The Struggles of Great Souls
Elizabeth Hanink’s review of Daniel Kelly’s biography of L. Brent Bozell (Nov. 2014), though quite sympathetic and faithful to the book, is perhaps a bit too detached a view of one who, after all, was a contributing editor of the NOR. Perhaps I could enrich that otherwise solid review with a personal, priestly reflection.
Brent Bozell and Patricia Buckley Bozell were nothing if not people of heart — and the heart, as Jeremiah reminds us, is a dreadful place. Though greatly accomplished in and drawn to the life of the mind, they were led to know — and love — that often terrifying place of the heart in themselves and in each other. I was given the great grace of knowing both Brent and Trish, meeting them through the good offices of Dale Vree, the NOR’s editor emeritus, prior to my ordination in the 1980s. No friends could have been more loyal, kind, or understanding than they. Brent was once described to me as the “most fatherly of men,” and that certainly was my experience.
One statement in the review was perhaps unfortunate. Mrs. Hanink pointed out, as a last word, that the burdens placed on Trish were “not without a cost to her own mental health.” Mental health is an unfortunately clinical term — and though Trish went through her own profound struggles, not unrelated to Brent’s, she was hardly a person of whom the last word should concern mental well-being. She was the most loving wife I have ever seen, totally dedicated to Brent until his death, a tremendously caring mother and grandmother, and a most gracious lady: artist, intellectual, and, surely above all in her own scale of values, daily communicant. After the oceanic swings of life with Brent, Trish was a very wise woman when I knew her, and a very gifted musician who had known the power of many enchantments. As the Desert Fathers recommend for all, her passion for life had become a “sober inebriation.” Like her husband, Trish was a great soul, and great souls have great spiritual struggles.
Great souls are, above all, truthful: therein lie their greatness and their humility, which, after all, is simply truth. Brent and Trish Bozell were great souls from the higher levels of society, the world of leaders of government and finance, who were utterly given to Christ Jesus in love. Given their backgrounds and times and characters, that led to a rollercoaster ride through their culture. They were passionately faithful to their God, to each other, to their families and friends, and to any and all who were in need.
America has produced precious few canonized saints, and the Bozells may never make that happy list (though I for one would vote for them as exemplary disciples of Jesus Christ, people of heroic virtue). There is, we hope, a much longer list known to Heaven alone. We are blessed sometimes to get a hint of this list. Brent and Trish Bozell shed that light on my life for the blessed years I knew them. Great souls. Let us honor them, and the God who formed them, in our time and place. As the years go by, and I miss them more and more, I am coming to see that they will have been a once-in-a-lifetime gift to me.
Raymond T. Gawronski, S.J.
Professor of History, Hillsdale College
Menlo Park, California
ELIZABETH HANINK REPLIES:
Fr. Gawronski has the enviable benefit of a personal friendship with the Bozells; nonetheless, he finds my review to be faithful to the book. Surely that faithfulness is among the attributes of a good review. For my part, though, I do not think that the term mental health is overly clinical or demeaning to the Bozells.
Like Fr. Gawronski, I know persons whose struggles with sobriety and emotional balance are examples of heroic virtue. For that very reason, there is no need to camouflage their difficulties. Psychological symptoms of defined mental illnesses, called by their proper name, preclude neither love nor sanctity.
As for the NOR’s respect for Brent Bozell and his family, he remains, even in death, on the masthead.
Paul A. Rahe
Professor of Philosophy, St. Patrick's Seminary
A Throwback to the Good Old Days
I found Terry Scambray’s review of Timothy Messer-Kruse’s two books on the Haymarket incident (Nov.) heartening in the extreme. I am old enough to remember a time when one could easily find first-rate books on controversial historical subjects written by scholars of all partisan stripes, and when one could take for granted the honesty and integrity of their authors. In recent years, however, to an ever increasing degree, left-liberal scholars have subordinated their research and writing to narrow, partisan ends. Messer-Kruse is a throwback to the good old days. He investigated a topic, expecting to find one thing; he found something entirely different, and he has the honesty to tell us all about it. My only worry is that one way or another he will be made to pay for his integrity. These days, that is the fate reserved for iconoclasts.
Taylor Correctional Institution
Balance & Reality
Once more Andrew M. Seddon has contributed a well-written and thought-provoking article, this time on the critical but somewhat neglected problem of Christian balance (“Orthodoxy & Orthopraxy in Right Relation,” Nov.). Inside and outside — within the individual soul and also in the Church — we all suffer the results of that great source of entropy known as original sin. The primal clarity that once held things together for us has been lost, or rather made painfully elusive by our own folly and sinfulness, an imbalance we stubbornly hold onto despite the divine assistance so freely offered.
Caught in our pride, darkened in intellect, and stubbornly resisting those glimmerings of wisdom we neglect to ask for, how many of us turn to God (or to Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom) to ask for help, for balance? In the mayhem that makes up our spiritual milieu, the very idea is practically unknown.
It is true that many well-meaning people — followers of heresies or of today’s ubiquitous “isms” — lack balance simply because they have been misinformed, badly educated, or even brainwashed. And yet, despite the wounds of original sin and the chaos in which we live, each one of us is expected to seek and do God’s will. This is reality, the plain demand of the Lord.
In light of this inescapable fact, Dr. Seddon’s job of “unpacking” the Great Commandment is both praiseworthy and remarkable. He has presented something useful to help clear our muddled heads. Not only does this commandment put things in order — God first, and the good of our fellows second, because we can only serve others if we are serving God — but it invites us to follow the direct example of Christ. To strike a proper balance between intellect and emotion (as our Lord did in His own earthly life) automatically takes away the power of demagogues to drag us down to the level of fretful children.
Without this balance, our mental sloth may take the form of the sentimentalism of liberals — or just as easily lead to the ferocity of jihadists. Our tendency toward spiritual disorder is something we must humbly bring to God for healing. Otherwise — as Dr. Seddon points out — we may be unpleasantly surprised by the consequences of our own culpable self-deception.
Good diagnosis, Doc.
The Rev. John Jay Hughes
North Dakota State Penitentiary
St. Louis, Missouri
With the aplomb and clarity that readers have come to expect from him, Andrew M. Seddon demonstrates the need for balance between the vertical and horizontal dimensions of our faith. From our human point of view, this often involves tension and conflict. In His great parable of the sheep and goats (Mt. 25:31-46), Jesus tells us that for God there is no conflict, no tension: “Inasmuch as you have done it for one of these least brothers of mine, you have done it for me.”
Fr. Gerard J. Guli
Rochester, New York
Righteous to a Fault
Fr. Joseph C. Klee’s review of Fr. Louis J. Cameli’s Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality (Oct.) appears to spring from the holier-than-thou attitude of someone who regards himself as quite safely capable of obeying all the rules imposed on him by God and Mother Church — except perhaps the one most especially Christ’s own, namely, to love one another as He Himself loves each one of us. Consequently, Fr. Klee misconstrues Fr. Cameli’s citing of the Matthew Shepard tragedy, as he also does Fr. Cameli’s asking whether the sexuality of homosexually inclined persons is “a blessing or a curse.” Obviously, Fr. Cameli is referring not to homosexual acts, which are sinful, but to the psychic state of the homosexual personality. Thus, Fr. Cameli rightly affirms, “The sexuality of homosexual persons belongs to the sexuality common to the human family” — just as does the universal effect of original sin, namely, that concupiscence which incites us to sin. Is this not the underlying implication of Christ Jesus’ own words when He reminds His Apostles, “Some are born eunuchs from their mothers’ wombs, some are made so by men, and others choose to be so for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:12)?
Or is Fr. Klee pristinely free from the overarching need of grace and so from the average heterosexual’s gamut of temptations to the vast variety of sexual improprieties? As the inheritance of all mankind born into original sin, concupiscence casts a very wide net capable of ensnaring anyone — save the exceptional saint! — when, by the Devil’s clever dealing, the circumstances are “right.” We have but to consider, for example, the widespread behavior of men in prison.
So it is that Christ’s command to His followers to love one another as He has loved us neither makes nor implies any distinction as to classes or types of persons. In Jesus, the Savior of all mankind, there is no place for any invidious separating of the gay from the non-gay, or of the happily unburdened from the happily burdened! Rather does He instruct us, “Learn of me. For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt. 11:29-30). For each of us, as a beloved child of God, by the necessity of our entry into this world, is meant to carry our own particular cross, a cross made salutary by the Holy Cross of Jesus our Lord. Indeed, only by so doing is our salvation assured, for He enjoined us, “Take up your cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). And as our individual crosses may be unique, so is the particular good each of us is meant to achieve in this world, through Christ Jesus. The rejection of our cross, as blessed by God, is, I believe, a rejection wished for us by Satan himself, who, as the Father of Lies, seeks to foment the invidious and injurious distinctions which, when accepted blindly by ourselves or others, serve as rationalizations for sinful behavior, whether homosexual or heterosexual. Indeed, is this not so evident in our modern world today, where “the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8)?
Menlo Park, California
FR. JOSEPH C. KLEE REPLIES:
A popular bumper sticker some years ago read “Christians aren’t perfect — just forgiven.” This is a sticker that might’ve been on the bumper of St. Peter’s car (or chariot!) had it been available two millennia ago. This great saint, after all, had committed a grievous sin but had been spared the sad, twisted sense of pride that led to the suicide of Judas, the other Apostle who betrayed our Lord. St. Peter in no way gloried in the temptation that led to his sin of cowardice — he betrayed our Lord not once but three times — and tradition says that at his death, his face had deep creases from the tears he shed throughout his life, having so often lamented his not-insignificant sin of having denied the Savior. Yet this first pontiff didn’t allow his past to control him, and he surely didn’t defend his yielding to the temptation to fear. Rather, he responded to grace and died an epitome of virtue — as a martyr, displaying great courage.
Fr. Gerard Guli takes exception to my rather critical review of Fr. Louis J. Cameli’s Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality, offering a rather curious counter-criticism. Fr. Guli represents an unfortunate trend in our society today: the knee-jerk denunciation as pompous and self-righteous of anyone who would dare identify another’s shortcoming. Authority figures today are automatically suspect from the get-go, as their position is ipso facto deemed to exude supercilious arrogance. A humble leader is seen as an oxymoron — something simply impossible.
Yet many a canonized saint would counsel the opposite, and urge the pursuit of a life of virtue, despite the jeering choruses of cynical, “sour grapes” types. Let us remember that one of the pivotal qualities of a holy life, specifically of the four patterns of good behavior we call the cardinal virtues (from the Latin word cardis, meaning “hinge”) is fortitude. This means doing good, regardless of any accusations of being a “goody-two-shoes.” The saints were not those who practiced false humility, withdrawing from holy and necessary vigorous activity lest they be accused of doing good works for mere show. They did what God prompted them to do, and let the chips fall where they may.
One such “spiritual hero” is St. John Chrysostom, who had the following to say (as drawn from a homily of his from the year A.D. 390): “Let us not cater to human respect with regard to our sins, but let us fear God as we ought, since He both sees what is happening now and punishes hereafter those who do not repent now. At present, however, we are doing the very opposite of this, for we do not fear Him who is going to judge us, while we shudder with fear of those who have no power to harm us and dread disgrace at their hands.” Although I am in no way trying to put myself in such sanctified company, I do admire, and do strive to take cues from, the virtuous qualities of the saints.
Another saint, the patron saint of parish priests (and hence one whom both Fr. Guli and I would do well to emulate), is St. John Vianney. This man of God once said that the greatest act of love one can perform is to help save souls from Hell. Wouldn’t a courageous initiative of identifying behavior, teachings, etc., that would not be conducive to attaining eternal life meet with the Curé of Ars’s approval? Yet, from the outset, Fr. Guli labels my review as “holier than thou,” and as a blatant violation of our Lord’s command “to love one another.”
Without giving any substantiation for his accusation, Fr. Guli sees my identifying the shameless exploitation of a tragic but simple robbery (involving the death of Matthew Shepard, erroneously and deviously claimed to have been due to his homosexual orientation), which was duplicated in Fr. Cameli’s book, as further evidence of my unloving style. Why does Fr. Guli feel compelled to perpetuate the secular media’s now-exposed brazen crime of hijacking that poor youth’s lamentable end?
Fr. Guli’s other primary objection was over my incredulity at Fr. Cameli’s description of a homosexual orientation as a “blessing.” As a chaplain of the local chapter of Courage for more than a decade, I can assure you that our members would be equally appalled by Fr. Cameli’s insensitive and baseless patronizing of a same-sex attraction. One member’s impassioned statement at a meeting comes to mind, when he spoke of his wrestling with his homosexual orientation as something that “I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.” From the perspective of one who is sincere in his desire to avoid the sin of sodomy — the foundation and teleological activity of a homosexual orientation — calling such an unnatural and disordered (cf. Catechism, no. 2357) attraction a “blessing” comes off as twisted and cruel. Catechesis has long identified things that are conducive to actions offensive to God as near occasions of sin. To pander to, defend, and basically affirm that which is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from “grave depravity” (ibid.) is anything but sound, sensitive, and authentic pastoral practice.
The Last Gibraltar
Thank you for publishing Fr. James V. Schall’s article “Will Modernity Mean the End of Catholicism?” (Nov.). Fr. Schall is right to point to the culture of relativism we have created in the U.S. as inimical to Catholicism. Relativism is a form of irrationality that reminds us that our real enemy is not too much reason but the absence of reason. The Catholic Church is the last Gibraltar in the West, standing firmly and resolutely for reason and, as a consequence, moral truth. Whatever happened to Orestes Brownson’s belief that Catholicism is the only force that can save America? Someone should write an article titled “Will Catholicism Mean the End of Modernity?”
The Supreme Law
In response to your ongoing criticisms of Pope Francis, I wish you would realize what a great gift this Holy Father is to the Christian world. Several years ago, I heard a priest-professor give an enlightening talk on canon law. He showed how canon law is based on Roman law, which was markedly different in ideas and practice from the Anglo-Saxon law we’re used to. Most significantly, he quoted the last canon: Suprema lex sola salvatorum (“The supreme law is the salvation of souls”). I think that’s where Pope Francis is coming from. He seems less a captive of the prevailing materialist secular culture than anyone else I can think of. I pray every day that he will be able to accomplish the great work I think the Holy Spirit has for him.
Hackensack, New Jersey
Ed. Note: For an alternative look at our Holy Father, who has demonstrated — perhaps cultivated — a knack for generating controversy, see Fr. Raymond T. Gawronski’s article “On Pilgrimage with Pope Francis” in this issue.
Paul J. Sambursky
Bismarck, North Dakota
Baptisms of the Unborn
Based on a reading of Dante and Aquinas, Rob Agnelli, in his article “A Thomistic Vision of Man’s Final End” (Nov.), describes the “punishment” of “unbaptized infants” in Limbo thus: “They have no hope of obtaining the beatific vision.” Though I had been confident in the past in the love, mercy, and justice of the Lord as concerns those unbaptized children who have been murdered by abortion and other untimely ends, I could find no scriptural support to bolster my feelings. Now I believe, for the following reasons, that it can be confidently asserted that those little ones enjoy the fullness of heavenly paradise, and not the hopeless punishment of Limbo.
Now, it can be said in truth that these children, as a basic function of being, desire for themselves what is good. This applies, in an equal way, to children fully born as well as those still within the confines of their mothers’ wombs, even at the first moment of their existence, though not necessarily in a physical sense. Therefore, it can be said that these children, in particular those who have suffered death by abortion or other types of violence, undergo a baptism of desire. After all, it has been noted that the possession of God is the primary good possible, that man is born with an instinct toward belief, and that even in eternity our understanding of God will not be perfect. So an unborn or newborn child is not that far away from the saints in understanding and desiring the ineffable and infinite good that is the Holy Trinity.
It could definitely be said that unborn children who die by violence undergo a baptism of blood. Just as those countless children who fell victim to abominable murder before false gods stand witness to the truth and will sit in judgment of many on the last day, so too will our modern-day infant martyrs. Our current situation has many correlations to those ancient times — the idols have simply changed forms or are indeed formless, existing only in the perverted intellects of their devotees.
Considering the love and justice of the Lord, along with His abundant mercy, it seems obvious that He who said “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belong the Kingdom of God” (Mt. 10:14) will in no way cast aside those little ones for anything less than the fullness of His love.
Men Behaving Badly
Regarding your New Oxford Note “Is Adulthood in America Dead?” (Nov.), in which you equate the death of adulthood with the “crisis of masculinity,” which you propose to be the “latest manifestation of the corrosive…and revolutionary force of capitalism,” history provides us with some precedents. When nations or empires decline, decay, or eventually collapse, one fact emerges in a pattern. In numerous instances, the male population began to acquire the traits associated with the feminine virtues. The males began to morph into an androgynous mix. What we see in males today we also see in the Roman Empire of the fourth and fifth centuries, in the later Byzantine Empire, in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century, and in France circa 1940.
Men were ceasing to be men: The male population deteriorated into overly effeminate, emotional creatures. This is not to disparage such womanly traits as found in women; the men exaggerated the traits that are normal and admirable in females. They turned into caricatures of women.
All the empires that jettisoned traditional male and female gender roles fell and were swept away. As one writer has said, the further a culture strays from its barbarian roots, the weaker it gets, and the more debilitated its vigor becomes.
A Ray of Hope
Your magazine is a ray of hope and communion for those of us who cannot be in physical contact with the Church. Besides being a child of Christ, being in the Catholic Church is about the only thing that gives many of us hope and a feeling of belonging. The NOR, with its intelligent debate and unapologetic love for the faith, has fulfilled my life, as well as the lives of a small handful of other incarcerated Catholics here. I cannot do much, but I can share the NOR with our small group. My favorite section of the magazine is The News You May Have Missed. My roommate’s is the New Oxford Notes.
I want to say “thank you” to all your loyal readers and benefactors who make subscriptions to prisoners possible through the Scholarship Fund. I am unable to afford a subscription this year, and I am most grateful for your offer to renew my scholarship subscription at no cost. I pray that I’ll be in a better spot next year and may even be able to help others through your fund.
The Catholic faith makes God real for me, and the NOR makes my faith more enriched and alive. Thank you!
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Have you heard the news? There's a new revolution in the Church! It's been started by, of all people, a little old lady from County Cork.