November 2019

  • Among John Wanamaker’s lasting gifts to Philadelphia are the old Wanamaker’s flagship that Macy’s now occupies, and a beautiful work of art that remains in its heart—an incredible American Eagle.

    I saw it yesterday when visiting Center City for the first time in a while, and thought I’d share it and the language from the marker that accompanies it. I remember my grandmother telling me about growing up in the city in the 1930s and ‘40s, and how the Wanamaker eagle was a frequent meeting place.

    Meet the Grand Court Eagle.

    This majestic bronze beauty proudly hails from Frankfurt, Germany, home of its creator, sculptor August Gaul. Department store pioneer John Wanamaker purchased the eagle for his flagship store following its debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The rest is history. Before long, “Meet me at the eagle” became the catchphrase for shoppers and visitors meeting in Center City.

    The eagle has remained right here for over a century; the floor beneath reinforced with extra girders to accommodate its massive weight of 2,500 pounds. All 5,000 feathers, including 1,600 on the head alone, were wrought by hand.

    Thanks for visiting the Grand Court Eagle and carrying on a long-beloved Philadelphia tradition of rendezvousing in Center City.

  • Christmas Village in Philadelphia

    I spent the afternoon with family in Philadelphia, checking out the Christmas Village at Love Park, then heading to Macy’s for Wanamaker’s Christmas Light Show, and then heading to Reading Terminal Market for dinner. It was a beautiful but cold day, and a great way to spend the day after Thanksgiving.

    I’m now on a train back to Washington.

  • Creator of all things

    Happy Thanksgiving. On the walk back from 7:30am Mass at Epiphany in Georgetown this morning, I stopped to admire this perfect autumn scene, with its contrast of white home and picket fence and red-orange radiant foliage.

    I caught a 1pm train from Union Station to Philadelphia to be with family early this afternoon, and sharing two things today. First, from President Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:

    “[I]t is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits … who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…”

    And second, a hymn that seems appropriate for the season—reading “night” both literally and as the “night” of late autumn and winter.

    O God, Creator of all things,
    Who rules the firmament as King,
    Who clothes the day with gilding light,
    And with the grace of sleep, the night,

    We hymn you thanks for this done day,
    And for the rising night we pray,
    That you will hasten to our aid,
    To help us fill the vows we made.

    To you our deepest hearts resound,
    To you our voices’ tuneful sound,
    To you arises high above,
    From sober minds, our purest love.

    And when the darkness is profound,
    And day lies in dark’s prison bound,
    May faith not know the want of light
    But light the very dark of night.

    O Christ and Father, we request,
    From you and from your Spirit blest,
    That you who rule with single might
    May care for us throughout the night.

  • Earlier this year we commissioned an Americans United for Life/YouGov national poll in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signing late-term abortion into law in New York, and we found that a supermajority of self-identified pro-choice Americans oppose New York-style late-term abortion.

    And earlier this month we released another Americans United for Life/YouGov national poll in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to consider Louisiana’s Democratic-sponsored 2014 “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” which ensures that no woman can be abandoned by an abortion practitioner, and that when a woman’s life is threatened from complications arising from an abortion, emergency transfer laws will ensure her access to life-saving medical care. Madeline Fry puts this issue into context:

    For some abortion supporters, regulations that require certain medical standards from abortion clinics are a trap — literally, a TRAP: targeted regulation of abortion providers.

    Included among this supposed scheme are laws requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A paper in the American Public Health Association calls them “stringent” and “medically unnecessary.”

    Yet a majority of Americans aren’t buying it. The pro-life organization Americans United for Life commissioned a poll by YouGov, a non-partisan polling firm, which surveyed more than 1,300 adults last month to ask them about these medical standards.

    What did we find? We found that supermajorities of Americans supporting common sense life-affirming law and policy:

    • A vast majority of Americans (78.2%) believe that physicians performing abortions should be able to transfer women who experience complications directly to the emergency room;
    • 70% agree that abortion facilities should be held to the same medical standards as any ordinary hospital;
    • 73.8% support states being able to pass safeguards that ensure abortion facilities are in compliance with basic medical practices and sanitation;
    • Three out of four Americans agree that abortion doctors should be held to the same medical standards as ordinary physicians; and
    • Of those surveyed, 43.3% were self-identified pro-choice, 35.5% were pro-life, and 23.9% were neither.

    We also spoke with Alexandra DeSanctis on “Life, Liberty, and Law” about the AUL/YouGov poll and SCOTUS as we look ahead to 2020 and its planned hearing of oral arguments in late winter.

  • Terence Sweeney writes on Alan Jacobs’s “The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis”:

    History can be told as the story of what happened, but it can also be narrated as the story of what could have been but was not. We look to history, in part, to see not only what is now but what may be. This is in part the motivating force behind various genealogies whether they be Michel Foucault’s or Alasdair MacIntyre’s. If the past is not what we have been told, perhaps the future may be different from what we have been told it will be. …

    Auden was skeptical of a “program of Christian social renewal” in part because of his concern that it was “a massive misunderstanding of the claims of Christianity” to treat it as “a means to an end, that end being social cohesion” (81). This is the threat of conservatism for Christianity: it makes Christianity a force for social good—the city of God makes a better terrestrial city. But as Auden knew: “This is to re-enact the Constantinian error, which was to ‘profess and practice a religion of success’” (81). The crass version of this is the prosperity gospel in which Christianity will help us win so much we get bored of winning. In the richer traditions of Christianity, the question remains: what is the victory we seek?

    For Auden, this victory could not be a social, cultural, or political. He challenges us to ask if we “believe that the contemplative life is the highest and most exhausting of vocations, that the church is saved by the saints?” (55). These values probably do not benefit society, but the contemplative and the saint seek a kingdom that is not of this world. Yet, for Auden in For the Time Being, they must remain at work here for we have “the time being to redeem / From insignificance.” Our victories this side of Eden are ironic ones redeemed only by the hope of Someone Else’s victory. We can only pursue this true victory by working for small victories “In the Kingdom of Anxiety” for it is only here that we can “Love Him in the World of the Flesh.” If you hope in the most ironic victory—that of the Cross—you may come to “the great city that has expected your return for years.” All we can do until then is win some and, more often, lose some, work against technocracy and nationalism, and actively wait as a service to God and to all. Ultimately, it is not social reform that matters; what matters is becoming saints. …

    Perhaps it is Auden’s sense of irony and hope that leads Jacobs to close with the message of yet another writer: the French philosopher Jacques Ellul. Jacobs sees Ellul as having been “more realistic” in choosing “the simple hope for miraculous deliverance” (206). For a Christian, this is the truest realism, for our only hope is for the continuing miraculous deliverance of the Cross, Resurrection, and Return. Still, this reader was left grasping at the end. Is our only hope, as the diminished thing, a miracle? Jacobs leaves us with the advice that we must learn from these writers and that we must be aware of the signs of the times. But what can either teach us? As the diminished thing, how are we to arrest this diminishment and maybe even grow? These writers did not arrest the time. If, as I posited in the beginning of this essay, a genealogical approach gives us a sense of what was not, but also what could be, then Jacobs seems to provide us with little in the direction forward. The past that failed seems now merely a prologue towards continued diminishing.

    Perhaps then, this diminishment provides us the spiritual lessons we need. Genealogical accounts are meant to remind us of contingency and so possibility for what may be. But what Auden teaches is that social reform is not our ultimate goal even if our social reform is a new Christendom. And now that comprehensive Christian social reform is wellnigh impossible, we must learn to dwell as diminished. Jacob’s lesson is that our calling is to be diminished in the year of the Lord 2019. What Eliot, Weil, Maritain, Lewis, and Auden provide ultimately is not the wisdom of a new Christendom, but the wisdom of a diminished Christianity. The possibility they open up is the possibility of a wiser Christianity, which has been shorn of its political power but also liberated for its work in the time being as we await another but very different coming of Christ.

    What is a Christian’s telos or purpose? By God’s grace, becoming a saint. Christianity’s telos is not social cohesion per se, but of achieving a greater soul and greater soulfulness.

    This is why the “the simple hope for miraculous deliverance” is Christian realism at its best, because it recognizes that its hope in “miraculous deliverance” corresponds with our little-thought-upon “miraculous appearance” at conception and emergence into this life. Just as our coming into life was an unanticipated gift, our leaving it too can be looked upon as a “going home” to the God who brought us into being.

  • Fall Washington scenes

    A few photos I took over the past few weeks, starting in late October along the Potomac, looking out toward the Key Bridge and Rosslyn, then continuing for three scenes in Alexandria, then on to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court.

    I look back on photos like these afterwards and am often amazed at how beautiful a world we live in. Our (my?) memory doesn’t let us remember what we’ve seen so vividly, and little scenes like these can encourage us in living our everyday lives with at least a bit more wonder.

  • Christ the King

    A homily reflection from Saint Josemaria Escriva on the feast of Christ the King:

    Christ’s lordship over the universe is commemorated in various ways in feasts of the liturgical year, including the Epiphany, Easter, and the Ascension. With the Solemnity of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in the context of the growing secularization of the world, the Church wishes to highlight even more clearly Christ’s sovereignty over all creation, including human history.

    Jesus’ reign, as the liturgy of the Mass underlines, is a regnum veritatis et vitae; regnum sanctitatis et gratiae; regnum iustitiae, amoris et pacis. Truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love and peace: these are the values that the human heart most longs for, and we Christians can contribute to bringing them about. We can do so especially through works of mercy done for the most needy, as the gospel for this feast in Year A tells us. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome.

    Nevertheless, Jesus himself warned us, my kingdom is not of this world. His sovereignty will be seen in its fullness at his second coming in glory, when there will be new heavens and a new earth, and all creatures, free from the slavery of sin, will serve and never cease to praise him. Now is the time of expectation, of working for his kingdom, confident that the final victory will be his.

    Jesus is the center of history: not only the history of mankind as a whole, but also of each individual person. Even when it seems that everything is lost, it is always possible to appeal to our Lord like the good thief, as the gospel for Year C tells us. What peace comes from the fact that, in spite of our past, with sincere repentance we can always enter the Kingdom of God. “Today we can think about our own story, the path of our life. Each one of us has our history; we each have our mistakes, our sins, our happy moments and our sad ones. On a day such as this we do well to think about our own history, and to look at Jesus, and to say often, but from the heart, in silence, each one of us: ‘Remember me, Lord, now that you are in your kingdom. Jesus, remember me, because I want to be good, I want to be good, but I don’t have the strength, I just can’t. I’m a sinner, a sinner. But remember me, Jesus. You can remember me because you’re in the center, you’re right there, in your kingdom’.”

    When instituting the Feast of Christ the King, Pius XI wrote: “While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim His kingly dignity and power, (and) all the more universally affirm His rights.”

    “Jesus is the center of history: not only the history of mankind as a whole, but also of each individual person.”

  • Marco Lapi writes on a Communion and Liberation conference on the theme of care of the elderly, and on the themes of loneliness and isolation:

    Fr. Julián Carrón, who was entrusted with the theme “Faith and Solitude” … [spoke] on this last “elementary experience of man” as sung by Giacomo Leopardi in his Nocturnal Singing of a Wandering Shepherd of Asia and as described by Emily Dickinson: “There is a solitude of space, a solitude of sea, a solitude of death, but these society shall be compared with that profounder site, that polar privacy, a soul admitted to itself, finite infinity”. Because, added Fr. Carrón, “no solitude is comparable to that of a soul in the presence of itself”. As Fr. Giussani stressed, “the sense of impotence accompanies every serious experience of humanity”, therefore “the more aware man is of the immense dimension of his impotence, the more he realizes that that solitude cannot find an answer in us or in others”.

    On the other hand, a different perception of lacking is not lacking in human experience, which revels itself as a “marvellous achievement”, as Gaber sang: Loneliness is not madness, it is essential to be in good company”. It has nothing to do, for example, with the anguish that pervades the two orphans of Pascoli’s the homonymous poem, at night. “A tremendous conquest or a marvellous condemnation?”, Carrón asked himself, referring to how Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz. She also spoke of it: “I know two forms of loneliness: one makes me feel terribly unhappy, lost and without direction; the other makes me strong and happy”. The answer, and the difference, is not to be alone or not, but to live a life full of meaning.

    A question of attitude, as the words of the psychiatrist Eugenio Borgna, cited by Carrón, recall: “Loneliness and isolation are two radically different ways of living, even if they are often identified. To be alone does not mean to feel alone, but to be temporarily separated from the world of people and things, from the daily occupations, to enter into one’s inner self or imagination, without losing the desire or nostalgia for the relationship with others, with loved ones, with the tasks that life has entrusted to us. We are isolated, however, when we close ourselves because others reject us or when, more often, we follow the wake of our own indifference, of a gloomy selfishness that is the effect of an arid and dried up heart. Therefore, it is not a condemnation, because there is no lack of testimonies of how it is possible to live any human situation positively. Journalist Marina Corradi, quoted by Carrón, talks about her “crack”, which at a certain point became “severe depression”: “I read Mounier: “God passes through wounds”, he wrote. It made me think that perhaps my crack, like a hole in a waterproof wall, was a necessary laceration? If I did not exist, who am physically healthy, not poor, lucky, I wouldn’t need anything. That broken wall, that flaw, is a salvation. A torrent of grace, uncontrollable, can enter through it and fertilize the dry and hard land.”

    “This is the fight in any circumstance”, explained Carrón: “But for what reason do we want rid of it? Only love for ourselves, because, in fact, even the deepest pain can lead us to discover completely unknown horizons. But, to open ourselves up to this possibility we must look at it with that openness that only man can have”. Provided we do not fall into that current emptiness of meaning, described by psychoanalyst Umberto Galimberti, which does not affect “a particular age, because you can already live old age at the age of twenty,” says Carrón.

    In order for loneliness to be “experienced as a positive factor of living”, it is necessary to go through it. In order for it to become “the place where to discover the original companionship”, it is necessary “not to block the need for meaning that dwells in the human “. Starting from the fact that we do not make ourselves, as as Etty Hillesum again testifies: “Inside me there is a very deep source. And in that source there is God. Sometimes I can reach it, more often it is covered with stones and sand: then God is buried. Then we must unearth it again”. “Life is, therefore, expressed, above all, as awareness of the relationship with the one who makes it”, continued Carrón, citing Fr. Giussani’s Religious Sense: “Only in this way can solitude be overcome, in the discovery that we are like love that continually gives itself, that makes me, because there is an Other who wants me to be there. Companionship is in the “I” because we do nothing alone, because we are generated by Him in every moment. Every human friendship, every attempt to respond to this loneliness is a reverberation of the original structure of being, that is, of this original companionship that Another makes us by putting us into the world”.

    To be comfortable with being alone with yourself is something like a superpower—an wholesome aloneness not touched by melancholy or despair, but enriched by a splendid sort of isolation that provides us the necessary space to know ourselves by knowing our creator. The first step toward experiencing this comes from silence, which Robert Cardinal Sarah reflects on in “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.”

    We all need this sort of solitude, and to develop a capacity for it if it doesn’t come naturally to us. A capacity for solitude is something to be pursued intentionally precisely because it’s a precondition for our capacity to give of ourselves to others.

    “To be alone does not mean to feel alone, but to be temporarily separated from the world of people and things, from the daily occupations, to enter into one’s inner self or imagination, without losing the desire or nostalgia for the relationship with others, with loved ones, with the tasks that life has entrusted to us.”

  • Penn State News covers our recently concluded campaign to endow the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship:

    As a student programmed-and-operated radio station, The LION is integral to the Penn State experience and provides a voice for the student body. The LION has been a platform for many students to gain valuable experience over the years and go on to successful careers in journalism, broadcasting, advertising, and related fields. A unique feature of The LION is that membership is open to students of any academic major, as well as graduate students, members of the faculty, and townspeople.

    A recently endowed scholarship, the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship, is helping to support the students who run The LION.

    The scholarship was initiated in 2014 with a gift from Michael Walsh, a Penn State alumnus who graduated with a bachelor’s in telecommunications from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

    “I was excited to strengthen Penn State student radio through this scholarship because it occupies a distinctive place amongst Penn State’s student organizations,” said Walsh. “It enables people anywhere in the world to literally hear some of the life of the Penn State campus and Nittany Valley communities. As a powerful platform for free expression, for artistic creativity, and for authentically diverse perspectives, The LION has for decades brought people together in a way no other student organization does. I hope this scholarship increases access for Penn Staters to become a part of the continuing tradition of student radio.”

    The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group – one of more than 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups – led the fundraising efforts to raise the $50,000 needed to permanently endow the scholarship. In 2019, the group met their fundraising goal.

    “Penn State has been a leader in broadcasting college radio since the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912 led to WPSC and some of the earliest student broadcasts in American history,” said Tom Shakely, Penn State alumnus and campaign chair for the scholarship. “Penn State student broadcasters enrich the campus and community through the free expression of the human voice. Now, thanks to the generosity of alumni from across many generations, students will continue to benefit from the establishment of the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship and will have the potential to participate in this distinctive Penn State tradition of student broadcasting without being as burdened by the cost of their degree.”

    Since its establishment in 2014, the scholarship has provided more than $25,000 of support to students.

    The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group was also instrumental in the installation of the Student Broadcasting historical marker in 2017. The marker, located outside of Sparks Building, celebrates the long history and significance of student broadcasting at Penn State.

    The scholarship is open to Pell-eligible undergraduate students with preference given to members of The LION 90.7 FM. Members of the University and community can contribute to this by visiting

    Hands down, The LION 90.7fm was the best part of my Penn State experience. Experience running a federally licensed radio station, experience managing budgets and a large team, experience with stakeholders, fundraising, and most important: learning how to speak in a compelling and relevant way in public.

    I hope many generations are still to follow.

  • Charlie Camosy writes on his relationship with Peter Singer, Princeton’s infamous analytic philosopher:

    I saw that, even if Singer was a committed atheist, he had a lot of common ground with Catholic social teaching, Thomas Aquinas, the church fathers and Jesus himself. More surprising to me, I began to find his views on abortion and euthanasia more interesting.

    Though I considered him clearly wrong about moral status and who counts as a person, he was wrong in interesting and informative ways. And, again, he was one of the few in his camp who was willing to follow his arguments wherever they led him — even if it was to a deeply uncomfortable place.

    After I arrived in my current place at Fordham University, I began to think about a book project exploring Singer’s work, which would eventually become “Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization.” …

    We have never papered over our differences. Indeed, as one does when one is an analytic philosopher, he honored our friendship by inviting me to debate him in various places, from his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, to his classroom at Princeton. …

    As I reflect back on our 10 years of friendship, I’ve come to realize that, especially in our current context, Singer’s significance arises from his unwavering commitment to facts and arguments. Despite decades of attempts to “cancel” him (an audience member once leapt on stage, ripped off his glasses and smashed them with his foot), Singer refuses to bend to the temptation to use raw power to marginalize those with whom he disagrees.

    His approach is the only way out of our current mess of a public discourse. Indeed, as far as I can tell, it is the only way to give the vulnerable and marginalized a shot at having their point of view taken seriously by those who hold power over them.

    I spoke with Charlie a few weeks ago, and we touched on Singer and the value he had as one of the rare opponents of the human right to life who was willing to “follow the logic” where it leads. When Singer advocates for lawful infanticide and other barbaric practices, he’s following the logic of a culture that rejects human dignity as innate. And at least to the degree that he’s being honest with where the logic of that attitude toward human life leads, we should be grateful for his willingness to say what others will not say.

    Charlie’s friendship with Peter Singer is instructive in another way, too. Without instrumentalizing friendships, it bears keeping in mind that only through friendship can we hope to soften or change another’s heart.