A few years ago, I received from a high-ranking prelate a reply to an article published by First Things. Scrawled in the margins were the hand-written comments of Pope Francis. Earlier this year, I received another letter, this one from a Pulitzer-winning columnist calling First Things the best magazine in America. I should have written back, “Only America? And say it in public!”—but I just taped it to the wall of my office.
Unfortunately, I can’t use notes like this to pay our authors. We don’t have an endowment or fill our pages with the cheap runoff from the think tanks. We publish writers who we believe will enlighten and inspire (even if they occasionally enrage) our readers. Every month I have the chance to work with brilliant writers like Patricia Snow, Martin Mosebach, Helen Andrews, David Bradley, and Peter Hitchens. Every month their prose surprises and delights me. In order to pay them for the work they do, we need the support of readers like you.
A great deal has changed since this magazine’s founding in 1990. The “Catholic moment,” if it came, did not last. Pope Benedict’s long intellectual leadership of the Church, which began when he was made head of the Holy Office in 1981, came to an abrupt end in 2013. Obergefell washed over us like a wave, scattering all resistance before it. Populist rebellions shocked the world, bringing us Brexit and Trump.
In the face of all these developments, First Things has not been content to repeat old slogans. Some magazines live in the ’60s, others in the ’80s. I like to think that First Things lives in 2017. Under Rusty Reno, we have tried to respond to events in a way that is faithful not to a political program or set of policies, but to our unwavering beliefs—those first things. I haven’t agreed with every call Rusty has made, but I have immense admiration and gratitude for his leadership. It’s good to work for someone who takes risks.
St. Paul, who perhaps saw dust fly as athletes competed in the arena, described the Christian life as a race to be run. This sporting spirit is what First Things brings to the intellectual life: a joy in the scrum, a willingness to sweat, a belief in fair play, the desire to win. There are lies to expose, truths to proclaim, idols to smash, and beauties to commend. We contend, as Richard John Neuhaus said, and we contend relentlessly.
But we can’t contend without you. Please join us in this great game by donating to our spring campaign as generously as you can. Why not buy a gift subscription for a friend while you’re at it?
Matthew Schmitz is literary editor of First Things.