Friday, July 29, 2022

A Perennially Powerful and Necessary Devotion

This Sunday, the anniversary of the death of Saint Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) marks the conclusion of this Ignatian Year commemorating the 500th anniversary of Saint Ignatius Loyola's redirection of his life. That crucial conversion experience was associated with Ignatius' period of convalescence in his family's castle, in what is now a chapel where I have twice been privileged to celebrate Mass (photo) and venerate the relic of the saint's head. (The celebration of this special Ignatian Year began in Pamplona, Spain, over a year ago on May 20, 2021, the actual anniversary of Ignatius' injury during the Battle of Pamplona.)

As was announced several weeks ago on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, as part of Sunday's solemn conclusion of this Ignatian Year, Fr.. Arturo Sosa, the current Jesuit General, will rededicate the Jesuit order to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a deeply rooted Catholic devotion which has long been especially associated with the Jesuits.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has its origins in the Church's contemplation of the wounded Heart of the crucified Christ, from which poured blood and water (John 19:34), seen as  the wellspring of the Church's sacraments (Preface of the Sacred Heart). In his influential encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart (Haurietas Aquas, 1956), Pope Pius XII considered the Sacred Heart "the chief sign and symbol" of Christ the divine Redeemer's love for his Father and for all human beings.

The Jesuits actively promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart both before and after their tragic suppression. In 1853, Sosa's predecessor as Father General, Peter Jan Beckx, consecrated the Society to the Sacred Heart. Thirty years later, the Jesuits' 23rd General Congregation  decreed: "We declare that the Society of Jesus accepts and receives with a spirit overflowing with joy and gratitude, the gentle burden (munus suavissimum) that our Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted to it, to practice, promote and propagate devotion to His most divine Heart” (Decree 46).

On June 9, 1972,  the Jesuit General Servant of God Pedro Arrupe renewed the Society's consecration to the Sacred Heart, which he said makes Jesuits know the person of Christ more intimately and makes them more authentically Ignatian companions of Jesus. For over a century, the Jesuits have promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart in a particular way through the Apostleship of Prayer (since renamed the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network), in accordance with the 26th General Congregation, Decree 21, in 1915.

Shortly after his election, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope, referred the Sacred Heart as "the greatest human expression of divine love" and "the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy," a symbol "which which represents the center, the source from which salvation flowed for all of humanity" (Angelus Address, June 9, 2013).

Thus, the great 20th-century liturgical scholar Louis Bouyer observed: "The focusing of Christian contemplation on the Sacred Heart was certainly motivated by an authentic sense of that deep unity of all Christianity in the unity of the Mystery itself as being, finally, the revelation of divine love made to us in the wounded and glorified Humanity of our Lord" (Liturgical  Piety, 1955, p. 331).

Historically, the Jesuits were the great opponents of Jansenism, and the devotion to the Sacred Heart was (and is) a profound counter to that pernicious early modern heresy. As Pope Pius XI noted in 1925, "the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, which had made their hearts grow cold, and shut them out from the love of God and the hope of salvation" (Quas Primas, 23).

In fact, in this world in which there is so much suffering, sadness, injustice, and alienation, there may be many, emotionally explicable reasons why people may lack confidence in God's love for them. Jansenism insidiously offered an intellectual rationalization for such feelings. As the blogger Joseph Heschmeyer has written: "It’s not just that Jansenism got the details of predestination or contrition or sacramental reception wrong. It’s that Jansenism got God wrong, in a fundamental way that many of us still get him wrong today" (Shameless Popery, June 12, 2021). 

That the Divine Person of Jesus has a human heart, the human attribute we symbolically associate with love, compassion, and mercy, is God's permanent response to all such distortions. Thus understood, this mystery of the Divine Person of Jesus' human Heart is how Christian faith answers the seemingly unavoidable suffering, sadness, injustice, and alienation of human life. Hence the perennial power of this doctrine and practical devotion.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Another Worrisome Consequence of Our "Civil-Military Gap"

When military service is compulsory, the burden is indiscriminately and equally borne by the whole community. This is another necessary consequence of the social condition of these nations, and of their notions. ... Amongst democratic nations the private soldiers remain most like civilians: upon them the habits of the nation have the firmest hold, and pubic opinion most influence. It is by the instrumentality of these private soldiers especially that it may be possible to infuse into a democratic army the love of freedom and the respect of rights, if these principles have once been successfully inculcated on the people at large.                                  - Alexis deTocqueville, Democracy in America, volume 2 (1840), chapter 23.

On November 17, 1967, a New York Times reporter asked former Vice President and likely future Republican Presidential candidate Richard Nixon about the military draft, which had been a dominant feature in American life for most young American males since World War II. Nixon replied, "I think we should eliminate the draft and move to an all-volunteer force.” The next day, the Times proclaimed, “Nixon Backs Eventual End of Draft.” Candidate Nixon thus became the most prominent public figure to champion the creation of an all-volunteer American military. Eventually, under President Nixon, the military draft effectively ended, and the U.S. officially moved to an all-volunteer military.

At the time, many of us thought that this was a clever political move, in that much of the opposition to the Vietnam War (and by extension opposition to much of U.S. foreign policy in general) had been associated with the draft and so with a population which was, in effect, politically pacified by the elimination of this increasingly threatening danger to their lives and careers. The lessons from history and political theory about the potential dangers posed by standing professional armies to republics and the increased likelihood of military adventurism were recalled here and there by historians and political theorists but largely lost in the competition for attention amidst the unholy alliance or right and left against conscription and in favor of the all-volunteer military. 

Since then, the all-volunteer military has widely been deemed a great success. Unlike a conscript force, the contemporary U.S. military, made up of able and willing volunteers, is competent, well-trained, and educated, and is truly professional. While these are not particularly democratic or egalitarian values, they are very much those of the modern technological-industrial state. Early on, however, a certain social and class divide became increasingly obvious, and the experience of decades of far-away wars fought by a tiny minority of the nation has highlighted what has been labeled our "civil-military gap," a gap which has highlighted and class and cultural divisions in our society and further threatened the fragile and fraying social fabric of our country. 

Meanwhile, another disturbing trend has emerged. According to CNN, 21 of the first 150  arrested in the immediate aftermath of the January 6, 2021, insurrection attempt were  military  veterans or current military. According to CBS, of the more than 700 individuals charged by the end of 2021, at least 81 were former or current U.S. military. Moreover, as the U.S. has experienced a rise in extreme right-wing and white supremacist sentiments and activity in recent years, the military itself may be increasingly infiltrated and compromised by such elements, and there seems some reason to believe that some domestic extremists may intentionally aspire to recruit military veterans. Indeed, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee plans to hold a hearing on the recruitment and involvement of veterans in extremist groups as a potential threat to "the very core of our democracy and national security." The hearing is expected to include testimony from veterans' advocates and from experts on violent fringe groups. Meanwhile, the January 6 committee's hearings have highlighted investigative interest in allegations that some elements in the Secret Service seemed to support the Trumpist insurrection. Carol Leonnig, author of a major book on the Secret Service (Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service, 2021) has suggested that some may even have cheered on the insurrection on their personal media accounts. And, of course, we now know about former Vice President Pence's alleged distrust of some secret service agents who wanted him to get into a get-away car on January 6.

DeTocqueville famously observed that military officers in aristocratic societies "retained a strict connection with civil society, and never forego their purpose of resuming their place in it sooner or later." In democratic armies, in contrast, "the officers contract tastes and wants wholly distinct from those of the nation," whereas it is the enlisted men (whom de Tocqueville consistently called "private soldiers") who retain the connection with civil society, to which they purpose to return. Historically, however, and contrary to deTocqueville's expectations, the U.S. has had democratically oriented career officers, who identify with the values of civil society, and it was such officers (e.g., Mattis, Milley) who served as significant "guardrails," protecting constitutional government and democratic norms from Trump. On the other hand, again quite contrary to deTocqueville's expressed expectations, it seems that at least some in the ranks may seem increasingly disconnected from constitutional and democratic values and susceptible in some case to extreme right-wing and white supremacist sentiments and activity. This is a by-product not just of having a professional, non-conscript military, but of the consequent "civil-military gap" in a time of extreme affective political polarization.

There is today, obviously, absolutely no serious political prospect of restoring conscription, and the worrisome "civil-military gap" is here to stay. All the more need, therefore, for vigilance in regard to the widespread rise and insidious spread of extra-constitutional, anti-democratic ideologies and movements.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Monk, Priest, Man of the Church (The Book)


Even as climate change is making our contemporary world increasingly uninhabitable, I have used some summer downtime to reread Sonya A. Quitslund's Beauduin: A Prophet Vindicated (NY: Newman Press, 1973). I first read Beauduin back when it first came out (49 years ago in 1973) when I was a grad student, who had never yet heard of Beuaduin. Nor had I heard of my future novice-master, the ecumenist Fr. Thomas Stransky, who wrote the book's Forward while President of the Paulist Fathers, a religious community with which I was likewise completely unfamiliar at that time. Quitslund's book was the first - and perhaps still the only - full-length, English-language biography of Don Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960), the great 20th-century Belgian monastic liturgist who was also one of the pioneering figures of the ecumenical movement on the Catholic side.

Born into a religious, but politically liberal, landed Belgian family, Beauduin was ordained a priest of the diocese of Liège in 1897. He soon became involved in a fraternity of priests committed to sharing social experiences with and evangelizing members of the increasingly de-christianized working class, which highlighted his conviction that a priest "is to give the truth and divine grace to people through the liturgical rites, preaching the celebration of feasts, and retreats." 

Then, in 1906, Beauduin became a Benedictine monk at Mont César Abbey, north of Leuven (Louvain), where he discovered the beauty of liturgically-oriented spirituality. This led to his active immersion in the early 20th-century Belgian liturgical movement, which emphasized restoring the Sunday parochial High Mass with full participation (something we still seem to have trouble achieving today). He wrote:

"The parish is the normal organism created by Holy Church to develop in the mystical body of Christ this collective life and perfect unity which gives it its strength. Regular and active participation at the same altar by the full and solemn assembly of the whole parish family, especially on the Lord's Day, constitutes the first and indispensable source of this parish life."

Quitslund highlights the difference between the liturgical renewal Beauduin advocated and liturgical reformation: 

"He structured his movement on the principle that the liturgy belonged to the Church; hence he took it as she offered it and urged that it be known, understood, and carried out as it was - that is, as it was meant to be." His movement was definitely not about advocating a vernacular liturgy but was "a preservative force to restore full meaning and significance to the gestures, texts, and chants of the ancient tradition." A particularly significant aspect of his work "was his emphasis on the risen Christ, the unique priest who here and now accomplishes our liturgy."

The Great War and German occupation (1914-1918) totally disrupted Beauduin's monastic life. Belgium's heroic Primate, Cardinal Mercier, employed Beauduin on special espionage missions both in Belgium and abroad. (He even used an alias, Oscar Fraipont.) He spent the later part of the war in Britain, where he became acquainted with the future Bishop Bell, one of the pioneers in the Anglican ecumenical movement. In 1921, he became Professor of Fundamental Theology at Sant'Anselmo, the Benedictine House of Studies in Rome, where his liturgical enthusiasm expanded into increasing interest in Eastern Christianity. He also contributed to the unprecedented Anglican-Catholic Malines Conversations (convoked by Cardinal Mercier), during which he concluded that the Anglicans "should be united to but not absorbed by Rome - in much the same way as some Eastern Catholics had preserved a definite liturgical and disciplinary autonomy while yet being united to Rome."

In 1925, Beauduin founded an experimental bi-ritual Benedictine monastery at Amay, devoted to "(1) an indirect apostolate of prayer, propaganda and study, and (2) a more direct one of hospitality, with temporary sojourns abroad in Oriental monasteries and Oriental foundations." (In 1924, Pope Pius XI, in Equidem Verba, had encouraged the Benedictines to work toward reunion of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, with particular emphasis on Russian Orthodoxy.) The monastery also published a scholarly journal, Irénikon.  But Beauduin personally and his ideas were quite controversial in the 1920s. After Pope Pius XI's 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos, which censured ecumenical efforts, Beauduin was forced to step down as Prior and leave Amay. Worse still, he was subjected to a secret ecclesiastical trial in Rome in January 1931. Eventually, he was even forced to decline a position at the Belgian Royal Library and accept two years exile at the austere Benedictine monastery of En Calcat. His response to ecclesiastical injustice "revealed the depth of Beauduin's obedience and humility and the strength of his Christian optimism."

Finally free to leave En Calcat in 1934, he began 17 years of "Parisian Exile," during which he served as chaplain of two communities of nuns and in 1943 collaborated in the founding of France's Centre de pastorale liturgique. After the war he renewed his friendship with the new Nuncio to France, Angelo Roncalli, whom he correctly predicted would be elected as the next pope, and with whom he had many conversations - among other things about the need for another ecumenical council to complete the unfinished work of Vatican I, something he had been thinking about since at least 1907. During this period, he got to see Rome's increasing endorsement and sponsorship of the liturgical movement to which he had devoted so much of his life and work."To the very end, his love of the Roman liturgy and his conviction of its capacity to function as a valid and efficacious channel of grace in the twentieth century remained unshaken."

In 1951, he was finally permitted to return to his Belgian monastery, now moved from Amay to Chevetogne. Familiar with both diocesan and monastic life, he appreciated both and sought to promote a new model of "diocesan monastery." Meanwhile, he contributed to the newly authorized inter-confessional encounters then taking place. and he lived to see not only the election of John XXIII but his announcement of the Second Vatican Council. Full of ideas for the coming Council, Beauduin wrote: 

"there is the priestly power of the Church that sanctifies the faithful. She does it by her prayer and her liturgy. As long as the people will not think with the Church and will not live with her the mysteries of the paschal cycle and the Sundays, as long as they will not pray with her, nothing will be done. The council should have for its objective the revitalization of this great prayer."

Beauduin died at Chevetogne on January 11, 1960. Pope Saint John XXIII said to his secretary, "we were both there in spirit," at his burial. Over his grace are the words Monachus Presbyter Vir Ecclesiae (Monk, Priest, Man of the Church).

Beauduin was "a practical theologian," who "lived and wrote not for a scholarly elite but for the Church." His "central doctrine" focused on the body of Christ, emphasizing both the humanity of Christ and his mystical body. A deficient Christology seemed to him to explain the weaknesses of 19th-century ecclesiology. "No matter how one approaches Beauduin's ecclesiology, Christ is always at the center - either in his glorified humanity, or in the eucharist which makes his humanity accessible to man, or in the priesthood which makes him present in our midst as priest and victim." 

Always prioritizing the liturgy over modern devotions, he saw in the Christmas liturgy an "emphasis on the social and collective nature of the redemptive mystery inaugurated through the incarnation," and emphasis which "clearly established Christ as the source of the new relation between God and humanity." Given that nowadays Christmas may be for many the only remaining link with the classical Christian calendar, this may be an area which would warrant further exploration.

Another area of increasing contemporary relevance would seem to be Beauduin's treatment of the Trinity, which he experienced as "three very real and very personal relationships." He wrote:

"The action of Christ in the present phase of the realization of the great plan of the Father is to send us the Holy Spirit - that is, to transmit to us his whole life and all his riches  by the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church, in the sacraments, and in the souls of the faithful."

Ever the liturgist, Beauduin emphasized how the Holy Spirit takes possession of us through the sacraments, especially the eucharist. Interestingly, he campaigned in particular for two liturgical reforms, which he believed had once been standard Church practice and which he felt would foster true eucharistic piety - concelebration and the distribution of communion during Mass. And he lamented the lack of pontifical liturgy at Rome, something which should have become possible once again given the 1929 resolution of the Roman Question. He understood how the East interpreted the absence of a pontifical liturgy at Rome as diminishing the concept of the church as the Body of Christ in the Roman Church.

Beauduin's biography brings us back into the religious and social ferment of the 20th-century and how the Church sought - with some surprising success - to respond. For all the secular challenges of that era, it produced a genuine flowering of religious renewal which our precarious present can only look back upon with envious admiration. That things haven't exactly turned out the way Beauduin had hoped could perhaps have been anticipated in how his particularly liturgical focus and priorities got lost in the decades after his death. As Quitslund notes, Beauduin "intended to encourage the layman to lead a more demanding Christian life rather than to discourage him from even trying."

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Better Part


Many of us are familiar with the famous 14th-century Russian icon which portrays Abraham’s three visitors as the three persons of the Trinity. Christians have long looked for hints of the Trinity in this familiar story, which highlights how God himself was communicating directly with Abraham in a scene which simultaneously suggests both God’s closeness and his mysteriousness.

Meanwhile Jewish tradition has frequently focused more on highlighting the 99-year old Abraham’s openness to others as expressed in his generous, extravagant hospitality. In Jewish tradition, Abraham is said to have kept his tent open on all four sides, so he could see someone approaching even at a distance and thus rush to offer hospitality, as he does in this scene, offering first water for washing, then bread and meat for food. (Incidentally, there is also a tradition that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was as hospitable and generous as he was. She took care of women visitors and stayed up at night in her tent making clothes and other items for the poor who might appear at the entrance of her tent.)

The liturgy pairs this familiar story of Abraham’s extravagant hospitality with that of Jesus’ close friend Martha. Several weeks ago, we heard Jesus say the Son of man has nowhere to rest his head, but that seems to have been a bit of an exaggeration, because he clearly did have friends, among them Martha and her family, who obviously had sufficient means to host him in their homes. In all pre-fast-food societies, meals were an important bonding experience, as well as a source of needed rest and nutrition. There was no rest for Martha, however, who burdened with much serving, seems to have resented her sister, Mary’s sitting still, listening to Jesus speak. In any social group, some people eagerly step up to take responsibility, while some seem content to let others do the work. In seminary, we used to refer to the workers as “Marthas” and the shirkers as “Marys.”

As he so often does in the Gospels, Jesus here reverses our normal notions of what is important and valuable, saying somewhat strangely Mary has chosen the better part. Are we to assume that Jesus and his disciples weren’t all that hungry and didn’t care about dinner? I doubt it! I think Jesus wanted and expected to be fed and fully appreciated all the work Martha was doing on their behalf. But, while dinner is definitely important, dinner isn’t everything.

Jesus warns Martha about being anxious and worried about many things – a lesson maybe even more important and timely to us in our workaholic society with its profit-oriented understanding of what counts as worthwhile, with its profit-oriented understanding of time well spent. Jesus surely appreciated Martha’s hospitality – as Abraham’s visitors did. But he, like Abraham’s visitors, was no ordinary guest, and this was no ordinary dinner party. Just as Abraham, after all his frenetic activity, had finally to settle down and wait under the tree to hear what his visitors had to say. So too Martha needed to calm down and learn to listen.

If a time-traveler were to visit us from some earlier era, perhaps the first and most jarring thing he or she might sense would be the sheer noise that envelops us all the time. Modern-life is one big noise-making machine, which weighs us down even more than Martha’s housekeeping burdened her. It is hard for us for find the time or the space to listen – to listen to one another, to listen to anyone at all, let alone listen to God. Much of what passes for politics today is just largely rival factions talking past one another, seldom if ever pausing enough to hear one another and try to listen and learn how the other side sees the world.

Both Abraham and Martha served their guests well, as we are called to serve one another’s needs as well as we can. But the ultimate prerequisite for a life well lived is learning to listen – listening to one another and above all learning to listen to God, who speaks to us in many and various ways, through many intermediaries as with Abraham, and through Jesus his Son as he did with Martha and does here and now with us in his Church.

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY NY, July 17, 2022.


Thursday, July 14, 2022

Another Account of the GOP Swamp

Currently a staff writer at the The Atlantic, Mark Leibovich previously spent a decade as the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, based in Washington, D.C., whose political culture he notoriously profiled in the 2013 New York Times bestseller This Town. Now he has brought the same story-telling and personality-profiling talent to yet another account of our long national Trump nightmare, Thank You for Your ServitudeDonald Trump's Washington and the Price of Submission (Penguin, 2022), focusing particularly on the GOP and how the Republican party collaborated with Trump, turning the party into a dangerous sycophantic personality cult.

As everyone remembers, back in 2015 and into 2016, Republican "establishment" leaders and presidential hopefuls were one in their disdain for candidate Trump - until he won. Not necessarily converted privately, but rather, as some conceded to Leibovich, "in on the joke," Republicans greater and lesser, all desperate to preserve their "relevance," readily did whatever it took (and still takes) to maintain their position, at the cost to the country of enabling and empowering the most dangerous president in American history.

The title of the book is obviously a pun on the widespread one-liner used to show appreciation (real or pretend) to veterans, that small minority of Americans who have actually shouldered the full responsibility and burden of citizenship. Replacing "service" with "servitude" says clearly what this pseudo-appreciation of Trump's Republican sycophants is largely about.

Leibovich employs the literary device of composing his account as a view from Washington, DC's Trump Hotel, "his flagship payola palace at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue," which Leibovich calls "a one-stop destination for all the busy parasitic suck-ups who made the Trump-era swamp work for them. This was a tidy operation in an untidy time. The age-old D.C. sport of self-dealing, social climbing, and self-promotion had never enjoyed such a garishly centralized arena." Throughout, the author's focus falls less on Trump himself (already the subject of so many accounts) than on those "busy parasitic suck-ups," like house Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whom he quotes "Never Trump conservative Bill Kristol" as calling “the piano player in the House Republican brothel.” Thus his approach is to tell the story "through the supplicant fanboys who permitted Donald Trump’s depravity to be inflicted on the rest of us." He wants "to catalog their descents into servitude as they made their deals and swallowed their pride, such as it was."

In the process, of course, he recounts the by-now familiar story of Trump's rise and the Republican Establishment's fall, "the insane fantasy that an all-powerful Republican 'establishment' could swoop in and impose its will," the woeful fact that, in Al Franken's words, "celebrity trumps ideology." That said, he also want to recognize "the idea that someone like Trump was what change had to look like in American politics today given the perverse state it found itself in. Perhaps it took one joke to expose the other, long-marinating joke, the one that both parties in Washington had been perpetrating on America for decades." It is a paradoxical fact that for many voters "Trump was refreshing in that it felt as if he were telling them the truth. I heard this time and again: that Trump was a truth teller, despite his lying." Indeed, Trump's "main appeal," to some seemed "as a tool of revenge."

This is, as I've already suggested (and the author himself acknowledges) somewhat familiar ground. Hence the heart of his story remains what he calls a "symphony of sycophancy," of which "the unquestioned maestro" was Vice President Mike Pence, whose story highlighted "his capacity for opportunism and careerism."

Leibovich is especially effective in highlighting the contrasts to this overwhelmingly dominant Republican behavior. "But we also know, thanks to the example of Ukraine, what true sacrifice, valor, and patriotism look like. The country has provided a stirring reminder: a brave president who truly is “fighting right there with you” alongside his people, and in pursuit of a great and vital cause." While Trump was still in office, such contrasts were provided by the two funerals the punctuated the Trump presidency - that of Senator John McCain in August 2018 and that of President George H.W. Bush in December. Among other things, he makes the interesting observation (which could perhaps serve as yet another principled argument for aristocracy) that "how politicians who descend from famous lineages" — not just McCain and bush, but also the likes of Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney — "tend to place greater weight upon notions of history and reputation than others who do not." 

In contrast, for the figures featured in this account, such considerations seemed significantly absent. "I once asked Kevin McCarthy some variation on the 'Do you worry about how history will judge you?' question, and he looked at me as if I had three heads." And this typically revealing quote from Rudy Giuliani, "“I don’t care about my legacy.” Leibovich sees such sentiments as expressing what he calls the "resigned nihilism" that "had overtaken the GOP." thus, Trump's first impeachment process highlighted "the sad state of the Washington 'debate,' such as it was," in which "Trump’s Republican attendants barely bothered to contest the most basic claims of wrongdoing against their proprietor."

Leibovitch's sense of apocalyptic danger is well captured by the longtime Republican senator from Wyoming, Alan Simpson, now 90, whom he quotes as saying, “We’re not really talking about common sense or even politics anymore in my party.” he describes Simpson as "beside himself at what he calls 'the tragedy of what has occurred' at the hands of 'this vicious animal who has poisoned our democracy'.”

Leibovitch's gripping account of "the accomplices who make Trump possible" provides a compelling challenge to all political actors (including those whose political action is confined to voting) to rediscover a commitment to authentic politics in this increasingly apocalyptic time.


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

An Emperor for All Ages

Today the Church commemorates Saint Henry II, who lived from 973 to 1024. Also known as "Saint Henry the Exuberant," he succeeded his father as Duke of Bavaria in 995, became King of Germany in 1002, King of Italy in 1004, and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014 (image).

Henry II supported service to the Church and promoted various monastic reforms. He strongly enforced clerical celibacy, fostered missionary activity, and establshed several charitable foundations for the poor. Wishing to become a monk, he ordered the Abbot of Verdun to accept him in his monastery, whereupon the Abbot ordered him, in virtue of the vows he had professed, to continue ruling his empire. Henry II fulfilled his duties believing that temporal power was given by God to serve the good of the people. He was canonized in 1147, and is the only Holy Roman Emperor commemorated in the universal Roman-Rite Church calendar. His wife, Empress Cunigunde, was canonized in 1200, making them among the handful of married couples who are venerated as saints by the Church.

As an Emperor, Henry highlights the special virtues associated with being a statesman, with exercising political power in the world.

As committed Catholic Christians, we also share with our fellow citizens in the benefits and the responsibilities of citizenship in 21st-century society. What resources does our faith offer us to participate in civic life? What lessons from centuries of Catholic spiritual and intellectual tradition and the experience of Catholic history can we share with our fellow citizens? What can we do together to promote the common good and care for our common home? The evident seriousness of the issues facing present and future policy makers make it all the more essential for us to take part in these important debates and to bring to them the particular perspectives of our rich Catholic faith and experience.

The New Testament emphasized that our religious obligations to God, while always absolute in themselves, do not cancel out our membership in civil society and our resulting obligations to the political community we all share. In this traditional understanding, political choices – such as whom or what party to vote for, who should benefit from tax policies, what to spend on and what to cut in the budget, and how to relate to other nations and states in the world community – all such choices are ultimately moral choices that express what we value. Such choices identify whom we care about enough to include (or not), and highlight what kind of nation (and world) we want to be.  As Catholics and citizens, we need to be particularly attentive to this dimension of political decision-making. As Catholics and citizens, we need to respond to the challenges of voting and other political choices in a morally serious way that transcends simplistic sloganeering and emotional appeals to narrowly defined secular identities and group interests. While we may freely choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we share a common moral obligation to help build a better world through morally acceptable means.

Homily for the liturgical memorial of Saint Henry II, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY, NY, July 13, 2022.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

"Devoted to the Great Wants of the Country"

On this date in New York City in 1858, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, together with three other ex-Redemptorist priests - Augustine Hewit, George Deshon, and Francis Baker - founded the Paulist Fathers. At their 2022 General Assembly, the Paulist Fathers reaffirmed their community’s appreciation of Isaac Hecker’s holy life and heroic virtue, and said they continue to be inspired and directed in our discernment by Hecker’s own experience and his continuing influence.

Already anticipating the outcome of his Roman appeal of his expulsion from the Redemptorists,, Hecker had written to his colleagues from Rome the previous September 1857, asking them to consider forming “an independent band of missionaries, to be devoted to the great wants of the country.” Encouraged by the success of his appeal and armed with Blessed Pope Pius IX’s personal blessing, Hecker returned to New York on May 10, 1858, and joined the other ex-Redemptorists at his brother George Hecker’s house.
“Our aim,” Hecker wrote in a letter to a friend, “is to lead a strictly religious life in community, starting with the voluntary principle; leaving the question of vows to further experience, counsel, and indications of divine Providence.” Even so, Hecker would later write in an unpublished essay Personal Sanctification of the Paulist and His Standard of Perfection, "yet we are none the less wholly given up to the divine service. The true Paulist should be a man fitted to take the solemn vows at any moment.”
Thus, in their Programme of Rule & Constitution, which they and New York’s Archbishop John Hughes signed on July 7, 1858, thus forming The Congregation of Missionary Priests of S. Paul the Apostle (now named The Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle), the four committed themselves “to promote their own sanctification by leading a life in all essential respects similar to that which is observed in a religious congregation” and “to practice the three religious virtues of chastity, poverty, and obedience.” Three days later, the Archbishop signed another agreement, creating a new parish in Manhattan for the new community’s ministry. A year later, the new parish got off to a rousing start with its first Paulist mission, which began on December 18, 1859 (Hecker’s 40th birthday), and was attended by some 725 adults and 75 children. The Hecker of those early years those early years was remembered as a very hands-on pastor - checking that the altar cloths were changed weekly and the candles trimmed evenly, that fresh flowers were put on the altar daily, and that the pew doors were all shut after Mass.
Hecker’s priorities during this period were primarily pastoral and missionary work. When a volume of sermons preached at Saint Paul’s was published in 1861, a reviewer noted that they made no reference to the “exciting topics of the day.” In a New Year's Day sermon preached at Saint Paul the Apostle in 1863 ("How To Be Happy"), Hecker asserted: “I have nothing to do with those causes which lie in the mercantile or political world; for the sanctuary is not the place for the discussion of these questions.”
That, of course, was during the American Civil War, when the consequences of those “exciting topics of the day” could hardly be easily avoided. In fact, in that same sermon, he continued: "If you mean … that the earth is hateful and the world nothing but sin; that the soul is wholly depraved, and life is only another word for misery; then we reply, no; a thousand times, no! The Gospel we preach is not one of gloom and despair, but of glad tidings and great joy. The Creed we hold teaches us to 'believe in God the Father Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and all things visible and invisible'.”
That same year, in his famous sermon on Saint Joseph ("The Saint of Our Day"), the doctrine contained in which he later described as “the groundwork of all my thoughts, actions [and] plans,” he said: "Our age lives in its busy marts, in counting-rooms, in work-shops, in homes, and in the varied relations that form human society, and it is into these that sanctity is to be introduced. … For it is the difficulties and hindrances that Christians find in their age which give the form to their character and habits, and when mastered, become the means of divine grace and their titles of glory."                                                                                                                               
Through such sermons and in his speaking and writing generally, Hecker self-consciously sought and promoted images and models of holiness which he believed resonated well within the new context created by what he saw happening in the changing world of the 19th century. Far from being a simplistic accommodation to the secularizing spirit of the modern age, Hecker’s efforts represented a renewed missionary commitment to his contemporary time and place.
Hecker’s constant preoccupation with emphasizing the compatibility of Roman Catholicism and American values and institutions and his invitation, already expressed in an 1857 letter to his colleagues, “to adapt ourselves to accept what is good in our social and political customs and institutions" represented not a call for conformity to secular culture, but rather a definite evangelizing strategy, an expression of missionary vitality. He was convinced that the same Holy Spirit who spoke in his own heart and in human hearts in general simultaneously spoke through the Church, and that the evangelization of American society through missionary action aimed at the conversion of citizens would benefit both Church and civil society.

Looking back on Hecker’s ideas from the vantage point of the present, we can appreciate his consistent commitment to call American Catholics to the fullness of their mission to evangelize their society and – to that end - to enhance the quality of Church life, to build up the Catholic Church in the United States. If anything, we may be even more apt to appreciate today the importance of improved internal Church community life for the effectiveness of its mission outward to society.

As the Paulist Fathers' 2022 general Assembly declared: At the heart of Paulist spirituality is an unwavering hopefulness that sees the sacred present in the contemporary context in which the mission of the Church is set. Faithful; to the charism of our founder, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, Paulist mission, rooted in this hopefulness, trust that the Holy Spirit is not only present in the modern world, but is actually breathing life into all things.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Independence Day


I have long maintained that there are two truly American holidays. Thanksgiving Day (in late autumn) looks inward to the heart and soul of America, and so is celebrated at home, at table, among family and friends. Then, Independence Day (in summer) looks outward to the world of nations and states, and so is celebrated (as John Adams said it should be) “by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

In the 1760s, colonial elites objected to paying their fair share of taxes to cover the cost of keeping North America British rather than French. Many American colonists also objected to the British policy which restricted the colonists' expansion west into Native territory. Many also fiercely opposed the Quebec Act of 1764 by which the British government had maintained the Catholic Church's status in the formerly French territory. By the mid-1770s these economic and religious resentments had developed into a full-scale armed rebellion. And in July 1776 representatives of the rebellious faction, expressing their "decent respect for the opinions of mankind," declared "the causes which impel them" to independence from Great Britain. 

It has been estimated that they represented perhaps 1/3 of the colonists, another 1/3 remaining loyal to the legitimate government in London, the rest probably waiting to see how things turned out. Among those who fought for the British were many enslaved African-Americans, who correctly discerned which side was more to their advantage. (Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834 - three decades ahead of the U.S.)

How things turned out was determined militarily, as such issues of sovereignty and borders almost invariably are, by victory in war. The war for independence was a long war, won in the end thanks to the military and naval support of King Louis XVI of France, who saw an opportunity to weaken his British rival. Many of the "loyalists," as they came to be remembered, went north to what remained of British North America and helped populate what became English-speaking Canada. Others accommodated themselves to the new realities and joined in building this new country.


Old conflicts about whether to be British or American gave way to new battles about crafting a constitution, conflicts between "federalists" and "anti-federalists." A series of great and small compromises cobbled together a badly flawed but amazingly resilient constitution. Our “more perfect union" got off to a hopeful start under the providential leadership of George Washington, whom his former sovereign, King George III, reportedly called "the greatest man in the world." But conflicts continued, as Hamiltonian Federalists fought Jeffersonian Republicans. If I could go back in time, I am sure I would be a Hamiltonian and vote for John Adams, never for the aristocratic landowner and pseudo-populist Jefferson. That said, Hamiltonian nationalism and Jeffersonian populism both survived and in various ways have animated American political debates and divisions ever since.

There was one other division, of course, which predated the constitution, predated independence - America's "original sin" of slavery, which finally brought the young, socially and economically energetic, relatively egalitarian republic to an impasse, to be resolved, as such conflicts tragically tend to be resolved, by another war, in this case a traumatic Civil War. A decisive victory in 1865 should have resolved the conflict; but, after a short interval of relatively successful "Reconstruction," the defeated confederates were allowed to regain power and reimpose a racist regime, which would take yet another century to be dismantled - and even now remains a force to be reckoned with in the hearts and minds of too many.

Meanwhile millions of newcomers, many unwanted, came to this new nation, seeking mainly freedom from want but in the process embracing other freedoms as well. When we celebrated our national Bicentennial in 1976, I was struck by how the celebrations in New York that day were as much about this country's diverse immigrant experience as about anything that had happened in Philadelphia in 1776. Although what had been proclaimed back then in Philadelphia had been amazingly assimilated by the immigrants, the nation had itself assimilated generations of new arrivals, creating a country uniquely based more on an aspirational civic identity than on a static racial or ethnic one. 

But, of course, those racial and ethnic divides have remained real, to the detriment of our acquired civic identity. And, especially in times of stress (as recent events have demonstrated), demagogic appeals to the militarily defeated but still living religion of white supremacy still have power to undermine our unfulfilled national unity promised by our unique civic identity.

This July 4, now 246 years later, that same "decent respect for the opinions of mankind" demands a continued accounting, a continued resolve to attend to the unfinished business of both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, to fulfill that promise of "a more perfect union" proposed by the Constitution, a promise first turned into a possibility by the transformed Constitution created by the Civil War.


It is always challenging to reexamine our history - just as challenging as it is to reconsider our own personal stories. We are all always more comfortable with whatever versions of our national and personal stories we have gotten used to telling ourselves. But, however awkward, it is a perennial challenge to be faced – all the more so when we really take seriously our citizenship in the kingdom of God and how the additional demands of God’s kingdom alter all our other commitments, all our earthly and civic loyalties, all our ethnic and national histories, all our personal and racial stories.


Catholics, of course, have a long history (going back many centuries) of thinking seriously about how to relate faith to civil society – a long tradition of practical wisdom which we need to take seriously both as disciples and as citizens.


What resources does this history offer to help us heal our civic life this Independence Day? What lessons have we learned from the past, and what can we do together – now - both to promote the common good of our country and to care for our common home this planet earth?

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Go - Together

The familiar story in today’s Gospel [Luke 10:1-12, 17-20] in which Jesus sent the 72 disciples on a kind of practice run for what they would later be doing full-time after his ascension reminds us that announcing God’s kingdom is what we are all about, that announcing God’s kingdom constitutes the Church’s essential mission – in every age and in every society.

Jesus, we are told, sent the 72 in pairs – not as solitary individuals, but in pairs. Jesus sent his disciples out on mission in pairs, not just because a group effort would be more effective but because of the greater witness value of non-competitive, collaborative life and work. In the Middle Ages, Saint Dominic discerned the special witness value of such an apostolic manner of life to renew and revive the Church in his time and place. In the 20th century, the Second Vatican Council likewise highlighted how such an evangelical life witnesses to God’s kingdom at work in the world through the Church.

In today’s climate of predatory individualism, a dead-end into which our consumerist culture seems increasingly capable of absorbing even religion itself as well as so much of the Church’s life, the renewed witness of personal conversion and authentic community cannot be underestimated. Our American culture is tragically one which places a lot of emphasis on our private, individual lives and private, individual freedoms. But, on this Independence Day Eve, the Gospel reminds us today that we are never isolated, solitary selves, but a community of faithful people, formed by the Holy Spirit into one Church, the body of the Risen Christ, to continue his mission in every town and place.

Jesus commanded his disciples to make a difference in their world. So, if we really mean what we say we believe, then what we do in our many relationships and multiple commitments – in our families and among friends, at work or at school, in civil society, and in the wider world – must make a difference and be recognizable as such. Jesus expects us to be on the same side with him – on the side of God’s kingdom. Being on God’s side, having our names written in heaven (as Jesus says), frees us to join Jesus in making a real, recognizable difference in an always challenging, sometimes somewhat welcoming, but also sometimes sadly inhospitable world. It frees us to tell – and retell – the story of Jesus, to speak his word to any and all, so we too can say to the country and the world we love: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY, July 3, 2022.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Tim Miller's Regrets (the Book)


Early in Why We Dild It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell (Harper Collins, 2022), former Repuiblican political consultant Tim Miller tells a story that effectively captures the picture he is painting of the modern Republican party. He recalls how "the RNC for years has been sending out unconscionable mailers to every elderly conservative in America. These letters are made up almost exclusively of hyperbole and ad hominem and conspiracies. They add absolutely zero to the political discourse. But they “work” in the sense that they are effective at keeping the olds upset so that they continue sending in their Social Security money." At one point during his time working at the RNC he was tasked with “approving” these mailers. He struck out whatever he thought would be embarrassing if it fell into the hands of a reporter. "One day I was summoned to the chief of staff’s office, and we had a standoff over how much to cut, which the fundraisers won and I lost (of course). As long as the mailers were “working” and money was coming in, the boss figured there was no reason to rock the boat, unless I could prove that this was likely to yield bad press. I tucked my tail and rubber-stamped whatever nonsense they sent through, figuring that if it did become a controversy, I had already said my piece." 

The point of Miller's telling this story is two-fold. First, "the fact that at no point in the dispute was there a discussion of whether we should be sending out a letter that was filled with lies and slander. Or the ethics of snaffling a few quid from the Greatest Generation. That was just the baseline. This letter was part of the Game. The only judgment call the chief of staff was asked to make was to balance whether the donations would be worth the potential embarrassment. And the answer was yes." Second, that he was a willing collaborator in that behavior. Regarding that long-term danger, he notes that the "standoff" he had with the RNC chief "looks quaint in comparison to what is the standard operating procedure of basically every political campaign and committee in the country today—on both sides. They all just accept without hesitation that wheels-off missives about how the end is nigh if the other team wins are not just kosher but required."

That story is one of many which illustrate the fundamental theme of this book, succinctly stated in the Introduction: "America never would have gotten into this mess if it weren’t for me and my friends." This "is a book about the people who submitted to every whim of a comically unfit and detestable man who crapped all over them and took over the party they had given their life to. It’s about the army of consultants, politicians, and media figures who stood back and stood by as everything they ever fought for was degraded and devalued. The people who privately admitted they recognized all the risks but still climbed aboard for a ride on the SS Trump Hellship that they knew would assuredly sink."

One motive for doing this, for participating in this appalling form of politics seems to be the sheer excitement of it all - "Getting calls. Feeling important. Remaining relevant. Being In The Mix." Decades ago, when I was in graduate school, such people and their antics were routinely looked down upon from the olympian heights of political philosophy and academic scholarship, although (then as now) I recognized the element of jealousy in that disdain toward those consultants, staffers, and other operatives who were actually having an impact in the wider world (and also seemed to be enjoying it). There is, of course, a long and honorable tradition, going back to Plato, of service as counselors to those who wield actual political power. Miller's book merely confirms the enormous abyss between such philosophical fantasies and the contemporary political swamp.

Miller presents himself as one of those smart, cool characters, who can be expected to thrive in such settings.  He highlights how for those "who worked primarily in campaigns or political jobs in D.C.," it is “the Game” that separates what they do from what the “wonks” or “careers” or lawyers do. "We specialize in strategy, tactics, messaging, advertising, opposition research. Slaying the enemy. Winning the race. They undertake the mundane business of governing," where apart from "the foreign policy arena and the high-stakes world of diplomacy and international intrigue, there is not a lot of sex appeal in 'governing'.”

Miller's description of the evolution of the Republican party during the year's he actively worked in politics is well known. It is the familiar tale of "how the Republican ruling class dismissed the plight of those we were manipulating, growing increasingly comfortable using tactics that inflamed them, turning them against their fellow man. How often we advanced arguments that none of us believed. How we made people feel aggrieved about issues we had no intent or ability to solve. How we spurred racial resentments and bigotry among voters while prickling at anyone who might accuse us of racism. And how these tactics became not just unchecked but supercharged by a right-wing media ecosystem that we were in bed with and that had its own nefarious incentives, sucking in clicks and views through rage hustling without any intention of delivering something that might bring value to ordinary people’s lives."

What is actually most telling in this account is how he characterizes the different types who engaged in this sort of activity and the motivations he ascribes to their remaining into and through the Trump era. "This brings us to our second, more complex psychological journey. After our past sins were anthropomorphized into an Archie Bunkeresque president, what to make of those who saw his defects clearly and went along anyway?" Miller uses various picturesque terms to categorize them - Messiahs and Junior Messiahs, Demonizers, LOL Nothing Matters Republicans, Tribalist Trolls, Strivers, Little Mixes, Peter Principle Disprovers, Nerd Revengers, Inert Team Players,  Compartmentalizers, and Cartel Cashers. 

Some of the personal stories about some of these various types of characters are interesting, although after a while the pattern is familiar and they all tend to merge into one common and increasingly unattractive picture. It is a devastating indictment of the Republican party and of the party establishment class of which Miller was for so long a part. But it is also a deeply wounding indictment of the whole enterprise of the so-called "Game" of professional political consultants, campaign staffers, and other political operatives. The pseudo-intellectual, academic snobbery some of us absorbed back in grad school in the 1970s may have been a nerdy cultural snobbery based in large part in jealousy, but it turns out it also wasn't all that off the mark!