Thursday, November 27, 2008

The First Thanksgiving.

In commemoration of today's holiday, I thought I would share an account of the first celebration of Thanksgiving in 1621, as recorded by Pilgrim settler Edward Winslow in the book Mourt's Relation. You can find this text, together with a 'translation' into modern spelling, on the website of Plymouth's Pilgrim Hall Museum.
Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.
Happy Thanksgiving! AMDG.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Bedford in the NYT.

Today is my sister's birthday (Happy Birthday, Liz!) as well as the Memorial of St. John Berchmans. Somewhat to my surprise, today is also one of those rare days on which New Bedford, Mass. gets mentioned in the New York Times. Here's a bit of the story:
Convinced that this storied seaport of cobblestone streets has ended years of economic devastation and crime, a local developer plans to build a Marriott hotel on New Bedford's waterfront — the first downtown hotel here in decades.

The LaFrance Hospitality Company, a family business in Westport, Mass., which owns eight hotels in New England, a restaurant and catering business, is planning a $10 million 106-room Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites on a 1.6-acre parcel across the street from New Bedford's fishing piers. Site preparation is under way, with a groundbreaking planned for early next year.

The five-story hotel will incorporate a historic granite structure, which used to be a whale oil refinery, a reminder of the days when New Bedford was the whaling capital of the world. Its facade will combine brick, granite and wood. The site is just outside the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, 13 city blocks of 18th- and 19th-century buildings where the likes of Herman Melville and Frederick Douglass once strolled.

"This is very important to the city," New Bedford's mayor, Scott W. Lang, said of the hotel.

New Bedford has made strides in renewing itself in recent years. But without a hotel downtown, the city remained a "pass-through" for people catching a ferry to Martha's Vineyard or driving on to Cape Cod, Mayor Lang said.

Now, New Bedford can be a destination in itself, opening opportunities for other tourism ventures and other industries, he said. "You need a hotel where your assets are," Mr. Lang said.

For New Bedford, which still has a fishing fleet of more than 225 vessels, bringing in the largest catch, in dollar value, of any port in the United States, its assets are the waterfront and its historic downtown, the mayor said.

Yet it has not been easy to persuade a developer to build a hotel downtown. In the last five years or so, there have been at least three attempts to do so.
For the rest, click here. I hope that this effort to jumpstart the redevelopment of New Bedford's historic waterfront succeeds where others have failed. That being said, I'm not sure that a new waterfront hotel can succeed unless more is done to make the New Bedford Historic District into an appealing destination. The efforts of groups like WHALE and the establishment of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park have had a very positive impact, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. One thing that would help - particularly if the new hotel project comes to fruition - would be a more vibrant and varied nightlife downtown, with a larger range of restaurants and businesses within walking distance of the waterfront. Though I've gotten used to seeing ambitious redevelopment efforts fall apart, I dearly hope that this is one that works. AMDG.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Notes on the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

In both East and West, the Church celebrates today the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. The event commemorated by today's feast does not appear in any of the canonical gospels, but is rather based on a venerable Christian tradition attested to by the apocryphal Protevangelium of St. James. Paralleling the later Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, today's feast reminds us that the Mother of God began to prepare for her vocation long before the Angel Gabriel told her that she was to become the Mother of God.

Celebrated a little more than a month before our celebration of the Nativity, today's feast also reminds us of the great mystery of the Incarnation. As Orthodox theologian Father Thomas Hopko notes in his book The Winter Pascha, today Mary "enters into the Holy of Holies to become herself the 'animated Holy of Holies,' the one in whom Christ is formed, thereby making her, and everyone who is one with her in faith, the 'abode of heaven.'" As Hopko continues, "We are all made to be living temples of God. We are all created to be dwelling places of His glory. We are all fashioned in His image and likeness to be abodes of His presence."

As we begin to prepare for the great Feast of the Nativity, we would do well to reflect in the coming days on what it means for us to be abodes of God's presence. Though God came into Mary in a unique way through the Incarnation, we nonetheless believe that the Holy Spirit has come to rest upon us through our initiation as Christians. As we celebrate the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, let us take some time to reflect on how we live out the commitment that we have made to be bearers and witnesses of God in the world. AMDG.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A lesson in detachment for the President-elect.

In a comment on my last post, a longtime friend and loyal reader suggested that I chime in on a New York Times story that has gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of days. Among the other restrictions imposed upon the President-elect of the United States for reasons of security, it appears that Barack Obama will have to give up his BlackBerry and may have to stop using e-mail thanks to federal regulations on presidential correspondence as well as concerns about possible online interception by hackers.

Though I'm sure they'll be hard to bear for someone as apparently tech-savvy as Obama, limits on presidential use of e-mail and related technologies seems to make good sense. Given the various political e-mail scandals of recent years, the President-elect may be well-advised to avoid the potential problems that could arise if the occupant of the Oval Office started firing off e-mails. Even if Obama's BlackBerry represents a cherished symbol of personal independence, I doubt that the President-elect will have trouble keeping track of his schedule if he is deprived of the use of a personal digital assistant. If nothing else, the President-elect can take the loss of his BlackBerry and the freedom to use e-mail as a lesson in detachment and a tangible reminder that his life is no longer his own. AMDG.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One reason I'd never want to be President.

Today's New York Times talks about some of the very practical ways in which life has changed for President-elect Barack Obama in the last ten days:
A couple of weeks ago, Barack Obama headed to the Hyde Park Hair Salon for a trim. He greeted the staff and other customers and plopped down in the same chair in front of the same barber who has cut his hair for the last 14 years.

But when he wanted a trim this week, the Secret Service took one look at the shop’s large plate-glass windows and the gawking tourists eager for a glimpse of the president-elect and the plan quickly changed. If Mr. Obama could no longer come to the barber, the barber would come to him and cut his hair at a friend’s apartment.

Life for the newly chosen president and his family has changed forever. Even the constraints and security of the campaign trail do not compare to the bubble that has enveloped him in the 10 days since his election. Renegade, as the Secret Service calls him, now lives within the strict limits that come with the most powerful office on the planet.
To read more, click here. What struck me most was this comment from an Obama associate: "Little things, like going to the gym, going to the movies, going to dinner with his wife, none of that will ever be the same again. Things that we take for granted." President Harry S. Truman once described the White House as "the finest prison in the world," and this at a time when the occupant of the Oval Office was still able to take morning walks in Washington (albeit in the company of Secret Service agents). Even after his retirement, Truman was able to live a fairly ordinary life in Independence without serious interference from the agents charged to guard him. Presidents and ex-presidents simply can't do that anymore, so Barack Obama will probably never be able to take another leisurely stroll down to the barbershop, the bookstore or the cafe - or, for that matter, go anywhere without having to deal with elaborate precautions imposed by the Secret Service.

Though the President of the United States is charged with very grave responsibilities, the enforced isolation that comes with the office strikes me as a very sad and poignant sacrifice that those who aspire to national leadership must make. Something similar might be said of those who become pope, who may be said to make an even greater sacrifice in that they cannot anticipate their election in nearly the same way as those who reach the presidency. I thought of this when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI; never again would the old professor have the pleasure of vacationing at the little house in Germany where he had planned to retire, and never again would he have the time to devote himself as fully as he might like to the work of scholarly reflection, writing and teaching that occupied him for a good part of his life.

There is a definite asceticism involved in the transition from cardinal to pope, as the Successor of St. Peter must sacrifice his own desires and interests for the sake of a greater good and a higher call. Though one could argue that this sacrifice is a part of the life of every priest, it seems to be realized most completely in the life of the pope. In reflecting on this, I wonder what the men who have served as President of the United States in recent decades have made of their own transition into the splendid isolation that comes with their office. Though they probably haven't conceived of the shift in theological terms, I would hope that they see the loss of privacy and autonomy that comes with their office as a sacrifice to be made for the good of the country. I pray, too, that those who have made this sacrifice in order to reach the White House will be at peace with their decision. AMDG.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Siberia meets Verona at Avery Fisher Hall.

As I noted in a post a few days ago, Ossetian conductor Valery Gergiev is currently on tour in the United States with the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre. On Sunday and Monday, the tour came to New York's Avery Fisher Hall. Allan Kozinn of the New York Times has a review of Monday night's performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet:

Here’s a mystery to ponder. When Valery Gergiev led the Kirov Orchestra of the Maryinsky Theater in the complete “Romeo and Juliet” ballet score on Monday evening, in the second of the orchestra’s four Prokofiev programs at Avery Fisher Hall, the balcony was largely empty at the start, and there were seats to be had in the orchestra section as well.

Can it be that Prokofiev is a tough sell these days? Is the financial crunch already taking its toll on ticket sales? Were New Yorkers sympathetic to Georgia, giving a cold shoulder to Mr. Gergiev for his public support of the Russian invasion?

The empirical evidence points to Prokofiev: at the intermission a significant part of the audience vanished, leaving the orchestra section looking emptier than it does for an amateur choir concert. (Another reason might have been the Siberian temperatures and draftiness in the hall.)
I make reference to Mr. Kozinn's review because I was one of the hardy ticketholders who stayed past intermission and listened to the entire performance. Like Mr. Kozinn, I was struck by how many empty seats there were at the start and thought that it might have had a lot to do with the state of the economy. I would be surprised if the controversy over Mr. Gergiev's August concert in South Ossetia kept many people away; even if pro-Georgia music fans boycotted the concert, their absence was more than compensated for by the substantial number of Russian-speaking patrons that I overheard before, during and after the concert. My general impression - based on this performance as well as the last time I heard the Kirov Orchestra - is that Russians living in New York turn out en masse when the Kirov comes to town.

I suspect that some seasoned patrons stayed away from Monday night's concert because they knew - as I would find out - that concert performances of complete ballet scores can sometimes be hard to sit through without the visuals that the music was meant to accompany. (During the concert, I often found myself squinting at the program in the dark to try to figure out where we were in the "story.") To my mind, one of the most adverse parts of the experience was what Kozinn describes as "the Siberian temperatures and draftiness in the hall," which I wondered a great deal about while sitting in a surprisingly chilly seat in the upper balcony. If frustration with the program might have tempted some patrons to leave early, the cold in the hall must have offered even more encouragement. Though I'm glad I stuck around for the end of what was really a very good concert, I hope the heating is back on next time I venture down to Lincoln Center. AMDG.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The last of the many.

It is the spontaneous gestures that tell the story behind the ceremony, the moments of real emotion that cut through it all to lay bare the thoughts on people’s minds.

Today, as Henry Allingham struggled in vain against the infirmities of old age as he attempted to rise to his feet, it told a powerful story of remembrance and loss.

Almost everyone knows the name of Henry Allingham now - and Harry Patch and Bill Stone, Britain’s surviving veterans from the First World War. The last living reminders of a generation that sustained such terrible losses, they are the symbols of a suffering that modern generations find hard to understand.

But for Mr Allingham and his comrades, the memories of what happened are real, and personal, and theirs; and when, just before 11am today, and 90 years to the minute after the signing of the Armistice, he attempted to stand up in front of a crowd of thousands and lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, his gesture said more about war and grief than any prayer or salute.
The Telegraph has another story on the event, including video of Mr. Allingham's reflections. The Guardian has some more, as well as commentary on what the Great War may mean for us in the future as living memory of the period recedes into history. Had I more time I would compile a bit more of a collection of news stories on today's anniversary, but I hope this small sample conveys something of the spirit of the event we commemorate today. AMDG.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

On this ninetieth anniversary of the end of the First World War, let us remember all who died in that conflict and all who died in the subsequent wars that marked the 20th century and have marked the beginning of the 21st. May their memory be eternal. AMDG.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance Sunday.

Today the people of the United Kingdom mark Remembrance Sunday, a commemoration of British war dead which began in the wake of the First World War. You can read more about (and watch some video footage from) the Remembrance Sunday ceremony held annually at the Cenotaph in London here, here and here. Another ceremony will be held at the Cenotaph on Tuesday on the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, with all three of Britain's surviving World War I veterans in attendance. Only one of the three - 110-year-old Harry Patch - actually saw combat; Mr. Patch may be seen in the last of the three photos above at a local Remembrance Day ceremony near his Somerset home. Speaking to a BBC reporter today, Mr. Patch described the attention that he now receives as 'the last Tommy' as "fuss about nothing" and recalled friends who died in battle. Such humility is admirable in one who bears the tremendous symbolic burden of being his country's last living link to an important national experience.

On this Remembrance Sunday, I pray for all who have given their lives in military service and for all victims of war. May the living continue to learn from them, and may their memory be eternal. AMDG.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Gergiev defends South Ossetia concert in NYT.

Today's New York Times has an interview with St. Petersburg-based conductor Valery Gergiev, who has drawn considerable media attention lately as much for his support of the Putin government as for his dramatic and occasionally idiosyncratic approach to the classical repertoire. Currently touring the United States with the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, the conductor who is proud to be known as "the world's most famous Ossetian" is eager to defend a recent concert appearance that raised a few eyebrows:
Back in August, the conductor Valery Gergiev took the stage in Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, and denounced its “monstrous bombardment” by Georgia.

Speaking both in Russian and, pointedly for the outside world, in English, he said Georgia had carried out a “huge act of aggression” and praised Russia as a savior. Then Mr. Gergiev — perhaps the world’s most famous Ossetian — led the Kirov Orchestra of St. Petersburg in what was billed as a memorial concert for the dead in the five-day battle between the two countries.

The event gave off a strong whiff of Kremlin propaganda and prompted a flurry of denunciations of Mr. Gergiev for supporting what many in the West saw as the bad actor in the war, Russia, which had intervened with overwhelming force after Georgia’s attack.

But three months later Mr. Gergiev remains unrepentant, even proud, of his role. In fact, he says he is vindicated by accounts by independent monitors in an article in The New York Times on Friday, suggesting that Georgia was not acting defensively and had launched an indiscriminate attack, although disputes over who was to blame remain.

“That’s what I’m saying for three months,” Mr. Gergiev said on Friday, in a follow-up conversation to a wide-ranging four-hour interview here on Thursday before a concert on the Kirov Orchestra’s American tour, which moves on to Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday and Monday. “I’m not celebrating this. Sooner or later the truth comes out.”
The program for the South Ossetia concert included Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, which gets us back to the challenging question of how one should understand and interpret Shostakovich's music. Naturally, Gergiev has an opinion on the subject - an opinion partly expressed by his decision to program Shostakovich in the first place and the circumstances under which the concert took place:
The scene at the concert, witnesses said, was surreal. The area was awash in light amid the blacked-out city. Foreign reporters were hustled in for a quick glimpse. The smoke from burning Georgian villages, set upon by militiamen or possibly Russian troops, rose nearby. The concert was broadcast across Russia, and it evoked the suffering of Russians in World War II through a performance of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, completed during the epic German siege of Leningrad and steeped in nationalist sentiment.

. . .

He defended his program, saying critics had ignored that he began with the Andante from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, peaceful music, and ended with the death-haunted finale of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth. As for criticism of the choice of the "Leningrad” Symphony, he said that Shostakovich “was writing against evil.”

“Shostakovich was thinking of a composition which defended our right to live in this world,” Mr. Gergiev said.
To read the rest, click here. I don't have time right now to reflect more fully here on the questions that this story raises about the often complex relationship between conductors and politics, though you can find some thoughtful discussions on the case of Valery Gergiev (and that of Venezuela's Gustavo Dudamel) here (I should say that I don't necessarily agree with all the points expressed in said discussion, but I nonetheless think it worth reading).

How one interprets the music of a composer like Dmitri Shostakovich (or, perhaps, any composer) is a doubly-complicated question. One may accept the line that, as Gergiev puts it, Shostakovich "was writing against evil" and "defend[ing] our right to live in this world." However, one also has to admit that this message has contemporary implications and can't simply be understood in the historical context in which Shostakovich worked. By programming the Leningrad Symphony at a concert in South Ossetia, Gergiev drew an explicit parallel between Shostakovich's time and our own - a parallel with overtly political connotations. I note this simply to offer a reminder of the potent cultural and political significance that music written decades (or even centuries) ago can have in a contemporary context. More could be said on this, of course, but for now I simply wanted to get you thinking about the topic. AMDG.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

America will be.

America is a young country. Though many Americans tend to treat previous decades as part of the ancient past, the history of the United States is remarkably short. Many of the events and historical processes that have given contemporary American society its shape - events like the New Deal, the Second World War, the Baby Boom, and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s - were a part of the lived experience of Americans who are still alive today. In this sense, many of the critical moments of our history are alive to us in a way that, say, the events of the French Revolution or the Protestant Reformation are not. To speak of the Brown v. Board of Education decision or the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not to speak of 'history' in the abstract, but of elements of our national memory that directly impacted the lives of Americans who remains alive today - in other words, there are still individuals who can speak concretely of a 'before' and an 'after' with reference to each of these events, telling us how these events made a tangible difference in their lives.

In historical terms, the election of Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States represents a national milestone. Less than half a century after the end of legal segregation and within the lifetime of many who took an active part in the struggle to bring about racial equality in this country, the United States has chosen its first African-American president. As Americans, we still have a way to go in coming to terms with the challenging and complex legacy of our nation's racial divisions, but the fact that we have come so far in so short a time is quite remarkable.

Speaking personally, I know that I'll always remember exactly how I felt at the moment I learned that the United States had elected its first African-American president. Even if the victory of Senator Obama was widely expected - and appeared more and more likely as the returns started to pour in Tuesday night - the reality of his win struck me in a way I couldn't anticipate. As Senator McCain acknowledged in his gracious concession speech, Senator Obama's election opens a new chapter in our history. No matter how future generations judge the administration of President Barack Obama, I suspect that historians will always regard this election as particularly significant.

I recognize that some who read these lines will have found themselves disappointed with the outcome of this election. A key barometer of the health of our democracy should be the ability of the winners and the losers to reach a certain kind of common ground after Election Day; this does not mean a blurring of partisan lines or an abandonment of principled positions, but merely a recognition that in spite of our differences we must all work together to make our country a better place. At the end of rancorous and bruising campaign, my hope and prayer for all Americans is that we can briefly put aside partisanship and ideology to acknowledge the historic importance and tremendous symbolic value of Tuesday's election.

As I noted in my post on the morning of the election, I do not believe in political messianism and I do not think that any one politician can solve all the world's problems. My hope is that the next president will work to improve the image of the United States abroad, respond prudently to the economic crisis, and seek to expand opportunities for all Americans. I hope, too, that President-elect Obama will listen to and take seriously the voices of Americans whose political views and party affiliation may differ from his own but who share with him a deep concern for the future of our country. I also hope that young Americans, regardless of race or social class or family background, will take this election as a sign that this is a country where they can fulfill their greatest dreams and aspirations. Most importantly, I hope and pray that all who were elected to office on Tuesday will exercise their civic duties wisely and well. AMDG.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

'60s Catholic comic strip anticipates political first.

It took until the morning of Election Day, but the New York Times political blog The Caucus finally caught up with Governor Timothy Pettigrew:
Before Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, there was Gov. Tim Pettigrew of New York, the first black presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. But that happened in 1976, and in the pages of “Treasure Chest,” a comic book distributed to Catholic school students around the country.

“It’s been on the edge of reality,” Berry Reece, author of the series, said of the current election. “I frankly had forgotten about this Pettigrew series,” Mr. Reece added, until National Public Radio unearthed it earlier this year.

Writing in 1964 of an election 12 years later, Mr. Reece, now 76, initially used the story of Mr. Pettigrew and his bid for the Democratic nod to walk students “through the ABCs of the nomination process.”

The candidate survives an assassination attempt and soldiers through a debate with Senator Willard Oilandgas, but his face is hidden until the last few panels of the final episode.

“What we wanted to do,” Mr. Reece said, “was get the readers in deep through this Pettigrew’s integrity, his charisma, before we ever disclosed his race so that they would not prejudge him.”

. . .

Mr. Reece ended the series with a cliffhanger: “Could he win? Well, it would depend in part on how the boys and girls who were reading this grew up and voted.”

Forty-four years later, the strip will have a conclusion.

As the NYT acknowledges, National Public Radio broke the Pettigrew story in February. The Catholic University of America sought to draw attention to Pettigrew in March, sending out a press release noting that it has the relevant issues of "Treasure Chest" in its archives. I first got wind of the story last month, when National Catholic Reporter did a story on the Pettigrew comics. So you might say that the New York Times is belatedly catching up. That said, it's worth reading some of the very moving comments online readers posted in response to the original NPR story to get a sense of what the Pettigrew series meant to its young readers in 1964. AMDG.


One of my favorite films about American politics is a documentary by R. J. Cutler and David Van Taylor called A Perfect Candidate, which follows the 1994 U.S. Senate race in Virginia. Hard-fought and closely contested, this election pitted the charismatic and controversial Iran-Contra figure Ollie North against the earnest (and not uncontroversial) incumbent Chuck Robb. A Perfect Candidate follows the North-Robb race largely through the eyes of a hired gun - North campaign manager Mark Goodin - and a veteran journalist, Washington Post political reporter Don Baker. Despite his apparent cynicism and sarcastic wit, Baker tries to keep the pols honest and basically serves as the moral conscience of A Perfect Candidate. Interviewed on election day, Baker refuses to say how he voted but speaks thoughtfully about the privilege of casting a ballot. "That's the thirty seconds during the campaign when I'm not the journalist," Baker says, "so I just go in and I vote - as an 'Amurr'can.'"

For me, the time I spend filling out my ballot is likewise a time when I'm simply an American. To the Registrar of Voters, it makes no difference that I'm a Catholic and a Jesuit - I'm simply a citizen whose vote counts as much as anyone else's. The political opinions that influence the way I vote have been shaped by a variety of factors - the cultural and social environment I grew up in, my education and life experience, and, to be sure, my religious faith. While I have great respect for those who seek to live out their faith in public service, I do not believe that the task of secular politics is to build the Kingdom of God. No politician can bring about perfect harmony or end all human suffering. Whatever good may be achieved by politics is inherently relative; the good of politics may not be the greatest good, but one may modestly hope that representative government helps people to solve at least some of their problems and to meet needs that they could not meet on their own.

Though I have definite political opinions, my public identity as a vowed religious obliges me to be very careful about how I express my views. This enforced caution can be quite a challenge at times, and for a number of reasons. Before I entered, politics was an important part of my life: I majored in government in college, served as a legislative intern at the Massachusetts State House, worked on a number of campaigns, and was elected as a delegate to four consecutive state party conventions. I don't miss the stress and unpredictability of life on the campaign trail, but I still follow election news closely and enjoy discussing politics with friends. Nonetheless, in recent elections I've been bothered by the arguments of some commentators who allege that being a "serious" Catholic obliges one to vote for or against a particular candidate. Keeping to a prudential silence on political matters can be very difficult when others are not so bound.

While I retain what I believe to be a realistic view of the limitations of politics, I also acknowledge the good that can be accomplished by political means. One of the most rewarding aspects of my time at the State House was speaking with constituents who would call for help in getting access to state services. Seeing the positive difference that government can make in the lives of individuals taught me that the public 'good' isn't abstract and general but inescapably particular. From my point of view, the political credo offered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his second inaugural address remains operative: "The test of of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

Whatever your views are on today's election, I hope that if you are eligible to vote you will do so. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and those who fail to exercise their rights have little standing to complain if they are unhappy with the results. So get out and make your voice heard. AMDG.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Saints and All Souls.

This year the back-to-back commemorations of the Feast of All Saints and All Souls' Day fall on Saturday and Sunday respectively, presenting a veritable weekend of remembrance in honor of the faithful departed. At the risk of engaging in a bit of reflective recycling, I encourage you to read (again or the first time) the post I wrote two years ago in observance of All Saints and All Souls. While praying and thinking about what I should write today, I took a look at the aforementioned post and found that it still offers a faithful reflection of my feelings on these two feast days.

If I had to reiterate one point that I made two years ago, it would be the value of the sentiment expressed in a brief exchange in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons. (I think I appreciate this work even more than I used to after seeing the ongoing Broadway revival, which I highly recommend to readers who may find themselves in New York and have the time, means and inclination to see a play.) In this bit of dialogue, Sir Thomas More offers a bit of sage advice to young Richard Rich, who has been offered employment as a schoolteacher. "Why not be a teacher?" More urges Rich, "You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one." "And if I was," Rich replies, "who would know it?" More answers, "You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public that."

On the Feast of All Saints and All Souls' Day, we remember those whose lives suggest that they might have taken to heart the advice that Sir Thomas More offers Richard Rich in A Man for All Seasons. Anyone who is familiar with the play knows that Master Rich failed to follow the advice that Sir Thomas offered him. However, I believe that any one of us can think of people we have known who went to their heavenly reward after lives of quiet faith and self-effacing service. These are the saints and faithful departed we remember this weekend - Christians whose lives never attracted great notice, but who nonetheless give glory to God and continue to inspire those who were fortunate to know them personally. Amid the activities of our weekend, let us take some time to recall and give thanks for the anonymous saints and faithful departed who have been a blessing in our lives. AMDG.