Georgetown in early autumn

It’s starting to feel like autumn in earnest at this point. Each morning becomes somewhat less inviting in terms of getting out of bed, but stepping out for the first time each morning also feels a bit better as the chillier air greets you and forces you more fully awake. A few of the scenes below are Saint Matthew the Apostle, and there’s one of two from my walk to/from work, but most are from Georgetown:

We might have our first snowfall within the next month or so.

Georgetown Half Marathon

I ran the Georgetown Half Marathon this morning along the C&O Canal Towpath, the third and final C&O Canal Towpath race I’m doing this year.

I registered for the Georgetown Half back in March, after my poor performance in the Washington Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. It was after registering for the Georgetown Half that I learned about the September and October marathons I ran, so in a sense today felt like closing a chapter I had started in the spring.

It was a beautiful morning for a run along the towpath. We started at 9am, all 400+ runners at once, and that meant the first 2-3 miles were very crowded. As runners started to break out into different pace groups, I found another guy who was at an aggressive but steady pace and we ended up running together for essentially the entire 13.1 miles.

Georgetown Half Marathon was a record for me, both in terms of time for a half marathon and in terms of overall pace for a distance run. I finished at 1 hour, 40 minutes at a 7:36 pace.

Before this morning, I had only run one other half marathon—a trail half marathon eight years ago in Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park.

Keeping the faith in demoralizing times

I got back into Washington this afternoon, cleaned up, and headed to Georgetown University’s downtown location for “Keeping Faith in Demoralizing Times,” a panel discussion hosted by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life:

This Salt and Light Gathering for young Catholic leaders in public life will explore how to live with faith, hope, and charity at a time of division in the United States, crisis in the Catholic Church, and paralysis in Washington, DC. Four remarkable leaders will share their experiences and the lessons they have learned regarding how to work with integrity and maintain your principles in the midst of growing public hostility, polarization, and disengagement. The gathering will ask how young people of faith with a shared commitment to human dignity and the common good can live out that faith in both their professional and personal lives.

This wide-ranging conversation will reflect the diverse perspectives and experiences of its participants: two Washington Post columnists and two young leaders at the intersection of faith and public life.

Michael Gerson is a Washington Post columnist and a policy fellow with the ONE Campaign. He was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Elizabeth Bruenig is a Washington Post columnist and editor who focuses on religion, politics, and culture. She was a 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her series on teen sexual assault victims in her hometown of Arlington, Texas.

Jeanné Lewis is the vice president and chief engagement officer at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. She also serves as a board member for Faith in Public Life and is a member of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.

Montse Alvarado is vice president and executive director at Becket Law. She is a consultor to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Religious Liberty and a member of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ President’s Advisory Council.

John Carr, director of the Initiative, will open the gathering. Kim Daniels, associate director of the Initiative, will moderate the conversation.

It was a good conversation and a chance to see new and old friends.

The marvel of an ordinary life

I caught a 5pm Amtrak to Philadelphia earlier and am visiting for 12 hours or so. It’s good to be here, even briefly. I’m short on time; sharing something I saw recently:

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

—William Martin

Potomac River Run Marathon

I ran the Potomac River Run Marathon this morning, finishing with my second best time across the six marathons I’ve run so far—4 hours, 11 minutes at something like a 9:20 pace.


It was noticeably colder this morning than a month ago when I ran the same route for the Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon, and that’s after starting an hour later than last month, at 8am versus 7am. There were something like 130 total marathoners running this morning, a low-key course compared to the major marathons.

I felt good throughout, although my pace was worse than last month. There were long stretches this morning where I found myself running alone, and to some degree that probably slowed me down in terms of the lack of runners to pace-set against. As I came up on mile 17, I was alone and alternating between boredom and thinking too much, so I prayed my Rosary for the day. I had read about a woman who ran a marathon a few years ago who prayed the Rosary throughout her marathon, and that came back to me in the midst of my discontent.

I’m glad I ran this, and am looking forward to one more (shorter) run before autumn really sets in.

‘Simon, do you love me?’

I’m sharing the third of three excerpts from Fr. Luigi Giuassani’s book “Christ, God’s Companionship with Man” today, from his writing on Peter and Jesus on the shore of Lake Tiberias and Peter’s “three-fold yes” to Jesus’s question, “Simon, do you love me?”:

The twenty-first chapter of John’s Gospel is a fascinating documentation of the historical birth of the new ethic. The particular story narrated there is the keystone of the Christian conception of man, of his morality, in his relationship with God, with life, and with the world.

The disciples were on their way back, at dawn, after a terrible night’s fishing on the lake, in which they had caught nothing. As they approach the shore, they see a figure on the beach preparing a fire. Later they would notice that there were some fish on the fire collected for them, for their early-morning hunger. All of a sudden, John says to Peter, “That’s the Lord!” They all open their eyes and Peter throws himself into the water, just as he is, and reaches the shore first. The others follow suit. They sit down in a circle in silence; no one speaks, because they all know it is the Lord. Sitting down to eat, they exchange a few words, but they are all fearful at the exceptional presence of Jesus, the Risen Jesus, who had already appeared to them at other times.

Simon, whose many errors had made him humbler than all the others, sat down, too, before the food prepared by the Master. He looks to see who is next to him and is terrified to see that it is Jesus himself. He turns his gaze away from Him and sits there all embarrassed. But Jesus speaks to him. Peter thinks in his heart, “My God, My God, what a dressing-down I deserve! Now he is going to ask me, “Why did you betray me?” The betrayal had been the last great error he had made, but, in spirt of his familiarity with the Master, his whole life had been a stormy one, because of his impetuous character, his instinctive stubbornness, his tendency to act on impulse. He now saw himself in the light of all his defects. That betrayal had made him more away of all his other errors, of the fact that he was worthless, weak, miserably weak. “Simon…”—who knows how he must have trembled as that word sounded in his ears and touched his heart?—”Simon…”—he he would have begun to turn his face towards Jesus—”Do you love me?” Who on earth would have expected that question? Who would have expected those words?

Peter was a forty- or fifty-year old man, with a wife and children, and yet he was such a child before the mystery of that companion he had met by chance! Imagine how he felt transfixed by that look that knew him through and through. “You will be called Kefas (cf. I, John: 42).” His tough character was described by that word “rock,” and the last thing he had in mind was to imagine what the mystery of God and the mystery of that Man—the Son of God—had to do with that rock, to that rock. From the first encounter, He filled his whole mind, his whole heart. With that presence in his heart, with the continuous memory of Him, he looked at his wife and children, his work-mates, friends and strangers, individuals and crowds, he thought, and fell asleep. That Man had become for him like an immense revelation, still to be clarified.

“Simon, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, I love you.” How could he say such a thing after all he had done? That yes was an affirmation acknowledging a supreme excellence, an undeniable excellence, a sympathy that overwhelmed all others. Everything remained inscribed in that look. Coherence or incoherence seemed to fall into second place behind the faithfulness that felt like flesh of his flesh, behind the form of life which that encounter had moulded.

In fact, no reproof came, only the echo of the same question: “Simon, do you love me?” Not uncertain, but fearful and trembling, he replied again, “Yes, I love You.” But the third time, the third time that Jesus threw the question at him he had to ask confirmation from Jesus himself: “Yes, Lord, You know I love You. All my human preference is for You, all the preference of my mind, all the preference of my heart; You are the extreme preference o life, the supreme excellence of things. I don’t know, I don’t know how, I don’t know how to say it and I don’t know how it can be but in spite of all I have done, in spite of all I can still do, I love You.”

This yes is the birth of morality, the first breath of morality in the dry desert of instinct and pure reaction. Morality sinks its roots into this Simon’s yes, and this yes can take root in man’s soil only thanks to a dominant Presence, understood, accepted, embraced, served with all the energy of your heart; only in this way can man become a child again. Without a Presence, there is no moral act, there is no morality.

But why is Simon’s yes to Jesus the birth of morality? Don’t the criteria of coherence and incoherence come first?

Peter had done just about all the wrong he could do, yet he lived a supreme sympathy for Christ. He understood that everything in him tended to Christ, that everything was gathered in those eyes, in that face, in that heart. His past sins could not amount to an objection, nor even the incoherence he could imagine for the future. Christ was the source, the place of his hope. Had someone objected to what he had done or what he might have done, Christ remained, through the gloom of those objections, the source of light for his hope. And he esteemed Him above everything else, from the first moment in which he had felt himself stared at by His eyes, looked on by Him.

This is why he loved Him.

“Yes, Lord, you know You are the object of my supreme sympathy, of my highest esteem.”

This is how morality is born. The expression is very generic: “Yes, I love You.” But it is as generic as it is generative of a new life to be lived.

“Whoever has this hope in him purifies himself as He is pure” (I John 3:3). Our hope is in Christ, in that Presence that, however distracted and forgetful we be, we can no longer (not completely anyway) remove from the earth of our heart because of the tradition through which He has reached us. It is in Him that I hope, before counting my errors and my virtues. Numbers have nothing to do with this. In the relationship with Him, numbers don’t count, the weight that is measured or measurable is irrelevant, and all the evil I can possibly do in the future has no relevance either. It cannot usurp the first place that this yes of Simon, repeated by me, has before the eyes of Christ. So a kind of flood comes from the depths of our heart, like a breath that rises from the breast and pervades the whole person, making it act, making it want to act more justly. The flower of the desire for justice, for true, genuine love, the desire to be capable of acting gratuitously, springs up from the depths of the heart. Just as our every move starts off not from an analysis of what the eyes see, but from an embrace of what the heart is waiting for, in the same way perfection is not the keeping of rules, but adhesion to a Presence.

Only the man who lives this hope in Christ lives the whole of his life in ascesis, in striving for good. And even when he is clearly contradictory, he desires the good. This always conquers, in the sense that it is the last word on himself, on his day, on what he does, on what he has done, on what he will do in the future. The man who lives this hope in Christ keeps on living in ascesis. Morality is a continual striving towards “perfection” that is born of an event that is a sign of a relationship with the divine, with the Mystery.

What is the true reason for the yes that Simon answers to Christ? Why does the yes said to Christ matter more than listing all your errors and the possible future errors that your weakness forebodes? Why is this yes more decisive and greater than all the moral responsibility expressed in its details, in concrete practice? The answer to this question reveals the ultimate essence of the One sent by the Father. Christ is the One “sent” by the Father; He is the One who reveals the Father to men and to the world. “This is true life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the one You have sent, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3). The most important thing is that “they know You,” that they love You, because this You is the meaning of life.

“Yes, I love You,” Peter said. And the reason for this yes consisted in the fact that in those eyes that had set on him that first time, and had set on him so many other times during the following days and years, he had glimpsed who God was, who Yahweh was, the true Yahweh: mercy. God’s relationship with his creature is revealed in Jesus as love, and therefore as mercy. Mercy is the attitude of the Mystery towards any kind of weakness, error and forgetfulness on man’s part: in the fact of any crime that man commits, God loves him.

Simon felt this. This is where his “Yes, I love You” comes from.

The meaning of the world and of history is the mercy of Christ, Son of the Father, sent by the Father to die for us. In Milosz’s play Miguel Mañara Miguel  was going to the Abbot every day to weep over his past sins. One day the Abbot tells him, somewhat impatiently, “Stop weeping like a woman. All this never existed.” What does he mean by “never existed”? Miguel had murdered, raped, he had done all kinds of things… “All this never existed. Only He is.” He, Jesus, addresses us, becomes an “encounter” for us, asking us only one thing; not “What have you done?” but “Do you love me?”

“Simon, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, I love you.”

‘This is one who has authority’

I started reading Fr. Luigi Giuassani recently, starting with his book “Christ, God’s Companionship with Man,” and I’m going to share three excerpts this week. First, on the topic of authority and authority’s source, from his talk, “The Journey to Truth Is an Experience:”

Peter, the most representative person in the community, stands up and speaks, and he is heeded (see Acts 1:15-22).

In our particular milieu some individuals have a greater sensitivity to the human experience; in fact they develop a deeper understanding of any given situation and of others; in fact they are more likely to influence the movement that builds a community. They live our experience more intensely and with a greater commitment. We all feel that they are more representative of us. With them we feel closer to, and stay more willingly in a community with, others. To acknowledge this phenomenon is to be loyal to one’s own humanity, a duty spurred by wisdom.

When we discover ourselves helpless and alone, our humanity spurs us to come together. If we meet someone who better feels and understands our experience, suffering, needs, and expectations, we naturally are led to follow that person and become his or her disciple. In that sense, such persons naturally constitute authority for us even if they do not carry special rights or titles. Naturally, above all, it is one who most loyally lives or understands the human experience who becomes an authority.

Thus authority is born as a wealth of experience that imposes itself on others. It generates freshness, wonder, and respect. Inevitably, it is attractive; it is evocative. Not to value the presence of this effective authority that His Being places in every setting is to cling pettily to our own limits. The Jews said of Christ: “This is one who has authority” and they abandoned the schemes of the Pharisees to follow Him.

The encounter with this natural authority develops our sensitivity and our conscience; it helps us to better discover our nature and what we aspire to from the depths of our present poverty.

There are many people who will have power over us in our lives. And we will have power over others, too. But there is a difference between power and authority. And legitimate authority only has one source.

Capitol Bikeshare membership

I signed up for Capitol Bikeshare a year ago today. It’s been a useful and generally fun way to get around Washington and Arlington over the past year. Here’s a snapshot of the past year’s ride history:


Capitol Bikeshare’s annual membership rate is $85, and rides lasting fewer than 30 minutes are free for members. I’ve used it most often for coming home to Georgetown from Court House when our offices were there, or from Clarendon. And more recently for commuting to/from our new offices located down M Street, near Dupont Circle. Letting the bikes cruise down the hills of Arlington into Rosslyn has been especially great.

It’s been cost effective, but I’m letting membership lapse in favor of walking, using a JUMP (electric) bike, or taking the bus to work.

I’d recommend bike share to most people, unless you’re confronting serious inclines that will leave you a mess when arriving wherever you’re going. A major pain point was the docking process—first, needing to know where docks are to pick up or leave a bike, and second, having to pull up the app to see whether any bikes are available.

The dockless (pick up/leave anywhere) nature of JUMP bikes is their plus, along with the fact they’re electric.

Tolkien on love in marriage

Sam Guzman writes on J.R.R. Tolkien’s love of his wife, and on his letter to his son on true and lasting happiness in marriage:

J.R.R. Tolkien was happily married for 55 years. In contrast, the modern divorce rate is shockingly high, and some are giving up on monogamous marriage altogether, claiming it simply isn’t possible or healthy. What did Tolkien have that many marriages do not? How did he make it work? The answer is simple: He understood that real love involves self-denial.

The modern notion of love is pure sentiment, and it is focused primarily on self. If someone excites you, if they get your pulse racing, if they affirm you and your desires, then you can say you are in love with them according to modern definitions.

While deeply attached to his wife, Tolkien rejected this shallow idea of love. He embraced instead the Catholic understanding of real love as focused on the other—something that requires a sacrifice of natural instincts and a determined act of the will.

To illustrate Tolkien’s profound view of married love, I want to share an excerpt from a letter to his son, Michael Tolkien. It is a different side of Tolkien that many are unfamiliar with. To those with an overly sentimental view of love, his words may be shocking, even offensive. Yet, he articulates truths that, if understood and embraced, bring true and lasting happiness to marriage. Here is a truncated version of his letter:

Men are not [monogamous]. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed ethic,’ according to faith and not the flesh. The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.

For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him—as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state as it provides easements.

No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that—even those brought up in ‘the Church’. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’.

And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgementconcerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…

(Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52)

I was speaking with a man I trust recently about love. I asked him how a man can properly love his wife. He pointed to a crucifix, and said, “Be prepared to do that, every day.”

Pennsylvania hyperloop

Jana Benscoter reports that Pennsylvania officials are starting to think through what a Pennsylvania hyperloop might look like:

Will a hyperloop work in Pennsylvania?

That’s the question officials from legislative and executive branches, statewide agencies, organizations and departments, as well as a handful of private business leaders are trying to answer.

Fifty people, invited to a workshop at Dixon University in Harrisburg on Wednesday, met to talk about the possibility of building a hyperloop system in the commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has until April 2020 to complete a $2 million state-legislative commissioned study on its viability. …

According to the turnpike’s research, a hyperloop combines a magnetic levitation train and a low pressure transit tube to propel “pods or capsules” at high rates of speed. It can travel up to 700 mph.

There are currently no hyperloop systems constructed worldwide, but the first to-scale hyperloop is expected to break ground in 2020-21 in either India or United Arab Emirates. The challenge here is how well it will work on Pennsylvania’s terrain, said Barry Altman, the state’s hyperloop project manager, during a phone interview before Wednesday’s workshop.

“We recognize that on the front end, geography is a key issue,” Altman said. “Pennsylvania is not ideal for hyperloop, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be built.” He acknowledged those factors could make building one in the state more expensive and longer to complete than in other states. No cost estimates have been discussed publicly at this point.

State Rep. Aaron Kaufer, a Luzerne County Republican, attended the meeting. He spearheaded and co-sponsored House Bill 1057, legislation that directed the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to conduct the study. AECOM, a Los-Angeles, California-based engineering firm, is analyzing what it would take to build a hyperloop tube that would run from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg to Philadelphia…

I’ve written about what hyperloop would do for the Philadelphia/New York relationship, but a Philadelphia/Pittsburgh hyperloop would make a lot of sense for knitting the Commonwealth together.