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Juan Diego, Great and Small

The story of Juan Diego is more than a powerful story. It’s more, even, than a powerful story in Catholic history. It’s nothing less than one of the most extraordinary stories in human history.

First, the setting could hardly be more improbable. In the early 1500s, what is now central Mexico was a civilization in grave crisis. Society, as the Aztecs had known it, was becoming unrecognizable. The pagan gods on whom they depended had failed. Diseases brought unknowingly by the Spanish conquistadores were ravaging large parts of the indigenous population. The practice of human sacrifice – which many generations of indigenous peoples believed was the only means of averting catastrophe – had been recently banned.

For the men and women of that time and place, it must have seemed as if chaos had been unleashed everywhere on the only world they knew. One can hardly imagine a less inviting place for planting the idea of a benevolent deity.

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Let Not the Hysterics Distract You

After thirty years living in Washington D.C., nothing – nearly nothing – politicians do surprises me. But when the king – sorry, president – of France and the British Prime Minister “express concern” (egged on by their clueless U.S. counterparts) over a Supreme Court decision about a Mississippi law that is less restrictive of abortion (15 weeks) than laws in their own countries, the usual political antics and lies aren’t all that amusing anymore.

The same can be said of the guerrilla theater in America’s most liberal cities (where abortion on demand still reigns), and in the media (where professional reporting has given way to Left advocacy on all things, all of the time), and the whole morass of lying and intimidation that flouts the rule of law and the institutions that enable an ordered liberty.

The hysteria of the pro-abortion supporters has, to use  their own vocabulary, been “socially constructed.” Almost all the hysterics would be less publicly distraught if their fathers, mothers, siblings, or friends died horribly in a fire.

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Building a Culture of Hope and Beauty

People often ask: What can we do, given all the problems that exist in the Church and the world? Most of what we’re thinking of when we pose that question has to do with specific things like liturgy and bad shepherds – or abortion, family breakdown, crime, and the widespread distrust of leaders and institutions. We have to keep at these specific problems, and many others, without letup and without allowing them, heavy as they are taken singly or together, to lead to despair.

But we’re the Catholic Church. Not only can we walk and chew gum at the same time, but we also have a tradition-rich enough to provide answers and concrete help in any and all human circumstances. We can’t save the world, of course. Only God can do that. But we can do what we can in the here and now, which means not solely focusing on problems and what’s negative around us. And not even only continuing longstanding good works, but actively imagining and pursuing new possibilities.

Deo volente – and the airlines co-operating – I’ll be in Houston at one such hopeful initiative today and for the next few days at a Summer Literary Series organized by our columnist James Matthew Wilson and Joshua Hren, who together head a new Master’s in Fine Arts program at the University of St. Thomas. (You can read about the Series and the MFA program by clicking here.) Houston’s Cardinal DiNardo will celebrate Mass this morning at the university on behalf of the program.

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On Reaching 75

“Seventy-five is just a number,” she said.

“Yeah,” I nodded, “but it’s a big number.”

You see, my father died at fifty-four, and I always assumed I too would probably go at or around that tender age. And, in fact, I probably would have gone sooner were I not fit and had I not found myself doubled over and gasping for breath during a walk with my wife on March 16, 2016.

I know that with specificity, because my wife and I had met up at Grand Central Station that day: she’d come from a meeting in Manhattan; I from a taped-for-St. Patrick’s Day appearance with my co-author George Marlin on Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s TV show. (We were promoting our book, Sons of Saint Patrick: A History of the Archbishops of New York.)

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Get Ready for Days of Rage

don’t know if the Supreme Court will hand down its decision on Dobbs today. Or whether, when it does, as in Justice Alito’s leaked draft, it will reverse Roe v. Wade. What I do know is that whatever leeway the Court will give states to limit abortion will not lead to “mostly peaceful” protests, but to violence.

Radical pro-abortion groups have already carried out attacks on pro-life counseling centers and there have been suspicious incidents around the country at churches. Those same groups have promised much more of this in the summer and fall, and are already organizing “Days of Rage.”

Catholic churches are going to be a particular target because we’ve been the most visible advocates for the protection of all human life from conception to natural death. So it’s time for us to organize as well – not only bishops and pastors, but all Catholics – to be ready for what’s coming.

We cannot rely much on our governmental institutions. Look at how they responded to the crazed young man who just threatened to kill Justice Kavanaugh. It’s true that police arrested and charged him – after he turned himself in. But little has been done to prevent someone else from trying to do the same thing.

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Papal Possibilities, Anno Domini 2022

Interpreting – sometimes misinterpreting – gestures by popes is a (mostly) harmless pastime for many Catholics. Presumably, the Holy Spirit is invisibly and unpredictably present in the choice of those He permits to become successors to St. Peter. But that spiritual wildcard doesn’t slow speculation. The latest in papalist drama arises from the Vatican’s announcement  Saturday that Pope Francis, despite health and mobility issues, will visit L’Aquila in Italy on August 28 to celebrate the Feast of Forgiveness, created in 1294 by Pope Celestine V.

Now, you may need a quick refresher on papal history to understand what this may mean. (Please, bear with me; the relevance will soon become clear.) Celestine V was the last pope – before Benedict XVI – to abdicate. For good reasons. He was a monk and a hermit thrown into the turbulent Church politics of the thirteenth century – and wholly unsuited to the office. It was a kind of desperate measure; perhaps an obviously holy man might unite the various warring factions, which were deadlocked and had left the Church without a pope for over two years (the 1292-94 interregnum).

He couldn’t do it and knew he couldn’t. And wanted to return to the monastery. His successor, Boniface VIII, wouldn’t allow it and had him imprisoned, just in case his supporters had ideas about returning him as anti-pope. After various escapades – Celestine escaped at one point and hid in the woods, tried to board a ship for the Dalmatian coast, etc. – he settled into prison life and died 10 months later (rumors of mistreatment or even poisoning have never been substantiated).

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Today Is Not That Day

You’ve probably heard it too: “This country is not worth fighting for – let alone dying for – anymore. It’s too corrupt and broken. It’s finished.” You even hear it from disheartened people who served in the armed forces or lost loved ones in war. On this Memorial Day, as we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, we need to sort out what’s true about that feeling – the part that makes it partly true – from what’s false – the temptation to surrender to things we should never surrender to.

Let’s approach this subject as Catholics, in the steadying light of the Church’s long experience, not in the ways that the hysterics in the media and our public life use these days to exploit us. There may always come a day when a beloved nation is no longer worth defending. It can cross a line from troubled legitimacy (which is what all governments always are) into outright illegitimacy.

But today is not that day.

Some thought America crossed that line in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. How can a government that legally permits the killing of innocents remain legitimate?

And it didn’t stop there.

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A Pint with C.S. Lewis: ‘The Most Reluctant Convert’

It is probably the case that no Protestant author has been quoted more often by contributors to The Catholic Thing than C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). It may also be the case that nobody in contemporary media has done more to celebrate Lewis and his work (other than Lewis’s own books) than Max McLean, founder and artistic director of New York’s Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA).

His latest film project, with director Norman Stone, is The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S, Lewis, in which Mr. McLean, playing Lewis, narrates the author’s journey from atheist to Christian. And some evangelizer Lewis was. He belongs on a last century’s shortlist with Billy Graham and Pope St. John Paul II.

I’ve previously reviewed two FPA stage productions of Lewis’s books: The Great Divorce and Shadowlands, and my wife and I also saw The Screwtape Letters Off-Broadway in 2006 – before the advent of this website. Mr. McLean was superb as the eponymous senior devil instructing his acolyte, Wormwood.

For the rest of the review, click here . . .

Lionheart

The head of the Southern Baptist office in Washington D.C. once said to me during St. John Paul II’s papacy, “You’ve got a pope there who really knows how to pope.” (Despite Baptist differences with Rome, he meant it as a deep compliment.) You might say something similar about San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone: There’s an archbishop who knows how to archbishop.

Any Catholic paying attention is aware by now that, last week, Cordileone barred Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi from receiving Communion in his archdiocese (full text here). And that courageous act – the willingness to go first – has gotten a handful of other American bishops to announce their support as well (see list here). More will be coming.

That support by fellow bishops is important, not only for the current public controversies as we wait for the Supreme Court to hand down the Dobbs decision. There are troubling clashes within the Church itself over this question. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual June meeting this year will be worth watching carefully.

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The Long and the Short of it

Every few months, I receive a message from one or another of our readers thanking us for The Catholic Thing, but wondering why we chose such an ugly/vague/meaningless/inscrutable/squirrely name for this distinguished series of daily columns. And as we begin fundraising, as we must today, for our annual mid-year campaign (information on how to donate below), it seems a good time to explain, yet again, how and why we decided to step out into the world of online commentary under the admittedly somewhat odd banner: The Catholic Thing.

To begin with, blame Hilaire Belloc (G.K. Chesterton’s comrade in arms, the other half of the Chesterbelloc). Belloc was a brilliant historian who, had he not been quite so combative a Catholic, would have become a celebrated professor at Oxford, where he had distinguished himself as an undergraduate. The centrality of the Church to our whole civilization was something he understood in his bones. And he knew what disasters would arise in a post-Christian world.

Today, we see them all around us.

Only a concrete and living reality could ward off or reverse those corruptions. As he put the case in a famous passage:  “My conclusion – and that of all men who have ever once seen it – is the Faith.  Corporate, organised, a personality, teaching.  A thing, not a theory.  It.”

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