Notes From Across the Atlantic
David Mills FAITH MAGAZINE July-August 2013
David Mills is Executive Editor of First Things
The parish, Immaculate Conception down on First and Fourteenth, is the one Richard John Neuhaus served for so many years, and one of the places, we suspect, that made him so fond of quoting the famous description of the Church as “here comes everybody”.
Beside us, at the Easter vigil, was an older man in tie and leather bomber jacket, in front was a young woman in a camel-hair coat, sitting next to a homeless man who’d stacked two bags with his possessions against the wall, and in front of them were a guy and a girl, both in jeans and T-shirts. Behind us was a Latino family, their responses heavily accented, the mother holding her rosary, the husband wearing a pectoral cross.
Twelve people, only about half of them infants, were baptised that night, the pastor performing most of the baptisms in Spanish. A number of children, including a Zachary and a Trevor and two Guadalupes, made their first Communion.
The church was packed and Communion went on a very long time, and at the end everyone sang out “Jesus Christ is risen today,” except for those who never sing, of which Immaculate Conception has few, since so much of the parish is Filipino, Italian, and WASP (in this case standing for White Anglo-Saxon Papist.)
Here came everybody, and a good time was had by all.
The New Pope
The reporter asked what kind of pope the next pope should be, and America’s Fr James Martin SJ said: “Well, first, he has to be a holy person.” After a pause, which Fr Martin described as “uncomfortable”, the reporter said: “Father, I can’t just say that he needs to be holy. I was hoping you would talk about something like women’s ordination and birth control.”
Back-handed Praise of Marriage
“It’s really complicated,” explains Jim Strouse, a 36-year-old filmmaker. Breaking up with the mother of his children when they hadn’t created a relation – that is, a marriage – that they could formally break up “was weird. It was strange. We were just winging it from day to day with the kids.”
“Getting married is kind of like closing the door in some ways,” he said. “When you’re not married, the door is always open, and that was confusing. Even when we had a terrible fight, it always felt like I could just leave now and it doesn’t matter, because we never got married. The lack of legal, formal commitment did not help.”
He’d had, as the article puts it, “the perfect arty bohemian relationship”. But it didn’t work. “The cloudiness around our separation was definitely the worst part of our relationship, looking back. Kids need to know what’s going on, and things were so unclear for so long, I think it was even more strange and confusing for the children.”
“It’s helpful to get married, if you want to get divorced,” Strouse observed. His eight-year-old daughter, the article reports, “has already sworn off marriage”.
The article appeared, a little surprisingly, not just in The New York Observer, a weekly filled with politics, personalities (serious and celebrity), and artsy stuff, and reliably libertarian in morality, but on the front page, above the fold and illustrated with a striking drawing. We expected the usual lament about how hard life is but found, instead, a defence of marriage.
It’s not an analogy we’d choose, but still, the article’s closing quote suggests that some people are beginning to think of marriage more practically, and that’s all to the good. “Marriage is a business, in my opinion, and it has only been in the last fifty or so years that it has been about this love thing,” said one woman, whose boyfriend left her when she became pregnant and now has “a perfunctory relationship” with his son.
“It’s like running a boring corporation. The people who think it’s different are the ones who end up getting divorced. People that go into it knowing that it’s a business, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, will last forever.”
Pope Francis Again
Everyone was talking about Pope Francis – for about two weeks, while everyone tried to figure out what kind of pope he would be. Disgruntled liberal Catholics and angry traditionalists wanted him to be a liberal, for different reasons, one being “Finally, finally, a good guy!” and the other being “Told you the Church was going to hell!” Some secularists wanted him to be a liberal (the Church comes round!) and others a reactionary (see, the Church is irrelevant!).
He’s proved to be a Catholic. Silence ensued.
The Second Coming
An easy target, we admit, but something that still amuses us.
Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of St Matthew: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
A lot of American Christians, as reported by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: “Roughly half (48 per cent) of Christians in the US say they believe that Christ will definitely (27 per cent) or probably (20 per cent) return to earth in the next 40 years.”
It is, we would have thought, a weirdly irrelevant event to speculate about. Your own death is certain but the timing unknown, whatever your life insurance company is betting on. The only question is whether the termination, history’s or yours, makes you live differently.
You can best watch by living as if Jesus might surprise you doing whatever you’re doing. Or as an Evangelical friend likes to say, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.”
The Scottish philosopher and First Things contributor John Haldane frequently debates with people like the late Christopher Hitchens and New Atheists in general.
The interviewer for 3:AM Magazine tells him he presents an attractive version of Thomism but that [recitation of cultural leftist clichés about “extreme right-wing Christianity” being “bullying” and hateful etc] and then asks: “Haven’t you been hijacked by a very different agenda?”
Haldane says no, and then explains that, through this kind of exchange, “Catholics learn … to draw distinctions”. Those, for example, “between the value of an office and the quality of its occupants; the content of the message and the character of the messengers; the dignity of persons and the wrongfulness of human actions; adherence to truth and tolerance of disagreement among truth-seekers; and between what is attainable naturally and what requires grace.
Of the great but difficult Catholic philosopher G E M Anscombe, Haldane writes: “I think there was something of the existentialist or spiritual writer about her in the sense that she thought that the significance of a fact would only be evident to someone who was looking to find or to escape from it.”
Benedict on faith, reason, and culture; the president of the Catholic University of America, John Garvey, on the Catholic university; the poet Paul Mariani on the Catholic imagination; and Robert Imbelli on the Catholic intellectual tradition are among the writings that can be found in C21 Resources, an occasional magazine published by the Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College. Very helpful, nicely done, and stimulating.
For more information, see bc.edu/church21.