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’m catching a train from Washington 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.

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.

Mass of the Americas

I attended Archbishop Cordileone’s “Mass of the Americas” this morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:

Join us for a Solemn Pontifical High Mass, which is the first-ever celebration of the Mass of the Americas in Latin celebrated by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Canon Avis is the Master of Ceremonies.

“I was ecstatic. You get the sense that something truly holy was happening there.” —Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“This is what a flourishing religious culture looks like – piety being lifted up and sublimated in the actual liturgy of the Church.” —Professor and Poet James Matthew Wilson

“The great Catholic tradition is alive and well, and is only waiting for courageous pastoral leadership and visionary patronage to continue its great story where it most belongs: in the bosom of the Church.” —Professor and composer Mark Nowakowski

It was put together through the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, and was a beautiful experience.

‘This man speaks with authority’

I attended a Communion and Liberation gathering tonight after work at Saint Matthew the Apostle. I read Fr. Luigi Guissani’s “Christ, God’s Companionship with Man” earlier this summer. Tonight we discussed this excerpt from Who Is This Man?” on authority:

The most important factor for a people as a people, for a companionship as a companionship, is what we call “authority.”

There is a deep need for us to tear down, down to the last stone, the image we have of a “robotic” authority or leadership, almost as if it were a person, [as if] it were people closed up in a tower, directing, sending down signals, directing how things go from above.

Authority, leadership, is the exact opposite of power; there is not even a
trace, not a hint, of the word “power.” Consequently, there is a total absence 10 regarding the concept of authority in the people of God, at any level. There is a complete absence of any glint of fear: because fear goes along with power, and to free oneself from fear, you have to defiantly disregard power. What is this authority? I will give a definition. [Authority] is the place–because you, too, are a place, right? A person is a place–it is the place where that battle to affirm, the battle of the prophecy and its verification, the place where that battle and the verification that our proposal, which is Christ’s proposal, is a response to what is perceived in the heart… authority is the place where the battle to affirm, and the verification to confirm that Christ’s proposal, is true, meaning it is a response to the perception, to the needs of one’s heart (to the religious sense, which is given by the needs of one’s heart, and assesses the response placed in front of it) is clearer and simpler–so it does not breed fear–it is more peaceful. Authority is the place where the verification that compares the perception, the needs of one’s heart, and the response given in the message of Christ, is clearer and simpler, and therefore is more peaceful.

A line from Pasolini, one that I have quoted often lately, says that men are not educated, that young people are not educated: if someone educates them, it is with his being, and not with lectures.

Authority is the place where the connection between the needs of the heart and the response Christ gives is clearer, simpler, and more peaceful. [This] would suggest that authority is a way of being, not a font of discourse. Lectures are part of what makes up one’s being, but only as a reflection. To summarize, authority is a person who, when you see them, you can see how what Christ says corresponds to your heart. This is what guides a people.

Now, the second idea: the problem is not following… The problem is following, but it is not described completely or best by the word “following:” it is better described by the world “sonship.” An authority has sons and daughters. A son receives his family tree from his father. He makes it his own; he is made up of that family tree his father gives him, he is made up of his father. Therefore, he is entirely absorbed. Authority absorbs all of me. It is not a word I fear or dread or that I follow. It absorbs me. The word, “authority,” then, … the word “authority” could have as its synonym the word “paternity,” meaning generativity, generation, the communication of a genus, communicating a living family tree. That living family tree is my “I” which is overtaken and made different by this relationship.

The word “authority,” which coincides with the word “paternity,” is followed by the word “freedom.” It generates freedom. Being a son or daughter is freedom. The Gospel, in fact, says this at various points. “Tell me,” Jesus says to Peter, “is it the king’s son who pays the tribute? No, it is the servants, because what belongs to a father belongs to his son.”

Therefore, authority is true, or truly experienced as such, when it ignites my freedom, when it ignites my personal awareness and personal responsibility, my personal awareness and responsibility.

This means, as someone rightly observed, that when Jesus turned and said, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Christ’s questions moved Pe- ter from a logic of friendship–before he was a friend, an acquaintance–to a responsibility of his personal awareness, to the order of personal responsibility. It was his responsibil- ity when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of God;” in that moment, the friendship he had with Christ became…it was suddenly illuminated by personal awareness and responsibility, of awareness and responsibility that expressed that awareness.

There is no relationship with a place of authority, with the person who is an authority, if you do not feel your freedom bursting forth as personal awareness and personal responsibility.

Third: if authority, then, is such a source of freedom, it becomes a place of comfort and makes the entire companionship, the entire people a place of comfort. In what sense? A place of comfort because, if I see a person in whom Christ has conquered, conquers, claims and convinces, it shows how He corresponds to the needs of the heart. If someone shows me, is proof of this to me; if in seeing a person I understand that this is happening in him, then I begin to understand that this also happens for the companionship. So then–no matter how I feel, no matter what mood I am in, whether I have taken many steps or just a few–I am filled with comfort: “Your precepts bring joy to the heart,” bring comfort, because Christ conquers.

Authority is the place it is evident that Christ conquers. What does it mean that Christ conquers? That Christ demonstrates, even in appearances, even in the realm of appearances, He demonstrates that He corresponds, He corresponds to the needs of the heart in a persuasive, a prophetic way. The same will happen for me, too. It seems impossible. For that other per- son who is an authority, it was impossible, but now it is possible; it is a reality. Christ conquers.

Authority, then, is a place of paternity where new life–the life in which Christ responds to one’s heart, [to] that for which man is made, where Christ responds to man’s heart–is more transparent, clearer and more transparent. This is true authority. This means the old woman who puts the coins in the treasury of the Temple can be an authority, even more than the head of the Pharisees.

This paternal, generative authority makes itself visible in the experience of greater freedom, personal awareness and personal responsibility, so that even if everyone went away, if everyone was out of the picture, if everyone else betrayed–as one really beautiful quote that I read at the last day of the year, the first day of the year–if everyone else betrayed, I would still say to you, “Yes!” This is personal awareness and responsibility. And because of this, authority is a place of comfort, where you see that Christ conquers. And, in this way, authority completes its true mandate, because it exalts the people, it helps you understand that the entire people, the entire companionship is the place where Christ conquers.

Running the Key Bridge

I caught an early flight from South Bend this morning, passed through Chicago, and arrived back in Washington late morning. The snow flurries at Notre Dame motivated me to get out for a run before the weather turns definitively cold here, and in coming back across the Key Bridge I looked out on this scene.

Pairing this photo with something from John Gardner, where he writes on personal and organizational renewal. Excerpted from his 1990 remarks to McKinsey:

I’m going to talk about “Self-Renewal.” One of your most fundamental tasks is the renewal of the organizations you serve, and that usually includes persuading the top officers to accomplish a certain amount of self-renewal. But to help you think about others is not my primary mission this morning. I want to help you think about yourselves.

I take that mission very seriously, and I’ve written out what I have to say because I want every sentence to hit its target. I know a good deal about the kind of work you do and know how demanding it is. But I’m not going to talk about the special problems of your kind of career; I’m going to talk about some basic problems of the life cycle that will surely hit you if you’re not ready for them.

I once wrote a book called “Self-Renewal” that deals with the decay and renewal of societies, organizations and individuals. I explored the question of why civilizations die and how they sometimes renew themselves, and the puzzle of why some men and women go to seed while others remain vital all of their lives. It’s the latter question that I shall deal with at this time. I know that you as an individual are not going to seed. But the person seated on your right may be in fairly serious danger.

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.

Bishop Barron in Washington

Bishop Robert Barron has spent the past few days in Washington, speaking to members of Congress, staff, and others:

Lawmakers must rediscover their call by God to pursue justice, Bishop Robert Barron told members of Congress and staff on Tuesday.

“In Catholic theology truth itself, goodness itself, justice itself, are simply names for God,” Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, said to an audience of members of Congress, staff, and others at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

The bishop told legislators that they were right to think of their role pursuing justice through public service as a vocation, and they were really called by God to do so.

“When you were seized by a passion for justice, I would say you were called by God at that moment,” Barron said. …

There are three transcendentals that culture is based upon, Barron said, the “true,” the “good” and the “beautiful.” Politics, he said, is especially connected to the “good.”

Barron exhorted members of Congress “to find it, to fight for it, to propagate it.”

“What animates that work?” he asked rhetorically of the pursuit of the “good” of those in public service. “It’s a passion of justice that lies at the bottom of the soul,” he said.

God called those in public service through a desire for justice, he said, emphasizing the need for “bringing our lives into harmony with the integrity and beauty of that call” where “everything I do is about serving justice.”

That, he warned, might make members “unpopular,” “less rich,” or see them “attacked.” However, he added, “The way you measure life now is how you respond to this call.”

And last night Bishop Barron spoke to a few hundred people on the past, present, and future of Word on Fire near Union Station, where I met him after his remarks:


Bishop Barron has been a spiritual support for me for years. An honor to meet him tonight. Pray for our priests and religious.

Old Reston and Lake Anne

I visited a friend in Reston on Sunday afternoon to help with a project, and after finishing we walked through old Reston and saw Lake Anne. It’s been good to experience more of Northern Virginia and especially Reston. Lake Anne and the surrounding natural trails are beautiful, especially right now. Old Reston isn’t much to look at architecturally, but it’s so perfectly situated amidst nature that this, combined with its fundamentals (public square, al fresco dining, little shops and homes nestled alongside one another, walkable paths) make up for its deficiencies.

When I woke that morning after 6am, it was pitch dark due and raining on the way to and from 7:30am Mass. That continued the entire morning, but cleared up for what turned out to be a fantastic afternoon and evening.

A morning together

I’m walking through Rosslyn back to Georgetown after participating in Borromeo Brothers, a men’s group at Saint Charles Borromeo in Clarendon.

Every few months, you read about how few friends we make after we reach adulthood. And you’ll read especially about how difficult male friendships are. Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone is still relevant.

I had realized that despite living in Washington for a year, and despite work, a master’s program, and three fellowships, I hadn’t done as much as I could have done to form thicker friendships, especially with some of the men I had come to admire. I’ve been working on that in general, but I also wanted to intentionally make time for spiritual fellowship, and that’s where Borromeo Brothers might come in.

There are a number of men’s groups in Washington, but most meet either infrequently (once a month or so) or after work when I’m drained. Borromeo Brothers meets every Saturday at 7:30am, and is within walking/biking distance.

I had listened to some of their spiritual reflection podcasts, so had a sense of what to expect. It was a genuinely good morning with twenty or so other men from their 20s to their 60s. Afterwards did Mass with two of the men, and then got to know them better at Northside Social over coffee.

I’ll be in Seattle/Bellevue next Saturday, but plan to be back after that.

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.