Georgetown Marian Procession

This morning I went to 7:30am Mass at Epiphany in Georgetown for the Feast of the Assumption. And at 7pm I walked back to Epiphany for their Marian Procession through Georgetown, from 27th and Dumbarton to Wisconsin, and then down Wisconsin and along M Street, and finally back up 27th to Epiphany.

We prayed the Rosary and at each decade the priests leading the procession offered a meditation on Mary as our mother. “Beauty is attractive,” it was said at one point, “but holiness is inspiring.” As we walked along, pointing in our way to Mary’s holiness, I thought about how far away from that I often feel. And as I thought this I heard Philippians: We’re here to work out our salvation. We sang between decades—Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above, and Immaculate Mary.

As we stood in front of Epiphany at the end, one of the women led us in singing the Salve Regina:

Salve, Regina, mater
misericordiae:
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra,
salve.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et
flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo, Advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos
ad nos converte.
Et lesum, benedictum fructum
ventris tui,
nobis, post how exsilium
ostende.
O clemens: O pia: O dulcis
Virgo Maria.

Tradition and community life

Christopher M. Reilly writes on healthy community life:

Senator Josh Hawley is right when he says that America needs to renew its attention to “the middle.” The quibbling of Democrats’ debates, and the historic dysfunction of Congress, show that most of our governing class is simply ignoring the demands that half of the country expressed by electing President Trump. We have had more than our fill of postmodern chaos and excuses from a governing class that is fleeing from responsibility for average citizens. All generations, not least the hounded Millennials and the forgotten elderly, have heard too much about an “epidemic of loneliness” and “death by despair,” and not enough about reasons to hope. …

While rebuilding a community requires reorganizing power, there is much more to it. It is not enough simply to urge people to rejoin their church or a baseball league. As Robert Putnam and his colleagues demonstrated in Making Democracy Work, communities are built around shared traditions and norms―the “social capital” of the people. A local community has a character that distinguishes its people and place, one that gives the community an identity that its residents can relate to, negotiate with, and absorb into their own personalities. The social capital of a community is not merely an asset for its current residents: it also affects the welfare of future generations and the community’s attractiveness to newcomers. Public policy must therefore take it into account.

There is always the danger that emphasizing social capital and tradition can quickly lead a community to oppress or unjustly exclude some people. The entire political tradition of the Enlightenment can be seen as a resistance to unthinking, oppressive traditions that were thought to underlie the Leviathan states that existed before and during early modernity. But the American communities that we are considering are much smaller in geography and population than the nation-state, and therefore the dynamics of interaction are different; as a shared language for face-to-face social engagement and events, knowledge of tradition can be essential to individuals’ free participation in dialogue within their community.

Moreover, not all appeals to tradition are sincere. Niccolò Machiavelli urged leaders to pay lip service to traditional themes in their public statements in order to give their progressive policies a more appealing ideological mask. We see the same deception at work today as the dual forces of elite centrism and relativism use the language of family, peace, and religious sincerity as a convenient decoy while they in fact promote a culture of impulsive consumerism. By contrast, the tradition and common sense of America’s small communities authentically uphold faith and family as ballasts against the chaos of postmodernity.

Because of the importance of passing on tradition, a flourishing community requires active communication among citizens. The members of the community must engage, debate, and cooperate in the social and political processes that govern the community’s operations. But that cooperation can happen only if each citizen identifies so closely with his extended neighborhood that that identity expresses itself spontaneously in his action. In other words, true citizenship is a process of dialogue between the individual and the whole, and such citizenship is at the core of what defines any community. As Rudolf Steiner declared: “A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.”

That being said, we should add that one kind of community, the two-parent family, is founded on natural bonds that go deeper than the members’ self-identification with the group. Families are the bedrock of well-being for their individual members, both children and adults. They give their members financial security, healthy emotional growth, and the life experience that imparts spiritual and practical wisdom. For children in particular, living a happy family life teaches them that the larger world—of which their family is an image—is good, a lesson that children carry all through their lives. Moreover, families act in the larger social dialogue in ways that individuals do not, through inter-couple relationships, collective parenting networks, and intergenerational support. Flourishing communities are as much defined by the engagement of families as of individuals.

All of this ties in with Philip Halfacre’s vision of genuine friendship.

Dumbarton Oaks Garden

I visited Dumbarton Oaks Garden today for the first time, alongside a friend whose idea it was to go. It’s in Georgetown, and only a few blocks from home, but it feels like you’re in the country:

In 1920, after a long and careful search, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss found their ideal country house and garden within Washington, DC. They purchased a fifty-three-acre property, described as an old-fashioned house standing in rather neglected grounds, at the highest point of Georgetown. Within a year, the Blisses hired landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand to design the garden. Working in happy and close collaboration for almost thirty years, Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand planned every garden detail, each terrace, bench, urn, and border. The upper sixteen acres were transferred to Harvard University in 1940 to establish a research institute for Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, and studies in the history of gardens and landscape architecture.

A thousand ages like an evening gone

At Epiphany in Georgetown for Mass this morning, O God, Our Help in Ages Past was sung. I don’t remember hearing it before:

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
with all their lives and cares,
are carried downward by your flood,
and lost in foll’wing years.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op’ning day.

Our God, our help in ages past
our hope for years to come:
O be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.

Breathing on Mount Nittany

I spent today in Happy Valley for Arts Fest, driving up from Washington in the morning and back home in the evening. Despite seeing Ben Novak and others, the trip was a horrible one, for reasons I won’t get into. It’s always people, and never places or things, that matter.

But if you’re not with friends or loved ones, being alone in God’s creation with the space to breathe isn’t necessarily the worst place to be. This has turned out to be a small way, and certainly not the most important way, to appreciate God’s presence, but it’s something.

Catholic University scenes

It’s been a beautiful week at Catholic University of America for the Civitas Dei fellowship, which has been taking place in Maloney Hall—the home of the Tim & Steph Busch School of Business. I haven’t been able to attend every session, but those I’ve been present for have helped me think more deeply and more seriously about the commitments we’re making (or not making) to advance the common good in our society.

What I haven’t captured here is the torrential rain that kicked off the week on Monday morning, that caused flash flooding across the city. But even when it has rained, it’s been that warm-ish summer rain that leaves you wet, but not miserable.

Civitas Dei

We spent Independence Day weekend in Virginia in Front Royal and Manassas, and I’m back in Washington tonight at Catholic University and the Dominican House of Studies. I’ll be a part of the Civitas Dei Summer Fellowship this week:

The Civitas Dei Summer Fellowship (sponsored by the Thomistic Institute and the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America) supports rising scholars seeking to better understand the Catholic intellectual tradition. This summer’s program will examine the search for happiness as a fundamental end of the person and the polis. Applications will be accepted from graduate students and advanced undergraduates in all disciplines.

The week-long seminar will introduce students to foundational themes in philosophy, political theory, and theology, dealing with law, personhood, political life, and the search for happiness. The focus will be an introduction to foundations of political and moral theory of Augustine, Aquinas, and modern constitutional jurisprudence. The program will include visits to institutions in Washington, DC, as well as encounters with outstanding Catholic public figures. The seminar is an excellent way to think theoretically about the intersection of political theory, moral principles, and practical engagement, in the heart of the nation’s capital.

Adrian Vermeule
Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law
Harvard Law School

Adrian Vermeule is the Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law. Before coming to the Law School, he was the Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. The author or co-author of nine books, most recently Law’s Abnegation: From Law’s Empire to the Administrative State (2016), The Constitution of Risk (2014) and The System of the Constitution (2012). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. His research focuses on administrative law, the administrative state, the design of institutions, and constitutional theory. Having grown up in Cambridge and attended Harvard College ’90 and Harvard Law School ’93, Vermeule lives in Cambridge still.

Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P.
Professor of Moral Theology, Dominican House of Studies
Prior of the Dominican House of Studies

Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., is the prior of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, where he also teaches moral theology. He obtained his doctorate from the university of Fribourg (Switzerland), defending a dissertation on St. Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of the common good. Fr. Guilbeau has also worked for various Catholic media, including The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM Radio, EWTN Radio, and Aleteia.org.

Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, The Catholic University of America
Faculty Fellow of The Institute for Human Ecology

Chad C. Pecknold is an associate professor of systematic theology. He teaches in the areas of fundamental theology, Christian anthropology, and political theology, with a particular interest in Saint Augustine’s City of God. As a commentator on the Church and contemporary politics, Dr. Pecknold has appeared on a wide variety of other news programs from NPR and PBS, to FOX, CNBC, Voice of America, and the BBC. c policy to natural science, technology, and the environment.

Independence National Park in 2026

David Murrell writes on Independence National Park, worth reading this Independence Day weekend:

The City of Philadelphia, which technically owns Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell (more on that later) and profits immensely from the park’s tourism, is guilty of neglect, too. Over the past decade, it’s given a total of $76,000 to the park — less than the annual salary of a single police officer.

But perhaps most damning of all is the widespread apathy toward the park, which seems to be shared by just about every Philadelphian. Is there something missing in our genetic code? People in Boston and Washington, D.C., have a certain historical pride baked into their DNA — even though neither of those cities has the place where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the building where the Constitution was debated, or Alexander Hamilton’s central bank. We care more about sports, food and Rocky than our historical significance. Perhaps a Freudian psychologist would trace this apathy back to when our young city lost its status as America’s capital in 1800.

In 2026, the United States will turn 250. It seems self-evident that the entire country’s attention will shift to Philadelphia, as it has for every significant anniversary in American history: the Centennial in 1876, the Bicentennial in 1976. Will our city’s crown jewel be polished in time?

When you take a tour of Independence Hall, you’re meant to absorb the following bit of American gospel above all else: that the United States is a grand experiment, its brand of federalism a shining beacon for all other governments to follow. What they don’t tell you on the tour: The federalism celebrated in American lore is also the precise reason why Independence Park is foundering. …

“Philadelphia has, literally, the best stuff in the nation,” she says. “I just can’t imagine that everyone shouldn’t be sending all their dollars to fix it and make it even better.”

It could happen. The world got a glimpse of widespread civic-mindedness in April, when the Nôtre Dame cathedral burned in Paris. Residents streamed into the streets as flames burst from the spire. One onlooker told the New York Times in a moment of despair, when the building’s fate still hung in the balance, “Paris is beheaded.”

Parisians arguably have every excuse to be more apathetic about their history than Philadelphians are, considering France’s wealth of historical sites. Yet $1 billion was raised for Nôtre Dame in the two days after it burned. To the French, the cathedral wasn’t merely another famous building — it was the soul of Paris, the lifeblood of the city. Would people be similarly devastated if Independence Hall caught fire?

We tend to think of historical buildings as just that: old, fixed in time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their pasts may already have been written, but they straddle past and present in equal measure. Each dollar Walker solicits for the First Bank or Independence Hall becomes part of those buildings’ legacy; each tour MacLeod leads widens their story. And we seem to have forgotten that ours is an active inheritance — it must be maintained. There are few consistent lessons across history, but this one is most apt: Just because something is here today doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow.

New York over 29 years

A few years ago, I saw someone share photos of a few Chinese cities that have been developed out of (more or less) empty landscapes over the space of a decade or so. Here’s an older version of that before/after perspective on New York from The Sun, showing the city’s skyline from 1880-1909:

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Now look at this as a metaphor for your life. What can you build over the next 29 years, and how can you change over the next 29 years?

Knight ‘Public Spaces Fellows’

Knight Foundation has established “Public Spaces Fellows:”

Launched in February, the program recognizes leaders, experts, and practitioners who are dedicated to developing public spaces that create or strengthen civic engagement. Selected from more than two thousand candidates, the seven fellows will receive $150,000 each in flexible funding as well as opportunities to learn from one another, share lessons, and raise their work up to a broader audience.

The 2019 class of fellows includes Anuj Gupta (Philadelphia), who as general manager of Reading Terminal Market has spearheaded engagement initiatives designed to bring people of different backgrounds together around food; Eric Klinenberg (New York), who recently served as research director of Rebuild by Design, a federal competition aimed at generating innovative designs in a region affected by Hurricane Sandy; Erin Salazar (San Jose), founder and executive director of Exhibition District, a women-led arts nonprofit that works to create economic opportunities for artists at the intersection of public art and community; Chelina Odbert (Los Angeles), co-founder and executive director of Kounkuey Design Initiative, a nonprofit design firm that advocates for community participation in public space development; Kathryn Ott Lovell (Philadelphia), commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and an advocate for “citizen-centric” service; Walter Hood (Oakland, California), creative director and founder of Hood Design, which practices at the intersection of art, design, landscape, research, and urbanism; and High Line co-founder Robert Hammond (New York), who had the foresight twenty years ago to reimagine what an abandoned elevated railbed on the west side of Manhattan could become.

New York’s High Line is the obvious standout in terms of the project with the clearest public impact, but each of these fellows provides a model for how people might respond ambitiously and with a conserving spirit to build upon the best part of the existing built environment of their community and potentially transform it in the process.