‘New men’

A great and strong passage from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s recent remarks in Phoenix, Arizona, specifically on “sex and the ‘new man'”:

Now because I made such a big deal about the importance of memory, some of you will remember that I also promised to talk about sex and the making of the “new man.” So I’ll finish with those two items.

Since most of you are familiar with those two little details called the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, I’ll mention the obvious things just briefly. Don’t cheat on your wife. Don’t put yourself in a situation where the idea would even occur to you. Don’t mislead and abuse women, and damage your own dignity as a man, by sleeping around before marriage. And if you’re already doing that, or did that, or you’re toying with the idea of doing it sometime in the future, stop it, now, and get to confession. Finally, don’tdemean your wife, your daughters, your mother and your sisters by poisoning your imagination with porn. It steals your time and your heart from the people who need them the most—the wife and family you love. Pornography exploits and humiliates women. And it dehumanizes men at the same time. God made us to be better than that. Our families need us to be better than that.

Those are some of the don’ts. The dos are equally obvious. Do love the women in your life with the encouragement, affection, support, and reverence they deserve by right. Dobe faithful to your wife in mind and body. Do show courtesy and respect to the women you meet, even when they don’t return it. Chivalry is dead only if we men cooperate in killing it—and given the vulgarity of our current national environment and its leaders, we certainly need some kind of new code of dignity between the sexes. Finally, those of you who marry, do have more children, and do invest your time and heart in them. America is facing a birth bust, and it’s a sign of our growing national selfishness. Children are the future. They’re the cement of love in the covenant of a husband and wife. They’re also an anchor to the imperfection and beauty of reality. They’re the single best antidote to selfishness.

Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and all the other blots on recent male behavior are merely a symptom of an entire culture of unhinged attitudes toward sex. Women are right to be angry when men treat them like objects and act like bullies and pigs. But a real reform of male behavior will never come about through feminist lectures and mass media man-shaming by celebrities and award ceremonies. In a lot of men, that kind of hectoring will merely breed nominal repentance and inner resentment. A man’s actions and words change only when his heart changes for the better. And his heart only changes for the better when he discovers something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires. In other words, when he becomes a new man.

That expression “new man” has an interesting past. In ancient Rome, the novi hominesor “new men” were men from the lower classes who earned or bought their way into public prominence and leadership. In a sense, they reinvented themselves. In the Renaissance, “new men” were humanists who made themselves indispensable as advisers to princes because of their literacy and scholarship—the tools of the new learning. But since the Enlightenment, and especially since the French Revolution, the “new man” is the man unencumbered by the chains and superstitions of the past—Promethean man who repudiates any memory or morality that could obligate him to the past, and who creates his own identity and future.

Thus the “new Soviet man” and the “new Aryan man” of the last century were creatures of ideology. They were meant to be healthy, learned, unselfish, and zealous in advancing communism or National Socialism, without the help of any god. Both of these “new” men failed. They ended in the gulag, the Holocaust, mass murder and war. And every similar effort will always fail because we don’t and we can’t erase the past. We don’t and we can’t create ourselves. And when we try, we destroy the very thing that guarantees our humanity: the reality that none of us is a god, but all of us are sons and daughters of the true and only God.

By the way, we Americans should remember that the words novus ordo seclorum are stamped on our own Great Seal of the United States. A “new order of the ages”—that’s what the Founders intended this country to be. The potential for good in those words is exactly matched by the potential for vanity, ambition, and evil. And the less biblical we become as a people, the more the balance tips in the wrong direction.

There’s only one way any of us will ever become a genuinely new man—a new man right down to our cell structure; the new man our families, our culture and our world need. It’s by giving ourselves totally to God. It’s by putting on the new man in Jesus Christ that Paul describes in Ephesians 4 (22-24) and Colossians 3 (9-17). And the kind of new men we become demands the armor Paul gives us in Ephesians 6 (11-17)—because, like it or not, as Catholic men, we really are engaged in a struggle for the soul of a beautiful but broken world.

To put it another way: The “new knighthood” St. Bernard once praised never really disappears. It’s new and renewed in every generation of faithful Catholic men. And brothers, that means us. It’s a vocation that belongs to us, and nobody else. The rules of our order—all 22 of them—were written down 500 years ago by the great Catholic humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam, in his book, The Manual of a Christian Knight. It’s a dense text for the modern reader, but here’s the substance of what he says:

  • Rule 1: Deepen and increase your faith.
  • Rule 2: Act on your faith; make it a living witness to others.
  • Rule 3: Analyze and understand your fears; don’t be ruled by them.
  • Rule 4: Make Jesus Christ the only guide and the only goal of your life.
  • Rule 5: Turn away from material things; don’t be owned by them.
  • Rule 6: Train your mind to distinguish the true nature of good and evil.
  • Rule 7: Never let any failure or setback turn you away from God.
  • Rule 8: Face temptation guided by God, not by worry or excuses.
  • Rule 9: Always be ready for attacks from those who fear the Gospel and resent the good.
  • Rule 10: Always be prepared for temptation. And do what you can to avoid it.
  • Rule 11: Be alert to two special dangers: moral cowardice and personal pride.
  • Rule 12: Face your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
  • Rule 13: Treat each battle as if it were your last.
  • Rule 14: A life of virtue has no room for vice; the little vices we tolerate become the most deadly.
  • Rule 15: Every important decision has alternatives; think them through clearly and honestly in the light of what’s right.
  • Rule 16: Never, ever give up or give in on any matter of moral substance.
  • Rule 17: Always have a plan of action. Battles are often won or lost before they begin.
  • Rule 18: Always think through, in advance, the consequences of your choices and actions.
  • Rule 19: Do nothing—in public or private—that the people you love would not hold in esteem.
  • Rule 20: Virtue is its own reward; it needs no applause.
  • Rule 21: Life is demanding and brief; make it count.
  • Rule 22: Admit and repent your wrongs, never lose hope, encourage your brothers, and then begin again.

Maleness, brothers, is a matter of biology. It just happens. Manhood must be learned and earned and taught. That’s our task. So my prayer for all of us today is that God will plant the seed of a new knighthood in our hearts—and make us the kind of “new men” our families, our Church, our nation, and our world need.

I’m setting this down as much for the benefit of my family one day as for my own memory in days to come, when I’m sure to struggle. Have faith. Be courageous in love. Be brave in confession. Repent.

Fides et Ratio

Saint John Paul the Great’s Fides at Ratio turns 20 this year. It’s described by Wikipedia in this way: It “posits that faith and reason are not only compatible, but essential together. Faith without reason, [John Paul II] argues, leads to superstition. Reason without faith, he argues, leads to nihilism and relativism.” Chaput explains the way Fides et Ratio calls everyone to keep an open mind to the metaphysical aspects of life:

Fides et Ratio is a hymn to the transcendent aspirations of human reason. The aim of any true philosophy, it notes, should be to find the unity of truth in all things, an understanding of the whole. This demands an engagement with the classical discipline we call “metaphysics,” which men still study in preparing for the priesthood.

Metaphysics is an exotic word for a very basic subject: the study of the deep truths and harmonies built into the world. Why, for example, does the world exist? Is matter—material reality—all that there is? Or is there something more? Is there a common human nature? What should we make of the many distinct kinds of things that exist in the world, the sheer givenness of their existence, and their goodness and beauty? How should we understand the human person as a distinct sort of reality? After all, a human person has unique abilities. Man is the creature who can know not only physical things, but even himself and others. Man can perceive the truth, goodness, and beauty in things. He’s a creature animated by questions of ultimate meaning, including whether God exists.

Fides et Ratio argues that any culture that ignores man’s ultimate metaphysical questions locks itself in a false and empty immanence. It can no longer approach the question of God. And by this very fact, it will scar the inner life of the human person. As John Paul notes, “Christian Revelation is the true lodestar of men and women as they strive to make their way amid the pressures of an immanentist habit of mind and the constrictions of a technocratic logic.” This message is strikingly contemporary. Our modern universities typically avoid God as a serious subject of inquiry. Without God, or at least some sense of a higher order or meaning to nature, the dignity of the human person is little more than folklore, the residue of pre-Darwinian beliefs. God and the soul are in exile. And that’s because classical philosophy is in exile, to the detriment of genuine learning.

Fides et Ratio also confronts the crisis of truth within the Catholic Church herself. Catholic theology studies the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ. This truth is made known to us by the Holy Spirit. It’s not one we come to know by our own natural powers. But good theology depends upon vigorous philosophy, at least in this sense: We can’t think correctly about God’s revelation unless we cultivate a reasonable philosophical attitude toward God, the world, and other human persons.

The benefits of a vigorous cultivation of both philosophy and theology flow both ways. The rigor of philosophical reason, as Benedict XVI said, purifies religion. It prevents religious faith from lapsing into superstition. Theology, in turn, helps philosophers to cultivate an attitude of openness and accountability to all of reality. Far from being anti-intellectual, Catholic theology raises the expectations for human reason. Everything we can come to know is part of the created order and therefore “friendly” to the authentic revelation of God.

Philosophy in the Catholic tradition pays special attention to the ways we speak about God “analogically” from comparison with creatures. The created world around us exists and is good. So, too, God exists and is good—but in an infinitely higher and incomprehensible way. So when God reveals himself to us as the Holy Trinity, he is simultaneously the God of revelation and the God of natural reason, the God of the Bible and the God of the philosophers.

This way of thinking about the harmony of faith and reason is central to the Catholic tradition, from Church Fathers such as Justin and Augustine to medievals such as Bonaventure and Aquinas down to modern Catholic councils, both at Vatican I and Vatican II. This harmony is expressed in the opening lines of Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

In 2015, we inscribed the phrase Fides et Ratio onto the gravestone of John and Marion Shakely, my grandparents. We did this for two reasons. First, to allude to the marriage of my grandfather’s familial Protestantism and my grandmother’s familial Catholicism and in so doing to recognize the healing of Christian divisions. And second, specifically to recognize John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio encyclical, for speaking clearly to a world too ready to think that the particular and complex problems of any particular historical moment are somehow without precedent, and that an authentic, robust faith and reason together can be those “wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” beyond the particulars of any specific and finite generation.

Inspiriting Mount Nittany

I spoke to the University Park Undergraduate Association, the student government at Penn State, on Wednesday, February 14 (Ash Wednesday) on Mount Nittany’s significance and historical conservation efforts:

As part of the talk, I presented the students with a Square Inch Life Estate Deed to Mount Nittany, a gift from the Nittany Valley Society. Life Estate Deeds are available through the Mount Nittany Conservancy, and are a true, legal square inch deed recorded in the Centre County Office of the Recorder of Deeds.

To learn more of the Mountain’s history and significance, be sure to read Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism or listen to the audiobook version for free.

It was a fun talk, even though it was incredibly difficult to pack much of the substance and depth of either the folkloric or practical conservation efforts of Mount Nittany into what was roughly a 12 minute presentation. There was so much that I didn’t have time to address, particularly the relationship between Mount Nittany and Hort Woods, and some of the more interesting aspects of the “Magic of Mount Nittany” fundraising campaign of the 1980s and the narrative of the Princess Nittany legends themselves. But that’s what the book is for.

Since I served in UPUA, it has developed for the better. I’d guess there were at least 70 people in attendance. (We were sometimes lucky to meet quorum requirements to even conduct meetings in the first year.) I stayed for the entire meeting, and heard about their campus and community initiatives which each seemed to be positive and important for building a better Penn State.

Complete neighborhoods

Andrew Price writes on “complete neighborhoods,” where peoples’ needs are close at hand:

I’m interested in creating livable, walkable, human-scale cities, and one of the most important elements to creating a livable city is the development pattern of your local neighborhood. We talk about car dependency being bad and limiting our freedom, but what does ‘transportation freedom’ look like? Waiting for a bus every time you leave home? Not so much. I believe that the most free mode of transportation is one that doesn’t require any vehicle to get around — thus, our largest gains with building livable, human-scale cities come from building foot-oriented neighborhoods. …

The best way to easily and affordable get people around is to reduce the distance they have to travel. If you move things close enough and make it comfortable to get around, people will walk.

Cities are divided into neighborhoods, and if you’ve ever spent time living in a walkable city without a car, you know that your quality of life is largely dependent on the amenities within your neighborhood — the walkshed of your home.

A good neighborhood will have enough variety of restaurants to keep you satisfied, along with schools, parks, grocery stores, walk-in clinics, entertainment, etc. If you were fortunate enough to work from or close to home, it’s the sort of neighborhood you could go months without leaving and not feel like you’re missing out on anything.

What I’m describing here is what I like to call a Complete Neighborhood. A Complete Neighborhood is one where, outside of commuting to work or having a “night out,” you can get everything you need within walking distance.

Pick a random neighborhood in Manhattan and it’ll likely be a Complete Neighborhood. (I know New York is an atypical American experience, but it’s the closest I can get to making this point without talking about foreign cities.) The further out into the outer boroughs and suburbs you go (unfortunately, you don’t have to go far) the less “complete” the neighborhood becomes, regardless of how long it takes to get into Manhattan via transit. …

Separating uses to a scale that requires a vehicle — whether it is a car, a bicycle, or transit — to get around for basic necessities is an artificial problem created by modern planning. Until we change our development pattern to build Complete Neighborhoods, any transportation infrastructure (whether widening roads to accommodate more cars or tunneling a subway line) is just wasteful spending.

Once we build foot-oriented neighborhoods, transit and cycling become productive investments.

Just as conservation requires context, it makes sense to me that a good life involves a “complete neighborhood” in this way.

‘As a citizen first’

Bill Murray appeared on CNBC recently:

“People are going to war about so much. …

“My friend who’s a great comedy writer, Jim Downey, he’s accused of being a right-wing comedy writer, if there is such a thing,” Murray said. “He says, ‘No, I just think the way the Democrats handle things is poor, where they try to pick out little pieces of a population, oh well we represent the Hispanics, we represent the LGBT or something.” …

“And they’re not speaking to everyone at once. And it’s almost demeaning to say, ‘I’m choosing you because you’re a splinter group or you’re a certain minority group.’ …

“There’s almost a resentment that somehow you’re separated, again, by a politician — ‘You’re my people. I’m in control of you, I represent you,’ instead of thinking that each citizen has a right to be respected as a citizen first, under the laws of the country. …

The 67-year-old, who seemed to suggest that such times of political unrest often laid the “compost and fertilizer” to nurture more stable times of unity ahead, added that the current divided atmosphere made comedy of a political nature very difficult.

“How can Kristen Wiig make everyone laugh?” he asked. “She’s not thinking about being political, she’s thinking about what resonates and what is common to all of us. I think that’s harder and harder to do because people are trying to win their point of view as opposed to saying, ‘What if I had spoke to everyone?'”

Bill Murray gets at the heart of the tension between political factions in our country right now. We all seem to want an America where “each citizen has a right to be respected as a citizen first, under the laws of the country”, but we seem to be doing a terrible job of communicating with our neighbors and compromising on anything that would move us toward that in a meaningful way.

Ash Wednesday

“Have mercy on me, O God!” In the category of the transcendent:

This piece is Psalm 51, but first set to music by Allegri around 1630. It is one of the finest and most popular examples of renaissance polyphony. It is often heard in Churches of the apostolic Christian tradition on Ash Wednesday, immediately following Shrove (or pancake) Tuesday, marking Christ’s return to Jerusalem. Beautifully performed here by The Sixteen, listen out for the simplicity, humility and reverence.