April 2018

  • Drexel Square, in progress

    A view of 30th Street Station on the left, as I was standing on the platform of SEPTA Regional Rail waiting for a train a few nights ago. In the foreground, beyond the intersection, has been a parking lot for as long as I’ve known it. It’s in the process of redevelopment into Drexel Square, the very first part of the generational Schuylkill Yards project. Here’s a rendering of what that parking lot might look like in the future, with Maria Gialanella providing context:

    Drexel Square.png

    William Penn’s original plan for Philadelphia included five city squares. More than 300 years later, Drexel University, working with a Radnor, Pa.-based real estate firm, is prepared to add a sixth major square just blocks east of Penn’s campus.

    Brandywine Realty Trust and Drexel University began construction Wednesday on the park, the first leg of a $3.5 billion public construction project in the area between Drexel’s campus and 30th Street Station. Known as “Schuylkill Yards,” the complex of several buildings will adjoin the Schuylkill River with the stated goal of building a research and development hub in University City.

    The first phase of the new Schuylkill Yards should be complete in the fall of 2018, while the whole project will span 15 to 20 years.

    “We are proud that our first project in Schuylkill Yards will deliver a green public gathering space where the community can connect, interact, and share experiences,” Brandywine President and CEO Jerry Sweeney said in a statement.

    “Plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

  • The Muse of Rock

    Horace Daillion’s “The Muse of Rock” was shared recently by The American Lyceum on Twitter. It is arresting, as if she might wake up and rise from that rock. As if maybe the rock itself carved her from itself in honor of every woman. As if there’s something more solid and permanent about us than our frailty and transience suggests:

    Muse of Rock- Horace Daillion 1900.jpg

    The Muse of Rock reminded me of what I think is this even greater example of the human form emerging from nature, the Renwick Gallery’s beautiful human arm.

  • No satisfaction unless we pause

    A photo from the Porch at 30th Street Station, where I sat on Wednesday before catching my train to Washington. It’s a pleasant place to be now, with tables, swings, and grass where there was a parking lot a decade ago or less. And of course those glass towers are still new, too.

    Here’s an excerpt from Fulton Sheen’s Finding True Happiness that was shared someplace recently:

    The painter stands back from his canvas to see whether the details of the seascape are properly placed. True repose is such a standing back to survey the activities that fill our days.

    We cannot get a real satisfaction out of our work unless we pause, frequently, to ask ourselves why we are doing it, and whether its purpose is one [of which] our minds wholeheartedly approve. Perhaps one of the reasons why so many of our economic and political projects miscarry is because they are in the hands of men with eyes so tightly glued to what they are doing that they never stop to question whether it should be done at all. Merely keeping busy, merely getting paid, can never satisfy man’s need for creative work. …

    If we direct our work towards God, we shall work better than we know. The admission of this fact is another of the tasks for which we need repose. Once a week, man, reposing from work, does well to come before his God to admit how much of what he did during the week was the work of his Creator; he can remind himself, then, that the material on which he labored came from other Hands, that the ideas he employed entered his mind from a higher Source, that the very energy which he employed was a gift…

  • Scenes from Alexandria

    Scenes from Alexandria, Virginia from early yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful spring day, although the Potomac along this stretch was still and silent excepting for the ducks. Mai Thai, especially along its park and water-facing tables on its second floor, was a great place for lunch. Excellent meal.

    Walked back to the Metro afterwards, and headed back to Catholic University for the remainder of the Humanae Vitae symposium, mass with Cardinal Weurl at the Basilica, then an Acela to Philadelphia.

  • Hollow-eyed busts

    Peggy Noonan writes:

    As of this week, it is six months since the reckoning that began with the New York Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein. One by one they fell, men in media, often journalism, and their stories bear at least in part a general theme. They were mostly great successes, middle-aged, and so natural leaders of the young. But they treated the young as prey. They didn’t respect them, in part because they didn’t respect themselves. They didn’t see their true size, their role, or they ignored it.

    It should not be hard to act as if you are who you are, yet somehow it increasingly appears to be. There is diminished incentive for people to act like adults. Everyone wants to be cool, no one wants to be pretentious. No one wants to be grim, unhip, to be passed by in terms of style.

    And our culture has always honored the young. But it has not always honored immaturity.

    I have spent the past few days watching old videos of the civil-rights era, the King era, and there is something unexpectedly poignant in them. When you see those involved in that momentous time, you notice: They dressed as adults, with dignity. They presented themselves with self-respect. Those who moved against segregation and racial indignity went forward in adult attire—suits, dresses, coats, ties, hats—as if adulthood were something to which to aspire. As if a claiming of just rights required a showing of gravity. Look at the pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking, the pictures of those marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, of those in attendance that day when George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and then stepped aside to the force of the federal government, and suddenly the University of Alabama was integrated. Even the first students who went in, all young, acted and presented themselves as adults. Of course they won. Who could stop such people?

    I miss their style and seriousness. What we’re stuck with now is Mark Zuckerberg’s.

    Facebook‘s failings are now famous and so far include but are perhaps not limited to misusing, sharing and scraping of private user data, selling space to Russian propagandists in the 2016 campaign, playing games with political content, starving journalism of ad revenues, increasing polarization, and turning eager users into the unknowing product. The signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical expertise by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness. Beyond that, what a shallow and banal figure. He too appears to have difficulties coming to terms with who he is. Perhaps he hopes to keep you, too, from coming to terms with it, by literally dressing as a child, in T-shirts, hoodies and jeans—soft clothes, the kind 5-year-olds favor. In interviews he presents an oddly blank look, as if perhaps his audiences will take blankness for innocence. As has been said here, he is like one of those hollow-eyed busts of forgotten Caesars you see in museums.

    I like that image: that those who refuse to act like they are who they are end up being the “hollow-eyed busts” that line non-descript museum corridors.

  • Humanae Vitae symposium

    Attending parts of the Humanae Vitae symposium at Catholic University for the rest of the week, in light of the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul IV’s affirmation of Christian teaching on sex, marriage, and new life. It’s taking place in the student union building on campus, a short walk from the Basilica, and opened last night with powerful remarks from John Garvey, president of Catholic University, and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia. They streamed those remarks here, and audio of their remarks is below:

    I’ll be fitting in meetings and working on-and-off during this symposium, including a trip to Alexandria tomorrow to meet with Wesley J. Smith, one of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network’s board members. Here are some photos from the past two days:

    Every generation and age has its distinctive strengths and weaknesses; its challenges and hallmarks. One of those challenges in our time is answering, “What is the family?” Is it simply a contractual arrangement, which in some cases produces children in the same way that corporate partnerships might produce products? Or is it something deeper, and something that speaks more profoundly to our nature as creatures in this world that we’re called to conserve and pass along? Those are the sort of questions that Christians are trying to answer at this symposium.

    Some background information on this event:

    Symposium Purpose

    This symposium explores Catholic teaching on human sexuality, marriage, conjugal love and responsible parenthood as articulated in the papal encyclical Humanae vitae upon its fiftieth anniversary (1968-2018).

    The symposium is anchored in the view that, in and through Christ’s work of redemption, God’s original vision of the person, human sexuality, and marriage grounds human relationships and, after the fall, heals them. It seeks to elucidate the anthropological, philosophical, and theological underpinnings of the encyclical’s reaffirmation of the divine plan as expressed in Catholic teaching and advanced by Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. Papers presented at the symposium will therefore assess the past, reflect upon the present, and consider the future. Presentations will be theoretical, empirical, and pastoral. They will draw upon the disciplines of history, philosophy, theology, and science, and will highlight effective catechetical practices. All presentations will treat major themes from Humanae vitae.

    Symposium Objectives

    • To analyze the historical context in which Humanae vitae was promulgated and received. This includes consideration of the cultural, sociological, philosophical, theological, and empirical trends operative in the 1960s which fostered a more negative than positive reception of the encyclical in certain areas and even a rejection of God’s plan for married love.
    • To deepen the theological and philosophical understanding of Church teaching on human sexuality, marriage, conjugal love and responsible parenthood as articulated in Humanae vitae, with special attention paid to the later impact of the Theology of the Body and the magisterium of St. John Paul II, in addition to that of Benedict XVI and Francis.
    • To explore the scientific response to Humanae vitae’s call for developing viable methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP).
    • To look at effective catechetical practices devised to promote Church teachings on conjugal love and responsible parenthood and the moral prohibition of contraception.
    • To analyze negative trends in national and international policy that impact religious practice or expression regarding human sexuality, marriage, and family planning and to offer solutions.
    • To look for and assess hopeful signs for growing acceptance of the Church’s teaching both in the Church and in the culture and to make recommendations for the future.
  • MLK

    Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed fifty years ago today by an assasin’s bullet to the neck as King stood on his Memphis hotel room balcony. J. Samuel Walker recounts the impact of King’s assassination in Washington in the days the followed:

    A crowd began to gather at the corner of 14th and U Streets in Northwest Washington when the news that King had been shot became public. The areas around the east-west corridor of U Street and the north-south corridor of 14th Street had deteriorated since the 1920s and 1930s, but this was still the premier commercial center of black Washington. For about 20 blocks north of U Street, the 14th Street corridor and its offshoots hosted some 300 businesses, plus bars, theaters, and nightclubs.

    The 14th and U neighborhood was also the center of black activism in the city; the local offices of black leadership groups were clustered there. In addition to the local SNCC headquarters, the Washington offices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were located in the immediate area. People gravitated toward the intersection when they learned that King had been shot. At the same time, police and civil defense intelligence units moved in to observe the scene. They found that, at first, the “mood of the group was … one of shock and dismay rather than of anger.”

    The mood of the crowd became increasingly bitter after the announcement that King had died. Some individuals gathered around a transistor radio to listen to President Johnson’s speech. His appeal for calm was not greeted favorably; one person shouted that King’s death would “mean one thousand Detroits.” …

    But the calls for calm and reason soon proved to be futile. At 9:25 p.m., the first acts of vandalism and looting occurred. A window at the Peoples Drug Store that had closed at Carmichael’s request was smashed. At about the same time, a 15-year-old boy broke the glass of the front door of the Republic Theatre just down the street. A window of a Safeway market at 14th and Chapin Streets, five blocks north of U, was shattered and people immediately entered and began looting. One block south of the Safeway, a woman used her body to pummel the window of a television and appliance store until it broke. Carmichael and other SNCC workers tried to stop would-be looters, but their efforts could save the store’s inventory for only a limited time. …

    As the attacks on the police and firefighters, most of whom were white, indicated, the participants in the riot demonstrated ample measures of racial hostility. The disorders on 14th Street were not a race riot in the sense that they produced a series of direct, violent confrontations between blacks and whites. This had occurred at other times in Washington, most notably in a fierce clash between races in 1919 that resulted in thirty deaths and countless injuries. But if the outburst on the night of King’s death was not a race riot, it clearly brought to the surface black resentment toward white society. “This is it, baby. The shit is going to hit the fan now,” yelled one rioter shortly after the breaking of store windows and looting began. At this juncture, Stokely Carmichael tried once again to cool passion, but the turmoil quickly gained momentum.

    Bonnie Perry, who was 13 at the time of the riot and an attentive witness to what went on, later told an interviewer that some residents participated “because they just wanted to loot.” She suggested, however, that those people were exceptions. “Most people did it because they were angry and were frustrated with the country. Frustrated and angry that Martin Luther King had been assassinated and frustrated that there was nothing,” she recalled. “It was like there was no hope for the future.”

    Archbishop Charles J. Chaput reflects today on the anniversary of MLK’s assassination:

    We too easily reduce the memory of our nation’s great and good persons to a liturgy of public pieties. These pieties lose force as the years go by. Not so with the legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Generations have grown up since his 1968 assassination that can never fully grasp the measure of his achievements or the scope of the positive changes to society he helped bring about, because they have no experience of the America in which he lived out his ministry.

    He was a man of civility, nonviolence, intelligence, and respect for his opponents; but also a man with a tireless zeal for justice, inspired and directed by his Christian faith.

    America was made better by his life. …

    I’m on Amtrak on the way to Washington as I write this, where I’ll be spending the rest of the week at Catholic Uniersity’s fiftieth anniversary Humanae Vitae symposium, commemorating Pope Paul VI’s affirmation of Christian moral teaching on sex, marriage, and human life. While I’m in Washington I’m planning to visit the MLK Memorial on the National Mall for the first time. Figures like Lincoln and MLK come along only rarely and at apparently necessary historical moments. I’m grateful to be living in a time when there are still so many alive with living memory of MLK’s teaching and witness.

  • Jessica Trygstad reports on the Franciscan Brothers of Peace and their missionary work alongside torture survivors:

    The Franciscan Brothers of Peace have housed male international victims of torture since the 1990s — about 70 to date, said Brother Conrad Richardson, who serves as the brothers’ community leader. Describing their apostolate as “doing whatever needs to be done,” Brother Richardson said the 12 brothers provide room and board and fulfill other tangible needs — climate-appropriate clothing, food, monthly mass transit passes and phone cards. Multicultural artwork hangs on the walls of their friary, and their kitchen is stocked with ethnic foods to help give their guests a sense of home.

    “All are received as Christ,” Brother Richardson said. “Residents who live here, they know that they’re welcome to join us for any meals we have and even to join us in prayer as they like.”

    The men come to the U.S. through various means. A former resident, Brother Richardson said, was a stowaway on a ship and found enough food and water to survive the journey. Another man from Iraq had served in a high-ranking military position under Saddam Hussein. He escaped through bribery. The information the brothers garner about their guests is confidential; through the men’s social workers and lawyers, the brothers only know pertinent information and what the men are willing to share, per the Center for Victims of Torture’s policies.

    Knowing at least some English, most of the men were well educated and held good jobs in their home countries, giving them the wherewithal to help mobilize people, thus making them targets of their oppressive governments. …

    He said a “beautiful aspect” of sharing their home with people of different faiths has been the unity they’ve found through common respect, pointing to their Muslim guests’ admiration of Mary and Jesus. The brothers try to reciprocate that respect. Brother Richardson recalled the time a Muslim guest asked one of the brothers about getting a prayer rug to use for his required prayer times throughout the day. When the brother supplied one, the man held it to his chest and tried to keep his composure.

    “He said to us, ‘I have experienced peace here that I have hardly experienced even among my people,’” Brother Richardson recalled, “and that he would be buried with this rug, the gift that was given.”

    Complementing the brothers’ ministry, Sarah’s Oasis, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, serves female victims of torture.

    Br. Conrad Richardson and the Franciscan Brothers of Peace are good and remarkable men. I know Br. Conrad as a friend and as a Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network board member, and we talked about this work when he was visiting Philadelphia last month. I can’t imagine bearing the emotional and spiritual weight of this work day to day, and so I admire Br. Conrad and his missionaries all the more.

  • A love for the actual

    Christian Alejandro Gonzalez writes on Jordan B. Peterson’s book:

    In his most recent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Peterson routinely provides evidence of a deep, thoughtful, yet plainly articulated conservatism. At the same time, his conservatism is in no way dogmatic; he is not a free-marketeering libertarian, for instance. Instead, Peterson’s conservatism manifests itself in his commitment to the preservation of a certain set of institutions, values, and norms without which our society could not operate. This brand of conservatism finds a compelling justification in the work of philosopher Roger Scruton, the most influential conservative intellectual in Britain.

    Scruton’s conservatism derives from a love for the “actual”—that is, the astonishing array of privileges and freedoms that our ancestors passed down to us. Included in this inheritance, which we all share and from which we all benefit, are: the rule of law, as opposed to the rule of the powerful over the weak; democracy, as opposed to dictatorship; economic prosperity, as opposed to deprivation; family networks and bonds of friendship, as opposed to social anomy; order as opposed to instability. For most of human history, we could not count on many of these blessings, but today they are taken for granted. In the face of our good fortune, Scruton argues, the most rational response is one of gratitude.

    In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson echoes Scrutonian themes by encouraging us to feel grateful for the inheritance we have collectively received—and particularly for a society that continues to function even as individuals deal with the nearly unbelievable burdens of “Being” (like bodily disease, mental illness, deaths in the family, and economic insecurity). He writes “…people prevail and continue to do difficult and effortful tasks and to hold themselves and their families and society together. To me this is miraculous—so much so that a dumbfounded gratitude is the only appropriate response.” …

    Peterson … [does] not believe that we should just feel gratitude for what we have; they think it’s our duty to understand the ideas that enabled this flourishing in the first place. In other words, one must engage with the intellectual tradition of the West…

    … “Our society,” he writes, “faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilizing traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people…. This is not a good thing. Each person’s private trouble cannot be solved by a social revolution, because revolutions are destabilizing and dangerous…. Altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth…is likely to produce far more trouble than good.” …

    He extols the virtue of personal responsibility. He enjoins us to “sort ourselves out” and not blame external circumstances for our failures. But the biggest tell that Peterson is a conservative is simply that his general disposition toward life and society is conservative. Life is difficult, Peterson allows, but there has never been a better time to live. Hard work always makes a difference. Men and women are equal, but they are not biologically identical. Boys must be allowed to mature into men. Hierarchies are not always arbitrary. Inequality does not imply injustice. There is much in our shared traditions that is worth preserving. Our culture serves certain purposes, and does so quite well.

    I read Peterson’s book last month. It’s a great book, and I’m a fan of Peterson’s old school style of lecturing that’s rangy and broadminded and provocative and vivifying. And an interest in loving the “actual,” as Scruton puts it.

  • Easter

    Happy Easter! I celebrated Easter Vigil mass last night with my brothers. Seven passages from scripture are read at Easter Vigil, along with the usual Easter customs of affirming one’s baptismal promises. We are weak, we are frail, we are made for the eternal.

    In his homily, Msgr. Thomas Flanagan noted that it’s Easter, not Christmas, that is the most central point in the calendar, and that celebrations of the Nativity weren’t particularly widespread until the 200s. That makes sense, but it’s not a history I was familiar with.

    Fr. George Rutler, pastor of St. Michael’s in New York, reflects:

    We know directly from Saint Paul that Greek philosophers thought the Resurrection was a curious absurdity. Politicians more pragmatically feared that it would upset the whole social order. One of the earliest Christian “apologists,” or explainers, was Saint Justin Martyr who tried to persuade the emperor Antoninus Pius that Christianity is the fulfillment of the best intuitions of classical philosophers like Socrates and Plato.

    Justin was reared in an erudite pagan family in Samaria, in the land of Israel just about one lifetime from the Resurrection. Justin studied hard and accepted Christ as his Savior, probably in Ephesus, and then set up his own philosophical school in Rome to explain the sound logic of the Divine Logos. Refusing to worship the Roman gods, and threatened with torture by the Prefect Rusticus, he said: “You can kill us, but you cannot hurt us.” Then he was beheaded.

    Fast forward almost exactly a thousand years, and another philosopher, Bernard of Chartres, also admired the best of the Greek philosophers and coined the phrase “We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” There had been long centuries without much effort to explain the mystery of the Resurrection with luminous intelligence. In the seventeenth century, Isaac Newton would describe himself the same way. Being intellectual dwarfs may sound pessimistic, but there was also optimism in the fact that, lifted on the shoulders of giants, they could see even farther than the giants themselves. In witness to that, less than fifty years after Bernard died, building began on the great cathedral of Chartres. The magnificent rose window in the south transept depicts the evangelists as small men on the shoulders of the tall prophets. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are closer to Christ in the center of the window, than Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel who lift them up, seeing in fact what the prophets had longed for in hope.

    The Risen Christ is neither a ghost nor a mere mortal. Ancient philosophies could be vague about things supernatural, and ancient cults could be distant from personal conduct. The Resurrection unites ethics and worship. The famous letter of an anonymous contemporary of Justin Martyr, meant to be read by the emperor Marcus Aurelius, said that the way Christians live “has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines.”

    The Resurrection was the greatest event in history, and unlike other events that affect life in subsequent generations in different degrees by sequential cause and effect, the Resurrection is a living force for all time, making Christ present both objectively in the Sacraments, and personally in those who accept him. Thus, indifference to the Resurrection is not an option. The future life of each one of us depends on a willingness to be saved from eternal death.

    And in another New York-themed Easter thing, here’s a 1956 shot of the Financial District that someone shared yesterday:

    Snopes explains:

    The image is real and was taken shortly before Easter in 1956. One newspaper, the Oxnard Press-Courier, published the photo on 31 March 1956 with the following caption: “Huge crosses, formed by lighted windows, blaze above New York’s skyline as part of an Easter display in Manhattan’s financial district. This scene, photographed from the roof of the Municipal Building, features 150-foot-high crosses in the City Services Co., City Bank Farmers Trust Co., and the Forty Wall Street Corp. buildings. (United Press Telephoto)”

    Intentionally (I assume) those buildings seem to mirror the three crucifixions at Calvary.