Archive for the ‘Aristocracy’ Category.

Credentialism and “Meritocracy” and Philosopher Kings


Does America Really Need More College Grads? – George Leef

The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was immensely powerful. Entrance was theoretically open to anyone, from any walk of society—as long as they could pass a very tough examination. The number of passes was tightly restricted to keep the bureaucracy at optimal size.

Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life. And there is something to like about a system like this … especially if you happen to be good at exams. Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is … a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?

The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever. But they’re also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow. The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them. To the extent that the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon is actually real, it’s arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system.

That system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs. A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking:

The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values.

All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it’s meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.

. . .

[T]his ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it—as I believe it also did in Imperial China.

And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there’s anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.

America’s New Mandarins – The paths to power and success are narrowing. So is the worldview of the powerful.

Statolatry

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The President is not my King or my God

[George] Washington was, as David Boaz put it in his excellent essay of that title, “the man who would not be king.” He would not accept a title or an honorific, and established the excellent republican practice of referring to the chief executive simply as “Mr. President.” George Washington did not need the presidency — the presidency needed him.

. . .

The presidency today is a grotesquerie. It is a temporary kingship without the benefit of blood or honor or antiquity, which is to say a combination of the worst aspects of monarchy with the worst aspects of democracy, a kind of inverted Norway. (King Olav V, the “folkekonge,” was famous for using public transit.) It is steeped in imperial ceremony, from the risible and unworthy monkey show that is the State of the Union address to the motorcades and Air Force One to the elevation of the first lady (or, increasingly, “First Lady”) to the position of royal consort; our chief magistracy gives the impression of being about five minutes away from purple robes, if not togas.

. . .

But the president is not the tribune of the plebs. He is not a sacred person or the holder of a sacred office. He is neither pontifex nor imperator. He is not the spiritual distillation of the republic or the personification of our national ideals and values. (Thank God Almighty.) He is not even primus inter pares like the chief justice of the Supreme Court or the Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the commander in chief in time of war (which, since we have abandoned the advice of Washington and Eisenhower, is all of the time, now) and the chief administrator of the federal bureaucracy. That is it.

He is not a ruler.

But men demand to be ruled, and they will find themselves a king even when there is none. (Consider all of the hilarious and self-abasing celebration of Donald Trump as an “alpha male” among his admirers, an exercise in chimpanzee sociology if ever there were one.) But they must convince themselves that they are being ruled by a special sort of man; in ancient times, that was the function of the hereditary character of monarchies. In our times, it is reinforced through civic religion, including the dopey annual exercise that is Presidents’ Day.

Abolish Presidents’ Day – It is time to roll back the imperial cult.

Statolatry and Ozymandias

See also “The President is not my “boss” nor my king nor my God. Rubes

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School and Bullying

I’ve seen a new attack from liberals on social media in the last few weeks as they try to paint Republicans and school choice advocates as being horrible, angry elitists who want to take funding away from students. This is mostly centered around Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s secretary of education.

All of a sudden, liberals who want the choice to end a human life want to vilify parents who want a choice in which type of institution best suits their child’s educational needs.

Whether DeVos is qualified to become the education secretary will continue to be heavily debated on social media. But for anti-school choice advocates, I’d like to share a story with you about my children.

As the mother of 16- and 9-year-old boys, I’m very familiar with the public education system. I grew up attending public school during a time when bullying was common but rarely discussed. When my oldest child attended school, it seemed it had progressed to a new stage that shocked even me. Bullying progressed with the help of technology and, as I wrote in 2014 for the Good Men Project, is so easily captured on cell phones and shared immediately that it stays with our children for their entire lives.

. . .

Parents know what is best for their children, and they deserve a choice. Whether that’s a charter school, a private school, home schooling or public education. Vilifying parents who want to make their own choices for their children is absurd. The real problem is telling parents they must allow their children to be placed in bad situations at a public school because someone else thinks that’s what is best for everyone.

But don’t tell a liberal that “choice” is a good thing unless it’s the “choice” to end the life of an unborn child.

One reason we need school choice you never hear about: Bullying

Also see “Public School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life

Statolatry, Ozymandias

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“Public School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life”

There’s something perverse about an ideology that views the disposing of a child in the third trimester of pregnancy as an indisputable right but the desire of parents to choose a school for their kids as “zealotry.” Watching Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, answer an array of frivolous questions was just another reminder of this warped worldview.

Many liberals, for instance, tell us that racism is one of the most pressing problems in America. And yet few things have hurt African Americans more over the past 40 years than the inner-city public school system. If President Obama is correct, and educational attainment is the key to breaking out of a lower economic strata, then no institution is driving inequality quite as effectively as public schools.

Actually, teachers unions are the only organizations in America that openly support segregated schools. In districts across the country — even ones in cities with some form of limited movement for kids — poor parents, most typically black or Hispanic, are forced to enroll their kids in underperforming schools when there are good ones nearby, sometimes just blocks away.

Public School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life

The economic interests attached to the Democratic party are fairly easy to identify: people who work for government at all levels. You may come across the occasional Ron Swanson in the wild, but when it comes to the teachers’ unions — which are the biggest spender in U.S. politics — or the AFSCME gang or the vast majority of people receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, the politics of the public sector is almost exclusively Democratic. And what they care about isn’t social justice or inequality or diversity or peace or whether little Johnny can use the ladies’ room if his heart tells him to — they care about getting paid.

What Is the Democratic Party?

Statolatry

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The Party of “Civil Servants”?

The economic interests attached to the Democratic party are fairly easy to identify: people who work for government at all levels. You may come across the occasional Ron Swanson in the wild, but when it comes to the teachers’ unions — which are the biggest spender in U.S. politics — or the AFSCME gang or the vast majority of people receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, the politics of the public sector is almost exclusively Democratic. And what they care about isn’t social justice or inequality or diversity or peace or whether little Johnny can use the ladies’ room if his heart tells him to — they care about getting paid.

Here’s an interesting point of comparison. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he opposed gay marriage. So did Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Obama’s opposition was especially interesting in that he cited religious doctrine in support of his position: “My faith teaches me . . . that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For me, as a Christian, it is also a sacred union — God’s in the mix.” George W. Bush, who was derided as a fundamentalist bigot by lifestyle liberals, never said anything like that. (Dick Cheney was well to the left of the Democrats on the question.) But there was barely a murmur of opposition to Obama’s staking out this ground “on the wrong side of history.” Social issues are for the naïfs.

. . .

What is the Democratic party? Is it a genuine political party, or is it simply an instrument of relatively well-off government workers who care about very little other than securing for themselves regular raises and comfortable pensions?

If I were a progressive, I’d be curious about that.

What Is the Democratic Party?

Clerisy, Ozymandias, Statolatry

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Silicon Robber Barons

Silicon Valley’s power brokers want you to think they’re different. But they’re just average robber barons.

. . .

The press [i.e., clerisy] enjoys excitedly praising tech titans by comparing them to fantastical and mythical figures. Zuckerberg is Caesar. Elon Musk, a wizard. Peter Thiel, who believes that he lives in the moral universe of Lord of the Rings, is a vampire. I do not know if these men believe that they have the supernatural powers the media claims. Maybe they do. I do know that they do not mind the perception, or at least have done nothing to combat it, even among those critics who believe that they’re cartoon villains.

. . .

This might not be so bad if the phenomenon were limited to daft profiles by fawning magazine writers. But this Hegelian fan fiction is nowhere more potent than from the mouths of the Disruptors themselves. Mark Zuckerberg speaks in the voice of God. Shane Smith, by his own account, is the Stalin of Vice. Silicon Valley investor Carl Icahn was called “evil Captain Kirk” by fellow billionaire Marc Andreessen, before he was himself dubbed Dr. Evil by Rod Dreher, who has evidently not absorbed a cultural reference since 1999. When Elon Musk worries that Larry Page is hurtling toward AI without a sufficient appreciation of the risks, he calls it “summoning the demon.” Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky, a typical case, says his food delivery application for depressed millennials is “disrupting the paradigm” by showing people that “the era of the paper menu” is over. AirBnB’s mission statement laments “the mechanization and Industrial Revolution of the last century,” which “displaced” “feelings of trust and belonging”; their mission is to turn the world back into the “village” of simpler eras by encouraging longstanding residents of gentrifying areas to rent out their homes to monied travelers. Some firms are more modest: HubSpot, a marketing and sales platform, is merely on a mission to make the whole world “more inbound,” which is to say, more reliant on their blogging tips for small businesses.

. . .

Let us state the obvious: None of these men are Roman Emperors, and they haven’t got the wherewithal to “blow up” anything but a stock market bubble. They are not Lex Luthors or Gandalfs or Stalins. Their products do not bring about revolutions. They are simply robber barons, JP Morgans and Andrew Mellons in mediocre T-shirts. I have no doubt that many are preternaturally intelligent, hardworking people, and it is a shame that they have dedicated these talents to the mundane accumulation of capital. But there is nothing remarkable about these men. The Pirates of Silicon Valley do not have imperial ambitions. They have financial ones.

The vast majority of Silicon Valley startups, the sort that project lofty missions and managed improbably lucrative IPOs despite never having graced the cover of The Economist or the frontal cortex of the president, work precisely like any other kind of mundane sales operation in search of a product: Underpaid cold-callers receive low wages and less job security in exchange for a foosball table and the burden of growing a company as quickly as possible so that it can reach a liquidation event. Owners and investors get rich. Managers stay comfortable. The employees get hosed. None of this is particularly original. At least the real robber barons built the railroads.

Like all slim ranks of oligarchy, the Silicon Valley billionaires hate and fear nothing more than ordinary people. This manifests itself in mundane ways, in their open, cartoonish class spite (why, they ask, must Innovators in San Francisco be burdened by the existence of homeless riff-raff?); it is revealed in their most contemplative moments too. Peter Thiel has said that when the history of the 21st century is written, René Girard will be remembered as one of its greatest intellectuals. Girard is best known for the contention that all human desire is mimetic, that not only aesthetic taste but even hunger and lust are modeled on the desires of others. Perhaps this is why Thiel does not believe that capitalism and democracy are compatible. We know which side he’s chosen. So long as he and his fellows can continue to exploit that same mimetic tendency to persuade people that they are superhuman and essential to their flourishing, his side will continue to win.

. . .

If your enemies can convince you that they are an unprecedented species of madman, you will convince yourself that you need unprecedented weapons to fight back or that you may be better off just hiding in the forest. But you are not.

The rigged contracts and wage suppression, the racism and surveillance collusion (soon to be playing voluntary footsie with Donald Trump’s NSA, with further chicanery to follow), all these sins of Silicon Valley have come about and been overcome before in the short history of American capitalism. They require only the same weapons as before. Organization and agitation. Strikes and labor laws. The ordinary practice of radical politics. Some of these efforts have begun already, with militant organizing and unionization drives beginning to organize Silicon Valley laborers against their exploiters. But these movements require national and popular support, support that cannot begin until the pretense and terror of world-conquering wizards is abandoned and the truth is laid bare: These are only rich assholes, the same as they ever were. All that superman bullshit is just the cheap propaganda of the powerful, propaganda so thoroughly saturated in the American mind that its own inventors might believe it.

Valley of the Dolts

Moral preeners aided and abetted by the clerisy.

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Superman Politics

The Carrier bailout is awful, of course. It is a case of two politicians’ using public funds to bribe a business into doing things that benefit them personally and politically while creating no real long-term economic value. Pence, who dropped his free-market principles like the world’s hottest potato once he got within sniffing distance of presidential power, can burnish his populist credentials at the taxpayers’ expense, and Trump can get ready to flit on to the next publicity stunt.

But the emerging “Superman” politics here are truly poisonous. One of the genre conventions of superhero stories is the compression of all the world’s drama into the immediate presence of the hero — only his actions and intentions are relevant. People may be dying all over the world, but Superman saves Lois Lane. (Comic-book movies have lately subverted that convention by focusing on the collateral damage done by superheroes to the cities in which they live.) What that means in the context of our contemporary presidential politics is that no one takes any note of the fact that Carrier is not the only HVAC company in the United States or the only industrial concern in Indiana. Carrier has competitors that employ Americans, pay taxes, and produce real economic value, and they have been put at a relative disadvantage by the political favoritism extended to Carrier. What about them? They’re not on the stage, so they do not matter.

What is important to understand here is that this is not part of an economic-development agenda: It is theater. It is an adolescent fantasy of political power, and wherever Superman happens to land is where the action is. Nothing else is relevant. It does not matter that there is no broader logic at work: Small displays of efficacy can work to create an illusion of general efficacy. It is busyness as business.

. . .

Trump’s big idea so far is spending $7 million of other people’s money to delay an embarrassing headline. Some deal. Some deal-maker.

Trump’s Superman Style of Politics

Cronyism has a new moral preener and Crony Capitalist in Chief.

Ozymandias

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The President is not My King or My God – How About You?

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.

. . .

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.

Tell The Children The Same Thing About Donald Trump As For Any President: Beware

Statolatry and Ozymandias

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Ozymandias on the Potomac

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.

. . .

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.

Splendid Washington

Ozymandias

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Catholicism in 21st Century America

mary-punching-devil

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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.

Archbishop Chaput’s remarks at Notre Dame University

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