Our Lady’s Chapel

I’m fortunate to be able to look out onto the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle from my office. I’m also fortunate to be able to get to Mass there frequently. And the Cathedral is home to Our Lady’s Chapel, which I find to be one of the most spiritually powerful places in Washington. I thought I would share this since it’s the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:


Here’s the history the Cathedral offers for Our Lady’s Chapel:

…the last of the original chapels to be completed, and was dedicated in 1936. It features a new sculpture of the Virgin crafted by Washington artist Gordon Kray in 1984 to replace the original that was severely damaged. It depicts Mary as a caring mother reaching down to fallen humanity and pointing to her ascended Son.

And here’s what the Cathedral shares today:

“The feast of the pure and sinless Conception of the Virgin Mary, which is a fundamental preparation for the Lord’s coming into the world, harmonizes perfectly with many of the salient themes of Advent. This feast also makes references to the long messianic waiting for the Saviour’s birth and recalls events and prophecies from the Old Testament, which also are used in the Liturgy of Advent.” —Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 102

‘We have a lot of heart’

I spent yesterday morning at the Catholic Information Center for Leonine Forum’s Advent Recollection with Fr. Charles Trulloles. As that concluded, a friend of nearly 20 years stopped in and we caught up nearby at Daily Grill.

We went to Archbishop Wood together in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and we talked briefly about our alma mater’s latest state championship:

Trailing by three points in the PIAA Class 5A state title game with eight seconds to play and the ball on Cheltenham’s 3-yard line, Archbishop Wood second-year coach Kyle Adkins didn’t hesitate.

“We try a pass and if it’s not there we throw it out of the end zone and kick the field goal and go to overtime,” Adkins said. “We knew we could execute the play and it worked out for us.” …

Junior quarterback Max Keller found junior running back Cardel Pigford in the middle of the end zone for the winning score to give the Vikings a 19-15 win over neighboring Cheltenham in a wildly exciting state final at Hersheypark Stadium.

“We called the slant to Cardel and I knew he would catch it,” Keller said. “He and I have been playing football together since ninth grade and I knew he would be in the right spot.

“We only sent one guy out — everybody else was blocking — and I saw him come open and he made the catch. It was just an unbelievable way to end the game and win the state championship.” …

The state title was the Vikings’ third in the last four seasons and sixth since joining the PIAA in 2008.

“We don’t have the talent that a lot of the past state championship teams had, but we have a lot of heart,” Wood junior running back Kaelin Costello said. “There is no quit in anybody on this team and we knew what we had to do at the end of the game.”

What the Vikings (11-3) had to do was score because the Panthers, winners of 12 straight coming in, had taken their first lead of the game at 15-12 with four minutes left in regulation.

Archbishop Wood, which had two timeouts remaining, started from its own 35 after the ensuing kickoff and did what it had done all night — give the ball to Costello.

And he delivered.

Archbishop Wood was not a football powerhouse when we were there. It’s been great to watch the development of the program over the past 10-15 years.

‘Meet me at the eagle’

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.

Mass of the Americas

I attended Archbishop Cordileone’s “Mass of the Americas” this morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:


Join us for a Solemn Pontifical High Mass, which is the first-ever celebration of the Mass of the Americas in Latin celebrated by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Canon Avis is the Master of Ceremonies.

“I was ecstatic. You get the sense that something truly holy was happening there.” —Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“This is what a flourishing religious culture looks like – piety being lifted up and sublimated in the actual liturgy of the Church.” —Professor and Poet James Matthew Wilson

“The great Catholic tradition is alive and well, and is only waiting for courageous pastoral leadership and visionary patronage to continue its great story where it most belongs: in the bosom of the Church.” —Professor and composer Mark Nowakowski

It was put together through the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, and was a beautiful experience.

To make strong towns, unmake sprawl

Aaron M. Renn reviews Charles Marohn’s bookStrong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity“:

Strong Towns, the book and the namesake organization, resulted from civil engineer and urban planner Charles Marohn’s discovery that the highway projects he designed showed a negative return on investment. The local taxes generated by new road construction and expansion didn’t even cover the costs of the roads themselves, much less any other city services. Marohn calculated, for example, that it would take 37 years’ worth of property-tax revenue from all the houses on his own cul de sac just to recoup the street’s initial cost. This realization inspired Marohn to argue that urban sprawl is a financial loser.

According to Marohn, the current approach to suburban development is a “growth Ponzi scheme.” New developments, like housing subdivisions or industrial parks, require little maintenance for many years after their initial construction. This allows the municipal tax revenues they produce to be used for other purposes. But over time, infrastructure inevitably needs repairs, and, too often, a city can’t cover the cost. If the city goes ahead with the maintenance work, it will need to boost economic growth to generate the necessary revenue to pay for it.

A similar challenge arises on the private side. Unlike traditional communities, which organically form in increments, modern neighborhoods are commonly built in large, uniform blocks intended as permanent developments. Zoning and building codes, along with restrictive covenants, ensure this outcome. Today’s housing developments, for instance, might feature hundreds of homes—separated into various pods—that collectively sell within a narrow price range. Since these homes get built at once, they require major maintenance, such as roof replacement, at around the same time. Homeowners confront significant repair bills, but some cannot afford the upkeep, so the neighborhood can start to look worn down.

This convergence of public and private redevelopment costs—along with changes in market demand for building and neighborhood types that disproportionately affect “monoculture” developments—has contributed to the decline of many outer-urban and inner-suburban areas across America. In modern suburbia, dead malls and rising poverty levels bring municipal fiscal distress; government incentives helped trigger this pattern. “Today, the public sector backstops almost all private land development,” Marohn observes, “either by direct investments up front or by assuming the long-term maintenance obligations before the tax base has matured.” Marohn believes that a significant amount of U.S. infrastructure will be decommissioned due to its high cost.

What Marohn is getting at is the difference between organic and artificial human communities. We’ve been building “artificially” for 70+ years, and the results are the sort of communities Marohn is warning will be financially unsustainable—if not in themselves, then in the supporting infrastructure that they require. We need to think about making strong towns and communities by first unmaking the sprawl that has led to so much of our disconnectedness today—our commutes, our lack of town centers, our lack of relationship with those who should be our neighbors, our tax liabilities, etc.

Our older way of developing a place, which is incrementally, not only ensure that we have a real “center of gravity” in our communities in terms of town squares and places for sharing with one another in meaningful ways, but also that things don’t break at the same time, and that communities support their own needs as much as possible. We call that localism, but it might as well be called conservatism. It was the progressive social architects and engineers that gave us the problems we face.

TechCrunch also has a great review of the book worth checking out.

I’m planning to read “Strong Towns” before the end of the year.

Old Reston and Lake Anne

I visited a friend in Reston on Sunday afternoon to help with a project, and after finishing we walked through old Reston and saw Lake Anne. It’s been good to experience more of Northern Virginia and especially Reston. Lake Anne and the surrounding natural trails are beautiful, especially right now. Old Reston isn’t much to look at architecturally, but it’s so perfectly situated amidst nature that this, combined with its fundamentals (public square, al fresco dining, little shops and homes nestled alongside one another, walkable paths) make up for its deficiencies.

When I woke that morning after 6am, it was pitch dark due and raining on the way to and from 7:30am Mass. That continued the entire morning, but cleared up for what turned out to be a fantastic afternoon and evening.

Red Mass

I attended the Red Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle this morning, an annual Mass sponsored by The John Carroll Society for the Holy Spirit to guide all who make and interpret our law at the start of a new Supreme Court term.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington celebrated the Mass alongside Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington. It was a beautiful Mass, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and others in attendance. I caught up with Leonine Forum friends afterwards and a number of others, and went to Kramerbooks Cafe near Dupont Circle for lunch.

As background, The John Carroll Society offers this history of the Red Mass:

On February 15, 1953, Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle celebrated the first John Carroll Society sponsored Red Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle. In succeeding years, the congregation frequently has included the President of the United States, the Chief Justice of the United States, and Associate Justices, other leading federal, state and local jurists, cabinet officials, members of Congress, diplomats, university presidents, deans, professors, students of law, and lawyers.

The Red Mass is celebrated annually at the Cathedral, traditionally on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, which marks the opening of the Supreme Court’s annual term. Its purpose is to invoke God’s blessings on those responsible for the administration of justice as well as on all public officials.

Since its inception, the Red Mass has remained the ceremonial highlight of the Society’s year. Liturgically, the Red Mass is celebrated as the Solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit. Its name derives from the traditional red color of the vestments worn by clergy during the Mass, representing the tongues of fire symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Red Mass enjoys a rich history. Originating centuries ago in Rome, Paris and London, its name also exemplifies the scarlet robes worn by royal judges that attended the Mass centuries ago. The Red Mass historically marked the official opening of the judicial year of the Sacred Roman Rota, the Tribunal of the Holy See. During the reign of Louis IX (Saint Louis of France), La Sainte Chapelle in Paris was designated as the chapel for the Mass. In England, beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing even through World War II, judges and lawyers have attended the Red Mass, which today is celebrated annually at Westminster Cathedral.

In the United States, the Red Mass tradition was inaugurated in 1928 at old Saint Andrew’s Church in New York City. Since then, the Red Mass has been celebrated increasingly in communities throughout the United States.

Epiphany’s Tabernacle

I took this photo after Mass this morning at Epiphany in Georgetown. Ever since first coming here, I’ve been taken by the simplicity of this church and love it as a sign and symbol of the simplicity that characterizes holiness—the lack of ego, the lack of pretension, the humility. And one of the other things I love about Epiphany is the way the Tabernacle is illuminated by natural light through a small glass window.

It wasn’t dark in the church when I took this, but I brought the light down specifically to emphasize how beautiful the natural light illuminating the Tabernacle is—especially on early mornings or dark days. There’s poetry in that: the place where Christ dwells in the light.

The next conservatism

After work on September 5th I was initially headed home and walking down M Street, until I ran into a friend from Newsmax and decided to head to Catholic University for the Institute for Human Ecology-hosted debate between Sohrab Ahmari and David French. I’ve been following this debate since Sohrab Ahmari’s May piece, “Against David Frenchism“. It drew an incredible audience, probably 500+:

I think the debate itself was basically a disaster, in the sense that neither Ahmari nor French really debated one another—they spent most of the conversation trying to feel each other out, and so much of the conversation felt like a series of Twitter-style barbs rather than a good back-and-forth. You can watch/hear it here.

I spoke with Hadley Arkes afterwards, and he previewed what ultimately became this review/response to the debate. I think that’s worth reading if you watch the debate and come away as ambivalent by both Ahmari and French as I think many should have been after their debate. I have heard that their second encounter at Notre Dame went much better, but I haven’t had time to hear it.

All that said, Sohrab Ahmari’s latest First Things piece states very directly what wasn’t ultimately sussed out at Catholic University: “The New American Right: An Outline for a Post-Fusionist Conservatism“. It really is worth reading in its entirety, but I think this excerpt particularly helps explain why Ahmari started critiquing “Frenchism” (what Ahmari calls “a program for negotiating Christian retreat from the public square into a safe private sphere”) in the first place:

The common good and the highest good are among the bedrock principles of classical and Christian political philosophy. It is a sign of the times that their use now elicits a parade of horribles: the Inquisition and Islamic State, Francisco Franco and Ayatollah Khomeini, Vichyism and Leninism. The arch-liberal political theorist John Rawls seems to reign over the imaginations of many, even supposedly conservative, minds, for strong metaphysical claims to the public square are widely assumed to violate its neutrality. This truism is asserted even as the critics’ intemperate reactions reveal that the liberal public square is anything but neutral—that it is bathed in its own metaphysics and theology.

Progressive liberals are quite open about their aim: to raze all structures that stand in the way of an empire of autonomy-maximizing norms, an empire populated by the “free individual who no longer acknowledges any limits,” as Pierre Manent has written. Conservative liberals and libertarians share in this view of the highest good: The unfettered life is the best life. Most recognize the need for some limits, at least against freedoms that harm others. But the regulative ideal remains always operative: an ideal of ever-greater autonomy won through the removal of limits.

Our classical and biblical heritage holds a different lesson: that we are not free merely to the degree that we are unregulated, unrestricted, and undisciplined. Rather, true freedom is above all the free affirmation of the personal responsibilities attendant on individual rights. “I shall walk in liberty,” sings the psalmist, “for I have sought thy precepts” (Ps. 119:45). Freedom requires a moral and religious horizon, not just in man’s private sphere, not just at the level of culture and civil society, but also in his collective experience—that is, in the state and the political community.

Critics fret that such talk risks unsettling the peace of modernity and resurrecting “a premodern concept of the higher good.” It was precisely liberalism’s “ability to filter out the old prejudices,” one critic asserted, “that made the peace of the modern world possible.”

That is a cartoonish critique. It reduces millennia of religious tradition and philosophical contemplation to so many “old prejudices.” But it expresses a belief that is common enough: that liberalism has put an end to the religious conflicts of the past and ushered in an unprecedented peace by relegating faith to its proper—that is, private—sphere. To its critics, then, the new American right raises the specter of religious and moral conflicts that will imperil the peaceful freedom of the West.

But the new right begins from a different premise: that a great deal of our peaceful freedom is already lost. The free world doesn’t feel free, because often it isn’t. But this new unfreedom doesn’t arise from a dearth of individual liberties. The modern West is unfree because it is irresponsible, unbounded, unattached.

Ahmari writes elsewhere in the piece: “Yes, plenty of men and women still make commitments: They get married, have children, serve their communities, and so on. But they do so in spite of, and with little help from, our liberal-technocratic arrangement. At every step, disorder menaces families and communities.”

If any of this makes sense, or “sounds right” in some way, this is a debate worth following…

Lauinger Library tower

I took these photos on Saturday morning when I visited Holy Trinity, which is the only church within reasonable walking distance that offers Saturday morning mass. Does Georgetown’s Lauinger Library tower stand out as rudely to you amidst the rest of the aesthetic landscape as it does to me? Look at it:

What was the leadership at Georgetown thinking when they approved Lauinger Library’s design? That blank concrete tower, and the hulking concrete building overall, look grim even on a beautiful summer day. It only gets worse in winter’s dimmer days.