Recent News

Hitch and Jack in Isolation

From the bunker we used to call “our house,” where Herself and I now dwell in isolation – not sick but staying distant from our neighbors (besides, New York’s closed until further notice) – we read and walk and talk and watch movies.

And it’s a good time to really watch them, looking for those aspects of a film that sometimes flash by unnoticed, but which are part of what makes a film great. Where better to begin than with the films of Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) and John Ford (1894-1973), both Catholic filmmakers?

As you know, Hitchcock always made quick (blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em) cameo appearances in his films: from The Lodger (1927) – he’s a man sitting at a desk – right up to Family Plot (1976) – his famous silhouette behind a translucent glass door.

Hiding in plain sight.

His cameos were always wordless scenes, often of him crossing paths with the film’s female star: in Psycho, he’s standing outside the real estate office where Marion (Janet Leigh) works, as she returns from a noontime tryst; in The Birds, he’s leaving a pet store as Melanie (Tippi Hedren) enters. (By the way, the typist in that Psycho scene is Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia.)

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Our First Priority

A priest wrote me recently: “I was in church with parishioners until 8:00 tonight, the official closing of all public Masses, devotions and gatherings in the diocese through at least April 1. Many people are distraught at the loss of the sacraments. It’s an eerie thing for a priest and pastor not to be a part of these graces in the lives of his people. One of our parishioners is in hospice and I’m prevented from visiting. Happily, at least I brought him the last sacraments a few days ago, but still. . . .”

He goes on: “It’s funny. We’re completely shut down and I’m more swamped with calls, emails, and individual meetings, than ever. Let alone implementing ‘creative’ ways to stay in touch, support, pray with, and encourage parishioners. Both last night and in these last two days, I’ve noticed two general attitudes. The first is a beautiful, genuine  (and sad) upset at not having access to the sacraments. The second is a disturbing fear and anxiety over the virus and the unknown future. The former is good, the latter may be understandable, but it’s hard to deal with. And this only a few days in!”

Amid the wall-to-wall coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic and, in Catholic circles, discussions about what the Church’s response should be, this frustration among priests – the good priests – has gone all but unnoticed. Note: the frustration here is a wish to be with the people, but uncertainty how, precisely, to do that without doing harm.

Several priests have written me to say they want to get out there, boldly (at least ten priests have died from the virus in Italy). And in some places – my own parish, for example – priests are trying “creative” ways to hear Confessions that (we hope) won’t put parishioners or themselves at risk.

Click here to read the rest of Robert Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Ego Patricius: a Review of “I Am Patrick”

Is there a saint more Catholic than St. Patrick? Yet, as you probably know, the great Apostle of Ireland (and one of that nation’s patrons) wasn’t Irish at all but a Roman Briton, son of a decurion, the mayor/tax collector of the town (possibly in Cumbria) where Patrick lived as a boy. His father was also a Catholic deacon.

But history – not least the parading passion of Irish immigrants and their ancestors in the United States – has arguably made him, after Paul and the Gospel writers, among the most popular saints of all and for all: many Catholics but also some Protestants, Jews, and – for all I know – Muslims and atheists will put on something green tomorrow and try speaking with an Irish accent.

I won’t because I’ve always found St. Paddy’s just about the worst day of the year in New York City – a too-often tasteless, drunken embarrassment. But that’s a subject for another column, one I hope never to write.

But, as Fr. George W. Rutler did write a few years ago, were Patrick to see New York’s parade:

[He] would bond more instinctively with the beheaded and crucified martyrs in the Middle East and Nigeria (whose official patron is Patrick) now spilling their blood for Christ, than with some revelers on Fifth Avenue who pantomime his name while spilling beer. There is a difference between martyrs and leprechauns.

Meanwhile, there’s a new movie coming called I Am Patrick, which is notable for being good drama and fascinating history . . .

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Plagues, Politics, Prayers

In Sicily, where rainfall this year is 75 percent below normal, local communities are turning to ancient practices – prayer, penitence, processions – to ask God to save crops that would usually be harvested later this year, but stand in great peril.

It’s astonishing what myths and magical thinking still exist in our postmodern world. For example, a sociologist, consulted by Italian media, remarked that the processions were “an effective way to strengthen community” in times of crisis, such as drought or famine. Under cover of such pseudo-scientific myths, whole millennia of human belief and practice about prayer and our relationship to the Divinity simply disappear into the sociological mists.

It’s too bad for the faithful Sicilian farmers that Sicily is not in Amazonia. Otherwise, the sociological fraternity and – who knows – maybe even certain priests, bishops, and cardinals, might treat their ancestral practices, and the very notion of petitionary prayer, with more respect. Pachamama, according to the literature, is (among other things) the goddess of planting and harvesting. And who among our cultural or religious elites today would dare say that praying to Pachamama is really only community organizing?

We will have to let the academic world find its own way out of its crippling myths. But how about the rest of us? Do we, too, think that large-scale threats like drought or famine or our current plague, the COVID-19 virus, are just brute physical facts? That it’s useless, even foolish, to look at them as bearing some further dimensions that might call on us to do something as primitive as pray? Or even just think?

Click here to read the rest of Robert Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Lysenko at the Olympics

The XXXII Olympic Summer Games will kick off in Tokyo on July 24. That’s the plan anyhow. With Japan just a seven-hour flight from China’s Wuhan province, concerns have been raised (by a Canadian, Dick Pound of the International Olympic Committee) that, if the coronavirus (COVID-19) isn’t contained by May, the Games should probably be canceled. We’ll see.

But there are other matters of controversy. In particular, I’m thinking about the issue of male-to-female (MtF) transgender athletes. I’ve written about the issue twice before (most recently in “Transjacking” Sports), so I’m not going to rehash the standards the International Olympic Committee and other sporting federations have come up with to determine how men claiming to be women may qualify. Those standards mostly have to do with timing and testosterone.

It’s fair to say that this does not cast as long a shadow over the Tokyo Games as COVID-19 may. There likely will be male-to-female (MtF) competitors at the Games, but there won’t be many.

My concern here is with what “transgenderism” means for society at large, and we can begin with its savage attack on logic because for a man to say he is a woman is absurd; for others to accept the assertion is ridiculous.

Click here to read the rest of Brad Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Safety Last

A music critic once wrote about the Austro-American pianist Artur Schnabel that he was great because his motto seemed to be: “Safety last.” He was willing to take risks, particularly in live performances, that others did not, in pursuit of something transcendent.

That motto came back to me recently when yet another university figure announced that a conservative speaker had to be canceled because of threats of violence: “our first priority is to make sure that everyone on campus is safe.”

What that means, of course, is threats to physical safety, when by any sane reckoning, an American college campus is already one of the safest places in the world.

And anyway, when did “safety” become the “first priority” in public?

If we were still a civilized people, we would recognize that, of course, physical safety matters, but there are other threats of equal or greater importance – primarily to our real “first priority,” the obligation to live in the truth.

“Safety” has become an ideological construct now, and typically means that merely discussing illegal immigrants or some other subject might make certain people feel “unsafe.”

Click here to read the rest of Robert Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Brother John

Tomorrow is the 565th anniversary of the death of the Early Renaissance artist Fra Angelico*.

He was born (c. 1395) Guido di Pietro and grew up in the Rupecanina neighborhood of Vicchio, a town within the Republic of Florence. We don’t know who taught him (or his brother, Benedetto) the craft of painting and manuscript illumination (Benedetto’s specialty). But Guido was already a well-established artist by the time he entered the Dominican monastery in nearby Fiesole sometime in the 1420s, at which point he took the religious name Fra Giovanni, i.e. Brother John.

Only after his death would he become, as the Martyrologium Romanum has it, “Blessed Giovanni of Fiesole, surnamed ‘the Angelic,’” thus Fra Angelico, angelic brother. Even to secular art historians, he is Pictor Angelicus, akin to that earlier Dominican, the Doctor Angelicus, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Note that “Blessed.” Brother Giovanni was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1982. His cause will not advance, of course, unless people offer prayers to him and his intercession results in miracles. But his piety was such that, even as he lived, he was known by the sobriquet, angelic. St. John Paul also declared Fra Angelico the patron of Catholic artists in 1984.

Click here to read the rest of Brad Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Amazonia Dreaming

Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (released yesterday) is, at a first reading, a mostly pleasant surprise. It shows little of the freewheeling radicalism that bulked large – in the synod hall and Vatican gardens, and even on the streets, during the Synod last October. He quotes copiously from his own texts, to be sure, but also from St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. So much so that Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, a powerful voice in current Church debates, has called the Exhortation an effort at reconciliation.

That may – or may not – be so.

There’s no mention of married viri probati as a remedy for the Amazonian priest shortage – but nothing about priestly celibacy either. Instead, for now, the pope wants bishops in the region to emphasize priestly vocations and the responsibility of priests from the region to stay there instead of heading to North America and Europe. And he invites priests inclined to missionary work to go to Amazonia.

The question of deaconesses is actually turned in the opposite direction to where it seemed headed, again for now. Francis says that innovations along that line would be a “clericalization” – a strongly negative term for him – of the true contributions women have made and continue to make in accord with their true nature, which is noteworthy for “tender strength.”

Click here to read the rest of Robert Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

A Watershed this Week?

This week may mark a watershed in modern Catholicism. On Wednesday, the Amazonia Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation will be released (more on that later in the week). Ever since that head-spinning event (Pachamama was only the most conspicuous disorder), we have seemed to be headed to major changes on priestly celibacy, deaconesses, and – in several respects – the very nature of the Church.

It’s rumored in Rome that Pope Francis may have retreated a bit on those issues now, perhaps owing to the controversy over the Cardinal Sarah/Benedict XVI book defending priestly celibacy. The Exhortation may “only” recommend establishing a commission on celibacy. If true, we’ll still have yet another case of papal ambiguity. The faithful will be left trying to determine whether the commission is intended really to “study,” or to create an expectation – as happened in the 1960s, with the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control.

Either way, by intention or not, the current papacy has brought back something that we thought died in 1978 with the election of Karol Wojtyla: the feeling that virtually everything in the Church is up for grabs, not only celibacy and deaconesses, but marriage, sexuality, Hell, the Devil, Communion, teaching authority. Jorge Bergoglio may be pope in Rome, but it often seems these days that many of the ideas he entertains are manufactured in Germany.

Click here to read the rest of Robert Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Heavenly Bodies

Anybody who was ever young, especially if he or she was once an athlete, will, in aging, find the decline of bodily powers and fitness at least somewhat disappointing, if not actually distressing.

I came across a book recently with the – to me – insanely provocative title, Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To. The hardcover flap copy includes the more modest assertion that “Aging is a disease, and that disease is treatable,” which still strikes me as ill-conceived (are growth and change really diseases?), and then this: “Recent experiments in genetic reprogramming suggest that in the near future we may not just be able to feel younger but actually become younger.”

Putting aside the utterly scary notion of genetic reprogramming, isn’t it logically imbecilic to suggest that anything can become younger? Well, I haven’t actually read the book, so I should move on.

Except . . . I did peek at the “Conclusion,” which includes an attack on the 2003 report (Beyond Therapy) of the President’s Council on Bioethics, which members included such distinguished commentators as Leon Kass, Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon, Charles Krauthammer, and James Q. Wilson, all of whom the author of Lifespan characterizes as “zealots” engaged in “deadly hogwash” for promoting acceptance of human life as a continuum from birth and growth to aging and death.

Click here to read the rest of Brad Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .