Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Flannery was one wise country gal


I asked Doc Pence for his reaction to some comments of the great Catholic writer, Flannery O'Connor, who died of lupus in 1964 [his words are in italics]:

"Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.  The devil's greatest wile, Baudelaire has said, is to convince us that he does not exist.”

There are two insights here.

One from the novelist who reminds us there is a major character missing in the modernist story. I am learning to substitute conversations about policies and practices (like the male priesthood and heterosexual marriage) with a comparison of notes about who we think is on stage with us.

 It turns out an accurate and more complete listing of the dramatis personae – the players in the drama – is the fighting point of stasis where we should contend with the modernists. The characters most often missing are the fallen Angel – Lucifer, and the first Man – Adam. 

Secondly, she reminds us that moments of grace are often preceded and followed by other less friendly spiritual movements.  This is the only adequate explanation of the terrible hijacking of two great civic and ecclesial religious events of the last century: the American civil rights movement and the Second Vatican Council. Those two workings of the Spirit have been twisted by another Force. Herod has had his murderous day, but he will not kill the baby. A resurgence of grace will eventually yield the fruits of these movements. But we cannot deny O’Connor’s insight – at every wisp of grace the devil wants his due.

"I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.  Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work."

Does it take these one-day rampages of mass murderers to wake us up? Miss O’Connor certainly thought that was true in novels. They say difficult cases make bad law but it may be that conversion demands the grotesque. It took some pretty terrible deeds to turn Pharoah’s heart and, even then, only for an instant.  

"It requires considerable grace for two races to live together, particularly when the population is divided about 50-50 between them and when they have our particular history.  It can't be done without a code of manners based on mutual charity.  I remember a sentence from an essay of Marshall McLuhan's.  I forgot the exact words, but the gist of it was, as I recollect it, that after the Civil War, formality became a condition of survival.  This doesn't seem to me any less true today.  Formality preserves that individual privacy which everyone needs and, in these times, is always in danger of losing.  It's particularly necessary to have in order to protect the rights of both races.  When you have a code of manners based on charity, then when the charity fails – as it is going to do constantly – you've got those manners there to preserve each race from small intrusions upon the other."

Manners, morality, civic charity and the nature of public life are all deeply related. Her emphasis here is the role of manners in keeping peace between the races in the South. I would say there is some similar problem today in employing manners to bring the natural protective order of adult authority back as a vivid daily experience. The public agreement of men who do not know each other’s name but recognize one another as fellow protectors (the basis of citizenship and masculine civic friendship) manifests itself in rituals of gestures and greetings to one another, to women and to younger males. The first school of such manners is the form of liturgical actions in religious gatherings.    

"The Hebrew genius for making the absolute concrete has conditioned the Southerner's way of looking at things.  That is one of the reasons why the South is a storytelling section.  Our response to life is different if we have been taught only a definition of faith than if we have trembled with Abraham as he held the knife over Isaac.  Both of these kinds of knowledge are necessary, but in the last four or five centuries, Catholics have overemphasized the abstract and consequently impoverished their imaginations and their capacity for prophetic insight. 

"Nothing will insure the future of Catholic fiction so much as the biblical revival that we see signs of now in Catholic life.  The Bible is held sacred in the Church, we hear it read at Mass, bits and pieces of it are exposed to us in the liturgy, but because we are not totally dependent on it, it has not penetrated very far into our consciousness nor conditioned our reactions to experience... 

"We Catholics too much enjoy indulging ourselves in the logic that kills, in making categories smaller and smaller, in prescribing attitudes and proscribing subjects.  For the Catholic, one result of the Counter-Reformation was a practical overemphasis on the legal and logical and a consequent neglect of the Church's broader tradition.  The need for this emphasis has now diminished, and the Church is busy encouraging those biblical and liturgical revivals which should restore Catholic life to its proper fullness.  Nevertheless the scars of this legalistic approach are still upon us.  Those who are long on logic, definitions, abstractions, and formulas are frequently short on a sense of the concrete..."

This great insight was a driving force of Vatican II. The Council held up the presence of Christ amidst the world – not as the conclusion of a philosophical argument, not as special friend with whom every man makes his separate peace, but as the Head of a living body acting sacramentally throughout the world in particular lands in this particular time.  The Council itself substituted the language of biblical personalism for the philosophical categories. This was not in any way a rejection of the rigor of philosophy; but there is a 'rigor mortis' and a 'rigor vitae' – and Miss O’Connor and the Holy Spirit at the Council purged the rigor mortis.  

The Council was a living icon in a place at a time marked by 1) the collegial experience of  fraternity among 2000  bishops under the office of Peter; 2) the recognition of the liturgy as the unifying life-giving actions defining the Church; 3) a new public manifestation of the Church’s renewed historical self consciousness as an apostolic body. This presence cast off any claim to temporal power, but projected an even more dramatic presence as a continued apostolic fraternity participating in the biblical narrative of history as the light to the nations. The two great world wars which mocked the fractured public church with the armed atheism of the Nazis and Soviets were answered with the reappearance of those two great biblical actors: the armed nation of Israel, and the ‘light to the nations’ -- the evangelizing Apostolic Church.

On a less dramatic note, O’Connor’s lesson must also be pondered by the thin-chested orthodox intellectuals who have eviscerated the discussion of natural law from the ordering of the world by a Living God to the verbose tracts of university professors in praise of their own reason. The same chastisement is due the Catholic political philosophers who explain public life and citizenship in tome after tome but never evoke armed men disciplined by God, courageous leaders bound to other men by law, and the fraternal friendship of shared territorial protective duty. Natural law with no Living God ordering nature and history, and Political Philosophy with no men ruling and fighting for their nations – these are the abstractions that Miss O’Connor criticized. She was never pleased with either atheism or emasculation.  

Let's end with the Lady:
"If you live today you breathe in nihilism. In or out of the Church, it’s the gas you breathe… I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable… If you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it… It is easy to see that the moral sense has been bred out of certain sections of the population, like the wings have been bred off certain chickens to produce more white meat on them. This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God was dead."        (Flannery O’Connor)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chesterton on Christmas

GKC’s thoughts (from The Everlasting Man) on the high Holy Day of the 'bleak midwinter when frosty wind made moan':
"Christmas for us in Christendom has become one thing, and in one sense even a simple thing. But like all the truths of that tradition, it is in another sense a very complex thing. Its unique note is the simultaneous striking of many notes; of humility, or gaiety, of gratitude, of mystical fear, but also of vigilance and drama. There is something defiant in it also; something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won. All this indescribable thing that we call the Christmas atmosphere only hangs in the air as something like a lingering fragrance or fading vapour from the exultant explosion of that one hour in the Judean hills nearly two thousand years ago. But the savour is still unmistakable, and it is something too subtle or too solitary to be covered by our use of the word peace. By the very nature of the story the rejoicings in the cavern were rejoicings in a fortress or an outlaw’s den; properly understood it is not unduly flippant to say they were rejoicings in a dug-out. It is not only true that such a subterranean chamber was a hiding-place from enemies; and that the enemies were already scouring the stony plain that lay above it like a sky. 
"There is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below; even as Herod the great king felt that earthquake under him and swayed with his swaying palace. This is perhaps the mightiest of the mysteries of the cave. Indeed the Church from its beginnings, and perhaps especially in its beginnings, was not so much a principality as a revolution against the prince of the world. It was in truth against a huge unconscious usurpation that it raised a revolt. Olympus still occupied the sky like a motionless cloud moulded into many mighty forms; philosophy still sat in the high places and even on the thrones of the kings, when Christ was born in the cave and Christianity in the catacombs."

Recently, Dale Ahlquist wrote of Chesterton’s answer to those who criticize Christmas as being artificial:
“ ‘It is natural to man to be artificial.’  Everything about art and culture and custom is technically artificial.  But it is also exactly what separates man from every other creature.  The artificial things we do are not merely practical, but elaborate.  We make not only clothes, but purple robes and golden capes.  We build not only roofs over our heads, but cathedrals and temples… And in breaking away from the mere cycles of nature, ‘the rhythm by which all the other unconscious creatures live,’ we have made a rhythm of our own, ‘with special crises and high moments of festival.’ ”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time to exile the cliche of "servant leadership"

Manly chivalry, yes.  As for that recent plaguy phrase – pshaw and begone!

Here is an excerpt from Richard Weaver's famous little book of 1948:
“Fraternity directs attention to others, equality to self… [As we have moved to greater equality], suspicion and hostility have increased.  In the present world there is little of trust and less of loyalty.  People do not know what to expect of one another.  Leaders will not lead, and servants will not serve.”
Or as Pence says: "Refusing to rule is declining the original mission of Adam."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Set your face like flint against the Dragon

As we trudge up the Advent path to Bethlehem (the high feast to be quickly followed by the commemoration of the Massacre of the Innocents), Holy Mother Church offers us this hymn of consolation:

Hark! a herald voice is calling
  Through the shadows of the night
‘Cast away the dreams of darkness
  Christ descends with heavenly light.’

Wakened by the solemn warning,
  Let the earthbound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling,
  Shines upon the morning skies.

Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
  Comes with pardon down from heav’n;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
  One and all to be forgiv’n;

So, when next he comes with glory,
  And his judgement-day draws near,
Faithful he may find his servants,
  Watching till their Lord appear.

Honour, glory, might, and blessing
  To the Father and the Son,
With the everlasting Spirit,
  While eternal ages run.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Merton the monk was the son of artists

Born in France during the First World War, Thomas Merton wrote of his father:
“My father painted like Cezanne and understood the southern French landscape the way Cezanne did.  His vision of the world was sane, full of balance, full of veneration for structure, for the relations of masses and for all the circumstances that impress an individual identity on each created thing.  His vision was religious and clean, and therefore his paintings were without decoration or superfluous comment, since a religious man respects the power of God’s creation to bear witness for itself.  My father was a very good artist.”


Saturday, November 24, 2012

The slayer of fell beasts

“Come, let us bow down and worship him;
  let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”
                           (Psalm 95)

Tomorrow we celebrate CHRIST the KING:
He is the living hope who tramples the Dragon – and shrieking Ringwraiths and Hell Hawks – under his feet, ushering in the end of the great darkness.

It marks the final Sunday of the Church year.

"His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty
  which shall never pass away,
  nor will his empire ever be destroyed."
                          (Daniel 7)


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Taylor Marshall blog

Mr. Marshall is invariably pithy and wise.  He has a deep understanding of masculinity and Catholicism.

Many thanks for all the good work of this erstwhile Anglican priest!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

ISRAEL: certainly no Goliath

The land area of Israel is not as big as the smallest country in Central America – El Salvador!

Israel – at almost 8 million population – is more than 20 percent Arab.

Jerusalem has 800,000 residents; Tel Aviv on the coast has about half that number.


[After the Civil War in America had ended, Mark Twain visited the Holy Land.  He described it as “a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent, mournful expanse…”]

Michael Medved on a similarity between the American Revolution and Israel’s struggle for independence:
“In the end, an estimated 25,000 Americans died in the war – nearly 1 percent of the Colonial population at the time… Israel lost 6,373 fighters in its War of Independence – nearly 1 percent of the Jewish population of the nation at the time.”

UPDATE: Here is the most encouraging analysis of Israel I've seen in some time.

A partial timeline of modern Israel:

1948– Israel became a nation (May)

1956– Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal (July);
Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula (late October)

1967– Six-Day War (June)

1970– Egypt’s Nasser died at 52 (September)

1972– massacre at Munich Olympics (late summer)

1973– Yom Kippur War (October)

1978– Camp David peace accords with Sadat/Begin/Carter  (September)

1979– the Shah left Iran for exile (January)

1981– Israel destroyed nuclear reactor under construction in Baghdad (June);
Anwar Sadat assassinated (October)

1982– First Lebanon War began (June) with Israel invasion: they drove out the PLO and installed a Christian government;
Bachir Gemayel, the 34-yr-old president, is assassinated (September)

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Chinese truth-teller

"THIRTY-SIX MILLION people in China, including my uncle, who raised me like a father, starved to death between 1958 and 1962, during the man-made calamity known as the Great Famine. In thousands of cases, desperately hungry people resorted to cannibalism.
"The toll was more than twice the number of fallen in World War I, and about six times the number of Ukrainians starved by Stalin in 1932-33 or the number of Jews murdered by Hitler during World War II. 
"After 50 years, the famine still cannot be freely discussed in the place where it happened. My book 'Tombstone' could be published only in Hong Kong, Japan and the West. It remains banned in mainland China…"

Thus begins Yang Jisheng in his recent essay in the ‘NY Times.’  God bless the prophets who refuse to swallow lies.

Here is an earlier profile of the author; and a link to his book.

UPDATE:  Some interesting video from an old PBS documentary.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Four categories for better understanding the spiritual entities we call nations

Pence says this is the best way of laying out a realistic depiction of the historical landscape in which the Church and nation act in the divine drama:

I.  Physical Ecology (including physical geography, demographics, and a biome-driven assessment of food, shelter, and infrastructure strategies)

II.  Communal Loyalties (religious, ethnic, and language groupings)

III.  Military Assessment (the present force structure; allies & enemies – past and present)

IV. Biographies (the men who made the nation)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fall of a hero warrior

A few years ago I was able to attend an Ivy League baccalaureate service which featured General David Petraeus.  He was held in awe even by that crowd.

Take a look at this short video clip of biographer Paula Broadwell (West Point ’95).
Welcome to the new warrior class: part self-centered careerist, part radical feminist!

[In the coming week, Doc Pence will write about the general's resignation; and our duty to shake off our cultural confusion as we build up the Christian brotherhood.

Plus some thoughts of his on J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, specifically the “liturgical” mission of the Fellowship of the Ring, the nine assorted creatures charged with braving their way to Mount Doom, deep in Mordor.]

UPDATE (Sunday):  From a story about Broadwell and her mentor in this morning’s ‘Washington Post’

There were other controversies as well. Former aides say Broadwell’s attire — usually tight shirts and pants — prompted complaints in Afghanistan, where Western-style attire can offend local sensibilities. Her form-fitting clothes made a lasting impression on longtime Afghan hands, and Petraeus once admonished her, through a staffer, to “dress down,” a former aide recalled. 
“She was seemingly immune to the notion of modesty in this part of the world,” said a general who served in Afghanistan while Petraeus was commander there. 
Officers close to Petraeus grew concerned about her posts on Facebook, which they believed sometimes divulged sensitive operational details. The posts, intended for friends back home, were often playfully written and aimed at showing off her adventures in the war zone. 
Some senior officers thought Broadwell, who held a security clearance and had served as an Army intelligence officer, should have known better.

It’s funny that modern women such as her and Hillary Clinton end up carrying more baggage of imperialism and blithe ignorance than someone such as Rudyard Kipling – who spent many years living in the British Raj.

Saint Leo the Great (pope 440 - 461) convinced Attila's Huns to turn back

“The old man of harmless simplicity, venerable in his gray hair and his majestic garb, ready of his own will to give himself entirely for the defense of his flock, went forth to meet the tyrant who was destroying all things. He met Attila, it is said, in the neighborhood of the river Mincio, and he spoke to the grim monarch, saying ‘The senate and the people of Rome, once conquerors of the world, now indeed vanquished, come before thee as suppliants. We pray for mercy and deliverance. O Attila, thou king of kings, thou couldst have no greater glory than to see suppliant at thy feet this people before whom once all peoples and kings lay suppliant. Thou hast subdued, O Attila, the whole circle of the lands which it was granted to the Romans, victors over all peoples, to conquer. Now we pray that thou, who hast conquered others, shouldst conquer thyself. The people have felt thy scourge; now as suppliants they would feel thy mercy.’ ”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The top fifteen states in population

1. California    (38 million)
2. Texas
3. New York
4. Florida
5. Illinois
6. Pennsylvania
7. Ohio
8. Michigan
9. Georgia
10. North Carolina
11. New Jersey
12. Virginia
13. Washington
14. Massachusetts
15. Indiana    (6 ½ million)

The four states in bold are the only big ones that Mitt Romney carried yesterday.  He was unsuccessful in the state where he had governed, as well as Michigan where his father had governed.

(In 2008, John McCain took two of the fifteen).

UPDATE: How about silk-stocking counties... who carried them?  CNBC has the answer.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The oldest building on the Princeton campus

Constructed a couple decades earlier, Nassau Hall suffered damage during the Battle of Princeton early in 1777.
(This was about a week after General Washington led the night-time crossing of the Delaware River to surprise the Hessians, whom he guessed would still be in their Yuletide cups).

The building – which remains the anchor of today’s university – served as the U.S. capital for several months in 1783.

(From there the seat of government moved to Annapolis, and then to the French Arms Tavern in Trenton.  The complete list of our national capitals may be found in this article).

Who was the only religious minister to sign the Declaration of Independence?  The Scottish clergyman John Witherspoon (president of the college from 1768-1794).

The emperor Constantine brought the Church out of the catacombs

It was 1700 years ago – in late October of 312 A.D. – that Constantine crossed into Rome after his victory at the Milvian Bridge (which still stands today).  The freedom that the new emperor granted to the Christians allowed the faith to blossom after long years of bloody martyrdom.  ‘Deo gratias.’

[While pacifists such as Stanley Hauerwas love to pillory the ol’ boy as no more than an imperial Judas, the most notable writer of late to come to Constantine’s defense is Peter Leithart.

One reviewer says that Leithart demonstrates how the emperor “constantly appeals in his writings to the Christian God who is the heavenly Judge and who, in history, opposes those who oppose Him.”]

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Libya has nine cities with populations over 100,000 – and all of them are on the Mediterranean coast.

The capital of Tripoli (1.8 million) and Benghazi (more than 650,000) head the list.

[Where would you go to find another Mediterranean port city by the name of “Tripoli”?  In northern Lebanon.]

The next largest cities: Misrata, Bayda, Zawiya, Zliten, Tobruk (near the Egyptian border, it was the site of important WWII battles), Ajdabiya, and Derna.

The area of Benghazi was originally founded as a Greek city.  The oldest coins minted there are from about 480 BC.
Benghazi was the first city to rebel against Muammar Gaddafi’s government in early 2011.

The coastal city of Surt (17th largest in Libya) was the final stronghold of forces loyal to Gaddafi.  Surt was his birthplace – and is also where he was captured and killed one year ago.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out this further link about Gaddafi's hometown, kindly sent to us by "Geographic Travels" blog.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Consequences of America shunning the sacred

Check out Dr. Pence’s essay in the Minneapolis ‘Star Tribune’ newspaper – and some of the wild comments of its progressive readers.

Seraphim the wonder-worker, pray that Russia will lead the way back to holiness

Saint Seraphim, who died in 1833, was one of the greatest ‘starets’ (holy elder in a Russian monastery).  Even a fearsome bear was calmed enough by his sanctity to receive food from his hand.

Here is a quote of St. Seraphim’s:

"When despondency seizes us, let us not give in to it. Rather, fortified and protected by the light of faith, let us with great courage say to the spirit of evil: ‘What are you to us, you who are cut off from God, a fugitive for Heaven, and a slave of evil? You dare not do anything to us: Christ, the Son of God, has dominion over us and over all. Leave us, you thing of bane. We are made steadfast by the uprightness of His Cross. Serpent, we trample on your head.’ "
Austin Ruse – consistently the best commentator on the United Nations – has an essay on the current Russian government’s efforts to withstand the secular nuttiness of that organization and of the Western elites.

And the historian Philip Jenkins puts the recent controversy over the female punkers at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour into better perspective.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – together with the Divine Office (centered around the Psalms) – constitute the official daily prayers of the Church. 
One of the simplest ways to pray them is to go to the impressive Universalis website.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vatican II 50 years ago

Pence writes:

It was fifty years ago, today, that Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council at St. Peter’s shrine in Vatican City.

More than 2,500 bishops would gather over the tomb of their martyred Father in four different sessions (October 11,1962 -- December 8, 1965).

Sent forth from the Upper Room in Jerusalem and the Cross over Adam’s grave at Golgotha 2000 years ago, these men now incarnated the Eucharist across the face of the earth. Their intention was not to emphasize a particular doctrine or refute a specific error; but, rather, to present the truth of Christ, the Church, and the whole Divine Drama as an explanatory whole. They would proclaim, in the language of biblical personalism, the whole of the Divine message entrusted to the Church.  For in Christ and the Church, they held the keys to unlock the mysteries of nature, history, and the person. They called themselves “successors of the apostles gathered in single-hearted prayer with Mary, the mother of Jesus, forming one apostolic body headed by the successor of Peter.” 

Five days after the Council opened, the October Cuban missile crisis pitted the US and the USSR at the brink of nuclear war. Four days later the Fathers of the Council wrote their first collective statement. Like Peter surrounded by the apostles in the streets of Jerusalem on that first Pentecost, with a single voice they corporately addressed “all men and nations.”  They proclaimed the good news that God had become man to draw humanity back into communion with Him.

The fathers presented themselves as a kind of sacrament: “This very conciliar congress of ours, so impressive in the diversity of races, nations and languages it represents, does it not bear witness to a community of brotherly love, and shine as a visible sign of it? We are giving witness that all men are brothers, whatever their race or nation.” 

How fortunate that Vatican I in 1870 was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War causing withdrawal of French protection, the victory of Italian nationalists, and the loss of the Papal States. The Church, shorn of temporal rule, emerged from that violent era more self-conscious of Her true identity as the mystery of the Church, the People of God, a holy nation amidst the nations. This sacral public body of men, ruling no particular State, could now fulfill her mission and baptize all the nations. The brotherly love of men under God and Law is the public bond upon which Christ built His Church. The same kind of bond has formed the nations since circumcision marked the Old Covenant. The Church has a lesson for the world about the religious and sexual ordering of true Love.  After the century in which She proclaimed the spotless feminine purity of Mary in her Immaculate Conception and glorious Assumption, the Apostolic Church demonstrated the public form of hierarchical masculine communion needed to protect sacred goods.

The ringing bell of a village church beckons the believers, but can be heard by all the community.  Fifty years after Vatican II may the Light of that fraternal ecclesial event renew our Church and give sight to the nations, and all those of Adam’s sons who will open their eyes and see.    

UPDATE: Here is an article summing up the recent statements of Pope Benedict on the anniversary of the Council.  His essay of personal memories (which was published in L’Osservatore Romano) is superb!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Flannery on the murky mist

"If you live today you breathe in nihilism. In or out of the Church, it’s the gas you breathe… I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable… If you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it… It is easy to see that the moral sense has been bred out of certain sections of the population, like the wings have been bred off certain chickens to produce more white meat on them. This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God was dead."

                             (Flannery O’Connor)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The modern mind: there is NO reality beyond the material!

"May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem."

         (Rite for Christian Burial)
On this feast day of our Guardian Angels, check out this essay by Michael Baruzzini.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Thin-Chested Orthodox, the Predators who play them, and the abiding Pretenders

[There are obviously many good-hearted men among the 450 active and retired bishops in this country.  By turning a blind eye, however, to the deep layers of corruption among their priestly sons, the Catholic patriarchs – even those with vibrantly orthodox reputations – have managed to stir up comparisons to the sordid mess that Martin Luther railed against in the 16th century.

Here is Doctor Pence’s analysis of the Kansas City scandal.]

There was a liberality of weeping & gnashing of teeth in 2006 when Robert Finn was installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri – the "progressive" home of the National Catholic Reporter.  Bishop Finn did not concede the interpretation of Vatican II to others.  He was not shy in exercising his office. A summary article of his first months was titled "Extreme Makeover."

Thus, when he was charged for failing in his duty as a mandatory reporter of child abuse there was suspicion amidst the favored media of “orthodox” Catholics that a faithful and courageous bishop was being maligned.

The Graves report (an independent review commissioned by Bishop Finn)
and the stipulated facts of his bench trial refute such an argument. The facts and testimony are chilling. Bishop Finn had at hand that rare priestly predator: a true pedophile who desired to photograph and gaze upon very young females (some in diapers).

The Bishop’s knowledge of this central truth is irrefutable by physical evidence, and the testimony of multiple female church employees.  Bishop Finn’s chief defense argument was actually a contention that he was not the designated mandated reporter for the diocese. He should have pleaded guilty and accepted some form of personal punishment, thus shielding the diocese and his office from state meddling in church governance.  A man’s failure in his office is no argument against the authority of that office. But to be orthodox in belief does not guarantee the heart of a sacrificial warrior. Bishop Finn showed no such heart facing the pornographer/pedophile Father Ratigan. He showed no such manly honor when he faced the prosecuting attorneys of Clay and Jackson counties. To avoid charges in Clay County, the Bishop agreed to an unprecedented intrusion of civil authorities in church governance.

To satisfy neighboring Jackson County where he was found guilty, he promised to supplement the failure of his fatherhood with an office of ombudsman. If it takes this many guards for the guardian, then the shepherd’s crosier belongs in a stronger hand.    

Robert Finn’s guilt is his own, and yet it is true that he was set up – the Bishop was betrayed. The overt lies, convenient losses of memory, and final calling of the police as the noose tightened around his own neck are all part of the perverse tale of the Vicar General, Monsignor Robert Murphy.

In May of 2011, Monsignor Murphy finally called Kansas City police to reveal evidence which he had flagrantly hid from the same police officer six months previously. Was it really conscience which led to his phone call and a successful negotiation for personal immunity?  The Bishop was out of town so he could look like a whistle-blower. But the Chancellor of the Diocese, Bradley Offutt (now Vicar General), had written a recent letter to Bishop Finn pushing for new action. Priests at the Vincentian Mission House where Ratigan was staying, as well as the deacon of Ratigan’s old parish, were pressing for new action in light of the perverted priest’s continued contact with children. The obscene facts are all in the stipulations and the Graves report.  The depth and causes of Murphy’s deceit are not.

Monsignor Murphy has a long history of appearing to be something he isn’t. He was Bishop Finn’s choice to be his first Vicar General; and he is now credited by the Jackson County Attorney as indispensable to the prosecution of accomplished pedophile Ratigan, and failed mandated-reporter Finn. Monsignor Murphy returns to a beautiful little church to be pastor. The Catholic priesthood is rid of a pedophile, thanks to civil law and the prosecutorial spirit of officers who knew how to exercise the police powers of governance.  The fractured priestly fraternity, however, retains two personalities still locked in a deadly dance: the orthodox bishop who cannot punish his sons and the treacherous careerist who betrayed female colleagues, defenseless children, trembling deacons, and finally his beguiled bishop.

The Catholic media should not defend the indefensible inaction of Bishop Finn. They would better press for his confession of personal guilt (not sorrow), the self-imposed penance of resignation, and a true conversion of his soul to strengthen him for future duties in the Church.  Some inquisitive reporters and practiced pens might then explore the deeper causes of the twisted practices of his Judas and ours: Monsignor Robert Murphy.

UPDATE:  There are not that many straight-shooters covering the continuing scandals in the Church, but two of the best are Phil Lawler and Rod Dreher.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bishops, stop mouthing nonsense that protecting kids is at the top of the list

Last week before being sentenced in a Kansas City court for failing to report child abuse, Bishop Robert Finn rose and said:

"The protection of children is paramount."
This article from the NY Times lays out the complete emptiness of Finn’s words.

When Joe Paterno’s young assistant coach walked into Penn State’s athletic building late one night in 2001, and saw Jerry Sandusky raping a boy in the showers – and retreated in timidity rather than coming to the rescue as a strong protector – there was less culpability than in Bishop Finn’s failure to keep faith with his Apostolic calling.

Too many high churchmen, along with advisors such as Fr. Benedict Groeschel, have allowed – contra the warnings of the late Philip Rieff – the therapeutic to triumph.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The 33 most populous nations (conclusion of three parts)

Italy: Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, and Palermo (on Sicily, it was under Arab rule for more than two centuries until 1071)

South Africa: Johannesburg, Soweto, and Cape Town (originally developed by Dutch East India Company, it is now the legislative capital)

25. South Korea: Seoul, Busan, and Incheon (where Gen. MacArthur orchestrated one of the greatest tactical victories of our history)

Myanmar (49 million): Yangon (the former Rangoon, Burma, has more colonial buildings than any other SE Asian city), Mandalay, and Naypyidaw

Spain: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville

Colombia: Bogota, Medellin, and Cali

Ukraine: Kiev (in 1988 they celebrated a millennium of Christian faith; the archangel Michael adorns their flag), Kharkiv, and Odessa


30. Tanzania: Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, and Zanzibar

Argentina (40 million): Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Rosario (the Virgin of the Rosary is its patron)

Kenya: Nairobi, Mombasa, and Nakura

Poland: Warsaw, Krakow (JPII was first appointed a bishop here in 1958), and Lodz

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Entire 19th century: no Poland on the map

Hung out to dry between thieves with long knives, Poland ceased to exist as a sovereign nation for 123 years!

During the latter part of the 18th century, it kept being partitioned by Russia, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria – until, finally, there wasn’t any more Poland to be swallowed up.
[Click here to see the three maps].

Many nations would have simply kept “a-mouldering in the grave,” but there was something singular about the Polish spirit that resulted in its resurrection after the First World War. 

One of the heroes who built up the Polish nation again was Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935).

UPDATE: The suppression of the Jesuit religious order for nearly half a century (until 1814) is tied in with the story of Poland’s partitioning.

The monarch of Russia, Catherine the Great (d. 1796), resisted the papal decree to close down the Society of Jesus:

"Because millions of Catholics (including many Jesuits) lived in the Polish provinces recently annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire, the Society was able to maintain its existence and carry on its work all through the period of suppression."
Several of the leaders of the Jesuits during those storm-tossed years were Poles.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The original 13 colonies

There were four in New England: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

The four Middle Colonies: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

And there were five in the South: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

[Click map to enlarge].

The most sparsely populated was Georgia – it was not founded until 1732 – so it was the most generous in offering land to veterans after the Revolutionary War.

Virginia was the first colony founded (1607)… and African slaves were brought there a dozen years later.  It was the most populous colony.

The smallest in land area, Rhode Island, was the first to declare independence from England.

By 1775 there were about 2 ½ million settlers in the colonies.  (The population of Britain was more than three times greater.) 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"The Byzantine Empire survived nearly a millennium longer than its Western ancestor"

The former Hagia Sophia cathedral, built in the 6th century

The end came in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.

Four centuries earlier, Christian brother had broken with Christian brother: the Church of the East and of the West hurled bitter anathemas at each other (the Schism of 1054, which has never been resolved). 

After the Turks overran much of Asia Minor (1071), the Eastern emperor did appeal to Rome for military assistance.  So, the pope – Urban II – called the First Crusade (1095); but as the western warriors approached Constantinople on their way to the Holy Land, they must have felt like shabby country cousins.  They were absolutely stunned by the fabulous wealth and advanced culture of the Eastern empire.

The schism deepened with the Massacre of the Latins (1182), in which much of the Roman Catholic portion of the imperial capital was wiped out.

The event that permanently crippled the Byzantine Empire was the bloody retribution of the Fourth Crusade – in which the Frankish crusaders, sailing from Venice, sacked and burned Constantinople (1204).  Thousands of Eastern Christians were butchered.

[The Imperial Library, last of the great ancient libraries, was almost completely destroyed.

This is the crusade in which the warriors looted such items as the bronze horses that were carted back to grace the cathedral in Venice.

The illustrious Venetian traveller, Marco Polo, was born fifty years after the Fourth Crusade].

With the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century, the center of Orthodox Christianity shifted to Moscow and the Russian Empire.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The 33 most populous nations (part 2 of 3)

Philippines’ largest cities: Quezon City (former capital), Manila, and Caloocan – these three abut each other.

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Hai Phong (which served as France’s main naval base in Indochina).

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa, Mekele, and Adama (for half a century Haile Selassie re-named it “Nazareth” after the Biblical town).

15. Egypt: Cairo, Alexandria (the capital for nearly a thousand years until the Muslim conquest in the 7th century, it is the Mediterranean’s largest seaport), and Giza -- where you can find the great limestone Sphinx.

Germany: Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne. [Dresden, eleventh in size, is the largest city that had been wholly under East German control].

Iran (77 million): Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Karaj, and Tabriz (site of last week’s earthquake in the country’s NW corner, this city in the year 1500 was the world’s fourth largest!)

Turkey: Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir (site of ancient Smyrna, one of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation).

Congo (Democratic Republic): Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Mbuji-Mayi.  [Kinshasa sits on the Congo River directly across from Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo].

20. Thailand: Bangkok and two of its suburbs (Nonthaburi and Pak Kret).

France: Paris, Marseille, and Lyon (the Roman emperor Claudius was born here; and it was the episcopal see of Saint Irenaeus who helped vanquish Gnosticism).

United Kingdom (63 million): London, Birmingham (the world’s “first manufacturing town”), Glasgow, and Liverpool.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"The tomb and death were not able to hold in sleep the Mother of God"

[A Coptic icon]

The Assumption is the oldest feast of Our Lady:

"For a time, the ‘Memory of Mary’ was marked only in Palestine, but then it was extended by the emperor to all the churches of the East. In the seventh century, it began to be celebrated in Rome under the title of the ‘Falling Asleep’ (Dormitio) of the Mother of God.

"Soon the name was changed to the ‘Assumption of Mary,’ since there was more to the feast than her dying. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven."

'Come, let us worship the King of kings, for today his Virgin Mother was taken up to heaven.'

[The Assumption was infallibly defined by the pope in 1950.  In this sermon, Monsignor Knox referred to the action as "a gesture against materialism."

It was a century earlier that the Church dogmatically stated Mary's Immaculate Conception -- that from the first moment of life in Anna's womb, she "was never subject to original sin."]

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Between Casablanca and the deep blue sea

One of the ten largest Islamic mosques in the world is named after the longtime king of Morocco, Hassan II.  It was completed several years before his death in 1999.

Its minaret is taller than any other (at 689 feet it would dwarf the Washington Monument's 555).

[The largest mosque is in Mecca.  Muhammad -- who died in 632 -- is buried a couple hundred miles north in the one at Medina].

Kids jumping into the Atlantic off the Casablanca mosque’s patio:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The 33 most populous nations, and their cities (part 1 of 3)

The two giants over a billion are, of course, China and India.  The U.S. comes in at 316 million… and the last country on our list is Poland (39 million).

China’s largest cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin (75 miles SE of the capital), Guangzhou and Shenzhen. 
[The two latter are near Hong Kong].

India: Mumbai (on NW coast), Delhi, Bangalore, and Hyderabad.

The five largest in U.S. -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston.

Indonesia (which, in a decade or two, will be passed by Pakistan as largest Islamic nation): Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung – all of which are on island of Java.

5. Brazil: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Brasilia.

Pakistan: Karachi (on the Arabian Sea), Lahore, Faisalabad, and Rawalpindi.

Nigeria: Lagos, Kano (in the northern Islamic region), and Ibadan.

Bangladesh (153 million): Dhaka, Chittagong, and Narayanganj.

Russia: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk (more than two thousand miles from Moscow in SW Siberia), and Yekaterinburg (where last Tsar was executed).

10. Japan's largest cities: Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka.

Mexico (112 million): Mexico City, Ecatepec de Morelos (on northern fringe of capital, and part of its subway system), Tijuana, Puebla, and Guadalajara.

Most magnificent of Jerusalem’s gates

O Jerusalem, glorify the Lord
 who gives you your fill of finest wheat.”

The Damascus Gate – on the north wall between the Christian and Muslim Quarters – is the principal entrance into the Old City.


The present structure was built in the 16th century by the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.

[The bottom photo was taken around the time of Kaiser Wilhelm’s visit to Jerusalem in 1898].

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"The great evil at the center of our culture is monotheism"

Years ago I remember watching an interview with Gloria Steinem.  She was asked which noxious philosophies she battles against.  Among the list was monotheism.

Albert Mohler describes a Harvard lecture delivered by Gore Vidal in 1992, in which he rallied the secular troops for an all-out war against the three great "sky-god religions": Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Feminist and homosexual activists – in their march to the Promised Land – are hell-bent to vanquish any notion of the One True God.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From Lynn to Finn: learning from our prayers

Dr. Pence writes:

"I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life."
(concluding words of the Act of Contrition)

Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia, convicted of child endangerment by a dutiful and fair-minded jury, argued for probation. His lawyer said prison would be cruel and unusual punishment for his crimes. Shouldn’t his spiritual friends tell him that churchmen should be kneeling in the snows of Canossa in penance before civil authorities for their crimes against both church and civil law?

Monsignor Lynn should accept his sentence of three to six years as a small payment for his failure to live up to the honorific title the Church assigned him. The judge was absolutely correct that Lynn turned over the souls of children to monsters. The silence from churchmen, the Catholic press, and blogosphere is deafening. We all know that to encourage this act of justice would indict priests and bishops across the orthodox/progressive divide. It will take a true metanoia for Catholic clerical and intellectual leadership to humbly learn from this implacable hand of civic justice.  

The first fruit of the Philly sentencing could be an act of leadership which would cost a lot less than three years imprisonment.  What if Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge against him and volunteered for jail time “in reparation for my wrongdoing”?

Bishop Finn could say: “Take me, and leave the diocese alone. The good parishioners have done no wrong and owe no fine, but I did not do my duty. Our Mother Church is pure; it is I who have sinned. Take me and leave the Lady.” He should not resign. He should repent, and do penance.

Bishop Finn and Monsignor Lynn are the first of many Catholic clerics who will be faced with civic punishment – not for what they have done, but for what they have failed to do. At every Mass, we confess such sins are real. Shouldn’t our shepherds – who have shown us how to sin – now show us how to repent and do penance?

This is not Martin Luther King in a Birmingham jail.  The convicted priests and bishops are much more like the thieves at Calvary being justly punished for their crimes. Which thief will they imitate?

Monday, July 30, 2012

MondayMap: Geographic and Historical markers for India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh

Doc Pence writes:

The Mughal Empire consolidated Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent [see this map]. The oldest parts of the empire were the backbone of West and East Pakistan, which were the Muslim sections partitioned from the British Raj (Hindu for "Rule") granting India national independence in 1947.  The Mughals carried the Genghis Khan legacy and Persian culture, as well as Islam.

The Taj Mahal (Urdu for “crown of palaces”) was built from 1632-53 by a Mughar sultan and dedicated to his wife. 

One of the greatest heroes of Hindu nationalism broke the Mughal rule and laid the foundation for the Maratha empire.  C. Shivaji Maharaj (1630-80) had a spiritual devotion to India taught to him by his religious mother. From a young age he developed a walking knowledge of his land, and by his twenties had a loyal band of officers (including Muslims) who would help perfect his commando/guerilla approach to war.


Shivaji and his mother – she taught him to love India by loving the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharta.  
[Map of Maratha realm here].

The British Rule (Raj) lasted until 1947 when India and Pakistan were granted independence. East and West Pakistan were under one rule as the Muslim state. In March 1971, the Bangladesh liberation war was begun, ending with intervention by India and the defeat of Pakistan in December of that year. Though both Muslims, the Bengali-speaking coastal people separated themselves from the landlocked Urdu-speaking westerners.


The western border of Pakistan separates it from another Muslim country, Afghanistan. The “red line” drawn to separate them is called the Durand line (after the British foreign secretary Henry Durand who drew it in 1893). Afghan president Hamid Karzai (2004- ) called it "a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers."

One important ethnic group separated by the porous barrier is the Pashtun. Most Taliban members are of the Pashtun tribes.

At the northwest border of India and eastern Pakistan [see this map] is another important tribe cut by national borders -- the Punjabi.  (Comprising 40 percent of Pakistan's population, their language ranks as the most widely spoken in that nation).

The Punjabi tribal loyalties formed the soil of one of the most interesting religions of the world: the Sikhs.  Formed in the 15th century at a bloody border with incoming Islam, the Sikhs are monotheistic, educated, elegant and accomplished soldiers.  Most men have Singh (‘lion’) as part of their names, and are required to be armed as a tribute to liberty. Most women take as part of their names Kaur (meaning ‘princess’).

One of the recent leaders of the Sikhs made this comment:

"A human is a blend of saint and soldier; this is a complete person. If you are not a soldier your sainthood will be kicked around. If you are only a soldier and not a saint, you will start kicking others around."

The present prime minister of India is a Sikh: Dr. Manmohan Singh. He is the first non-Hindu prime minister and an accomplished economist. He won reelection for a second five-year term in 2009.

There are 30 million Sikhs worldwide (which is more than the combined number of Jews and Mormons).  Most of them live in the Punjab region of India.


I. Physical Geography (including a purely biological assessment of human demographics, and food and shelter strategies)
II. Religious loyalties (including intersections of ethnic and language groups)
III. Military history (including present and past allies and enemies)

These are the three categories that our AOA blog tries to employ in laying out a realistic depiction of the historical landscape in which the Church and nation act in the Divine drama. Part of the miniaturization of life (and infantilization of American males) in the last 50 years has replaced adult statesmen – and their concerns of basic geographic literacy and a working knowledge of the nations – with the narcissism and identity-preening of adolescent males and careerist feminists.     

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Keep swatting that pesky canard about the “3/5th Clause”

"Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."     
     (from Article 1, Section 2, of U.S. Constitution)

The clause is not a statement about personhood: it was the slaveholders who were pushing for 4/5 or 5/5th!  Here’s why:
"The Northern states did not want to count slaves. The Southern states hoped to include slaves in the population statistics in order to acquire additional representation in Congress to advance their political position."

Yet, many folks in our day – such as Lanny Davis, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and even Professor Garry Wills – wildly misrepresent what the Constitutional debate was all about.  Sometimes it’s silly ignorance, sometimes willful distortion…

Sunday, July 15, 2012

City of the Big Shoulders – in denial of sundry things

**  Our nation’s third largest city has almost 3 million people.  Recently George Will described one aspect of it:
"In Chicago, 84 percent of African American children... are born to unmarried women."

Many, many boys running wild – with no fathers… That was the environment Barack Obama worked in as a community organizer on the South Side from 1984-88 (before heading off to law school in Boston).

The best writer on today’s urban problems – and the patriarchy needed to restore things – is Heather MacDonald.
[With an educational resume to match President Obama’s, the only thing that dampens her message is her proud atheism].
In a fascinating 2010 essay on the fatherless boys terrorizing Chicago, MacDonald makes this comment on Dreams from My Father:
"Most tellingly, Obama’s narrative is almost devoid of men. With the exception of the local ministers and the occasional semi-crazed black nationalist, Obama inhabits a female world. His organizing targets are almost all single mothers. He never wonders where and who the fathers of their children are. When Obama sees a group of boys vandalizing a building, he asks rhetorically: ‘Who will take care of them: the alderman, the social workers? The gangs?’ The most appropriate candidate—‘their fathers’—never occurs to him."
Later in the article, MacDonald states that blacks, “at least 35 percent of the [Chicago] population, commit 76 percent of all homicides; whites, about 28 percent of the population, commit 4 percent; and Hispanics, 30 percent of the population, commit 19 percent.”

**  Back in 1995, the city suffered through a July heat wave that took the lives of more than 700 residents.

[Here is an interview with the author of a book detailing the tragedy, including why the greatest percentage of victims were older black men.]

To get some perspective on the extent of the heat wave casualties:
In the great Chicago Fire (October 1871), almost a third of all residents were left homeless; but fatalities were probably less than 300.

For a high-side marker, consider Hurricane Katrina – which, seven years ago, killed 1500 people in Louisiana.
Notwithstanding the partial culpability of the city’s political leaders, Richie Daley would stick around as mayor for another decade and a half!


There were more than 40 unclaimed victims of the heat disaster [here's a photo of a father and young son praying after tossing flowers on the coffins; click on "full-size"].

**  From an essay discussing urban trends of 2000-10:
"That was a tough decade all over the United States, of course, but the Chicago region lost 7.1 percent of its jobs—the worst performance of any of the country’s ten largest metro areas. Chicago’s vaunted Loop, the second-largest central business district in the nation, did even worse, losing 18.6 percent of its private-sector jobs…"
In addition, Chicago has long had a reputation for being one of the most racist and segregated cities in America… and this article touches on the lasting effects of that sorry legacy [see Table 1].

Friday, July 13, 2012

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away"

Those are the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (11th chapter)... and they are referenced in Pope Paul VI’s challenge to the Church to never stop evangelizing in ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi’ ('Proclaiming the Gospel,' 1975):
"This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ's evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force – they belong to the violent, says the Lord, through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Five most recent popes

In January 1959, a few months after being elected, John XXIII declared that he was convening an ecumenical council.  When Cardinal Montini of Milan [the eventual Paul VI] heard the stunning news, he phoned a friend:

“This holy old boy doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirred up.”

John Paul I, the "September Pope" of 1978 who suddenly died one month into his tenure, was the first ever to use the pronoun “I” instead of the royal “we” – his motto was “Humilitas.”  This is how he began his remarks on his first full day in office:

“Yesterday morning I went to the Sistine Chapel to vote tranquilly.  Never could I have imagined what was about to happen…”

George Weigel, the biographer of John Paul II, interviewed Joseph Ratzinger in 1996 [the German cardinal became Benedict XVI a decade later] on his impressions of his boss:

“The principal theme of the Holy Father, when he was professor and also when he was pope, has been anthropology…
“His study of philosophy was always centered on and guided by this anthropological interest
“For me, his first encyclical, ‘Redemptor Hominis,’ is really a synthesis of his thinking.  Here we can meet this passion for anthropology as not merely intellectual, but as a total passion for man… This is a key text for understanding the Holy Father as a spiritual and intellectual figure.”