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How It All Ends

So many things seem to be on the fast train to hell at the moment that it came into my head to look into the Apocalypse. Not some “apocalyptic” film or novel – the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament and, therefore, the conclusion of Holy Scripture.

It’s understandable that people don’t pay much attention to the Apocalypse. Most of us vaguely know that it says someday it’s all going to break bad, cosmically bad. Who wants to think about that?

Despite being God’s last written communication to us, for a casual reader, it’s a strange text, not easy to take in. Some of the more overheated evangelicals relish its wilder side, and “the Rapture” too, of course, and much else that can’t help making a sober Catholic wary.

But that’s far from being the whole story of the Apocalypse. I’ve often disagreed with public stances of South Africa’s Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu. He’s absolutely right, though, in what he’s said about Revelation: “I’ve read the end of the book. . . .We win.” More accurately, God wins, but if you think you’re in – or at least hope someday to be in – His fold, it comes to much the same thing.

Terrible events are symbolically foreshadowed before this world ends in the Apocalypse, even more terrible than COVID-19, rioting, and presidential elections. If you think we have it rough now, look at the deadly plagues, rampaging Beast, the cosmic Dragon, and Satanic assaults that Scripture talks about as it wraps up. It makes Tolkien look like an amateur.

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

Portable Hell: “Words on Bathroom Walls”

“The mind,” wrote John Milton in Paradise Lost, “is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Perhaps nobody knows that better than people suffering from schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia has been a popular subject for books – and for films based upon those books – and often good for an actor portraying the person suffering from the disorder. To cite just three such films: The Snake Pit (1948), Anatole Litvak’s version of a true story, starring Olivia de Havilland in an Academy Award-nominated performance; Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961 – an original story), which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and wide acclaim for Harriet Andersson’s performance; and A Beautiful Mind (2001), Ron Howard’s Best Picture winner at the Oscars for which Russell Crowe received a Best Actor nomination. There are dozens of other films, many more if violence is brought into the picture. Your typical movie slasher is “schizoid.”

Most schizophrenics, of course, are not violent. Nearly all hear voices, and some experience visual hallucinations as well. Such is the case with Adam, a teenager in Thor Freudenthal’s compelling new movie Words on Bathroom Walls.

Psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals often express dismay, as well they should, at the way schizophrenia is portrayed on screen. Because Words on Bathroom Walls is just out, I’ve come across no such criticism of it, although I suspect there will be, principally because the voices Adam hears are visually manifest as people in the film.


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

The Politics of Heaven and Hell

Shortly after I arrived in Washington years ago, I reviewed a book with the same title as this column. A friend warned about reviewing books by that particular author – our late lamented colleague James V. Schall, S.J. – because if you start, he said, you won’t have time for anything else. And that was before the supernova of titles that Schall the Great turned out in his seventies, eighties, and even nineties.

Ignatius Press is republishing The Politics of Heaven and Hell this fall with an introduction by another incisive and prolific writer, Robert Reilly. A good thing, too, because in our current chaos, when it seems almost impossible to get sure footing about anything, this relatively neglected volume not only uncovers sure foundations. It explains the ways by which we’ve mixed up eternal and temporal things – and put the times out of joint.

Schall’s central insight is that our classic traditions of both faith and reason agree that politics is an important, but circumscribed realm. If we were the highest beings, politics would be the highest science, said Aristotle. That wise pagan – Dante calls him “the master of those who know” – knew that we are not the highest beings. There’s God, for starters, and His Creation, to which we owe deference. Ignore them, and the inevitable result is chaos, suffering, servitude, tyranny, and death.

The ancient Hebrews learned this well before Aristotle. Schall notes how little attention political theorists pay to the Old Testament, the history of a small and obscure nation – Israel – that survived, improbably, down to our own time, with incalculable influence on the history of the whole world. It did so not because of any special policies or virtues: Jewish history is a record of graces given and refused, of return and consequent flourishing, of many rounds of ignoring God, decline, and renewal through Him.

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

Things Always Fall Apart

I’m tempted to begin a campaign to knock down the statue of William Butler Yeats that’s outside the Ulster Bank near his boyhood home, and the good people of Sligo would probably thank me, because Ronan Gillespie’s statue is hideous.

But I’m no iconoclast. And – love him or hate him – a poet of Yeats’ stature deserves a statue. Here are two reasons why.

First, there’s his life. William Butler Yeats was born on the south side of Dublin, Ireland in 1865. Early on, the family moved, and he grew up in Slough (in South Central England) and later in London. Then his family moved back to Dublin in 1880.

His return to Ireland propelled him into all things Irish – all things, that is, except the Catholic Church.

In William’s early twenties, the Yeats family moved back to London – patriarch J.B. Yeats was nothing if not peripatetic. W.B. joined a poets’ group, the Rhymers’ Club, became interested in spiritualism and joined a group called The Ghost Club. He took an interest in fairies.

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

The Veil

Sometimes you start thinking (or even writing) about something, and it suddenly becomes more complicated than you initially imagined. Ideas tumble; you hope not uncontrollably.

The Veil of Veronica is such a case for me.

As a convert to Catholicism – one whose growth in the faith has come in fits and starts over 43 years – I’ve been both attracted to and repelled by relics. I’ve a bit of the attitude, I suppose, of the Catholic humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (d. 1536), who wrote of fragments of the True Cross that “if all. . .were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.” Mind you, Erasmus believed in Christ and probably assumed some of the wooden shards encased in altars or displayed under glass in churches and cathedrals were authentic; he simply doubted that all of them were.

But I’m not a skeptic. For instance, I’ve come to believe the Shroud of Turin is exactly what it’s claimed to be. In the matter of the Veil of Veronica, however, I’m not so sure.

Who was this Veronica? Well, she is alleged to have been an early Christian woman, one among those along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. She knelt to press a towel or cloth (velum in Latin, thus our English word “veil”) to the face of our suffering Savior when He fell beneath the weight of the Cross.

Her name, however, is unlikely to have been Veronica, because that is a portmanteau word formed from the Latin vera, meaning truth, and the Greek eikon, meaning image, which is to say this woman was the bearer of the True Image, the Real Icon, the Veronica.

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

The Once and Future Papacy

So far as we know, Pope Francis is in reasonably good health and will remain head of the Church for some time to come. A bad case of the flu earlier this year – which some feared was COVID-19, quite dangerous for an elderly man with only 1½ lungs – seems just to have marginally slowed him down.

But three books have recently appeared that – if only to get us off our obsessions with viruses, race, riots, toppling statues, and politics – deserve some attention: Russell Shaw’s Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity; Edward Pentin’s The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates; and George Weigel’s The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission. The great virtue of each of them is not to offer simple solutions or predictions. They seek more to understand the current situation and the role that the Church is going to have to play in a world that has, even more than usual, gone mad.

In a concise but rich treatment, Shaw reviews virtually the whole of twentieth-century papal history from St. Pius X through St. John Paul II.  The “crisis of modernity” in his title continues into post-modernity: “In the manner typical of this era of bloodshed and turmoil, modernity did not go quietly, but unquestionably it went. Now we live in a time of transition called ‘postmodern’ – a nondescript word that fills a gap pending the emergence of a term to capture the special character of this new age, whatever that may turn out to be.”

Eight popes – and one might add Leo XIII’s earlier Thomist revival and inauguration of modern Catholic social thought – tried various ways to deal with the crisis, indeed multiple crises, not only in the world but the Church as well.

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

Tissot’s Great Reversion

One of the great pleasures of The Catholic Thing are the images that accompany every column every day: paintings that, as Bob Royal wrote in our inaugural column in 2008, demonstrate “the concrete historical reality of Catholicism. . .the richest cultural tradition in the world.” [Note from RR: The beautiful images in the columns are the skillful work of Mr. Miner.]

And attentive readers will have noticed that no artist’s work has appeared here more often than J.J. Tissot’s – more than 100 times, in fact.

Jacques Joseph Tissot was born in 1836 in Nantes, near the confluence of France’s Erdre and Loire rivers. His father was in the drapery business, his mother designed hats, and young Jacques never wanted to be anything but an artist.

He went off to Paris at 19 and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Among his friends were James McNeil Whistler, the American who painted a rather well-known picture of his mother, and the great French artist Edgar Degas, one of the founders of Impressionism. (Above: James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot by Edgar Degas, c.1867 [The MET, New York].)

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

We’re All on the Frontlines Now

shrewd woman (to whom I happen to be married) recently read me some passages from an old news story about the re-naming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given to writers of children’s books: “‘This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,’ the Association for Library Service to Children said in a statement after the unanimous vote.”

The town librarian used to be the enforcer of “community standards” by preventing unsuitable material from falling into adolescent – or anyone’s – hands. And even in demanding good behavior, as per “The Music Man”:

For the civilized world accepts as unforgivable sin
Any talking out loud with any librarian
Such as Marian . . . Madam Librarian.

He/she still is an enforcer, but now – despite talk of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness” – pushes Heather Has Two Mommies, proudly defends “drag-queen” story-hours that would make any normal child run screaming, and polices the literature of past, present, and future (certain books never get published for fear of running afoul of her/him).

People talk a lot about “cultural Marxism” now. I don’t know exactly what to make of the expression because during the Cold War some of us actually studied Marxism and its rigid tenets, which serious Marxists regarded as “scientific.” Marx himself would have looked askance at much of what falls under that rubric today.

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

Seattle, Columbus, and Historical Fictions

Chief Seattle, who gave his name to the currently troubled city in the State of Washington, was pure Native American (father Suquamish, mother Duwamish). A mighty warrior, he essentially eliminated the rival Chimakum tribe in a battle on what is now the Quimper Peninsula. Like other native chiefs, he owned slaves. And he was a convert, probably in his fifties, to Roman Catholicism.

I learned about him more than 30 years ago, when I was researching my very first book, 1492 and All That, as controversy was raging about the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World. Seattle’s story shows how complex, to say the least, are our individual lives – and how false and disrespectful of those lives it is to use past historical figures in what are manufactured, simple-minded, ideological morality plays.

Native Americans are not supposed to have been violent, like “white men.” Or at least not against other Native Americans, because all those different peoples must have been One Harmonious Anti-White Thing, no?

And his tribe, as “people of color” (which for the moment seems to include Hispanic descendants of Spanish conquistadores), couldn’t have owned slaves or perpetrated “genocide” against another tribe.

And how could such a man, as a successful and mature adult, choose to become, of all things, a Catholic?

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

Further Thoughts on Transgenderism

I’m like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III: “Just when I thought I was out. . .they pull me back in.”

When I wrote “Lysenko at the Olympics” on March 2nd, I assumed I would not be writing again about the movement to allow male-to-female (MtF) transgender athletes to compete against biological females until at least the 2021 Olympics (I predicted in that column that the 2020 Games would be canceled because of COVID-19), but the Supreme Court has pulled me back in.

On June 15th the Court ruled for the plaintiffs in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA (using here just the name of one of three cases decided together). Here’s the case summary from the Court’s opinion:

In each of these cases, an employer allegedly fired a long-time employee simply for being homosexual or transgender. Clayton County, Georgia, fired Gerald Bostock for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee shortly after he began participating in a gay recreational softball league. Altitude Express fired Donald Zarda days after he mentioned being gay. And R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer that she planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.”

A simple employment dispute, right? Wrong. The Court ruled that “homosexual” and “transgender” are actually sexes, not just sexual preferences, and since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on sex, “gays” and transgender people may not be fired from their jobs if the reason for dismissal has to with their newly defined “sex,” now firmly put into law as equal to (i.e., the same as) heterosexuality. This is despite the fact that nobody really believes such equality was in the minds of those who wrote and approved the original law.

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