Prison Release

California, tragically, keeps it going, from the Associated Press.

An excerpt.

“SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is giving 76,000 inmates, including violent and repeat felons, the opportunity to leave prison earlier as the state aims to further trim the population of what once was the nation’s largest state correctional system.

“More than 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes will be eligible for good behavior credits that shorten their sentences by one-third instead of the one-fifth that had been in place since 2017. That includes nearly 20,000 inmates who are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole.

“The new rules take effect Saturday but it will be months or years before any inmates go free earlier. Corrections officials say the goal is to reward inmates who better themselves while critics said the move will endanger the public.

“Under the change, more than 10,000 prisoners convicted of a second serious but nonviolent offense under the state’s “three strikes” law will be eligible for release after serving half their sentences. That’s an increase from the current time-served credit of one-third of their sentence.

“The same increased release time will apply to nearly 2,900 nonviolent third strikers, the corrections department projected.

“Also as of Saturday, all minimum-security inmates in work camps, including those in firefighting camps, will be eligible for the same month of earlier release for every month they spend in the camp, regardless of the severity of their crime.

“The changes were approved this week by the state Office of Administrative Law.

“The goal is to increase incentives for the incarcerated population to practice good behavior and follow the rules while serving their time, and participate in rehabilitative and educational programs, which will lead to safer prisons,” department spokeswoman Dana Simas said in a statement.

“Additionally, these changes would help to reduce the prison population by allowing incarcerated persons to earn their way home sooner,” she said.

“Simas provided the emergency regulations and estimates of how many inmates they will affect at the request of The Associated Press.”

Retrieved May 4, 2021 from 76,000 California Inmates Now Eligible for Earlier Releases | Political News | US News

Hits Keep on Coming

From Politico, born in San Francisco.

An excerpt.

“OAKLAND — California could become the first place in the nation where people can inject illicit drugs under medical supervision, pushing legal and ethical boundaries amid an alarming spike in overdose deaths.

“State lawmakers have debated the idea each year since 2016, a recurring struggle between progressive lawmakers who say it will save lives and moderate Democrats and Republicans who warn it would normalize hard drug use.

“The latest such proposal is quickly advancing in the California Legislature and stands a strong chance of landing on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. That could force the Democrat into a difficult choice: While he once said he was “very, very open” to the concept, signing the bill could leave him vulnerable to recall attacks from the right that he supported the state-sanctioned use of illegal drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

“The Democrats are the party of enablers right now — and at taxpayer expense,” Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, who called the sites “drug dens,” said in a statement Thursday after his chamber narrowly approved CA SB 57 (21R).

“The concept of so-called safe injection sites has taken hold overseas, but it has not broken through in the United States, where preliminary federal data released this month show more than 87,000 Americans died of overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in September — more than any since the opioid crisis began in the 1990s.

“In California the surge in deaths eclipsed even the nationwide increase of 29 percent, soaring by over 40 percent in one year. The latest annual statistics overlapped with the first six months of the pandemic, when profound isolation and job losses compounded struggles with mental health and substance abuse.

“California and our nation are in the midst of an unprecedented explosion of overdose deaths. It’s a public health crisis,” San Francisco Democrat Scott Wiener said Thursday in a speech on the state Senate floor. “What we’re doing is not working, and we need to try a proven tool that has worked around the world.”

“At statehouses in New York, Illinois and Rhode Island this year, lawmakers are making a similar case. Allowing people to inject in a clean environment with medical personnel available to administer overdose-reversing medication is an urgently needed response to the trends, proponents say.

“But it’s unclear where President Joe Biden stands on the issue — and whether federal drug enforcement authorities would look the other way if cities or states authorized such facilities.

“In a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and other city leaders urged the Biden administration to adopt a national policy deprioritizing drug enforcement activities around supervised injection sites.

“The threat of federal enforcement is one of the greatest disincentives to opening and operating these lifesaving programs in San Francisco and elsewhere, and we ask that you end that threat,” Breed wrote in the letter, which was also signed by city leaders from Oakland, New York. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Somerville, Mass.

“In recent years efforts to open such facilities in Seattle, Denver, Massachusetts and Utah have run into community opposition and federal prosecution threats. Philadelphia has come the closest, but the Trump-led Justice Department sued the nonprofit before it could open the facility and threatened “swift and aggressive action” against any city or county that tried to open these sites.

“The Philadelphia project remains stymied in the courts, though advocates hope the Biden administration will drop the case.”

Retrieved May 4, 2021 from Newsom may have to decide whether to sanction heroin injection sites – POLITICO

St. Catherine of Siena

A reflection on one of our greatest saints and a Doctor of the Church, from Catholic World Report.

An excerpt.

“In the wake of so many clerical sex abuse scandals, to many people the Catholic Church appears hypocritical and bankrupt morally and spiritually. In the midst of such trying times, how can Catholics justify remaining in the Church? The words and deeds of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), Dominican Mantelatta—or penitential woman—who lived during an earlier crisis, can offer us some guidance and hope.

“Catherine lived in worse times than our own because it was not only the Church that seemed to be collapsing, but larger society and even the world itself. The Black Death, or bubonic plague—one of the deadliest pandemics in human history—reached Sicily via Genoese trading ships from the Black Sea the year Catherine was born. It is said that four-fifths of the population of Siena died from the plague the following year. There would be several successive waves of the disease during Catherine’s lifetime. One anonymous chronicler in Siena at the time wrote: “And no bells tolled, and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death…. And people said and believed, ‘This is the end of the world.’”

“At the time, Italy was a conglomeration of feuding monarchies, communes, and republics with factions such as the Guelphs, who supported the papacy, and the Ghibellines, who supported the northern Italian rulers. The Italian peninsula was beset by foreign mercenaries, the most famous of which was the Englishman John Hawkwood, to whom Catherine directed one of her 381 letters. Outside of Italy, the Hundred Years War between England and France was raging, and there was the additional threat of militant Islam as seen in the advance of the Turks twice to Vienna.

“Catherine lived during a time of pessimism and cynicism. Barbara Tuchman, in her historical narrative A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, described the period as “a time of turmoil, diminished expectations, loss of confidence in institutions, and feelings of helplessness at forces beyond human control.” The popes lived in exile in Avignon between 1309 and 1377, only returning to Rome after Catherine went personally to the papal court and pleaded with Gregory XI. Monasteries and convents in Europe were decimated by the Plague, and in order to re-populate them unsuitable candidates were often accepted. The secular literature at the time described clerical celibacy as a joke. By the time Catherine died in 1380, the Church was in schism with the election of an anti-pope, Clement VII.

“Three years before her death, Catherine (who was illiterate for most of her life) began dictating, while in a mystical state, “il libro,” or the compendium of her spiritual teaching which we know today as the Dialogue. The work is God’s answer to four requests made by Catherine, the first of which pertained to enlightenment regarding the situation of the Church and its moral and spiritual reform. The eternal Father’s reply is found mostly in chapters 110-134, a major portion of the book. It is here that Catherine manifests great respect and love for priests who, the eternal Father tells her, are his “christs,” sent “like fragrant flowers into the mystic body of the Holy Church.” Notwithstanding, Catherine was fearless in exposing and criticizing the failures of priests and bishops. In fact, she is so indelicate in her criticism that portions of the Dialogue—such as chapter 121, on homosexuality among the clergy—have been excised from various editions of the work.

“Catherine’s theological vocabulary is full of homey imagery, and was constantly evolving. One image of the Church was a wine cellar in which is kept the life-giving Blood of Christ, received in the Eucharist. The pope is the cellar-master commissioned by Christ to administer the Blood and to delegate others—priests—to assist him. The fundamental necessity of the Church is found in the fact that it alone is the repository of the Blood of Christ, which gives life to all. Catherine saw clearly that the good of the Church was the good of humanity. Therefore, anyone who opposes the Church is his or her own enemy.  The Church is the hope of the world.

“Catherine was a contemplative whose love of the Church grew in the course of her lifetime, despite the corruption of some of its members. The biographer Johannes Jorgensen said of her spiritual life: “Her love of Jesus expands, grows insatiable, infinite, is transformed into love of His Mystical Body, of the all-comprehensive, all-embracing Holy Catholic Church.” Like other saints and mystics, her contemplation brought her into the heart of the mystery of the Church. What Jacques Philippe says of St. Thérèse of Lisieux could equally be said of Catherine: “[T]he more she centered her being on the love of Jesus, the more her heart grew in love for the Church. […] Indeed, this is the only real way to understand the Church. Anyone who does not have a spousal relationship with God in prayer will never perceive the deepest truth of the Church’s identity.”

Retrieved April 30, 2021 from Catherine of Siena and Leaving the Church – Catholic World Report


Great article from Aeon.

An excerpt.

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.’ This popular quip, often misattributed to Oscar Wilde, appears without any apparent irony in self-help books and blog posts celebrating authenticity. Understandably, they take the dictum to ‘be oneself’ as a worthy, nearly unassailable goal. Our culture is saturated with authenticity: we’re forever ‘finding ourselves’, ‘self-actualising’, ‘doing you’, ‘being real’, ‘going off the beaten path’, ‘breaking free of the crowd’. We spend our youth trying to figure out who we are; our later years trying to stay true to ourselves; and the time in-between in crisis about whether we are who we thought we were.

“But ‘Wilde’s’ quote, inauthentic though it might be, suggests something foolish at the heart of authenticity. All this introspection can seem gratuitous. Why expend so much effort trying to be something we can’t help but be? ‘In the end,’ as the author David Foster Wallace put it, ‘you end up becoming yourself.’

“And there’s a deeper absurdity to authenticity, too. Everyone else might be taken, but the effort to be ourselves is the surest path to being just like everyone else, especially in the context of a highly commodified and surveilled culture where we always seem to be on stage. If some person or organisation claims to be concerned with authenticity, you can be almost certain that they’re conformist posers. As Wilde actually did write: ‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’ (Or misquotation.)

“Where did all these dead-ends and paradoxes of self-creation come from?

“Despite its ubiquity, there’s nothing necessary about authenticity. First of all, it’s a luxury: only those comfortable enough to take the necessities of life for granted can turn their attention to authenticity. Secondly, authenticity has a history. Other cultures and times haven’t given the self nearly so much weight, nor have they frowned so much upon conformity. Self-actualisation is often subordinated, if not completely subsumed, by service to the family, to tradition, or to God. Thinking about the history and contingency of authenticity – as with any concept – can help us understand how best to approach it.

“Authenticity seems, at least initially, to have had a religious component. Indeed, Western authenticity can’t be understood without reference to that peculiar Christian God who decided to become a man. One way to understand authenticity is as the inheritance we’re left with after God passes away. In personalising God, Christianity foregrounded the inward struggle of the believer. In the form of Jesus Christ, whom Wilde called ‘the first individualist in history’, God wasn’t just a lord to serve, but ‘one of us’, a human being with a personal narrative that holds lessons for his humble servants. Jesus’ struggle with temptation, his rejection of hypocritical dogma, and his willing self-sacrifice parallels every Christian’s own struggle: ‘What would Jesus do?’

“To see what’s new here, consider the difference between Moses’ 40 years in the desert and Jesus’ 40 days. Moses’s struggle is external: to subordinate himself to God, follow his (quite demanding) instructions, and lead his chosen people to the Promised Land. By contrast, Jesus’ struggle is internal and psychological: left alone by God, he must resist temptation through an inner strength that becomes an example to his followers. Jesus isn’t just man and God in one. He endows human life in general with a touch of the divine. His story puts in stark relief a whole inner world, dramatises it, and elevates it to a realm of utmost spiritual importance. A long history of tortured self-scrutiny follows.

“Perhaps the most important early tortured soul was that of St Augustine, a philosopher and priest in 4th-century Roman North Africa who is often credited with originating the modern sense of inwardness. The hedonist son of a pious mother, Augustine searched for meaning in sex, heretical Manichaeism, and the Classics before his come-to-Jesus moment, a drawn-out period of personal crisis and conversion that serves as the pivot for his autobiographical Confessions. In the Confessions, one finds the searching, longing introspection and even the self-centred and ironic detachment that characterise modern authenticity. ‘O Lord, help me to be chaste,’ Augustine writes in the voice of his younger self – ‘but not yet.’

“Augustine’s aim is not so much to celebrate, actualise or find a self as to narrate the process of transcending it. He’s trying to go, as the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor puts it, ‘inward and upward’ – or, to put it another way, upward by way of inward. Augustine’s conversion involves a great deal of discipline and self-abnegation. Taylor, who chronicles the emergence of the modern self in his book Sources of the Self (1992), writes that Augustine ‘makes the step toward inwardness … because it is a step towards God’.”

Retrieved April 30, 2021 from A history of authenticity, from Jesus to self-help and beyond | Aeon Essays

St. Louis Grignion de Monfort, Saint of the Day

The great saint of the Rosary, from Tradition in Action.

An excerpt.

“When St. Louis Grignion (1673-1716) was in Poitiers preaching spiritual exercises to the Sisters of St. Catherine, the Bishop, influenced by Jansenism, sent him an order to immediately leave the Diocese. The saint obeyed. At his leave-taking, since he could no longer speak to the inhabitants of Montbernage, he directed to them a letter worthy of the zeal of St. Paul:

“Remember, then, my dear children, my joy, my glory, and my crown, to have an ardent love for Jesus Christ and to love Him through Mary. Let true devotion to our loving Mother be manifest everywhere and to everyone, so that you may spread everywhere the good fragrance of Jesus Christ. Carrying your cross with constancy following the steps of this good Master, thus gain the crown and the kingdom that await you. Do not fail to faithfully fulfill your baptismal promises and all that they entail, pray your Rosary every day either in private or in public, and receive the Sacraments at least once a month.

“I beg my cherished friends of Montbernage, who possess the statue of Our Lady, my good Mother, and my heart, to continue praying even more fervently, and not to tolerate in their company those who swear and blaspheme, sing immoral songs, and become drunk…

“I stand in face of many enemies. All those who love and esteem transitory and perishable things of this world treat me with contempt, mock and persecute me, and the powers of evil have conspired together to incite against me everywhere all those powerful ones in authority. Surrounded by all this I am very weak, even weakness itself. I am ignorant, even ignorance itself, and even worse that I do not dare to speak of. Being so alone and poor, I would certainly perish were I not supported by Our Lady and the prayers of good people, especially your own. These are obtaining for me from God the gift of speech or Divine Wisdom, which will be the remedy for all my ills and a powerful weapon against all my enemies.

“With Mary everything is easy. I place all my confidence in her, despite the snarls of the world and thunders of hell. I say with St. Bernard: ‘In her I have placed unbounded confidence; she is the whole reason for my hope.’ …. Through Mary I will seek and find Jesus; I will crush the serpent’s head and overcome all my enemies as well as myself for the greater glory of God.

“Farewell then but not goodbye, for if God spares me, I will pass this way again.”

Retrieved April 28, 2021 from St. Louis Marie Grignion de Monfort, Plinio Correa de Oliveira commentary on the Saint of the Day, April 28 (

Be well everyone, and pray the old school rosary in the old school way, see

Shroud of Turin

Excellent interview with the author of a new book about it, from National Catholic Register.

An excerpt.

“Gerard Verschuuren is a Catholic biologist and philosopher who works at the junction of science and religion. His wide-ranging background includes genetics, biological anthropology and statistics, but he was also awarded a doctorate in the philosophy of science, and has taught everything from the philosophy of biology to human genetics to computer programming at universities in America and Europe. He now lives in New Hampshire and is using his retirement to write books about the faith and science, among them Aquinas and Modern Science, The Myth of an Anti-Science Church, In the Beginning: How God Made Earth Our Home and, most recently, A Catholic Scientist Champions the Shroud of Turin (Sophia Institute Press, 192 pages, $17.95). In this book, Verschuuren considers the evidence for and against the authenticity of the shroud from the twin perspective of science and faith. One of his reasons for reconsidering the evidence at this time was the availability of the raw data of the carbon-14 tests first reported in 1988. Withheld for decades by the British Museum, the raw data was only released in 2017, following a freedom-of-information request by French researcher Tristan Casabianca. Subsequent analysis of this data and comparison with the original report led Casabianca’s team to conclude that “homogeneity is lacking in the data and that the procedure should be reconsidered,” casting doubt in the results of the carbon-14 date. Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald discussed these issues with Verschuuren.

What drew you to Shroud of Turin research?

“I was always interested in the shroud. The big bummer came in 1988, when so-called scientists claimed that the shroud could not be older than the 1260s. I could not believe that because I knew that carbon dating has a number of pitfalls, and the group that was in favor of the shroud, most of them scientists, could not believe it either. They had so many indications that the thing was much older. So, finally, they sued the people who came up with that analysis and said, “You haven’t given us all the data. You’re hiding something.” And finally, 30 years later, they won that battle. The data were released, and that gave me the energy to start my research all over again to show that the carbon dating cannot be true. We have many other indications that the shroud is much older than they have claimed. So that’s where my journey began.

Why shouldn’t we trust the carbon dating?

“There are many reasons, and I discuss them in the book, but I want to be brief here. One of the problems with the carbon dating is that the samples were taken from the worst spot on the shroud. I cannot completely blame the scientists for that because the Vatican is very careful with the shroud. It’s the document that they have, and that document cannot be damaged. That’s why they finally put it in a bulletproof case controlled for temperature and other things that could damage it. Another reason was that there was supposed to be testing by seven laboratories, and they ended up with only three of them, and that makes it already more difficult to claim they have scientific information because scientific information has to be reproducible.

“It was taken from the side strip, which is the place that was handled in the past to show the shroud. We have drawings and pictures showing bishops and priests holding the shroud horizontally from the top. So that strip has a lot of contamination from their fingers and bacteria, and all of those influence the reading of your carbon dating. “And besides, we have so much very convincing evidence that the shroud is much older. We have historical records that the shroud was only moved to Turin in 1578. Before that, it was in France. We also know that the shroud was in Constantinople in 1204, which is already before the dating of the carbon tests. We have records that it came to Constantinople from Edessa, so we know that it was already there in 544. So we get farther and farther away from this carbon dating.

“It’s my conviction that it came from Jerusalem. How do we know that? Because there is also pollen analysis. We have found pollens on the shroud that are not only from France, where it was for many centuries, but pollens from Jerusalem. So I consider that a very strong indication that the shroud is much older than the carbon-dating test could ever tell us.

If you’re trying to make the case for authenticity to a skeptic, what would you mention first? Is there one piece of information that you find powerfully conclusive?

“I would point to the textile analysis. I know skeptics are going to doubt all of that too, because that’s their attitude, but the material that the shroud was made of is very high-quality linen. We know from the Gospels that Joseph of Aramithea was a rich man and bought the linens that Jesus was laid in. It is woven in a pattern that we only find in old linens. We don’t find them after the first century. A textile analyst from Switzerland analyzed the way it was woven and concluded it was very particular for Jewish linens. She only found that same pattern in linens from Masada, a settlement that was used at the time of the Roman occupation. So it’s very telling that Masada linens have the same pattern. The linens were also studied by chemists, who looked for the presence of vanillin, which is also found in flax used for that kind of linen. That vanillin will decay and break down over time, and they found hardly any vanillin left, [but they did find vanillin in the fabric,] which means it’s much, much older than carbon texts suggests.

“Is there anything about the evidence that troubled you?

“The DNA found on the shroud is very defragmented. That means when you study the DNA, it’s unreliable, but a lot of people think they can do much more with DNA analysis, that we can say this is really from Jesus. I don’t think we can ever say that because we have nothing to compare it to. He had no brothers or sisters, so when people say we can prove it’s Jesus by comparison of DNA, I ask, “Compare it with whom?” What we do know is that the DNA they could analyze was partially of a gene found on the Y-chromosome, so it means he was a man. So what? We knew that. So I don’t put much confidence in the DNA research, but I go into it in my book. We know the blood type is AB. So what does that tell us about the shroud’s authenticity? Nothing, other than to satisfy our curiosity.

“I maintain, after all I have studied, that it is the Shroud of Jesus. It is not just an icon: It is a relic. It would be an icon if it was painted. I give many reasons — more than 10 in my book — why it cannot be a painted picture. If it’s not a painting, then it’s from a real person. I consider it a real relic. So when we see the shroud, we are really seeing the face of Jesus, the body of Jesus, with all the torture he went through, all the blood spots we find on that shroud.”

Retrieved April 26, 2021 from Scientist: ‘When We See the Shroud, We Are Really Seeing the Face of Jesus’| National Catholic Register (

Israel, the Holy Land

The founding of Israel was one of the most important events in history and acclaimed writer Caroline Glick tells us about it, then and now.

An excerpt.

“At independence, Israel was little more than a spark of light – a tiny spark – in the Jewish world. From a total of 11.5 million Jews alive on the 5th of the month of Iyyar in the Jewish year 5708, (May 14, 1948), only 650,000, or 6% lived in Israel. In contrast, the day Israel was founded, some five million, or 43% of world Jewry were living in the United States.

“Fast forward 73 years and that little spark of light is now the sun in the Jewish solar system. With 6.9 million Jews out of a total of 14.9 million, not only is Israel the largest Jewish community in the world by far with 47% of world Jewry living within its boundaries, by 2030, the majority of world Jewry will be living in the Jewish state.

“As for America, although half a million Jews immigrated to the US since Israel was founded, the total number of Jews in America stands today at a mere 5.7 million. American Jewry has been reduced to just 38% of the world Jewish population. The implications are straightforward. Since 1948, virtually all of the growth in the Jewish world population has happened and is continuing to happen in Israel.

“Israel’s transformation into the center of the Jewish world isn’t just a question of demographics. Most Torah learning that is happening in the world is happening in Israel. Most Jewish literature is being written in Israel. Jewish advances in everything from medicine to economics and business, to science, engineering, culinary arts, visual arts and more are happening in Israel. Jewish history is being researched in Israel and is being made in Israel. Israel is the present of the Jewish people and the future of the Jewish people.

“Aside from everything else, this state of affairs exposes the manifest stupidity of the claim that anti-Zionism is anything other than antisemitism.

“Although Israel’s position at the center of the Jewish world is undeniable, it has gone largely unnoticed by most Israelis. Most of the Israelis who are engaged with Diaspora Jewry continue to act as though Israel – with a per capita GDP higher than Japan’s – is an underpopulated, impoverished backwater that cannot survive without the support of our wealthy and more secure brethren in America, Australia or France.

“So too, most Israelis are unaware of the revolution the country has brought to Judaism itself. In the space of three generations, Israelis have taken their grandparents’ practices from the ghettos of Europe and the melachs of North Africa and Arabia and turned them into a dynamic, living, breathing creed. Judaism is the rhythm of life in Israel.

“In every neighborhood, village and town, the Judaism that is lived in Israel has an electric vibrance. Israeli music, fashion, customs, prayer, settlement, religious studies, agriculture, and cooking are separately and together expressions of a spiritual renewal the likes of which no one imagined, or planned.

“It is the organic outgrowth of the reunification of the people of Israel and their faith in their land. Few have noticed any of this or considered its spiritual and cultural significance, let alone recognized its potential.

“The reformation of Jewish life is not Israel’s only huge achievement that has been largely overlooked and underappreciated by the people of Israel. They have also largely missed the transformation of Israel’s global position. The ongoing domestic debate regarding the goal of Israel’s policies in relation to Iran’s nuclear program is a testament to this lack of national self-awareness.

“Since Iran’s military nuclear program was revealed to the world by an Iranian opposition group in late 2002, a debate has raged in Israel about who is responsible for preventing Iran from getting the bomb. In 2002, the immediate response of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his then deputy Ehud Olmert was that that dealing with Iran’s nuclear program was America’s responsibility.

“True, they acknowledged, Israel is the first on Iran’s target list. And true, Iran’s leaders have all committed to annihilating Israel. But since Iran’s nuclear program threatens the region – and indeed the world as a whole, responsibility for dealing with this existential threat belongs to superpower America, not to tiny Israel.

“This view became the near-consensus over the years in the IDF General Staff. Israeli generals’ counterparts in the Pentagon promised them that Israel could count on the US. Today this view is promoted most powerfully by former IDF chief of general staff and current Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Gantz gave summed up this position succinctly on Monday in remarks he made at a joint press appearance with visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“In Gantz’s words, “The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the State of Israel, and we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the US, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel.”

“Notably, like Olmert and Sharon before him, Gantz put Israel last on his list of concerns despite the fact that Iran’s ayatollahs have made it abundantly clear that Israel is their primary target. Moreover, Gantz’s statement made clear that he rules out the option of Israel acting independently as a regional power to secure its very existence.”

Retrieved April 16, 2021 from

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Peter Seewald, who is writing a new biography of Pope Benedict and has interviewed him several times, is interviewed by Catholic World Report,

An excerpt.

“The veteran German journalist discusses his new biography of Benedict XVI, and reflects in detail on Ratzinger’s childhood, personality, education, and role in key Church events.

“Note: On the occasion of the 94th birthday of Joseph Ratzinger, born on April 16, 1927, CWR is reposting this interview, first posted on January 13, 2021.

“The veteran German journalist Peter Seewald first met Joseph Ratzinger nearly thirty years ago. Since then he has published two best-selling book length interviews with Cardinal Ratzinger—Salt of the Earth: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church at the End of the Millennium and God and the World: Believing and Living in Our Time—as well as 2010’s Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs Of The Times and 2017’s Benedict XVI: Last Testament—In His Own Words.

“He is also the author of Benedict XVI : An Intimate Portrait, and the photo-biography titled Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth.

“His most recent book is an ambitious, multi-volumed biography of the pope emeritus. The first volume, titled Benedict XVI: A Life—Volume One: Youth in Nazi Germany to the Second Vatican Council 1927–1965, is available in English.

“Seewald recently corresponded with Carl E. Olson, editor of CWR, about his biography of Benedict XVI, and spoke in detail about Ratzinger’s childhood, personality, education, and role in key Church events—especially the Second Vatican Council.

“CWR: Let’s begin with some background. When and how did you first become acquainted with Joseph Ratzinger?

“Peter Seewald: My first encounter with the then Cardinal was in November 1992. As author of the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazine I was tasked with writing a portrait of the current Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF). Even then, Ratzinger was already the most sought after churchman in the world, second only to the Pope. And the most controversial. The reporters stood in line to score an interview with him. I had the good fortune to be received by him. Apparently, my cover letter had sparked his interest, in which I promised to strive for objectivity. And that was indeed what I wanted.

“CWR: What sort of access have you had to him over the course of that time?

“Seewald: I was not a fan of his, but I asked myself the question: Who is Ratzinger really? He had long since been pigeonholed as the “Panzer Cardinal”, the “Great Inquisitor”, a grim fellow, therefore, an enemy of civilization. As soon as one blew this horn, one could be absolutely certain of the applause of journalist colleagues and the mainstream audience.

“CWR: What was different about you?

“Seewald: I had studied Ratzinger’s writings in advance and especially his diagnoses of the times. And I was somewhat stunned to see that Ratzinger’s analyses of the development of society had been largely confirmed. In addition, none of the contemporary witnesses I interviewed, fellow students, assistants, companions, who really knew Ratzinger, could confirm the image of the hardliner, on the contrary. With the exception of people like Hans Küng and Jürgen Drewermann, his notorious opponents. Of course, I also wanted to see for myself, on site, in the building of the former Holy Inquisition in Rome.

“CWR: That was an unforgettable moment?

“Seewald: Yes. The door to the visitors’ room, where I was waiting, opened and in stepped a not too tall, very modest and almost delicate-looking figure in a black cassock, who extended his hand to me in a friendly manner. His voice was soft and the handshake was not such that one had broken fingers afterwards. This was supposed to be a Panzer Cardinal? A prince of the Church greedy for power? Ratzinger made it easy for me to strike up a conversation with him. We sat down and started talking. I simply asked him how he was doing. That was the key. Apparently, no one had ever cared about that. As if he had been waiting for this, he completely openly disclosed to me that as of now he felt old and used up. It was time for younger forces and he was looking forward to being able to hand over his office soon. As we know today, nothing came of it.

“CWR: How did that access and time together inform this biography?

“Seewald: Of course, I would never have dreamed what would follow from that hour. That I would eventually compile four books of interviews with Ratzinger or rather Pope Benedict. I had been expelled from school, didn’t have a high school diploma, had left the Church at the age of 18, and as a juvenile revolutionary I didn’t have much to do with the Faith. However, at some point the cultural and moral decline in our society had made me think. It was clear to me that the disintegration of our standards had to do with the pushing away of the values of Christianity, ultimately with a world without God. I began to look into the questions of religion and found it adventurous to attend church services again. On top of that, I could see that in Ratzinger there was a man who, out of the handed-down Catholic Faith and out of his own reflection and prayer, could provide fitting answers to the problems of our time.

“CWR: What qualities did Joseph (Sr.) and Maria Ratzinger possess and instill in their three children – Georg, Maria, and Joseph – so that all the siblings had a strong sense of religious vocation at early ages?

“Seewald: Perhaps it must be said that many vocations came forth from the Ratzingers’ ancestral home. One of Joseph senior’s brothers was a priest, one of his sisters a nun, and his uncle Georg, also a priest, had become famous far beyond Germany as a member of the Reichstag and a writer. The family of the future Pope lived a deep piety in the tradition of liberal Bavarian Catholicism. This example had an educational and contagious effect. Benedict XVI said about his mother that she was a very sensual, warm-hearted woman. From her he got the soulfulness, the love of nature. As a policeman, his father was a strict but above all straightforward man who valued truth and justice and, as an anti-fascist, foresaw early on that Hitler meant war.

“CWR: How significant was the relationship between Joseph, Sr. and Joseph, Jr.?

“Seewald: Extremely important. Through his honesty, his courage and his clear mind the senior was a role model on the one hand, and at the same time Joseph knew that he was truly loved by him. The parents had never insisted that their children should become “something special”. The father was highly intelligent, had a poetic vein, observed the teachings of the Church and at the same time lived a very down-to-earth Catholicism. Above all, he was characterized by a critical mind. He was not afraid to criticize even bishops who had come to terms with the Nazi regime.”

Retrieved April 16, 2021 from The life, faith, and struggle of Joseph Ratzinger: An interview with Peter Seewald – Catholic World Report

Father Hans Küng & Mozart

An excellent article from Catholic World Report, which reminded me to add some more Mozart to my music library.

An excerpt.

« De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. Loosely translated as “do not speak ill of the dead,” it remains good advice, particularly when reflecting on the life of someone with whom you disagreed about many things. The phrase certainly passed through my mind when I read of the death of the Swiss theologian, Father Hans Küng.

“Fr. Küng’s eventful life put him at the heart of 20th century Catholicism’s most heated controversies. Whether the topic was Humanae Vitae, the correct interpretation of Vatican II, or the nature of inter-religious dialogue, Küng had very clear views. He was also masterful at making sure that everyone knew what those opinions were. But even many on the progressive side of these intra-Catholic debates readily concede that some of Küng’s views on topics like euthanasia, the nature of hell, or Christ’s consubstantiality with God the Father—to name just a few—were irreconcilable with received Catholic teaching.

“Nor, alas, was Küng above detraction. He wrote things about John Paul II and Benedict XVI plainly designed to pander to the preconceptions of aggressively secular or religiously liberal journalists. As his former assistant Cardinal Walter Kasper gently put it, Küng’s heart may have been Catholic, but his behavior was sometimes “unjust.” In his notebooks written during Vatican II, one of the most influential 20th century theologians Father Henri de Lubac SJ (who was hardly an arch-reactionary and found himself under the scrutiny of the Holy Office before Vatican II) described Küng as possessing a “juvenile audacity” and speaking in “incendiary, superficial, and polemical” terms. Evidently Küng’s lack of humility—something, again, freely admitted by some of his defenders—disturbed de Lubac.

“The Year 1979

“Küng’s intellectual life was bracketed by the periods before and after his license to teach Catholic theology was withdrawn in 1979 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with John Paul II’s approval.

“Before 1979, Küng’s writing was dominated by his effort to stamp his own progressive take on the world’s understanding of Vatican II through academic journals like Concilium and endless public lectures and media-interviews. It was an interpretation and style that, to varying degrees, was adopted by many post-Vatican II German clergy and theologians. Given the catastrophic state of Catholicism throughout the German-speaking world today—empty pews, hyper-bureaucratization, a pronounced disinterest in evangelization, the corrupting influence of the infamous church tax, the absolutization of the historical-critical method for studying Scripture, rampant consequentialism in moral theology, and, above all, a fixation with conforming Catholic teaching to the secular zeitgeist on any given subject—it’s hard to claim that Küng’s ideas facilitated any renaissance in Catholic life.

“After 1979, Küng’s research focused on questions of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. He had written extensively on these topics during the 1960s and 1970s. But in books like Christianity and the World Religions: Paths of Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism (1986) and Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View (1990), Küng made these questions even more central to his work. Though he never stopped launching salvos against Rome, Küng increasingly operated in “the world of religions.”

“This is a professionalized academic setting which, if done well, can help increase understanding of faiths other than your own. If handled badly, however, it lends itself to the promotion of a sentimental humanitarianism that downplays the truth that, whether we like it or not, different religions have very different conceptions of God and the purpose of human life, and they can’t all be true.

“Küng’s explorations of these subjects often produced profound insights into the nature of other faiths. Küng was a man with considerable intellectual gifts, and no less than Benedict XVI praised his efforts to develop a universal ethical code based on moral truths held by the world’s major religions. But although he was not a promotor of syncretism, Küng regarded evangelization as a thing of the past. While that might comfort German theologians and clerics uncertain about the truth about anything, it’s contrary to Christ’s own words on the subject.

“Personally, I’m unsure that Catholics will be reading many of Küng’s writings in, say, twenty years’ time. Most of them are highly conditioned by the preoccupations of progressive theologians in the 20th century’s last quarter. And if there is anything about liberal religion that we have learned over the past 60 years, it is that progressive Christianity can’t sustain itself outside church bureaucracies and university departments.

“There is, however, one book authored by Küng which I continue to find enlightening in more ways than one ever since I first read it in the late-1990s. It concerns a very unlikely topic: the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

“And then there was Mozart

“Küng first attracted the world’s attention with his 1957 book, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. It is presumably while making Barth’s acquaintance that Küng discovered the Protestant theologian’s affection for Mozart. In his Church Dogmatics, Barth commented that he began each day listening to Mozart, and confessed that “if I ever get to heaven, I would first of all seek out Mozart and only then inquire after Augustine, St Thomas, Luther, Calvin, and Schleiermacher.” Barth even wrote a short bookWolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1956) in which he maintained that “In the case of Mozart, we must certainly assume that the dear Lord had a special, direct contact with him” as Mozart’s music “evidently comes from on high.”

“Küng, it turns out, shared Barth’s love of Mozart (as did, incidentally, two prominent Catholic theologians of whom Küng was extremely critical: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger). 35 years after Barth’s book appeared, Küng penned his own little text about the composer.

“Entitled Mozart: Traces of Transcendence (1991), Küng points out that Barth seems “almost apologetic” about Mozart’s Catholicism. Indeed, Küng adds, few modern scholars of Mozart had written very much at all about the place of religious belief in Mozart’s life and work. They pay more attention to the fact that Mozart became a Freemason in 1784, albeit, it turns out, in a lodge made up of believing Catholics. This wasn’t unusual in late-18th century Catholic Europe. It perhaps helped that the 1738 papal ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons (reiterated in 1983 by the CDF with John Paul II’s approval) wasn’t promulgated in Austria until 1792, one year after Mozart’s death.

“Even the most rudimentary perusal of Mozart’s correspondence reveals, Küng notes, “a Catholicity which is by no means out of keeping with the gospel, rooted in a confident personal holding to God” as well as “a belief relatively immune even to modern criticism of religion.” Mozart’s writings are full of references to God the Creator, his confidence in Christ’s promises, and his attachment to “the mystical sanctuary of our religion”—something, Mozart said, which “moves your soul” when you considered what you were doing when you knelt down “at the moving Angus Dei and received the Eucharist.”

“Much of this Catholic faith, Küng suggests, came from Mozart’s father. Leopold Mozart had received 12 years of education by the Jesuits, studied theology and philosophy, and paid particular attention to Mozart’s religious formation. Faith was something that father and son discussed regularly. When Leopold was dying, Wolfgang told him that “I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity . . . of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.” Those aren’t the words of someone with a frivolous attitude toward faith. At a time when unbelief was becoming fashionable in some circles, Mozart remarked that “Friends who have no religion cannot long be my friends.”

Retrieved April 15, 2021 from What Mozart taught Hans Küng about God – Catholic World Report

Simone Weil

She should be made a saint, as is obvious in this review of a new book about her from Prospect.

The most important sentence in the review is “Every man’s work should be an object of contemplation for him,” 

An excerpt.

“The French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943) had a precocious gift for sympathy—and more than a hint of masochism. She sought out the darkness to escape the comfortable bourgeois life—the very model of assimilated Third Republic French-Jewish success—into which she was born. When she was ten years old, in 1919, she disappeared from her Paris apartment only to be found marching down the Boulevard Saint Michel with striking workers, singing The Internationale. On holiday before her last year at the École Normale Superièure—where she would graduate first in her cohort, ahead of Simone de Beauvoir—she toiled on a fishing trawler in Normandy. In 1932, she went down a coal mine and was nearly shaken to pieces when she tried the pneumatic drill.

“Weil definitively left her privilege behind in 1934, when she took a leave of absence from teaching philosophy at a provincial lycée in Roanneto work at different factories in Paris. There she learned first-hand how “not thinking anymore… is the one and only way of not suffering.” Weil’s clumsiness made her factory career difficult—though it also probably saved her life. Her brief stint with the French-speaking Internationals in the Spanish Civil War (“Happily, I am so myopic that there’s no risk of my killing others,” she wrote, “even when I am aiming at them”) was cut short when she stepped in a pot of cooking oil and was forced back to Paris.

“After her family fled the Nazi invasion of France, Weil became obsessed by the idea of parachuting behind enemy lines with a brigade of nurses. Her suicidal proposal was rebuffed be de Gaulle; instead, she was tasked with preparing reports on the political and spiritual reconstruction of France. In 1943, she died of tuberculosis aggravated, the coroner found, by her self-imposed malnutrition: she insisted on never eating more than was permitted in her occupied homeland. Her family called her Antigone; her classmates, the “Categorical Imperative in Skirts.”

“In her brief life, Weil was more of a teacher than a writer—at the lycée, at workers’ reading groups, and with the fishermen and farmers whom she tutored in languages and literature when the day’s work was done. Yet Weil still wrote intensely. Virtually none of her writings appeared in her lifetime, with the exception of her justly famous essay “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” which was published in Vichy France in 1940, and which remains her most accessible work.

“Her books were all compiled by others, stitched from the essays, letters, and notes she left behind into Waiting for God and Gravity and Grace on her mystic theology, and The Need for Roots on her political theoryThinkers as diverse as Albert Camus, Pope Paul VI, Iris Murdoch, Jacques Derrida, Susan Sontag and Franz Fanon cite Weil as an influence. Her posthumous productivity—as a thinker and as a myth—makes her hard to pin down.

“To a rare degree in the modern age—or, indeed, any age—Simone Weil fully inhabited her philosophy,” writes Robert Zaretsky, in his welcome new book, The Subversive Simone Weil. Drawing on Simone Petrément’s still-unequalled 1973 vie, Zaretsky approaches Weil by essaying “a small number of core themes in her thought that still resonate today”—affliction, attention, rootedness, resistance and the divine. These themes give a sense of the remarkable scope of the work she packed into a mere 33 years. In clear, accessible prose, Zaretsky gives some coherence to Weil’s largely fragmentary oeuvre. What emerges is a portrait of a politically unclassifiable thinker who in her life and writings committed herself to be open to the unbearable reality around her.  

“Weil’s year-long apprenticeship in Paris factories transformed her early Marxist tendencies into something more sophisticated—and arguably more radical. “Every man’s work should be an object of contemplation for him,” Weil wrote, anticipating Hannah Arendt’s later distinction between meaningful work and mere labour. This spiritual approach to oppression led Weil to develop, as Zaretsky writes, “a fundamentally conservative, if not reactionary, conception of ‘revolution’ and ‘resistance’.” Weil believed not so much in creating a new form of life, but in restoring many aspects of the one industrialisation had swept away. As TS Eliot observed, Weil was “at the same time more truly a lover of order and hierarchy than most of those who call themselves Conservative, and more truly a lover of the people than most of those who call themselves Socialist.”

“Ideology was, for Weil, less important than suffering. Modern factory work—endlessly repetitive, frantically rushed—induces what she termed le malheur, often translated as affliction: a condition as “hideous as life in its nakedness always is, like an amputated stump, like the swarming of insects.” We look away instinctively from the hollow stare of an exhausted worker, just as we look away from the bloody workings of war—two sorts of dehumanising violence, in Weil’s view. Force, as Weil writes in her essay on the Iliad, “turns anyone who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him.” War and work destroy the complex sensibility that makes us human.

“Weil thought that educating workers to read the classics and to express themselves clearly was more important than fomenting revolution. Education fosters attention, which for Weil is a life-expanding “negative effort,” a kind of negative capability with which we approach the world as though translating a “text that is not written down.” Whether for a worker or an intellectual, as Zaretsky writes, for Weil the “epistemological is the ethical”; being open and available to others is the only way to fully respect them, and the only way to be fully human.

“Human beings also need to be enmeshed in a community—to have the roots that modernity and war were pulling up. To be rooted means to preserve, Weil writes, “certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations of the future”—the ultimate function of the nation, in her Burkean view. (Notably, Roger Scruton included Weil in his Great Tradition.) The distinctive condition of modern life is déracinement, or uprootedness—“a sort of inner vertigo” deeper and more elusive than alienation. Uprootedness comes with the physical displacement forced upon her and her family by the Nazi aggression—a kind of physical and spiritual colonisation which she boldly asserted was identical to what the French were perpetrating in trying to Gallicise their colonial subjects.

“Weil’s worldview became progressively more religious, and in the ‘30s she drifted further from her upbringing as a “fiercely nonobservant” assimilated Jew and drew closer to Christianity. Although she refused allegiance to any church, Zaretsky relates how Weil “engaged in a brilliant and often bruising dialogue with Christianity” from her first experience of grace in a Romanesque chapel in Assisi in 1937, when she felt a divine force drive her to her knees to pray.

“Like so much else in her life, Weil’s Christianity took the form of self-denial—not just of her ties to Judaism, which she relentlessly denigrated as a brutal, ungodly force in history, but also of her own ego. “Relentless necessity, wretchedness, distress, the crushing burden of poverty and of labor which wears us out, cruelty, torture, violent death, constraint, disease—all these constitute divine love,” Weil wrote, describing her version of what the Gnostics call kenosis. “It is God who in love withdraws from us so that we can love him.” In order to approach the divine, we must undergo a process of décréation, an undoing of the fundamental separation that occurred when God created the world. We must overcome the separation by overcoming ourselves.”

Retrieved April 12, 2021 from The subversive philosophy of Simone Weil – Prospect Magazine