President Trump to speak at the March for Life

Kimberly Leonard reports that President Trump will speak to the March for Life tomorrow, becoming the first president to address the rally in person in its 47 year history:

President Trump will deliver an in-person speech on Friday at the March for Life, an annual rally held in Washington protesting the legalization of abortion.

Trump will be the first president in history to appear at the march, one of the highest-profile events of the anti-abortion movement. March for Life is in its 47th year, having taken place every year since the passage of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Last year, Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise appearance at the march before roughly 100,000 attendees. The president also gave a message of support for the cause to attendees through a live video.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the organizing group, celebrated the announcement in a statement, saying Trump had been loyal to the anti-abortion movement.

“From the appointment of pro-life judges and federal workers, to cutting taxpayer funding for abortions here and abroad, to calling for an end to late-term abortions, President Trump and his administration have been consistent champions for life and their support for the March for Life has been unwavering,” she said. “We are grateful for all these pro-life accomplishments and look forward to gaining more victories for life in the future.”

It’s a fact that President Trump’s appearance will ensure that every future Republican president will be expected to rally at the March for Life in person, and that’s long overdue. Terrisa Bukovinac, my friend from Pro-Life San Francisco, offers her thoughts as a Democrat:

The liberal leader expressed her support of the President’s appearance, despite their differences.

“Although Trump and I don’t agree on much, we do agree that the horror of abortion is the most pressing human rights issue in America today,” stated Bukovinac via e-mail.

“Trump’s willingness to draw the media to this historic event is an important move, regardless of our profound disagreement.”

“It would be fantastic to juxtapose Trump with a prominent national pro-life Democrat,” said liberal pro-life leader Bukovinac. “But until the 72 percent of Democrats who want abortion restricted stop voting for pro-choice extremists, we will continue to have to rely on right-wing leadership to draw attention to the March for Life.”

The beauty found on earth

Jessica Hooten Wilson writes:

At the top of Mount Purgatory, Dante is reunited with his paramour Beatrice, only the reunion is anything but romantic. She acknowledges that Dante’s desire for her “was directing [him] to love the Good/ beyond which there’s no thing to draw our longing” (2.31.23-24). God was drawing Dante to himself through Beatrice’s beauty, and he drew Dante up the mountain by inspiring the pilgrim with the memory of Beatrice’s eyes. Yet, she demands to know why Dante turned away from God after her death. After her beauty returned to ashes, did Dante not realize the fleeting beauty of mortal things? The beauty found on earth is meant to draw us towards its source and completion in him.

We must protect beauty where it is found, cultivate beauty in this world with a higher purpose than our own pleasure. Our aesthetics—just like our morals—must be trained. You can think something is beautiful and be wrong; beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. In The Beauty of the Infinite, CLJ contributor David Bentley Hart reminds us that beauty is objective. He writes, “In the beautiful God’s glory is revealed as something communicable and intrinsically delightful, as including the creature in its ends, and as completely worthy of love; what God’s glory necessitates and commands, beauty shows also to be gracious and inviting.” The beautiful must be “worthy of love,” “gracious,” and “inviting.” We cannot look at a urinal with a name sharpie-marked and call it beautiful, for the object does not invite us to recognize God’s loving grace. Yet, we can walk into Notre Dame cathedral and feel his invitation to be loved. We can sit atop a cliff and look out over the sea and know that all creation is a gift. From this perch, we can call the scene before us, “beautiful.” Just as we should not possess those persons that we find beautiful, nor should we consume the beauty around us. …

We miss the mark when we cultivate ugliness, devalue beauty, or use beauty for our own satisfaction. …

There is no reason for the world to be beautiful. It is God’s gratuitous showering of grace that beauty exists. As Joshua Gibbs points out, “As far as ‘use in the real world’ is concerned, the things we love tend to be useless. God Himself is useless.” To say God is useless is not to say that God does not matter, but the opposite. God matters most: He is the end and thus cannot be used for anything. Beauty turns us away from the sin of prioritizing use and reminds us to enjoy.

Isn’t that perfect? “God was drawing Dante to himself through Beatrice’s beauty…”

We’re not drawn to the beautiful for utilitarian reasons. We cannot “do” anything with the beauty we encounter in the Pieta, or the Mona Lisa, or the smile of our brother or sister. But we can enjoy them, and in the enjoyment we have to wonder:

What does this enjoyment suggest? What does it point toward? What is its source?

And it’s the same for the creation of the beautiful itself, where the heart naturally asks at a certain point: What is the cause of inspiration?

One who breaks an unjust law

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here’s MLK on the difference between just law and unjust law:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. …

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. …

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws. …

Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
April 16, 1963

Alexandria for an afternoon

I had thought earlier in the week of a hike today, but the weather is cold and windy enough that I changed plans. I headed to Old Town, Alexandria for Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary and then headed to Village Brauhaus to spend time with a friend and catch up.

It’s a great thing to be able to do and see so much in and around Washington with relatively little trouble.

The political task of Christians

What if we woke up one day only to realize that what we thought we knew of the world was wrong?

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes that our knowledge of the world, and the way we think, is flawed in a very particular way:

No one has written more insightfully nor critically about secularism than the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. His classic book, For the Life of the World, is not only a primer on the meaning of the sacramental life, but primarily, a full-blown confrontation with the great heresy of secularism. Secularism is not the rejection of God, but the assertion that the world exists apart from God and that our task is to do the best we can in this world. Fr. Alexander suggests that the Church in the modern world has largely surrendered to secularism. “The Church’s surrender,” he says, “consists not in giving up creeds, traditions, symbols and customs…but in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation.”

He is not alone in this observation. The Protestant theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, says much the same thing:

“…the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world. One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church. Big words like “peace” and “justice,” slogans the church adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know what “Jesus Christ is Lord” means, they will know what peace and justice means, are words awaiting content. The church really does not know what these words mean apart from the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, Pilate permitted the killing of Jesus in order to secure both peace and justice (Roman style) in Judea. It is Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to make itself credible.”

The extent to which we have all been secularized is easily measured by just how strange these statements by great theologians sound. The Church has surrendered because it promotes the value of “helping?” The Church does not exist in order to make the world a better place? These have been common themes in my writing (and I easily acknowledge my indebtedness). But when I have said, “We will not make the world a better place,” my articles are met with a torrent of dismay. I offer here more of the same.

Hauerwas makes the clear point that the word “better” has no meaning apart from the story of Jesus, or certainly no meaning that Christians should agree to. Schmemann goes so far as to call the Church’s agreement to “help” the world (however the world wants to define that help) as surrender.

So what are we to do?

January scenes in Washington

It’s back to being January-like in terms of temperature—much more unpleasant to be walking around Washington. But all things considered I’m glad to walk and to be able to take in simple scenes like the two below this week, first on Dumbarton Street and the second facing Connecticut Avenue.

Looking forward to a quiet MLK Day weekend and the March for Life next week.

A snapshot of the health of American families

Lyman Stone breaks down some of the latest data on American families:

Nearly 4 in 10 children in America are not residing with their own two, married parents (biological or adoptive). This is according to the recently released 2018 American Community Survey, the largest annual social survey carried out in America. As recently as 1960, less than 2 in 10 children lived apart from two married parents, a reality which was approximately stable as far back as 1850. But while the present situation leaves many children bereft of the care, attention, and material benefits of a married household, it’s actually not as bad as it has been in the past: since 2014, the share of children living with two married parents has risen ever-so-slightly, from 61.8% to 62.3% in 2018, and data from early 2019 in the Current Population Survey suggest that 2019 will show further improvement. The period from 2011 to 2019 is the longest period of stability or improvement in children’s living situations since the 1950s. …

Overall, the decline in the share of kids growing up in married, two-parent households seems to have stopped for now, and there’s even been a modest recovery. But much of this change is purely compositional: Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial kids are growing as a share of children thanks to immigration and intermarriage, while African and Native American kids are not. As a result, the nationwide aggregate is improving. But among specific groups, the trends are less optimistic. Particularly for Hispanic and Native American kids, family conditions have deteriorated markedly over the last two decades.

Lyman goes into greater depth in his analysis, but the takeaway from my perspective is that there’s general reason for hope even as I suspect this stability might be a result of our healthy economy as much as any particular set of life choices within American families.

Lighter winter days

I took this photo as I was walking along K Street this morning. I had left the Catholic Information Center and was heading to Americans United for Life a few blocks away. It has felt like spring for the past week, and this morning it looked that way too.

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The days are starting to be noticeably longer, too. It’s great to be able to leave the office past 5pm and still have some light while walking home.

Visiting St. Ann’s

I visited St. Ann for Mass on Sunday. It’s a beautiful old church, celebrating its 150th anniversary. It’s up Wisconsin in Tenleytown, a ten minute or so drive north from Georgetown.

The Gospel on Sunday was Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism. It was a gift to see St. Ann’s beautiful mosaic of this scene.

Roger Scruton, RIP

He seemed bigger than the age.

Roger Scruton, rest in peace. There are so many tributes and memorials being shared to this man who embodied so much of England and possessed so many of the best instincts of the West. I had the chance to see him speak at Penn in 2017, and will remember that for a very long time. His thinking and his way of living have provided me with a great deal of surety about our culture and confidence in daily life.

Who was Roger Scruton? Why Beauty Matters helps answer this, as does Of Beauty and Consolation, as does How to Be a Conservative, as does this performance of his Lorca songs, set from the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca, murdered in the Spanish Civil War. And there’s his writing itself.

I’ll share a few excerpts of his and a few tributes that have been circulating. First, on the imperative to conserve:

“Conservatism … is the instinct we all ultimately share, at least if we’re happy in this world; it’s the instinct to hold on to what we love.”

And: “The real reason people are conservatives is that they are attached to the things that they love, and want to preserve them from abuse and decay. They are attached to their family, their friends, their religion, and their immediate environment. They have made a lifelong distinction between the things that nourish and the things that threaten…”

And: “Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.”

What makes Scruton’s conservative instincts remarkable is they did not arise from a lived experience; that is, that he was not born into the privileged place of a life already worth conserving, but the opposite. He speaks to this in his “Of Beauty and Consolation” appearance:

“I was very fortunate in having an unhappy childhood, so that my desire from the very beginning was to escape from it. My childhood home was one of violence and quarrels and discord. Perhaps, of course, this has given me an underlying sense of something missing and that I must recreate it.”

Second, from his book The Face of God on beauty and the transcendence that lies beneath beauty:

“The sense of beauty puts a brake upon destruction, by representing its object as irreplaceable. When the world looks back at me with my eyes, as it does in aesthetic experience, it is also addressing me in another way. Something is being revealed to me, and I am being made to stand still and absorb it … What is revealed to me in the experience of beauty is a fundamental truth about being—the truth that being is a gift, and receiving it is a task.”

Third, a reflection on incarnation and death, and the otherworldliness we intuit when we encounter the body of the dead. Those are moments where we can acknowledge the sacred nature of that moment or desecrate what we encounter:

Death too presents us with the mystery of our incarnation, though it does so in another way. In death we confront the body voided of the soul, an object without a subject, limp, ungoverned and inert. The awe that we feel in the face of death is a response to the unfathomable spectacle of human flesh without the self. In fact, the dead body is not so much an object as a void in the world of objects—something that ought not to be there, since it ought not to be there as a thing. The sight is uncanny, unheimlich, and demands to be rearranged—though rearranged metaphysically, as it were, so as to heal the void. Hence in all societies the dead are treated with reverence: they become untouchable, precisely in the moment when the self retreats from them. Somehow this body still belongs to the person who has vanished: I imagine him as exerting his claim over it, but from spectral regions where he cannot be touched. In encountering death, therefore, our imagination reaches spontaneously towards the supernatural. The dead body, by becoming sacred, exposes itself also to desecration—a fact upon which the drama of Antigone turns. Just as sex and death provide us with two of our primary experiences of the sacred, therefore, they also present us with a primary threat of desecration.

Here is Chad Pecknold’s tribute: “Sir Roger Scruton has died after a long battle with cancer. A champion of conservative ideas, eloquent defender of the civilizing effect of procreative realism, who made an argument for God from a life of meditating upon beauty. Requiscat in pace.”

And here is Scruton: “The psalmist goes on to remind us of the remedy: ‘Be ye sure that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.’ This sentence contains all of theology.”

He concluded his public life with this“Coming close to death you begin to know what life means, and what it means is gratitude.”