Rally Against Bullying

I was in Center City, Philadelphia yesterday for the Rally Against Bullying, organized in response to Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims’s live-streamed verbal abuse and harassment of a grandmother, mother, and three teenaged girls who were praying outside of Center City Philadelphia’s abortion center:

The “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” took place in front of a downtown Philadelphia Planned Parenthood facility. On May 2, state Rep. Brian Sims livestreamed video from the same location, posting two videos in which he denounced two women, three teenagers and a man.

Sims called for donations to Planned Parenthood while offering money to viewers who could provide the identities and addresses of the witnesses.

Shortly after the videos emerged on social media, the national organization Live Action organized the rally. It featured representatives from a number of local and national groups…

Several speakers directly addressed Sims’ claims that the pro-life advocates he had filmed were racist.

Richara Krajewski of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia said she stood before the crowd “as a pro-life black woman.”

Noting that “it’s so popular now to call out racism,” Krajewski wished to clarify that application of the term, particularly “in the context of pro-abortion politics.”

“Real racism,” she said, “is co-opting the language of liberation to advocate for the destruction of the lives of the most vulnerable. Real racism is a so-called white ally telling black and brown women that they need to choose between their dreams and their babies.”

Kevin D. Williamson writes on Brian Sims’s decision to stream himself harassing members of the public:

The times being what they are, perhaps we should classify political fanaticism of the social-media performance-art variety as a kind of insanity. Political fanatics such as Sims live in the shadows between the idée fixe and outright monomania. The inferior kind — and Sims is the inferior kind — fixate on terminology as a substitute for ideas, and for them buzzwords are a necessary intellectual crutch. Hence, Sims’s shouty accusations of “white privilege” in the face of a young woman who, as she pointed out with a smile, is not white. Intersectionality — it is a bitch.

Rep. Sims had offered $100 to anyone who would reveal the names and home addresses of the women he filmed himself harassing. Thankfully, that resulted in Philadelphians instead crowdfunding more than $125,000 to benefit the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and Guiding Star home for women and children.

Jean Vanier, RIP

Sohrab Ahmari honors Jean Vanier, who has passed away:

Jean Vanier, the Canadian Catholic philosopher and humanitarian who died on Tuesday aged 90, was a giant of a man. Well over six feet tall, he towered over me when I visited him for an interview in Trosly-Breuil, France, in 2015. In Vanier, however, even his height and bearing were transfigured into a source of warmth and humility; I ended up describing him as a “gentle giant” in my write-up.

He was due to receive the $1.7 million Templeton Prize that year, in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s breadth of spiritual dimensions”. Yet he was painfully reluctant to talk about the prize. I remember how he lowered himself somehow (again, both physically and emotionally) when I brought up this great honour. “Don’t push me up, don’t push me forward,” he insisted, in a voice that was almost a whisper.

Vanier would have preferred that I write not about him but about his friends at Trosly-Breuil, the site of the first L’Arche community he established. L’Arche, or the Ark, is the movement of people with disabilities and their non-disabled peers (called “assistants”) who live together as friends and equals.

Today L’Arche is among the most luminous examples of what it means to live Catholic social teaching and Gospel values in the modern world. It’s also the most powerful counter-witness to the culture of death and the eugenic revival that has some countries boasting of having “eliminated” Down’s syndrome.

Vanier’s story, and that of L’Arche’s founding, are legendary, though these are true and well-attested legends. …

L’Arche has grown to some 150 communities on five continents. Part of the point is of course to help people with disabilities live lives of laughter, dignity and happiness. But the non-disabled who come to L’Arche soon learn that they need as much help and healing as the disabled do. The non-disabled helpers are also counted among the poor at L’Arche.

“What people with disabilities want is to relate,” Vanier told me in that 2015 interview. “This is something unique. It makes people who are closed up in the head become human. The wonderful thing about people with disabilities is that when someone important comes, they don’t care. They care about the relationship. So they have a healing power, a healing power of love.”

I got a light touch of that healing power during my own visit to Trosly-Breuil. After interviewing Vanier, I was invited to lunch at the Ferns, the group home that serves some of the most severely disabled residents. I’ll be honest: all the spitting and gurgling of food at first discomfited me. As an only child, my heightened sense of personal space was also at risk. But then we held hands and thanked Almighty God in song, and I opened up. By the time the meal was over, I didn’t want to leave the Ferns.

Afterward, I asked Vanier what people like me, who can’t give up married and professional lives to live in community, can do to help. Here’s what he told me:

“Try and find somebody who is lonely. And when you go to see them, they will see you as the messiah. Go and visit a little old lady who has no friends or family. Bring her flowers. People say, ‘but that’s nothing’. It is nothing – but it’s also everything. It always begins with small little things. It all began in Bethlehem. That was pretty small.”

I learned of L’Arche only this past fall as part of Leonine Forum.

We work so we can have a home

Andrea Burke writes on an undervalued path to happiness:

We’ve gone so far down the road of feminism that we’ve forgotten how to proudly be feminine. You want to carry a child in your bones and lay down your life for them for more than 18 years? You want to lay down your life and learn to die to self for the rest of your life? You want to serve someone with all your heart, body, and soul? You want to master the art of cooking for a crowd and have clean clothes and end each day knowing that there’s a group of people who look to you as one of their anchors and rocks? You want to work your tired body from dawn to dusk for love? …

I wish we loved the strength it takes for a woman to become a wife and a mother. We marvel at her physical strength when she births a child. But we forget what invisible strength she shows when she lays down her life for her home every day after that. Social media spends all of its energy telling women to remember who they are, to fight for their sacred spaces, to become the woman they want to be. All things that feel confusing when you’re holding a newborn baby and learning to forget your self-centeredness, allow others into your personal space, and become the woman that you are becoming and not who you thought you’d be.

I wish as a culture, we understood what happens in those four walls when two adults decide to sacrifice for one another, be good stewards of their money, welcome in guests, and raise a generation to know the heritage of the Lord. I wish we called it more than a contract, an agreement, or even a commitment to vows. I wish we called it holy, beautiful, other-worldly.

We’ve tried to make it easy. We’ve updated our lives with gadgets and gizmos aplenty. We’ve made our machines smarter. We’ve made our cleaning supplies more time efficient. We’ve scrubbed the hard work right out the door. We don’t even need to meal plan or grocery shop anymore. Fresh groceries can show up at our door, pre-measured, pre-planned, ready to go to the table within 30 minutes.

We’ve turned our properties into museums. Instead of well-loved they are well-liked on social media and we’ve forgotten how to create a home, and instead curate a scene for those who will never step foot through our door. We’ve replaced hard conversations with texts.

We’ve told husbands and wives that the primary goal of their marriage is their own happiness. We’ve sold them the lie that once it gets hard, tired, menial, once it gets weary, someone raises their voice, or someone says something they regret, that we can get out with a white flag that says “this just isn’t for me anymore.”

We’ve made love about sex. And sex about self.

We work so that we can have a home. And a home not simply as a shared physical space, but as a place of respite from the world with the emotional, spiritual, and psychological peace that accompanies all the truly good things in life.

The same soft bigotry of low expectations that once worked to keep women from professional life is probably now working to keep women from enjoying the fruits of home life.

‘A very particular type of fury’

Samuel Gregg considers Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism in light of the apparent resurgence in interest in democratic socialism:

Novak never claimed that economics should be decisive in political choices. But he did think that the basic insights into reality provided by economics — the workings of incentives and self-interest, comparative advantage, trade-offs, the necessity of free prices as carriers of information, attentiveness to the known side effects of particular choices, etc. — should no more be ignored than any other empirically validated observation arising from the social sciences.

The lessons of economics, however, weren’t the primary point of departure for Novak’s critique of socialism. He genuinely wanted to understand why people embrace socialism, and he concluded that it wasn’t simply economic ignorance.

By the early 1980s, Novak argued, socialism had become less about practical economic programs than about (1) certain ideals regarding equality and poverty and (2) deep hostility to capitalism per se. The single-minded pursuit of these beliefs, combined with the tendency to view capitalism in almost demonic terms, meant that socialism assumed the form of what Novak called a “political religion.” This, he believed, was what made socialism erroneous — and very dangerous.

Being a political faith, socialism could never fulfill the expectations associated with true religion. But its ersatz religious nature meant that socialism’s economic and political failures would inevitably generate a very particular type of fury.

Socialism’s record of failure, Novak pointed out, was clear. Instead of growing wealth across society, it gradually impoverished all. Far from producing greater equality, it facilitated its own inequities, the most glaring being those between the planners and everyone else. …

Throughout The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Novak was relentless in stressing that any serious theory of political economy must pay attention to the human condition. Humans are good yet capable of evil. Our reason is powerful but not all-powerful. Men are not angels, but neither are they beasts. The genius of market economies, Novak held, is that they recognize humanity’s capacities and limitations and help direct them to the realization of some important goods. …

Many of the social dysfunctionalities that worry socialism’s advocates and capitalism’s critics don’t have market solutions because, Novak understood, their causes often have little to do with economics.

Surveillance capitalism

Alessandra Bocchi shared this excerpt from The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Human Future at the New Frontier of Power:

Sur-veil-lance Cap-i-tal-ism, n.

1. A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales; 2. A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioral modification; 3. A rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge, and power unprecedented in human history; 4. The foundational framework of a surveillance economy; 5. As significant a threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth; 6. The origin of a new instrumentarian power that asserts dominance over society and presents startling challenges to market democracy; 7. A movement that aims to impose a new collective order based on total certainty; 8. An axpropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above: an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty.

That’s a capacious definition, but it’s hammering away at surveillance capitalism as something that I think many of us intuit. Planning to read this at some point later this year, especially to discover whether the book focuses more on surveillance or more on capitalism.

‘What is essential is invisible to the eye’

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes in Letter to a Hostage about essential but invisible aspects of life. Maria Popova shares his experience as a journalist in Spain in the 1930s, reporting on the Civil War:

I waited for the shot, for this was the time of quick trials. But there was no shot. After a complete blank of a few seconds, during which the shifts at work appeared to dance in another universe—a kind of dream ballet—my anarchists, slightly nodding their heads, bid me precede them, and we set off, without hurry, across the lines of junction. The capture had been done in perfect silence, with an extraordinary economy of movement. It was like a game of creatures of the ocean bed.

I soon descended to a basement transformed into a guard post. Badly lit by a poor oil lamp, some other militia were dozing, their guns between their legs. They exchanged a few words, in a neutral voice, with the men of my patrol. One of them searched me. …

The dominant impression was that of boredom. Boredom and sleep. The power of concentration of these men seemed exhausted. I almost wished for a sign of hostility, as a human contact. But … they gazed at me without any reaction, as if they were looking at a Chinese fish in an aquarium. …

Then the miracle happened. Oh! a very discreet miracle. I had no cigarette. As one of my guards was smoking, I asked him, by gesture, showing the vestige of a smile, if he would give me one. The man first stretched himself, slowly passed his hand across his brow, raised his eyes, no longer to my tie but to my face, and, to my great astonishment, he also attempted a smile. It was like the dawning of the day.

This miracle did not conclude the tragedy, it removed it altogether, as light does shadow. There had been no tragedy. This miracle altered nothing visible. The feeble oil lamp, the table scattered with papers, the men propped against the wall, the colors, the smell, everything remained unchanged. Yet everything was transformed in its very substance. That smile saved me. It was a sign just as final, as obvious in its future consequences, as unchangeable as the rising of the sun. It marked the beginning of a new era. Nothing had changed, everything was changed. The table scattered with papers became alive. The oil lamp became alive. The walls were alive. The boredom dripping from every lifeless thing in that cellar grew lighter as if by magic. It seemed that an invisible stream of blood had started flowing again, connecting all things in the same body, and restoring to them their significance.

The men had not moved either, but, though a minute earlier they had seemed to be farther away from me than an antediluvian species, now they grew into contemporary life. I had an extraordinary feeling of presence. That is it: of presence. And I was aware of a connection.

The boy who had smiled at me, and who, until a few minutes before, had been nothing but a function, a tool, a kind of monstrous insect, appeared now rather awkward, almost shy, of a wonderful shyness—that terrorist! He was no less a brute than any other. But the revelation of the man in him shed such a light upon his vulnerable side! We men assume haughty airs, but within the depth of our hearts, we know hesitation, doubt, grief.

Nothing had yet been said. Yet everything was resolved.

We ask, “Where is God?” in our moments of hopelessness, and in those moments we forget Saint-Exupery’s reminder: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Roman pietas

Louis Markos approaches Virgil and the Roman interest in pietas:

I’m glad to see that your age has not forgotten Rome. But please, children of the future, do not think that Rome was only a city or an empire or a people. She was also an idea, the noblest idea the world has ever known.

And behind that idea was a single word: pietas. Pietas means the duty one owes to the gods, the ancestors, the state, and the family. It is an orientation that places one’s own personal pleasures beneath the good of the whole. Rome held the bodies of men in fear through her military might, but she held their souls in awe through her pietas. …

Please understand, my Aeneas did not want the job that was given to him. Every step along the way, he tried to stop and build his kingdom there. He was a Trojan and not a Roman. Indeed, if Aeneas could have had his way, he would have gladly died in Troy alongside Hector and Priam and his own dear wife.

How does one attain pietas? By learning to take the long view of things. By recognizing that none of us lives or acts or dreams alone, but that our lives and actions and dreams serve a higher goal and purpose. We may not survive long enough to see that goal become a reality, but we will have played our role in bringing it about.

Let the barbarian live only for himself! The civilized man exists in a complex web of relationships to the past, the present, and the future. His life is not his own, but belongs to the gods, the ancestors, the state, the family. It belongs as well to the world.

When Aeneas met with Anchises in the underworld, his father left him with a challenge, a code that he must abide by if Rome were one day to step into her greatness and achieve her divinely-appointed mission. Put simply, Rome was to be the civilizer of the world, the one that would lay down laws and abide by them, that would mingle justice with mercy, that would establish the great and lasting peace of Caesar Augustus. …

Power without mercy brings tyranny, while mercy without power quickly grows weak and ineffectual. But joined together by pietas, the two can bring order and virtue to a chaotic world of greed and pride.

There can be neither order nor virtue without solemn vows, oaths, and pacts, but none of those covenants can survive for long without pietas. When a man is bound by pietas, his word will be his pledge. He will act, not for personal profit alone, but with the full weight of tradition in his bones. In honoring the ancestors, he will be honoring himself, and in serving the greater good, he will be ensuring his own happiness.

Everything is mysteriously entangled

In Death on a Friday Afternoon, Richard John Neuhaus writes:

By these three days all the world is called to attention. Everything that is and ever was and ever will be, the macro and the micro, the galaxies beyond number and the microbes beyond notice – everything is mysteriously entangled with what happened, with what happens, in these days.… Every human life, conceived from eternity and destined to eternity, here finds its story truly told. In this killing that some call senseless we are brought to our senses. Here we find out who we most truly are because here is the One who is what we are called to be. The derelict cries, “Come, follow me.” Follow him there? We recoil. We close our ears. We hurry on to Easter. But we will not know what to do with Easter’s light if we shun the friendship of the darkness that is wisdom’s way to light.

J.D. Flynn pointed out how strange and unlikely it is (even more so if we bracket the Christian belief in resurrection) that we remember the story of a Roman peasant. But it’s not so strange or unlikely if it’s true that everything “that is and ever was and ever will be … is mysteriously entangled…”

La Grande Arche v. Notre-Dame

Fifteen years ago, George Weigel thought about Notre-Dame:

At the far western end of the magnificent urban axis that runs from the Louvre down the Champs Elysées and through the Arc de Triomphe, crossing the Seine at the Pont de Neuilly, is the Grand Arch of La Défense—one of the “great projects” of the late French president François Mitterrand. Designed by Johann Otto von Spreckelsen, a Danish architect of sternly modernist sensibility, La Grande Arche is a colossal open cube: almost forty stories tall, 348 feet wide, faced in glass and in 2.47 acres of white Carrara marble.

On a hot, sunny afternoon—which is when I first saw it some seven years ago—La Grande Arche is, quite literally, dazzling. An elevator, definitely not recommended for anyone inclined to vertigo, whisks the visitor up to a rooftop terrace, which offers an unparalleled view of Paris, past the Tuileries to the Louvre and on to the Ile de la Cité, Sante Chapelle, and Notre-Dame.

The arch’s three-story-high roof also houses the International Foundation for Human Rights. For Mitterrand intended the Grand Arch as a human-rights monument, something suitably gigantic to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Thus, in one guidebook I consulted, La Grande Arche was nicknamed “Fraternity Arch”; also noted, as in every other guidebook I looked at, was the fact that within its space the entire cathedral of Notre-Dame, including towers and spire, would fit comfortably.

This prompted a question as I walked along the terrace admiring one of the greatest of the world’s cityscapes. Which culture, I wondered, would better protect human rights and secure the moral foundations of democracy: the culture that built this stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentially featureless cube, or the culture that produced the vaulting and bosses, the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the nooks and crannies, the asymmetries and holy “unsameness” of Notre-Dame and the other great gothic cathedrals of France?

Notre-Dame de Paris

President Emmanuel Macron asserts that Notre Dame will be rebuilt, and that an international campaign will be launched to do so. Despite France being a secular state that is, in so many ways, presently at odds with its Catholic heart, Notre Dame is owned by the French state and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Alexandra DeSanctis on the loss of Notre-Dame de Paris, burning during Holy Week:

Although they’re already saying it’ll be rebuilt someday — and it’s hard to imagine that such a beautiful place could be left forever in ruins — it can never be rebuilt to what it was just this morning. It’s nearly unbearable to think about how much has been lost. A cathedral that withstood the bloodshed of revolution and the ravages of two world wars, tumbling in clouds of dark smoke, seemingly impossible to stop.

This is a disaster for Paris and for France, for French history, and for French Catholics. It is a grave loss for the history of Western civilization, and for future generations who, like me, will never see the cathedral’s glorious rose windows or the grandeur of her magnificent spires.

But first and foremost, it is a tragedy for the Catholic Church, whose members are already suffering in so many places. To many Catholics, it feels as if the Church is on fire in a sense already. And now we are watching it blaze. Though Notre Dame de Paris is a testament to world history, to art, to architecture, and to centuries of civilization, above all she is — was — a place of inestimable beauty dedicated to God. The cathedral’s Gothic arches pointed heavenward not for their own sake…

And Haley Stewart approaches Notre-Dame’s burning through literature and promise:

As a Catholic, as a medievalist, as a lover of beauty and history, I am absolutely wrecked. 

I have always wanted to visit Europe to see the cathedrals. The reality that I will never see the architectural masterpiece of Notre Dame is devastating. Watching the church collapse piece by piece as smoke billows into the air feels like a punch in the gut. And at the beginning of Holy Week, no less. I am trembling with sadness over the loss as if it were my own home that I’m watching burning down.

What must it feel like to be watching the flames tear down Notre Dame on the scene? To be scrambling to contain the horrific damage? To try to save holy relics and sacred art from destruction? The fear and the chaos of safely removing the Crown of Thorns and remnants of the True Cross?

I’m reminded of a pivotal scene in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, one of my favorite books of all time. It’s set in medieval Norway and one night, a terrible lightning storm sets fire to the local church of St. Olav. The protagonist, Kristin and her family struggle to contain the flames, to save the structure. But it quickly becomes apparent that it cannot be saved. Brave souls, including Kristin’s fiance and her father, rush in to save holy objects and the priest Sira Eirik rescues the Host from the flames and relics of the church’s patron, St. Olav.

Kristin’s father, Lavrans, emerges with the Crucifix in his arms. As he watches the flames consume St. Olav’s “His arm lay across the arms of the cross, and he was leaning his head on the shoulder of Christ. It looked as if the Savior were bending his beautiful, sad face toward the man to console him.” …

As Pope St. John Paul II told us, “We are an Easter people and Hallelujah is our song.” Let us hold onto that hope in our grief. While Notre-Dame de Paris may be a charred shell of stone by morning, we know that the gates of Hell will not prevail over the Church through which God pours out his grace on his people.

Rod Dreher recognizes Notre-Dame’s burning as metaphor and personal challenge:

There is no way to replace what Paris, what France, what Christendom, and indeed what humanity, has lost today. It is irreplaceable. For example, we literally cannot recreate the windows, which date from the time of Dante. We do not know how to do it. As a friend said to me, “You can rebuild the World Trade Center. You cannot rebuild Notre Dame de Paris.” …

What we lost today is one of the great embodiments of Western civilization. It is impossible to overstate what this means. It will take some time to absorb. Notre Dame de Paris is at the heart of France’s identity. All distances in France are measured from kilometre zéro, in front of the cathedral. Though most (but not all!) of the French have turned away from their baptism, Notre Dame is the symbolic heart of the nation. And now, it’s gone, though firefighters may have saved its bones. It took 200 years to build, and now it was made a holocaust in one terrible afternoon. …

What happened in Paris today has been happening across our civilization.

It happens whenever we fail to live out our baptism, and fail to baptize our children. It happens by omission, by indifference, and it happens by commission, from spite. It happens in classrooms, in newsrooms, in shopping malls, in poisoned seminaries and defiled sacristies, and everywhere the truths that Notre Dame de Paris embodied are ridiculed, flayed, and destroyed in the hearts and minds of modern men. The fire that destroyed Paris’s iconic cathedral made manifest what we in the West have been doing to ourselves for over 200 years.

This catastrophe in Paris today is a sign to all of us Christians, and a sign to all people in the West, especially those who despise the civilization that built this great temple to its God on an island in the Seine where religious rites have been celebrated since the days of pagan Rome. It is a sign of what we are losing, and what we will not recover, if we don’t change course…