The Christian Review 2016

Why Does a Catholic Diocese Provide Syringes?

Deal W. Hudson
April 25, 2016

While I was the publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine, I chronicled the plight of the Albany Diocese in Upstate, NY under the former leadership of now Bishop Emeritus Howard J. Hubbard. His stewardship of the diocese was a test case in the failures of the progressive policies of many churchmen during the seventies and eighties that left dioceses throughout the country beset by dwindling Mass attendance, little or no vocations to the priestly and religious life and sex scandals which metastasized into a full-blown scandal in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Things were so awful under Hubbard and his Chancery staff that in 2013, Albany, NY was ranked as #1 among the most “post-Christian” cities in the U.S. by the Barna Group.

Enter in 2014, Bishop Edward B. Schafenberger, on the surface he had the perfect curriculum vitae that the more orthodox faithful were looking for to restore some of what had been lost under the Hubbard regime. “Monsignor Ed,” as his parishioners at St. Matthias in Queens called him, did stints in the diocesan curia there serving in many roles, culminating in 2013 when he was named Episcopal Vicar for Queens. The Brooklyn native seemed born for the role; his father was a salesman of church goods.

Upon his arrival in Albany, Bishop Scharfenberger burnished his credentials with the pro-life community by participating in lay initiatives like the Rosary Walk for Life that he did around the State Capital and joining them at local Planned Parenthoods for Prayer Vigils. These were important steps to take because Bishop Hubbard had all but ignored the pro-life community for years choosing rather focus on social justice issues.

But in perusing the Albany Diocese website, I was shocked to find one of the signature programs of Hubbard’s agenda is still in place: a needle exchange program called “Operation Safe Point” is still being administered under Albany’s Catholic Charities. Under the heading of Chronic Disease Management & HIV Help section of their website, it states that they provide “syringe disposal, access/exchange services.”

Operation Safe Point was deemed “controversial” by the National Catholic Register in February 2010 and eminent canon lawyer Edward Peters weighed in extensively about the matter. Dr. Peters in his blog at the time, “In Light of the Law,” rightly stated,

“I think that one who supplies, without a physician’s prescription, needles/syringes (nb: devices with only one practical use) to people whom one reasonably believes will use those devices to inject illegal drugs into their own bodies and/or the bodies of others, encourages those people to practices that are gravely contrary to the moral law, rendering thereby, it seems to me, direct assistance to their commission of an objectively gravely evil act while intending precisely to help them accomplish that act. This conclusion is not contingent on whether the needles are clean, or are merely exchanged, or on any other accidental aspect of the program. The only question is whether giving a syringe to a drug abuser abets his or her injection of illegal drugs. If it does, then giving a drug user a needle formally cooperates with the specific evil of his or her taking those illegal drugs.” (Emphasis added)

The continuation of this program is even more baffling because Bishop Scharfenberger is a canon lawyer himself and should know better than the continuation of such a program causes scandal to his flock and hurts drug users with its false message of mercy.

In my past reporting of the situation in Albany, which is New York’s State Capitol, I learned that its main commerce is state government with all its machinations. Bishop Hubbard, whose episcopacy lasted from 1977-2014, learned well from Albany technocrats and built a vast bureaucracy similar to the bloated New York State government dedicated to spreading his progressive form of Catholicism.

This is the culture that Bishop Scharfenberger inherited, but by allowing this program to continue he is tacitly approving both the policy of providing syringes and his predecessor’s failed agenda. In fact, Bishop Hubbard is still ever present, having an office at the Chancery, he still writes occasionally for the diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, which was a bullhorn for his progressive agenda and lobbies for liberal interest groups in the halls of the State Capitol.

Too often, we see this exact scenario being played out in dioceses across the nation. Liberal chanceries built by previous progressive bishops, perpetuating themselves and their constituencies groups at the determinant of faithful Catholics while the new bishops
‘go along to get along.’

However, many bishops have been named over the past several decades whose minds and spirituality were formed as priests under the historic pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Now that these priests have become bishops, it can only help them to be reminded that Saint John Paul II often said, “Be not afraid!” We encourage Bishop Scharfenberger to finally rid his diocese of Operation Safe Point, a scandalous remnant of failed leadership.

The 100 Best Catholic Novels I Know

Deal W. Hudson
June 14, 2016

In offering this list, I’m not making an attempt to define the “Catholic novel,” which would be a very foolish enterprise.  There are many reasons why a novel can, and sometimes should be called “Catholic,” but to attach that impulse to a grand metaphysic or aesthetic theory would require a book in itself. Whether such a book would be worth reading when that time could be spent reading one of the 100 below has, for me, a self-evident answer. No!

My purpose here is merely to recommend good books to those who take the time to find good books and to read them.  Not all the authors below are Catholic, strictly speaking, but more importantly, these novels listed have explicitly Catholic themes and perspectives. (Perhaps I will attempt a list of Catholic novels with implicit Catholic themes and perspectives…)

That a great novel can explore religious themes directly is a tribute to the artistry of the writer since such explicitness usually leads to preaching and is, thus, deadly to the writing of any kind. I have included a few selections that will not strike the reader as “Catholic” since the usual signposts are either missing or even rejected outright. In such cases, I can only ask for the reader’s trust that these recommendations have been made with care and are based on over forty years of steady reading.

Any good list should be controversial by including books some will find questionable, even ridiculous, but I am prepared to defend my choices if a reader would like to question them. Indeed, I welcome any controversy that may ensue from this list; in fact, I will be disappointed if no one takes me to a task.

I’m always anxious to learn of titles I don’t know, or have forgotten, or should know better, or be reminded that my own certainties may be unfounded.

Some of the novels listed are difficult to acquire, others are a click away at a modest cost. The year of publication references the original language edition.

A final note — readers may immediately notice that I’ve not included the great Fyodor Dostoyevsky or any writer from one of the Orthodox traditions. My intention in doing this is not to refuse the adjective “Catholic” to Orthodox writers, but to save the space of, say, 6-10 novels, for those the reader may not be familiar with. Be assured then this is not meant as a slight, but rather the recognition of a literary tradition that differs in significant ways.

The choice of non-English novels in English translation is, perhaps, the most significant limitation of my list.  For example,  Leon Bloy’s novel Le Désespéré (“Despairing”) from 1887 is still untranslated, in spite of the popularity of Bloy’s other novel, The Woman Who Was Poor (1897) translated in 1937.

Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, 1827.

Adalbert Stifter, Rock Crystal, 1845.

Joris-Karl Huysmans, En route, 1895.

Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis, 1895.

Wladyslaw Reymont, The Comedienne, 1896.

Leon Bloy, The Woman Who Was Poor, 1897.

Antonio Fogazzaro, Little World of the Past, 1901.

Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World, 1907.

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908.

Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavansdatter, 1920-22.

Sigrid Undset, Master of Hestviken, 1925-27.

Georges Bernanos, Under the Star of Satan, 1926.

Francois Mauriac, Therese, 1928.

Su Xuelin, Heart of the Thorn Bush, 1929.

Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam, 1929.

Myles Connolly, Mr. Blue, 1929.

Georges Bernanos, Joy, 1929.

Miquel de Unamuno, Saint Emanuel, Martyr, 1930.

Maurice Baring, Robert Peckham, 1930.

Gertrud von Le Fort, The Song at the Scaffold, 1931.

Francois Mauriac, The Viper’s Tangle, 1932.

Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan, 1935.

Georges Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest, 1936.

Georges Bernanos, Mouchette, 1937.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937.

Morley Callaghan, More Joy in Heaven, 1937.

Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, 1937.

Riccardo Bacchelli, The Mill On the Po, 1938.

Joseph Roth, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1939.

Riccardo Bacchelli, Nothing New Under the Sun, 1940.

Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, 1940.

Franz Werfel, Song of Bernadette, 1941.

Irene Nemirovsky, Suite française, 1942.

George Bernanos, Monsieur Quine, 1943.

Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear, 1943

Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil, 1945.

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945.

Francois Mauriac, A Woman of the Pharisees, 1946.

Franz Werfel, Star of the Unborn, 1946.

Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter, 1948.

Giovanni Guareschi, Little World of Don Camillo, 1948.

Evelyn Waugh, Helena, 1950.

Elisabeth Langgasser, The Quest, 1950.

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair, 1951.

Paul Horgan, Things As They Are, 1951

Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, 1952.

Jose Maria Gironella, The Cypresses Believe in God, 1953.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957.

John Howard Griffin, The Devil Rides Outside, 1952.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 1954-55.

Heimito von Doderer, The Demons, 1956.

Julien Green, The Transgressor, 1956.

Alfred Doblin, Tales of a Long Night, 1956.

Caroline Gordon, The Malefactors, 1957.

Shusaku Endo, Wonderful Fool, 1959.

Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowtiz, 1960.

Julien Green, Each in His Own Darkness, 1960.

William Goyen, The House of Breath, 1960

Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away, 1960.

Shusaku Endo, Volcano, 1960.

Morley Callaghan, The Many Colored Coat, 1960.

Morley Callaghan, A Passion in Rome, 1961.

Edwin O’Connor, The Edge of Sadness, 1962.

J.F. Powers, Morte D’Urban, 1962

Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed, 1962.

Shusaku Endo, Silence, 1966.

Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede, 1969.

Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat, 1970.

Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time, 1971.

Julien Green, The Other One, 1971.

William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, 1971.

Otfried Preussler, The Curse of the Darkling Mill, 1972.

Brian Moore, Catholics: A Novel, 1972.

Jon Hassler, Staggerford, 1977.

Shusaku Endo, The Samurai, 1980.

David Lodge, How Far Can You Go? (Souls and Bodies, USA), 1980.

Walker Percy, The Second Coming, 1980.

Czeslaw Milosz, The Issa Valley: A Novel, 1981.

Alice Thomas Ellis, The 27th Kingdom, 1982.

Torgny Lindgren, Bathsheba, 1984

Morley Callaghan, Our Lady of the Snows, 1985.

Brian Moore, Black Robe: A Novel, 1985.

Torgny Lindgren, Light, 1987.

Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome, 1987

J.F. Powers, Wheat That Springeth Green, 1988.

Shusaku Endo, Scandal, 1988.

Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington, 1988.

Piers Paul Read, On the Third Day, 1990

Alice Thomas Ellis, The Inn at the Edge of the World, 1990.

Ayako Sono, The Watcher from the Shore, 1990, English trans.

Ron Hansen, Mariette in Ecstasy, 1991.

David Plante, The Accident, 1991.

P.D. James, The Children of Men, 1992.

Sara Maitland, Daughter of Jerusalem, 1995

Laurence Cosse, A Corner of the Veil: A Novel, 1996.

Michael O’Brien, Eclipse of the Sun, 1998.

Ayako Sono, No Reason for Murder, 2003.

Pierre de Calan, Cosmas, or the Love of God, 2006.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 2006.

William Giraldi, Busy Monsters: A Novel, 2011.

My Top 25 Recommended Audiobooks, The Best of the Best

Deal W. Hudson
June 16, 2016

Good books become even better when read aloud by a skilled performer. A recent example is the recording by famed British actor, Edward Fox, of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, the first of the Barchester novels. Fox’s deep-voiced, droll delivery has opened Trollope’s world to me as never before.

Homer, the first great poet of the West, of course, never wrote a book. He was a performer, a bard, who sung his epics in the banquet halls of ancient Greece. The written accounts of two great epics poems were collected long afterward. Homer himself was appropriately blind since sight was not required to hear his stories, only attentive ears.

The modern “recorded book” was launched in a moment of glory in 1952, when Dylan Thomas recorded his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” for Caedmon at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. This is still among the best audiobook recordings of anything by anyone. Listening to “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and other recordings of Thomas reciting his own poetry-or his lectures, often delivered while he was intoxicated, will likely convert anyone to the recorded-book medium. The unmatched beauty of Thomas’ voice will stick in your memory and become the measure of everything else you hear.

Several other early “star” readers deserve to be mentioned along with Thomas in the audiobook hall of fame. Sir John Gielgud left a large legacy of recordings, from early Argo vinyl disks to readings of Pilgrim’s Progress and Brideshead Revisited on the Caedmon label. Unfortunately, Gielgud’s version of the Brideshead is abridged, and not available on any of the download services. Jeremy Irons, the star of the 1982 television miniseries version of Brideshead, has an unabridged version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel nearly as good. Jeremy Irons made a splash some years ago with a complete recording of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for Random House to complement his appearance as Humbert Humbert in the 1998 film version of that novel. The reading is a total tour de force, for adults only, of course.

A few years ago, I published a complete list of all the audiobooks I had read, ranging from one star to four.  Given that the list was nearly 400 titles long, it was probably never read by anyone but the most obsessive, such as myself.  Shorter lists are both more fun for the author and more helpful to the reader.

The awards I bestow to my top 25 audiobooks will give the reader a good idea of what to expect from them. For the regular audiobook reader, I consider them all indispensable. For the neophyte, any of these audiobooks are a great place to start. (Where there are multiple recorded versions, I specify the recommended version.)

With the exception of #1, Hamlet’s Dresser, an unforgettable memoir about teaching, all the below are available from http://www.audible.com, which I have been using since 2003 before it was acquired by Amazon in 2008. The other viable source of audiobooks is http://www.downpour.com, which is on a trajectory to give Audible some serious competition. If you can find a CD copy of Hamlet’s Dresser, snatch it up. You can thank me later.

Here you go:

1. Best I’ve Ever Heard: Bob Smith, Hamlet’s Dresser.

2. Most Entertaining: Frank Langella, Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them.

3. Most Deeply Moving: Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel.

4. Best Memoir: William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf.

5. Best Classic Novel: Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Montecristo (John Lee, narrator).

6. Best Self-Help, Steven Pressfield, Do the Work.

7. Most Funny: Justin Halpern, I Suck at Girls.

8. Most Ingenious: Stephen King, 11-22-63: A Novel.

9. Most Touching: Tony Bennett, Life is a Gift.

10. Best American History: Winston Groome, Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans.

11. Best Eastern European History: Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956.

12. Best Celebrity Bio: William J. Mann, How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood.

13. Best Scare: Reginald Hill, The Woodcutter.

14. Best Suspense: James L. Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.

15. Best Poetry: Robert Donat Reads His Favorite Poetry, 2 vols.

16. Best Performance: Hartley & Hewson, Macbeth: A Novel, read by Alan Cumming.

17. Best Portrait of the Present Age: Deborah Moggach, The Ex-Wives (a novel).

18. Best Classical History: Tom Holland, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar.

19. Best American Journey: Jack Kerouac, On the Road (Matt Dillon, narrator).

20. Best World War I: G.J. Meyer, The World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-18.

21. Best World War II: Max Hastings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945.

22. Best Contemporary History: Tony Judt, Postwar: The History of Europe Since 1945.

23. Best Personal: James Lasdun, Give Me Everything You Have.

24. Best Sports: Roger Kahn, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ‘20s.

25. Most Magical: Dylan Thomas, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” (Dylan Thomas, narrator).

FYI: I am preparing a list of “25 Best Catholic Audiobooks” for publication later this month.

30 Films About Faith You May Not Know

Deal W. Hudson
June 17, 2016

I’m hoping that you, the reader, will discover on this list some films that will bring you enjoyment and, perhaps, insight and renewed aspiration toward the source of all beauty.

It’s regrettable that educators have yet to regard cinema as an important artistic tradition, one that should be studied along with literature, painting, theater, and music. Films, as far as I can tell, are shown to pass the time when teachers are tired or have something else to do, but not to treat as a form of art.

The advantage of studying film is its relative youth, having been born only a little over a century ago. The other, more obvious, an advantage is that students will have spent literally hundreds of hours watching films of various kinds, as opposed to their time spent with books, or much less in a museum with the masterworks of painting and sculpture.

My choices are made looking at the film qua film, not by any reference to the faith of the producer, director, or writer. Given that any object of art should be enjoyed and understood in itself, apart from its creator. We should not be surprised that non-believers and skeptics have made some of the most probing films about faith.

Thus, I ask the reader not to ignore whether the director of a particular film is notorious in some way. It’s not relevant, and, after all, how do we know under what inspiration, or whose inspiration, an “unbelieving” director brought a film into being. No better example is Luis Buñuel who has two movies on my list. In addition to Buñuel, there are three other masters of films about faith, Krzysztof KieslowskiCarl Theodore von Dreyer, and Robert Bresson. To this group, I would add Ingmar Bergman, but he is too well known to be included here.

Perhaps the biggest surprises below will be “Wide Awake,” the 1997 film by M. Knight Shyamalan, before he became famous for “The Sixth Sense” (1999): an angel appears to a teenage boy at a Catholic school. (Here’s my review after its release.) Mark Pellington’s “Henry Poole Is Here” (2008) is about a Marian miracle, and neither the director or the actors — Luke Wilson, George Lopez, and Radha Mitchell — got the acclaim they deserved. “The Third Miracle” (1999) directed by the famed Agnieszka Holland is a sort of miracle in itself, a tempted priest (Ed Harris) struggles but doesn’t fall, but he really, really struggles.

On this list, I have included links for purchase on Amazon. The reader may prefer Barnes & Noble or any of the many film vendors on the Internet. I’ve also provided information on whether a recommended film can be seen on a streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, MUBI, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, YouTube, and Fandor. Basic information on any of the films by making use of the International Movie Database at http://www.imdb.com.

1. Frank Borzage, Strange Cargo, 1940. (Amazon)

2.Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow, 1947. (Hulu)

3. Michael Powell, Black Narcissus, 1947. (Amazon and iTunes)

4. Gordon Douglas, Come Fill the Cup, 1951. (No DVD or streaming available)

5. Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru, 1952. (Hulu, Amazon, VUDU, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube)

6. Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D, 1952. (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes)

7. Carl Theodore von Dreyer, Ordet, 1955. (Hulu)

8. Raffaello Matarazzo, The White Angel, 1955. (Hulu)

9. Luis Bunuel, Nazarin, 1959. (Watch for free here).

10. Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, 1959. (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes)

11. Mervyn LeRoy, The Devil of 4 O’Clock, 1961. (Netflix)

12. Luis Bunuel, Simon of the Desert, 1965. (Hulu)

13. Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthasar, 1966. (Hulu)

14. Robert Bresson, Mouchette, 1967. (Hulu)

15 .Anthony Harvey, The Abdication, 1974. (YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play)

16. Francesco Rosi, Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979.

17. Ulu Grosbard, True Confessions, 1981. (iTunes, Amazon)

18. Maurice Pialat, Under the Star of Satan, 1987.

19. Krzysztof Kieslowski, The Decalogue, 1988. (Can be watched here)

20. Lee David Slotoff, Spitfire Grill, 1996.(YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play)

21. M. Knight Shyamalan, Wide Awake, 1997. (HBO Go, YouTube, Amazon, VUDU).

22. David Lynch, The Straight Story, 1999. (YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon).

23. Agnieszka Holland, The Third Miracle, 1999. (DIRECTTV)

24. Alexander Payne, About Schmidt, 2002. (YouTube, iTunes, VUDU, Google Play, Amazon).

25. Bruce Beresford, Evelyn, 2002. (iTunes, Amazon, VUDU).

26. Christian Carion, Joyeux Noel, 2005. (YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon).

27. Pavel Lungin, The Island, 2006 (Watch for free here)

28. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, L’enfant, 2006. (YouTube, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes).

29. Mark Pellington, Henry Poole is Here, 2008. (YouTube, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes).

30. Xavier Beauvois, Of Gods and Men, 2010. (YouTube, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play).

Trump Among The Evangelicals

Deal W. Hudson
June 21, 2016

It was supposed to be a meeting of 300, but over the course of a few weeks, it burgeoned to over 1000 attendees. The setting was hardly intimate, but given the circumstances, the Evangelical organizers did a good job of making it worth our while. Donald Trump showed another side during the hour-plus question and answer session: The usual bravura was replaced by self-deprecating humor, a deeper seriousness, and a forthright affirmation of the Christian faith.

Two of those taking the stage before Trump, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell, Jr., took advantage of their time slots. They set the tone for an occasion to ponder the future of our nation if Hillary Clinton is elected president, with her two to five picks for the Supreme Court, her pro-abortion agenda, and her evident scorn for traditional Christians.

Trump picked up that thread in answer to one of the first of the questions posed by Gov. Mike Huckabee, calling religious liberty the “number one issue of the campaign.” He mentioned several times the list of 11 possible SCOTUS nominees already released, with the help of vetting from The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation, and promised the release of at least four more in the near future. Trump was emphatic when he said all his nominees would be “pro-life” and “similar to Justice Scalia.” Needless to say, the room frequently interrupted these comments with loud clapping and “Amens.”

There were some Catholics in evidence: Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the SBA List, introduced Cong. Marsha Blackburn, who spoke about her House Planned Parenthood investigation, and author/speaker Eric Metaxas capped the event with a speech on the “new vision” for America. Other than those two, I counted a dozen or more around the room, such as Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League; Lila Rose, president of Live Action; John Klink, former Vatican diplomat to the UN; Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM; Marjorie Murphy Campbell, blogger at http://www.newfeminism.com; Mary Beth Bonacci, president of Real Love, Inc.; Deacon Keith Fournier, blogger at http://www.thestream.org; and Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.

To my ears, one of the most important themes in Trump’s answers was his reference to the hostility toward Christianity, alive in the culture but fostered by politicians like Hillary Clinton. He wants an America where it’s acceptable once again to say, “Merry Christmas,” and football coaches can say prayers with their teams before games.

The Christian voice is being thwarted by tax laws governing non-profits. Trump wants to eliminate the IRS gag rule on religious non-profits that, he says, keeps faith leaders from speaking out for fear of losing their tax-exempt status. This fear, Trump said, is holding back the political power of conservative Christian voters, who, he believes, could be the most potent force in American politics.

He pledged to eliminate Obamacare, claiming that the upcoming hikes in insurance premiums and deductibles, if they are released on November 1, can change the election. But he warned the Obama administration is trying to have them pushed back to December 1 to avoid impacting voters.

He defended his position on immigration saying, “to have a nation you have to have borders” and underscored the deadly drugs, specifically heroin, coming over the Southern border without any interference from the Border Control who have been told to sit on their hands. He recently received the endorsement of 16,500 Border Control officers. Evidently, those who are witnessing the scene at the border on a daily basis agree with Donald Trump. He added, “Building a wall is not a problem, the engineering issues are easily handled.”

It’s a pity this conversation with Donald Trump wasn’t broadcast to the nation.  The voters would have seen a more relaxed Donald Trump, without his guard up to ward off an intensely hostile media waiting for any comment to spin against him.

Better still, the video recording of this conversation should be broadcast two or three days before the election in November, making the outcome of the election more certain.

Trump’s basic commitments — to life, religious freedom, a strong military, the repeal of Obamacare, securing our borders, bringing a new spirit of hope to our inner cities, protecting our second amendment —  did not sound like the man who wrote The Art of the Deal.   Rather, Donald Trump, among the Evangelicals, sounded like a man on a mission to recover America for future generations to come.

Beauty: The Way to Heaven Or Hell?

Deal W. Hudson
June 22, 2016

What did Fyodor Dostoevsky mean in The Idiot (1869) when one of his characters asserts, “Beauty will save the world?” Taken at face value, it’s a claim that beauty plays a role in the salvation of us all. It also contains the implication that the culture surrounding us, as the platform where much of the world’s beauty is displayed, fits into a plan of salvation for all human beings.

There are quite a few Christians, of all denominations, who would respond to both claims with skepticism, if not outright denial. Beauty, they would say, is more like the road to ruin than the path to God. With beauty comes attraction to what may be destructive, especially to the lower appetites, as they used to be called. To be an aficionado of beauty, it is to be “carnally minded” (Romans 8.7-7).

I call these skeptics the “religious despisers” of beauty. I’m reversing the approach of the well-known book On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799) by Friedrich Schleiermacher. Those cultured despisers of religion still exist, of course, but it’s the despisers of beauty, motivated by religious earnestness, that need to be called out. They are evidently unaware of, or in denial about, the deepest significance of our unquenchable desire for beauty.

These skeptics miss the obvious fact that the experience of beauty is part of everything we do, not just our enjoyment of the arts. They pretend that we are creatures without skin, without eyes and ears. We are creatures enveloped in constant aisthesis or sensation, from which the term aesthetics is derived, or the study of art and beauty. Sensation and the experience of beauty are inseparable, from the everyday appreciation of the world around us — smelling the newly mowed grass in the front yard — to the moments of overwhelming beauty that caused a reorientation of our lives.

Who can count the number of lives changed by first walking into one of Europe’s great cathedrals or seeing one of nature’s wonders, say, the Grand Canyon? Such conversion stories are not merely anecdotal, they can be found in memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies. Think of Wordsworth’s poetic meditation on ascending Mt. Snowdon in the final book (lines 70-77) of The Prelude (1805)

There I beheld the emblem of a mind
That feeds upon infinity, that broods
Over the dark abyss, intent to hear
Its voices issuing forth to silent light
In one continuous stream; a mind sustained
By recognitions of transcendent power,
In sense conducting to ideal form,
In soul of more than mortal privilege.

Perhaps the reader has been alongside others in a museum, in a concert, a film theater, and felt the collective submission to a beauty that overwhelms, like the audience’s silence at the end of a great film. More importantly, who can deny that these experiences uncover an aspiration for living a life that reaches towards such sublimity. The moment, this “more than mortal privilege,” often passes and is forgotten, but stories abound of those moments presaging a journey’s beginning, a life’s conversion.

I could recount several such encounters, but one that deeply changed me was the first time I entered the Piazza del Campo in Sienna, Italy, where it is said the Mother of God laid down her cloak to mark its boundaries. I had to lean against the wall while fighting my tears, and for the first time, I recognized  how space can be made beautiful not only for the well-being of a city, and every person in it, but also as a finite spatial form manifesting the glory of its relation to perfect Beauty. It changed forever the way I looked at my surroundings, including instilling an impatience with spaces declaring that nobody cares what is spoken here.

There are our moments of ecstasy, meaning we literally move “out of ourselves,” and when we return we are changed. You’ve changed because you now aspire to live in accord with what you glimpsed, the vision of a new, better life has suddenly appeared, and it beckons. As well-known as it may be, the final chorus at the end of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the “Ode to Joy,” can serve as a common reference point for many readers. Few pieces of music are so transformative, inspiring aspiration towards lasting friendship among persons and nations, a friendship grounded in the hunger for transcendence. (Please, please watch below)

The Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn argues that works of art have an advantage over “unadorned concepts” in changing lives. He has in mind the kinds of ideas and concepts used in philosophy, theology, and politics. For example, Aristotle taught me a theory of virtue and vice, but it was Shakespeare who taught me about human nature (and I wish I had paid more attention)!

In his Nobel prize speech, Solzhenitsyn said, “Concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one.” Works of art, he argues, that are “steeped in truth” and are “vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power — and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them.”

What is the source of this power? according to Solzhenitsyn, it’s “that old trinity of Truth, Good, and Beauty,” the basic transcendental properties of all being and beings. In other words, everything that exists has truth, goodness, and beauty, and they are unified in every being. This is what makes possible, from a metaphysical point of view, for beauty to become an agent of salvation. Solzhenitsyn claimed there were times when beauty did the work of its transcendental counterparts:

“If the crests of these three trees [the true, good, and beautiful] join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.”

Perhaps beauty will “perform the work of all three.” That’s a line that might make many Christians choke, but if they understood the desire for beauty, they would also understand these things: If someone comes asking about beauty, don’t turn him away. If you meet someone looking for beauty, don’t tell him you only know where to find Christ.

Catholic philosophers consider this oneness a demonstrable fact of metaphysics, unaided by faith. Theology, however, provided the ultimate cause for the unity: the doctrine of creation. When God creates, He shares His being, His existence — an existence that is perfectly true, good, and beautiful. It’s their status as properties across all beings that make them “controvertible,” meaning wherever you meet one you encounter the other.

Those “religious despisers” of beauty would welcome someone they meet who is searching for the good or the true. So why not also welcome those who search for the beautiful? The despisers do not understand that underlying the hunger for beauty is the search for God.

It is God’s beauty that will be seen in the Beatific Vision, the state of eternal happiness where our infinite desire meets the only infinite object: God. As Dante says, at the end of the Paradiso, it is impossible to turn away:

And as I gazed, I kindled at the sight;
No Mortal from the glorious view could turn,
Paradiso Canto XXXIII

Our unending delight is found in the beauty of God, in His presence to our souls. Yet beauty is also part of the journey, not just the destination. The Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar devoted his life’s work to show how God’s revelation to us has an aesthetic character without which we would not have encountered Him. Through revelation, God made Himself known to us in His Son and in His Church. Von Balthasar writes, “If God wishes to reveal the love that he harbors for the world, this love has to be something that the world can recognize, in spite of, or in fact in, it’s being wholly other” (emphasis added).

In other words, God had to make His beauty visible to the material eye in order to draw that eye back to the spiritual. God literally lured us back to Himself with the beauty of Christ – a beauty unlike any of the ancient world; a beauty whose chief symbol is the cross. Von Balthasar wrote volume after volume tracing this “Christ-form” of beauty through history, culture, Scripture, and the spiritual life.

If a friend weeps at what is beautiful, don’t tell them they are wasting their tears. If you deny a person beauty, in the name of God, that person may reject Him, He who is beauty itself. If you say beauty belongs to the Evil One, you are aiding in Satan’s most devious ploy.

Instead, Christians should tell these pilgrims that their desire for beauty is as natural to the creature as the hunger for goodness and truth. Tell them that beauty can be the way, and then tell them about the beauty of Christ and His cross.

Even better, Christians should show them the cultural artifacts that Christians have produced to glorify Him – works so great and lasting that they are gazed upon every day by millions who don’t even share the faith that inspired them. This is not meant as a dispensable addendum to faith or to the evangelical witness; the fullness of our Christian witness demands it.

Our unending delight is found in the beauty of God, in His presence to our souls. Yet beauty is also part of the journey, not just the destination.

As Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote in the first volume, “Seeing the Form,” of his incomparable To the Glory of the Lord:

“Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love” (emphasis added).

CATHOLIC OUTREACH AND THE CLERGY: What Happens From a Layman’s Point of View

Deal W. Hudson
June 24, 2016

I am giving a presentation tonight, and I thought I would share my outline with TCR readers.

CATHOLIC OUTREACH AND THE CLERGY:
What Happens From a Layman’s Point of View

An Outline

Deal W. Hudson

  1. Good-will, but naive, Catholic laypersons go to one of their priests to talk about supporting “pro-life” in the election only to be rebuffed, either outright, or with a lecture about social justice, or with a nod of head which leads to nothing being done.
  2. These same lay Catholics then begin to talk to others in the parish only to find many are also hostile, or fear “politicizing” the church, or are worried about what “father” will think: “Have you asked Father?” they will ask.
  3. These same lay Catholics are bewildered by the fact those in the parish are not responsive to political engagement on the side of protecting life and end up doing little or nothing and becoming cynical about the Church’s commitment to life.
  4. It’s become standard practice in US parishes not to talk about abortion, especially during a campaign season, for many reasons, the most ridiculous one being the charge that to preach against abortion is a partisan activity.
  5. Those clergy who do get involved often risk being pushed back by their fellow clergy or their bishop, which includes the kind of literature they allow to be displayed on the literature racks in the church, and, of course, any sort of parish-sponsored events that connects the dots between abortion on demand and voting in an election.
  6. The bishop’s own “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” document has become so lengthy and weighted down by compromise, so-called “nuanced,” language, it can be hermeneutically spun in any direction you choose, which means it stands for nothing because it can be made to stand for anything.
  7. The worse offenders are the state Catholic conferences whose voter guides notoriously misrepresent Church teaching on settled moral issues such as abortion, marriage, euthanasia, and fetal stem cell research, and specialize in putting prudential matters on an equal par with settled ones, making each issue, say, worth 10% our of 100%, so that a pro-abortion Catholic politician can have as high, or higher, a rating as a pro-life Catholic politician.
  8. Clergy who want to be involved in pro-life politics, and want to make a real difference, must be aware of all these dynamics, first, by protecting pro-life activists and overseeing what kind of literature is displayed and what kind of ideas are being taught in the parish.
  9. Clergy must also protect those who leave voter guides in parking lots, because some clergy send ‘heavies” into the parking lot on Sundays before elections to intimidate pro-lifers out of the parking lot, by saying, “Pastor so-and-so says, ’You have to get out of here,’ or “It’s against the law to do what your doing,” in spite of the fact that the pastor does not have that authority, and it’s not against the law.
  10. Clergy should affirm the fact that is obliged to participate politically despite their ordination, and are obliged to participate as clergy by teaching authentic Catholic doctrine, and as individuals by supporting the party and candidates of their own choosing.
  11. Almost everything I have said in the ten points above is understated, no kidding!

Author’s note: I have directed two Catholic outreach efforts for a presidential candidate, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. I have also advised a variety of other pro-life candidates in their election efforts.  Most of what I know can be found a book written a few years ago, Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholic and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster, 2010)