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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 . . .


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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May is Mary’s Month

I admire the work of the late Irish-Canadian-American novelist, Brian [bree-Ahn] Moore. Three of his books in particular: Catholics (1972); Cold Heaven (1983); and Black Robe(1985 – and made into a film worth watching). His novels are concise: Catholics, the story of an American Jesuit sent to an Irish island monastery with the aim of shutting down the monks’ practice of the Latin Mass, is only 108 pages, whereas Black Robe, about Jesuits in 17th-century Canada, is more than twice as long, yet still short compared to most contemporary fiction. And I have a story to tell about Cold Heaven.

One day in 1983, a colleague came into my office to ask if I knew Moore’s work. I did. She asked if I would read the manuscript of Cold Heaven. I said yes.

A few days later in our weekly editorial meeting, I was asked for my opinion of Moore’s story, which is the tale of a lapsed-Catholic woman who receives a visitation from Our Lady – and rejects it.

“I like it,” I said, “so far. But I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve read the rest of it.”

Two others who’d read it laughed, and the woman who’d given me the manuscript, said: “I’m afraid that’s all there is, Brad.”

Moore could be concise to the point of abrupt.

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Who Are the Abortion Extremists?

The protests – and outright threats – against the six “extremist Catholic” justices of the Supreme Court now considering revoking Roe, including noisy demonstrations at their homes (one lives two streets over from me), were only to be expected. And that’s precisely the problem.

Intimidating members of the judiciary, who are supposed to be protected from the pressures of partisan politics, is the kind of thing you expect – and condemn – when you see it in the news, usually in some banana republic – or a Mafia trial. That these kinds of pressure tactics have invaded every nook and cranny of our public space – mobs outside the homes of mayors, police chiefs, judges, and now even Supreme Court justices – is not good for our constitutional order. Or American life in general.

Who would have believed even a decade ago that a Democrat leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, could say (in words that cannot be repeated enough), “I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

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Making the Desert Bloom

If America and the West are to not merely survive, but are to recover from our self-induced decadence, it will require many radical changes. To begin with, we have to get over the childish attitude towards our past as nothing but a series of outrages – against women, races, cultures, homosexuals, and whatever other faddish victim groups we allow to blind us to our quite varied and interesting human inheritance. We’ve been turning a (somewhat wild) garden into a desert, and need to find the wisdom to restore that garden to what it might be again.

Paul Horgan

I’ve recently been working on a sequel to A Deeper Vision, my long (perhaps too long – but the richness of the subject required it) treatment of modern Catholic thought and practice. The new book will focus on our American Catholic tradition, equally rich and varied, even more than I realized earlier.

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