Ave Maria for a week

I’m writing from a rocking chair in the Philadelphia airport, waiting for my phone to charge before heading into the city. Just getting back from a week in Ave Maria/Naples, where I was fortunate to meet, reconnect with, and speak with many good people.

It’s now been five years that I’ve been visiting Ave Maria, and the town seems to be developing nicely, overall. It’s growing in earnest—about 4,000 residents live there now, according to one long-time resident. Ave Maria University doesn’t seem to be growing in a substantial way, but it does seem to be more or less stable. It’s identity is evolving, though. A major drama a few years ago was dropping Latin as a requirement, and now a somewhat subterranean drama involves an attempt from the administration to do away with a focus on great literature in favor of a more technical focus on composition.

“If you want to be a great writer you’ve got to learn how to be a great reader.” These words aren’t the unique property of the high school English teacher whom I so vividly remember uttering them, but I think they resonated with me because they speak to the truth. I can’t imagine Ave Maria University will be better or more distinctive if it moves away from its great literature professors.

In any event, I was fortunate to spend the week there amidst work, meetings, planning, and very good friends and people I love.

(I took this photo from the beach in Naples when I arrived last Sunday.)

Old Willow in winter


I’m visiting Penn State and the Nittany Valley this weekend with my little brother, and during a walk from the Nittany Lion Inn on the northwestern edge of campus down to College Avenue we passed Old Willow. I explained the tradition of this tree and its special status as a living piece of the past.

It’s rare to see (or rather, to notice) Old Willow in winter. It’s there, but like any willow in winter it lacks the calm and billowing fronds that make it such a beautiful place to sit in warmer weather and think or read or be alone.

I hope this third generation survives for many years to come. In its nakedness it reveals its bent and somewhat top-heavy look more obviously than other times of the year. In any event, Old Willow’s tradition will continue.

A poet writes in the 1894 La Vie yearbook:

Sentinel thou art!
Dear old Willow!
’Neath thy waving, verdant tresses,
Ever coming, ever going,
Pass the tides of busy students,
Ever ebbing, ever flowing:
Untamed Freshmen, all-wise Sophomores,
Stately Seniors, hearty Juniors,
In a motley, ceaseless thronging,
’Neath thy ever-faithful guarding,
Chatting, laughing, thinking, studying
As they go.

March for Life 2017

The 44th March for Life took place in Washington this morning. I stayed at the Mayflower Hotel last night, picked up my board packets for tomorrow from FedEx Office at 16th and K Street, and then Ubered to the Washington Monument where the stage was set for the Vice President Mike Pence’s noon appearance. It’s the first time in its history that anyone this high-ranking in government is attending the march.

We’re approaching the half century mark for an America where we encourage men and women to abort unexpected children rather than equip those parents with the resources they need to care for their children. In any nation, but especially the wealthiest in the world, this is social failure. There’s simply no ethical, medical, or scientific escaping what takes place in an abortion, whether at 3 weeks, 30 weeks, or the heinous and only semi-recently outlawed “partial birth” (read: birth) abortions that were banned barely a decade ago.

After Mother Teresa’s National Prayer Breakfast address in the early 1990s (which I’ve written about previously), her lawyers filed a petition that included this:

“America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe vs. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the dependent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.

“Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government,” she said. “They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or sovereign. The Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany recently ruled: ‘The unborn child is entitled to its right to life independently of its acceptance by its mother; this is an elementary and inalienable right which emanates from the dignity of the human being.’

“Americans may feel justly proud that Germany in 1993 was able to recognize the sanctity of human life. You must weep that your own government, at present, seems blind to this truth.”

The first step is recognizing what abortion is. Once we achieve unity in acknowledging the reality of the thing, we can talk shop on the social policies we need to ensure no one is burdened with raising child they aren’t equipped to raise, and that every mother who wants to keep her child is supported with whatever she needs: housing, tuition assistance, anti-discrimination protections, and whatever else.

It’s as much chance as anything else that I’m here to say these things, which is why I feel an obligation to speak and get people uncomfortable when necessary to stir conversation to a point where we can reach that political unity to really empower mothers with a true spectrum of choice, rather than just giving them one choice.

Scattered thoughts

Theresa May is visiting with President Trump and congressional leaders in Philadelphia this morning, apparently planning to renew the US/UK special relationship and hoping for a Brexit-related preliminary promise of a bilateral trade agreement.

I’m writing from Amtrak on my way to Washington for the March for Life tomorrow and meetings over the next few days. The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network board convenes for its first quarter meeting where we’ll set the annual budget and talk through significant strategic and operational items. It should be a good and productive few days.

A political take from Addison Del Mastro, who writes:

This election’s other great issue, free trade, plays out in much the same way, as it pits very specific economic and cultural losses against broad societal benefits. As with boosters of mass immigration and diversity, free trade’s advocates have long resisted coming clean about the costs. National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson has dismissed the fading culture of Middle America as nothing more than “sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns” and “cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap.”

Williamson is not wrong, in a sense; the midcentury industrial economy was destined to be supplanted, and with it the way of life that rested upon it. The loss is inevitable, but nonetheless real. Some recognition that it is taking place would go a long way toward ameliorating the pain. It is one thing to be frank that society is not cast in stone, that things change, and that we are often the better for it in the long run. It is quite another thing to claim that nothing is being lost at all, and that if you believe otherwise, you are a racist, a bigot, or “deplorable.”

Langley Park will never again be a Southern Levittown, nor will most of the towns in America like it. Those economic and social arrangements have, largely by structural forces beyond the control of politics, been made obsolete. And they may well, in the grand economic and social picture, be destined to fade away. But they also deserve an elegy.

The strange thing about building the future? It’s got a good bit of the past wrapped up in it, refreshing it for the next generation. Throwing too much out too quickly is often arrogance.

New check-in experience

In Milwaukee today for the first time, though I think I passed through very briefly in 2011 on my Amtrak Empire Builder trip to Seattle.

In checking into my hotel in downtown Milwaukee I had a new experience, another example of the way daily life is changing even a decade after the iPhone’s introduction. That was Aloft/Starwoods’s “Keyless” feature.

What Aloft/Starwood and I know other hotels are doing isn’t just using the customer’s iPhone to replace the physical keycards during their hotel stay. What this actually does is totally reshape the hotel experience for the guest.

A few hours before my check-in time I received a notification on my iPhone that it was soon time to check-in. When I got into Milwaukee and was approaching the hotel, I was able to check-in through my phone. When I walked into the lobby, I was able to pull out my phone and simply swipe into the app to find my room number. Hop in the elevator, and head to the room.

This doesn’t just replace the key, in other words. It replaces the entire check-in process and provides an opportunity to rethink the nature and purpose of the hotel staff. It was a great experience.

One of those little things I like to take note of, to see how long it takes for this to seem totally normal and never worth having remarked on in the first place.

Saint John Paul II Shrine

In Washington today and tomorrow on a short work trip. Ducked out of a conference session earlier this afternoon to visit the Saint John Paul II Shrine, run by the Knights of Columbus that’s adjacent to Catholic University’s campus. 

I’ve visited this place before—but only the parking lot, and before he was recognized as a saint, and before it was a shrine. It was great to explore their permanent exhibit on John Paul’s life, from his childhood and the role of his parents (which isn’t often remarked upon) to the more well known aspects of his public life. The shrine’s chapel is particularly beautiful in its grand but intimate way.

At one point in the exhibit I was struck by the relationship that Cardinal Wojtyla and his fellow Polish cardinal had in dealing with the Soviets after World War II. It was noted first that the Soviets gave their necessary approval of Wojtyla as cardinal because they saw him as as simple a “poet,” basically harmless. This rather beautifully illustrates the problem with totalitarianism. That is essentially the problem of dominating the spirit.

Another point was that Wojtyla’s precedessor cardinal has successfully bargained with the Soviets to preserve “Catholic education, church property, and seminaries.” I remember walking the streets of Paris a few years ago, and remarking to my secular friend how amazing it was that here in France, an ostensibly democratic people had so wiped out (through its late 19th and early 20th century secularization laws) the ability for the French to be Christian by wiping out most of institutional Christianity. That rupture has created a serrated sort of curriculum that cuts and fragments by rendering theology as something fundamentally different from (or opposed to) philosophy, mathmatics, science, art, etc. 

The Soviets, too, sought to conquer by atomizing daily life and the experience of individual life, but it was strangely in communist Poland that the Church preserved itself more effectively than against the enlightened secularism that today is leading to things like scientism rather than science, and seems to be fueling the fires of a new nationalism in so many nations.

In any event, I think it’s turning out that Western secularism is as atomizing and corrosive as so much of what we fought in the last century, and we’ll need Christian voices to help recover and rebuild for whatever comes next.

We’re likely talking not in terms of decades or years, but rather in centuries.


It’s wet. It’s been a great New Years with great people.

Yesterday was sunny and beautiful and unseasonably warm, and today is wet but not windy. It’s been a morning of light, steady rain that laps with just a little force against the windows and makes you grateful for the warm and comfort of the house.

Leaving Avalon this afternoon.