Stars and Christmas lights

After a Christmas party in Bethesda/Rockville on Saturday night, I left around 10pm for State College in order to get into town for the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s Sunday board meeting, the meeting of the year.

I opted for the slightly longer but more scenic/rural route, which is great even at night. I stopped for a few minutes off a side road in Franklin County, near the little town of Lemasters, Pennsylvania, because you could night sky was very visible. It was also nearly totally silent, and I tried to capture the sound of silence.

I got into State College past 1am and walked down Allen Street to take in the Christmas lights before heading to sleep. After the Mount Nittany Conservancy meeting and a few brief errands, I hit the road back to Washington on Sunday around noon.

The dynamic of friendship

I think the first snow of the season in Washington last year happened in roughly mid-November. No snow to be seen yet, and this week has been generally gorgeous—here’s a scene from earlier in the week, paired with something from David Whyte on friendship that Tim Ferriss highlighted in his “5-Bullet Friday” newsletter:

“The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence. …

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self; the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

God’s advent

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and we hear from Matthew: “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

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It’s raining this morning in Washington, but a light rain that doesn’t leave you overly chilly. After Mass at Epiphany, I continued reading Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” and specifically his chapter on judgment:

Men have always known that something was wrong with human existence; that everywhere stupidity, injustice, deception and violence were at work. Consequently there was always the feeling that someday things must be set right and fulfilled. Some expected this clarification to come from human history itself: humanity by its own powers would fight its way through to a kind of divine existence. Let us allow this hope to die a natural death; it is flagrantly contrary not only to Revelation and Christian thinking, but also to the conclusions that must be drawn from a single honest glance at reality. We maintain our conviction that clarity can come only from God, after earthly life is over. But how is such a judgment to be imagined?

One might say: Throughout existence we find vain appearances and downright deception. A man is seldom rated by his fellow-men for what he really is. Often people of great value are poor, the honorable are unknown, and the questionable or utterly useless are wealthy and esteemed. Seldom does a person’s appearance reveal his true nature. Even towards oneself there is much deceit. The self-appraising eye looks away at sight of the truth; the will hides its true intentions from itself and pretends to much that is non-existent. Thus judgment might well consist of the falling of the masks; the transparent appearance of all things as they really are. . . . We might also say: The inner reality of an individual should harmonize with the outer. The man who is pure should also be healthy; the good beautiful, the magnanimous strong and powerful of frame. Actually, it is quite different. Such unity is so rare, that an encounter with it seems like a fairytale. And it will never be otherwise. Neither physical-education nor spiritual formation will be able to change this radically, for the root of the disturbance goes deeper than human will. The cracks that run through personality will always be there—the stronger the personality, the deeper the cracks. Judgment could mean that disposition and being become one, that every human becomes in reality what he is by intention.

Or this thought: How rarely are life’s promises kept, tasks completed, do human relations bear their fruit, does potential greatness become actuality. Again and again things break off and remain fragmentary. Life seldom receives the full, intelligent and loving approbation it desires. Even love is insufficient and illusory. Hence judgment could mean fulfillment; that every being might say: Everything in me that could be, has been perfected, has received its “yes” and its “no.”

These suggestions, like many others, have their grain of truth—also of Christian truth. Many passages in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, support them. Still, what Christ says is different. In order that “judgments” such as these take place, things have only to appear before God’s clarity. But what Jesus was referring to in the last days of his earthly existence was something else.

The judgment he means will not come through the falling away of time’s constraint and the placing of all things in God’s clarifying light, but through God’s advent. Judgment is not the eternal consequences of divine government, but God’s specific historical act—the last. After it, we are told, comes eternity. There is no action in eternity, only purest being and eternal fulfillment. And the God who is to come thus is Jesus Christ, he who is addressing us. …

When will Judgment come? No one knows, says the Lord—not even the Son. This knowledge is reserved to the Father and his counsel. It is not necessary to pull this word to pieces. It is part of paternal sovereignty “to know the times or dates which the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Judgment comes from the freedom of the Father, the Inaccessible One.

One thing we are told: it will come suddenly. Like the thief in the night, the master from his journey, the bridegroom from the wedding. This “suddenly” is the same kind of adverb as the “soon” of the Apocalypse and Paul’s letters. It does not mean a brief span of time rather than a long one—not ten years instead of a thousand. This is how it was interpreted in the beginning, so that people thought Christ’s return would take place in the next few years. In reality, any time is “soon” because all time is short, i.e., transitory. A thousand years before God are as a day, and all time as nothing, for he is eternity, but time passes. Whenever the end comes, it will be “soon.” And people will say: “Now? Why now? We have scarcely begun to live! We haven’t done any of the things that must be done, if everything is not to be lost! We have neglected the essential.” Always it will be: “We have neglected the essential!” This is how Christ’s “suddenly” is meant. …

God’s gaze is constantly upon earth, and his coming is a constant threat.

Creator of all things

Happy Thanksgiving. On the walk back from 7:30am Mass at Epiphany in Georgetown this morning, I stopped to admire this perfect autumn scene, with its contrast of white home and picket fence and red-orange radiant foliage.

I caught a 1pm train from Union Station to Philadelphia to be with family early this afternoon, and sharing two things today. First, from President Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:

“[I]t is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits … who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…”

And second, a hymn that seems appropriate for the season—reading “night” both literally and as the “night” of late autumn and winter.

O God, Creator of all things,
Who rules the firmament as King,
Who clothes the day with gilding light,
And with the grace of sleep, the night,

We hymn you thanks for this done day,
And for the rising night we pray,
That you will hasten to our aid,
To help us fill the vows we made.

To you our deepest hearts resound,
To you our voices’ tuneful sound,
To you arises high above,
From sober minds, our purest love.

And when the darkness is profound,
And day lies in dark’s prison bound,
May faith not know the want of light
But light the very dark of night.

O Christ and Father, we request,
From you and from your Spirit blest,
That you who rule with single might
May care for us throughout the night.

Fall Washington scenes

A few photos I took over the past few weeks, starting in late October along the Potomac, looking out toward the Key Bridge and Rosslyn, then continuing for three scenes in Alexandria, then on to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court.

I look back on photos like these afterwards and am often amazed at how beautiful a world we live in. Our (my?) memory doesn’t let us remember what we’ve seen so vividly, and little scenes like these can encourage us in living our everyday lives with at least a bit more wonder.

Christ the King

A homily reflection from Saint Josemaria Escriva on the feast of Christ the King:

Christ’s lordship over the universe is commemorated in various ways in feasts of the liturgical year, including the Epiphany, Easter, and the Ascension. With the Solemnity of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in the context of the growing secularization of the world, the Church wishes to highlight even more clearly Christ’s sovereignty over all creation, including human history.

Jesus’ reign, as the liturgy of the Mass underlines, is a regnum veritatis et vitae; regnum sanctitatis et gratiae; regnum iustitiae, amoris et pacis. Truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love and peace: these are the values that the human heart most longs for, and we Christians can contribute to bringing them about. We can do so especially through works of mercy done for the most needy, as the gospel for this feast in Year A tells us. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome.

Nevertheless, Jesus himself warned us, my kingdom is not of this world. His sovereignty will be seen in its fullness at his second coming in glory, when there will be new heavens and a new earth, and all creatures, free from the slavery of sin, will serve and never cease to praise him. Now is the time of expectation, of working for his kingdom, confident that the final victory will be his.

Jesus is the center of history: not only the history of mankind as a whole, but also of each individual person. Even when it seems that everything is lost, it is always possible to appeal to our Lord like the good thief, as the gospel for Year C tells us. What peace comes from the fact that, in spite of our past, with sincere repentance we can always enter the Kingdom of God. “Today we can think about our own story, the path of our life. Each one of us has our history; we each have our mistakes, our sins, our happy moments and our sad ones. On a day such as this we do well to think about our own history, and to look at Jesus, and to say often, but from the heart, in silence, each one of us: ‘Remember me, Lord, now that you are in your kingdom. Jesus, remember me, because I want to be good, I want to be good, but I don’t have the strength, I just can’t. I’m a sinner, a sinner. But remember me, Jesus. You can remember me because you’re in the center, you’re right there, in your kingdom’.”

When instituting the Feast of Christ the King, Pius XI wrote: “While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim His kingly dignity and power, (and) all the more universally affirm His rights.”

“Jesus is the center of history: not only the history of mankind as a whole, but also of each individual person.”

Endowing the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship

Penn State News covers our recently concluded campaign to endow the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship:

As a student programmed-and-operated radio station, The LION is integral to the Penn State experience and provides a voice for the student body. The LION has been a platform for many students to gain valuable experience over the years and go on to successful careers in journalism, broadcasting, advertising, and related fields. A unique feature of The LION is that membership is open to students of any academic major, as well as graduate students, members of the faculty, and townspeople.

A recently endowed scholarship, the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship, is helping to support the students who run The LION.

The scholarship was initiated in 2014 with a gift from Michael Walsh, a Penn State alumnus who graduated with a bachelor’s in telecommunications from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

“I was excited to strengthen Penn State student radio through this scholarship because it occupies a distinctive place amongst Penn State’s student organizations,” said Walsh. “It enables people anywhere in the world to literally hear some of the life of the Penn State campus and Nittany Valley communities. As a powerful platform for free expression, for artistic creativity, and for authentically diverse perspectives, The LION has for decades brought people together in a way no other student organization does. I hope this scholarship increases access for Penn Staters to become a part of the continuing tradition of student radio.”

The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group – one of more than 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups – led the fundraising efforts to raise the $50,000 needed to permanently endow the scholarship. In 2019, the group met their fundraising goal.

“Penn State has been a leader in broadcasting college radio since the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912 led to WPSC and some of the earliest student broadcasts in American history,” said Tom Shakely, Penn State alumnus and campaign chair for the scholarship. “Penn State student broadcasters enrich the campus and community through the free expression of the human voice. Now, thanks to the generosity of alumni from across many generations, students will continue to benefit from the establishment of the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship and will have the potential to participate in this distinctive Penn State tradition of student broadcasting without being as burdened by the cost of their degree.”

Since its establishment in 2014, the scholarship has provided more than $25,000 of support to students.

The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group was also instrumental in the installation of the Student Broadcasting historical marker in 2017. The marker, located outside of Sparks Building, celebrates the long history and significance of student broadcasting at Penn State.

The scholarship is open to Pell-eligible undergraduate students with preference given to members of The LION 90.7 FM. Members of the University and community can contribute to this by visiting www.giveto.psu.edu/walshscholarship.

Hands down, The LION 90.7fm was the best part of my Penn State experience. Experience running a federally licensed radio station, experience managing budgets and a large team, experience with stakeholders, fundraising, and most important: learning how to speak in a compelling and relevant way in public.

I hope many generations are still to follow.

Josh Hawley and the Promethean idea

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes on Sen. Josh Hawley’s address at last night’s American Principles Project Foundation Gala in Washington, DC:

Missouri senator Josh Hawley might be the most interesting thinker the U.S. Senate has seen since Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Or at least, he’s the senator today who most resembles Moynihan as a sweeping and adventurous social critic.

Last night, at a dinner held by the American Principles Project Foundation, Hawley gave a remarkable speech. Like most good political speeches, it was straightforward and accessible. But unlike most good political speeches, it was also a searing piece of cultural criticism, an indictment of America’s economic and social arrangements. This is notable because at the moment, the president of the United States — a man who happens to belong to Hawley’s party — is touting the unparalleled success of the American economy. …

For basically my entire adult life, the default mode of Republican speechifying has been a kind of reheated “optimism” with lots of waxing poetic about the great reserves of American can-do waiting to be tapped. These attempts to recapture “Morning in America” have been delivered through clenched, Prozac-like smiles by men who promptly enter black SUVs to be hurried off back to their gated communities. I’ve always accepted that this is the way of electoral politics, which doesn’t have much to do with a conservative intellectual disposition that tends to be more dour, or at least skeptical.

But Hawley’s speech went from those baleful statistics to a prophetic critique of a cult of the individual and self that is “so thoroughly ingrained in American culture.”

Hawley called it the Promethean idea: “This is the individual as creator, as self-creator, maker of meaning and author of reality, rather like Prometheus who in the ancient myth created all mankind. So call this view of the human person the ‘Promethean self.’” …

Hawley went on to say that “the Promethean ambition leaves us lost and unmoored. And the market worship and cultural deconstruction the Promethean vision has inspired have failed this country.” This is likely to be met with disdain or active resistance by many Republicans, including some of my own colleagues here at National Review. So too is Hawley’s mention of labor unions as one of the institutions that bring people together and ground them in their communities. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Hawley ended with a rousing call for “a new politics of family and neighborhood, a new politics of love and belonging, a new politics of home.”

I was there last night at the Mayflower for Sen. Hawley’s speech. Stylistically it was disappointing in that he spoke from a teleprompter, but substantively it was solid:

What Sen. Hawley and Sohrab Ahmari and others are attempting to articulate isn’t simply a new generation of conservatism so much as a new vision for American solidarity.

‘New approaches to truth’

Chad Pecknold writes on Pilate’s perennial question, one that echoes in the human heart in every generation: “What is truth?”:

The mid-20th century French Jesuit Henri Bouillard once insisted that theology must constantly move with “the evolution of all concepts.” He famously said, “a theology that is not up-to-date (actuelle) is a false theology.” Bouillard was not denying that Catholics believe in unchangeable truths, but the phrase was a striking one. If taken literally, it might mean that the Dogmas of the Trinity, or the Incarnation, are false insofar as they depend on very “out-dated” Hellenistic accounts of being, substance and natures.

Bouillard’s claim elicited a rebuttal from the French Dominican Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange opened his bombshell 1947 essay on the new modern theologies which were emerging before and after the war with a broadside against just the kind of temporal standard that Bouillard had advocated.

Fr. Garrigou asked how can one assent to an understanding of the Eucharist as a transubstantiation without an unchangeably true concept of substance? And most fundamentally, he asked, if every unchangeable truth of the faith must be measured by a changeable standard in order for it to be true, then doesn’t that entail a new definition of truth as change?

Garrigou was worried that a new definition of truth was arising from a variety of directions, each of which sought to unseat the traditional “correspondential” and moderately realist view of truth as the mind conforming itself to reality. Instead of adequation of mind to reality, however, a new view of truth was emerging, one which was evolutionary, always conforming thought to the lived experience of actual life.

What may look like disputes over theological “preferences” in historical situations, Garrigou began to argue, are actually disputes over truth and how we know it. Is something true because it conforms with some unchangeable law, some extramental and trans-historical reality, or is something true because it fits with some contemporary need of culture or human experience which is always evolving? What Bouillard represented — fairly or not — was a deeper metaphysical challenge posed by a new paradigm-shifting definition of truth. Fr. Garrigou concluded that those constantly advocating for an “updating” of unchangeable truths were in fact going the way of materialism and skepticism.

The Thomist philosopher would to the pre-Socratic material philosopher Heraclitus to illustrate part of the problem with the new evolutionary view of truth. For Heraclitus, everything is constantly becoming. You never step in the same river twice, and so nothing really is — being is constantly becoming. Everything is relative in a radical way, and if you are a materialist who just looks at phenomena, and knows only through the senses, then it’s easy to see how a thinker might observe how sensible things are always changing, and arrive at this view of reality which demands constant updating.

Yet this is nonsense, and Aristotle demonstrates why it’s nonsense. Kant can’t be Kant and not-Kant at once. It is impossible for something to be and not be at the same time in the same way. The law of non-contradiction ensures that the truth can be known, not just in a manner of speaking, but actually. While we are like night owls blinking at the intelligible light of the world, we can discern being from non-being, and thus distinguish what is true from what is false.

For Garrigou, Heraclitus, the skeptics, relativists of all stripes, Kantian and Hegelian logic alike, all make our knowledge of reality an indefinite process in which we never know the highest causes, never arrive at knowledge of reality as such. He is not rigid, he is a realist. And he believes that new approaches to truth are not only a threat to the faith, but they are a threat to reason as well.

Pecknold’s piece was sparked by an exchange at the USCCB’s Baltimore meeting earlier this week, and is difficult reading for those (like me) unfamiliar with much of the history and figures he’s referencing. But I think this is an entree to an important intellectual thread worth following for a lifetime, which is the nature and telos of truth.