Anthony Esolen: “So Where’s the Social?”

Although we moved from 20 acres in the country to a house on a city lot, I’m doing a lot more walking here in town. This seems counter-intuitive, but not when you consider that a healthy neighborhood really serves as everyone’s “front yard”.  Like much of Chico, our new neighborhood is supremely walkable. Chico prides itself on being pedestrian and bicycle friendly, and not without justice, although the reality can be a mixed bag. Here on the east side we have quiet, shady, tree-lined streets with cracked sidewalks, gardens peeking through and crawling over old fences, children playing on their lawns and riding bicycles, and a decent variety of modest landscapes all of which make for pleasant and interesting walks. A few days ago my older boys and a friend asked to walk in Bidwell Park after nightfall, because the park is spooky-looking and it was a full moon, and off they went for over an hour, loving every minute. I kept my daughters at home, over-protective dad that I am, but perhaps I’ll relent if we go in a larger group.

This afternoon I met some of our neighbors at a garage sale across the street, a retired couple who has lived there for 25 years. The old gentleman makes birdhouses and sells them to raise money for his grandchildren. We’ve only met a few neighbors thus far: most keep to themselves and seem to like it that way. Is there an invisible community here? My guess is that there does exist a community of sorts, especially among the parents of children attending the neighborhood elementary school, and perhaps among the older residents as well. But I suspect that most of our neighbors are people like us, with the majority of their social network existing well beyond the neighborhood.

Anthony Esolen, with his usual eloquence, refers to the demise of neighborhoods in his latest essay “So Where’s the Social? – Recovering Words and Culture in the Unsociety”. After reviewing an editorial in the September 1955 issue of Town Journal, Esolen reminds us of a few things – assumed by the magazine’s readers and editors in 1955 – that we can no longer take for granted in the “unsociety” of America 2012:

“His editorial presumes that there is such a thing as a town, full of people who know one another and who take pride in where they live.  For the same issue presents a forty question test to see whether you live in a healthy town, with thirty ‘yes’ answers being the standard to shoot for.  The first criterion?  ‘Most high school graduates stay in town.’  Also telling: ‘More than half the church congregations [sic] are under 40.’  Are the streets lined with shade trees?  Is there a recreation center where young people dance?  The Ike-liking editors aren’t laissez-faire economists.  They aren’t the sort of pseudo-conservatives who see devotion to the family as an obstacle to ‘progress,’ whatever that is.  They want the money to stay nearby, so that it will be spent nearby – even taxed nearby.

In other words, these are deeply civic-minded conservatives.  I doubt one could find more than the thinness of a dime between what they assume about civic duty and Catholic social teaching.  For both assume the existence of a society: people who are socii, companions, fellow travelers, neighbors.  Behold another telling criterion for the good town: ‘There’s as much interest in local as national elections.’  That can only be so, if local elections matter, and local elections can matter only if local people feel they actually have some influence upon their common life – and if there is a common life to begin with.

And here we arrive at the great fact staring us in the face.  Romano Guardini, shortly after the war, had already asserted that the people of western Europe no longer possessed a culture.  Such words as culture remain like wraiths, long after the reality they once described has passed away.  Alasdair MacIntyre, indeed, says that that fate has befallen our entire language of morality.  The word society is, I believe, in that same category.  So the riddle we must now solve is how to apply Catholic social teaching to the whatever-it-is we have, the mass of habits inculcated by bad education and worse entertainment–the Unsociety.

It will require a great deal of hard thinking, a deep knowledge of history and of human nature, and patient prayer–just the things that our electoral politics makes nearly impossible.  But it must be done, for the sake of humanity itself, threatened by the collusive interests of technocrats, bureaucrats, mediacrats, and all the other crats who burden us with their wisdom and their insufferably benignant lust for power.

I won’t recommend any particular program here.  I have an innate loathing of programs, anyway.  But any solution must provide people with the wherewithal – economic, political, and moral – to rebuild the social ties we have lost.  Consider, for the sake of argument, a young couple moving to Freemanville, with its thousand or so subscriptions to magazines like Town Journal.  They are, of course, married; notably absent from Town Journal’s questionnaire is any reference to crime or to out-of-wedlock births.  They have, then, already engaged in that most social of all actions, without the corrosive shacking-up beforehand.

The lady down the street, a member of the town’s Welcome Wagon, shows up that week with a couple of apple pies, and asks if they need anything of a practical nature – because when you move into a house there’s always something you forget to bring along, like soap or shaving cream or a broom or a dustpan.  Within two weeks you’ve met a good dozen of your neighbors, and you’ve been invited to church, or to the block party, or to the fireworks display on the Glorious Fourth.  I am not sentimentalizing here.  This is how people lived; or rather, this is how people live, if they but have the opportunity, just as dogs outdoors will run about and sniff things, and cats outdoors will sleep in the shade and hunt mice.

All of these human connections are founded upon, and imply, moral expectations … The teacher, the neighbor, the clergyman, and you might disagree on which road to pave, or which senator is the less dishonest, but your wide moral agreement will make you socii even when you do not like one another.”

That takes us to the heart of the problem: morality. Authentic community depends upon a shared moral consensus. Most Americans can no longer assume that such a consensus exists in their neighborhood, or even in their own families, and so whatever can be had of “community” is necessarily outsourced.

New Carmelite foundation in the Diocese of Oakland

Still more good news for California: the traditional Carmelites of Valparaiso, Nebraska, are sending nuns for a new foundation in the Diocese of Oakland.

Mr. Lee Gilbert delivers the following in a comment at Rorate Caeli:

July 24, 2012 – Today, the feast of the Martyrs of Compeigne, the Valparaiso, Nebraska Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is making a new foundation at Canyon, CA in the Diocese of Oakland. Mother Agnes, together with Sisters Perpetua, Mary Rose, Miriam Therese and Lucia will be flying out of Lincoln, Nebraska at around 11AM and arriving at the Livermore airport a few hours later.. They will be in Canyon about a month preparing for the arrival of a second contingent of five nuns, mostly novices, on August 24th. Once this monastery is underway Mother Agnes, the novice mistress of Valparasio, will return to the mother house. Until they are enclosed once again, and elect a superior, they will continue to be under obedience to Mother Teresa, the prioress of Valparaiso. After that, they will be an independent monastery.

Evidently this project has been in the works for a few years, for the Valparaiso monastery owns property on Pinehurst Canyon on which they hope with the help of God to build a monastery. For the present they have a three bedroom home and a barn which has been converted into a lodge. For now the chapel, the refectory, library, etc will be in the lodge and the house will provide space for cells. Presumably the rural setting will permit them to raise a few cows and chickens as they do in Valparaiso.

With the entrance of a postulant this last July 13th the Valparaiso convent was at the bursting point with thirty-eight religious. A Carmelite convent is only supposed to have twenty-one nuns unless they are planning a foundation. Obviously, with the exodus of only ten religious, Valparaiso is planning yet another foundation in the not too distant future.

Valparaiso traces its own origins to the Carmel of Cristo Rey in San Franciso. Originally Cristo Rey had made a foundation in Las Vegas, but the sprawl of the city drove the nuns to seek another location in the late 1990’s. This turned out to be Valpraiso, Nebraska, where the local Catholic population welcomed them with open arms. One farmer gave them land on which to build a beautiful monastery. Their present convent in Nebraska was only finished and dedicated in December of 2001, yet they have already made two foundations within eleven years, the first being to Elysburg, PA in 2009.”

Big, wonderful news for San Francisco


Bishop Cordileone, a staunch friend of the traditional Latin Mass and the architect of California’s Proposition 8, has been appointed Archbishop of San Francisco. You might want to take another sip of coffee and read that sentence twice. I have to say, with the recent appointment of Bishop Vasa to lead the diocese of Santa Rosa, and now this, it seems that at long last Rome is determined to clean house in California. Deo gratias!

Poor Rocco, on the other hand, can hardly contain his dismay:

“After a half-century of occupants accused by conservatives of soft-pedaling church teaching in favor of a more conciliatory approach toward constituencies ranging from gays and lesbians to Nancy Pelosi – a group of prelates among which the recently-retired chief guardian of church doctrine, Cardinal William Levada, was not exempt from sometimes stinging criticism — the move delivers the long-desired ‘Holy Grail’ of the American Catholic Right firmly into the faction’s hands, in the form of a prelate already known widely both for his forcefulness and a stringent doctrinal cred almost unequaled among his confreres on the national bench.

For liberal Catholics, meanwhile, the appointment is likely to be received as something akin to the city’s Great Earthquake of 1906, or even more apocalyptic events.”

Bishop Cordileone is one of a small but growing number of American bishops who have personally celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite:

Prophecy of Our Lady of Quito

From an article in today’s Catholic Herald (United Kingdom) by Dr. William Oddie:

“Early in the morning of January 21, 1610, the Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael appeared to Mother Mariana. Then Our Lady appeared to her and predicted many things about our own times: this is part of what Mother Mariana afterwards related that she told her:

‘…. I make it known to you that from the end of the 19th century and shortly after the middle of the 20th century…. the passions will erupt and there will be a total corruption of customs (morals)….

‘They will focus principally on the children in order to sustain this general corruption. Woe to the children of these times! It will be difficult to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, and also that of Confirmation…

‘As for the Sacrament of Matrimony… it will be attacked and deeply profaned… The Catholic spirit will rapidly decay; the precious light of the Faith will gradually be extinguished… Added to this will be the effects of secular education, which will be one reason for the dearth of priestly and religious vocations.

‘The Sacrament of Holy Orders will be ridiculed, oppressed, and despised… The Devil will try to persecute the ministers of the Lord in every possible way; he will labor with cruel and subtle astuteness to deviate them from the spirit of their vocation and will corrupt many of them. These depraved priests, who will scandalize the Christian people, will make the hatred of bad Catholics and the enemies of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church fall upon all priests…

‘Further, in these unhappy times, there will be unbridled luxury, which will ensnare the rest into sin and conquer innumerable frivolous souls, who will be lost. Innocence will almost no longer be found in children, nor modesty in women. In this supreme moment of need of the Church, the one who should speak will fall silent.’

In a subsequent apparition, Our Lady told Mother Mariana that these apparitions were not to become generally known until the twentieth century.”

Saint James, Apostle and Moorslayer – July 25

The Epistle of Saint James, Chapter 1, Verses 1-12

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”


The Vision of King Ramiro of Spain

“I was still sleeping, when the blessed Santiago, protector of the Spaniards, appeared to me.  I asked who he was. He assured me to be Santiago, the blessed Apostle of God. Astonished as I was, the blessed Apostle told me:

‘Did not you know that my Lord Jesus Christ, while distributing the other provinces in the world to my brothers, the other apostles, luckily entrusted me the guardianship of all Spain and placed it under my protection? (…) Keep your courage, because I will come to assist you tomorrow, God willing, to vanquish all that big crowd of enemies surrounding you. However, many of your soldiers will be destined for eternal rest and will receive the crown of martyrdom during your struggle for the name of Christ. And so that there is no doubt you will see me dressed in white on a white horse, holding in my hand a white banner. Therefore, at dawn, after receiving the sacrament of penance with the confession of sins, after receiving the Communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Mass, do not be afraid to challenge the Saracens’ squadrons, invoking God’s name and mine, and taking for certain they will fall to the edge of the sword ‘.

Having said all that, the pleasant vision of the Apostle of God disappeared.”

The coming “soft” persecution

I had an interesting conversation with a young Catholic gentleman yesterday while making the 10 to 11 hour trip home from Thomas Aquinas College. We took the long way, up Highway 101, due to road construction on I-5 in the south San Joaquin Valley. He asked about the likelihood of persecution of Catholics in the United States. I responded that persecution was likely in the very near future, but that it would be of the “soft” variety rather than firing squads and death camps.

The persecution will likely revolve around the issues of abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, contraception, and reproductive technology. Already there are many jobs “off limits” to conscientious Catholics. Mrs. Blogmaster is a pharmacist, for example, and unfortunately she can’t just work anywhere. Most retail pharmacies in the cities will not permit her to refuse to dispense objectionable drugs: “conscience” protections are virtually non-existent.

The state of California requires that health insurance cover contraceptives and abortifacients. Therefore, many insurance industry and health care jobs in California are off limits to Catholics who refuse to collaborate with the chemical-induced killing of unborn children. Obamacare’s mandate that all health insurers in the country cover contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifcatients is much more sweeping and restrictive. If not repealed, it will become impossible for thousands to work in the medical and health care fields without directly co-operating with these evils.

Immoral anti-discrimimation laws make working in management and human resources hugely problematic for a conscientious Catholic.

The legal normalization of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage” presents enormous problems. In California, SB-48 requires teachers to introduce “positive” homosexual role models to students in the earliest grades: if fully enforced, this law would result in excluding Catholics from the teaching profession in California, at least in the public schools. When same-sex “marriage” is universalized, co-operation and affirmation will be mandatory throughout society. Already in New Mexico a Christian photography business is being persecuted for refusing to accommodate a same-sex “commitment” ceremony.

Even military service is becoming a problem for a variety of reasons.

In short, it may well become impossible for Catholics and other Christians to simply work in the United States without violating their consciences.

There are many other dangers lurking as well. In 2008, homeschooling was declared illegal in California by a state appellate court. The situation was rectified but could easily happen again in California or anywhere else in the country. Truly, all of our liberties as Christians in the United States hang by a thread, and we are largely dependent upon the good graces of an increasingly hostile government.

So – no firing squads or death camps in the coming “soft” persecution, but the gradual loss of economic livelihood – and increasing alienation from the social, political, educational, cultural, and commercial life of the nation.

Chico’s Summer Music Academy

Last week our fair city of Chico hosted the annual Summer Music Academy sponsored by the Music Teacher’s Association of California – Butte County Branch. The event was held in the classrooms and sanctuary of Chico’s historic Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Dozens of rising young musicians received specialized instruction from master teachers in violin, viola, cello, piano, and harpsichord. In return, they performed three concerts for the community on Friday and Saturday featuring the works of Bach, Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and other renowned composers.

We had the great pleasure of hosting Dr. Ljubomir Velickovic and his son, along with another music student, which made for some lively musical gatherings in our living room!

I have to tell you, as a non-musician, the joy and enthusiasm that real music brings into the lives of these young people is something to envy. One of my favorite pastimes has become simply watching musicians when they get together. It doesn’t take long before the small talk is out of the way and they start making music somehow. What a gift it must be to have that instant musical bond with strangers!  This is our third year of participation, and it’s been nice turning strangers into friends as we get to know some of the other families.

As for the music itself, we are fortunate in that MTAC-Butte has thus far been committed to the great “canon” of the western tradition. Now and then, sure, the teachers introduce something different just for fun, but there is no egotistical thirst for radical experimentation among the teachers here, no chasing after showtunes and pop culture. The students learn the highest and best music that our civilization has produced, and they learn it well. First things first.

“They gave us heaven”

I think my favorite verse of Ca C’est Bon (“it is good”) – near as I can make out the words – is this:

Our children played in the storm
We gave them life
They gave us heaven
Laughter in the rain.
I gave you my heart
And you gave me yourself
“Ca c’est bon, ca c’est bon” –
Cried the hurricane. 

That about sums it up.

How do our children give us heaven? Three ways: 1. By their joy and innocence, a foretaste of heaven; 2. By the many trials of parenthood, our sanctification; 3. By their prayers for us.

Thoughts on Independence Day

Tomorrow, for the third consecutive year, I will be officiating at the frog jumping contest for Orland’s Old Fashioned 4th of July celebration. If I still lived there, I believe that would put me next in line for mayor. With its potato sack races, egg tossing contest, and ladies’ hat competition, Orland’s celebration is a festival of classic small town Americana. In many other ways, too, little Orland remains a bastion of American tradition and culture.

Now then, I realize that the American Revolution was not a slam dunk as a moral proposition. It’s hard for me, a traditionalist, to celebrate armed rebellion against a lawful monarch whose “abuses” pale in comparison to those of our own federal and state governments. Nevertheless, good things did result from American independence, and those good things are worth celebrating.

Today our nation is undeniably at a crossroads. The American people have changed fundamentally in just three generations. They believe things that would shock their ancestors – not things of peripheral importance, but things that mark the essence of a culture. They have, by and large, rejected even the “laws of nature and nature’s God”, instead making war on nature, on biology, on legitimate authority, and on reality. They have embraced a philosophy of greed and hedonism and therefore of exploitation and abuse, though few will admit the truth of it. Liberty, in the minds of most Americans, is primarily validated by extreme or licentious behavior that must be protected at all costs. When you think of freedom, do you really think of Abraham Lincoln or Mother Teresa? Or do you first think of a person of ambiguous gender covered with tattoos and body piercings? Maybe you think of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Either way, I rest my case.

Meanwhile, our duly elected president and his radical leftist thugocracy in Washington (spit!) has done more to undermine authentic freedom in this country than anyone dreamed possible. Unfortunately, his opponents are factionalized and sadly lacking a convincing narrative. Libertarians and constitutionalists, though prominent and well-funded, are faced with the structural impossibility of their dreams ever materializing. Catholics, evangelicals, and other cultural conservatives, while perhaps more institutionally realistic, are socially and politically marginalized.

Furthermore, Americans are tired of politics and political activism. The best of them are just too busy with raising families, work, religion, and real life; the rest of them (and by far most of them) are lost in boredom, in pursuit of “self-actualization”, or in the bread-and-circus culture of non-stop entertainment. It seems likely that the next election belongs to the candidate with the simplest, shortest, and sweetest possible message. What can “independence” mean in this dismal context?

Cardinal Dolan’s reflections on Independence Day merit some pause:

It has been observed that perhaps the most revolutionary words an American can utter today are those which open the Creed:  “I believe in one God, the Father almighty…”  God, not I, is sovereign; the Lord, not the state, is almighty; God’s way, not mine, is normative; the Lord’s designs, not my puny plans, are definitive.  To rebel against God, then, brings, not liberty, but slavery; to obey the Lord leads, hardly to shackles, but to genuine freedom.

So, maybe I should be wishing you all a “Happy Dependence Day.”