‘I Have Called You Friends’

I’m settled in South Bend, Indiana for Notre Dame’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s “I Have Called You Friends” Fall Conference:

This year’s conference will explore the theme of friendship, from its ancient understanding as “the crown of life and the school of virtue” (C.S. Lewis) to the present day. What does it mean to make the good of another one’s own, and what might be the implications of losing such an understanding of friendship in the modern world? In the interdisciplinary spirit of the Fall Conference, the dCEC will engage these themes from a wide array of fields of inquiry, including theology, philosophy, political theory, law, history, economics, and the social sciences, as well as the natural sciences, literature, and the arts.

The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture is committed to sharing the richness of the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition through teaching, research, and dialogue, at the highest level and across a range of disciplines. Our Fall Conference is the most important academic forum for fruitful discourse and exchange among the world’s leading Catholic thinkers and those from other traditions, and is the largest annual interdisciplinary event at Notre Dame. Recent past speakers include Nobel Laureate James Heckman, Alasdair MacIntyre, John Finnis, Mary Ann Glendon, Rémi Brague, Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel, and Jean Bethke Elshtain.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has boo man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.”

Looking forward to the next few days and connecting or reconnecting with many good people.

Seven keys to a happy marriage

Since coming to Washington, I’ve become closer to Opus Dei and its focus on the sanctification of daily life, the universal call to holiness. This feature from Opus Dei on “seven keys” to a the happy marriage, written from the perspective of a son, is beautiful:

Tomás and Paquita Alvira, two of the earliest married members of Opus Dei, strove to attain sanctity as a married couple and in their role as parents.

Tomás Alvira was one of a group of young men who crossed the Pyrenees Mountains on foot with Saint Josemaría Escrivá during the Spanish Civil War, fleeing anti-Catholic persecution to escape to a zone where they could practice their faith. In 1939, Tomás married Paquita Dominguez, and together the couple sought to live their vocation to marriage to the full. They had nine children and were held in high esteem by those who knew them for their example of love and generosity. Their cause of canonization was opened in 2009.

In what follows, their son Rafael Alvira describes seven ways his parents cared for their marriage and educated their children through their example. …

1. Eagerness to love. My parents preserved their eagerness to love one another right to the end of their lives. A friend of one of my sisters told her that she was envious of my parents, because she would see them walking in the street and could tell that they still loved each other like when they were dating. As the years went by, my parents had the same eagerness that they had the day they got married, and their love was always increasing.

2. Attentiveness to others. They had a great capacity to be attentive to others. For example, both of them would open the door for me when I arrived. My mother gave each of her children a kiss when we got home. We saw it as a normal thing.

3. Teaching by example. My parents were convinced that the decisive factor in education is the atmosphere in which it takes place, and that the best pedagogy is indirect. The good example they gave us was very influential. This is how they passed on the faith to us. For example, they went to Mass and we saw them taking part with a devotion that left a mark on us. They showed us what God’s love means by winning us over with affection; they sacrificed themselves without saying anything in order to help us. And their spirit was contagious.

4. Teaching the kids to love each other. Both of them encouraged us to love each other a lot as brothers and sisters. This is something that continues being true today. I have one brother and six sisters (my oldest brother died when he was 5 years old).

5. Having a big heart. Both of my parents had a very big heart. Having a heart is not so easy. My father had a hard time correcting any of his children, but he realized that if he didn’t do it, it would cause us harm. He corrected us without offending us. To really love, you have to have a heart. And the same happened with my father’s students. They realized that he loved them; they felt loved and were grateful.

6. Fostering friendship. My parents had many family friends, and we became very much a part of these families. They also invited our friends to our house a lot. They knew all our friends. They brought them into our home and let them experience our family atmosphere. It is not enough for parents to raise their children well: they also need to get to know their children’s friends. Otherwise, the good education they give can be ruined by bad friendships the children make.

7. Respect for freedom. My parents always had a great respect for our freedom. They never pushed us to make a specific decision. For example, at home my parents prayed the rosary every day. But they never forced us to pray it with them. They prayed it attentively, and although they invited us to join them, they never imposed it on us or insisted that we take part.

‘The more their individuality becomes pronounced’

Fr. George Rutler writes on the source of creativity:

It is surprising that Michelangelo carved what he claimed was an ancient Roman sculpture of “Eros Sleeping,” which he aged by rubbing it with acidic soil. He did this when he was 21, possibly as a joke, around the same time that he made the Pietà, so he certainly was not lacking talent.

A friend asked me why forgeries are less valuable than originals, if it is hard to tell them apart. The question can be annoying, but it has a certain logic. The answer, of course, is that the value of a work consists not only in its artistry, but in its originality. In that sense, what we call creativity is a gift of God who alone is the Source of all things, including life itself. Only God is the primary Creator, and humans are his pro-creators. We cannot produce something out of nothing.

The more individuals allow God, by a right exercise of the free will, to shape their souls according to his likeness, the more their individuality becomes pronounced. This is the work of “sanctifying grace” by which God “perfects human nature,” as Saint Thomas described the process (Summa Theol. 1, 1, 8 ad. 2). The Anti-Christ cannot create, and so he tries to make human forgeries, by sin. The more people block the will of God, the more they become uninspired copies of each other. This is why sinners are predictable, while saints are always surprising. No two saints are alike.

A figure of speech, synecdoche, uses one word, as part of something, to represent the whole. Forgers are synecdoches of all sinners who pretend to be creative instead of letting God work through them. The month of November focuses on the saints, who are not cleverly crafted imitations, but who are authentic images of God who “alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen nor can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).

“The more individuals allow God, by a right exercise of the free will, to shape their souls according to his likeness, the more their individuality becomes pronounced.”

All Saints

I woke up this morning to the chill air of November 1st, and walked down Dumbarton Street to Epiphany for All Saints Day Mass. Opus Dei’s “Like a Great Symphony” explains All Saints Day:

Saints attract in a wonderful way! The life of a person who has struggled towards identification with Christ is a great “apologia” for the faith. Their powerful light shines in the midst of the world. If sometimes it seems that human history is governed by the kingdom of darkness, possibly this is due to these lights shining less brightly or in fewer number. “These world crises are crises of saints,” as Saint Josemaria said. The contrast between their light-filled existence and the darkness around them may be great. In fact, many of them suffered misunderstandings or hidden or even open persecution, as happened to the Word Incarnate: the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light. Despite all this, experience shows the great appeal the saints have. In many sectors of society, people admire the witness of a strong and completely coherent Christian life. The lives of the saints show us how being close to our Lord fills the heart with peace and joy, and how we can spread serenity, hope and optimism around us, while being open to the needs of others, especially the least fortunate. …

As we read in the book of Revelation, the saints form a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues. This multitude includes the saints of the Old Testament, such as the just man Abel and the faithful patriarch Abraham; those of the New Testament; the many martyrs of the early times of Christianity, and the blessed and saints of all time. This is the great family of God’s children, formed by those who model their life under the impulse of the eternal sculptor, the Holy Spirit. …

A contemporary French writer says that the saints are like “the colors of the spectrum in relation to the light.” Each one expresses with his or her own tones and radiance the light of divine holiness. It is as though the radiance of Christ’s Resurrection, in passing through the prism of mankind, opens up a spectrum of colors as varied as it is fascinating. “When the Church keeps the memorials of martyrs and other saints during the annual cycle, she proclaims the Paschal mystery in those ‘who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God’s favors’ (Vatican II, Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 104).” …

The content of the collects is quite rich and varied. Thus, for example, on the memorial of Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More (June 22), we ask to confirm with the witness of our life the faith we profess (what Saint Josemaria would call unity of life); or we ask to have apostolic zeal like that of Saint Francis Xavier (December 3); or to live the mystery of Christ especially by contemplating his Passion as did Saint Catherine of Siena (April 29); or to have our heart enkindled with the fire of the Holy Spirit on the day of Saint Philip Neri (May 26). On other occasions we ask for gifts and graces for the Church: the fruitfulness of the apostolate on the memorial of Saint Charles Luwanga and his martyr companions (June 3); to have shepherds to the measure of Christ’s heart, on the feast of Saint Ambrose (December 7); or to trustingly open our hearts to Christ’s grace, as Saint John Paul II asked of us (October 22). On the memorial of Saint Juan Diego (December 9) we contemplate our Lady’s love for her people, and on that of Saint Agatha (February 5) we are reminded of how pleased God is with the virtue of purity.

These examples, which could be multiplied many times, show us that the prayers we offer on the feasts of the saints are a very rich resource for our personal prayer on that day. They can help us to address our Lord spontaneously with specific phrases during our hours of work and rest that day. Precious gems of unique beauty, some of these prayers have been prayed for many centuries, like jewels inserted into the liturgical celebrations of Christian Tradition. As we pray them, we are praying as so many generations of Christians have prayed. The memorials and feasts of the saints celebrated throughout the year offer us the opportunity to get to know a bit better these powerful intercessors before the Blessed Trinity, and to “make new friends” in heaven. …

The saints, “being touched by God’s word have, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs.” Just as the star from the East guided the Magi to their personal encounter with Christ, so the saints help us like the North Star in the night sky, to reach the land to which we aspire. …

Celebrating the feastdays of the saints forcefully reminds us of the universal call to holiness. Helped by God’s grace, all men and women can correspond fully to the loving invitation to participate in divine Life, each in our specific circumstances. As Pope Francis said: “Often we are tempted to think that sainthood is reserved only to those who have the opportunity to break away from daily affairs in order to dedicate themselves exclusively to prayer. But it is not so! Some think that sanctity is to close your eyes and to look like a holy icon. No! This is not sanctity! Sanctity is something greater, deeper, which God gives us. Indeed, it is precisely in living with love and offering one’s own Christian witness in everyday affairs that we are called to become saints.”

Last night I took part in the Vigil of All Saints at the Dominican House of Studies across from Catholic University. It was a powerful way to remember the saints and to reflect on the call to holiness:

Held on All Hallows Eve, the Vigil will have as its theme “Confessions of Our Hope.” The evening will provide the opportunity to ponder the theme of Christian hope through readings from the saints, the Office of Compline (sung Night Prayer), a procession to the House Reliquary, and a chanted Litany of the Saints. Confessions will be available throughout the evening and a reception will follow.

Afterwards we had the chance to venerate a first class relic of Saint Augustine, which was incredible. I’ve been reading and thinking about him throughout most of this past year.

Bishop Barron in Washington

Bishop Robert Barron has spent the past few days in Washington, speaking to members of Congress, staff, and others:

Lawmakers must rediscover their call by God to pursue justice, Bishop Robert Barron told members of Congress and staff on Tuesday.

“In Catholic theology truth itself, goodness itself, justice itself, are simply names for God,” Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, said to an audience of members of Congress, staff, and others at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

The bishop told legislators that they were right to think of their role pursuing justice through public service as a vocation, and they were really called by God to do so.

“When you were seized by a passion for justice, I would say you were called by God at that moment,” Barron said. …

There are three transcendentals that culture is based upon, Barron said, the “true,” the “good” and the “beautiful.” Politics, he said, is especially connected to the “good.”

Barron exhorted members of Congress “to find it, to fight for it, to propagate it.”

“What animates that work?” he asked rhetorically of the pursuit of the “good” of those in public service. “It’s a passion of justice that lies at the bottom of the soul,” he said.

God called those in public service through a desire for justice, he said, emphasizing the need for “bringing our lives into harmony with the integrity and beauty of that call” where “everything I do is about serving justice.”

That, he warned, might make members “unpopular,” “less rich,” or see them “attacked.” However, he added, “The way you measure life now is how you respond to this call.”

And last night Bishop Barron spoke to a few hundred people on the past, present, and future of Word on Fire near Union Station, where I met him after his remarks:

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Bishop Barron has been a spiritual support for me for years. An honor to meet him tonight. Pray for our priests and religious.

Living alone

John Cuddeback writes on “living as a household of one:”

The fact is that many people today end up living in a house alone. Sometimes it is by choice. Other times it is surely not, and the house has echoes of people who were there in the past, or whom the inhabitant dearly wishes, even if in the abstract and unknowing, might one day live there.

To ‘come home’ just to oneself can be very difficult. It can even make one wonder—what’s the point? One might wish that one’s own household would simply cease to exist, and perhaps be absorbed into someone else’s. Then I’d really be at home, when ‘we’ are at home, together.

A household is always about sharing life together. And so a home can be a living contradiction—even if many people are actually there. Real living together requires more than being under the same roof.

Thought it doesn’t always feel like it, a signal gift in human life is the existence of others with whom we share human nature. Shared humanity is the basis for shared life, for living together in various rich ways. The household is the specifically human way of living together on a daily basis.

So what then of a household of one?

I live alone, and I often find it lonely. But Cuddeback writes on how to live alone while preparing a home that can welcome others.

Seattle and Bellevue in autumn

I’m in Bellevue, Washington for a Discovery Institute conference on the human good and technology. Full days, so here are a few of the more interesting scenes from the past two days, starting from my departure from Dulles.

The last time I was in/near Seattle in October was eight years ago, when Occupy Wall Street was happening in cities across the country. It’s good to be back and to see the autumn colors from the plane, especially.

Robert P. George, CIC New Evangelization honoree

I attended my second Catholic Information Center “John Paul II New Evangelization Award Dinner” last night. This year Robert P. George was the honoree, and his keynote focused on the imperative of Christian witness in the public square. Afterwards, met and caught up with people while catching the World Series, with Nats going up 2-0 against the Astros. Also met some of the new Leonine Forum fellows. I’ll add video later when it’s available.

I’m now heading to Seattle/Bellevue for Discovery Institute’s COSM Conference on the intersection of the human good and technology.

You have to be a man first

Matt Labash writes on GQ’s “New Masculinity” issue:

John Wayne, that repository of testosterone — now considered an illicit substance in many states — once played a character who said, “You have to be a man first, before you’re a gentleman.” …

I might be tempted to answer Vox’s Liz Plank, one of GQ’s 18 voices, who recently published a book, “For the Love of Men.” While writing it, she went to Washington Square in Manhattan, thoughtfully asking men, “What’s hard about being a man?”

“Having to listen to people who aren’t men, or who are ashamed of manhood, constantly telling me how to be one,” would be my short answer, after I stopped, dropped and rolled for cover.

But for actual guidance — more sage than anything I read in GQ’s masculinity symposium — I’d turn to Edward Abbey, the ornery liberal who enjoyed baiting those on his own team. By most lights, he was a more reliable environmentalist than he was a feminist. (“The feminists have a legitimate grievance,” he said. “But so does everyone else.”) But Mr. Abbey, a former park ranger, did spend a lot of time observing nature up close, and not just the flora and fauna. Of man/woman relations, he wrote, “It is the difference between men and women, not the sameness, that creates the tension and the delight.”

Why keep fuzzing distinctions that for millenniums have resisted fuzzing? Punish the sex criminals and pelvic pinball wizards. Good riddance to them all. But otherwise, let men and women be men and women, however that appropriately breaks, without laboring so hard to fuse them. Maybe our opposites attracting, which the furtherance of our species has depended on, isn’t a design flaw, but its very essence. And maybe the wokerati ought to take their own most oft-repeated cliché to heart: Our diversity is our strength.

I’m working my way through Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson,” which provides a lot of context for the unfolding culture war between masculinity and whatever is proposed for replacing it.