‘What is essential is invisible to the eye’

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes in Letter to a Hostage about essential but invisible aspects of life. Maria Popova shares his experience as a journalist in Spain in the 1930s, reporting on the Civil War:

I waited for the shot, for this was the time of quick trials. But there was no shot. After a complete blank of a few seconds, during which the shifts at work appeared to dance in another universe—a kind of dream ballet—my anarchists, slightly nodding their heads, bid me precede them, and we set off, without hurry, across the lines of junction. The capture had been done in perfect silence, with an extraordinary economy of movement. It was like a game of creatures of the ocean bed.

I soon descended to a basement transformed into a guard post. Badly lit by a poor oil lamp, some other militia were dozing, their guns between their legs. They exchanged a few words, in a neutral voice, with the men of my patrol. One of them searched me. …

The dominant impression was that of boredom. Boredom and sleep. The power of concentration of these men seemed exhausted. I almost wished for a sign of hostility, as a human contact. But … they gazed at me without any reaction, as if they were looking at a Chinese fish in an aquarium. …

Then the miracle happened. Oh! a very discreet miracle. I had no cigarette. As one of my guards was smoking, I asked him, by gesture, showing the vestige of a smile, if he would give me one. The man first stretched himself, slowly passed his hand across his brow, raised his eyes, no longer to my tie but to my face, and, to my great astonishment, he also attempted a smile. It was like the dawning of the day.

This miracle did not conclude the tragedy, it removed it altogether, as light does shadow. There had been no tragedy. This miracle altered nothing visible. The feeble oil lamp, the table scattered with papers, the men propped against the wall, the colors, the smell, everything remained unchanged. Yet everything was transformed in its very substance. That smile saved me. It was a sign just as final, as obvious in its future consequences, as unchangeable as the rising of the sun. It marked the beginning of a new era. Nothing had changed, everything was changed. The table scattered with papers became alive. The oil lamp became alive. The walls were alive. The boredom dripping from every lifeless thing in that cellar grew lighter as if by magic. It seemed that an invisible stream of blood had started flowing again, connecting all things in the same body, and restoring to them their significance.

The men had not moved either, but, though a minute earlier they had seemed to be farther away from me than an antediluvian species, now they grew into contemporary life. I had an extraordinary feeling of presence. That is it: of presence. And I was aware of a connection.

The boy who had smiled at me, and who, until a few minutes before, had been nothing but a function, a tool, a kind of monstrous insect, appeared now rather awkward, almost shy, of a wonderful shyness—that terrorist! He was no less a brute than any other. But the revelation of the man in him shed such a light upon his vulnerable side! We men assume haughty airs, but within the depth of our hearts, we know hesitation, doubt, grief.

Nothing had yet been said. Yet everything was resolved.

We ask, “Where is God?” in our moments of hopelessness, and in those moments we forget Saint-Exupery’s reminder: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

NRI Washington Regional Fellowship

Since January I’ve been periodically heading to the Fund for American Studies near Dupont Circle as a part of the National Review Institute’s Washington Regional Fellowship:

National Review Institute (NRI) was founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1991, 36 years after he founded National Review magazine. The Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)(3), journalistic think-tank, established to advance the principles Buckley promoted throughout his life, complement the mission of the magazine, and support NR’s best talent. Each year, NRI selects impressive mid-career professionals in key metropolitan areas—including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas—to participate in its Regional Fellowship Programs. In each city, 20 to 25 Fellows attend eight dinner seminars on the foundations of conservative thought. Fellows complete 25- to 30-page reading assignments from foundational texts—from Burke to Buckley—and then discuss the reading with one of the conservative movement’s leading thinkers.

Tonight, we had the last of our eight sessions. Professor Daniel J. Mahoney, whom I last saw interview Ignat Solzhenitsyn at Notre Dame in October, put together the syllabus that guided our sessions:

I. William F. Buckley, Jr. and American Conservatism (Dr. Lee Edwards) For sixty years, William F. Buckley Jr. was the voice of a conservatism that managed to be both sober and combative, committed to permanent verities, and dismissive of a corrupt liberal orthodoxy. He brought style and intellectual penetration to conservatism as it emerged as a coherent movement after World War II. National Review, founded by Buckley and a cohort of friends in 1955, was—and remains—the flagship journal of a thoughtful American conservatism. This first session is dedicated to the thought and journalism of WFB and his role in shaping modern American conservatism.

II. Burke, Prudence, and the Spirit of Conservatism (Dr. Yuval Levin) The great eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke was in important respects the father of modern conservatism. A champion of the American cause and a panegyrist to English liberty, he saw the great evils at work in the French Revolution and in modern ideology, more generally. An evocative writer and rhetorician, he defended reform, not revolution, and what can be called a “politics of prudence.” He was the enemy par excellence of abstraction in politics, of an appeal to abstract ideas that ignores circumstances, the wisdom of the ages, and settled tradition.

III. The Founders’ Constitution (Dr. Matt Spalding) The United States is that rare country whose nationhood is coextensive with her constitutional arrangements. The “philosophy” of the American Constitution is laid out with remarkable learning, penetration, and insight in the Federalist papers (1787–1788) written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay. Any thoughtful American conservatism will aim to “conserve” the constitutional heritage bequeathed by our constitutional Founders.

IV. Economic Freedom and Political Freedom (Dr. Roberta Herzberg) The rule of law is the foundation, the pediment, of a free society. This section will explore Friedrich Hayek’s vision of a “constitution of liberty” centered on the rule of law. The threats to the rule of law from the administrative state will also be highlighted.

V. Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Fusionism (Mr. Eugene B. Meyer) Contemporary conservatism has been marked by an enduring tension between a “conservative” defense of tradition and moral virtue (and of legitimate government authority) and a “libertarian” emphasis on the dangers of statism and the need for an expansive realm of personal freedom. Where some see an enhancement of human freedom, others see the erosion of the crucial moral and cultural prerequisites of a free society. These readings will also explore efforts to “fuse” traditionalism and libertarianism that were near and dear to National Review over the years. One reading deals with the decidedly “unconservative” thinking of Ayn Rand whose thought remains influential in some libertarian circles.

VI. Mediating Structures Between the State and the Individual (Mr. William A. Schambra) The best conservative thought opposes radical individualism (which erodes the “mediating structures” between the state and the individual) in the name of those associations and groupings that give shape and form to human liberty. Alexis de Tocqueville famously praised Americans for their prodigious “art of association,” their remarkable capacity to form voluntary associations between the state and the individual. Contemporary conservative thinkers such as Robert Nisbet, Richard John Neuhaus, and Peter Berger have drawn on Tocqueville’s wisdom to show how “mediating structures” can renew community and “empower people,” and in the process act as a check on state power.

VII. Conservatism, Democracy, and Foreign Policy (Dr. John Hillen) Americans have grown war-weary and tired of military engagements abroad. Yet America has vital interests and an abiding commitment to the survival of western civilization. The readings in this session explore the necessity of American foreign policy to combine spiritedness and moderation and to avoid the twin pitfalls of democratic crusadism and escape from our responsibilities in the world.

VIII. The Conservative Spirit and Civic Gratitude (Ms. Kathryn Jean Lopez) The American Dream is imperiled today by social breakdown and economic stagnation. The first reading for this session emphasizes fidelity to “ancient moorings” and resistance to encroaching statism, the second reminds us of our debts to the past and the need to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and civic obligation. Together, they capture the spirit of conservatism as William F. Buckley Jr. understood it.

Leaving Bismarck

Leaving Bismarck today after a good few days with eleven great bioethics classmates and other great people. After commencement yesterday, I visited the nearby Cathedral of the Holy Spirit for Sunday vigil mass. Bismarck’s Cathedral was completed in 1942, and was beautiful in its particular way. It’s situated amidst what seems like a solid neighborhood, with real trees and substantial homes.

After yesterday’s vigil mass, a few of us headed back to the hotel, cleaned up, and visited La Carreta along East Bismarck Expressway for dinner. Afterwards we headed to Captain Jack’s behind our hotel for a few six packs, and enjoyed each other’s company in the lobby playing the board game Pandemic and talking late into the night.

I’m in the Bismarck airport right now, about to catch a 2pm flight to Chicago and then a final flight home to Washington.

University of Mary commencement

We have University of Mary commencement today in Bismarck, and started the day off at Our Lady of the Annunciation chapel for mass, then Our Lady of the Word chapel for our bioethics program’s closing remarks from Dr. Karen Rohr and hooding ceremony. I’m in an Uber, heading with classmates downtown to Fireflour for lunch. Commencement takes place later this afternoon in downtown Bismarck. Final views from campus:

And here is the University of Mary’s alma mater, written by Sister Mary Elizabeth Mason:

Standing on the bluffs of the Missouri
Is Mary our fair University.
For love of Christ at peace with every creed,
She welcomes all who long to learn and lead.

The wisdom of past ages we would see
With eagerness for all that yet might be.
Transformed by grace we gladly work and play;
Good friends and teachers guide us on our way.

May holy Benedict, the man of peace,
Guide us as servant leaders without cease.
O Mary, may you come to greater fame
And may we all add honor to your name!

University of Mary views

I delivered my bioethics capstone talk this morning and had lunch afterwards in the Lumen Vitae University Center. While waiting for my Uber and back to my hotel after lunch, I took in these scenes:

It feels like a lot longer than only a year ago that I was looking out onto the Missouri from near the University of Mary’s grotto.

Benet Chapel and a low-key night

I’m working while I’m here in Bismarck for University of Mary, so these are full days. We’re working up to our major spring event at Americans United for Life, “Women Speak 2019: A Symposium on Life Without Roe,” which takes place in Washington, DC next week. And I’m also participating in the final components of my bioethics program, namely today’s seminar with Dr. Marie Hilliard on health policy and tomorrow’s capstone presentations.

When I got in yesterday, I visited Dan Supermarket across Ivy Avenue from my hotel to pick up some supplies for these next few days like apples, pretzels, juice, etc. And in the lobby, I overheard and engaged in conversations that are different from what I’m used to hearing or participating in—especially the story of a woman who had been three hours north of Bismarck earlier in the morning, just a few miles from the Canadian border.

After today’s seminar concluded, seven or so of us visited Benet Chapel for evening prayer before heading back to the hotel for what will be a low-key night.

Back to Bismarck

I’m writing from Chicago at O’Hare, where I’m on a brief layover before heading to Bismarck, North Dakota for my final visit related to my M.S. in Bioethics. This will be my fourth time in the Roughrider State since my first visit in 2011, and I’m looking forward to seeing the plains again. Sharing two scenes; one from Washington National Airport early this morning, and one with the view from my window on the way to Chicago:

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I’ll be in Bismarck for the next few days, returning to Washington on Sunday night.

National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

I attended the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast for the second year this morning, which took place at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC. Speakers this year were Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Mick Mulvaney, Curtis Martin, and Sr. Bethany Madonna. We also had an exhibitor booth for Americans United for Life prior to the 7am breakfast, and we met many good people, mostly from the Washington area.

After work, I took a Capitol Bikeshare bike home, docked it at the M and Potomac station, and walked home from there.

Roman pietas

Louis Markos approaches Virgil and the Roman interest in pietas:

I’m glad to see that your age has not forgotten Rome. But please, children of the future, do not think that Rome was only a city or an empire or a people. She was also an idea, the noblest idea the world has ever known.

And behind that idea was a single word: pietas. Pietas means the duty one owes to the gods, the ancestors, the state, and the family. It is an orientation that places one’s own personal pleasures beneath the good of the whole. Rome held the bodies of men in fear through her military might, but she held their souls in awe through her pietas. …

Please understand, my Aeneas did not want the job that was given to him. Every step along the way, he tried to stop and build his kingdom there. He was a Trojan and not a Roman. Indeed, if Aeneas could have had his way, he would have gladly died in Troy alongside Hector and Priam and his own dear wife.

How does one attain pietas? By learning to take the long view of things. By recognizing that none of us lives or acts or dreams alone, but that our lives and actions and dreams serve a higher goal and purpose. We may not survive long enough to see that goal become a reality, but we will have played our role in bringing it about.

Let the barbarian live only for himself! The civilized man exists in a complex web of relationships to the past, the present, and the future. His life is not his own, but belongs to the gods, the ancestors, the state, the family. It belongs as well to the world.

When Aeneas met with Anchises in the underworld, his father left him with a challenge, a code that he must abide by if Rome were one day to step into her greatness and achieve her divinely-appointed mission. Put simply, Rome was to be the civilizer of the world, the one that would lay down laws and abide by them, that would mingle justice with mercy, that would establish the great and lasting peace of Caesar Augustus. …

Power without mercy brings tyranny, while mercy without power quickly grows weak and ineffectual. But joined together by pietas, the two can bring order and virtue to a chaotic world of greed and pride.

There can be neither order nor virtue without solemn vows, oaths, and pacts, but none of those covenants can survive for long without pietas. When a man is bound by pietas, his word will be his pledge. He will act, not for personal profit alone, but with the full weight of tradition in his bones. In honoring the ancestors, he will be honoring himself, and in serving the greater good, he will be ensuring his own happiness.

Tacitus at Easter

We celebrated Easter Vigil last night at Saint Raymond of Penafort in Philadelphia:

To mark Easter I’m sharing John Burger’s piece on Tacitus, the Roman historian:

Tacitus is known for his chronicles of the Roman Empire, but he was also a high official in Rome’s imperial administration. Among the many stepping stones he had in his career, there is one that, in light of Christian history, suggests why he might have included a certain Jesus of Nazareth in his famous history, the Annals. …

… there were Christians living in Rome, and a historian like Tacitus, born 25 years after the crucifixion, would have wondered who these people were and why they believed the way they did.

Tacitus refers to the Christians of Rome in the context of the great Roman fire of A.D. 64. He says that to dispel rumors that Nero was to blame for the fire, he:

“…fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”