Cemeteries and charnel houses

Allan Barton writes on an older Christian attitude toward burying and living with our ancestors:

As a historian I have long been perplexed by the modern notion that churchyards can be become ‘full’ and that we are running out of burial space for the dead. The idea that our historic churchyards with the marked graves of long-forgotten Victorians and Georgians, cannot be reused for the burial of modern people, is a bizarre notion and is at variance with the traditions and ideas of past generations, including the Victorians and Georgians who now dispossess our generation of the right to be buried in God’s acre. In the past the grave was not considered to be private, alienable property that could be occupied for perpetuity, the churchyard was considered a communal space that individuals borrowed to enable the clean and efficient decomposition of their shrouded corpses. Human remains would be kept within the confines of the church and churchyard for perpetuity, but the concept that an individual grave space was yours and yours alone, was unknown.

When I was Rector of a benefice in Norfolk, one pleasant September afternoon I went to conduct my first funeral in one if my four medieval churches. My first act as incumbent was to deal with a rather fine specific of a human jaw bone, complete with an excellent set of gnashers, which was presented to me by the churchwardens.  After I had conducted the funeral in the churchyard, the jaw bone was popped back into the ground as part of new grave’s infill. That was the way we operated in this church, one of my predecessors had the good sense to start to re-use part of the churchyard that had last been used in the eighteenth century. When new graves were cut the bones of the dead were quite often disturbed and were usually added to the infill of the new grave by the gravedigger to one side of the new coffin. In doing that we were to all intents and purposes following the pattern that persisted in past centuries. The defleshed bones of the long dead, made way for the freshly dead corpses of the current generation. This whole process was both pragmatic and sensible and a churchyard never came to be filled.

In many medieval images of the burial of the dead from illuminated manuscripts you can see such a process being undertaken, though with a bit less dignity and decorum than in my former parish churchyard. In the French images I share on here of that subject matter, the gravediggers manhandle shrouded corpses into their last resting place in a shallow grave, while around the graves, lying on the ground are the skulls and bones of those accidentally exhumed in the process.

Notice in the image above the little painted grave markers that mark the burial place. For both economical and for practical purposes, these were made of wood.  Intended to last a generation or two at the most, they lasted just long enough for the deceased pass out of mind. Unlike the stone headstones favoured in the recent past, they were designed to decay and to be temporary.

Rather than returning the bones to the ground as part of the grave infill, it was quite common in the later medieval period, for the bones disinterred during the digging of graves, to be added to a communal bone hole or a structure called a charnel house. …

The bones were originally arranged in heaps against three walls of the chamber. Long bones in stacks, skulls on the tops of each heap. In the Middle Ages the walls of the end wall of the chamber was painted and in the nineteenth century there were still faint traces of an image of the Resurrection of Christ, wonderful fitting for a chamber devoted to those awaiting the general resurrection.

There’s one of these old-style churches in Lewes, Delaware—with its little cemetery in what would be the well-manicured front lawn of a modern suburban church. The Lewes church I’m thinking of looks precisely like what it is—something from another time. I found the description of the burial and charnel house practices of the past shocking, frankly. But maybe some movement toward those practices might help shock us into remembering that it’s not a tidy gravesite that we should look forward to, but rather the resurrection itself. If we’re overly concerned with the former, we’re probably not concerned enough with the latter.

Newman the failure

At age 79, when John Henry Newman heard the news that Pope Leo XIII had made him a cardinal, he said: “The cloud is lifted from me forever.” John Henry Newman is now a saint, but for much of his life he felt like a failure. Fr. Ian Ker reflects on “the saint whose life was ‘a history of failures'”:

John Henry Newman’s life can well be described as one of continual failures, if only because that was how he saw it. “All through life things happen to me which do not happen to others – I am the scapegoat,” he wrote.

He was sad to think, as he looked back on his life, how his time had been “frittered away” and how much he might have done, had he “pursued one subject”. His life seemed to be just “a history of failures”. He had been “so often balked, – brought into undertakings – then left in the lurch”. Plan after plan had “crumbled [in his] hands and come to nought”. When he was 60 he wrote that, although not “true to the letter”, he felt that he could say he had “received no piece of (personal) good news for 30 years and more”, nothing but “sorrows” and “anxieties”; all his works had failed.

As an undergraduate at Oxford, Newman performed disastrously in his finals, failing mathematics and only attaining the lower division of the second class in Classics. Exactly seven years later, he suffered a nervous collapse while examining finals papers and had to withdraw. As a tutor at Oriel College, he wanted to stop the practice of undergraduates having to hire private tutors from among recent graduates and considered it preferable for college tutors to provide tuition as well as the usual lectures. However, the Provost disapproved of the change that Newman and his colleagues introduced in 1828, and Newman was effectively dismissed as a tutor.

Also in 1828 he was invited by the Bishop of London to become one of the Whitehall preachers, an acceptance he subsequently withdrew in 1832 when he discovered the bishop’s theological liberalism. In 1830 he was dismissed as secretary of the Church Missionary Society because of a pamphlet he had written. In 1834 he failed to be appointed to the chair of moral philosophy.

As leader of the Oxford or Tractarian Movement and the principal architect of its theology of the via media, or “middle way”, he began, six years after starting the movement, to have doubts. These culminated in 1841 with the publication of Tract 90, which sought to interpret the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England in a Catholic sense. This was condemned first by the vice-chancellor and heads of colleges and proctors, and then by successive bishops. Finally, in 1845, Newman renounced the via media and the Oxford Movement, convinced that the Catholic Church was the true Church.

The disappointments and failures of Newman’s Catholic years were at least as grim as those of the Anglican years.

I think it can be easy to think that striving for virtue should lead to worldly success, in material and professional and other senses. But it’s probably more often the case that striving for virtue and friendship with Christ fortifies us in facing the failures that will inevitably confront us, in major or minor ways. In so many ways, Newman is a saint of our time as much as he is a saint for every era.

Bishop Barron and others hope Newman will be named a Doctor of the Church. I hope he is.

Saint John Henry Newman

Pope Francis canonized John Henry Newman a saint today. Here is the banner hanging at the Vatican in Rome today:

2019-10 John Henry Newman Banner.jpg

Saint John Henry Newman writes in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine on something I’ve thought about at different points—the seeming challenge to faith that is the presence of many Christian elements in other faiths, places, and periods:

Now, the phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is this:—that great portion of what is generally received as Christian truth is in its rudiments or in its separate parts to be found in heathen philosophies and religions. For instance, the doctrine of a Trinity is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian; of a divine kingdom is Judaic; of Angels and demons is Magian; the connexion of sin with the body is Gnostic; celibacy is known to Bonze and Talapoin; a sacerdotal order is Egyptian; the idea of a new birth is Chinese and Eleusinian; belief in sacramental virtue is Pythagorean; and honors to the dead are a polytheism. Such is the general nature of the fact before us; Mr. Milman argues from it,—”These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian:” we, on the contrary, prefer to say, “these things are in Christianity, therefore they are not heathen.” That is, we prefer to say, and we think that Scripture bears us out in saying, that from the beginning the Moral Governor of the world has scattered the seeds of truth far and wide over its extent; that these have variously taken root, and grown up as in the wilderness, wild plants indeed but living; and hence that, as the inferior animals have tokens of an immaterial principle in them, yet have not souls, so the philosophies and religions of men have their life in certain true ideas, though they are not directly divine. …

What man is amid the brute creation, such is the Church among the schools of the world; and as Adam gave names to the animals about him, so has the Church from the first looked round upon the earth, noting and visiting the doctrines she found there. She began in Chaldea, and then sojourned among the Canaanites, and went down into Egypt, and thence passed into Arabia, till she rested in her own land. Next she encountered the merchants of Tyre, and the wisdom of the East country, and the luxury of Sheba. Then she was carried away to Babylon, and wandered to the schools of Greece. And wherever she went, in trouble or in triumph, still she was a living spirit, the mind and voice of the Most High; “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions;” claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her own teaching. So far then from her creed being of doubtful credit because it resembles foreign theologies, we even hold that one special way in which Providence has imparted divine knowledge to us has been by enabling her to draw and collect it together out of the world…

John Garvey writes on Newman’s friendships:

Cardinal Newman never married, but warm, sincere, and lasting friendships—the kind that we so seldom form through digital interactions—gave his life richness. He cultivated them with his neighbors in Oxford and, after his conversion to Catholicism, at the Birmingham Oratory. He sustained them in his correspondence, some 20,000 letters filling 32 volumes.

In one of his sermons, delivered on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, Newman reflects on the Gospel’s observation that St. John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It is a remarkable thing, Newman says, that the Son of God Most High should have loved one man more than another. It shows how entirely human Jesus was in his wants and his feelings, because friendship is a deep human desire. And it suggests a pattern we would do well to follow in our own lives if we would be happy: “to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.”

On the other hand, Newman observes that “nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits” than independence. People “who can move about as they please, and indulge the love of variety” are unlikely to obtain that heavenly gift the liturgy describes as “the very bond of peace and of all virtues.”

And Dan Hitchens writes on Newman’s faith:

…if someone really has faith, they must believe that God is entirely good, and that he loves us. The submission to divine truth is the foundation of a love affair. Being a nineteenth-century Englishman, Newman didn’t like to go on about it, but there are moments when we glimpse what his life was all about:

[Saint John Henry Newman writes:] “I see the figure of a man, whether young or old I cannot tell. He may be fifty or he may be thirty. Sometimes He looks one, sometimes the other. There is something inexpressible about His face which I cannot solve. Perhaps, as He bears all burdens, He bears that of old age too. But so it is; His face is at once most venerable, yet most childlike, most calm, most sweet, most modest, beaming with sanctity and with loving kindness. His eyes rivet me and move my heart. His breath is all fragrant, and transports me out of myself. Oh, I will look upon that face forever, and will not cease.”

“There is something inexpressible” about the way in which the communion of saints draws us closer to the Author of life.

Trivialization of the erotic

Fr. Matt Fish shared this from Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos earlier this month, describing Percy as addressing “the demoniac spirit of the erotic, and what happens when the sexual mode of transcendence becomes all used up and can no longer hide the self from itself:”

What is the relationship between the two? Are they merely, as one so often hears, the paired symptoms of a decaying society like the fifth-century Roman Empire? Or is there a reciprocal relationship? That is to say, is a thoroughly eroticized society less violent and a thoroughly violent society less erotic?

Or, the more ominous question: Suppose the erotic is the last and best recourse of the stranded self and suppose then that, through the sexual revolution, recreational sex becomes available to all ages and all classes. What if then even the erotic becomes devalued? What if it happens, as Paul Ricoeur put it, that, “at the same time that sexuality becomes insignificant, it becomes more imperative as a response to the disappointments experienced in other sectors of human life”?

What then? Does the self simply diminish, subside into apathy like laboratory animals deprived of sensory stimulation? Or does the demoniac spirit of the self, frustrated by the failure of Eros, turn in the end to the cold fury of Saturn? …

Will the ultimate liberation of the erotic from its dialectical relationship with Christianity result in

(a) The freeing of the erotic spirit so that man- and womankind will make love and not war?

or (b) The trivialization of the erotic by its demotion to yet another technique and need-satisfaction of the organism, toward the end that the demoniac spirit of the autonomous self, disappointed in all other sectors of life and in ordinary intercourse with others, is now disappointed even in the erotic, its last and best hope, and so erupts in violence—and in that very violence which is commensurate with the orgastic violence in the best days of the old erotic age—i.e., war?

Everybody was thinking about battles

In 1909, Frank W. Boreham wrote:

“A century ago, men were following, with bated breath, the march of Napoleon, and waiting with feverish impatience for the latest news of the wars. And all the while, in their own homes, babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles.

“In one year, lying midway between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! During that one year, 1809, Gladstone was born at Liverpool; Alfred Tennyson was born at the Somersby rectory, and Oliver Wendell Holmes made his first appearance at Massachusetts. On the very self-same day of that self same year Charles Darwin made his debut at Shrewsbury, and Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath at Old Kentucky. Music was enriched by the advent of Frederic Chopin at Warsaw, and of Felix Mendelssohn at Hamburg, Samuel Morley, Edwin Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Francis Kemple. But nobody thought of babies. Everybody was thinking of battles. Yet viewing that age in the truer perspective which the distance of a hundred years enables us to command, we may well ask ourselves, ‘Which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809?’

“We fancy that God can only manage His world by big battalions abroad, when all the while He is doing it by beautiful babies. When a wrong wants righting, or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. That is why, long, long ago, a babe was born at Bethlehem.”

“In one year, lying midway between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! … But nobody thought of babies.”

Excerpted from Boreham’s Mountains in the Mist.

Abortion before the court

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the issue of abortion for the first time in three years:

The U.S. Supreme announced today that it will hear the petition filed by June Medical Services, a Louisiana abortion business, and the cross-petition filed by the State of Louisiana. The cases provide the Court with the first opportunity to speak to the abortion issue since the Hellerstedt decision three years ago, and potentially the continued viability of the constitutional right to abortion announced in Roe v. Wade (1973) and affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

“Americans United for Life welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to review both the commonsense Louisiana admitting privileges law and the legal question whether an abortionist should be able to stand in the shoes of his patients to challenge a medical requirement that is designed to protect them from him,” said AUL’s President, Catherine Glenn Foster. “Louisiana’s long and sordid history of dirty and dangerous abortion businesses being shuttered one by one in order to protect women from fly-by-night and dangerous abortionists should tell the Court all it needs to know, both about the legal benefits of this law and the dubious right of abortionists to sue to overturn laws designed to protect their own patients.”

June Medical’s petition seeks review of the constitutionality of a Louisiana law requiring all abortion doctors to have admitting privileges – the ability to directly admit a patient from the abortion clinic into a nearby hospital when emergencies arise – within thirty miles of their abortion facility. The U.S. Supreme Court held a similar Texas provision unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, but did not rule on the overall validity of such provisions. Louisiana now argues that since its admitting privileges law would leave abortion centers open in both population centers in the state, it does not create an “undue burden” on abortion access in Louisiana in violation of Casey.

Abortion law has been a mess for decades. We’ll see how things look in 6-9 months.

‘Perfection and satisfaction are the same thing’

I’ll share the second of three excerpts from Fr. Luigi Giuassani’s book “Christ, God’s Companionship with Man” today, from his writing on “The Risk of Education,” and on the pursuit of happiness:

Our insistence is upon the education in criticism: a child received a patrimony from the past, communicated to him by engaging him in a present experience, which presents that past, giving reasons for what it says. Then he must take that past and its explanations and evaluate them, comparing them with what he finds in his heart and say, “it’s true” or “it’s not true” or “I doubt it.” Through this process, with the help of companionship (without this companionship, man would be at the mercy of the tempests and fickleness of his heart, in the instinctive understanding of the word “heart”), he can say “yes” or he can say “no.” In doing so, he takes on his stature as a man.

Too often, we have been afraid of this critical capacity. Others, those who were afraid of it, have wielded it without understanding it well, and have used it poorly. Criticism has become equated with negativity, as has questioning something that someone has told you. If I tell you something, then you question it, asking yourself, “Is it true?,” this has been equated with doubt or rejection of what was said. The identity of a question with definitive doubt has been disastrous for young people’s identity today.

Doubts bring the search for truth to an end (which may or may not last), but a question, or a problem, is an invitation to understand what is in front of us, to discover something new that is good and true; it is an invitation to a richer and more mature sense of fulfillment.

Without these three factors: tradition, an experience lived in the present and the reasons for it, and criticism—I’m so thankful to my father, who always taught me to look at things and ask why; who would tell me each night before going to bed, “You always have to ask why. Ask yourself why,” (though he said it for very different reasons)—young people will be like fragile leaves far from the branch that supports them, subject to the changes of the strongest wind; subject to public opinion manufactured by whoever is in power: “Where are you going?” as the Italian poet Leopardi wrote.

Our goal is to free young people from the mental slavery that binds them, from the conformity in which their thoughts are enslaved by the opinions of others.

From my first day of teaching, I always said, “I’m not here so that you can take my ideas as your own; I’m here to teach you a true method that you can use to judge the things I will tell you. And what I have to tell you is the result of a long experience, of a two-thousand-year-old history.”

We have been careful to respect this method throughout our efforts to educate and have tried to clearly explain the reason for the method: to demonstrate the relevance of faith to answer life’s needs. Through my education at home and my time of formation in seminary, and later through my own meditation, I was thoroughly persuaded that a faith that could not be found or confirmed in present experience, that was not useful to its needs, would not be a faith capable of standing up in a world in which everything, everything, says the opposite. This opposition was so deep that, for a long time, even theology became a victim of the diluting of truth.

Our goal is to show the relevance of faith to answer the needs of life, and therefore—this “therefore” is very important for me—to demonstrate the reasonableness of the faith, but we must give a precise definition to understand reason. To say that faith exalts our reason is to say that faith corresponds to the fundamental and original needs of every human heart. We see the use of the word “heart” to describe what we might call “reason” in the Bible. Faith responds to the original needs of the human heart, which are the same for everyone: the need for truth, beauty, goodness, justice, love, and one’s complete satisfaction, which—as I often emphasize with young people—refers to the same thing as one’s “perfection.” (In Latin, satisfacere or satisfieri mean the same thing as perficere, or perfection. Perfection and satisfaction are the same thing, as are happiness and eternity.)

So when we say something is reasonable, we mean that it corresponds to the fundamental needs of the human heart, those needs that man—whether he wants to or not, or is aware of them or not—uses to judge everything, with varying degrees of success.

Considering all we have said, to give the reasons for faith means to constantly expand upon and deepen our description of the effect that Christ’s presence has on the world…

“Perfection and satisfaction are the same thing, as are happiness and eternity.”

There’s something radical in the idea that America’s idea of the “pursuit of happiness” could perfectly sync with the Catholic pursuit of perfection; of the highest good; of beatitude.

‘Life begins with breath’

Clarke Forsythe writes on Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s attempt to hand-wave away the issue of abortion by, of all things, invoking the Bible:

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg appeals to Scripture to defend his opposition to restrictions on abortion. “There’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath,” he told a radio audience Sept. 5, adding that no matter what anyone thinks about “the kind of cosmic question of where life begins,” it ought to be up to “the woman making the decision.” …

Mr. Buttigieg’s religious musings obscure that America’s legal tradition—going back to the English common law—has long protected unborn children to the greatest extent possible given existing medical understanding. As Justice James Wilson noted in the 1790s, “With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger.”

Rulings from as long ago as the 17th century show that English common law prohibited abortion at the earliest point that medicine could detect that a developing human was alive (the stethoscope wasn’t invented until 1816). English and American law subsequently prohibited abortion at earlier points during pregnancy, as medical understanding and technology allowed.

We know scientifically when human life begins—when the process of human development starts. What we need is the ethical and legal and judicial courage to protect human life comprehensively based on what we know to be true—and based on what is consistent with our own social/moral tradition as Clarke outlines it.

The judicial usurpation of politics

First Things November 1996 symposium, The Judicial Usurpation of Politics, might as well have been written today:

Articles on “judicial arrogance” and the “judicial usurpation of power” are not new. The following symposium addresses those questions, often in fresh ways, but also moves beyond them. The symposium is, in part, an extension of the argument set forth in our May 1996 editorial, “The Ninth Circuit’s Fatal Overreach.” The Federal District Court’s decision favoring doctor-assisted suicide, we said, could be fatal not only to many people who are old, sick, or disabled, but also to popular support for our present system of government.

This symposium addresses many similarly troubling judicial actions that add up to an entrenched pattern of government by judges that is nothing less than the usurpation of politics. The question here explored, in full awareness of its far-reaching consequences, is whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime.

Americans are not accustomed to speaking of a regime. Regimes are what other nations have. The American tradition abhors the notion of the rulers and the ruled. We do not live under a government, never mind under a regime; we are the government. The traditions of democratic self-governance are powerful in our civics textbooks and in popular consciousness. This symposium asks whether we may be deceiving ourselves and, if we are, what are the implications of that self-deception. By the word “regime” we mean the actual, existing system of government. The question that is the title of this symposium is in no way hyperbolic. The subject before us is the end of democracy.

Since the defeat of communism, some have spoken of the end of history. By that they mean, inter alia, that the great controversies about the best form of governance are over: there is no alternative to democracy. Perhaps that, too, is wishful thinking and self-deception. Perhaps the United States, for so long the primary bearer of the democratic idea, has itself betrayed that idea and become something else. If so, the chief evidence of that betrayal is the judicial usurpation of politics.

Politics, Aristotle teaches, is free persons deliberating the question, How ought we to order our life together? Democratic politics means that “the people” deliberate and decide that question. In the American constitutional order the people do that through debate, elections, and representative political institutions. But is that true today? Has it been true for, say, the last fifty years? Is it not in fact the judiciary that deliberates and answers the really important questions entailed in the question, How ought we to order our life together? Again and again, questions that are properly political are legalized, and even speciously constitutionalized. This symposium is an urgent call for the repoliticizing of the American regime. Some of the authors fear the call may come too late.

The emergence of democratic theory and practice has a long and complicated history, and one can cite many crucial turning points. One such is the 1604 declaration of Parliament to James I: “The voice of the people, in the things of their knowledge, is as the voice of God.” We hold that only the voice of God is to be treated as the voice of God, but with respect to political sovereignty that declaration is a keystone of democratic government. Washington, Madison, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and the other founders were adamant about the competence—meaning both the authority and capacity—of the people to govern themselves. They had no illusions that the people would always decide rightly, but they would not invest the power to decide in a ruling elite. The democracy they devised was a republican system of limited government, with checks and balances, including judicial review, and representative means for the expression of the voice of the people. But always the principle was clear: legitimate government is government by the consent of the governed. The founders called this order an experiment, and it is in the nature of experiments that they can fail.

The questions addressed have venerable precedent. The American experiment intended to remedy the abuses of an earlier regime. The Declaration of Independence was not addressed to “light and transient causes” or occasional “evils [that] are sufferable.” Rather, it says: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The following essays are certain about the “long train of abuses and usurpations,” and about the prospect—some might say the present reality—of despotism. Like our authors, we are much less certain about what can or should be done about it.

The proposition examined in the following articles is this: The government of the United States of America no longer governs by the consent of the governed. With respect to the American people, the judiciary has in effect declared that the most important questions about how we ought to order our life together are outside the purview of “things of their knowledge.” Not that judges necessarily claim greater knowledge; they simply claim, and exercise, the power to decide. The citizens of this democratic republic are deemed to lack the competence for self-government. The Supreme Court itself—notably in the Casey decision of 1992-has raised the alarm about the legitimacy of law in the present regime. Its proposed solution is that citizens should defer to the decisions of the Court. Our authors do not consent to that solution. The twelfth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Harlan Fiske Stone (1872-1946), expressed his anxiety: “While unconstitutional exercise of power by the executive or legislative branches of the Government is subject to judicial restraint, the only check upon our own exercise of power is our own sense of restraint.” The courts have not, and perhaps cannot, restrain themselves, and it may be that in the present regime no other effective restraints are available. If so, we are witnessing the end of democracy.

I spoke with Charlie Camosy recently, and he commented on the strangeness that is Congress’s obsession with, on the one hand, party-obsessed pitched battles, and on the other, deference to executive power in most of the ways that are of truly grave importance. In short, the legislative branch hasn’t sought to check the executive branch for a very long time. And no one is checking the judicial branch.

A central reason for the political anxiety of American life since the end of the Cold War might be that “checks and balances” seem to no longer be in effect.

Housing, parenting, and faith

Zoey Maraist writes on young Catholics living with hope, getting married, having kids, and embarking on the adventure of life together despite economic challenges that are shaping most of the Millennial experience:

Brothers Brendan, 7, David, 5, Matthew, 3, and James, 2, smile and cheer as their father Daniel, 29, pushes them higher and higher on the swing in their front lawn. Baby Finn rests comfortably in his mother Mary’s arms as she watches her boys soar.

The five brothers get a lot of family time. Mary, 29, homeschools the school-age children, and though he commutes from Herndon to Arlington, Daniel’s schedule allows him a good amount of quality time with his kids before their bedtime. They know many Northern Virginia families involve their kids in several different activities, but Mary and Daniel, parishioners of St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, try to prioritize family life.

“These boys are like best friends and I hope that relationship continues even when they start going to a school where they’re in different grades,” said Mary, adding, “And that they have a really solid sense of being part of our family first.”

Family was a big reason Daniel, who grew up in Vienna, and Mary, a Dallas native, decided to settle in Northern Virginia. “This family circle of community is definitely a part of why we’re able to be here,” said Mary. “If we moved to someplace cheaper, we’d be trading away the family relationships.”

Mary and Daniel starting dating while attending the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. They were married in Texas and lived with Daniel’s parents after having their first son. “(Daniel’s mom) especially really encouraged me (to stay at home), (saying) since you’re already with family, just stay home with him and see how it goes, and that just rolled into the rest of our lives,” said Mary.

Their first place of their own was a three-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op in Burke. “Because it’s sort of an unusual financial structure, especially for the area, it tends to be cheaper,” said Daniel. They slowly made improvements, and four years later, moved into their current home, which had more space but was still relatively close to Daniel’s parents. “When buying the house, we just had to accept that housing here is very expensive and our priority was to find some place we wouldn’t have to move out of,” said Mary.

The other reason to return to the area was Daniel’s alma mater, The Heights School in Potomac, Md., where they hope to send their boys. The couple likes the school’s single-sex environment, the liberal arts education and the strong faith formation. The connections Daniel made at the school have served him well post-graduation, too. “All my jobs came through people I knew at The Heights,” said Daniel, who now works in government consulting in addition to serving in the National Guard.

The couple’s current financial priority is to save for school, and for whatever else their growing family needs. “This would be a great time to be putting away as much as possible into retirement, but we also need to save for a new car because one more kid and we don’t fit in our minivan,” said Mary. “Secular peers would have more of a sense of what their family size will be, but we have a fuzzier sense of what that will be, so you have to plan for those contingencies.”