Saturday, March 30, 2019

Fatima vs. the New Sexual Regime

My first undergraduate year I spent a semester living in Thurston Hall: the infamous freshman residence at the George Washington University. Variously nicknamed “Thirsty Thurston” or (apologies) “Thrusting Thurston,” It’s consistently ranked among the most sexually active dorms in the country. I didn’t partake myself, for various reasons – not the least that few women succumb to the charms of bow-tied English majors.

Back then, I had no grave moral objections to that sort of thing. I was a fairly traditional Christian (albeit an Episcopalian), so I couldn’t actually approve. But I was also a romantic – or, more properly, a romanticist. I idolized men of deep, brooding passion: Yeats, Beethoven, Rossetti. The hundreds of fragile, passionate loves that burned hot for a week or day or hour were only more beautiful because they were fleeting.

Yeats’s muse, Maude Gonne, once told the poet that she couldn’t return his love without destroying his genius. No doubt she was right. The romanticist doesn’t have the stamina for true romance. He’s the new, bright flame that can’t catch on the oak-log, and so demands more and more kindling.

Auden, the great anti-romantic, caught a glimpse of this:

The greater the love, the more false to its object, 
Not to be born is the best for man;
After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle,
Break the embraces, dance while you can.

The poem is called “Death’s Echo,” and so often this is what these episodes seem to be: a flight from despair into base pleasure and hollow sentiment.

I’m a Catholic now, and a romantic instead of a romanticist. I take seriously the warning of Our Lady of Fatima that “More souls go to Hell because of the sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” We assume she’s warning against sexual incontinence, and she certainly is. We often take sex too lightly. But there’s another, more recent temptation, which may be even more harmful: taking sex too seriously.

[Read more at The Catholic Thing]

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Smoking Like a Man

My recent article on William F. Buckley generated more controversy than I anticipated—including one disapproving comment from the former publisher of National Review. Well, very good! Journalism isn’t a lucrative profession, and I don’t think I’m compromising any trade secrets by saying so. A writer must be satisfied in knowing that his work is read and weighed by his readers. This one, at least, seems to have been.

A smaller controversy focused on my calling Buckley’s own 2007 column on smoking “manly.” One commenter wrote that “it just doesn’t really seem masculine or feminine in any identifiable way. Is it just that you agree with it?” Quite the opposite, in fact. It has nothing to do with my agreeing or not, but rather Buckley’s disagreeing with himself.

The opposite of “manly” isn’t “womanly,” we know, because Man and Woman are complimentary, not antithetical. A better antonym would be “neuter”: de-sexed, genderless, disembodied. This is what Russell Kirk meant when he called John Stuart Mill a “defecated intellect”: he’d purged himself of his humanity in order to become a creature of pure, objective reason. One who hates the body and delights in the mind we Christians call Gnostic.

This is a charge commonly brought against libertarians by conservatives and progressives alike. Their ideology seems cold and unfeeling: indeed, inhuman. But the solution is not the progressive’s humanism, which reduces the humane (that is, human-ness) to yet more neutered sentiments that don’t correspond to our nature. The humanist may be kind, but Man is magnanimous and Woman is sweet. The humanist is empathetic; Man is protective and Woman nurturing.

The libertarian is a defecated universalist; the progressive is a sensual universalist. We conservatives, however, are Christian particularists. We have no desire for a mind that transcends the body; neither do we seek for a body that transcends the mind. I’m a 25-year-old Catholic Bostonian of WASP and Irish extraction; it’s not for me to tell a 60-year-old medicine woman on the Great Steppe how to run her yurt.

[Read more at The American Conservative]

Friday, March 15, 2019

Catholic schools, same-sex couples and an admissions furore

When the Obama administration tried to mandate that employers provide contraceptives as part of their health benefits package, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, declared that this would leave Catholics with only two choices: either to drop health coverage, or to violate their consciences. And the latter was unthinkable: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” His message was clear: an institution that doesn’t conform to Catholic doctrine isn’t Catholic.

Obamacare was eventuallly modified, but similar challenges to Catholic institutions continue. On March 8, St Ann Catholic School sparked outrage after refusing to admit the child of a same-sex couple. Fr Craig Maxim, the pastor of St Ann Parish, said he was only complying with the policies of the Archdiocese of Kansas City.

“Our schools exist to pass on the Catholic faith. Incorporated into our academic instruction and spiritual formation, at every grade level, are the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the archdiocese explained in a statement. “It is important for children to experience consistency between what they are taught in school and what they see lived at home. Therefore, we ask that parents understand and be willing to support those teachings in their homes.”

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Vatican reaches out to Silicon Valley

The Holy Father is anything but a techie. He admits to not knowing how to use a computer and encourages parents to forbid smartphones at the dinner table. Nevertheless, Pope Francis has granted audiences to more big tech magnates than most leaders of major world powers.

In January 2016, Francis met Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt. Their chat only lasted 15 minutes and the content of their conversation wasn’t disclosed by either party. However, a source within the Vatican told the Guardian that they were joined by Jared Cohen, a former US State Department official who now leads Google Ideas (renamed Jigsaw that year). This “think/do tank”, as Cohen calls it, uses Google’s massive digital infrastructure to protect activists from oppressive governments.

Later that month, the Pope hosted Apple CEO Tim Cook. Francis said that modern communications are “a gift from God” in his message released the same day. The Holy Father added that they “can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarisation and division between individuals and groups”.

[Read more at the Catholic Herald.]

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Catholic voters are likely to face an unappetising choice in 2020

Last March, Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal headlined “The Democrats Abandon Catholics”. The Archbishop of New York wrote: “It saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.”

Dolan was speaking particularly about abortion. Indeed, it’s surprising that the Democrats – the party of John F Kennedy – have become almost uniformly pro-choice. When the pro-life movement began in the United States, it was largely dismissed as a fringe position composed almost solely of Romanists. Then, in the decades following Roe v Wade, evangelicals in the Republican Party took up the pro-life banner and won about half of those papist votes for the GOP.

Many Catholics find the Democrats’ economic and immigration policies more agreeable to the Christian faith. Still, the party’s support for abortion makes it impossible for them to vote for any candidate with a “D” next to their name.

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Why we should take St Joseph as our role model this Lent

Catholics know that 19 March is the Feast of St Joseph. Fewer, perhaps, are aware that the entire month of March is dedicated to the Most Chaste Heart.

That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? March is dominated by the Lenten fast, which is itself a preparation for Eastertide. According to tradition, Our Lord’s foster-father didn’t live to see his public ministry. In fact, it was necessary that St Joseph pass from this life before Christ could reveal Himself. Only then would Jesus become head of the royal House of David – both God and King by birthright.

But what has any of this to do with Lent? The answer is this: St Joseph was the first Christian mystic. He is the exemplar of the hidden life, the interior life: that which is most pleasing to God, and which we’re called to imitate during the fast.

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]

Taking Off the ‘What Would William F. Buckley Do?’ Wristband

I landed my first job in journalism when I was 20 years old. It was my second year as an undergraduate at the University of Sydney. I’d written an article for Quadrantabout the unceremonious and unconscionable firing of my friend, mentor, and thesis supervisor Barry Spurr. (Incidentally, I learned from a recent Prufrock newsletter that Barry has been appointed Quadrant’s new literary editor.)

About a week after the article was published, the editor asked me to stop by Quadrant’s offices and offered me a job. He was taking a leave of absence and was on the lookout for an ambitious young wordslinger to help the new guy find his bearings.

As it happens, the new guy was John O’Sullivan, who succeeded William F. Buckley at National Review in 1988. He’s the finest writer and editor I’ve ever met, and as kind and cultured a man as ever lived. I could write a long essay lavishing praise on him, and I will someday.

John was also (to my mind) a kind of second-class relic. I’d been a devotee of WFB since middle school, and this new career in journalism gave me reason to indulge my obsession during business hours. Imagine my thrill when, at an after-work drinkie-do, John said I reminded him of a young Bill Buckley. Maybe it was the fourth gimlet doing its work on my tired brain, but I had to choke back tears.

[Read more at The American Conservative]

The rise of the Purple Dog Republican

Here’s a riddle for you, and if you solve it, the Democrats will nominate you for president: how does one candidate carry both Cambridge, Mass. and Luzerne County, Penn.?

Sure, the former’s a cake-walk. Hillary Clinton could stand in the middle of Harvard Square and shoot somebody, and she wouldn’t lose any voters from the People’s Republic of Taxachusetts. But the latter, which Obama won in 2012, went to Trump in a whopping 25-point swing. This was the big story in 2016: the defection of blue-collar voters to the Republican party.

Now, as the 2020 election draws nigh, Democratic office-holders in ‘Purple America’ are feeling the heat.

[Read more at The Spectator USA]

Monday, March 4, 2019

The trouble with lists of ‘credibly accused’ priests

Frédéric Martel’s new book, Inside the Closet of the Vatican, was supposed to expose a “velvet mafia” calling the shots in the Eternal City. Martel, an atheist and gay rights activist, was especially interested in exposing the “hypocrisy” of “rigid” conservatives: by day, they decry homosexuality in the press; by night, they chase rent boys through St Peter’s Square.

Yet Martel’s report was, according to many reviewers, badly undermined by its propensity for innuendo. For instance, the author seems to have a special dislike for Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the most powerful conservatives in the College of Cardinals. Martel describes Burke as sitting on “an asparagus-green throne twice as large as he is, surrounded by silvery drapery”, etc. He quotes a drag queen as saying that Burke’s love for grand, traditional accoutrement betrays a “fluid and queer” gender identity.

Whether the drag queen has any training in psychology isn’t revealed, but (to my own untrained mind) that doesn’t sound like the sort of diagnosis that would hold up to professional scrutiny. Nonetheless, Burke’s opponents relish Martel’s dig, however spurious.

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]

Friday, March 1, 2019

A case that suggests we are on the verge of a new liturgy war

Fr Edwin Dwyer looks like he stepped out of a time machine. With his shaved head, thick red beard and piercing blue eyes, he may very well have celebrated Mass on one of the cold stone altars of medieval England. Like so many young priests, he clearly has no interest in merely blending in among his flock in Bay City, Michigan.

There’s a paternal authority in his bearing that surpasses his 36 years. He’s a priest of Christ’s Holy Church, and he certainly looks the part. Yet Fr Dwyer, who used to serve as parochial administrator for Our Lady of Peace parish in Bay City, was removed on January 30 by Bishop Walter Hurley, the apostolic administrator of Saginaw. The reason? “He brought in a style of worship that many people found very difficult,” according to Bishop Hurley.

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]