Penn State v. Iowa

An entire game unfolded in four seconds at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City last night, as Penn State somehow defeated Iowa 21-19 as time expired with an incredible just-above-the-defender’s-fingertips reception.

I was on the phone as the fourth quarter wound down, and had lost hope that Penn State had any chance of winning the game after watching our unsure and listless offense struggle to put real points on the board. I was already mentally preparing for a steep drop from the four spot in the rankings.

Then Trace McSorely and Juwan Johnson somehow connected in those last four seconds. I snapped the photos above of those final seconds; just incredible. I’ve never seen a game like that. Onward State’s got a good recap.

Hurricane wine cellar

A great story amidst so much of Hurricane Irma’s tragedy is Richard Branson making the most of things, emerging “from wine-cellar bunker after Irma ‘utterly devastated’ his private island:”

Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group who said he would ride out Hurricane Irma on his private Caribbean island, has emerged from his fortified wine cellar unscathed.

“All of the team who stayed on Necker and Moskito during the hurricane are safe and well,” Branson said in a blog post Thursday, which he explained was transcribed with a satellite phone after the storm brought down all lines of communication.

“We took shelter from the strongest hurricane ever inside the concrete cellar on Necker and very, very fortunately it held firm. …

“All of us slept together in two rooms,” Branson wrote. “I haven’t had a sleepover quite like it since I was a kid. Strangely, it’s a privilege to experience what is turning into possibly the strongest storm ever with such a great group of young people.

“We were listening to the parrots in their boxes in the next room chattering away. Watching the tortoises congregating together, as if they sense what is coming our way.”

A few hours before Irma’s impact, Branson wrote that he planned to retreat with his team to his concrete wine cellar below “the Great House.”

As one does.

“Knowing our wonderful team as I do, I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge,” he wrote on his blog.

I heard that Winston Churchill said something like, “There’s nothing more exhilarating than being shot at and having the bullet miss.”

Appreciation Dinner

I visited St. Anthony of Padua Catholic parish in Ambler, Pennsylvania tonight for the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia‘s Annual Appreciation Dinner for Christian volunteers.

As a board member wrapping up my sixth year, it’s particularly gratifying to be a part of events like this and see the oldest and the youngest generations coming together for fellowship and celebration for the mothers, fathers, and children who have been served over the past year and helped in difficult times.

This was a somewhat bittersweet year in light of Edel Finnegan’s impending departure as executive director after more than a dozen years. She and Fr. Chris Walsh and others spoke eloquently on the issues facing us, and the ways in which we can all witness to a culture of life that respects the dignity of all persons.

Campfires among men

A few years ago I was in Ave Maria, Florida visiting Ben and Michael Novak.

One afternoon, I was out walking Hollow, their incredibly wolf-like shepherd/husky. We were walking Annunciation Circle around Ave Maria Oratory, and as we neared the “Bean” coffee shop I met a young student named Peter. Peter knew Hollow immediately, because he knew Michael and Ben. Peter was sitting outside with his books studying; I think he was a freshman or sophomore at the time.

I asked what he was reading, and he said in the most casual way something like: “Oh, well I’m working on translating this language of ‘the Word became flesh’ from the Latin. It’s super interesting, because the older language is far more literal.”

“Right, I said. What does that even mean to people now: ‘Word became flesh?'”

“The more literal understanding of scriptural language around this stuff is something closer to the idea of God ‘pitching his fire’ among men. In other words, a more literal act of God the divine joining the ‘camp’ of men, maybe like a traveling companion might join a camp for a night.”

I’m butchering this somewhat, because Peter’s language was much clearer in that moment than my memory of it is now. But whatever precise point he was making, the essence of it has stuck with me ever since. When I heard him relate these thoughts, it was like a strike of lightning to me—this image of the Creator pitching a tent among men, firing the light of the campfires with the sort of power that doesn’t flicker or fade.

It’s a much simpler way, and a more arresting one, I think, to understand the principle that “God became flesh” and that the logos and the Word became man. In joining our camp, divinity came to relate to us in a new way—not as the God upon the mountaintop or an abstracted and necessarily distant power, but ultimately as a brother and a son and a person. In this, there are a whole world of implications for how we related to one another.

I’ll be thinking about this for the rest of my life.

Congress decides war

Sen. Rand Paul’s decision to force a Senate vote on the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations on the Use of Military Force (AUMF) was heroic. In doing so, he forced every senator to go on the record for the first time in 15 years. Connor O’Brien puts this in context:

The Senate Wednesday scuttled a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul to repeal the war authorizations that underpin the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as military action in a slew of other countries.

The vote was 61 to 36 to table — or kill — Paul’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Kentucky Republican’s proposal would have repealed both the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force six months after the bill becomes law, giving lawmakers a tight window to pass a new framework for U.S. military operations overseas.

The first amendment vote on the defense policy bill H.R. 2810 (115) saw Republicans and Democrats join to defeat Paul’s proposal, while most Democrats and a handful of Republicans joined him to support the repeal.

In a floor speech Tuesday, Paul torched his fellow lawmakers for refusing to vote to authorize the myriad military actions the U.S. has engaged in since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I don’t think that anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty believes that these authorizations from 16 years ago and 14 years ago … authorized war in seven different countries,” Paul said.

“I am advocating a vote … on whether or not we should be at war,” Paul said. “It should be a simple vote. It is like pulling teeth.”

But the war powers vote didn’t come easy for the senator. Wednesday’s vote came after Paul blocked Senate leaders’ efforts to speed consideration of the must-pass defense policy bill for two days. Paul objected to procedural efforts to begin debate sooner and threatened to hold up all other senators’ amendments if he wasn’t granted a vote on his proposal.

Paul was joined by senators from both parties who supported sunsetting the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs in order to force Congress to debate and pass a new authorization that covers the current military campaign against ISIS as well as other contingencies.

Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who has pushed for a new AUMF with Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, said it was “way past time” for a vote.

“There has been no particular motive or forcing mechanism that has made the [Foreign Relations] Committee take this up, bat it around, hear from experts, debate, amend it and send it to the floor,” Kaine said of his and Flake’s proposal.

“Of all the powers Congress has, the one that we should most jealously guard is the power to declare war,” he said.

But opponents of the measure argued repealing the two war resolutions on such a quick timeline would endanger military operations in Afghanistan and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and send mixed signals to U.S. troops and allies overseas.

“I did not expect that 16 years later we would still be engaged in the evolution of that fight that began on 9/11,” said Senate Armed Services ranking Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island. “But we cannot, I think, simply stop, threaten to pull back our legal framework with the expectation that in six months we will produce a new and more appropriate authorization for the use of military force.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell piled on Wednesday, arguing a repeal of the legal framework for military operations against terrorist groups “breaks faith” with the troops.

As far as Sen. Jack Reed’s comments go, the entire problem is that there is no meaningful legal framework for our military actions at present. The Taliban government was desposed years ago, and Osama bin Laden was killed long ago. Sen. Mitch McConnell should be ashamed of politicizing our armed forces.

Tom Burnett’s country

It’s September 11th. In light of America having lived through the so-called Flight 93 election, I thought it was worth highlighting Alexander Riley’s Flight 93 reminiscence:

As the full scope of the tragedy came into focus with the passage of the hours, we learned about still other heroes, whose signature act was hidden initially by the confusion of the day, but whose deeds  in time became legendary. These were the men and women aboard United Flight 93.

Their plane was delayed in takeoff by almost an hour due to airport traffic. Because of the delay, the forty passengers and crew members aboard were able in the minutes after it was hijacked to discover what had happened in Manhattan and in Washington D.C., while making cell phone calls to family and friends. They were horrified when they put the pieces together, as United 93 turned over Ohio to start back eastward. They were told by the hijackers that it would be best if they did nothing. Over the intercom, they heard the command in broken English: “Sit down, keep remaining seating…We have a bomb on board. So sit.”

But they knew what their attackers intended to do. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not randomly selected targets. They are symbols of American strength, American enterprise, the American spirit. Terrorism works this way. The passengers on Flight 93 guessed the hijackers of their plane were aiming for a similarly symbolic target. They gauged the magnitude of that intention and the unspeakable damage that fate would entail, both human and symbolic. And so, they did not sit down.

They stood up, and they put together a plan to resist the terrorists and thwart their designs.

Tom Burnett was one of the four men who spearheaded the effort to retake the plane. He had several conversations with his wife Deena that span the time from the hijack to mere minutes before the plane struck ground.

In the last of these calls, Deena told him of the strike on the Pentagon; she had earlier informed him that the World Trade Center had been hit. “It’s a suicide mission,” he immediately guessed. “We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together with several people,” he said. He told her they were waiting until the plane was over a rural area, at which point they would attempt to take it back from the hijackers. Her reaction was instinctively protective: “No!,” she emphatically responded. “Sit down! Don’t draw attention to yourself!” Tom told Deena to pray, adding: “Don’t worry, Deena. I’ll be home for dinner. I may be late, but I’ll be home.”

When I first read these words in Deena Burnett’s remarkable book about her husband’s life and death, I paused a moment, unsure that I had read the passage correctly. In the face of horror, in a hijacked plane flying at 40,000 feet on a suicide terror mission, he says these words? Not a hint of fear or despair. Unflappable. Confident. Supremely clear of vision and purpose, even while gazing on chaos itself.

This is what real heroes sound like. Those words have stayed with me all these years. They give me confidence, and they give me purpose, and they make me proud of this, my country, Tom Burnett’s country.

Rest in peace.

September views

I’m sharing some photos I snapped from Friday and Saturday, first from my office window looking over Logan Circle and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at dusk, and also of City Hall, Suburban Station, and a shot from the two day National Catholic Bioethics Center seminar that I participated in.

It’s a fun time of year (especially with the view I’m fortunate to have from my office) to watch the end of one season and the beginning of another.