Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Millennials and Bernie Sanders, continued.

Following up on Sunday's post on Millennials and Bernie Sanders and the apparent outcome of last night's Iowa Caucus in a "virtual tie" between Sanders and rival Hillary Clinton, here is some more data on the generational divide between supporters of the two Democratic candidates, as reported today by John Cassidy of The New Yorker:
The age gap between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters was huge. According to the entrance polls, which wrongly predicted a Clinton victory, Sanders got eighty-six per cent of the Democratic vote in the seventeen-to-twenty-four age group, eighty-one per cent in the twenty-five-to-twenty-nine group, and sixty-five per cent in the thirty-to-thirty-nine age group. Clinton, by contrast, was largely reliant on the middle-aged and the elderly. Among forty-something voters, she won by five percentage points. Among the over-fifties, she won by more than twenty per cent.

When you are so heavily reliant on support from older voters, it is tricky to project yourself as the voice of the future....
As I mused on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether the fact that younger voters skew so heavily toward Sanders reflects a generational shift in political attitudes or simply affirms well-worn clichés regarding the passing idealism of youth. Four year ago, at around the same time I was writing about Ron Paul's popularity among young voters in the Republican primaries and caucuses, I quipped to friends that Paul might be described as the Pied Piper of American politics, capturing the imagination of a generation of activists uninspired by the cautious platitudes of candidates favored by party elites. In his own way, Bernie Sanders might be on his way to becoming the Pied Piper of the Democratic Party.

Given shifts in the American political landscape in the last four years and the fragmentation of the Republican primary field, it's hard to know what has happened to the Millennials who backed the 'Ron Paul Revolution' the last time around; I'd love to see some pollsters ask young voters who backed Ron Paul in 2012 who they're supporting in 2016 (at the very least, it seems safe to say that a lot of them have chosen not to back Rand Paul, who hasn't achieved anything the near the level of support his father enjoyed four years ago). I look forward to finding out how securely the Pied Piper mantle rests on Bernie Sanders' shoulders as the 2016 presidential primary season runs its course, but I look forward with even greater curiosity to seeing what becomes of this new youth movement in American politics in the years to come. AMDG.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Millennials and Bernie Sanders.

Tomorrow is the Iowa Caucus, the first vote in what promises to be a raucous presidential election year in the United States. Around this time four years ago, I posted something in this space about Millennials and Ron Paul, noting the enthusiasm that many Americans born in the 1980s and '90s had for a presidential candidate who was born during the Great Depression but nevertheless managed to speak to the interests and priorities of young voters in a way that many Boomer politicians evidently could not. Here is a bit of what I wrote at the time:
. . . the candidate who is currently drawing the most enthusiastic response from young voters is also the oldest person running. . . . Baby Boomers should pay close attention to what is going on here: the '60s mantra about not trusting anyone over thirty doesn't apply to many Millennials. Indeed, it is tempting to draw a parallel between young voters' support for Ron Paul and the affection that many young Catholics have for Pope Benedict XVI, an even older man who impresses youthful audiences with his genuine personal humility and his willingness to deliver a challenging yet inspiring message. To say the very least, it is striking that many of the most engaged and committed members of the Millennial Generation are looking beyond the Boomers and taking their inspiration from leaders who came to maturity in the 1940s and '50s.
Moving forward to 2016, it seems that Millennials are once again lining up behind a feisty septuagenarian who presents himself as an anti-establishment maverick, albeit of a very different political persuasion. The support of many Millennials for the insurgent Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been noted by the media for months, with polls suggesting that Democrats under 45 favor Sanders over Hillary Clinton by a thirty-point margin. In Iowa, where recent polls have shown a nail-bitingly close race, Sanders is hoping to eke out a win on the basis of his popularity among Millennials and an aggressive GOTV operation focused on turning out college students and those high schoolers who are eligible to vote.

Regardless of how the Sanders campaign performs tomorrow in Iowa, it seems that the septuagenarian socialist has struck a chord with many young voters. Noting the candidate's Millennial-friendly views on issues like education, healthcare, and campaign finance, Bre Payton of The Federalist opines that "Bernie Sanders is a champion of the millennial cause. He has taken up the issues that affect young people the most and is using them as a battering ram against milquetoast candidates who do nothing more than shill for the status quo." Sanders' social democratic policies set him at odds with the libertarianism of 2012 Millennial favorite Ron Paul, but I can't help but notice some affinities between the two, even if only on the level of style and the sense in which both present themselves as the principled outsiders challenging the powers-that-be.

In the short term, strong Millennial support for particular candidates may not yet be enough to turn elections - it certainly didn't do so for Ron Paul - but the long term implications of all this still fascinate me. Is Millennial enthusiasm for candidates like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders a harbinger of major shifts in political attitudes among a rising generation of American voters, or does it merely reflect the passing fancy of idealistic young people who will move on to "status quo" issues and "milquetoast" candidates as they grow older? I wish I knew the answer. AMDG.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016


In observance of the Feast of the Theophany (or Epiphany) of the Lord, widely celebrated on this date, here is an oldie but a goodie posted here once before: a Theophany sermon by the late Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, who discusses the place of Christ's baptism within salvation history and considers how the act of divine self-manifestation commemorated today offers an example we can follow:
Christ did not need cleansing. But these waters, into which all the sinners who had come to John the Baptist confessing the evil of their lives had washed themselves, were as it were heavy with the sinfulness and therefore the mortality of mankind. They had become waters of death, and it is in these waters that the Lord Jesus Christ merges Himself on that day, taking upon Himself the mortality resulting from the sin of man.

He comes, immortal in His humanity and His divinity, and at the same time He vests Himself with the mortality of the sinful world. This is the beginning of the way to Calvary. This is a day when we marvel at the infinite love of God. But as on every other occasion, man had to participate completely in the ways of salvation which God had provided. And this is why Christ comes and becomes partaker of our mortality, to save us. The culminating point will come on Calvary when He will say, 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' It will be a moment when God as He was in His humanity will have lost communion with the Father by partaking of the destiny of mankind. This is the ultimate act of divine love.

Let us therefore today wonder and marvel, and worship this love of God, and learn from Him; because He said in the Gospel, 'I have given you an example. Follow it.' We are called, within the limits of our sinfulness and humanity, to carry one another's burdens, unto life and unto death. Let us learn from this. We find it so difficult to carry the burdens even of those whom we love; and practically impossible to shoulder the burdens of those whom we do not love with a natural, direct tenderness. Let us learn, because otherwise we will not have learned the first lesson which Christ gives us when He enters upon His ministry.
My prayerful best wishes to all who today celebrate Christ's divine manifestation in our midst. May the blessings of this great feast remain with us throughout the coming year. AMDG.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A new and wondrous mystery.

Having returned from Midnight Mass and before going to bed, I would like to repeat the annual tradition of this blog by extending to all readers my prayerful best wishes for Christmas and by sharing a portion of a Nativity sermon preached by St. John Chrysostom:

I behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory.

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now, for our redemption, dwells here below; and he that was lowly is raised up by divine mercy.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven: she hears from the stars the singing of angelic voices; in place of the sun, she enfolds within herself on every side the Sun of Justice.

Ask not how - where God wills, the order of nature yields. He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed, and all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is is born, and He Who Is becomes what He was not.

Christ is born! Glorify him! AMDG.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Preparation and thanksgiving.

Though I rarely post the text of homilies I've given, since I haven't posted anything this month I decided to share the homily I delivered this morning at my home parish in Massachusetts during a brief visit to my family. The readings are those appointed for the fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5:1-4a, Hebrews 10:5-10, and Luke 1:39-45. I make no claims to particular eloquence or originality here; what I offer are a few simple and straightforward reflections rooted in my experience and that of other people I know.


Today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We're now reaching the end of our annual season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, a time when we are invited to reflect on who we are before God, and to ask ourselves what we need to do to welcome Christ into our lives and into our hearts on the feast of his Nativity. As the German Jesuit Alfred Delp once put it, the Season of Advent is "a time for rousing," a time when we are meant to be "shaken to the very depths" so as to once again "kindle the inner light which confirms the blessing and the promise of the Lord." The Church gives us this time as a way to prepare for Christmas, through prayer and penance and acts of charity. Christmas is now barely five days away, so this Sunday seems like a good time to ask ourselves: are we really ready for Christmas?

If we are honest with ourselves, we may have to admit that we are not ready for Christmas. Practically speaking, Christmas can catch us by surprise. In the last few weeks, I've heard a number of people express their amazement at how quickly the year has gone by – they can't believe that Christmas is almost here, because it’s a reminder that the year is almost over. Some have even said that it doesn't feel like Christmas to them – perhaps it's because the weather has been unseasonably mild, or maybe it's because the distraction of events around the world makes it more difficult to focus on what this season is really about. With the threat of terrorism and renewed conflict in the Middle East, economic insecurity at home, and a looming presidential election year, we may find our preparation for Christmas tinged with unease and uncertainty about the future.

The task of preparing our hearts for Christmas can easily get lost in the shuffle, not just because of events in the world but also because of the busyness we face at this time of year. For many of us, the weeks leading up to Christmas are a time when we find ourselves hurrying to get things done, or perhaps getting anxious about the things we have yet to do. Have I sent out my Christmas cards? Have I done my Christmas shopping? Have I decorated the house and put up the tree? How many people am I expecting for Christmas dinner, and what am I going to feed them? What sorts of things do I need to get done before Christmas arrives – projects at work or at school, perhaps, or other deadlines that I just have to meet before the holiday? The day is getting closer and closer, so what do I need to do next to prepare?

In the midst of all of the noise and the distractions that surround us at this time of year, I think we can take heart from the readings and prayers appointed for today's Mass. The first reading from the Prophet Micah reminds us of the wonders accomplished by God. Bethlehem was a small place – as Micah tells us, it was "too small to be among the clans of Judah," and yet "from [there] shall come forth . . . one who is to be ruler in Israel" (Mi 5:2). In spite of his humble origins, the one born in Bethlehem "shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord . . . [and] his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth" (Mi 5:4). The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that the same child whose birth we are to celebrate this week was the Christ who came to do the will of the Father – and who also opened to us the way to salvation, for, as the author of Hebrews tells us, "we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 10:10).

The first and second readings remind us of the joy that we are preparing to celebrate: at Christmas, we celebrate the great mystery of the Incarnation; we celebrate the fact that God chose to become one of us by becoming a human being and being born in humble circumstances, taking on the joys and the sufferings of the human condition, and then sacrificing himself for us as only God could do, lifting us up so that we can share in the divine life of him who came to share in our human life.

Today's Gospel points in a particular way to the joy of the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas. Luke tells us the story of Mary’s arrival at the home of her cousin Elizabeth, and we hear how the child in Elizabeth's womb leapt for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice, knowing that the Christ, the Savior soon to be born, was also drawing near. Elizabeth says to Mary, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb... For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:42, 44-45).

Elizabeth’s words can be instructive for us: Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. How often do we give thanks to God for the fulfillment of his word to us? In other words, how often do we give thanks for the gifts that we have been given? In the midst of the busyness of these last days leading up to Christmas, can we take the time to thank God for all that we have been given, and for all that God continues to give us?

In the collect, the opening prayer of today's Mass, we asked that "we, to whom the Incarnation of the Lord was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of the Resurrection." Can we give thanks for the gift of faith, for the gift of believing that God would come to us in the humblest way possible, as a little child, and that the same God would save us and open to us the way to eternal life?

In the closing prayer at the end of this Mass, we will ask God that, "as the feast day of our salvation draws ever nearer . . . we may press forward all the more eagerly to the worthy celebration of the mystery of your Son’s Nativity." What would it take for each of us to press forward more eagerly to celebrate Christmas? I think the first thing that each of us can do is to take some time, no matter how busy we are, to simply give thanks to God for the gifts that he has given us, and for the gift that we shall receive again this Christmas. An Orthodox theologian of the last century named Alexander Schmemann once said that "anyone who is capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy." May our thanksgiving help us to move closer to the goal we seek, the goal of eternal life with the one whom we await with joyful hope in these last days of Advent.


Peace and good wishes to all who read these lines. AMDG.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Come, thou Redeemer of the earth.

For the first Sunday of Advent, here is one of my favorite hymns of the season, "Come, thou Redeemer of the Earth." This hymn has its roots in a Latin hymn attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan, Veni Redemptor gentium, which was translated into English by John Mason Neale in the middle of the nineteenth century and set to music borrowed from another old Latin hymn, Puer nobis nascitur. (It also bears mentioning that the tune of Puer nobis nascitur reached nineteenth-century England through a seventeenth-century setting by Michael Praetorius, who is also responsible for one of my favorite Christmas carols.) Had I been ordained to the priesthood during Advent - a season traditionally seen as particularly propitious for ordinations - I almost certainly would have included "Come, thou Redeemer of the Earth" in the music of my first Mass; hopefully those who listen to the hymn will understand why.

The version of "Come, thou Redeemer of the Earth" featured here is performed by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, who are undisputed masters of this sort of music. If you want to follow along, here are the words:
Come thou Redeemer of the earth,
Come, testify thy wondrous birth:
All lands admire, all times applaud:
Such is the birth that fits our God.

Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now His course to run.

From God the Father He proceeds,
To God the Father back He speeds;
Runs out his course to death and hell
Returning on God's high throne to dwell.

O equal to the Father, Thou!
Gird on Thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.

All laud eternal Son, to Thee;
Whose advent sets thy people free
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore.

Good wishes to all in this time of preparation. AMDG.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

On Thanksgiving Day.

Today is American Thanksgiving; it's a regular business day here in Canada, but I'll be celebrating the holiday in a quietly festive manner tonight with other American expats. The content of this Thanksgiving post is admittedly recycled from items I've shared in previous years, but it strikes me that the best things are worth repeating. Given the climate of unpredictable violence and increasing uncertainty which many face today, holidays like Thanksgiving can provide a needed if temporary respite.

One of the essential features of Thanksgiving for me is Aaron Copland's 1944 ballet score Appalachian Spring, which I listen to every year on this day whether I'm home or abroad. As I've noted before, this is a distinctively American piece of music even though it may be difficult to explain exactly what makes it so beyond Copland's inclusion of a series of variations based on the nineteenth-century Shaker tune Simple Gifts. Given this work's status as an icon of musical Americana, it may seem odd that I have chosen to share an interpretation by an Australian ensemble, the Sydney Camerata, but great music belongs to the world.

To provide one more bit of Americana to mark the holiday, I invite you to again join me in reading Robert Frost's poem "The Gift Outright":
The land was ours before we were the land’s
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she will become.
To all readers celebrating this holiday, I wish a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving. AMDG.