Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 8:00 PM
Colbert Report chaplain and envoy-at-large to the entertainment community, Jim Martin, S.J., has announced the very good news that Walter Ciszek’s With God In Russia, is now available on Kindle, courtesy of America Press.
For anyone not yet familiar with Ciszek or this book, I urge you to get hold of it. You will be rewarded by encountering heroic sanctity, not through the hagiographic distancing of centuries, but in the searing light and existential detail of a time still very much our own. It is an opportunity to be with someone who loved God the way so many of us yearn to.
Walter Ciszek was a Jesuit who answered his Church’s call to serve in the Soviet Union during the darkest days of Stalin’s repression. It proved to be an exacting call.After completing his rigorous preparation at the Russicum in Rome, Ciszek was deployed to a village on the blurry border between Poland and Ukraine, and was soon arrested on suspicion of espionage.
For the next two and a half decades he lived life as a prisoner – from the dread confines of Lubianka to the brutalizing camps of Solzhenitsyn’s gulag. Throughout, his daily bread included torture, deprivation, and humiliations of nearly every stripe.
The book clearly means a great deal to Martin, and in his fine introduction to the new edition he exercises pastoral sensitivity in anticipating that, “. . . Some readers might put this book down, moved and inspired to connect it to their own lives. They might say, ‘I’m no hero. I could never do what Ciszek did.’ Or, ‘What do my small problems have to do with his?’ That, however, would be missing the point of this book, which offers a great deal of wisdom for our daily lives.”
I too have been touched deeply by this book, and had the great privilege of meeting Fr. Ciszek. The first time was in the skullery of the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pa. There, upon recognizing him, I worked up the courage to accost the sleepy tea-seeker. (more…)
Tuesday, November 6, 2012, 10:30 AM
The term “exceptional” often becomes a dirty word when paired with a nation’s claim to it. It becomes an obscenity when the nation is the United States. A glimpse at the clock on the wall, however, suggests that it’s about a quarter past “enough is enough.” America is exceptional. Every person, every nation, is.
Still, exceptionalism, in the case of the United States is not merely a matter of historical record. It remains hugely relevant. Fortunately, other nations have gotten on a track built, tested, and largely maintained by the United States. As with so much that undergirds our existence and its quality, this fact tends to be taken for granted. Whatever the reasons, the result is a disposition of ingratitude. And, in a citizenry, ingratitude can be a symptom of a life-threatening condition.
Barring some sinister manipulation of the vote, the American people have the power to act either as America’s greatest enemy–or the reinvigorated stewards of its freedom. Freedom is not an ideology. In many ways it is the antithesis of it. It is the exercise of that which is universal and self-evident, whose provenance is not temporal, but transcendent. It is not permitted; it is endowed. To miss this truth–and the difference it makes–is to enable the erosion of freedom’s foundation we have seen accelerate so dramatically in recent decades. Ideology is the solvent of this erosion. It has challenged boundaries with varying degrees of success, and intends to cross lines so critical that doing so would alter the nature of the republic as basically as altering the DNA of an individual.
In our present moment, prosecution of that agenda proceeds in the conviction that the people have become so unfamiliar with their history, so easily distracted, and so eagerly tranquilized by the trivial, that they won’t notice–or see it as such.
In the final analysis, ideology is always and everywhere reducible to self-reference. Being closed to the transcendent, it atomizes, divides, and is at intrinsic odds with the spirit of E Pluribus Unum, the motto discerned in 1776 for the Great Seal of the United States.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–the order is significant. They are the self-evident, divinely endowed pillars of freedom. And America’s greatness will ever stand in direct proportion to its incarnate gratitude for them.
Monday, August 13, 2012, 9:41 AM
A couple of weeks back, Robert George delivered a First Thoughts post exhorting Catholics to take more seriously the moral hazards involved in the use of drones in war. Nicholas Hahn of Real Clear Religion has taken him up on that and, in the process, to task.
George and Hahn are serious people, and readers can draw their own conclusions about their respective arguments. But, in reading them you may agree that very quickly, and necessarily, the question of drones leads to a more fundamental claim—one invoked by, of all people, Barack Obama, in of all contexts, his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On that occasion the president appealed to the concept of bellum iustum—the “just war”—presumably, to defend the two operations being waged concurrently under his command and to brush back charges the Nobel Committee was using him as a prop in that political theater whose repertoire consists of a tired farce in which the U.S plays the villainous lead. (more…)
Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 11:39 AM
Readers may know by now that Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, leader of the Orthodox Church in America, resigned suddenly this past Friday night. It was Rod Dreher who broke the news, and for the better part of the weekend, hosted the primary forum for updates and feedback till word Sunday night from OCA headquarters in Syosset made it official.
It is very curious business – and a further burden on the people of the Church who have struggled to navigate the white water of recent leadership scandals in which Jonah played no part, and whose election was hailed by so many as the dawn of a new era.
So far, the main characters in the drama are staying quiet while websites grow long with lists of conjectures, regrets, accusations, frustrations, and exhortations – all of which throws into sharp relief just how opaque things are.
Barring the sudden engagement of Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, Monsieur Poirot and Captain Hastings, we may just have to wait and watch. We could also pray that Metropolitan Jonah, and the entire OCA, are able to discern and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit through what will undoubtedly be a difficult and painful process.
Friday, April 13, 2012, 4:30 PM
Today is the feast of Pope St. Martin I, who refused a seventh-century government mandate–to remain silent on the issue of monothelitism, a heresy which denies Christ exercised both human and divine wills. Hard to appreciate perhaps, but back then theology could be a blood sport, and for such audacity he was dragged from the Lateran in Rome, shipped to Constantinople, and endured a piteous martyrdom at the order of the emperor, who most certainly exercised a single will. Martin died at last in what is now southern Ukraine–all but abandoned by his fellow churchmen, though today he is recognized as a saint by both the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches.
His story is well worth reading, partly because it seems so timely, and because his humbling example is truly timeless. St. Martin, please pray for us, and for all who aspire to lead.
Thursday, October 13, 2011, 9:00 AM
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia, (On The Square:“Putinism and the Ukrainian Catholic Church”) spiked the moment former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, received the maximum, seven-year prison sentence for her part in negotiating a natural gas contract that obliges the two nations for the next decade.
The trial and sentence have been almost universally vilified as the political machination of current president, Viktor Yanukovytch. If true, the embattled leader may have unwittingly stepped into a bear-trap—one designed not for, but by, the Bear.
The martyr angle here ought not be exaggerated. Tymoshenko was not accused, nor was she convicted, of saintliness. She remains, however, a charismatic figure, only a whisker away from being elected president in 2010, with an army of newly-inflamed supporters. What’s going on?
A look at some headlines announcing the sentence intrigues:
Friday, January 21, 2011, 4:22 PM
Some decades ago, I witnessed an expression of pastoral tenderness that remains with me to this day.
The mother of a dear friend died suddenly – at a very young age. They had been a family of three, émigrés from Moscow, and the funeral took place at a Russian Orthodox church in a New Jersey setting so rural and thick with surrounding forest, it must have felt a bit like home.
Beside the grave, with only three of us standing there, the priest who was warm, present, and large enough to have made a career wrestling bears, addressed my friend’s abject grief. Turning squarely to face her, he took her hands in his and declared with exquisite gentleness, “In your life, be a beautiful monument to your mother.”
This past weekend, the world surrendered one of the giants of our era. On January 18, 2011, Robert Sargent Shriver commended himself to God, assisted in this last exercise of faith by his children.
There have been some touching tributes written by those who knew and loved him. Although I never had the privilege of meeting the man I have been more fortunate in the case of one of those children.
Sunday, November 7, 2010, 1:26 AM
There’s blood in the water of the MSNBC snark tank. Friday it was announced that Keith Olbermann had been suspended—indefinitely. He apparently violated a corporate policy that forbids newsies making contributions to political campaigns without prior approval. As of now, it’s unclear whether that is spelled out in his contract or not.
While I won’t pretend to be a fan, don’t look for any schadenfruede here. Based on what’s been disclosed thus far, there’s no reason for the man to lose his job.
Why shouldn’t Mr. Olbermann be free to spend his mammon stripping shellac where he chooses? If that be on the slippery deck of an ideological Titanic, so what? Besides, what jury would indict, let alone, convict him on charges of being an actual news reporter? Last I heard, you still need evidence for that sort of thing.
What are his superiors up to then? Is this a gesture to the next Congress, a bold first step into a belle-epoque of civility, an invitation to tea? Or is it perhaps a portent of what’s in store once Comcast takes over at NBC-Universal? Who knows, maybe it’s part of some dark pact that will oblige Rupert Murdoch to sacrifice one of his own.
Whatever the case, for Misters Schultz, O’Donnell, and Matthews, as well as for Ms. Maddow, the road ahead looks suddenly uncertain. Until this gets sorted, all I can say is, what a difference a (Tues)day makes.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010, 9:00 AM
Years ago, my mother and father, brother and I spent our summer vacations at the Downingtown Motor Inn in Pennsylvania. To me it was Shangri-la; a place of enchantment and matrix to many happy memories.
One night, the hotel held a Jeopardy-type contest for kids that I wound up winning. From the several prizes available, I picked a record album—a collection of John F. Kennedy’s speeches.
His Inaugural became my favorite. No big surprise. After the Gettysburg Address, it’s probably the most quoted political speech in American history.
At one time I could recite the whole of it. A winning parlor trick for a kid who didn’t mind attention—so long as it wasn’t from the back of a nun’s hand.
The rhetoric of that speech served as wings to lift the young president’s native elegance to heights lofty and morally authoritative enough to stir the nation and world. It dazzled me.
In those days it never occurred to me that anyone but John F. Kennedy had composed it. Not until high school did I hear the name, Ted Sorensen. From there I began to learn of the role he played in the short-lived, much-romanticized Kennedy presidency. I was an instant fan.
In fall of 1999, my agent called to say I had an audition. A film called, “Thirteen Days.” I was aware of it—knew it was in pre-production—but I didn’t have high hopes of reading for it.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010, 4:04 PM
In yesterday’s On The Square, El Jefe offers an admittedly ambivalent musing on the disappearance of a once-unified culture, captured by the once-popular, What’s My Line?
Dorothy Kilgallen was a perennial presence on that show’s panel and since I “murdered” her in a TV series a while back; forcing her to drink copious amounts of vodka at gunpoint, I should probably recuse myself from weighing in.
I would, however, point to a headline in yesterday’s Variety that suggests a kind of unity—or perhaps yearning for it—latent in the story’s statistics, “There’s no stopping the NFL, as NBC’s season opener of “Sunday Night Football” drew the highest overnight score for a Week 1 primetime game in 13 years.”
I should also mention that Thursday night’s game between defending lords of the ring, New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings, led by Brett Favre, drew the biggest primetime audience for an NFL game in 12 years. In fact, fans in Favre’s former “home town” of Green Bay tuned in at a 33 share—five points higher than the overall number, demonstrating the enduring magnetism of football’s grey gunslinger.
On top of this, the league was facing competition from such glittering cultural gems as the MTV Music Awards and HBO’s erotic gore fest, True Blood—as well as ratings bully, CSI Miami. Why then the big numbers?
Friday, March 5, 2010, 9:00 AM
In case you haven’t yet heard, Annuntio vobis aenigma magna: the Huffington Post has inaugurated a religion section!
Should it choose to take the Washington Post’s “On Faith” as a model, the project would make about as much sense as pre-Yeltsin Pravda launching a section devoted to capitalism.
The increasingly visible Thomas Peters has registered fierce umbrage at Sr. Joan Chittister being the most “orthodox” contributor on the HuffPo roster. In fairness, my initial scan found others who don’t seem compelled to flagellate religion as a matter of principle. They would include James Martin, SJ, who First Things’ readers will recognize as a favorite of The Anchoress. Unfortunately, these examples hardly lift the scale toward something resembling balance.
The biggest ad on the page I first viewed looked very much like a headline, calling attention to “Religion’s 7 Biggest Lies.” It was impressively high-tech—with a loop of changing images, all of them Christian. Needless to say, it wasn’t generated by Ignatius Press.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009, 10:00 AM
From the U.K.’s Telegraph comes an article that is a four-course feast for thought. If scientist Ray Kurzweil is to be believed, we will all be capable of immortality within twenty years. How’s that for health care reform?
The idea here is that through nanotechnology, we will swap the organs we were born with for bionic replacements. Not only will aging be arrested, it will be tried, convicted, and reversed. And death? Let’s just say you picked the wrong time to go to mortician’s school.
So here at last we have it: heaven on earth. (And they said “utopia” was a dirty word). Now, before we get too delirious, we should acknowledge that this is bound to raise all manner of issues. Let’s consider just a scant few. (more…)
Thursday, June 25, 2009, 2:50 AM
I was in his room one afternoon and he asked me to try on a suit jacket he’d recently come by. He was clearly excited for me to do this. So, I pulled it on and tried to puzzle out his enthusiasm. Beige and a little threadbare, it wasn’t a bad-looking coat really. Maybe even vintage enough to look cool—if one had the right accessories. I prepared to act grateful for the gift he was obviously about to impart.
“Look inside” he urged. I took it off and found a small tag stitched inside the collar. With a slight squint the tiny script revealed the identity of its previous owner, Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit paleontologist on whose work Tom was recognized as a leading authority.
A grin spread across my face till it grew nearly wide as his. I well understood that to Tom, this should be like a baseball player suddenly discovering he was standing in Babe Ruth’s spikes or a Thomist realizing he was holding Aquinas’s pen. “Does it fit you? Do you wear it around?” I dumbly asked. “I’m giving it to the library for their collection” he replied as he returned it carefully to its hanger. I think he would really have preferred to wear it.
It’s amazing that he is no longer with us in the way we’ve known and loved him. What’s almost as amazing is that this isn’t the lead headline of every newspaper. I wish everyone had the chance to know him. I want to shout to the world—this is how we’re meant to live!