At the Metropolitan Museum of Art
November 22, 2016 – January 8, 2017
1000 Fifth Avenue, at 5th Avenue and 82th Street, NYC
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art
November 22, 2016 – January 8, 2017
1000 Fifth Avenue, at 5th Avenue and 82th Street, NYC
Following this line of thought, I don’t think the French can put much of anything on television.
– No normal, happy babies – that would make any woman who ever had an abortion feel bad.
– No married couples – that would make divorced folks feel bad.
– No soccer matches with fit athletes – that would make lazy slobs feel bad.
– No shiny new cars – that would make drivers of 10-year-old cars feel bad.
– No green lawns – that would make owners of weedy lawns feel bad.
– No basketball or volleyball matched with tall players – that would make short people feel bad.
– No beautiful actresses or handsome actors – they would make the rest of us feel bad.
– No law-abiding citizens – they would make criminals feel bad.
– No young people – they would make old people envious.
– No old people – they might scare young people about what lies ahead.
In short, there isn’t anything you can put on French television that won’t hurt someone’s fragile sensitivities. But the least hurtful certainly would be an inspiring video of young people living with Down syndrome.
Facts are becoming hard to gather because, in Canada and many other countries, progressive governments are now suppressing all statistics and other previously available information pertaining to abortions. Feminists demand that this subject be shrouded in darkness, lest the light cast prove too harsh. What I call “the woman’s prerogative,” not to hear the screaming of her victim, has become a mainstay of contemporary eugenics and family law. This I hold to be the ultimate in misogyny — for it is designed to hide women from the very possibility of redemption, which can only begin with acknowledgement of the truth.
The rate for Down’s children is the significant abortion rate. It exposes what is truly believed by the overwhelming majority of our contemporaries, when put to a practical test. Opinion polls can never do this, for opinion is “free” unless it costs us something. Actual behaviour is what matters, and we find in this proportion a black, terrible indictment of our age.
Abortion as a Sacrament.
What would you call a society that made adoption incredibly hard and abortion incredibly easy? I’d call it sick at heart.
Up to a certain age, belief in Santa Claus is charming, and entirely harmless. Blind faith in presidential benevolence is neither. If you’re teaching your kids that the president reliably tells the truth and does the right thing, then the future citizens you’re raising may turn out gullible and easily led.
Why lie to them? After all, in living memory, presidents have conducted themselves abominably in their personal relationships, lied us into war, and, in former Nixon aide John Dean’s memorable phrase, “use[d] the available federal machinery to screw [their] political enemies.” Trump, who seems positively gleeful about the prospect of turning the federal machinery against his enemies, seems unlikely to set a higher standard of presidential character.
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For nearly eight years, President Obama has waged a War on Cynicism from the bully pulpit, railing against “those who question the scale of [government’s] ambitions,” and telling college students to reject the “voices” that “warn tyranny is lurking just around the corner.” Somehow, what the president decried as “cynicism” always sounded like healthy skepticism toward increased federal power. In Trump’s case, even Obama might be starting to appreciate the “cynics” point.
Statolatry and Ozymandias
Washington may desire to dominate our lives, but that desire can and should be resisted.
Trump, with his airplanes and helicopters, probably would inconvenience the general public a good deal less with whatever commute he comes up with than does Joe Biden’s risible regular-guy act on Amtrak. When Regular Guy Joe takes the train from Wilmington to Washington, they clear out half a car for his use — Biden himself sits stock still, looking frail and terrified — while teams of Secret Service agents are dispatched to each and every stop along the way to swarm the vice-presidential car and prevent any incursions from the plebs. At the end of the journey, the Amtrak riders are kept on the train — at gunpoint — until Regular Guy Joe has cleared the platform, which can take a while. Do they have places to be and schedules to keep? Of course they do, but the Cult of the Imperial Presidency extends to the Semi-Divine Vice Presidency and its odd, pseudo-democratic rituals.
Washington, [DC,] though, is something else. It is now the nation’s leading consumer per capita of fine wines, and while the price of housing there hasn’t quite hit Manhattan and San Francisco levels, it is among the nation’s most expensive, far outpacing expensive California locales such as Los Angeles and San Diego and almost anything between the coasts.
The District of Columbia, the wealthier precincts of which are disproportionately populated by young professionals not averse to taking the subway, is not an especially remarkable automotive market. But Virginia and Maryland, where those Millennial apparatchiks will move once they’re making real money, are fairly rarefied: One in five new vehicles sold in those states is from a luxury marque (about a third higher than the national average) with BMW leading the way, because D.C. is exactly that douchey, and Mercedes-Benz in second place. Aston-Martin is unusually popular in Virginia; Bentley sells unusually well in Maryland.
We know what drives California’s lifestyles of the rich and famous: technology, and for that we are grateful, which is why people admired Steve Jobs even though he was as much of a hard-assed capitalist as Henry Ford or J. P. Morgan. We know what drives New York City, too: finance, to no small degree, but also advertising, publishing, media, and fashion. Maybe you do not admire those industries as much as you do Silicon Valley’s technology innovators: Nobody says you have to, but those Wall Street jerks and book-peddlers and fashionistas do perform a useful — and, indeed, irreplaceable — role in the modern economy. Miami is doing well, too, and we know what drives that economy, too — the DEA is no doubt on the case. (Kidding! But not entirely kidding.) Houston has an economy that makes sense when you understand it, and so do Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver.
What drives Washington?
One thing that drives the capital and its environs is those very large federal paychecks, which now amount to about $90,000 a year in money wages and just under $125,000 a year in total compensation. Washington pay has long been above the national average, but it is pulling away. In 2000, the median compensation for an American worker at large was about 74 percent of the median compensation for a federal employee; today, the average working taxpayer makes only 55 percent of what the average federal tax-eater makes. Our would-be class warriors talk about “transfers of wealth” and “transfers of income” when they mean mere changes in those metrics, but in this case, there is a literal transfer, with the most fearsome agency of the federal government — our corrupt and politicized IRS — raiding our households and businesses to support $1,000-a-night La Tur habits in Washington.
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The problem is that if you add up everything legitimate Washington does in the way of keeping the peace, securing property, and enforcing contracts, you can account for — if you’re really generous – maybe 20 percent of federal spending, which is the real measure of federal activity. The rest is straight-up transfer of income and wealth from one political constituency to another and a whole lot of Harry Reid cowboy-poetry festivals and research involving getting monkeys high on cocaine. All that money sloshing through the pipes creates conditions where it is easy — and irresistible — to siphon a little off, legally and or otherwise. And that is why you see Hill staffers who put in ten years at modestly-paid jobs and then go to work at lobby shops that pay them enough to drive a Bentley and live in one of those horrifying weird $3 million suburban piles in Arlington.
[S]tandard-issue hog farming involves the practice of tail docking—that is, shortly after piglets are born, their tails are cut off short. You might ask: why would we need to cut the tails off of pigs? Good question! Pig tails need to be cut off, in factory farms, because the pigs stand around all day in tiny, crowded spaces. Some of them seek to amuse themselves by biting other pigs on the tail. Often, the pigs being bitten are really just too listless to stop the biting. So their tails bleed. This can lead to infection, of course, but it could also lead to cannibalistic attacks on the bleeding hog—after all, pigs are omnivores! Now, having the tails docked won’t prevent tail biting, because there’s still a stump. But the stump is extremely sensitive, so even an otherwise very listless pig is likely to quickly put a stop to anyone’s gnawing on his stump. Hence, the infections or cannibalistic attacks can be prevented.
Now, tail docking is an extra task, requiring extra labor from pig farmers. So it would be nice if it were unnecessary. Fortunately, science plans to come to the rescue here—we’re working on isolating the stress gene in hogs, so that we can create new hogs that can be crowded into horrific conditions without becoming stressed out. If they’re not stressed into listlessness, they’re more likely to react quickly to anyone’s biting their tail. Problem solved.
When most Catholics think about Mary, we have one of two images in our heads: the virginal Jewish teen from Galilee who says yes to God’s plan; or the mother of Jesus, the woman of mercy and tenderness, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” We can too easily forget that Mary is also the woman clothed in the sun who crushes the head of the serpent. She embodies in her purity the greatness of humanity fully alive in God. She’s the mother who intercedes for us, comforts us and teaches us—but who also defends us.
And in doing that, she reminds us of the great line from C.S. Lewis that Christianity is a “fighting religion”—not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem described our spiritual struggle this way: “There is a serpent [the devil] by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite thee with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation and is seeking whom he may devour.” The great American writer Flannery O’Connor added that whatever form the serpent may take, “it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country,” not to turn away from God’s story or the storyteller.
If our theme as a meeting this week is reclaiming the Church for the Catholic imagination, we can’t overlook the fact that the flesh and blood model for our Church—Mary as mater et magistra—is quite accomplished at punching the devil in the nose. And as Mary’s adopted sons, we need to be bishops who lead and teach like the great Cyril of Jerusalem.
Having said all that, my thoughts today come in three parts. I want to speak first about the people we’ve become as American Catholics. Then I’ll turn to how and why we got where we are. Finally I’ll suggest what we need to do about it, not merely as individuals, but more importantly as a Church. We need to recover our identity as a believing community. And I think a good way to begin doing that is with the “catechetical content” of our current political moment.
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Americans aren’t fools. They have a good sense of smell when things aren’t right. And one of the things wrong with our country right now is the hollowing out and retooling of all the key words in our country’s public lexicon; words like democracy, representative government, freedom, justice, due process, religious liberty and constitutional protections. The language of our politics is the same. The content of the words is different. Voting still matters. Public protest and letters to members of Congress can still have an effect. But more and more of our nation’s life is governed by executive order, judicial overreach and administrative agencies with little accountability to Congress.
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Let me put our situation this way. The two unavoidable facts of life are mortality and inequality. We’re going to die. And – here I’m committing a primal American heresy — we’re not created “equal” in the secular meaning of that word. We’re obviously not equal in dozens of ways: health, intellect, athletic ability, opportunity, education, income, social status, economic resources, wisdom, social skills, character, holiness, beauty or anything else. And we never will be. Wise social policy can ease our material inequalities and improve the lives of the poor. But as Tocqueville warned, the more we try to enforce a radical, unnatural, egalitarian equality, the more “totalitarian” democracy becomes.
For all its talk of diversity, democracy is finally monist. It begins by protecting the autonomy of the individual but can easily end by eliminating competing centers of authority and absorbing civil society into the state. Even the family, seen through secular democratic eyes, can be cast as inefficient, parochial and a potential greenhouse of social problems. Parental authority can become suspect because it escapes the scrutiny and guidance of the state. And the state can easily present itself as better able to educate the young because of its superior resources and broader grasp of the needs of society.
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So it is with our Catholic understanding of God. Every human life, no matter how seemingly worthless, has infinite dignity in his eyes. Every human life is loved without limits by the God who made us. Our weaknesses are not signs of unworthiness or failure. They’re invitations to depend on each other and become more than ourselves by giving away our strengths in the service of others, and receiving their support in return. This is the truth in the old legend about heaven and hell. Both have exactly the same tables. Both have exactly the same rich foods. But the spoons in both places are much too long. In hell people starve because they try to feed themselves. In heaven they thrive because they feed each other.
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Optimism and pessimism are twin forms of self-deception. We need instead to be a people of hope, which means we don’t have the luxury of whining.
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Serenity of heart comes from consciously trying to live on a daily basis the things we claim to believe. Acting on our faith increases our faith. And it serves as a magnet for other people. To reclaim the Church for the Catholic imagination, we should start by renewing in our people a sense that eternity is real, that together we have a mission the world depends on, and that our lives have consequences that transcend time. Francis radiated all these things during his time in Philadelphia.
If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them. And the reason we do it is because too many of us have welcomed the good news of Vatican II without carving its demand for conversion onto the stone of our hearts. In opening ourselves to the world, we’ve forgotten our parts in the larger drama of our lives—salvation history, which always, in some way, involves walking past St. Cyril’s serpent.
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Catholics today—and I’m one of them—feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness. Making sure that happens is the job of those of us who are bishops.
Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.
We need to speak plainly and honestly. Modern bureaucratic life, even in the Church, is the enemy of candor and truth. We live in an age that thrives on the subversion of language.
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If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.” It’s a moment for courage and candor, but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.
This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church. And so we can say with confidence: Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us. And St. Cyril of Jerusalem, patron of bishops, be our model and brother in our service to Mary’s son, Jesus Christ.
There’s one thing for sure: no matter what happens, liberal cheerleaders of Obamacare will continue to act as if the law was an awe-inspiring success.
The conspiracy theory about the woefully misnamed Affordable Care Act is that the architects of Obamacare intended their program to fail, thus creating an opening for a so-called public option which would then be expanded to a full-on British-style government health-care monopoly. That’s a fun story, though it isn’t true.
The truth is worse: These idiots thought this would work.
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Obamacare was intended, in theory, to enhance competition. The Democrats were never quite clear on how that was going to work, but that’s what they said. In Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth-largest city, those shopping for health insurance have a grand total of two insurers to choose from. Until recently, the state of Pennsylvania had 13 insurers; today, it has eight.
It is worth keeping in mind that the people who brought you Obamacare want to apply the same model across the commanding heights of the U.S. economy.
Philosopher Kings, Clerisy, Ozymandias
Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that, if left unchecked, modern society would annihilate itself if given the chance. It feels like we are there. Our collective hypocrisy is clear, as we (rightly) condemn Trump while we pick up 50 Shades of Grey at Red Box. We are all of us consumers of self-gratification.
In other words, our pornified culture exposes us as a people of enfeebled desires. We’d rather fantasize with images than do the work required for deep and meaningful relationships. In our hyper-connected society, we’ve become distracted from one another, ransoming real relationships for cheap gratification. The word “distraction” comes from a Latin term that means “torn apart.” We are not only disconnected from one another, we exploit each other, and tear ourselves apart.
In his famous Oxford address “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis said that we allow lesser objects to satisfy our desires, unaware that ultimate gratification is offered to us. “We are half-hearted creatures,” writes Lewis, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
That grabbing and ripping is the the method that remained legal after the “partial-birth” abortion ban. (Gunter eventually describes this procedure: “The fetus is essentially taken apart with a D and E to fit through the dilated cervix.” But, she says, this is not “ripping,” but “simply surgical technique.”)