Planning for Ordinary Times

By Lucia A. Silecchia

I am a planner.

Every year, in the heart of the summer, I buy a new calendar because I mark the beginning of my new years not in January but at the start of each new academic year – the cyclical rhythm by which I mark my time.   Planners like I am love the sense of control and certainty that comes from plotting out the course of our upcoming weeks and months.   Usually, class times, committee meetings, family gatherings, travel, school holidays, seasonal celebrations, annual traditions and other commitments make their way into my low-tech, handwritten calendar.  This creates, in a tangible way, my beloved organization and order.

Except when I can’t plan.

As it turns out, when I look at the days, months and weeks ahead, I find myself saying “I don’t know” to the most basic of questions.   What will our fall semesters look like?  When will we meet friends for dinner again inside our favorite restaurants?   When will students come to my office again?   When will the phrases “new normal” and “please mute yourselves” fade from our lexicons?  (I’m hoping soon!)  When will masks no longer hide the faces of friends and the smiles of strangers?  When will we be able to see far-flung family members who live across the country and around the world?   Who is hosting Thanksgiving dinner, and where?  (Yes, I plan that far ahead!) When will “Zoom coffee hours” be replaced with the joy of the real thing?  When can we safely revel in family reunions, crowded school events, concerts and conferences that are real, not sterilely virtual?  When can we gather to discuss the pain that grabs our headlines in person, with each other, not through a screen or a soundbite?   When will we be able to gather to memorialize those who have passed from this life and console each other in a warm embrace?  When will the joy of parish life lived as a family return in its glorious fullness?

I don’t know.

Admitting “I don’t know” is unsettling for me.  I sense this is an experience shared by many – but most deeply shared with my fellow planners.  To lose the control I thought I had has been an unwelcome part of these past months.   Yet, perhaps it was not something lost as much as a realization that the ability to plan and control is something I never really had – even when I had the luxury of thinking I did.

I am not the first to look ahead and sigh, “I don’t know” when wondering about the details of what lies ahead.   I imagine that “I don’t know” was the thought that went through the mind of Mary when she tried to anticipate what her life would be like as the Mother of God.   It likely also went through the mind of Joseph when he contemplated how life would unfold in the unique role he was asked to play in the history of salvation.   “I don’t know” must have raced through in the minds of the disciples who tried to understand what their new vocation would demand of them.  “I don’t know” surely was in the hearts of the crowds who met Christ during His years among them as they contemplated how this encounter would change their lives.

Since then, “I do not know” has reverberated through the centuries as the saints I most admire saw their lives unfold in ways they did not plan, did not anticipate,  did not understand, and, perhaps at times, did not desire.  Yet, by saying yes when they did not know what lay ahead and giving their uncertain futures over to God, they lived the lives they did and left behind the example they did.  The examples they gave living through the big unknowns of their lives is a welcome inspiration for navigating the far smaller unknowns of mine.

I am thinking of these ancestors in faith during this unsettling summer of “I don’t know.”  I hope that they will share with me the serenity they knew when they looked ahead and did not know what would come. I hope they will share with me some of the patience they had when others, frustratingly and honestly, answer my planning questions with their own “I don’t know.” 

Most importantly, I hope that they will share with me the faith that they had as I try to learn that “I don’t know” is, at its heart, an invitation to trust.  It is an invitation to trust that all that lies ahead, for me and for us, is in the hands of God.  More than that, it is in the hands of a God who lovingly does know and care about all that happen in the unfolding of our ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.

What Am I to Say?

As for man, his days are like the grass;

he blossoms like a flower in the field.

A wind sweeps over it and it is gone;

its place knows it no more.

—Psalm 103:15–16

by Joseph E. Capizzi

My friend David Baer and I recently wrote a piece in which we suggested that our current crises present an opportunity for theologians to reconsider how they speak to a world they hope might be paying some attention. We counseled theologians to abandon the offices of pundit and scold: in our opinion, theology has more than finger-wagging and “takes” to offer. Though the temptations of scolding are difficult to resist, and punditry by definition finds a ready audience, theologians can take consolation in knowing their job well done involves turning their hearers’ eyes toward God, even if only for a moment. In this piece, I speak to my colleagues, to the theologians and academics who find themselves seduced by easy forays into topical and timely speech.

Within Catholicism, the language of the “signs of the times” has been a popular and sometimes effective means of signaling the intention of theologians to speak meaningfully to their communities. We theologians use the language of the signs of the times as a mechanism by which to try and locate—and compete about—this or that social phenomenon deserving special attention. It typically ranges across a spectrum of political and social issues (poverty and inequality, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, this or that sense of social “progress” or decline, and so on). The power of invoking the signs of the times consists in attaching gospel language to important social concerns. Its weakness, however, is built into that strength. By attaching the gospel to contemporary concerns theologians can lose sight of that horizon toward which Jesus directed his disciples. The horizon of the signs of the times is the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). “See to it that you are not alarmed,” Jesus counsels the disciples: do not be misled by false messiahs or become alarmed by events. Stand firm, he tells them, because they know the events point to his return.

Read More Here at Breaking Ground.

 

IHE Fellow Jennifer Frey Speaks on Boredom, Solitude, and Grace in Flannery O’Connor

On 3 June 2020, the Collegium Institute’s Ars Vivendi Arts Initiative gathered four distinguished scholars and authors on Zoom to discuss Flannery O’Connor and her relevance during the quarantine. Speakers Amy Alznauer, IHE Fellow Jennifer Frey, Jessica Hooten Wilson, and Christine Flanagan probed into O’Connor’s work as it relates to philosophy, ordinary experience, and creativity, which included a deeper conversation on God’s grace as brought about by solitude, violence, and boredom. Throughout the discussion, the speakers discussed that while these prevalent aspects of life are often avoided or identified as negative, in reality they are opportunities to grow in grace. 

In her initial presentation, Alznauer, author of the soon-to-be released picture book, The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor: A Life, and Artist In Residence at St. Gregory the Great in Chicago, remarked that the original form of solitude is found in childhood. O’Connor knew this from her own youth and incorporated it into her works frequently. Moments of solitude experienced by her young protagonists magnified their self-knowledge in relation to God and the pursuit of truth. Being alone, regardless of age, allows a person to know himself and contemplate, a freedom vital to the reception of grace and truth, especially amid the distractions of modernity.

When the discussion opened for audience questions, the topic of violence prompted another important supposition: is there a tension between enjoyment of literature and the grotesque elements that often appear in O’Connor’s stories? Hooten Wilson, Associate Professor of Literature at John Brown University and the author of Giving the Devil His Due: Flannery O‘Connor and The Brothers Karamazov, asserted that, while people tend to fixate on O’Connor’s violence, the point of the violence is not merely to horrify but to make possible a moment of grace. In both literature and reality, violence is important not for its own sake but for the sake of eventual virtue; it forces society to see its distorted ways and choose to retain or overcome them. Ultimately, the violence of purgative fire is a passage to ensuing grace.

The final question of the evening explored whether solitude, that strange state simultaneously fruitful and boring, is the result of fallen human nature or the appropriate state of a soul that can only be satisfied by God. All four speakers agreed that boredom is good. Flanagan, Professor of English at University of the Sciences and the editor of The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon, found boredom to be a necessary condition of an artist; O’Connor reportedly would sit at her desk for hours while waiting for ideas. Frey, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and co-editor of Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology, asserted that boredom is beautiful and “the mistress of receptivity,” being none other than the passive, silent state that precedes inspiration. Hooten Wilson concurred that the resting of heart and mind, which is now called boredom, is actually an openness to deep contemplation and the grace of God.

During this time of national distress, the Christian must not despair but rejoice. Opportunities to develop virtue are present today in the least-expected, even initially distasteful, places of boredom and quiet.

Guides Through Ordinary Times

By Lucia A. Silecchia

In this life, if we are fortunate, we may meet a few people who, for want of a better word, become our mentors.  Usually, but not always, they are our elders – a bit further down the path of life and possessed of wisdom to share with us as we try to navigate life.  Over time, they become guides and friends as we try to discern what God may be calling us to do.

I have been blessed to have people such as this woven into the fabric of my life.  They encouraged me, told me that the things I wanted to do were possible, and gave me sound advice in ways that inclined me to follow it.    Two of those people, so important to me, passed from this life this spring.   Because of current limits on gatherings, I did not have a chance to pay my respects to them in person.  My letters to their families share a bit of what made them special to me and express my gratitude for the ways they helped set the course of my life.

But, their passing got me thinking more seriously about what a sacred thing it is to take the time to encourage, inspire, and guide others as they make their way through this world.   Now, by both my (rapidly advancing!) age and occupation, I find myself in the position where I can give to others the kind encouragement that was — and still is — given to me.

Each of us have received a unique set of gifts and talents.  With them comes the responsibility to use them to give glory to God and to help our neighbors as best we can.  It is often so overwhelming to discern how we might use our own abilities and talents in a responsible way that we may overlook the way in which others, too, are blessed with these things.  They may need our encouragement to ensure that those gifts and talents do not remain hidden under the all-too-ubiquitous bushel baskets that so often get in the way.

So… Do you know someone with a kind heart and sharp mind who we might need as a doctor or a nurse to guide us through medical emergencies, present and future?  Do you know someone with enthusiasm and compassion who might be a teacher who can open the eyes of a needy child to the wonder of the world?  Do you know a couple capable of that sort of love that can make their marriage an inspiration to all who will know them?  Do you know someone with a selfless heart who might say an eager “yes” to adopting a child?  Do you see in a neighbor the zeal for justice that may make him or her a political leader who could build bridges in our world of division and angst?  Do you know anyone whose skill at music or art or whose love of the written word may give the world the things of beauty that we all crave?  Do you know someone quiet and thoughtful who should think deeply about things philosophical?  Do you know a child wise beyond his or her years who is ready to launch an adventure in neighborhood service that will inspire others to join in?    Do you know men and women whose faith and hope and love suit them to lead others to God through the gift of themselves through the priesthood or in religious life?

For so many, myself included, it takes the invitation of another who says simply, “Have you thought about …” or “You would be good at …” or “Are you interested in …” to start thinking about something that might be possible.   This may be especially true of those who are shy, or who have no one in their family in a particular vocation, or who have failed at an early attempt and are on the verge of giving up.   But, perhaps, a simple invitation, followed up by steady encouragement, practical advice, and genuine concern can make all of the difference in the world.  It is not false hopes, insincere compliments, or blithe platitudes that matter.  Rather, it is the caring confidence of another who sees in us that which we may not see in ourselves that can make all the difference in the world.

I wonder if the first disciples, when called from their boats and businesses, would have known what they were capable of if Christ had not invited them, personally, with a simple “follow me.”  I doubt that any of them would have thought themselves suited by temperament, education or social standing to be the ones entrusted with the care of the Church.  Yet, Christ’s invitation and His three years of loving guidance changed them – and changed the world.

In the ordinary times of our lives, we may come to know those who have been given great gifts that they may not recognize that they have, that they may be afraid to use, or that they may be discouraged from developing.   As I think about those who have helped me along life’s way, my gratitude to them is mixed with a renewed sense of obligation to others.     All good gifts come from God.  It is also a great gift to help each other unwrap those treasures when we encourage and guide each other through ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.

Washington Insider – Pro-life Issues

By William L. Saunders

Thousands upon thousands gathered for the annual March for Life on January 24. The crowd was so large that it took hours to pass by the designated starting point. It was packed with young people from various colleges and parishes throughout the United States, carrying pro-life banners and signs of all types.

The actual marching — down Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court — was preceded by a rally near the Washington Monument. Speakers reminded attendees and those watching online that the theme this year celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. March for Life President Jeanne Mancini emphasized that the suffragists by and large opposed abortion, which they saw as a means of oppressing women. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, told the crowd that, at a recent pro life rally in New York City, protestors representing the Black Lives Matter movement, on hearing that abortion takes more black lives than the police do, threw down their signs and joined the rally.

For the first time since the March began in 1974, the president of the United States spoke in person to the crowd. (President Barack Obama was the first president to speak to the annual convention of Planned Parenthood.) Coming amidst the effort to impeach and remove President Donald Trump, the March and rally attracted attention from the media, which usually ignores it.

Read more here.

Originally published on 29 April 2020 at The National Catholic Bioethics Center

On Reading Literature in Difficult Times

By IHE Fellow Jennifer A. Frey

In mid-March, I arrived home from a spring break spent giving lectures at various universities around the country to find out that not only would I not be returning to my own campus anytime soon, but also that five of my children would not be returning to their respective schools. On top of that, our longtime caregiver could no longer come to the house to watch our toddler. I was disoriented and anxious. One afternoon, in despair, I called my department chair and tearfully asked him: How am I supposed to do this? He said some well-intended words of encouragement, but we both knew there was no answer to my question. None of us had models to imitate or imaginative resources of past experience to draw upon.

The first major sacrifice was my research, which screeched to a halt along with my public speaking. However, I was committed to maintaining my podcast, Sacred and Profane Love, which is devoted to the exploration of the philosophical and theological dimensions of literature. I’m glad that I kept this commitment — difficult as it was while homeschooling and teaching online — because I now have more listeners than ever. Why have so many turned to literature, philosophy, and theology during this crisis? Boredom is only part of the story — I suspect the rest has to do with the human need to make sense of our own suffering.

The global pandemic has thrown the fragility of our lives into very stark relief. It has forced many of us into a posture of self-examination and reflection about the ways we have ordered our own lives and society, but also about God, death, and the point of our own existence. Philosophy is often said to be born of wonder, but it is surely born of suffering too. Certainly Albert Camus, author of The Plague, saw this clearly.

The aim of the Sacred and Profane Love podcast has always been to remind its listeners that great art is a cognitive enterprise, that it reveals truths to us that we are inclined to forget or neglect, and that literature plays an important role in human flourishing. We live in an age inclined to oppose reason and imagination, but the two are meant to work together cooperatively. I try to recover these connections in each episode of the podcast, not with dry lectures or didacticism, but by exploring a great book in honest, unscripted conversations with my guests, who are typically philosophers, theologians, or literary critics who have a deep appreciation for the books under discussion.

As we now slowly ease out of lockdown and try to puzzle through what sort of world we want to rebuild together, I believe that we need the renewed moral imagination that comes from encounters with great literature as much as we need skilled expertise. We need imaginative resources and models to imitate, conceptual clarity, and revelation. In short, we need literature, philosophy, and theology. And if you seek those resources in the midst of your daily life, I hope you’ll join the growing audience of Sacred and Profane Love.

Thanks, Class of 2020, for Our Ordinary Times

18 May 2020

By IHE Fellow Lucia A. Silecchia

As a teacher, I have mixed feelings about graduations.

I love the joy, pageantry and traditions that make these celebrations true highlights of academic life and happy milestones for graduates and their families.   Yet, for me, commencements are also tinged with sadness.   While they launch new beginnings for graduates, they are also bitter-sweet farewells to students I have come to cherish.

This year, like teachers everywhere, I will not say good-bye to the Class of 2020 in the same way I bid farewell to their predecessors.  I’ll miss that, and it would not surprise me if many who are blessed to spend their lives as teachers feel the same way.  So, to the Class of 2020…

I will miss seeing the pride in your parents’ faces – and seeing in them the echoes of my own parents’ joy when my siblings and I received our degrees long ago.

I will miss your embarrassed “Oh no!” when your Dad asks me “How did she do in your class?”   I might even miss that dread I feel when your Mom tells me, “I’ve heard all about you!” because I am not sure if that is necessarily a good thing.

I will miss watching each of you receive your diplomas – and, as your names are called, remembering your sorrows and triumphs along the way.

I will miss the annual confusion about which side of your hats the tassels should fall – a confusion that becomes comically obvious when you are instructed to shift your tassels from one side to the other when your degree is conferred.

I will miss seeing the tears in the eyes of your grandparents – and remembering, with gratitude, the way education was so cherished by my own immigrant grandparents.

I will miss leafing through the formal listing of your names in the program and learning that some of you have beautiful middle names I never knew – as well as many advanced degrees you were too modest to tell me about.

I will miss meeting your families and congratulating your parents, your spouses and your children. I know, as you know, that your hard won achievements are theirs as well.

I will miss being with my colleagues on the staff and faculty as we share our pride in you and our common joy that, in our many different ways, we each contributed a little something to get you to the finish line.

I will miss praying with you at your graduation Mass on the eve of your Commencement and asking God to bless the paths that you will travel.

But most of all, Class of 2020, I will miss you.

You were once strangers to me and to each other.  Through many different paths, we came together for a time and shared a unique season of our lives.   I am grateful I had those years with you, even though this time has ended in a way none of us would have predicted when first we met.

Some of you have known great joy during these years we have shared as you welcomed children, became aunts or uncles, achieved academic success, and wear new rings on your fingers.  Some of you have known great sorrow and miss loved ones who started this journey with you but are not at your side now to share your joy.  Some of you may have exciting prospects that lie right ahead of you.  For some, this pandemic may have stolen more from you than your graduation celebration.   For most of you, and for me, the time we spent together included both joys and sorrows — just like life itself.  For the way we were able to spend these years together, and the way you so often inspired me with your everyday kindness to each other, to our community, and to me, I am deeply grateful.

So, Class of 2020, when we can gather someday to celebrate you, I hope that you will come.   I hope that when good news comes your way, you will let me rejoice with you – and if sad news comes your way, you will let me mourn with you.    I hope that you will come back to visit your school soon and often.  I hope that when alumni events beckon, your class will be among the first to return.   I hope that when you use something you learned in my classes, you will let me know – and when there is something you wish you had learned in my classes, I hope that you will let me know that too.   I hope that when I check my phone or my emails in the years to come, there will be voices from the Class of 2020.

Although I may not yet have said a formal “good-bye” to you, I hope that in the years to come, you will give me many chances to say “hello.”

And, maybe, I really do want to say “good-bye.”

Our most common word of farewell is, actually, an ancient abbreviation of the phrase, “God go with you.”   So, to all those whose diplomas bear the date “2020,” I pray that God does go with you as you embark into a fragile world.  Please bring that world your courage, your hope and your love – and thanks for sharing with me some of your ordinary times.

Congratulations!  May God go with you, Class of 2020.


Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.

No, We Can’t Just Get Along

This piece was originally published in The American Interest on 15 May 2020.

By Jakub Grygiel 

To partner with a predator is to surrender. Yet this is precisely the behavior some EU elites are encouraging.

The EU’s 27 ambassadors to China published an op-ed in the government-run China Daily to mark the 45th anniversary of EU-China diplomatic relations. And instead of being quickly forgotten, the op-ed turned into a diplomatic disaster, mostly for the European Union. It turns out that the text was censored by the Communist editors responding to orders from their own ministry of foreign affairs, erasing a tiny mention of the Chinese origins of COVID-19.

This is not surprising coming from a totalitarian state: Communism is one big lie and it fears even a suggestion of truth. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is, after all, not that different from its historic predecessors in Moscow and other world capitals.

The surprising part is that the EU ambassador agreed to the censored version. He accepted a lie for the promise of harmony.

But the focus on the censored text missed an even more problematic aspect of this disastrous op-ed: the EU posture toward China. It showed that some in the EU foreign policy apparatus continue to nourish the hope of a grand cooperation with Beijing on a variety of transnational issues. This is despite the EU’s own statements coming out of Brussels, and the growing realization among many of its member states, that it is time to compete rather than accommodate China,

The justification for acquiescing to the CCP-mandated lie was that, as the EU delegation helpfully clarified after the fact, the op-ed “passed key messages on a number of our priority areas to a potential audience of more than 1 billion readers. Messages on climate change and sustainability, human rights, the importance of multilateralism, the Coronavirus Global Response Summit, macro-economic assistance and debt relief for highly indebted countries.” This rationale—and the core argument of the op-ed—are even worse than the acceptance of the Communist censorship. They point to deeper problems in how the EU apparatus, or at least part of it, sees Communist China and its behavior: China continues to be treated as the key partner for the EU because the world needs their cooperation for “climate action, peace and security, sustainable development and upholding the multilateral global order.

EU priorities are a mix of post-modern pablum (e.g. “sustainability,” “multilateralism”) and traditional principles emptied of meaning. “Human rights,” for instance, are listed as a topic for cooperation and dialogue, but without any clear statement of China’s egregious and systematic violations of basic freedoms. The CCP-led government has been putting Uighurs in concentration camps, arresting political opponents, and even silencing scientists who gave early warnings of the Wuhan virus. These are not small exceptions to otherwise stellar behavior; they are tools of control without which the CCP cannot function. We should harangue and punish them for their totalitarian conduct, not reward them by elevating them to a partner. In fact, the way the EU diplomats phrased this op-ed suggests that Beijing’s suppression of Christians, “re-education camps” for Muslims, or continued forced abortions are perhaps some of the “priority areas” to discuss, but not any more so than continued partnership to solve other pressing “global challenges.”

The inability of the EU diplomatic machinery to see China as a great power competitor is all the more damaging because it undermines the security of EU-member states—and by doing so, it weakens the very purpose of the European Union. China has been plundering Europe’s most advanced industrial capacities (for example, through a hostile takeover of the premier German industrial robotics firm Kuka in 2016). The economic detritus caused by the current China-originated pandemic will only increase the likelihood of further Chinese acquisitions in key industrial sectors. This is not the time for a “partnership” with China but for a coordinated policy to repel further Chinese predation.

To partner with a predator is to surrender. And if this is what the EU diplomatic corps is suggesting, EU member states—at least those willing to resist their colonization by China—will see even less use than usual in having a common European foreign policy. In fact, it is encouraging that in some European capitals this EU diplomatic debacle—both the acceptance of CCP censorship and the bowing to Chinese demands for continued “partnership”—has been criticized. The candidate for CDU leadership in Germany, Norbert Rottgen, bluntly condemned it in a tweet. But other countries, particularly those in the so called “16+1” group in Central and Eastern Europe, appear quiet, eager to continue to receive Chinese investment, predatory as it may be. (Incidentally, here is a rare occasion where the pro-China EU elites are in full accord with some national leaders, such as Polish President Duda, who otherwise is considered one of the “black sheep” of the region for his conservative worldview).

The EU Commission was on the right path when in a 2019 document it defined China “an economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.” And the arrogant behavior of several Chinese diplomats in various European capitals over the past two months, inveighing about every criticism of China and its bungled dealing of the virus in Wuhan, seems to have strengthened the fear among some European leaders of Chinese economic dominance and political influence.

The EU diplomats who wrote this China Daily op-ed appear hell bent on seeking a partnership with an expansionistic China, going against the very policies that are taking shape in EU member states. This divergence of views—between some European states aware of the ongoing competition with China and parts of the EU stuck in a continued search for harmony with Communist Beijing—diminishes the relevance of the EU in the age of great power competition.

Jakub Grygiel is an associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America. His most recent book is Return of the Barbarians (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Amid a Pandemic, the American Spirit Prevails

By Emmett McGroarty, IHE Director of Research and Planning

With the tragedies and horrors of the pandemic, we see signs of inspiration. We see inspiration in the tireless response of medical personnel. We see it in all those who reach out to help others, both neighbors and strangers. We see it in schoolteachers and administrators, from first grade through graduate school, who strive to continue teaching and keep their communities together. We see it in the government workers and politicians who are trying their best to pull the country through the crisis. We see it in the truckers and other workers in the supply chain who are working under difficult circumstances to ensure that people have necessities. We also see signs of inspiration in the public’s willingness to examine and question the contours of government decisions.

Although not as obvious, the last of these is crucial to civil society, and increasingly so. It is crucial because, for well over 100 years, progressive ideology has steadily re-shaped American government and, in so doing, marginalized the influence and participation of the people. In The Science of Administration, his 1887 essay in Political Science Quarterly, Woodrow Wilson laid out the argument for this change: the administration of government should be centralized and placed in the hands of bureaucrats to develop expertise in their areas, study the data and science, and craft reasonable plans for moving forward.

To do this, though, the bureaucrat would have to gain a measure of independence from political control. As Wilson argued: “Administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices.” The rationale is that the bureaucrat — having figured out what to do — should not be slowed down or otherwise thwarted by the Constitution’s separation of powers, system of dual sovereigns, and ultimately by accountability to the people. In Wilson’s judgment, “[t]he people, who are sovereign . . . are selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.”

Over the years, as this ideology has taken hold, the bureaucracy has grown immensely in both state and federal government. Some of this growth concerns new fields of activity, like NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration. Some of it is due to clear oversteps of federal activity, like its increasing role in education. Regardless, this bureaucratic expansion calls for several considerations:

  • Expertise of a purely bureaucratic and truly scientific nature, is invaluable. Nevertheless, bureaucratic legitimacy is impaired where the Constitutional structure is compromised — especially the separation of powers and the denigration of the unitary executive (insulating certain agencies and offices from presidential control). When this happens, accountability to citizens diminishes, and they rightly become alienated.
  • Lacking accountability to the people, bureaucrats are not positioned to weigh competing interests and policies. With COVID-19, for example, they lack both the standing in the eyes of the people and the necessary knowledge to weigh the harms and benefits of a complete lockdown versus less severe measures.
  • Likewise, political leadership is critical to ensuring that government, in its zeal, does not trample over individual rights.
  • Political leadership is always necessary to evaluate the validity of the bureaucrats’ methodologies and conclusions, the parameters of their knowledge, and the certainty of their opinions (for example, through consultation with other experts).

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that government’s centralization of local matters “is fit only to enervate the people who submit to it.” Moreover, when that centralization is put in the same hands as the centralized government responsible for national matters (e.g., foreign affairs), it creates an “immense force” that “habituates men to make complete and continual abstraction from their wills.” Amidst the tragedy and horror of COVID-19, the spirit of the American people remains, perhaps invigorated, to seek the truth of what is known and unknown and to rightfully, and peacefully, demand that their voices be heard in steering the ships of state.

Saint Thomas Aquinas and Adam Smith in a Time of Pandemic

By Elise Amez-Droz, a staff writer at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

A recent panel discussion shows how using both economics and theology can help us better advance the common good.

Do economics and theology need each other? This was the question posed to experts with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology in a recent panel discussion.

These days, the two fields are rarely considered at the same time, but the intertwining of the two disciplines has a rich intellectual history that is now finding new light. For instance, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), himself a Catholic, has cited Catholic Social Teaching (CST) as a framework for economic policymaking that promotes the common good.

Read more here.

Originally published on 5 May 2020 at The Bridge

The Chinese Communist Party Is a Bigger Threat to Humanity Than Coronavirus, and America Must Confront It

By Chen Guangcheng and William J. Saunders

The Chinese Communist Party suppressed the truth about this virus and allowed it to spread around the world, creating a catastrophe. When the pandemic is finally under control, the rest of the world must come together to confront the CCP. In a globalized world, when dictators are in power, it’s not only the people they directly rule who are in harm’s way. It’s all of humanity. If free nations do not eradicate communist authoritarianism, they will become its victims.

As the coronavirus has spread across China and around the world, harming people everywhere, the threat the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses to all humanity has become clearer and more obvious than ever before. Together, citizens and world leaders across the globe must begin thinking about how to respond to that threat.

Read more here.

Originally published on 3 May 2020 at the Public Discourse

Ordinary Times in Saint John Paul II’s Hometown

By Lucia A. Silecchia

Had this May unfolded differently, I planned to be in Rome to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s birth in the jubilant grandeur of Saint Peter’s Square. I was eager to celebrate because he was the first pope I really remember and the one who shaped my youth and young adulthood as part of the “John Paul II generation.” I remember the way he confronted a broken world in the vigor of his youth — the Pope skied! — and how he faced his very public suffering and death with the strong serenity of his old age.

Since the extraordinary 100th birthday celebration is no longer on my calendar, my thoughts turn instead to more ordinary times and some days I spent in Saint John Paul II’s Polish hometown of Wadowice. There, I saw the places sacred to his youth that may have seemed ordinary at the time, as so many of our own hometowns seem ordinary simply because they are so familiar. But, it was this small town that shaped the life of an extraordinary man.

I saw the small parish church where Saint John Paul II was baptized and the baptismal font where, in his words, “it all began.” I think I may even have teared up a bit there. I saw the town square where he played with his friends — many of whom would soon have their lives stolen from them in the Nazi death camps or on the bloody battlefields that engulfed their young lives. I saw the programs from his high school drama productions, and thought about how different the world would be if he had followed his early ambitions to be a poet or an actor.

I saw the sepia photographs of the whole Wojtyla family he loved and lost — an older sister, Olga, whom he never knew; a beloved mother, Emilia, who died when he was only eight; an admired older brother, Edmund, who died as a physician caring for his patients; and his devoted father, Karol Sr., who died suddenly when young Karol was merely twenty. Years before Karol Wojtyla was ever ordained a priest, his entire family had already passed from this life.

I saw the dining hall where his father took him to eat when the two lived alone. I saw the orphanage run by religious sisters who cared for him as a boy during the times when his father was traveling and could not do so. In the interest of serious historic inquiry, I ate at more than one bakery that claimed to sell the very crème cakes the future pope enjoyed as a boy. In the interest of curiosity, I visited the museum devoted to his life.

Most poignant to me, I visited his very ordinary childhood home. In a small flat on the second floor of a modest building, was a simple bedroom he shared with his father, a tiny kitchen, and a neat sitting room. The sitting room was the nicest – and it went unused after the shadow of Emilia’s death fell on the home. In those few rooms, he grew up and came to know the God who would sustain him in the many sufferings of his youth, the Blessed Mother who would comfort him in the trials of his life, and the understanding of what it is to live with fear and hope, with joy and sorrow, with great love and great loss.

This home was located just across an alley from the parish church where Karol and his father would go to Mass each morning. What caught my eye was a large sundial mounted on the side of the church — a sundial now permanently marked with the precise time of Saint John Paul II’s death. Over the sundial was, and is, a Polish inscription that read, “Czas Ucieka Wiecznosc Czeka” or, “Time Flies, Eternity Waits.” Because that inscription made an impression on me, I had to go to the gift shop and buy a picture of the sundial to keep in my office. It remains at my desk to this day.

“Time Flies, Eternity Waits.” These were words that young Karol Wojtyla would have seen out of his window every single day. In those words lies an important truth by which to live. It is a reminder to do what is urgent, pressing, and necessary — but not at the expense of those things and those people who are truly important because they point the way toward eternity.

One of the most frequent replies I give to the question, “How are you?” is “Really busy!” For me, it is so easy to get caught up in the things of this world that keep life busy and make time fly. But, perhaps what gave Saint John Paul II the serenity, courage, and fortitude to live the life he did was knowing that, in spite of all that makes time fly here on earth, it is eternity that waits — patiently and peacefully. It was a truth learned in his own hometown.

I would like to think that now, in the joy of eternity, Saint John Paul II prays much and often for those of us still occupied with the busy-ness of life that makes time fly. I hope too, that the same eternity waits for us when we, also, cross the “threshold of hope” and leave behind our ordinary times.

Happy Birthday, Saint John Paul!


Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.

Sacred and Profane Love <br> Episode 22: Huxley on Love and Longing in the Dystopia

By IHE Fellow Jennifer A. Frey

In episode 22 of Sacred and Profane Love, IHE Fellow Jennifer Frey talks with David McPherson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Creighton University, about the classic novel Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Published in 1932, the book describes a futuristic world focused on hedonism and seemingly artificial happiness.

Listen here.

Originally published on 20 April 2020 at The Virtue Blog

A Time for Theologians during COVID-19 Pandemic?

by Joseph E. Capizzi & H. David Baer

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is having many unfortunate consequences: unexpected deaths, sudden unemployment, strains on healthcare systems around the globe, economic near-collapse, and, much less significantly, odd musings by theologians about the cultural significance of all of this. In a series of diary entries in First Things, Rusty Reno, for example, denounces Christian churches for adopting a “secular proposition” that prioritizes earthly life above all else. Christians, he says, have forsworn the graces of sacramental life in favor of “death’s dominion,” leading us to sacrifice “the social” out of our fear of death. As a conservative Christian critic of American liberalism, Reno has voiced these sorts of criticisms before, and reading this most recent jeremiad, one cannot help but wonder if perhaps it’s a tad overblown.

Read more here.

Originally published on 31 March 2020 at Providence

Moral Guidance on Prioritizing Care During a Pandemic

by Joint Statement

In the next few weeks, as the pandemic perhaps reaches its zenith, we will have the opportunity to decide once again what sort of society we intend to be. We should eschew all invidious discrimination and recommit ourselves to treating all who are ill as bearers of profound, inherent, and equal worth and dignity.

As our society struggles to come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic, for which our resources to treat the ill may well prove inadequate, difficult and heart-wrenching decisions may have to be made by physicians and nurses. In a democratic republic like ours, “we the people” owe them as much guidance as possible, and we should want that guidance to be framed in ways that protect our society—and each of us individually—from temptations that will come all too readily to mind.

Read more here.

Originally published on 5 April 2020 at the Public Discourse

The Books of Your Youth

By IHE Fellow Mark Bauerlein

When I was in my first years of graduate school in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, I had no money and no friends. I lived in a building near the La Brea Tar Pits, one of a hundred two-story dumps that stacked small rooms along a single hallway running front to back. The space I was in had no kitchen, only a sink, hot plate, and mini-fridge. There was a narrow bathroom and a shallow closet. I had a single bed along one wall, a cheap book case on the other, and a breakfast table and one chair in between.

It ran $190 a month, which helped because I had no income save for $75 a week as a research assistant for one of the professors, plus a little cash for helping a first-call man down the hall transport bodies to mortuaries now and then. I lived on oatmeal and spaghetti and carrots. Three days a week I drove to campus in a ’67 Dodge Dart I’d bought the year before from a friend, parking a half-mile from campus to avoid fees in the visitors’ lot.

None of this mattered, though. Making money and seeing friends weren’t important. I had something else to do. I was in the English department at UCLA, and the curriculum assigned us an overwhelming schedule of reading, reading, reading . . . and that’s what I did. In our third year we had to sit for the Part One exams, four tests lasting four hours each and focussed on a particular time period. Each historical field had a reading list that was handed to us early in our first year. The lists were massive, hundreds of novels, poems, plays, stories, essays, memoirs, and treatises. We had to keep up with important criticism published on those fields in the preceding 30 years, too.

That left us with a daily schedule that couldn’t be interrupted. We knew that several students failed every year and were kicked out of the program. The routine was set, and I was frightened enough to hold to it. I woke up in the morning, ate some cereal, and got to work. After three hours with Wordsworth, I made lunch and turned on the little black and white TV to watch an episode of Get Smart. Then it was back to the books for another three hours, more Wordsworth or Coleridge or Keats. Then, some push-up, sit-ups, a run around the neighborhood, dinner and a baseball game on TV, then two more hours of the Romantics. Lights out at midnight.

The only thing that broke the routine was a trip to school to attend class and complete some research assistant errands. When I was driving home, I couldn’t wait to settle in and get back to the books. I wasn’t bored or fatigued, and I was lonely only in the quiet of the night. I didn’t want to do anything else. What worried me most was losing time, not getting through enough pages each day, not retaining enough of what I had read.

It wasn’t only because of the Part One exams. I knew even then that I had to get a lot of reading done in my early-20s. There would never be enough time later on. Being poor and isolated now was small price to pay for being well-read later.

I am telling you this as an encouragement at the present time of social distancing. You are stuck at home, doing your school work but having lots of time you might otherwise spend at the gym or at Starbuck’s or with one another. When the semester ends, you’ll have even more open hours.

That leaves you a choice: social media or books, games or books, TV or books? Ask the question with the long term in mind. Which activity today will serve you better five years from now? When you are 27, will you be glad that you devoted hours to Henry James and Pope Benedict, or to texting and Law & Order?

You know the answer. When summer comes, then, begin the season with your own syllabus. Create a set of readings that you will have completed by the end of August. It could be five novels by Henry James, five by Dickens, and five by Balzac; or the most important writings of the popes of the 20th century; or three Shakespeares, three Restoration comedies, two of Oscar Wilde’s dramas, and two of T. S. Eliot’s. Set out two hours of each day for your own private agenda. On September 1st, you will feel very good about it.

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times

(Column 30: March 30, 2020)

By Lucia A. Silecchia

On the last Friday of March, Pope Francis led the world in an “Extraordinary Moment of Prayer” and an “Urbi et Orbi” blessing to a city and a world now ravaged by both a deadly pandemic and the social destruction in its wake.

Typically, an “Urbi et Orbi” blessing is a joyful part of Easter and Christmas. The blessings are bestowed not only on the city and the world – but on jovial, exuberant crowds packed in the embrace of St. Peter’s Square.

This time was different. There was no crowd and no jubilation. The millions worldwide who watched the Pope’s prayer and blessing remotely saw a nearly solitary figure in a vast, quiet square speaking to a mournful city and a broken world.

Yet, in his prayer for such extraordinary times, Pope Francis spoke eloquently of the ordinary. In a reflection that caught my ear he said, “[O]ur lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines …, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others. …”

This caught my attention because, in these past days, I have also seen how our lives are “woven together and sustained by ordinary people” in just the way Pope Francis said.

I see it in doctors and nurses at the many hospitals in my own city, who work stressful, exhausting and dangerous days. They are risking their own strength to serve others – away from their own loved ones and fearful that their work may endanger themselves and those they love.

I see it in workers at my own supermarkets. Often for minimum wage and little gratitude, they stock shelves, unload trucks, and wearily assist customers even when we complain that we cannot have everything we want when we want it.

I see it in those who clean the building where I live and the places where I shop and the streets where I walk. They do not have the luxury of working from the safe confines of home. Their jobs now call them away from home to do seemingly mundane and underappreciated things that can, literally, save lives in these fraught times.

I see it in caregivers who spend long days ministering to loved ones without the comfort of routine or company in a time of particular fear for those most vulnerable. I also see it in caregivers who spend long days anxious because they cannot be with their loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes where our “new normal” prohibits visitors.

I see it in bus drivers and train conductors whose routes have been reduced but who still venture out to provide the essential lifeline that some still need. I see it in police and fire personnel

whose workload will increase as emergencies rise – and the crisis that brings out the best in so many will also bring out the worst in a few.

I see it in volunteers who, in the span of a few days and a few emails, launched a volunteer network to ensure that elders in my building have someone to do laundry, run errands, get medicines and fetch groceries. I see it in volunteers who check in on those who live alone, bring supplies to health care workers, give blood, and donate food.

I see it in priests who, while separated from their congregations, make extraordinary efforts to remain pastors to their flocks. They livestream Masses, reach out through social media, tape video messages, call on vulnerable parishioners, and make themselves available in so many ways to those whose needs of soul and spirit do not vanish because church doors are closed.

I see it in parents who patiently try their best to homeschool their children, while keeping them safe and unafraid in confusing times. They are learning the vagaries of junior high math and second grade art while, at the same time, trying to master the new educational technology foisted on them.

I see it in the ways strangers smile and friends reach out with the concern that comes when we realize that we are not invincible and that, yes, we all share a frightening, common vulnerability that is part of being human in an imperfect world.

Unexpectedly, I also saw it this week in a sketch that some children left on a sidewalk near my home. In bright chalk, they drew the flowers, butterflies, and odd animals that are the hallmarks of childish art. But one – perhaps an older child with newfound wisdom – wrote with chalk in a stylish flourish “We’ll get through this together.” Amen to that.

When we get through this together, there will be great loss. Some will no longer be together with their loved ones. In his prayer, Pope Francis said, “[i]n the face of so much suffering, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus, ‘That they may all be one.’” Whether in this life or the next, I hope that the desire to “be one” endures. I am grateful for the extraordinary work of ordinary people who strive to keep us together as one in these turbulent days. And… I cannot wait to embrace my loved ones extra close when we are together again in more ordinary times.

May God bless you and yours with good health and comfort in the days ahead.


Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu

Creation, Fall, and Coronavirus

by IHE Fellow Chad Pecknold

Can we think now about anything other than pandemic graphs, empty shelves, school closures, postponed events, and our global state of emergency? While some remain at various stages of denial, and others have high fevers of existential panic, most of us are at home trying to figure out how we can homeschool our kids, do our jobs, avoid contagion, and endure an uncertain sentence of an unexpected internment.

In many conversations we hear that we are in “uncharted water.” This is true in the sense that most of us have never experienced this sort of disorienting disruption to everyday life. We can read the histories of the 1918 or 1957 pandemics, but they don’t touch our experience. We’ve been knocked off the tracks of our daily habits, and we’re all unsettled. Everything that seemed solid suddenly seems shaky. The only thing certain now is that we must talk about the Coronavirus.

Read more here.

Originally published at First Things. 

Should We Fast for the Poor During the Coronavirus Crisis?

by IHE Fellow Jay Richards

Millions of us are suddenly aware of people who are struggling due to the coronavirus-inspired economic shutdown. Especially hard hit: small family businesses, service workers and hourly workers, and people who were already on the edge.

And that’s just in the U.S. Imagine being in a country that is already poor! What can the rest of us do to help?

Read more here.

Originally published at The Stream. 

The view from Bergamo, Italy, where at least 11 priests have died from the coronavirus

by John Burger

After churches were closed two weeks ago, some priests celebrated Mass outdoors, until the bishops put a stop to that too.

The city of Bergamo in northern Italy has lost at least 11 priests to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, perhaps the highest concentration of clerics who have died during this pandemic. That fact saddens but does not surprise native son Mario Enzler.

Enzler is a former Swiss Guard who grew up in Bergamo and is staying in daily contact with his octogenarian parents there. His mother knew five of the priests who died and is saddened that due to public restrictions, they will not have funerals.

Read more here.

Originally published at Aleteia. 

1 2 3 7