‘We take sin so casually’

Charles J. Chaput celebrated his final Mass as Archbishop of Philadelphia on Sunday, and in doing so he concluded 31 years of service as a Catholic bishop:

At the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Chaput told his parishioners he is grateful to them, and pointed following Jesus Christ as the pathway to truth and happiness.

“I’ll still be around, I’m not dying, I’m just retiring,” Chaput said Feb. 16, just days before the Tuesday installation of his successor, Archbishop-designate Nelson Perez.

In a homily that stayed tied to the Mass readings, characteristic of Chaput’s preaching style, the archbishop cited the second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, saying it captures his experience of ministry to the Church in Philadelphia.

“What eye has not seen and ear has not heard and what has not entered the human heart: what God has prepared for those who love him,” St. Paul wrote. “This, God has revealed to us, through the Spirit.”

Chaput thanked the congregation for “the gift of your presence in my life.”

“God bless you,” he concluded.

The archbishop described his successor Perez, until recently the Bishop of Cleveland, as “a very good man” who “will serve you well as archbishop.” …

In his homily, Chaput reflected on divine law and God’s revelation.

“One of the problems with the commandments is we think of them as laws or rules. What they really are is a pattern of life,” Chaput said. “They’re not there to test us to see if we’re good, because we know we’re not, right? The commandments are there to show us how to be good.”

“God is telling us if you want to be happy, then don’t steal. If you want to be successful, you won’t bear false witness. If you want to have successful marriages, you won’t commit adultery,” the archbishop explained.

“We have freedom to choose whether or not to be good,” he said. At the same time, he emphasized that Christians can’t keep the commandments on their own, but must depend on God’s grace. Some struggle and sin again and again, “sometimes because we depend on ourselves rather than God.”

“Think about the most difficult (sins) for you: gossip, adultery, not to kill, not to anger,” Chaput said, stressing the importance of the commandments.

“What’s at stake here is our salvation, our eternal life, or our eternal damnation,” he added. stressing the importance of the commandments.  “You and I determine our future by what we choose: life–following the commandments—or death. Good or evil.”

On Sunday’s gospel, the archbishop warned of the “danger of scandal.”

“One of the biggest sins that you and I can commit is leading someone else into sin,” he said. “It’s bad enough we lead ourselves into sin. But it’s much worse if we lead ourselves into sin, and through that lead someone else into sin.”

Chaput said he couldn’t state it any clearer than Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Archbishop Chaput asked the congregation: “When’s the last time you led somebody into sin by your sin?” …

Jesus’ use of exaggerated language, such as recommending someone cut off his hand rather than sin, makes the point of the seriousness of the matter.

“It would be better for us, really, that we don’t have a hand than that we sin,” said Chaput. “And we take sin so casually in our life.”

“One of the problems with the commandments is we think of them as laws or rules. What they really are is a pattern of life,” Chaput said. “They’re not there to test us to see if we’re good, because we know we’re not, right? The commandments are there to show us how to be good.”

David Rubenstein and patriotic philanthropy

Mikaela Lefrak’s portrait of billionaire David Rubenstein is a fitting read for George Washington’s birthday. I’m a sucker for what Rubenstein calls “patriotic philanthropy”:

Rubenstein has shaped the cultural landscape of the nation’s capital perhaps more than any other private citizen in the past century. The Bethesda resident has done it while generally avoiding negative press, putting him in stark contrast with other Washington billionaires – your Jeff Bezoses, your Donald Trumps.

“You know, I get a lot of pleasure out of doing these things,” Rubenstein told me at the top of the Washington Monument. “And if I didn’t do them and I died with more money, would I be a happier person? I don’t think so.”

He calls this type of giving “patriotic philanthropy.”

But in this age of bitter partisanship and vast income inequality, what drives someone to stay out of politics and instead give their money to monuments, museums and historic sites? It’s not even clear that these public institutions are as universally valued today as they once were. And many a presidential candidate would argue that the very concept of being a billionaire is morally suspect. …

So what motivates David Rubenstein to follow this path?

Deciding to give away money is easy. Figuring out how to do it can be much more complex.

First, you need a strategy. Take Andrew Carnegie: The 19th century tycoon spent the last two decades of his life as a full-time philanthropist, building more than 3,000 public libraries across the country and setting up education and cultural institutions. Many of them still thrive today, from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University) to Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Other billionaires set up private foundations and hire other people to give their money away for them. The Ford Foundation was built on the wealth of the founders of Ford Motor Company in 1936. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world, with more than $50 billion in assets.

There’s also a more business-minded approach. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan created a limited liability company that allows them to both make grants and venture investments.

As for David Rubenstein, there’s no foundation, no LLC. Just a check book and a passion for American history.

Rubenstein’s old school approach to public life as a billionaire, seeking to make an impact in a way that is at once deeply political, in the sense that he’s bolstering our national institutions, and yet beyond partisanship, in the sense that he appears to relate to other people first as people, is refreshing.

‘Kansas City has a lot going for it’

In light of Kansas City, Missouri’s Super Bowl victory, friend, colleague, and St. Louis-native Noah Brandt ribs Kansas City as Missouri’s second-greatest city:

St. Louis is Missouri’s flagship city. When outsiders from across the country hear Missouri, they think of a Gateway Arch, blue Bud Light, and two red birds on a bat. While Kansas City has its virtues, Jack Stack Barbecue first among them, it is still firmly in the No. 2 spot compared to its more mature sister to the east. On every front, St. Louis continues to reign supreme as the leading city in our great state.

St. Louis has a larger economy and is the home of more large and important corporations. The Cardinals and Blues have more championships between them than all of the professional sports teams in Kansas City combined. The fine arts scene in St. Louis is out of this world, with the symphony and the Muny setting national standards. Highly ranked universities. Killer beer scene.

You get the picture. St. Louis rules.

All of this is really not meant to demean Kansas City. Kansas City has a lot going for it, and the city is a shining jewel in Missouri’s crown, just not the crown jewel right in the middle. Kansas City is firmly in second place (maybe third if you count the glorious Broadway in the Ozarks utopia that is Branson). But seriously, the friendly rivalry between St. Louis and Kansas City benefits everyone and encourages both sides to strive to do better. Iron sharpens iron.

Great inter-state rivalries like this, like Philadelphia/Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, really are the best.

‘Victims of a moral panic’

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Talking with Strangers, has a chapter on the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal. Malcolm Gladwell is speaking in Happy Valley tonight and Ben Novak writes on the whole thing in StateCollege.com:

In “Talking with Strangers,” Gladwell stirred up a hornets’ nest with his chapter on the Sandusky scandal entitled “The Boy in the Shower.” The thesis of this new book is that humans innately tend to form positive impressions of others, even in the face of contrary indications. Using the Sandusky scandal as a case study, he takes on many of the misunderstandings and false “facts,” upon which the media narrative of that scandal has been based.

Since the book’s publication, however, he has stirred the hornets even more in several podcast interviews. In a podcast interview with Bill Simmons, Gladwell asserts, “The leadership at Penn State was totally, outrageously attacked over this. I think they’re blameless,” In addition, Gladwell insists, “Joe Paterno essentially did nothing wrong.”

Statements such as these are sure to send sparks flying and evoke a lot of questions—perhaps even some soul searching. But in another interview, this time with John Zeigler, Gladwell went even further, claiming, for example:

“There is no way Joe Paterno even belongs in this conversation. Everyone should agree he was treated shamefully and that his good name needs to be restored.”

“We were way, way, way, way too quick to come to judgement about the Penn State leadership and on Joe Paterno, and way too quick to think that Mike McQueary’s account is cut and dry when, in fact, it’s not.”

“Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz were the victims of a moral panic. It was crazy.”

When the NCAA restored Penn State’s victories and avoided its sanctions five years ago, it acknowledged precisely the “moral panic” it both fell victim to and perpetuated.

Alexandria for an afternoon

I had thought earlier in the week of a hike today, but the weather is cold and windy enough that I changed plans. I headed to Old Town, Alexandria for Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary and then headed to Village Brauhaus to spend time with a friend and catch up.

It’s a great thing to be able to do and see so much in and around Washington with relatively little trouble.

January scenes in Washington

It’s back to being January-like in terms of temperature—much more unpleasant to be walking around Washington. But all things considered I’m glad to walk and to be able to take in simple scenes like the two below this week, first on Dumbarton Street and the second facing Connecticut Avenue.

Looking forward to a quiet MLK Day weekend and the March for Life next week.

Visiting St. Ann’s

I visited St. Ann for Mass on Sunday. It’s a beautiful old church, celebrating its 150th anniversary. It’s up Wisconsin in Tenleytown, a ten minute or so drive north from Georgetown.

The Gospel on Sunday was Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism. It was a gift to see St. Ann’s beautiful mosaic of this scene.

Snow on Connecticut

It snowed yesterday and for the first time this winter, but only for a few hours. The government let out at 1pm to allow people a hypothetically simpler commute home before the snow started in earnest. I worked from the office for the afternoon, since I can walk home. It was clear and fine in DC by six or so, but apparently pretty bad on the more rural roads in Northern Virginia.

It’s been a mild winter so far, but I hope we get a few great snow storms in the next few weeks.

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‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind’

I spent this morning in Arlington at St. Charles for the Borromeo Brothers men’s group. I hadn’t been for a few weeks due to work and travel in December, and it was great to be back and to start the new year with good men.

We read and considered Romans 12:1-13, where Paul is speaking: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” That’s part of the reading.

We spoke about what this call to be a “living sacrifice” looks like in the day to day, in our lives and especially in relationships like marriage. A few of the married guys shared powerful and honest reflections.

A friend joined for Borromeo Brothers, and afterwards we went to Mass and then caught up at Northside Social over coffee, before I walked back to Georgetown.

It’s a beautiful day despite being overcast, like 55 degrees. Great day to be with good people and to be outside.

Fresh new days

I got back into Washington early yesterday afternoon. It’s a good time of year in the city. The days feel just as fresh as the year, and it feels as if a good portion of the city is still away until next week. The streets have felt quieter than normal, and it makes it a bit more peaceful, like on tonight’s walk home from work.

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This was the view as I walked along M Street, over Rock Creek and the Rock Creek/Potomac Parkway.