‘One life, that my dear land may live’

Happy Labor Day weekend—an appropriate time for honoring our country and those who forged her. Do you know the story of Nathan Hale? Here’s William Ordway Partridge’s tribute:

One hero dies—a thousand new ones rise,
As flowers are sown where perfect blossoms fall;
Then quite unknown, the name of Hale now cries
Wherever duty sounds her silent call.

With head erect he moves and stately pace,
To meet an awful doom—no ribald jest
Brings scorn or hate to that exalted face:
His thoughts are far away, poised and at rest;

Now on the scaffold see him turn and bid
Farewell to home, and all his heart holds dear.
Majestic presence!—all man’s weakness hid,
And all his strength in that last hour made clear:
“My sole regret, that it is mine to give
Only one life, that my dear land may live.”

As names of loved ones

I was in the Catholic Information Center on K Street recently after work, browsing their new releases. I picked up A Time to Die: Monks on the Threshold of Eternal Life, and came across this passage on the life and death of Brother Théophane:

During the last months of his life, the monks often heard him reciting a poem of Verlaine that he knew in its entirety, “My Recurring Dream”:

I often have a strange and searing dream
About an unknown woman whom I love
And who loves me. Never quite the same
Nor someone else, she loves, she understands me.

Yes, she understands; the pity is
For her alone my heart is obvious,
Simple for her alone who brings to life
My dead face running with her tears.

Is she dark, auburn, blond? I don’t know.
Her name? It echoes
Soft as names of loved ones gone for good.

Camille Paglia’s provocations

Emily Esfahani Smith writes on Camille Paglia as “maverick critic and scholar” on the publication of her latest book:

Like Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom who sprouted adult-like from the head of Zeus, Paglia appears to have entered the world fully formed. She was born in working-class Endicott, New York, in 1947, when thousands of immigrants were arriving in the upstate town looking for work in the shoe factories. Her mother, Lydia, and her four grandparents were Italian immigrants. Her father, Pasquale, was the only member of his family to attend college, later becoming a professor of Romance languages at LeMoyne College in Syracuse. “I got my intellectuality, studiousness, and severity from my father,” she told New York magazine in 1991. “And I got my energy, optimism, and practicality from my mother.” Her sister, Lenora, was born when Paglia was 14.

Paglia’s early childhood was, she said, a “total immersion in Italian culture.” She and her parents lived with her maternal grandparents in the Italian section of Endicott. Her paternal grandparents lived two long blocks away, next to a Sons of Italy hall. Though her parents spoke English at home, Paglia was otherwise surrounded by people who communicated in “mutually unintelligible Italian dialects.”

Endicott was in many ways like a rural Italian village—which meant that Paglia saw how gender dynamics worked in the premodern world. Her grandmothers were matriarchal, goddess-like figures, who ruled home and hearth. They dictated the affairs of Paglia’s daily life. “Eat!” they’d command her in Italian. “Sleep!” Even more severe were the petite elderly Italian ladies who would visit their homes. “You had to watch out for them,” she said, “because when they kissed you, they’d bite your earlobe.” When Paglia and her parents moved from Endicott to the top floor of a dairy farm in Oxford, New York, where her father taught high school Spanish and her mother worked as a teller at the local bank, she encountered more tough women—farmers working the animals and land. Paglia dedicated Sexual Personae to her grandmothers and a paternal aunt.

Looking back, Paglia saw that her grandmothers had their own sphere of power at home, separate from the male sphere—where older women ruled. “Young women were nothing” in that world, Paglia said. Today, it’s the opposite: women try to gain power in the male sphere of work and lose status culturally as they age. “You’re unhappy,” Paglia said of today’s professional women, “because you’re spending all day long in this mechanical professional world. But we willingly put up with that because we want the financial autonomy and freedom.”

Her childhood also instilled in her an appreciation of men, especially working-class men—the plumbers, factory workers, and policemen who keep the world going. Paglia’s paternal grandfather was a barber, and her maternal grandfather operated a leather-stretching device at the Endicott-Johnson shoe factory. Four of her uncles served in the military during World War II, and her father was an army paratrooper. “One of the reasons I’m not anti-male,” Paglia told me, “is because I saw the sacrifices made by my father’s generation in those men.”

Paglia encountered her first works of art with her family at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Endicott. The stained-glass windows and polychrome statues of the saints entranced her.

If you haven’t heard/watched Camille Paglia’s conversation with Jordan Peterson, give it a shot:

Figure out what your story is

I listened to the latest from The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast on Monday night, “Why You Should Treat Yourself as if You Have Value,” which is also a chapter from his 12 Rules for Life. The episode is a lecture from July 2018 that Jordan Peterson delivered in Edmonton. At approx. 25 minutes, he riffs:

[Be] the protagonist of your own plot, or the hero of your own story. There’s a rule that I sort of learned from the psycho-analysts, particularly from Carl Jung, that if you’re not the hero of your own story then you’re a bit part in someone else’s. And that part is one that’s assigned to you and it’s probably not one that you would pick.

You see that idea laid out, for example, in popular fiction like in the movie Pinocchio, because the main character in Pinocchio is someone who is a marionette whose strings are being pulled from behind the scenes.

So the idea there is that if you’re not your own person, you’re someone else’s puppet—or something else’s puppet. And that’s even worse.

One of the things Carl Jung also said about ideas, which just staggered me when I started to understand it, is “People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.”

You can think about that for about ten years. That’s a terrifying idea. And you when people are possessed by an ideology—all the people have the same idea! And you think, “Well, if all the people have the same idea, what makes you think that they have the idea? It’s exactly the other way around: the idea has them. And unless you understand that to some degree, you can’t understand the sorts of things that happened in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or Maoist China, where whole populations were gripped by an idea and acted it out. They were in the thrall of that idea. So it’s really important that you have your own story. If you’re without a story, some other damn story is going to pick you up. That’s for sure.

And one of the things Jung said, for example, is you should figure out what your story is, because it might be a tragedy. And if it is, you might want to rethink it. And that’s very much worth thinking through. It’s partly worth thinking through because the easiest sort of life to have is a tragedy. I don’t mean it’s easy on you, because it’s not. But if you just sort of fall forward into life thoughtlessly, the probably that what you’re going to have is a tragedy is virtually certain. And so perhaps you don’t want that—especially not if you decide you’re going to take care of yourself like you’re someone that you’re responsible for helping.


Fifteen years ago it felt like most of the internet was about sharing good things and forming somewhat intimate communities. Today, there are so many more people online, and I’ve read some speculate that the sheer increase in the number of connected people has contributed to the greater focus on mob-style trends and sentiments. The greater the crowd, the less reasonable it tends to be.

Whatever the case, I want to bring back some of the old internet, where you would do something as simple as sharing something you’re listening to. That’s was a big part of what AOL Instant Messenger seemed to be about.

Yeah, hey, hey
When somethings dark, let me shed a little light on it
When somethings cold, let me put a little fire on it
If somethings old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it
When somethings gone, I wanna fight to get it back again

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, fight to get it back again
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

When somethings broke, I wanna put a bit of fixin on it
When somethings bored, I wanna put a little exciting on it
If somethings low, I wanna put a little high on it
When somethings lost, I wanna fight to get it back again

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, fight to get it back again
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

When signals cross, I wanna put a little straight on it
If there’s no love, I wanna try to love again

I’ll say…

‘Satan is no principle’

When we experience good and bad things in our lives, they are invariably things that are incarnated in the world—meaning they’re a physical part of our world; they touch us as human beings.

When we experience the love of friendship and courtship and marriage, that is a love that comes from a person—it’s not simply an emotional feeling or a chemical response, because true love (agape) requires the commitment of choosing to love even when it becomes difficult or when the way seems uncertain. There is always a concrete being, a concrete person, at the heart of the good we experience. The same holds for the experience of the bad things in life—their source isn’t simply in ideas, or abstractions, or chemical responses which produce subjectively attractive outcomes.

All that is either good or bad might be thought of as whispers or echoes of their ultimate authors. We’re ultimately talking about God, the author of life, and the Devil, the being who rejects the good and gives rises to despair, dysfunction, and all the things we experience as hellish and which point to the permanent loss of life.

That’s my layman’s preface for Archbishop Chaput’s reflection on the recent comments from Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ:

Earlier this month the leader of a major Catholic religious order was reported as saying that Satan “exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”  True, his words may have been misinterpreted or taken out of context.  But if so, it’s not the first time; he said much the same in 2017.

Jesus, of course, was rather explicit about the devil as a personal reality, having dealt with him firsthand, as the Gospels note.  So is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  So is Pope Francis.  And so was Romano Guardini, who wrote in The Lord:

“Satan is no principle, no elementary power, but a rebellious, fallen creature who frantically attempts to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder.”

And again, Guardini, in The Faith and Modern Man:

“In reading the New Testament attentively, we come across a number of passages where Jesus refers to the Adversary of God and man — Satan. He speaks of him as the enemy of light and goodness, or the author of physical and mental disease, or He challenges him to open conflict. This fact has greatly embarrassed contemporary men, and they have tried — in so far as they have sought to hold on to Jesus at all — to eliminate from their mental picture all idea of Satan. They have evaded the troublesome words and acts, and have concentrated attention on the ‘purely spiritual-ethical’ aspects of the person and Gospel of Jesus, or they have stated plainly that belief in Satan belongs to a primitive mode of thought, or to a decadent time. What of this appears in Jesus is merely a survival from a past not wholly shaken off.

“But let us be perfectly clear on this point, for knowledge of the existence of spiritual beings, rebellious toward God and hostile to men, among them their ruler, Satan, belongs ineradicably to the picture of Jesus and to His consciousness of His mission. Without this consciousness, indeed, there is no Jesus.”

In a time of internal and external difficulties for the Church, it would be helpful — to put it kindly — for the leader of a major, global Catholic religious community to avoid creating havoc on matters of fundamental belief.  It’s a simple request.  It shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I forget where I read this, but someone put it this way: Christ wasn’t tempted in the desert by a symbol.

What ‘striving’ means

I spent most of today in Northern Virginia and eventually came back into the city on Metro. I got off in Rosslyn instead of riding into Foggy Bottom, because it was a beautiful day and I wanted to walk across the Key Bridge:

Tonight I listened to Archbishop Chaput’s homily on Facebook. Today addresses the question of, “Who will be saved?” where Christ responds that we have to strive to enter through the narrow gate. I liked Chaput’s riff on Christ’s use of the word “strive:”

Jesus seems to be saying that not everybody’s going to be saved. That the way to salvation is the narrow gate and many will not be strong enough to enter into it. We know from the first reading that God desires the salvation of everyone, and [yet] here Jesus seems to be putting an obstacle in the path of everybody being saved.

It’s interesting to understand the word that Jesus uses here. He says “strive” to enter the narrow gate. The word “strive” in Greek is αγωνιστής, which means to agonize. It’s where our word agony comes from. So to strive doesn’t mean to “give it a try”. It means to—with strength and with concern and with anguish, with anxiety—to get to work, at entering the narrow gate. In other words, to take this seriously, to the point of agonizing over it.

Visiting St. James in Falls Church

I visited St. James in Falls Church, Virginia for the first time tonight for the Sunday Vigil Mass, because Bishop Burbidge was installing Fr. Paul Scalia as St. James’s new pastor. Fr. Scalia was one of our speakers earlier this year during our Leonine Forum fellowship, and he’s a great witness. I don’t think I’ve ever been to the installation of a pastor before, and hearing the public commitment the pastor takes in faithfulness to Christ and the Bishop was great.

One of the hymns we sang was Horatius Bonar’s 1846 “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say:”

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary and worn and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your days be bright.”
I looked to Jesus and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk,
’til trav’ling days are done.

Justice, temperance, and prudence

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes on the relationship between justice, temperance, and prudence:

The virtue of justice, when taken alone, moves towards vice. The instinct for fairness quietly blends with the sin of envy, the desire that someone should “get what’s coming to them,” ironically named, “just deserts.” When we take pleasure in another’s misfortune, it is not the virtue of justice – it is the sin of envy. It is quite rare in our world that we find justice standing alone, pure and undefiled.

When mixed with envy, justice has the nightmare problem of no limitations. It is never satisfied with fairness – it requires punishment (inevitably justified as “fairness” or “recompense” or “justice”). The desire for justice, by itself, easily becomes an instrument of great evil. Every modern revolution that has been driven by a cry for justice has resulted in a bloodbath. The natural appetite for justice knows no limit. The quiet virtues of temperance and prudence are the necessary antidotes to such excess. They are also much less easily acquired. …

Temperance is best described as self-control. Prudence (doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right measure) is the virtue that is the foundation of wisdom. Though both are natural to us, both require nurture and development. Temperance and prudence are least evident in the young – it takes time and experience for them to take shape. It is the context of a virtuous community that allows such experience to safely bear fruit.

No human being stands alone. Just as we require others around us in order to acquire language, so the virtues are formed and shaped in the context of community. Language is a natural facility. However, if it is not acquired early, it can be difficult to acquire at all (as noted in the case of several “feral” children). We should assume that what is natural about the virtues is similar. Self-control and good judgement (other terms to describe temperance and prudence) involve the ability to say “no” – and not just to others – but to ourselves. We could say that the first sin in the Garden was a failure of both. It is interesting that the Fathers are often quite gentle in their treatment of Adam and Eve. They were “adolescents” some say. …

In a certain manner, modernity is the abrogation of temperance and prudence; as we embrace what is new, young, progressive, innovative, we fail to say “no.” More than this, we forget how to say “no.” Radical shifts in cultural experience are set in place with questions of consequences coming only later. For example, no single invention has had more impact on current culture than the smart phone. It makes the invention of the printing press pale in comparison. There are many complaints at present about the use of smart phones. In truth, you cannot tell what such a change will produce until years later (long after damage may be done).

Modernity, as a philosophy, has had little regard for what has come before. It imagines that human beings live best when they are allowed to freely choose their actions. Choice is certainly a part of life, but it has been exalted to an absurd degree. We do not choose our language, our DNA, the culture into which we are born, the family in which we grow up. Indeed, almost everything that constitutes who a person is comes from something that is not chosen. Choices are tiny variations on a theme that was already set in place.

How well we live those variations will depend upon character, both our own, and that of others around us. Of course, when the inherited wisdom of the tradition is interrupted in a society, what is handed down is diminished. The Orthodox Christian faith teaches the hope that Tradition is not merely human, but a gift from God. Our reception of what is given can be diminished, but the Source of all virtue can also restore what has been lost. In every generation, there are manifest those who embody what it is to be virtuous. In some cases, we call them saints. In other cases, we call them teachers, friends, helpers. In every case, to know them is to be touched by heaven.

Potomac sunset

Peter Atkinson and I were able to catch up last night in Georgetown at The Tombs over dinner. I hadn’t seen him since his performance in Ah! Wilderness in New York earlier this year, and it was a gift to spend the time with him in advance of his birthday and the start of his final year at Columbia University in their MFA program.

We enjoyed a great walk through the neighborhood and then across the Key Bridge into Virginia toward sunset. The skies were more vibrant than I remember ever seeing them—beautiful.