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  • Tom Farr, President Emeritus of the Religious Freedom Institute, writes:

    Speaking at a Manhattan interfaith breakfast on March 2, Mayor Adams delivered some street-wise constitutional analysis: “Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state. State is the body. Church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies.”
    Shocked by this apostasy, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote that his “alarming remarks can only give aid and comfort to right-wing Christian nationalists.” Writing for the New York Times, Dana Rubenstein described the event as “surreal” and quoted a New York rabbi who called Adams’ statement “unhinged and dangerous.” …

    Rubenstein helpfully explained, “The phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the Constitution, but the First Amendment’s statement that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’ has been widely interpreted to dictate such a separation.”

    “Widely interpreted,” that is, by those who wish to ban unacceptable religious views from American public life. Separationism entered our public lexicon with Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter asserting a “wall of separation between church and state. The wall, he averred, prevented clergy from engaging in politics.

    According to scholar Philip Hamberger, the separation idea garnered little support until later in the 19th century when Irish and other Catholic immigrants began to flood east coast cities, bringing with them the Mass and parochial schools. The wall of separation was adopted by nativist political parties and led to the 19th century Blaine amendments, designed to prevent state aid to Catholic schools.

    Only in a 1947 Supreme Court decision, however, did the “wall of separation” enter serious constitutional discourse. Since then, numerous Court decisions have either endorsed or rejected versions of separation.

    Mayor Adams is correct. The Constitution erects no wall of separation between civil and religious powers.

  • Jean-Luc Marion, professor emeritus of philosophy at the Sorbonne and retired professor of Catholic studies, the philosophy of religions, and theology at the University of Chicago, in an interview with Commonweal in December:

    KW: You also point to the paradoxical nature of the Beatitudes and many other sayings of Jesus, the paradox being that we cannot turn them into a moral code, much less a sociology. What, then, are we to do with them?

    JLM: Part of the power of those paradoxes is that we cannot do much with them. It is as if Jesus is showing us how much his way of thinking of God differs from ours. And that that is how the Father thinks. But it is beyond our grasp. The point of the paradox is to make it clear that we all have a long way to go. We are not yet Christians.

    KW: You say something similar about miracles. You write of miracles as we find them in the gospels that “they offer us the purest examples of phenomenological givenness.” Many people have trouble believing in miracles. And yet, you don’t.

    JLM: Well, with a question like that, you have to go to the history of philosophy first, and deconstruct it a bit. The conception of miracles is a very modern concept. Miracles were discovered, so to speak, in the seventeenth century, not only among English philosophers like Locke and Hume, but also many in France. During that period, to have a miracle you had to have two conditions. First, that there are rules or laws of nature that are universal and unbreakable—no exceptions. Second, that a miracle is an exception to the rules of nature.

    KW: So miracles were, by definition, irrational.

    JLM: Yes, during the Enlightenment in France, there were even Catholic thinkers like Nicolas Malebranche who explained miracles by saying that in the past, God produced miracles because people were so stupid that God had to impress them with tricks. But now that we are rational, there is no need for miracles.

    KW: What’s different now?

    JLM: Today, we no longer have such laws of nature. We have only competing theories in fundamental physics and so on, but no unified rules.

    KW: But we also have statistics that imply certain regularities in nature, don’t we?

    JLM: Statistics give us approximate interpretations of laws of nature, not laws that are absolutely certain. Even in philosophy, I don’t know any serious philosopher today who endorses the position that there are a priori concepts like laws of nature. Not in phenomenology certainly, and not in analytical philosophy since the end of logical positivism, which was once so dominant here at the University of Chicago.

    KW: So where does that leave the question of miracles?

    JLM: In our postmodern society, I would say a miracle is something that apparently contradicts what we assume to be probably the rule. In fact, the category of miracles can be used, quite apart from religion, for anything that is exceptional, unexpected, or unexplained, but nevertheless makes sense and is trusted by people. It is simply a certain kind of what I call “events,” a certain kind of phenomenon.

  • Fran Maier reflects on fatherhood, how his relationship with his father continues in some sense even a half century after his father’s death, and what it means to be a father to a son. Excerpts:

    In my father’s tears were forty-two years of love, marriage, sacrifice, failure, and trying again; of never being able to tell my mother enough that he loved her; of struggling through the Depression together and then pouring out their lives for their kids; of having, at the end of it all, just each other. The story of two people is only really known by God and themselves. And every marriage sealed by love, whatever its mistakes and stumbles, is better than the best novel, because it’s real. …

    I’ve learned that father love is a hard love; hard because a father is rarely understood by his son until the son too is a father. So much of a father’s love can seem stern; so often a child sees no further than a father’s discipline. But ask around: The father who says he likes being tough on his kids is a liar. Fathers want to be loved, and too often they’re lonely. …

    The role of the father is to give; and through that giving to overcome, little by little, the selfishness and ingratitude that come so easily to every child.

    Like marriage, I’ve found fatherhood to be a bracingly real new state in life. The reality of God’s love is revealed to you in a way that is totally unearned every morning, when you wake up to the cries, smiles, and talk of your son. You savor the challenges of day-to-day in a way you couldn’t have imagined before. And this savoring comes from the awesome realization, repeated daily and very similar to waking up next to your wife, that—incredibly—I get to live this life.

    We’ll never be able to properly show the depths of our love to our spouse or to our children, but we can strive to live in a daily way that points to God and anchors our lives in our Lord’s promises. God is the author of goodness and the source of whatever strengths we have in this life. A strong father knows this and lives it.

  • St. John Chrysostom’s homily on Ephesians contains advice for fathers and sons:

    “Let everything be secondary with us to the provident care we should take of our children, and to our bringing them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4). If from the very first he is taught to be a lover of true wisdom, then wealth greater than all wealth has he acquired and a more imposing name. You will effect nothing so great by teaching him an art [i.e. a profession], and giving him that outward learning by which he will gain riches, as if you teach him the art of despising riches. If you desire to make him rich, do this. For the rich man is not he who desires great riches, and is encircled with great riches; but the man who has need of nothing. Discipline your son in this, teach him this. This is the greatest riches. Seek not how to give him reputation and high character in outward learning, but consider deeply how you shall teach him to despise the glory that belongs to this present life. By this means would he become more distinguished and more truly glorious. This it is possible for the poor man and the rich man alike to accomplish. These are lessons which a man does not learn from a master, nor by art, but by means of the divine oracles. Seek not how he shall enjoy a long life here, but how he shall enjoy a boundless and endless life hereafter. Give him the great things, not the little things.”

    “This it is possible for the poor man and the rich man alike to accomplish.”

  • Dr. Chad Pecknold appears on EWTN with succinct and poignant reflections on the late Pope Benedict XVI:

    If you don’t watch the above, read this excerpted bit from Dr. Pecknold reflecting on Benedict XVI:

    “The way in which the modern mind has been shaken by skepticism, in which we’re not really oriented to truth has been bad for people. It’s been bad for societies. And he awakened us to that. He awakened us to our need for truth, but also our need for God. And that societies need God just like souls need God. And that the fundamental orientation of our souls and our societies is liturgical—what is the direction of our worship? That’s what was really at the bottom of everything in Benedict’s writing: what is our fundamental orientation towards God in reality and how can we reflect that in our lives and in our societies? … We must raise up our worship. We must reorient our souls so that we’re not chasing after fashion but that we’re oriented towards the God who is love.”

  • Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has died in Rome at 95. Saint John Paul the Great was the Holy Father of my childhood, but Pope Benedict XVI was the first Holy Father of my adulthood. I saw the below excerpt shared on Twitter. It’s from the book Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, a conversation between then-Cardinal Ratzinger and journalist Peter Seewald. The future Pope Benedict XVI fires the heart:

    “Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.

    “I can understand that. There is a moral attitude at work here. But this attitude is nonetheless wrong. The loss of joy does not make the world better—and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good. Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. When it is the right kind of joy, when it is not egotistic, when it comes from the perception of the good, then it wants to communicate itself, and it gets passed on. In this connection, it always strikes me that in the poor neighborhoods of, say, South America, one sees many more laughing happy people than among us. Obviously, despite all their misery, they still have the perception of the good to which they cling and in which they can find encouragement and strength.

    “In this sense we have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately only faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and to be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to making sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news.” 

    Benedict’s spiritual testament is worth reading. He asks for our prayers:

    “If in this late hour of my life I look back at the decades I have been through, first I see how many reasons I have to give thanks. First and foremost I thank God himself, the giver of every good gift, who gave me life and guided me through various confusing times; always picking me up whenever I began to slip and always giving me again the light of his face. In retrospect I see and understand that even the dark and tiring stretches of this journey were for my salvation and that it was in them that He guided me well.

    “I thank my parents, who gave me life in a difficult time and who, at the cost of great sacrifice, with their love prepared for me a magnificent abode that, like clear light, illuminates all my days to this day. My father’s lucid faith taught us children to believe, and as a signpost it has always been steadfast in the midst of all my scientific acquisitions; the profound devotion and great goodness of my mother represent a legacy for which I can never give thanks enough. My sister has assisted me for decades selflessly and with affectionate care; my brother, with the lucidity of his judgments, his vigorous resolve and serenity of heart, has always paved the way for me; without this constant preceding and accompanying me I could not have found the right path.

    “From my heart I thank God for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the collaborators in all the stages of my journey; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I want to thank the Lord for my beautiful homeland in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, in which I have always seen the splendor of the Creator Himself shining through. I thank the people of my homeland because in them I have been able again and again to experience the beauty of faith. I pray that our land remains a land of faith, and I beg you, dear countrymen: Do not let yourselves be turned away from the faith. And finally I thank God for all the beauty I have been able to experience at all the phases of my journey, especially, however, in Rome and in Italy, which has become my second homeland.

    “To all those whom I have wronged in any way, I heartily ask for forgiveness.

    “What I said before to my countrymen, I now say to all those in the Church who have been entrusted to my service: Stand firm in the faith! Do not let yourselves be confused! It often seems that science — the natural sciences on the one hand and historical research (especially exegesis of Sacred Scripture) on the other — are able to offer irrefutable results at odds with the Catholic faith. I have experienced the transformations of the natural sciences since long ago and have been able to see how, on the contrary, apparent certainties against the faith have vanished, proving to be not science, but philosophical interpretations only apparently pertaining to science; just as, on the other hand, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith, too, has learned to understand better the limit of the scope of its claims, and thus its specificity. It is now sixty years that I have been accompanying the journey of Theology, particularly of the Biblical Sciences, and with the succession of different generations I have seen theses that seemed unshakable collapse, proving to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann etc.), the Marxist generation. I saw and see how out of the tangle of assumptions the reasonableness of faith emerged and emerges again. Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life — and the Church, with all its insufficiencies, is truly His body.

    “Finally, I humbly ask: Pray for me, so that the Lord, despite all my sins and insufficiencies, welcomes me into the eternal dwellings. To all those entrusted to me, day by day, my heartfelt prayer goes out.”

    There is speculation that Benedict XVI could be named a Doctor of the Church in the future.

  • Jeremy Wayne Tate shared a comparison of Noah Webster’s 1828 definition of education with Merriam-Webster’s 2022 definition. First, the 2022 definition:

    education noun

    1 a : the action or process of educating or of being educated
    b : the knowledge and development resulting from the process of being educated

    2 : the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in

    And here’s Noah Webster’s 1828 definition of education:

    EDUCA’TIONnoun [Latin educatio.] The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

    Which dictionary would you choose?

  • Matthew Walther writes on the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the consequence of the pro-life movement’s acceptance of subsuming “a clear moral question into the murk of judicial theory and political strategy.”

    Abortion, Walther writes, is the “state-abetted killing of hundreds of thousands of infants each year.” Yet an allegedly conservative U.S. Supreme Court delivered a decision in Dobbs premised on constitutional neutrality on abortion—and in this way it delivered a decision that would have been as explosive in 1973 as Roe v. Wade itself was. “No one believed abortion was constitutional prior to the Supreme Court deciding it was in Roe,” a friend told me recently. Yet the Supreme Court has advanced in Dobbs precisely that view: that the constitutional is compatible with what Walther calls “state-abetted killing” of preborn persons. Walther:

    For too long, too many members were more focused on overturning Roe v. Wade than on persuading the American people about the nature of personhood. This equivocation about means and ends, which subsumed a clear moral question into the murk of judicial theory and political strategy, has always given me pause.

    In the aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe, I am sad to report that my misgivings have been vindicated. The court’s decision may have been a great victory for proponents of states’ rights and a necessary prelude to ending abortion, but the pro-life movement appears less powerful now than it has in years. Certainly, the blithe assumption that the movement included an overwhelming majority of Republican politicians and voters was spectacularly mistaken. …

    It wasn’t always this way. In the early 1970s, opponents of abortion were often zealous activists like L. Brent Bozell Jr., whose anti-abortion sit-ins, explicitly modeled after those of the civil rights movement, were frequently denounced by the conservative press. After 1973, when Roe was decided, these opponents called for overturning the decision not simply because it was poorly reasoned and insufficiently grounded in the text of the Constitution, but because they regarded abortion as an unthinkable moral atrocity to which no one had a right, constitutional or otherwise. Roe may have been a weak piece of jurisprudence (as even many proponents of legal abortion conceded), but the ultimate goal of those who denounced it was not to rectify the state of the judiciary.

    These priorities should not have changed when the judicial philosophy known as originalism emerged as the most likely means of overturning Roe. But at some point during the intervening years, the wires got crossed.

    For decades now, originalism and opposition to abortion have been treated as synonymous by proponents and detractors alike. Pro-life organizations have routinely issued statements that are indistinguishable from originalist rhetoric in their denunciations of “judicial activism” and their emphasis on “the role of a Supreme Court justice, which is to interpret the Constitution without prejudice and to apply the law in an unbiased manner.” Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps the most prominent originalist, appears as a matter of course on lists of pro-life heroes, even though he maintained that democratic majorities could legitimately legalize abortion if they chose to do so.

    The pro-life movement is not the Republican Party and it should not be one and the same as the conservative legal movement. It’s conceivable that the Republican Party could one day become for the anti-abortion cause what it was for the anti-slavery cause, namely a wholly committed vehicle for social justice on an issue that appeared intractable. But the Republican Party is not that today, and neither is the conservative legal movement.

    When Americans United for Life filed our first Supreme Court amicus brief in Roe v. Wade, we explicitly argued for constitutional personhood. Yet this is a moral principle, to say nothing of a legal argument, that is now widely rejected within the conservative legal movement, as far as I can tell. I think it rejects this sort of argument because it has come to accept at least three premises of liberalism: First, that even unjust laws can and should carry the force of law. Second, that the Constitution functions without any grounding moral or metaphysical realities. And finally, that human will, or the strictly positive law, is all that there is.

    These three premises are fatal for a pro-life movement that would warm America’s heart to the brutal injustices of post-Roe abortion culture. Walther is writing about the imperative of moral persuasion and cultural change on abortion post-Roe, and that is truly important. But I think he is too quick to write off the importance of reforming how we think about the law and the judiciary, and the vision we cast for their priorities in the years to come.

    Little by little does the trick, and this is an important moment for the pro-life movement to renegotiate the terms of its political alliances if the aim is truly abortion’s abolition.