Consider this sequence of events, familiar to some but evidently not to others:
By the Gargantuan standards of the 21st-century National Football League, Gino Marchetti, who died this past April 29, was undersized at 6-foot-4 and a mere 245 pounds. But he was arguably the greatest pass rusher in pro football history. The official record, 22 and a half quarterback “sacks” over sixteen games, was recorded by Michael Strahan in 2001. But a review of a year’s game film by Baltimore Colts’ coaches, before the “sack” stat was officially kept, once disclosed 43 sacks by Gino in a twelve-game season.
Bishop Robert Barron and others working hard to evangelize the “Nones” — young adults without religious conviction — tell us that a major obstacle to a None embracing Christianity is the cultural assumption that Science Explains Everything. And if science explains it all, who needs God, revelation, Christ, or the Church? To be even more specific: if Darwin and the Darwinian theory of evolution explain the origins of us (and everything else), why bother with Genesis 1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20?
In late June, I visited the concentration camp at Dachau, located in a wooded suburb a few miles from downtown Munich. The camp site struck me as rather too neat. There was little of the miasma of raw evil that remains at Auschwitz and Birkenau, even though Dachau was the prototype for those extermination factories. The Dachau camp site’s Chapel of the Agony of Christ, built after the war, is touching. But, to my mind at least, its stark modernism somehow fails to register the suffering it is intended to commemorate — and transfigure.
Forty years after Pope John Paul II bent the course of the 20th century in a more humane direction during his first pilgrimage to his Polish homeland in June 1979, new information continues to emerge about what happened behind the scenes, shedding further light on those epic events.
Fifty years ago this week, the crew of Apollo 11, the world’s latest heroes, were doing decidedly unheroic things: napping, drinking beer, playing cards, reading magazines, and otherwise killing time in the Manned Spacecraft Center’s “Lunar Receiving Facility,” where they were quarantined to ensure that no lethal bugs had been brought back from the Moon’s surface by Neil Armstrong (who saved the mission by taking personal control of Eagle and landing it safely after overflying a vast field of lunar boulders), Buzz Aldrin (who memorably described the moonscape as one of “magnificent desolation”), and Michael Collins (who, orbiting the Moon in Columbia while Armstrong and Aldrin were on its surface, was more alone than any human being since Genesis 2:22). The Lab was perhaps the least glamorous (and, as things turned out, least necessary) of NASA’s Apollonian inventions. For as Charles Fishman vividly illustrates in “One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon,” just about everything involved in effecting that “one small step….[and] one giant leap” had to be imagined, and then fabricated, from scratch.
Thanks to President Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and the rise of populist-nationalist parties in Europe, there’s a lot of debate about “nationalism” these days. On that subject, as on so many others, it’s worth listening to Pope St. John Paul II, not least because last month marked the 40th anniversary of his epochal Nine Days in Poland in June 1979 — days on which the history of the 20th century pivoted in a more humane direction.
On first meeting Dr. Andrzej Grajewski, you probably wouldn’t guess that this mild-mannered Polish historian is one of the world’s leading experts on the ecclesiastical Dark Side of the Cold War: the relentless communist assault on the Catholic Church. But he is, and his expertise comes primarily from years of patient combing through the Bad Guys’ secret intelligence service files.
Throughout the 20th century — the greatest period of martyrdom in history — persecuted Christians used the dross of this world to make religious artifacts.
Continuing a venerable tradition, I offer the following for your canicular reading pleasure: John Hay spent decades at the center of American public life as Lincoln’s secretary and biographer, a Republican political operative, an accomplished diplomat, and Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state.John Taliaferro’s biography is terrific: “All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt” (Simon and Schuster).