Today is Ascension Day, a holy day of obligation. In some dioceses, the observance is transferred to next Sunday. The idea, as it is helpfully explained, is that going to Mass on a weekday may be excessively burdensome or give non-Catholic neighbors the impression that Catholics are different. At Union Theological Seminary in New York there is a tradition of releasing balloons on Ascension Day, a fun spoof of the myth of Jesus floating upwards into infinity. A recent poll indicates that many Christians think Jesus ascended to heaven immediately upon his resurrection. These are all good reasons for being in church today to enter into the glory of the Ascension. In addition to the obligation.


Here is a gift. Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University has brought out a big and handsome paperback of essays and other writings by Mary Ann Glendon. It is titled Traditions in Turmoil , and the publisher was kind enough to ask me to write a foreword, which I was glad to do.

As readers of First Things well know, Glendon, who is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard, possesses a remarkable talent for addressing perennial questions in fresh ways. Jean Bethke Elshtain says, “The fluidity of Mary Ann Glendon’s prose is matched by the acuity of her intellect. This collection is classic Glendon—witty and wise.” That makes for a nice book blurb, but it has, as they say, the additional merit of being true.

Traditions in Turmoil is not just a collection of random pieces. It is a book, it is all of a piece, and that is because Mary Ann Glendon—her life, her work, and her thought—is all of a piece. The book displays the myriad angles of vision and arenas of commitment from which and in which Glendon has developed important themes that have a powerful bearing on how we think and live.

The title is the key to what follows. That ours is a time of intellectual, cultural, moral, and religious turmoil does not need to be argued. What does need to be argued, and what Glendon argues forcefully, is that our response to turmoil requires a greater honesty in coming to terms with tradition. There can be no creativity without tradition, Glendon convincingly contends in her Erasmus Lecture of 1992, which is included in this volume.

That is little understood by many on both the left and the right. Quoting one of her favorite thinkers, the theologian Bernard Lonergan, she urges us to be “big enough to be at home in both the old and the new; and painstaking enough to work out one at a time the transitions to be made.” Make no mistake: Glendon is not a “beyondist”—one of those thinkers who claim their positions are beyond liberal and conservative but reliably end up being one or the other. Nor is she a “centrist,” who carefully navigates between opposing views lest she be dubbed “controversial.”

Working within the capacious structure of the Christian intellectual tradition, most reflectively and generously articulated in Catholic teaching, she constructively engages alternative ways of thinking about what it means to be human and what is required to nurture a society worthy of human beings. Her work ranges far and wide, and it goes deep. There is hardly a subject she addresses that does not change the way we think about it. The book is Traditions in Turmoil , 460 pages of wisdom old and new, with a helpful guide to making intelligent transitions.


In addition to which :

Jews, being focused on doing well and doing good in this world, are not interested in eternal life. That is a stereotype debunked by Rabbi Byron Sherwin in the June/July issue of First Things . What may be true of many Jews is definitely not true of Judaism, he argues in “Jews and the World to Come.” Rabbi Sherwin underscores truths that are essential to an honest and productive Jewish-Christian dialogue, which is an abiding concern of First Things . Isn’t it time you subscribed ?

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