On April 29, 1951, Father Thomas Love, S.J., baptized me in the Church of Sts. Philip and James, near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Family legend has it that I raised such a furor during the proceedings that my cousin Judy hid in a confessional.
The unanimous decision by Australia’s High Court to quash Cardinal George Pell’s convictions on charges of “historic sexual abuse” and acquit him of those crimes was entirely welcome. Truth and justice were served. An innocent man was freed from imprisonment. The criminal justice system in the State of Victoria was informed by Australia’s supreme judicial authority that it had gotten things badly wrong.
The Gospel readings of Lent remind us that opposition to Jesus and his mission frequently grew out of the desire for a redeemer who was more like what various characters in the drama thought a redeemer should be.
This bruising Lent, in which “fasting” has assumed unprecedented new forms, seems likely to be followed by an Eastertide of further spiritual disruption. What is God’s purpose in all this? I would be reluctant to speculate. But at the very least, the dislocations we experience call us to a more profound realization of our dependence on the divine life given us in Baptism: the grace that enables us to live in solidarity with others and to make sense of the seemingly senseless.
As Yale’s Carlos Eire masterfully demonstrated in “Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650,” there was no one “Protestant Reformation” but rather several religious movements, often in disagreement with each other, that shattered western Christendom in the 16th century. Still, Martin Luther’s protest at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, has long been taken as the starting gun for “the Reformation.” So “Wittenberg” can serve as a synonym for other efforts to distance Christian communities from the authority of Rome.
“Churchmanship” is not a term in vogue today, and given the alleged inclusivity-deficit of such words it’s unlikely to make a comeback. Which is a shame. Because “churchmanship” connotes an etiquette, a once-taken-for-granted code of manners, that embodies an important truth of Catholic faith. When the etiquette crumbles, the truth can get lost amidst the debris.
Perseverance on a difficult but noble path is a virtue. Stubbornness when confronted by irrefutable evidence of a grave mistake is a vice. The latter would seem an apt characterization of a letter sent on Ash Wednesday to the entire College of Cardinals by its new Dean, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. In that letter — his first official act as Dean — Cardinal Re reprimands the redoubtable Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, for his criticisms of the agreement the Vatican made with the People’s Republic of China in 2018.
Several years back, the estimable Father Paul Scalia observed, of some cultural idiocy or other, “Who knew the end of civilization would be so amusing?” I detected a subtle theological point within that mordant comment: a point worth reflecting upon during Lent.
Rome’s Aventine Hill has seen a lot.
Legend has it that a dispute over the hill led to the fratricidal conflict between the city’s founders, Romulus and Remus. During the Roman Republic the Aventine was a working class neighborhood, high above the city’s most important port. In imperial Rome the Aventine was gentrified, becoming the neighborhood-of-choice for knights and senators. Later still, great palaces were built on the Aventine, which offers an unparalleled city vista.
Her fiction may occasionally get the chop in politically correct 21st-century American high schools. But as Benjamin Alexander writes in the preface to a new collection of her letters, Flannery O’Connor’s place in the pantheon of American short story writers seems safe, up there with Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner. (I’d be tempted to drop Hemingway from the canon, but that’s a matter for another day.)