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.

“Dark Knight Rises” won’t be reviewed here

Why? Because I haven’t seen it, have no desire to see it, and am already tired of hearing about it.

Isn’t “Batman” a comic book story for children anyway? Why are adults gushing over films about comic book superheroes?

Haven’t Christians learned by now that Hollywood and pop culture are not to be trusted? Don’t we already know that this production will be shot-through with worldly values, false philosophies, moral confusion, crude humor, sexual immorality, gratuitous violence, casual blasphemies, etc.? No, you say, maybe not? Then tell me why it’s worth sacrificing four hours, the cost of a movie ticket, and 20-30 minutes of filthy previews to find out that maybe “Dark Knight Rises” isn’t quite that bad.

If you came here via search engine looking for a movie review, start with this one pertaining to Batman the Dark Knight in 2008:

Some have pointed to the extreme violence in the film, but my concerns go well beyond that. In a Canwest News Service review Jay Stone refers to Joker as a “psychotic butcher”; Jenny McCarthy in her August 2 review in the London Telegraph wrote, ‘The greatest surprise of all – even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic – has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.’ One reviewer even called the film ‘torture porn.’

The story’s focus is the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ fame. The Joker is portrayed as a man engaging in a purity of evil rarely seen. An anti-Christ type figure, he engages in evil for evil’s sake and not for any material motive, and is totally unconcerned about his own well-being.

So youth seeing the film will see the evil of the Joker, be repulsed by it and turn away from it, right? Wrong.

There are two supermen in this film – Batman and the Joker.

One problem, however, is that while Batman is a somewhat distant figure – a multi-billionaire whose money is largely the source of his being a superhero – the common man can relate more to the Joker who is a man dealing, in his own intensely cruel way, with a rough past.

In one scene the Joker describes the way he got his ‘smile’ – the two obvious scars which run up from both corners of his mouth. He describes domestic violence in his home where his father attacked his mother and then turned on him as a child, saying, ‘Why so serious? Let’s put a smile on that face,’ and carved one in. As sick and scary as that scenario is, it is nevertheless one with which a great many of today’s youth – deeply scarred internally – will easily identify as they too have been subjected to domestic violence.

And if that’s not enough, Joker changes the scenario half-way through the film. He explains that his ‘smile’ is the result of an incident stemming from a disagreement with his wife who would thereafter have nothing to do with him. Hence, Joker’s psychosis is portrayed as being a response to the all-too-common experience of domestic turbulence, whether involving one’s parents or one’s spouse.

The Joker and Batman are both presented as virtually invincible; indeed, if anything, the Joker is presented as being more powerful in many respects. He is completely unrestricted in terms of his actions, while the film clearly portrays Batman as hampered by his conscience. Batman The Dark Knight could easily be seen to portray good as a weakness which is used and repeatedly exploited by evil – the Joker. The corruption of the good in people is one of his main aims – it is in fact the only purpose which can be discerned in the Joker’s otherwise completely chaotic acts.

But for all the power of this anti-Christ portrayal, there is no portrayal of an equally pure Christ figure. An heroic man in public power, one of the main characters, is eventually corrupted by the Joker’s devices, and the only two good guys left – Commissioner Gordon and Batman himself – are themselves corrupted in that they must foster and live with a lie to maintain the illusion that the one who thoroughly succumbed to evil was actually the hero of the day.

Batman, meant to be the hero of the film, is far less morally consistent in his pursuits than is the Joker. As Bruce Wayne the billionaire, he is portrayed as a jealous, spiteful ex-lover, insulting his rival and using other women (even three at a time) to inspire jealousy in his ex-lover. The portrayal of Batman is weak and conflicted compared to that of the Joker. The Joker’s character dominates the screen and the brilliance of Ledger’s performance in this role serves to highlight this difference …”

“Are there going to be imitators of the Joker portrayed in The Dark Knight? There already are. Just look on YouTube for the number of videos where teens are dressing up as and imitating the lines of the Joker. Even more seriously, however, there have been crimes committed since the film’s release where the criminals have dressed in Joker makeup.

The film would likely not be dangerous for those well-grounded in morality; but for the many in today’s world who have not received the moral training that would allow them to clearly distinguish between good and evil, Joker character and philosophy of ‘anything goes’ presents an all-too-appealing alternative way of attaining power and recognition.”

By now, everyone has heard of the latest Joker impersonator in Aurora, Colorado. That’s reason enough to pass on seeing this film.

History, culture, and peace with a wicked past

There is something about the Old World – a secret – that gives its people a peace about life. We Americans are about new beginnings, forgetting the past, starting over. That’s not all bad: it’s a very Franciscan quality. Heaven knows I depend on it daily. But the Old World is drenched in blood, it’s civilization founded on murder, every square inch of land the site of some unfathomable atrocity. And yet, there is no peace like an Old World peace. I don’t know what to make of this peace, but I need it. America needs it.

It’s about time! Catholic Health Insurance

This is very good news – Catholic HealthShare Plan Announced in Response to HHS Mandsate:

“This plan addresses many of the concerns held by Catholics about current healthcare legislation, and the HHS mandate in particular,” said Dr. John C. Oertle, president. “It allows Catholics of conscience a means to ensure that their healthcare costs are not contributing to abortion and other services that violate their deeply held beliefs.”

Key features of the healthshare plan include: 

  •     Provides a way for people to receive medical coverage while not participating in the HHS mandate providing abortion, sterilization, and contraceptive services.
  •     Is a cost-effective plan utilizing monthly contributions wherein members provide for the healthcare needs of other members.
  •     Cost control is achieved by directing a greater percentage of monthly fees toward medical costs vs. traditional healthcare plans, and by capping payouts to fees collected by all members.

 Key benefits include: 

  •     No denial for pre-existing conditions
  •     Maternity coverage
  •     Personal choice of medical provider
  •     Alignment with the Catholic bishops’ position on abortion and contraceptive services

Excellent, but long overdue. Of course the legal uncertainties loom very large and will doubtless interfere with the plan’s success.

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.