The wind blows where it wills

It’s incredible in Washington this weekend. Beautiful early morning, and it’ll reach 70 degrees today and nearly as high tomorrow. It’s good to still be so early in the new year, and to make time for being with good people and doing good things. I headed to Arlington this morning for Borromeo Brothers at St. Charles in Clarendon.

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We read John 3:1-21 today, which I’ve included below. Fr. Don, the pastor at St. Charles, visited with us this morning before Mass and gave a talk on the sacraments as “efficacious signs”—that the sacraments, starting with baptism, confer the grace they signify.

How difficult it can be to believe. But the same mystery is at the heart of the most everyday things of life and we do not wonder at what we witness: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes…” If we start from a posture of gratitude, it’s not so difficult to believe what Christ proposes—and to recognize the limited nature of our own will and power.

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

Motorcade on Wisconsin

I work on Connecticut Avenue and live off Wisconsin Avenue, and both frequently feature motorcades. The Naval Observatory, where the Vice President lives, lies north of Georgetown and so his or an affiliated party’s motorcade frequently comes down Wisconsin. That’s what I caught this morning, as I was about to cross the street to pick up a JUMP bike to get to work.

Snow on Connecticut

It snowed yesterday and for the first time this winter, but only for a few hours. The government let out at 1pm to allow people a hypothetically simpler commute home before the snow started in earnest. I worked from the office for the afternoon, since I can walk home. It was clear and fine in DC by six or so, but apparently pretty bad on the more rural roads in Northern Virginia.

It’s been a mild winter so far, but I hope we get a few great snow storms in the next few weeks.

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‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind’

I spent this morning in Arlington at St. Charles for the Borromeo Brothers men’s group. I hadn’t been for a few weeks due to work and travel in December, and it was great to be back and to start the new year with good men.

We read and considered Romans 12:1-13, where Paul is speaking: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” That’s part of the reading.

We spoke about what this call to be a “living sacrifice” looks like in the day to day, in our lives and especially in relationships like marriage. A few of the married guys shared powerful and honest reflections.

A friend joined for Borromeo Brothers, and afterwards we went to Mass and then caught up at Northside Social over coffee, before I walked back to Georgetown.

It’s a beautiful day despite being overcast, like 55 degrees. Great day to be with good people and to be outside.

Fresh new days

I got back into Washington early yesterday afternoon. It’s a good time of year in the city. The days feel just as fresh as the year, and it feels as if a good portion of the city is still away until next week. The streets have felt quieter than normal, and it makes it a bit more peaceful, like on tonight’s walk home from work.

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This was the view as I walked along M Street, over Rock Creek and the Rock Creek/Potomac Parkway.

Mary sang in this world below

I’m at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception this evening for confession before Christmas, and will stay here for Midnight Mass tonight.

Billy Ryan shares J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Christmas prayer to the Virgin Mary,” apparently an only recently rediscovered 1936 poem called “Noel” that appeared in an Oxfordshire magazine:

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

Nearly Christmas in Washington

A few scenes from this past week in Washington, on/around Connecticut Avenue near the office, nearby at St. Arnold’s on Jefferson Street, and in Georgetown.

It started to feel like Christmas in earnest this week, as people started to leave the city for the holiday with family and friends. I’ll be staying in Washington until Christmas, heading to Philadelphia on Christmas morning.

Handel’s Messiah

I’ve looked out onto the Kennedy Center many times, and driven past it or run past it many times, but never been inside. Tonight I visited the Kennedy Center for Handel’s Messiah with some Leonine Forum fellows:

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National Symphony Orchestra: Handel’s Messiah
Thursday, December 19, 2019 – Sunday, December 22, 2019

Since its debut nearly three centuries ago, one work reigns unchallenged as the ultimate celebration of holiday cheer: Handel’s Messiah. This year, experience Messiah’s supreme glory in Sir Andrew Davis’s must-hear orchestration with a stellar cast of soloists and The Washington Chorus.

“Everything I have done instrumentally stems from the enormous respect, even awe, which I feel towards this supreme masterpiece.”—Sir Andrew Davis, conductor

Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
Andriana Chuchman, soprano
Daniela Mack, mezzo-soprano
Alek Shrader, tenor
Sidney Outlaw, bass
The Washington Chorus; Christopher Bell, Artistic Director
Handel: Messiah (arr. Davis)

Human rights and human violence

Today the District of Columbia moved closer to embracing the fiction the human rights can ever include a right to end human life. David Grosso, DC Council At-Large, described the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019, which he co-sponsored, this way:

To amend the Human Rights Act of 1977 to recognize the right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization and to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term to term, to give birth, or to have an abortion, to prohibit the District government from interfering with reproductive health decisions and from imposing a punishment or penalty on an individual for a self-managed abortion, miscarriage, or adverse pregnancy outcomes, and to prohibit employment discrimination against health care professionals based on the professional’s participation in or the fact that the health care professional is willing to participate in, abortion or sterilization procedures.

But this description obscures what the legislation would do. Katie Glenn, Government Affairs Counsel at Americans United for Life, testified against the Act and highlighted some of its key deficits:

  • Although council members may say that their intent to cover a limited range of employers with this Act, it extends broadly across the spectrum of health care without exception for faith-based providers. This includes school nurses, care for the elderly, and pregnancy care centers.
  • The Act would violate the 1st Amendment rights of many service providers because they’d be forced to choose between violating their conscience or violating the law.
  • DC already has some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country, yet this Act would make it even more difficult to regulate health and safety in the abortion context in any meaningful way.
  • DC is one of just three jurisdictions with an affirmative right to abortion for minor girls, and this Act would double down on that bad public policy.
  • Clearing the way for abortionists to perform abortions on minor girls without regulation or oversight is not “women’s health.” It is dangerous and wrong.

I offered my own testimony as a District resident, particularly on the issues of conscience and protection of the vulnerable. Because public witnesses are only provided three minutes, I had to deliver an abbreviated version of the remarks submitted in writing below:

Testimony on DC B23-434, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019.”

Committee on Government Operations
The Council of the District of Columbia

December 19, 2019

Dear Chairperson Todd and Members of the Committee:

My Name is Tom Shakely. I am a resident and voter in Ward 2. I moved to Washington a little more than a year ago from Philadelphia, and have grown to love this place. While I have not been very involved in local politics so far, when I heard about the issue being considered today, I felt a need to speak up from a place of love.

What are we doing here today? We’re not here to discuss sustained delays on the Red Line, or stifling congestion, or rising crime. We are here because some wish to wipe out whatever abortion oversight remains in the District of Columbia, a place which already has the most pro-abortion regulatory regime in the entire country, as far as I know.

We’re hearing some this morning advocate for Planned Parenthood and abortionists in basically religious terms. And we’re hearing about abortion as if it were the highest sacrament of this religious ideology that seeks to reshape American law.

Who is this bill meant to satisfy? What constituency is this measure designed to serve? One of the core parts of this bill, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act” would allow abortionists to sell their products to underage women. And whether we view abortion as a human right, a public good, an economic choice or even a religious right, let’s be clear: abortionists are paid to provide only one product—dead human beings. There is no way around this scientific and medical reality. No abortion is safe, because no abortion permits both patients to thrive.

Who has decided that it is politically important for underage girls—for children—to be targeted and marketed by abortion practitioners? (And whatever DC law says, we can know by common sense that a 14 year old pregnant girl is a child and is not an adult.) We define certain persons as “under age” precisely because we used to recognize that these persons are particularly vulnerable, and deserve a unique protection, from those who would exploit them.

Is it not our responsibility to stand up for, and to do everything we can to protect, those who need it most? And if we can’t recognize that underage girls—that our little sisters, that our nieces, that our daughters—don’t deserve protection, we should have enough humility to remain silent today.

Empowering mothers and fathers to play a role in the decision over whether their child should abort their grandchild cuts to the heart of pro-patient, pro-family, pro-child law and policy. How can the District hope to have strong families, strong households, and strong neighborhoods if it severs the bonds of relationship between related persons?

But let’s step back. Why would a minor attempt to obtain an abortion, or why an abortion would be sought on her behalf? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children underscores that the average age of sex trafficking victims is 15 years old. We’re talking about a 15 year old—or younger—child. We’re talking about a victim of human trafficking. We’re talking about a type of slavery.

We’re confronted by this girl. She may as well be here standing beside us. She’s 15 years old. She’s being trafficked as a sex worker. She becomes pregnant as a consequence of her abuse. And now, today, if the District enacts this legislation, her abuser will be empowered to bring her to an abortion center precisely in order to erase any evidence of his crimes.

I cannot believe the District would rather empower human traffickers than patients themselves, alongside their mothers and fathers, in exercising authentic conscience rights.

Today’s legislation would strength neither reproductive health nor patient protections. It would strength the interests of an abortion lobby whose own amoral interest in expanding its customer base would ultimately serve to further human exploitation and grave harm to vulnerable persons.

If we’re truly concerned about fostering a hopeful future for women and children who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and who feel there are no obvious solutions, we can do far better.

Democratic Gov. Robert Casey said “it’s less a question of when life begins than when love begins. We can do better than this loveless culture.

Dramatic Key Bridge run

Great run after work last night, from Georgetown across the Key Bridge and up past Clarendon and then back down past our old office, through Rosslyn, and back home. It was raining and foggy, and the Potomac was totally blanketed by the fog. It was the first time I couldn’t seen the Washington Monument from the Key Bridge—and I couldn’t really see more than a few dozen feet past the bridge on the way into Virginia. Dramatic, fun conditions for a run in weather that didn’t feel as cold as it really was.

Here’s a live photo I took with my iPhone on the way home that gives a better sense of the rain. Twitter let me turn it into a GIF when I tweeted it:

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