These photos are grim, and they are grim because the reality of abortion is grim. These are photos of human persons, not medical waste, and not trash. And yet, what abortion does in closing our hearts to one another is, spiritually, even worse.
“There is the desert of God’s darkness,” preached Pope Benedict XVI, “the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”
The graphic photos that have emerged suggest not only pre-birth abortions, but also post-birth infanticide. The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC has taken possession of these human remains, yet are refusing to perform autopsies.
I’ll share two photos today, the first from Brookland, specifically from The Catholic University of America’s campus, and the second from Georgetown.
In the first, I found a good bench to sit and read and work from in this courtyard with its fountain. And in the second, we were walking back to our car either before or after a visit to the DMV, which amazingly had no line and no wait whatsoever.
“Angels Unawares” has been on-site at The Catholic University of America throughout most of the past academic year.
I’ve been walking past the just-opened Welcome Plaza most days these past nine months, watching construction progress. Angels Unawares is now free of its protective tarp and the plaza is open, just in time for commencement and the summer weather when the cleverness of its design—water flows gently and continuously beneath these journeyers:
I had thought this was an original, but apparently it is a replica made for an American tour that will now reside permanently on Catholic University’s campus. The original resides in Rome in Vatican Square.
I was able to get a substantial run in on Good Friday before we headed to the Dominican House for their services. I managed to avoid thunderstorms that swept the city and stopped a few times to take these photos:
The play of the light on so many facades, so thoughtfully designed and constructed, brings so much simple pleasure.
Tenebrae, or a Service of Shadows, was once part of the Church’s Divine Office during Holy Week. It is a service of psalms and readings, primarily from the Book of Lamentations. As the service progressed, the 15 candles on a special candelabrum (a “hearse”) would be progressively extinguished, until the last candle was removed from the sanctuary, leaving the church in darkness. The departure of the last candle was accompanied by a strepitus, a “great noise” that alluded to the earthquake when Jesus died, accomplished by the pounding of breviaries, hymnals, or stamping of feet. …
Tenebrae reinforces the Passiontide character of Holy Week. It reintroduces Catholics to the anticipation of the Passion already found in the Book of Lamentations, accompanied by the “sacramental/sensible” element. In one sense, it is a “bookend” to the Paschal Vigil that leads into Easter: just as the rising light in the church from the newly kindled Paschal candle illumines the faithful, so the vanishing light in the church from the extinguished candles reminds us that we, as sinners, without Christ, “dwell in darkness” (see John 12:35,46). Some of us would fault the reformed liturgy for imbalance, focusing on Resurrection and light without giving sufficient emphasis to the fact the path to Resurrection led through Calvary because of the darkness of sin.
Tenebrae is powerful. It was a warm and slightly windy night on our walk home.
I attended Palm Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC yesterday. I got there in time to hear Solemn Vespers, which was sung in the half hour leading up to Mass and to the start of this Holy Week at the end of which we anticipate Easter.
I took these photos after Mass. Notice Jesus Christ, regnant, who no longer calls us slaves but friends. Notice Simon of Cyrene. Notice the expression of Our Mother of Sorrows. Notice the play of the light from stained glass in the last photo.
Fr. Sebastian White, O.P., writes in Magnificat for this Holy Week:
After the fall, the entire human race was the lost generation: lost in sin, lost to the happiness attained only in friendship with God. In Jesus, however, the words of the merciful father in the story of the prodigal son can apply to each of us: let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found. In Jesus, we have become the found generation.
We must never forget, then, what was accomplished for us on a certain Friday two thousand years ago: cruelty was overcome by love, and the burial of a dead Man was the burial of death itself. …
Yet, for all of this emphasis on recollection, the Church also teaches that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present” (CCC 1104).
Consequently, as Cardinal John O’Connor once explained, Holy Week is “not a stage show, not simply a memorial of something that took place two thousand years ago. Our divine Lord spiritually and mysteriously is present once again in the power generated by his sufferings.”
This means that even today the sacrificial love of Christ that was consummated on Calvary is poured out upon us. The historical event of his Passion occurred in a particular place at a particular time, but the interior oblation of his heart lives eternally. Year in and year out—day in and day out, in fact—we unite ourselves to the saving Passion of the Lord in the liturgy of the Church. And as we endure our own “passions”—the sufferings and trials that each of us faces—we know that he is with us. Importantly, we can also entrust to Jesus the circumstances of our own death, whenever it will come, hoping to share in his resurrection.
We are once again in a similar situation, but this time the enemy is even more viscerally one of flesh and blood: the sour grapes of a virus that has set the world’s teeth on edge. My institution, like many others, has suspended its in-person classes. And the question can easily arise: Why bother learning? People are dying. More people are going to die. Reading a book seems to be at best a ridiculous self-indulgence, at worst a repudiation of trying at least to do something useful.
On that score, what Lewis had to say in 1939—mutatis mutandis, ceteris paribus, and all the rest of it—has something to say to us now. For he had to face the same question. Given Hitler, given Mussolini, given all of it, why go to school? How can one justify it? “Is it not like fiddling,” Lewis asks, “while Rome burns?” The way in which he responds to this question is at once incisive and illuminating.
The first thing he does is to set the war, and the way it might make one radically rethink his priorities, against a deeper, broader, and more cosmic backdrop. That is to say, the drama of life occurs in the midst not only of temporal concerns like war or disease, but also of eternal ones, namely heaven and hell. Everyone is on his way to one or the other. Thus “every Christian who comes to a university must at all times face a question compared with which the questions raised by the war are relatively unimportant.” The last enemy is not one of flesh and blood.
This is not to say that the war is completely unimportant, but rather that it is not–cannot be–the most important thing. Lewis is not attempting to be callous or to perform what is known on Twitter as a “Jesus juke.” His point is that “[i]f human culture can stand up to that [i.e. the question of one’s eternal destiny], it can stand up to anything.” If we think that culture and learning are important even when taking the last things and eternity into account, then they are a fortiori important when taking earthly calamity into account.
After all, war and disease do not create death where there was no death before. We were already mortal. What they do instead is “simply [to] aggravate the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.” And if we waited to “search for knowledge” until we had solved the problem of death, “the search would never have begun.”
When we think about death, we realize that “[l]ife has never been normal.” …
It is a difficulty that this all sometimes must occur under the shadow of catastrophe. This makes us anxious, and that is not surprising. But Lewis counsels that you “not let your nerves and emotions lead you into thinking your present predicament is more abnormal than it really is.” To return to an earlier point, conditions will never be ideal, and “[i]f we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.” But the truth is that “[t]he only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”
Consider this moment in time through the lens of striving for virtue, striving for excellence. Does this time make that striving harder, more difficult? Does it dispel some of the fog of the everyday and help you see more clearly what the essential things in this life are? To pursue virtue, to pursue excellence is to thrive in the midst of the unfavorable conditions of the everyday, and what these unusual days can help prepare us for is precisely that: our eventual return to the everyday and the unfavorable—even if more mundane-seeming conditions that come with the territory of that life.
And what are saints except those who have lived heroic lives of virtue, who have encountered God, amidst the ordinary and extraordinary in every generation? I’m thinking of John Paul II, who went home to God on April 2nd, 2005. I remember listening to the tolling of the bells of Rome through Fr. Roderick Vonhögen’s Catholic Insider podcast, through his distinctive “soundseeing” episodes of that time where he simply walked the streets of Vatican City and let who knows how many of us feel closer to the only Holy Father that many of us had ever known. Jason Evert writes in his book Saint John Paul the Great:
In the final months of his life, his face was swollen from cortisone (he had Parkinson’s). His aides stood at his side to wipe drool from his mouth as he attempted to address massive audiences.
The man who for decades masterfully used inflections and dramatic intonations to stir the hearts of his listeners could now only slur his words. But John Paul didn’t want anyone to look away in embarrassment. He wanted them to see him, for their own benefit. The man who taught the world how to live was now teaching them how to die.
Lying in his bed, he asked that the Gospel of John be read aloud. His last words were (in Polish) Pizwolcie mi odejc do domu Ojca—Let me go to the house of the Father.
He once said: “Just when night engulfs us, we must think about the dawn coming, we must believe that every morning the Church is revived through her saints. Not because they have conquered the world, but because they allowed Christ to conquer them.”
What are we doing now and what are we going to do later? Are we going to let ourselves reflect in this time and let it change our lives after this time in our life is over?
Are we going to recognize that these questions apply to every day of our lives?
Yesterday I walked to Saint Stephen Martyr for confession. Spring is emerging in its fullness in Georgetown, so the walk there was beautiful. I also saw my first Biden yard sign.
It was the first time I’ve set foot in a church since the pandemic closures, since I got back from my Longlea retreat three or so weeks ago. As I sat in the empty church after confession, it was reassuring to hear the organist still practicing—knowing Easter will come shortly whether we’re together in person or not.
And today I joined Fr. Charles Trullols for his noon Palm Sunday Mass via stream. It’s a beautiful day out, hitting 70 degrees probably, so I’m heading out for a run.
Washington feels largely emptied out since self-distancing and quarantine/lockdown really came into place in mid-March. And since Mayor Bowser’s formal stay-at-home order, the feeling of emptiness has increased somewhat. I still get out to go for runs, and public exercise is allowable along with other reasons to be out like heading for groceries, etc.
Americans in the millions have lost their jobs over the past few weeks, and unemployment claims are expected to continue to grow by the millions. Depending on how long this lasts, it’s possible we could be looking at Great Depression-level unemployment numbers.
In light of that, I’m especially thankful to still be working. And I’m grateful to be in Washington in this time and to still be able to head into the office periodically to pick up essential correspondence and do what needs to be done in person.
The sings of spring are all around and the days are growing increasingly beautiful. It’s tough to want to be indoors, even as we recognize that this self-distancing is prudent and necessary to contain the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of demand on our doctors and hospital staffs. Hopefully we can turn the corner soon, and figure out how to restore work to those who have lost it in the weeks and months to come.
I’ve been letting too many of the days under quarantine go by from waking to sleeping without meaningfully getting outdoors. As our typical routines have evaporated, the simple interludes in our day that we end up taking for granted or complain about turn out to be key bookends that give structure to our days: our commute, stepping our for coffee or lunch, taking a walk during an afternoon call, heading to an evening dinner or event, heading to noon Mass, etc.
All of that has effectively disappeared, and so now we have to do it intentionally. Today I decided to get out during lunchtime and got in a nice ~5.5 mile run along the Potomac. And tonight I’m meeting a colleague in Arlington for a good walk and conversation.
Simple things are also essential things and it’s good not to take them for granted, but to engage each of them as a gift.