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Ever Ancient, Ever New

Despite the Byzantine COVID regulations of three separate jurisdictions and woeful understaffing of multiple, formerly reliable airlines, I’m back from Rome, more or less in one piece. After a week following the wearying turmoil in the Vatican, I returned home to find on my desk a package from that Energizer Bunny of Catholic publishing houses, Sophia Institute Press: three thick volumes republishing books by another tireless evangelizer, Fulton J. Sheen. Which got me thinking about what, if anything now, can help us overcome all the divisions and obstacles to returning home to something like Church unity again.

You can predict two partisan reactions, neither helpful and both emblematic of the main divisions, to the republication of Archbishop Sheen’s works. The first, among traditionalists, is a kind of nostalgia for the good old days when the Church was the Church. I admit to a bit of this myself. But though partly true, it overlooks what were already emerging challenges. Indeed, Archbishop Sheen didn’t think he was living in ideal times and was working vigorously to shore up both the Church and a secular world already starting to veer in dangerous directions.

The second reaction, typical of progressives, is to dismiss a figure like Sheen out of hand as representative of everything that the Second Vatican Council tried to overcome: the Church’s overconfidence, clericalism, contempt for the world. And yes, sometimes Sheen’s television style looks corny today (as will our current “hip” media to future generations). But Sheen really knew how to talk to people – Catholic and not. Who even comes close to what he could do today?

For the rest 0f Prof. Royal’s column, click here . . .

Prudent to Pray: 007’s Latest

No Time to Die is the last of the cinematic incarnations of James Bond personified by Daniel Craig. In some ways, it’s a sequel to its most immediate predecessor, Spectre(2015), and includes several returning actors/characters from that film: Léa Seydoux as 007’s love interest (the only “Bond Girl” ever to reprise her role) and Christoph Waltz as archvillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

It’s another rollicking adventure and a fitting conclusion to Mr. Craig’s 16-year run as the most famous and notorious MI6 operative of them all. I suppose I’ll always think of Sean Connery as the best Bond, but Daniel Craig is second-best and a close second at that.

I’d rank Connery’s performance in Goldfinger (1964) as the best followed by Craig’s in Casino Royale (2006). That’s also the way I’d rank the films themselves, except in reverse.

The five Bond movies with Craig have given us a 007 with a somewhat richer psychological profile. He falls in love and suffers for it. First, it’s Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale and, last, it’s Madeleine Swann (Miss Seydoux). Now in his 50s, it’s not hard for Mr. Craig’s Bond to seem worn down by his life as a secret agent. He’s a man who wants out, as was starting to become apparent in Skyfall, high on my list of favorite Bond movies.

In that 2012 film, Bond escapes with MI6 head “M” (played by Judy Dench) – to his eponymous ancestral home in Scotland. It turns out Skyfall has a priest door (and tunnel), a place where – during the Reformation, when Catholic clergy faced death in England, Wales, and Scotland – a recusant family could hide a priest. Bond escapes pursuers via that 16th-century tunnel. M dies in Skyfall’s chapel. Bond, of course, survives.

For the rest of Mr. Miner’s column, click here . . .

Remembering 1066

It was quite a year.

School children (used to) know it as the year of the Norman Conquest, led by William, Duke of Normandy, a point of change in the course of history in what we now call England. But in the 11th century, the land that John of Gaunt (in Shakespeare’s Richard II) would call, “This earth of majesty, / This seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise, / This fortress built by Nature for herself / Against infection and the hand of war” was a congeries of disputed and disputing fiefdoms and, as the invasion of 1066 showed, hardly an invulnerable fortress.

The two principal fiefdoms prior to William’s invasion were Mercia and Wessex, and they were constantly disputing, even warring with each other (and sometimes together against Vikings). And so it was until 1066, which was the last year in the life of the last true king of Wessex, Edward, son of Æthelred II, this latter famously styled, “the Unready.” Wessex had emerged, after all the sparring with neighbors and Vikings and Danes, as the more-or-less center of “this scepter’d isle.”

Edward’s mother, Emma, was a Norman, the daughter of Richard the Fearless, Count of Rouen, and Duke William’s great-aunt. (By the way, we need to revive the use of these epithets: Trump the Uninhibited? Biden the Unrepentant?) Edward himself had spent years in exile in Normandy, although that didn’t make Duke William’s invasion a family reunion.

The Romans were long gone, of course, although Rome had returned throughout Europe in the guise of Catholic missionaries, priests, and bishops, and the Norman invaders hadn’t come across the channel in an evangelical spirit.

For the rest of Mr. Miner’s column, click here . . .

A Roman Weekend to Remember

Rome is unusually quiet these days. Few tourists. And their absence even seems to have calmed (somewhat) the (normally) loud Romans themselves. Crossing a street in Italy’s capital used to be something like a bullfight: you had to gauge how close you could come to the charging beasts if you wanted to live to fight another day. But – is it just my own illusion? – in the absence of crowds, even Roman drivers show a certain – dare one say? – calm. It’s all unexpected, unnatural, and almost soothing, unless you care about what’s going on in the global public square and more particularly in the Vatican.

This weekend, Rome hosted the “Pre-COP26 Parliamentary Meeting,” which is to say the meeting before the 26thmeeting of the Conference of the Parties to the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (pause for breath) scheduled later this month in Scotland. Pope Francis was supposed to be in Glasgow, but the Vatican recently announced he won’t, perhaps for health reasons.

Caring for Creation is serious business, involving our stewardship of the planet, which God commanded in the first pages of Genesis. (1:26-28) However much radicals activists have distorted that responsibility, a proper environmentalism reminds us of our relationship to the Creation and the Creator. Genesis also says in the same passage “male and female he created them” and “be fruitful and multiply.” That part of the divine commission rarely turns up in environmental confabs, even when Christians participate – to say nothing of the Holy See’s own efforts at “integral human development.”

For the rest of Prof. Royal’s column, click here . . .


The Parents’ Rebellion

Terry McAuliffe, the once and (possibly) future governor of Virginia, said something during a campaign debate last week that surprised many of us who thought we couldn’t be surprised anymore by American politics: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Now, in America, States and specific locales run schools. The Constitution gives the Federal government no authority over education (despite Jimmy Carter’s creation of a Department of Education, which spends almost a quarter trillion dollars annually).

You could argue that parents and other voters in a given jurisdiction have already expressed their preferences by selecting mayors, school boards, etc. But as in any democratic context, that doesn’t mean those authorities then exist in a realm beyond criticism – or even removal – if parents who are voters and taxpayers are outraged by their performance.

Catholic Social Teaching also maintains that “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223) McAuliffe graduated from Bishop Ludden High School in Syracuse N.Y., the Catholic University of America, and the Georgetown Law Center. But, it appears, he remains untouched by that principle.

For the rest of Prof. Royal’s column, click here . . .

I Love Old Things

One of the places I visit most in New York City is The MET. The MET (nickname of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) has its main facility on 5th Avenue and contains one of the greatest collections of art and artifacts in the world, but further up the island – the Munsee Lenape called it manaháhtaan – is the MET’s satellite museum, The Cloisters.

The founding of the Cloisters was a partnership among sculptor/collector George Grey Barnard, John D. Rockefeller Jr. (son of the founder of Standard Oil), the Metropolitan Museum, and other well-heeled New Yorkers.

Barnard was a fine sculptor but not financially successful – he had money troubles most of his life – so while living in France he began acquiring and selling medieval antiquities, including whole architectural structures, eventually shipping much of it to his home in upper Manhattan, establishing there his own small museum.

Most significantly, Barnard acquired substantial sections of four abandoned cloisters from French monasteries sundered by radicals during the French Revolution. Today they form key parts of the museum.

For the rest of Mr. Miner’s column, click here . . .

The Pelosi Dialogues

During a recent in-flight discussion with the press returning from Slovakia, Pope Francis said some remarkable things. One particularly deserves notice: his often-repeated claim: “Abortion is more than a problem – abortion is homicide. . . . Whoever has an abortion kills.” He has also – more boldly than any previous pope – compared abortion to “hiring a hitman” – especially noteworthy because, in Italy, he has excommunicated members of the Mafia.

And yet, when he turned to how to handle the global homicide spree of abortion (tens of millions every year), he counseled priests to “Be a pastor, don’t go condemning. Be a pastor, because he is a pastor also for the excommunicated.” Francis is, to put it mildly, often unclear speaking off-the-cuff,  and some commentators hoped that he was implying that those who get or cooperate in abortions (like pro-abortion politicians) are excommunicated.

Pope Francis would probably try to avoid saying that. He has deflected questions – claiming ignorance of the particulars – about giving Communion to figures like President Biden and Nancy Pelosi. He must know, however, that decades of being “pastoral” have done nothing in stopping the destruction of innocent human life.

Here in America, we now have a strong example of being a pastor. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has called the misnamed “Women’s Health Protection Act” (which the House passed Friday and would provide abortion even to the “trans” and “non-binary”) nothing other than “child sacrifice.”  The Senate is unlikely to advance it. But Cordileone was in line with the pope when he said, clearly aiming at Pelosi’s promotion of the bill, that it’s “surely the type of legislation one would expect from a devout Satanist, not a devout Catholic.”

We can’t know what Cordileone may have said to Pelosi as a pastor in private, at least until the day comes when he judges that his pastoral duties to his entire flock demands he not allow prominent Catholics to mislead others into endangering their souls. But even though it can’t take place in the Church, you can’t help wishing that a real public dialogue could take place.

For the rest of Prof. Royal’s column, click here . . .

Out of Africa

Students of religion have been saying for a long time that Africa is the future of Christianity. Twenty years ago, Philip Jenkins argued, in his still enlightening book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, that by 2050 there will be more Catholics in Sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe, and by the end of the century more than there were in the whole world then. (And that was before the rapid decline of Christian numbers in Europe and America.) He also predicted that “global” Christianity, which takes its most dynamic forms (both Catholic and evangelical) in Africa and Asia, will change the face of the churches in the rest of the world.

I have to confess that when I first read that, shortly after the book appeared, I assumed that Jenkins was right, if only owing to sheer population growth in Africa. But if you reflect on the matter a bit, Church growth is never automatic. Children abandon the faith of their parents, the parents themselves drift away or grow indifferent, other influences – notably militant incursions from Islam or economic infiltration by the Chinese – may lead people astray in various parts of the developing world. It takes evangelization – not our first-world fears of “proselytizing,” but a robust presentation of the Gospel and the truth about the living God – to transmit the Faith across generations, even in Africa.

Happily, the effects of that evangelization don’t stay in Africa. During the past few synods in Rome, the African bishops have stoutly helped hold the line on matters such as marriage, homosexuality, and the formation of young people. Cardinal Kasper, whose work helped get Communion for the divorced and remarried on the table at the two synods on the family, became so exasperated when things didn’t move in the direction he hoped that he was caught on tape saying “they [the Africans] should not tell us too much what we have to do.” If you agree with him about where the Church should go, of course, he had a point. Those traditional societies aren’t intimidated by what they see happening in our confused and – let’s say it frankly – decadent cultures.

For the rest of Prof. Royal’s column, click here . . .

Our Largest, Unacknowledged Prejudice

Pope Francis made a seven-hour visit to Hungary over the weekend to preside over the concluding Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress. He also met with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban for almost 40 minutes – more time than had been scheduled and a meeting that had earlier appeared would not take place. The pope and many leaders of the European Union (EU) have sharply criticized Orban – the word “fascist” sometimes surfaces among the politicos – for his defense of traditional values and intention of preserving Hungarian culture and the nation’s Christian character by refusing EU directives about accepting Muslim refugees and economic migrants.

After a 2016 trip to Mexico, Pope Francis made headlines for a comment about then-candidate Donald Trump’s intention of building a wall at the Mexican border. Walls are bad, he said; Christians need to build bridges. Many at the time argued that bridges can be good, in some circumstances. But America and any nation must control its borders unless it wants to invite chaos and conflict. That’s precisely what we’ve been seeing in recent months as hordes of people stream north, believing that the border is open and overwhelming the very refugee services wanting to help them.

So, it was not a surprise that the pope both mentioned a bridge in his Budapest homily and suggested a connection to immigration:

This is what I wish for you: that the cross be your bridge between the past and the future. Religious sentiment has been the lifeblood of this nation, so attached to its roots. Yet the cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone. . . .The cross urges us to keep our roots firm, but without defensiveness, to draw from the wellsprings, opening ourselves to the thirst of the men and women of our time.

Francis is a strong advocate for people seeking to enter Europe.

For the rest of Prof. Royal’s column, click here . . .

Out of a Clear Blue Sky

am a New Yorker by choice, having lived in the NYC area since 1977. I expect to die here. And I still have vivid memories of September 11, 2001.

It was a beautiful morning. I’d dropped off my wife, Sydny, at the Pelham, NY train station at about 8:00, got home and sent my sons off to school (they were 14 and 12), after which I’d gone up to my home office to continue working on a book about chivalry.

At a little before 9:00, Syd called from her office in Rockefeller Center. She said: “Turn on the TV.”

On NBC, I see smoke rising from the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC).

Watching video of that broadcast twenty years later, as I did while writing this column, barely diminishes the shock. It’s why movies you know the ending of still put you on the edge of your seat. No one at 9 AM knew the crash of the first plane wasn’t an accident.

The hosts of TODAY on 9/11 are unaware that the smoke and flames are coming from the explosion of American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston. Matt Lauer rightly speculates that, if early rumors are true and this was an aircraft accident, it surely can’t have been a light plane that blasted so huge a hole in the great building, causing so much fire and smoke.

Still, Katie Couric says they’re hearing it was a small commuter plane. At this point in the video, the TODAY “crawl” reads: “9:02.”

As the fireman said:
Don’t book a room over the fifth floor
in any hotel in New York.
They have ladders that will reach further
but no one will climb them.
As the New York Times said:
The elevator always seeks out
the floor of the fire
and automatically opens
and won’t shut.
These are the warnings
that you must forget
if you’re climbing out of yourself.
If you’re going to smash into the sky.*

It’s 2021, and I’m trying to stay calm, objective, rational – but I want to scream. I’m looking at film from two decades past, and I want to scream. Scream what? A warning? To whom?

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