Heroes, it seems, only fall from their perches

We’re still deep in winter and already this young year has been bad for “heroes.”

First, there was Notre Dame’s star linebacker Mante T’eo admitting he lied about a girlfriend he never had who died of cancer, although she never existed so she didn’t really die. Conveniently, the truth was only revealed after the national championship football game in January.

    Chained by arrogance

    Cardinal Joseph Zen had a wise and timely reminder at a dinner hosted by Convivium magazine earlier this month. We must never forget, the former bishop of Hong Kong said, that the size of the cage is irrelevant in matters of fundamental freedom.

      Pope made a courageous call

      Prudence and wisdom from a disciplined, virtuous man

      JERUSALEM - Perhaps the greatest mind to sit on the throne of Peter has judged that his body is no longer capable of doing so. Pope Benedict XVI will resign as successor of Peter on Feb. 28.

        University law school raises questions about religious freedom

        When it become known in January that Trinity Western University (TWU) was seeking accreditation for its law school, newspaper columns and letters pages almost immediately erupted with opinions about why the school should, or should not, be trusted to train lawyers.

          Art and the beauty of faith

          One of my favourite insights from Joseph Ratzinger’s long life in theology is that the Church does not convincingly propose the faith by the work of theology alone. Before his election as Pope he wrote that in the end the Church only has two compelling “arguments” for her faith being true. The first is the saints who have lived the Gospel fully and who the Church proposes as models of Christian witness. The second is the art that she has nurtured in her midst, her faith expressed in beauty, whether in painting, sculpture, architecture or music. Theology is necessary, but it is holiness and beauty that persuades.

            Women’s time has come

            When Ontario Premier-elect Kathleen Wynne is sworn into office next week, half the country’s provincial premiers will be women (in addition to the premier of Nunavut) and they will govern 87 per cent of the population.

              Stop the progress insanity

              In a recent blog for Cardus — the think tank that among its many other good works publishes Convivium magazine — I cited an item sent to me by a regular correspondent. It was, I wrote, a brilliant, step-by-step summary of the way in which so-called “social progress” has occurred during the past 30 years at the expense of long-standing Canadian tradition, custom and especially faith.

              The summary read as follows:

              o Find an extreme position calling for radical change and self-define it as moderate.

              o Get your fellow travellers on The Long March through the unionized newsrooms of the nation to adopt your language.

              o Define all who oppose you as intolerant extremists.

              o See above re: fellow travellers, and repeat at teachers’ conventions nationwide. Concerned about their social status, teachers will adopt whatever position is portrayed as most fashionable.

              o Bake in oven for two terms of government, use quasi-judicial bodies to institute pogroms against your opponents and, bingo, you have progressive social change no matter how much it might feel like a boot stomping on your face.

              The only serious addition I offered was expanding item four to include professional associations: lawyers, doctors, Indian chiefs.

              It turned out there’s more, and it came from an academic friend:

              o Argue for a supposedly moderate change that goes just beyond generally accepted conventions and principles.

              o When some people raise objections, accuse them of engaging in specious slippery-slope arguments, insisting that, of course, we certainly do not mean to advocate for those alleged consequences, and it is offensive to be so misrepresented.

              o All the while secretly intend the normalization of precisely those furthermost implications down the road

              o Once the change argued for is effected, argue for the next supposedly moderate, incremental change that will bring us closer to the realization of the desired (but temporarily too controversial) more radical outcomes. This involves reminding society of how its enlightened embrace of the previous change should lead them to consent to the next step, and mock those who object by pointing out that the sky hasn’t fallen.

              These precepts explain the “how” of surreptitious social “progress” that has led to such travesties as the de facto abolition of the constitutional rights of parents to have schools that teach their children what it means to be Catholic, and Quebec’s pending abolition of our foundational Christian understanding of what it means to be human.

              Having defined the “how,” however, neither set offered a proposal for what is to be done. Still, simply identifying the steps of the process creates the expectation that someone, somewhere, has some explaining to do. And that opens the door to challenging the dangerous presuppositions at the heart of the radical upending of our society.

              Those presuppositions are:

              o Any self-proclaimed “progressive” measure is always an essential step demanded by the “forward movement” of history, and its achievement is inevitable.

              o The onus is always on those who are hesitant to adopt such “progressive” measures to show why they should not be adopted.

              The deficiencies of both become obvious. The second one is grossly unjust and requires the logical fraud of having to prove a negative. The first contains a childish tautology: we want to do this because it’s progress, and it’s progress because we want to do it.

              What this means is that the following demands should be made of anyone who proposes any self-defined “progressive” vision:

              o State definitively what the historic end point of your progressive vision will be.

              o State truthfully your confidence in your ability to forecast that particular historic end point.

              o State plainly what existing natural rights and protections must be sacrificed for your progressive vision to be achieved.

              o State concretely how your vision of progress differs from a reversion to barbarism.

              Such demands are not obstructionist or reactionary. They are the simple precautions any sane people will take before agreeing to changes in the makeup of their society. The final question, of course, is whether it’s already too late for sanity.

              (Stockland is the Director of the Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal in Montreal.)

               

                Musial, Mantle and manly virtue

                Baseball’s spring training is not far off, and our Catholic “spring training” — the discipline of Lent — is fast approaching too. Not a bad time to think about baseball and virtue, which was brought to mind by the recent death of Stan Musial, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time.

                Musial dominated the 1940s and 1950s, winning seven batting titles, three National League MVPs and winning the World Series three times. Even today, 50 years after his retirement in 1963, he remains second all-time for total bases, behind only the incomparable Hank Aaron, and fourth in all-time hits, behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Aaron. He died at age 92, predeceased last year by his wife of 72 faithful and faith-filled years. His funeral was in St. Louis, at which a young boy who wanted to be like Stan Musial when he was growing up in that proud baseball city, Timothy Dolan, now cardinal archbishop of New York, was present to honour a Catholic disciple who tried to go to Mass every day.

                In a eulogy given by another proud St. Louis baseball man, a moving story was told about Musial’s quiet holiness. Bob Costas, perhaps the most gifted broadcaster in sports, recalled an occasion in which Mickey Mantle, the great Yankee of the 1950s and 1960s, was visiting in his retirement. Costas invited Stan Musial to dinner and told Mantle who was coming. Mantle, a long-time alcoholic, told Costas: “I don’t know how I am going to do it, but I am not going to have a drink all day tomorrow or all evening. I don’t want to do anything foolish in front of Stan Musial.”

                Tens of thousands wanted to be like Stan Musial the ballplayer. Mantle, who was almost as good as Musial on the diamond, knew that he ought to be like Musial the man.

                “Stan was a better player than me, because he was a better man,” Mantle told Costas.

                There are few decisions men, especially young men, make that are as important as choosing their friends. Perhaps the greatest compliment a man can receive is that which Mantle gave Musial — I don’t want to do anything foolish, anything unworthy, anything sinful in front of him.

                Mantle spent most of his life choosing his friends unwisely. Perhaps because of all the scandals, movies were made of his life. Musial’s life was too simple, too honourable, too pious for Hollywood. One of the best of the Mantle films, perhaps the greatest of all baseball films, is 61*, a Billy Crystal film about the 1961 home run chase between Mantle and Roger Maris.

                “Maris, the North Dakota homebody who has just won the 1960 Most Valuable Player award, sees that Mantle, the Oklahoma hellion who might have been the greatest player ever had he not blown out his knee in the 1951 Series, is risking both his own and the team’s success by his compulsive boozing and wenching,” wrote George Weigel, papal biographer and accomplished baseball fan, about a key scene in 61*.

                “So Maris and his apartment-mate, outfielder Bob Cerv, invite Mantle to move in with them, cut out the nocturnal craziness, and get himself back together,” Weigel continues. “That act of solidarity, matched by the way manager Houk and Maris’s teammates rally around him when both fans and sportswriters choose Mickey over Roger in the Great Bambino Record Chase, exemplifies the distinctive way men can be friends. Mickey Mantle, a tortured spirit, died in 1995 after telling a press conference, ‘Don’t be like me. God gave me the ability to play baseball and that’s what I wanted to do. God gave me everything and I just wasted it.’ ”

                Weigel concludes with the contrast: “Maris died in 1985 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is buried in his hometown, Fargo. This unassuming family man, who never took advantage of the lifestyle libertinism that Gotham (and the journalistic conventions of the era) made possible, was a good husband and father who endured hate mail and death threats, fan idiocies and press barbs. Roger Maris, a Catholic whom some would argue is the real single-season home run king, is one of the quiet heroes of the American Catholic experience.”

                Little boys like Tim Dolan in St. Louis look for heroes at the ballpark. Grown-ups realize that the men on field are often not heroes at all. But sometimes they are, and sometimes even a grown-up cardinal of the Holy Roman Church finds a hero there. Stan Musial was a quiet Catholic hero. As Mickey Mantle might have said: “Be like him.”

                (Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium, a Canadian magazine of faith in our common life: www.cardus.ca/convivium.)

                 

                  25 and 40 years of shame

                  Canada, U.S. have world’s most extreme abortion licence

                    Gun control underlines neighbourly differences

                    About a decade ago, I was in Scotland and one person after another whom I met kept referring to me as an American, presumably because of my accent.

                      Living in the moment

                      For someone who is neither doctor nor priest, there is something spectacularly meditative about encountering death face-to-face four times in one year.

                      A year ago this month, my wife’s mother died after a long affliction.

                      In August, my colleague Michael Van Pelt’s 15-year-old son, Kenton, drowned at the family cottage in one of those tragedies that makes life feel as if all Earth has dropped into a hell of particularly inexplicable, random cruelty.

                      Halfway through November, my father-in-law died quickly after a diagnosis of cancer, still grieving his beloved wife’s death.

                      On Dec. 29, our good family friend and fellow anti-euthanasia campaigner, Dr. André Bourque, was killed by an aneurism as he shovelled Christmas snow.

                      With all four deaths, I was among those God favoured to stand before the deceased in prayer, and look into faces that had, mere countable hours before, smiled, laughed, talked, worried, wondered, scowled, sung and otherwise engaged in all the amazing expressions of human life.

                      In Kenton Van Pelt, I saw the fine strong face of a handsome young man senselessly suspended at mid-point in the arc from adolescence to adulthood. I’d enjoyed a family meal with him a week previously, and marvelled at the signs of maturing Christian character emerging from him. His death so young made a mockery of our culture’s arbitrary categories of age. It reminded me that, in the essentials, we all share one age: the marvel of the single moment we are living right now.

                      In Dr. André Bourque, I looked into a face miraculously imbued and embedded with kindness. It was the face of a devoutly Catholic doctor who gave his all for the care of his patients and who, when he felt those patients threatened by the encroaching evil of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, worked tirelessly to rally grassroots Quebecers and his medical colleagues alike to stop the scourge. Not lost in the passage from life to death was his ever-present air of calm and wisdom and determination to do what is right. Sometimes, the grand gesture, yes. More often, the small touch, the encouraging word, the gracious answer, the good laugh that were all signs of Christ’s presence in everything Dr. Bourque did.

                      For my mother-in-law, a devotional light returned to her features after almost a decade of ravaging, darkening dementia. I will go to my own death convinced that light was the same as the one that shone when my wife asked, moments before death, if her mother wanted her long-deceased friend, Soeur Alice, to come and take her home. At the sound of the nun’s name, my mother-in-law sat up, drew her last few breaths, looked toward a corner of the ceiling and lay down with a small smile on her lips. Her light gave the lie to the pernicious belief that we ever need a euthanizing needle in the arm to die with dignity.

                      Perhaps because I was present at the very fragment of an instant separating his life from his death, it is my father-in-law’s passing that I encounter most often and concretely these days. It is his face I see most vividly when I ponder the cluster of deaths that marked 2012.

                      My wife and I were at his bedside, in the little house where he lived for 50 years, when his ragged breathing warned us he was slipping away. When he breathed, stopped, then snatched a final few gasps of air, we were holding his hand, saying silent prayers, listening with our whole being to the sound of life arising and departing.

                      Looking deeply into the face I had known and loved for 30 years, I felt a dizzying sense of him receding toward the beginning of his life. My father-in-law was not a tall man, though he was powerful in chest, shoulders and arms. Lying lifeless, he became first a younger man, then a little boy, then the infant who lay at his mother’s breast 80-plus years ago.

                      The feeling was, I’m inclined to think, God reminding me of the folly of putting all my faith in the fruits of humanly created time. It was His call to meditate on the necessity of turning my face, again and again, toward Christ as He bends from eternity into the history that is my life.

                      Moments are where we live. His grace in each and every one of those moments has conquered death for once and for all.

                      (Stockland is the Director of the Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal in Montreal.)