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Every Day Is Commencement Day

COVID-19 has taken its toll on all of us and there are things about it, as there are about many things in our lives, that we may never understand. But I keep reminding myself, and others, that God does things – even just allows things we find puzzling – for a purpose. He intends some good, probably many goods, to come out even from something as mysterious as a global pandemic.

So, the question arises: Why all that for us just now? Lots of people these days think that diseases are just part of the way things are. Or, even worse, that they are somehow our fault for alleged “sins against nature.”

Dr. Royal receives an honorary doctorate from Thomas More College

But pandemics and plagues have also, at different times in history, been related to the divine. If you have been to Rome, you have doubtless seen the statue of the Archangel Michael on top of Castel Sant’Angelo. In 590, Pope Gregory the Great, according to later legends, saw him sheathing his sword on top of the castle, a sign that – after many prayers and processions through the streets of Rome – the plague, which had been devastating the city and all of Europe, was coming to an end.

Whatever the truth of the legend, we know plainly from Scripture that such phenomena can, oddly, be a means of healing. God’s chastisements are not capricious or vindictive, but medicinal. The Tower of Babel was destroyed, and the people became divided in their speech, as a remedy for hubris, their arrogant belief that they could reach heaven, all on their own – the usual human temptation to think that we can become God, an illusion, that never goes away.

Click here to read the rest of Professor Royal’s column . . .

Learning in . . . and from the Past

Organized Western education arose most directly from the studia generalia of European monastic communities. The studia were open to monks and laymen alike and were a response to two forces at work in Europe during the Middle Ages.

The first was the expanding interest in classical authors and ideas caused by interaction with Islam. Arab scholars are said to have been centuries ahead of their northern neighbors, and not just in the translation of Greek and Latin texts (aided by Syriac Christians), but in the important work of developing and applying scientific theories of Aristotle, Galen, and others.

The second force was the expanding enterprises of monasteries, which integrated science, the arts, and commerce. Whatever the monks did – farming, winemaking, brewing, translating – they employed the latest available knowledge.

What happened to enlightened, forward-looking, and scientific Islam in later centuries is a matter explained in detail by Robert R. Reilly in The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, and it’s a cautionary tale, given our present “cancel culture” – a reminder that any culture can decline as it becomes more ideological and iconoclastic.

Higher education had been an emerging Western ideal as far back as the 7th century and Charlemagne. Not only did that great king’s love of learning influence the development of writing, in the innovation of Carolingian script, and literature – in everything from the encouragement of troubadours to the opening of libraries – it also affected the structure and institutions of higher learning. It was with Charlemagne’s encouragement that the English monk Alcuin introduced into the king’s palace school a rudimentary program of liberal arts.

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

American Storyteller: Ahmari’s “The Unbroken Thread”

Sohrab Ahmari was born in Tehran and, at 13, immigrated with his family to the United States.  After law school, he established himself as a journalist in London and New York, and in 2016 converted to the Catholic faith.  He currently serves as opinion editor of the New York Post.

His fourth book, The Unbroken Thread, is an achievement in scholarship, journalism, and entertainment.  As befits his impressive résumé, Mr. Ahmari writes here as journalist, historian, and biographer.  Somewhat reminiscent of William J.  Bennett’s The Book of Virtues, Ahmari’s book is a series of illustrative stories each of which answers one of a dozen questions such as: “How do you justify your life?” (the first question); and “What’s good about death?” (appropriately, the last).

In each case, the answer is presented through the life story of someone who lived the answer.  Unlike Bennett’s bestseller, this is not a collection of stories from many sources, but a dozen short biographies by Ahmari that send the reader on a journey, as the book’s subtitle puts it, Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos.

Among those whose lives and wisdom are described are Confucius, Socrates, the Stoics, Tertullian, St. Augustine, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Of special interest to readers of The Catholic Thing are Ahmari’s considerations of the life and example of St.  Maximilian Kolbe, after whom the author and his wife have named their son, and St. John Henry Newman.  I’ll come to them later.

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

Joe Biden and the Bishops after 100 Days

To what shall we compare the first 100 days of our “devout” Catholic president? In an unforgettable moment, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, said after a trip to Asia that at present, “those who best realize the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” In a similar vein, there are  American Catholics who think that President Biden – despite a welter of “respectful disagreements” with the Church (i.e., abortion, sex, conscience rights, religious liberty, and players to be named later) – was “preaching Catholic social teaching” when he spoke to Congress last week.

The Chinese Communists and the Biden Administration talk – a lot – about the common good and national unity. What they mean by those terms, of course, is another thing. For all the differences between them, they have both shown themselves quite willing to ride roughshod over Catholics – unity and tolerance be damned – in pursuit of radical, party-driven social agendas.

The American bishops, thus, find themselves at a crossroads. To let things go on as they have in only the first three months of a presidential term would give the impression that they’re just fine with a self-proclaimed “devout” Catholic politician acting this way.

A large majority of bishops are not. They sense that there’s more at stake than political issues. Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, head of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said of Biden, “He doesn’t have the authority to teach what it means to be Catholic – that’s our responsibility as bishops. . . .Whether intentional or not, he’s trying to usurp our authority.”

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

Knots: “Roe v. Wade,” the Movie

In a 1989 TV movie, Roe vs. Wade, Holly Hunter played “Ellen Russell” and Amy Madigan was Sarah Weddington, the plaintiff’s attorney who argued the infamous 1973 abortion case before SCOTUS. “Ellen Russell” stood for Norma McCorvey, the real Jane Roe, who by then had become a pro-life champion (and a Catholic). Hunter and Madigan won Emmys.

This was years before Ms. McCorvey recanted her “conversion,” saying she’d been paid to be a pro-life spokesperson and had never really abandoned her pro-abortion views. Operation Rescue officials admitted Norma was paid well; her public comments scripted. Sheshould have won an acting award.

I mention this because it’s interesting and because a new movie, Roe v. Wade (PG-13), is not. Greer Grammer, daughter of Kelsey, plays Sarah Weddington this time but won’t win an Oscar – not because her performance is bad, but because the movie is.

It’s hard to untangle this knotted mess but I’ll try.

Written, directed, and produced by Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn, it’s a vanity project for Mr. Loeb, who’s also the star. That’s the first knot: he’s a lousy actor.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at TCT . . .

Astronomer of the Spirit

During John Paul II’s history-making 1998 visit to Cuba, I was at lunch in a Havana paladar with various Americans and Latin Americans. Lorenzo Albacete, a priest from Puerto Rico, notorious in the United States for his brilliance – and eccentricities – was among us. Charlie Rangel, a larger-than-life, already-30-year Congressman from New York, walked in and started back-slapping us – “Hey, fellas!” – as if he were home, doing a ward stump. But he stopped, and in beautiful NewYorican, said: “Hey Lorenszo, I wuz wit Fidel fuh two ah-wers last night, and all he wanted to tawk about (pointing) wuz yoo!”

Albacete had just written a remarkable article in the New York Times Magazine, explaining the global influence of both Castro and JPII – and the large moral differences between them. Like all terminal narcissists, Fidel relished the visibility, even though the portrait was, to say the least, not entirely flattering.

Albacete started adult life as an astrophysicist, doing government aerospace research, before he felt called to the priesthood. He taught in various places – even served briefly as president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. He wrote a couple of books, notably God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity. I reviewed it when it came out (here) and see now that I said, “Albacete’s constant theme is not that worldly desires. . .are crowding out religious principles, though that happens in every age. His much more interesting contention is that modern desire is not nearly passionate enough.” We content ourselves with paltry pursuits – wealth, power, influence – when both science and religion lay before us a wonder-full cosmos.

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

Leonardo’s “Last Supper”

Sometime between 1495 and 1496, Leonardo da Vinci painted one of Western art’s true masterpieces: The Last Supper. His then-patron, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, commissioned the work for the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Ludovico had recently undertaken the building of the convent on the site of the Chapel of St. Mary of the Graces, built earlier by his father, Francesco.

Leonardo’s “canvas” for this work was huge by his standards. The Mona Lisa, for instance, is 30.2 x 20.9 inches. His previously largest painting, the unfinished Adoration of the Magi, is 94 x 98 inches. But you could hang almost any Leonardo canvas on any wall in your house – except The Last Supper, which is five yards tall by almost ten yards wide.

If only Leonardo had painted it on canvas!

But it’s a fresco. Painters of frescos work by laying down new lime plaster over stone walls and painting quickly with water-based powdered pigments that dry with the plaster: all fresh (fresco in Italian) ingredients. The damp plaster and the wet pigments dry together, integrated, and can be amazingly long-lived: on the Greek island of Santorini, there are still-visible Minoan frescos painted more than 3600 years ago.

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

The Church Visible

I was reading a fine First Things column by Fr. Hans Feichtinger, about Germany’s “Synodal Way,” in which he used a word and a phrase I’d not heard before: Symbolpolitik and ecclesia invisibilis. His very good points were: first, that in Germany some effective narratives are attractive to power seekers as symbols, even if they are false; second, that the efforts by German bishops to make the Church there more relevant to mainstream German thinking guarantees that such a complaisant Church will all but disappear.

I don’t know how actually visible the Church is in German life. For that matter, I’m not sure how visible the Church is in the United States, even when comments by the Holy Father awaken the media for a day or two or three. But as I thought about this, the image of New York’s Cardinal Dolan came to mind. I know him slightly, and some years ago, I described him here as “a clavicle-crushing, six-foot-three teddy bear of a man” because of his habit of putting his arm around you and squeezing – a kind of endearing gesture of a large man who’s the ultimate “people person.”

And it occurred to me, speaking of the Church’s visibility, that if you were with Cardinal Dolan and walking down just about any street in the Big Apple a significant portion of the people you’d pass would call out to the Cardinal by name. He’s that visible, that mediagenic.

If, on the other hand, you walked down that same street with the Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, practically nobody would recognize him. No disrespect to Rev. Dietsche – but it’s just that in New York the Catholic Church remains THE ecclesia visibilis. (Searches of Dietsche’s name and Dolan’s at the website of the New York Post brought up 4 stories that mentioned Dietsche and 674 by or about Dolan.)

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

A Catholic Cathedral: “A Sort of World”

Unless there’s a last-minute change of orders in the hours between this being written and the opening of St. Peter’s Basilica Monday morning, the Church in Rome will have taken another, bizarre, almost inexplicable step in an age that can little afford the West’s central spiritual institution to go even more wobbly.

I refer, of course, to the strange decision to prohibit Masses being said in St. Peter’s on side altars, often on the spur of the moment, in various languages; and to restrict everyone attending Mass in the Basilica to the few central services offered only in Italian and Latin.

This may seem a small matter, especially during the COVID lockdowns, when there are few pilgrims entering St. Peter’s anyway. But this was not an order issued in response to the potential dangers from the virus at side-altar Masses, nor does it bear any explanation that this is just a temporary measure that will be suspended when conditions are “safe.”

No, it reflects yet another instance of the Church – or at least some high-placed officials in the Vatican – reducing the breadth and depth that Catholicism should offer to God’s holy people.

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

RIP Jude Dougherty

Jude Patrick Dougherty (1930-2021), the legendary dean of the Catholic University of America (CUA) School of Philosophy, was buried on Monday. He was the first layman to hold that post, succeeding the equally legendary Msgr. John K. Ryan in 1966, a year after the close of Vatican II and at a troubled time in the Church and the world. It was a near miracle that, despite the turmoil inside and outside the university, he was able to hold the School of Philosophy on a basically steady course – a Catholic course that remained close to the great neo-Thomist tradition, but also actively engaged modern philosophical currents, without losing its footing.

I’m not sure how I met Jude – it was decades ago now. But he had a rare way of making friends and welcoming people – notably in 1976 a then-obscure bishop of Krakow named Karol Wojtyla whom he invited to lecture at CUA and remained friends with throughout his long papacy. In 1999, St. JPII made him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory for his many services to the Church.

But his hospitality embraced multitudes, even young people just starting out, as I was back then. In several ways, I think it was partly his influence, not intentionally but indirectly, that kept me from being tempted to go down a Washington political rabbit hole at the think-tank where I was working. Such personal influence is hard to gauge, but for me – and I know for many others – it certainly existed and made a difference.

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