Recent News

The Start of a Reckoning

As the coronavirus seems to be receding, many questions will now arise. Some quite surprising.  For instance, who – other than the historical greats like St. Benedict, St. John of the Cross, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn – knew that confinement could have beneficial effects? And in so many ways? Inspiring spiritual reflections. Good practical advice (here, here, here, here). And much (gallows) humor.

And that’s just scratching the surface. We’re not as poor and mean and savage as we sometimes seem, even to ourselves.

A legitimate Christian debate is underway about whether the virus is a “chastisement” for the many sins of the modern world, even in Christian and formerly Christian nations. In the nature of things, we can’t say for sure, unless we receive some message from on high. But whether God sent the plague or has merely permitted it, He must want good things to come from it. And in unexpected ways they already have.

On the personal side, the virus has made me, I’m convinced, healthier than before (antsiness aside): no exhausting professional travel; no crowded planes with their own pathogens; no nights in foreign hotels, and dinners in restaurants; more regular work, food, rest, and exercise; quiet time at home. Even a few better spiritual habits. Among things I once said I’d do “if I had the time,” I’ve learned the Hebrew alphabet (אלף – בית, hard labor, believe me). Simple OT passages are next – unless I forget what I’ve learned before I get around to that.

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

The Third Day: a fantasy

When his scribe informed Pontius Pilate that Titus was seeking colloquy, he knew something was amiss. The Prefect of Judea had sent Titus, his best man, for what was surely the easiest-ever assignment in the long career of one of Rome’s finest soldiers. So, why has he returned early?

Titus was an old man – by Legion standards – but still twice the warrior of men half his age and the most reliable of all.

Yet he has abandoned his post. Why?

Titus entered the hall, slapped his right fist against his breast: “Prefect!”

Pilate looked up from behind a desk covered with dispatches. He met the soldier’s eyes and frowned. Then he looked back down at whatever it was he’d been reading and said:

“Why are you here, sergeant?”

Titus knew that the prefect was more irritated than angry. So far.

“Prefect, the tomb has opened and the man, Jesus, is gone.”

The scribe stood to Pilate’s right. He had been scribbling the prefect’s dictated messages. At the entrance to the room – the one through which Titus had just marched in – two guards stood silently at attention.

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

Redeeming the Time

This week we remember and re-enact the most important events in the entire history of the world. The coronavirus outbreak has changed some of the ways we can do so this year. But like all worldly things, the change is temporary, while Christ’s Passion – despite historical changes in leaders, regimes, cultures, even the collapse of whole civilizations – remains. And changes everything else.

Widespread suffering and death are – to be sure – serious things. Especially so in the larger perspective of what we are right to call Holy Week. At least that’s the case if we fully recognize what happened during these days.

There’s been a strange drift lately in how Christians remember and talk about Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion, and Death. And it’s not only the maverick theologians. It’s even infected some Christians – Catholics and Protestants – who still believe enough to fill the pews.

We’re told repeatedly: God loves us, Jesus accompanies us – and comforts us – in all our troubles and sufferings. That we should be filled with joy. There’s a good deal right in this – except when it becomes the only way we see things.

We’re Catholic, which means we grasp after the whole.

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

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 . . .