon and with the men and women of Operation Desert Storm.

I have been around in victory and defeat. I've seen pleasure and pain. I was raised
over the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I've been folded smartly by
soldiers and handed to weeping widows. I've covered the coffins of those who've served
country and community.

I also decorate bandstands and concert halls. I am saluted in parades, in schools
and at ball parks. I am part of political campaigns, high holidays and ice cream socials. I fly from skyscrapers and bungalows. I've been to the moon and the ocean floor.

I am everywhere my people are. I am saluted and, occasionally, scorned. I have been
held with pride and I have been ridiculed, because I am everything my people are: proud, angry, happy, sad, vengeful, argumentative, ambitious, indifferent.

I was created to serve a people in struggle and a government in change. There are
now more stars in my blue field than there were in the beginning and, if need be,
there's room for more.

But, those red and white stripes remain as they've always remained, clearly visible
through the struggle -- the symbol of the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

I am your past. I am your future. I am your flag.

by Bob Nelson
KYW Newsradio 1060
Copyright 2002, Infinity Broadcasting Corp.
All Rights Reserved.

You can listen to a recording of Bob Nelson's meditative tribute here.

Francis | 6/14/2004 01:15:00 PM | Comment |

Monday, May 24, 2004  

What these texts, taken together, demonstrate is that Nazism involved far more than a gang of thugs taking over state power. National Socialism was an entire Weltanschauung that penetrated every aspect of German life, including art, industry, technology, medicine, nutrition, health, and psychology. It was a culture of death par excellence ....

The distinguished and perceptive scholar Jean Bethke Elshtain on several recent historical and analytical studies in her review article The Nazi Seduction, writing in the current issue of Books & Culture, a publication of Christianity Today.

Francis | 5/24/2004 03:39:00 PM | Comment |

Saturday, May 22, 2004  

It's been two years since I entered the first posts here. Other interests and demands have often asserted their priority during those months, but the venture has given me opportunity for reflection and exchange that wouldn't otherwise have come my way.

The first post here, on the feast of Saint Rita, was the motto of the Venerable John Henry Newman: Cor ad cor loquitur. And so it's been, heart speaking to heart. I'm grateful to those, many of them listed among the blogs on the right, whose words have inspired and comforted, and whose witness to the Way, the Truth and the Life that is our Lord Jesus has been an edification.

How comfortable is the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. How good it is to remember the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. And speaks to us of Him who saves.

More about Jesus would I know
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

Francis | 5/22/2004 02:07:00 PM | Comment |

Friday, May 14, 2004  

Ulysses was written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1842. A fair number of the lines passed into common allusion, and it wasn't so many years ago that it was one of those poems that, because of its quality and its theme, was frequently memorized and declaimed. There aren't as many Tennysonians around as once there were, of course, but Kelsey Grammer is one of them and it was deeply pleasing to the others in his audience that the television series Frasier ended with his reciting some of this very fine and evocative poem.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vest the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads- you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Francis | 5/14/2004 12:35:00 AM | Comment |

Wednesday, May 12, 2004  

She'd be a strong contender in a contest for most annoying television personality, and her standard of integrity would be at home on a used car lot. Miss Couric adds to her irritating qualities an apparent belief that her publicity flaks are correct and that everyone likes her. She's been a large part of the orgy of self-celebration that NBC has made of the end of the television series Friends and Frasier and I saw a bit of her show last night. I expected that she'd be both obvious and cheap. But there was no excuse for her snide allusion to John 1. Some things should be safe from the pawing of her grubby little hands.

Francis | 5/12/2004 01:02:00 PM | Comment |

Monday, May 10, 2004  

There's almost certainly an element of laziness in the coverage which, considering the importance of the question, is itself deplorable. But there also seems something more than misleading shorthand at work. Many of the country's newspapers and pundit talking heads appear to be using their coverage of questions of Church membership and discipline as an opportunity to encourage religious strife. The Roman Catholic Church is said to oppose stem-cell research. Office holders and politicians are said to be counseled by their bishops to oppose stem-cell research.

Research on stem cells is not, has not been claimed to be, morally objectionable. It is the deliberate killing of the donor that is morally wrong. That is not a distinction without a difference.

Francis | 5/10/2004 12:09:00 PM | Comment |

Tuesday, May 04, 2004  

Review in First Things (March 1999) of a book by Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the newly-elected president of the University of Notre Dame. The news and the link come courtesy of The Shrine of the Holy Whapping.

Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas. By John I. Jenkins, CSC. Cambridge University Press. 267 pp. $59.95.

Father Jenkins of Notre Dame’s philosophy and theology departments has written a truly revolutionary book. Most who encounter the Summa Theologiae see a maze of questions, articles, objections, responses, and replies; hence the temptation to turn Aquinas into a textbook on philosophy, theology, morals, and even science. He is accused of creating a "system" of philosophy, which can be opposed to other systems of philosophy and found superior (or, by his critics, quite deficient). Jenkins shows that the Summa is not a system that provides categories of thought, but an attempt to ground all our thoughts about God and his creation in our participation in God’s mind. According to Aristotle, for mere knowledge to be called episteme (roughly, "understanding") requires that we understand the causes of things better than we understand their effects. Jenkins argues persuasively from substantial textual evidence that Aquinas was after episteme: he wanted to understand God, the Cause of all things, better than he understood creation. What’s more, he wanted to view creation through his understanding of God. Along the way to proving his thesis, Jenkins rewrites the book on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics (his reading, and his devastating criticisms of Oxford’s influential Jonathan Barnes, set the standard for such scholarship) and he shows how even the most decorated of contemporary "philosophers of religion" (Plantinga, Stump, Penelhaum, et al.) grossly misread Aquinas. Through careful scholarship and tightly argued readings, Jenkins does that rarest of things—he says something truly new about what we thought we long ago understood.

On Sunday, May 2, two days after the election of Father Jenkins, Father Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., who served as executive vice president of the University of Notre Dame during the 35 years of the presidency of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, died at Holy Cross House on campus. Father Hesburgh administered the last rites of the Church on Saturday evening. Father Ned Joyce was 87.

Francis | 5/04/2004 01:12:00 AM | Comment |

Saturday, May 01, 2004  

It's usually more by good luck than good management, but I almost always have good seats for the plays and concerts that I want to see. But ordering tickets the other night was even more successful than usual. Michael W. Smith will be coming to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Fairmount Park in August, in concert with Mercy Me. Many of the folk who attend will be lounging on blankets on the grassy hillside that still commands a good view of the stage and performers, and those tickets will be distributed without charge, as is true of all concerts held at the Mann each summer. That's where I was most of the time, when I was in school and college, but now I pay the freight and get to sit indoors. And most of the seats are quite good. But this. I had a choice between aisle seats in the fifth row of the orchestra and the best seats in the premier balcony box.

The Mann Center is a couple of miles from Memorial Hall, site of the great exhibition celebrating the Centennial of American Independence, and is named for Fredric R. Mann, one of Philadelphia's eminent philanthropists and civic figures during the second half of the last century. And an important figure not only in the cultural life of Philadelphia. Mann Auditorium, the home of The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv, is also named for him.

I last saw Michael W. Smith in concert when he was touring after the release of his great CD Worship. The CD was released on September 11, 2001 and the concert in Philadelphia was only a couple of weeks later. It was a wonderful night of praise and fellowship, made even richer in the shadow of the terrible events of that month, and I'd be looking forward to the concert at the Mann even were the seats not as good as they are.

Francis | 5/01/2004 11:30:00 PM | Comment |

Tuesday, April 27, 2004  

Plep makes a habit of finding treasures. Here's one from Georgetown University.

The American Mission: Maryland Jesuits From Andrew White to John Carroll

In the fall of 1976, the Special Collections Division produced this major exhibition as a feature of the University's celebration of the bicentenary of the American Revolution. The emergence of the internet now permits us to share again the riches of our origins.

The story of the Jesuits of English-speaking America is largely forgotten. They came to Maryland only shortly after their better-known brothers reached Canada and more than fifty years before Eusebio Kino travelled north to California. But they had no romance. The dreams of a new Christian empire, of a European system translated whole onto the American wilderness, were not theirs, nor did they find the heroic martyrdoms of an Isaac Jogues or a Jean de Brébeuf. In their day they published no annual letters, and no historian since has imparted to their story the epic vigor with which Francis Parkman chronicled the Canadian Jesuits.

Yet this small group of men laid stronger foundations for Catholicism in America than did the Spanish in California or the French in Canada. This exhibit, by recapturing some of that forgotten history, offers a glimpse of the world of those gentlemen of Maryland who, but for a few Franciscans, were the whole of the Catholic Church in British North America. British in culture themselves, they made it possible for the Irish and later Catholic immigrants to adopt the Anglo-American culture without leaving their faith. John Carroll, the first national leader of the Church in America, emerged from this group and helped shape its evolution in the early national period.

Francis | 4/27/2004 12:11:00 AM | Comment |

Saturday, April 24, 2004  

The Mystery of the Eucharist is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured.

Needed and welcome, it was good to hear Francis Cardinal Arinze present Redemptionis Sacramentum, the Vatican instruction on the Eucharist. And there was a fitting chronological coincidence when, in addition to the presentation of the norms and instruction, Cardinal Arinze, no novice in speaking truth to power, also defended the right of the Church to define the discipline of those who claim membership and communion with her.

Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty. Yet God has not granted us in Christ an illusory liberty by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do that which is fitting and right.

On the same date in 1073, Hildebrand of Tuscany became Pope as Gregory VII. His reign was marked by extraordinary efforts of reform and strong defense of the rights of the Church against the power of the Emperor. Dilexi justitiam, et odi iniquitatem, propterea morior in exilio, he murmured as he lay dying in Salerno. I have loved justice, and have hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile. Exile, though, only to the limits that Caesar was able to enforce and, even in exile, still pilgrim, still faithful. And welcome in the house of his Father.

Francis | 4/24/2004 12:13:00 PM | Comment |

Thursday, April 22, 2004  

The last week has brought a succession of warm days to Philadelphia and I took advantage of the bright sunshine and warmth of Monday to travel by train the sixty miles to Atlantic City. The train clings to the side of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge hundreds of feet above the Delaware River as the trip starts and it makes good time passing through historic towns like Camden and Haddonfield and moving at speed across the level fields of New Jersey, through acres of scrub pine in soil getting sandier by the mile. The day was so warm that it was a surprise at last to see the marsh grasses still in winter browns and greys.

There was a chill in the sea air despite the sun, but walking on the shore was a treat, picking up pebbles and watching the swells and breakers. There's been a lot of beach restoration over the winter and protective dune-building on such a scale that the ocean isn't visible from some sections of the boardwalk that runs the length of the city. Well-designed boardwalks are good and easy underfoot, and the boardwalk in Atlantic City is certainly that. But it's best to look only eastward, sandward, oceanward. On the other hand is the culture of the casinos, and the trinket shops and palm readers that cluster near them. Donald Trump's name is on three of the casinos, including Trump Taj Mahal, an almost inconceivably vulgar building, at the same time garish and tawdry.

I don't know whether gambling on chance is intrinsically vicious or can be pursued without guilt, but it's certainly true that the Enemy has throughout history made destructive use of the activity and its environment. It's not one of my particular temptations, so it's best that I avoid any inclination to see it as especially blameworthy. And on aesthetic grounds alone it's objectionable. I walked through another of the Trump buildings, seeing the dazed and almost slack-jawed heavily represented among those sitting round-shouldered before their slot machines. The machines are of many different kinds, recalling Dryden's line about all the sad variety of hell.

Returning to fresh air came as a relief, and I spent a few minutes in the stone colonnade of the memorial to John F. Kennedy, dedicated forty years ago when the Democratic Party held its convention in the city the summer after the assassination of the president. Ask not what your country can do for you ... is there, with a bronze head and shoulders in relief. EvAngelos Frudakis hadn't yet reached his full powers as a sculptor, but there's something here that hints of the nobility and power of his later work, The Minuteman in Arlington, e.g., symbol of the National Guard, and The Signer at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

A good and fruitful afternoon, warm and pleasant, worth the trip. And, after more walking and ocean-gazing, a highlight. I'd never seen New Jersey's Korean War Memorial and I came upon it almost without warning, a few steps down from the boardwalk at Park Place. The memorial is oriented away from the boardwalk and toward Brighton Park, a wise decision on siting, giving a sense of quiet and repose, an opportunity for thought and gratitude. There are panels dedicated to each of New Jersey's four Medal of Honor recipients from that war and there are sculptures of soldiers with the signature of pain and loss, of duty and weariness, on their faces. The sculptures of Thomas Jay Warren are bronze, traditional, heroic, moving. The epigraph is from Robert Pinsky:

less eager than willing, more dutiful than brave,
brave when required, Democracy's children, they gave
their service far from home, and saw they came
as victors, not conquerors, in freedom's name

Francis | 4/22/2004 03:01:00 PM | Comment |

Wednesday, April 14, 2004  

[D]ying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate . . . but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.

--- Frederick Douglass, in the oration delivered at the unveiling of the Lincoln monument, Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1876. The dedication of the monument took place on the eleventh anniversary of the shooting of President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre on Good Friday in 1865.

Francis | 4/14/2004 11:00:00 PM | Comment |
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