‘Victims of a moral panic’

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Talking with Strangers, has a chapter on the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal. Malcolm Gladwell is speaking in Happy Valley tonight and Ben Novak writes on the whole thing in StateCollege.com:

In “Talking with Strangers,” Gladwell stirred up a hornets’ nest with his chapter on the Sandusky scandal entitled “The Boy in the Shower.” The thesis of this new book is that humans innately tend to form positive impressions of others, even in the face of contrary indications. Using the Sandusky scandal as a case study, he takes on many of the misunderstandings and false “facts,” upon which the media narrative of that scandal has been based.

Since the book’s publication, however, he has stirred the hornets even more in several podcast interviews. In a podcast interview with Bill Simmons, Gladwell asserts, “The leadership at Penn State was totally, outrageously attacked over this. I think they’re blameless,” In addition, Gladwell insists, “Joe Paterno essentially did nothing wrong.”

Statements such as these are sure to send sparks flying and evoke a lot of questions—perhaps even some soul searching. But in another interview, this time with John Zeigler, Gladwell went even further, claiming, for example:

“There is no way Joe Paterno even belongs in this conversation. Everyone should agree he was treated shamefully and that his good name needs to be restored.”

“We were way, way, way, way too quick to come to judgement about the Penn State leadership and on Joe Paterno, and way too quick to think that Mike McQueary’s account is cut and dry when, in fact, it’s not.”

“Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz were the victims of a moral panic. It was crazy.”

When the NCAA restored Penn State’s victories and avoided its sanctions five years ago, it acknowledged precisely the “moral panic” it both fell victim to and perpetuated.

Politics is important, but…

Archbishop Chaput’s successor in Philadelphia will be Archbishop Nelson Perez. Matt Hadro reports on Archbishop Chaput’s retirement:

Chaput reflected on his vocation as bishop to CNA on Thursday, citing St. Augustine as the model of service he has sought to emulate in his ministry.

“Augustine lived simply, never abandoned his people, and never avoided difficult decisions or issues,” Chaput told CNA.

“That didn’t always make him popular. But he served his people sacrificially, as a good father, in a spirit of love. That’s the gold standard for a bishop’s ministry.”

During his episcopal ministry, and especially as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Chaput faced criticism from secular outlets and within the Church for taking “conservative” stands on leading debates in the Church, including statements discouraging Catholic politicians who support abortion from presenting themselves for Communion and opposing efforts to redefine marriage.

His stances led to him being branded as a “culture warrior” and “political.” Yet, he explained to CNA on Thursday, his public stances were required of him as a responsible Catholic leader in the public square.

“Was Augustine ‘political’ for writing City of God? Or for criticizing Roman state corruption and bad officials? Of course not,” Chaput said.

“Politics is a subset of Christian discipleship, and sometimes bishops need to speak and act with conviction in the public square in an unpopular way. That’s always been the case.”

“Politics is important, but it’s not what the Gospel is about,” he said. …

“The history of the Church is not the history of bishops, it’s the history of all of us together working for the glory of God.”

Clock of life

Fulton Sheen gave a talk called “The Approach of Midnight” in the 1970s, imagining the “clock of life”:

“I want you to picture a great and gigantic clock of life. Here is dawn; here is noon; here is dusk; here is midnight. The clock of life at the very beginning of the day is beginning to extinguish life: feticide, the killing of human persons in the womb. That’s the first stroke of the clock.

Then we come to noon: lives in middle age. We’ve already had this strike: six million Jews burned by Hitler. Life at the beginning, life at noon.

Life in the evening. Now euthanasia is recommended: gerocide, the killing of the old. In fact, three American professors in large universities have recommended the killing off of Bangladesh and India, that the rest of us may survive.

Now, what’s going to happen to a world that takes life at dawn, life at noon, life at dusk? We’re eventually going to come to midnight. The United States and Russia have enough nuclear armaments to drop [the equivalent of] ten tons of TNT on every man, woman, and child in the world. That’s the midnight of necrophilism…

It’s not just life at dawn we’re protecting. It’s life at noon; it’s life at dusk; it’s life at midnight…

Go into the world and tell everyone that you meet: there is a life in the womb!”

A consistent life ethic…

Harder to make silence

Fr. George Rutler writes that it’s “harder to make silence than noise”:

One year ago in the Italian town of Cremona, there was an imposed silence by order of the local government for eight hours a day, six days of the week for five straight weeks. The purpose was to allow the pristine recording by highly technical equipment of sounds played on the 1700 Antonio Stradivari “Stauffer” cello, the 1727 Antonio Stradivari “Vesuvius” violin, a 1615 “Stauffer” viola by Girolamo Amati, and the 1734 “Prince Doria” violin by Guarneri del Gesù. Cremona’s most famous luthier, of course, was Stradivari, and no one knows how many centuries from now such instruments as the Stradivarius violins can survive.

It is harder to make silence than noise. Because of modern cacophony, especially in what passes for music in the form of amplified “rock” sounds, young people are growing increasingly deaf. In urban areas, silence is so uncommon that one becomes suspicious of silence, rather like the dog that did not bark in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze” detective story. Sherlock Holmes said that it was Dr. Watson’s “great gift for silence” that made him so useful.

Satan and his evil spirits are noisy. Jesus told an evil spirit to be silent (Mark 1:25). The Greek Φιμώθητι (Phimōthēti) simply means “Shut up!” Our Lord always was precise. So should we be, in order to hear God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

The surrealist poet Dame Edith Sitwell said, “My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.” She might have benefitted arts and letters had she been silent more often. But, after all, she eventually made her Profession of Faith at the Farm Street Church in London with Evelyn Waugh as her sponsor. Neither was famous for reticence, but they did profit from moments of quietude. Those who do not think deeply will not understand how painful it is to those who have powers of concentration, to be interrupted by frivolous chatter.

Saint Anthony helped to change the world by isolating himself in a desert. This is why retreats in one form or another are crucial, for a retreat is actually a frontal attack on the noisy Anti-Christ. The pope himself recently said that folks should put down their iPhones and listen to silence, which has a sound of its own. When Barnabas and Paul spoke at the Council in Jerusalem, “All the people kept silent . . .” (Acts 15:12). We can be thankful that they did not have cell phones.

God will not have to shout at us if we do not “harden our hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). Instead, as with Elijah, “. . . the Lord wasnot in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lordwas not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, butthe Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

I have this image of Mary that reminds me of the spiritual importance of silence:

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I don’t remember where the image comes from. But it’s a reminder that there’s no way to “ponder these things in our heart” if we can’t learn the value of silence. Not simply “quiet,” but silence—intentional, powerful, pregnant times when we can hear the whispers of our heart.

March for Life 2020

Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs are in Washington, DC this weekend and they came to be a part of today’s March for Life, marking 47 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s imposed Roe doctrine of lawful indifference to human life.

It’s a powerful and hopeful week of events, organizing, rallying, prayer, and companionship when we take stock of the victories of the past year and the work to come. There are incredible reasons for hope, even as threats to the human right to life have expanded across the spectrum, particularly concerning patients’ rights and suicide. There’s always work to be done.

President Trump’s remarks were perfect, and an encouraging sign that political leadership at the highest levels will increasingly participate in the March for Life.

President Trump to speak at the March for Life

Kimberly Leonard reports that President Trump will speak to the March for Life tomorrow, becoming the first president to address the rally in person in its 47 year history:

President Trump will deliver an in-person speech on Friday at the March for Life, an annual rally held in Washington protesting the legalization of abortion.

Trump will be the first president in history to appear at the march, one of the highest-profile events of the anti-abortion movement. March for Life is in its 47th year, having taken place every year since the passage of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Last year, Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise appearance at the march before roughly 100,000 attendees. The president also gave a message of support for the cause to attendees through a live video.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the organizing group, celebrated the announcement in a statement, saying Trump had been loyal to the anti-abortion movement.

“From the appointment of pro-life judges and federal workers, to cutting taxpayer funding for abortions here and abroad, to calling for an end to late-term abortions, President Trump and his administration have been consistent champions for life and their support for the March for Life has been unwavering,” she said. “We are grateful for all these pro-life accomplishments and look forward to gaining more victories for life in the future.”

It’s a fact that President Trump’s appearance will ensure that every future Republican president will be expected to rally at the March for Life in person, and that’s long overdue. Terrisa Bukovinac, my friend from Pro-Life San Francisco, offers her thoughts as a Democrat:

The liberal leader expressed her support of the President’s appearance, despite their differences.

“Although Trump and I don’t agree on much, we do agree that the horror of abortion is the most pressing human rights issue in America today,” stated Bukovinac via e-mail.

“Trump’s willingness to draw the media to this historic event is an important move, regardless of our profound disagreement.”

“It would be fantastic to juxtapose Trump with a prominent national pro-life Democrat,” said liberal pro-life leader Bukovinac. “But until the 72 percent of Democrats who want abortion restricted stop voting for pro-choice extremists, we will continue to have to rely on right-wing leadership to draw attention to the March for Life.”

The beauty found on earth

Jessica Hooten Wilson writes:

At the top of Mount Purgatory, Dante is reunited with his paramour Beatrice, only the reunion is anything but romantic. She acknowledges that Dante’s desire for her “was directing [him] to love the Good/ beyond which there’s no thing to draw our longing” (2.31.23-24). God was drawing Dante to himself through Beatrice’s beauty, and he drew Dante up the mountain by inspiring the pilgrim with the memory of Beatrice’s eyes. Yet, she demands to know why Dante turned away from God after her death. After her beauty returned to ashes, did Dante not realize the fleeting beauty of mortal things? The beauty found on earth is meant to draw us towards its source and completion in him.

We must protect beauty where it is found, cultivate beauty in this world with a higher purpose than our own pleasure. Our aesthetics—just like our morals—must be trained. You can think something is beautiful and be wrong; beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. In The Beauty of the Infinite, CLJ contributor David Bentley Hart reminds us that beauty is objective. He writes, “In the beautiful God’s glory is revealed as something communicable and intrinsically delightful, as including the creature in its ends, and as completely worthy of love; what God’s glory necessitates and commands, beauty shows also to be gracious and inviting.” The beautiful must be “worthy of love,” “gracious,” and “inviting.” We cannot look at a urinal with a name sharpie-marked and call it beautiful, for the object does not invite us to recognize God’s loving grace. Yet, we can walk into Notre Dame cathedral and feel his invitation to be loved. We can sit atop a cliff and look out over the sea and know that all creation is a gift. From this perch, we can call the scene before us, “beautiful.” Just as we should not possess those persons that we find beautiful, nor should we consume the beauty around us. …

We miss the mark when we cultivate ugliness, devalue beauty, or use beauty for our own satisfaction. …

There is no reason for the world to be beautiful. It is God’s gratuitous showering of grace that beauty exists. As Joshua Gibbs points out, “As far as ‘use in the real world’ is concerned, the things we love tend to be useless. God Himself is useless.” To say God is useless is not to say that God does not matter, but the opposite. God matters most: He is the end and thus cannot be used for anything. Beauty turns us away from the sin of prioritizing use and reminds us to enjoy.

Isn’t that perfect? “God was drawing Dante to himself through Beatrice’s beauty…”

We’re not drawn to the beautiful for utilitarian reasons. We cannot “do” anything with the beauty we encounter in the Pieta, or the Mona Lisa, or the smile of our brother or sister. But we can enjoy them, and in the enjoyment we have to wonder:

What does this enjoyment suggest? What does it point toward? What is its source?

And it’s the same for the creation of the beautiful itself, where the heart naturally asks at a certain point: What is the cause of inspiration?

One who breaks an unjust law

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here’s MLK on the difference between just law and unjust law:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. …

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. …

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws. …

Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
April 16, 1963

Alexandria for an afternoon

I had thought earlier in the week of a hike today, but the weather is cold and windy enough that I changed plans. I headed to Old Town, Alexandria for Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary and then headed to Village Brauhaus to spend time with a friend and catch up.

It’s a great thing to be able to do and see so much in and around Washington with relatively little trouble.