To make an end is to make a beginning

For years I have found the Church’s liturgical calendar more helpful than the secularized Gregorian calendar in reckoning my place in the temporal order. The liturgical seasons have an effect on me that may be slightly more subtle than the effect of the earth’s four seasons, but which nevertheless works at a deeper level.

This being the case — and with considerable thanks to the way the liturgical cycle resonates in the monastic liturgies at St. Joseph’s Abbey — I’m keenly aware of the transition now underway from Ordinary Time to Advent, today being the last day of Ordinary Time and tomorrow being the first Sunday of Advent.

The theme of the last weeks of Ordinary Time is the Apocalypse, the end time, Christ’s Second Coming, the Final Judgment. Both the scriptures and the prayer life of the Church often speak of this end time in terms at the same time ominous and expectant. Christ, we are repeatedly assured, will “come in glory,” revealing the grandeur that was hidden from all but a few (at the Transfiguration, for instance) when he lived among us.

I have a slightly different take on this theme. For I imagine that the “glory” revealed by the Second Coming will not be the worldly glory that comes easily to mind when we hear references to it in the scriptures and liturgy. As I think of it, if anything Christ will come in an even more humble state; the difference between his earthly life and his second coming will be that at his second coming what will be revealed is precisely the glory inherent in his humility. The judgment that will fall upon all who behold him will be to fully realize that the first will be last and the last first, that humility and glory are one and the same thing.

The last Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Roman lectionary is the Feast of Christ the King, at which it is important to remember that His kingdom is “not of this world,” not only because it is eschatological, but because it is the inverse of worldly kingdoms.

jckingThus it is that the apocalyptic theme on which the Church’s “Ordinary Time” concludes is an appropriate prelude to the Advent theme, which is so magnificently expressed in the Lucan infancy narrative with its contrast between Caesar (“the divine”) Augustus arrayed at the center of his luxurious Empire with the pomp and worldly glory of his powerful office, on one hand, and the helpless infant born in a cow-shed in the remote and culturally inferior (by Roman assessment) backwater of the Empire, on the other. This is the beginning of the first coming, but it is harbinger of the Second Coming as well.

In East Coker, T. S. Eliot wrote:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

Happy Advent.

(this is was first posted on our old blog Dec 2, 2006)

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The Obedience of Faith

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21

That, it seems to me, is the synoptic analogue for Paul’s references to “the obedience of faith” in his Letter to the Romans (1:5; 16:26). As for the Johannine echo: it’s at John 1:38. Jesus turns to the approaching disciples of John, catching them off-guard, and asking abruptly: “What do you want?” Everything depends on the answer to that question — our ethical lives, our attempts at virtue, the plausibility of our hopes, everything. We are desire; the question is only: what is the object of our desire?

Having been the source of consternation to both the theological conservatives (so-called) and the (so-called) ecclesiastical progressives, Henri de Lubac is a steady and reliable theological compass. He has a marvelous passage about the “obedience of faith,” which he contends is something entirely different from “the faith of obedience.”


The latter, placing the individual in a position of purely external submission to authority, delivers him over, through his fault, to a tyranny from which he can escape only by insubordination or which he can tolerate cheerfully only through indifference. Then, as Fenelon says, “the practice of faith only amounts to not daring to contradict the incomprehensible mysteries, a vague submission to which costs nothing.” Whoever is satisfied with this is caught up in a sterile, parrot-like discourse. He “does not meddle with dogmas,” as he sometimes likes to say, but he does not live by them either. He may be a perfect conformist, but he does not know what it means to be a Christian. Obedience of faith, on the contrary, is interior; obedistis ex corde, says the Apostle. [Romans 6:17]

Only this latter obedience, de Lubac insists, “deserves to be called a theological virtue.”

The Christian Faith, p. 238-9.

(this is was first posted on our old blog Nov 28, 2006)

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Giving Thanks

Happiness doesn’t lead to gratitude; it’s gratitude that leads to happiness.

Gratitude is less measured by how pleased we are with the blessings we have received and more by how much we love those from whom we have received them and with whom we share them — God ultimately being “the One from whom all blessings flow” and to Whom our gratitude must finally be expressed.

We are truly and sincerely grateful to those who share in our work and for the opportunity it provides us to share the faith, hope and love that was part of the first Thanksgiving and a determination to faithfully pass it on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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God’s Gamble – now available on Amazon

We are pleased to announce the publication of Gil Bailie’s new book God’s Gamble – The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love

Click on the image above to order your copy!

For Hardback/Clothcover click HERE

For e-book/Kindle click HERE

We are very grateful to John Riess at Angelico Press for the fine work he and his team have done in publishing this book in such an elegant and attractive format.

The Cross of Christ has left a crater at the center of history, an inflection of sacrificial love toward which everything before and after this event is ordered and properly understood. That Christ is the Alpha and Omega–the logic, the meaning of creation itself, from whom the drama of salvation emanates and toward whom it moves–is a central but often neglected doctrine of Catholic Christianity. Though it is a mystery that will ever elude rational explication, sufficient traces of it can be found. Drawing primarily on the insights of René Girard and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Gil Bailie’s new book is a work of reconnaissance, an effort to locate and explicate some of these traces. He presents a narrative of both rich and subtle textures–the story of God’s gamble in and on history.

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Leonard Cohen RIP






Come Healing

Leonard Cohen

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

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A Harvard Law Professor’s view…

IN a previous post, ‘Numbers’, reflecting on the deathworks in the era of post Roe v Wade abortion in the United States I wrote that our hope in such circumstances lies outside the machinations of our legal and political systems. On the First Things website the same day there appeared an interview with Adrian Vermeule, the Ralph S. Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, and a recent convert to the Roman Catholic Church. One of the questions posed to Prof. Vermeule touched on the prospects for influencing the culture away from the “culture of death”. His response says much better than my words what I wished to convey:

I put little stock or hope or faith in law. It is a tool that may be put to good uses or bad. In the long run it will be no better than the polity and culture in which it is embedded. If that culture sours and curdles, so will the law; indeed that process is well underway and its tempo is accelerating. Our hope lies elsewhere.

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Approximately, thirty million – that is the number. This is the number of voters between the ages of 18 and 43 that would be deprived of their right to vote in the upcoming US presidential election. They are not felons, though some of them might have been. In fact, they are universally considered innocent of any act that would disqualify them from casting a vote. Yet, were it not for the decision of the Supreme Court in 1973 there would be approximately 30,000,000 additional voters in this election. This was brought to mind recently after recalling the thoughts of the late Christopher Hitchens in his memoir “Hitch 22”. When Mr. Hitchens was an adolescent he learned his mother had aborted a pregnancy not long prior to her becoming pregnant with him. This knowledge had a profound effect on Hitchens attitude regarding abortion. He understood the existential contingency of his own life as a ‘choice’ made by his own mother.


Mr. Hitchens never came around to fully supporting an unborn child’s right to life. But in his memoir he evinced a human honesty about abortion’s reality even as an atheist/humanist he intellectually squirmed under the moral claims of innocent human life.

This election, just as those of the recent past, does not provide any hope for amelioration of the unjust decision of the Supreme Court. The unmooring of our national foundations from the moral first principles of the Judaeo-Christian tradition is but another strident assertion of a ‘no’ in the long progress of the escalating ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to God’s revelation of himself 2,000 years ago in the god-forsaken outback of the Roman Empire. A revelation that began in the womb of a young girl who quietly said ‘yes’.

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Houston Event Nov 2nd – Gil Bailie featured speaker


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Ten Years Ago….


The Cornerstone Forum Board – Sonoma, August 2006 LtoR George Wesolek (d. 2014), Dr. Pat Tinker, William Shea, Tom Olp, Gil Bailie, Randy Coleman-Riese, (Elizabeth Ely not present)

August 27, 2006 marked the beginning of The Cornerstone Forum’s foray into what was then already a large and growing online “weblog” phenomenon with the launch of Reflections on Faith and Culture. In 2006 Facebook was mostly a feature of college and high school life and the iPhone was a year away from being released to the public. In the days prior to the new ‘blog’ Gil Bailie had been posting short reflections on an early iteration of the Cornerstone Forum (nee Florilegia Institute) website. That old website is no longer available online. However, we do have pieces of it stuck away on backup hard drives. And as with most of Gil’s writing it has withstood the vagaries of changing times pretty well. So, I will be dusting off some of these pieces and, as with our ‘audio archives’, making them available again to what we hope are new or more recent followers of the Cornerstone Forum’s work. This is not meant to be merely an exercise in nostalgia. (Though it certainly is nostalgic for me.) It is also a demonstration of the comprehensive and insightful nature of Gil Bailie’s work over the years, and of why we believe it is important to keep these materials available for years to come. René Girard alluded to just this aspect of Gil’s work in the foreward  to Violence Unveiled:

Such is the talent of Gil Bailie and the power of his analyses that he can bring together Bob Dylan and the Aztec myth of Tezcatlipoca without giving an impression of disharmony or discontinuity….He can make Aeschylus accessible through Rodney King and purify Rodney King of journalistic clichés by placing his affair in an Aeschylian light.

Here is a re-post from that August 2006 blog launch:

“Isaac reopened the wells dug by the servants of his father Abraham and blocked up by the Philistines after Abraham’s death, and he gave them the same names as his father had given them” (Gen. 26:18).

For years, The Cornerstone Forum has had as its principle theme the phrase “Keeping Faith and Breaking Ground.” The term has its value, and we will almost surely continue to invoke it here and there. It comes to mind today, as we are experimenting with the idea of launching a weblog. It seemed only natural to include the phrase on the blog as we have so often included it on other of the things we have done. I am the person responsible for the use of the phrase, but there has always been something about it that didn’t quite sit right with me. In a word: the subtle presumption involved in proposing to break new ground.

It is, I think, unquestionably true that the work of René Girard throws enormous light on what I variously call Christological Anthropology or the Perichoretic Anthropology, and it is likewise the case, I believe, that as we look through the lens that Girard’s work provides we will be able to recognize the universality and uniqueness of Christianity with tools not before available to us and in ways that will contribute significantly to our ability to evangelize our weary world and catechize the young. Speaking from experience, I can predict that those who peer through the anthropological lens Girard’s work provides will experience Christianity and the Christian truth claims as if for the first time. The experience will be a kind of ground-breaking experience. In truth, however, it will simply be another instance of what has happened ever and again throughout history.

Christian faith is ever-ancient, ever-new. As Eliot reminded us, we are always having to return to where we started and know the place for the first time. It was also Eliot who reminded us that this recovery takes places today “under conditions that seem unpropitious.” So my mind turns to Isaac, who was indeed “breaking ground,” but who would probably have omitted the claim to have been doing so, inasmuch as he was simply re-digging the wells of Abraham that the Philistines had filled with the desert sand. What is particularly poignant to me about this one-sentence allusion in the Book of Genesis is the notation that Isaac gave these wells the same names that his father had given them. There is something there for us today, it seems to me; a sense of our humble place in the scheme of things, a degree of anonymity that is proper to the transmission of the mysteries of faith.

Just a thought.


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Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

After having spent the past two and a half years editing and transferring Gil Bailie’s cassette recordings of Reflections on Dante’s Divine Comedy to the world of digital audio, I am now ready to take on the next transition task. The backlog of material is substantial but what came to mind during this US presidential election’s political season was Gil Bailie’s reflections on Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Below are a couple of short excerpts from the first part of this series which I think may pique your interest:

During the period prior to making these presentations Gil had been participating in the episodic seminars held Friday afternoons on the Stanford campus with René Girard and his students. Professor Girard had been preparing a compilation of articles on the bard’s work that was published in 1991 as A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare (Odeon). Five of the 38 chapters in his book deal with Julius Caesar. And for those familiar with Shakespeare’s plays it offers a wealth of practical insights into both Shakespeare and Girard’s mimetic theory.

The entire first part of Gil’s series is available on our webstore HERE. Forthcoming episodes of Julius Caesar and other Shakespeare plays will be posted to our store monthly. If you would like to follow these talks and have them sent to your email address each month, please consider becoming a regular monthly donor to the Cornerstone Forum. For a one time annual donation of $60 ( or a subscription of $5 per month for 12 months) we will add your email address to our list of supporters to our mendicant work and send you a monthly link to our complimentary downloadable MP3 file. Although CDs are quickly passing over the technological horizon, we still provide these without cost (via USPS) to those generous souls who sustain our efforts at the $300 per year level (or a subscription of $25 per month for 12 months). Our sustaining donors will also receive the monthly complimentary downloadable MP3 as well. Note: complimentary mailed CDs are only available to our supporters in the US due to the high cost of postage for non-US customers.

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