Post-Father’s Day reflections….

The recent hiatus in posting to this blog page was due to my current dual role of Cornerstone Forum’s chief cook and bottle washer, as well as grandpa and helper to my daughter’s family in Maryland as they awaited the arrival of their second child. The long days of waiting ended on Wednesday of last week with the birth of their son. Mother and baby are doing fine. Grandpa and Grandma are very happy and grateful all went well.

On the the other side of the continent Gil Bailie has been working on extracting his next book from notes collected over the past twenty years. I will be sharing bits of his drafts here as they become available. However, Gil took some time over the past days to post on the Cornerstone Forum Facebook page the following quote from Charles Péguy and a reflection….

Charles Péguy

“There is only one adventurer in the world, as can be seen very clearly in the modern world, the father of a family. Even the most desperate adventurers are nothing compared with him. Everything in the modern world, even and perhaps most of all contempt, is organized against that fool, that imprudent, daring fool … the unruly, audacious man who is daring enough to have a wife and family. Everything is against him. Savagely organized against him. Everything turns and combines against him. … Everything is against the father of a family, the pater familias; and consequently against the family. He alone is literally “engaged” in the world, in the age. He alone is an adventurer. The rest are at most engaged with their heads, which is nothing. He is engaged with all his limbs. The rest suffer for themselves. In the first degree. He alone suffers through others. He makes others suffer; he is responsible. He alone has given hostages, wife and child, so that sickness and death can strike him in all his members. The others can take in their sails. He alone is exposed, constrained to expose an enormous spread of canvas, to the storms of the sea. And whatever the weather, he is bound to sail with all sails set.”

A father is only as happy as his least happy child.

Both the Péguy quote and Gil’s pithy sentence on one aspect of a father’s happiness resonate with my experience as a father and grandfather. I will end this with a kind of ‘father’s prayer’ by Leonard Cohen that echos my feelings on yesterday’s dual celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi and Fathers Day:

You who question souls, and you to whom souls must answer, do not cut off the soul of my son on my account. Let the strength of his childhood lead him to you, and the joy of his body stand him upright in your eyes.

May he discern my prayer for him, and to whom it is uttered, and in what shame. I received the living waters and I held them in a stagnant pool. I was taught but I did not teach. I was loved but I did not love. I weakened the name that spoke me, and I chased the light with my own understanding.

Whisper in his ear. Direct him to a place of learning. Illuminate
his child’s belief in mightiness. Rescue him from those who want
him with no soul, who have their channels in the bedrooms of the rich and poor, to draw the children into death. Let him see me coming back to you. Allow us to bring forth our souls together to make a place for your name.

If I am too late, redeem my yearning in his heart, bless him with a soul that remembers you, that he may uncover it with careful husbandry. They who wish to devour him have grown powerful on my idleness. They have a number for him, and a chain. Let him see them withered in the light of your name. Let him see their dead kingdom from the mountain of your word. Stand him up upon his soul, bless him with the truth of manhood.

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More on the Epistemology of Faith . . .

During his 40 days in the desert, Jesus was tempted to do things that would make the truth of his claims and the meaning of his existence irrefutable. He declined. His followers down through the centuries have sometimes tried to do what Jesus refused to do.

But irrefutability is overrated. Christian faith appeals to freedom and to love, both of which require the absence of irrefutability, what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls “the purely worldly power of persuasion.” The truth of Christianity is simply Christ — the Way, the Truth, and the Life — the Truth that will set you free.


The kind of evidential power with which God manifests himself must be of the highest kind, precisely in virtue of the fact that it allows freedom because it makes men free. And it wants to overpower a lover that answers in freedom only in its own way — by the evidential power of love …

Balthasar cites Blaise Pascal as the thinker who best understood this, quoting this from Pascal’s Pensées: “Perfect clarity would please reason but harm the will. The proud man must be humbled.”

Balthasar goes so far as to say the “only that person can truly recognize the Messiah who knows how to keep his secret.”

This is not of course to ignore the command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Rather it is to realize that the value of that preaching will depend primarily on how faithfully the lives of those who preach it have been conformed to Christ and only secondarily on how objectively persuasive their argumentation might be.

The secret that must be kept is an open secret, but it will elude those who try to discover it solely on the basis of a “purely worldly power of persuasion.”

(This was originally posted on in May 2007)

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The Science of Facts & The Epistemology of Truth

Benedict XVI

A number of very smart people have made very conspicuous fools of themselves lately by not recognizing a truth expressed with such lapidary economy by Benedict XVI in his marvelous book, Jesus of Nazareth:

The highest truths cannot be forced into the type of empirical evidence that only applies to material reality.

For an extended meditation on this insight, see Leon Kass’ essay in the April 2007 edition of Commentary, “Science, Religion, and the Human Future” . Two of my most trusted friends, Ron Austin and Tom Olp, recommended Dr. Kass’ article to me.  Benedict gets the nod for succinctness, but Leon Kass draws out the implications of the Pope’s remark.

Leon Kass

“The substantive limits of science follow from certain fundamental aspects of scientific knowledge and from science’s assumptions about what sorts of things are scientifically knowable. They stem from science’s own self-proclaimed conceptual limitations — limitations to which neither religious nor philosophical thought is subject. This is not because, science being rational, it is incapable of dealing with the passionate or sub-rational or spiritual or supernatural aspects of being. It is, on the contrary, because the rationality of science is but a partial and highly specialized rationality, concocted for the purpose of gaining only that kind of knowledge for which it was devised, and applied to only those aspects of the world that can be captured by such rationalized notions. The peculiar reason of science is not the natural reason of everyday life captured in ordinary speech, and it is also not the reason of philosophy or religious thought, both of which are tied to—even as they seek to take us beyond — the world as we experience it.”

Or as Hans Urs von Balthasar put it half a century ago:

“To an epoch in which anthropology has been recognized as the key to philosophy, it is self-contradictory to foster an intelligence that approaches things from a merely rationalistic and technical point of view, indeed it completely misunderstands its own being. … In the anthropological period the highest objectivity can be attained only by the highest personal risk of man himself.”

Balthasar comes close to matching Benedict in succinctness when he writes:

A theory of knowledge that resolutely starts from the case that sets the norm of all knowledge, i.e. the meeting between persons, saves itself a good many problems.

(This is an edited version of a post that was originally on in May 2007)

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Some Thoughts on The Common Good, The Catholic Church and The World…

Jean-Luc Marion

“The common good requires that we offer to all what Revelation has given us—and has given us to comprehend. Today, intelligence becomes a duty of charity. It is up to us, to us and to no one else, to transmit the light that we claim to have received—in vessels of clay, yet we really have received it. When a Church dies in a nation, it is never primarily its adversaries’ doing, but that of its members, who lose courage and faith, and thus intelligence.”

“The often antagonistic relation between what the Catholic Church says and the majority opinions of our civil societies does not imply that Catholicism no longer plays any positive role; to the contrary, its contribution lies precisely in the capability it demonstrates of saying the very word that contradicts the predominant opinion head-on and openly, and at the very least renders society the invaluable service of showing that this opinion is not self-evident, that it involves infinitely serious presuppositions and runs the risk of falsification. Even when the world contradicts Catholicism, it still needs it in order to avoid merely proclaiming platitudes. The world might not even become conscious of its innovations and its declines if Catholicism had not been there with enough courage to awaken its bad conscience—for a bad conscience remains still and first of all a conscience. Catholicism can lay claim to such a role, one that is already as remarkable and respectable as many others.”

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Memorial Day

For the past eleven years just prior to the Memorial day weekend, Saint Vincent High School in Petaluma, California has set aside one day to remember one of its graduates who died August 25, 2005, while serving with the US Army Rangers in Iraq. They call this Tim Shea Day.

Timothy Magnus Shea is the son of William and Mary Shea. William Shea has been a close friend of Gil Bailie and the Cornerstone Forum for over 40 years, serving as a trusted advisor and board member. Until recently I worked for William Shea as his legal secretary and witnessed the undercurrents of grief and sorrow mixing with the love, hope, and faith that have sustained him and his family.

I only met Tim once that I recall but have heard many stories retold by his family and friends of his exploits as a youth, adolescent, and young man. ‘Full of life’ is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of Tim. He and his family remain in my prayers this day along with all those whose names I’ll never know whose lives on earth were swallowed in war. God have mercy.

Randy Coleman-Riese



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Message in a bottle….

Ten years ago Gil Bailie spent time reading University of Pennsylvania scholar Philip Rieff’s works with the following results…

To Whom It May Concern:

[To European culture today — while it can still be spoken of in the singular — and to North American culture in the near future]:

From Philip Rieff:

“A multiculture is an anti-culture. … the historical task of a culture is always and everywhere the same: the creation of a world in which its inhabitants may find themselves at home and yet accommodate the stranger without yielding their habitus to him.”

T. S. Eliot’s “where there is no temple, there shall be no homes” finds its perfect echo in Rieff’s “Where there is nothing sacred, there is nothing.”

Lest the word “sacred” trigger in my fellow Girardians a needless knee-jerk reaction, what both Eliot and Rieff are saying is simply that all culture is rooted in cult, and that without reference to transcendence made vibrant and materially manifest in the culture, the culture will succumb to the iron law of both human affairs and physics, namely, that nature abhors a vacuum.

So, finally, Philip Rieff: “As teaching agents of sacred order, and inescapably within it, the moral demands we must teach, if we are teachers, are those eternal truths by which all social orders endure.”

(This was originally posted on in May 2007.)

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A Look Back At – Tradition






The word “tradition” and the word “treason” come from the same root.

The very name “modernity” self-consciously used to describe the period of the last several centuries in Western cultural history clearly exemplifies the spirit that has dominated these centuries, and the “postmodernism” that has lately been offered as its sequel — as its name makes obvious — is nothing more than the same spirit, in Shakespeare’s words, having eaten everything else in sight, at last, is eating up itself.

The spirit that animates both these phases of our cultural history is an anti-traditional spirit, rooted in the assumption that liberation from the past is the key to happiness and progress. This “liberationist” spirit has fostered a remarkable degree of economic and political improvements, but it must be said that the most impressive of these are due more to the residual presence of a Judeo-Christian ethos than to the forces that have insisted on its irrelevance.

Slowly but surely, however, the underlying presuppositions of the modern and postmodern eras have led to a loss of cohesion and cultural integrity, resulting in a situation today in the West which is little more than licensed autonomy enforced with increasingly draconian methods, all aimed at neutralizing or penalizing the public presence of traditional religious or moral judgments: what Pope Benedict called “the dictatorship of relativism.”

All of this plays out as the culture war, which, however reluctant one is to enter its lists, can no more be avoided than can other kinds of war. The bumper sticker which reads: Stop the War, for instance, seems to presuppose that this can be done by simply laying down one’s arms. Which, in a way, is true, for it would simply concede the contest to those who have not laid down their arms, thus bringing the war between them to an end. One doesn’t have to be a political philosopher, much less a member of some neo-con cabal, to realize that war ended on those terms might lead to a very unhappy state of affairs.

So … the unavoidability of the culture war. The passions aroused by that war, however, should not blind us to our responsibility to our descendants. I am even tempted to describe the belligerents in today’s culture war as those who are primarily concerned with making the culture more congenial to their own impulses, desires, aptitudes, and preoccupations, on one hand, and, on the other, those primarily concerned with the cultural, moral, and spiritual needs of those who will come after them. I know howls of protest will be forthcoming about that, but I must say this is exactly how it seems to me.

The precise point I want to make is about the very nature of both tradition and culture. Both are received from the distant past, not concocted in the present or in the recent past. That is why we must try to resolve any differences between ourselves, our contemporaries, our ancestors, and our descendants in favor of our ancestors. Paradoxically, that is the only way we can resolve them in favor of our descendants. For what our descendants will most desperately need is an inheritance, a tradition, a moral, religious, and cultural patrimony that has the weight of centuries of affirmation, reflection, scrutiny, and living experience. Anything less ballasted than that will surely be washed away in the cultural tsunamis which are doubtless coming in the decades just ahead.

To hand on to the next generation a culture cobbled together out of the fashions and ideological enthusiasms of the last few decades is to betray them in the most irresponsible way, for such a culture is no culture at all, and it will do them no good. This is why the New Testament warns against the “spirit of this age,” not because of the peculiar toxins at work in the late-first century Greco-Roman culture when the New Testament was being written, but precisely because every age produces its own unique myths and rituals for warding off the truth that Christians are charged with announcing to the world, and Christians are warned to be wary of them, in season and out.

What makes a tradition a living tradition is not that it has been recently updated to conform to the latest fashions, but quite the contrary, that it brings into play longstandng moral and spiritual realities to which the world will forever be hostile and for lack of which it will become mad and murderous. If such a tradition is to remain alive, it will do so, not by customizing itself to the point of being indistinguishable from its surrounding society, but by delving ever deeper into its reservoir of truth and bringing forth fresh new ways of understanding these truths.

We owe our children and our children’s children nothing less.

(This was originally posted on in May 2007)

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Keeping up with the Cornerstone Forum….

We send out a newsletter to our email list 3 or 4 times a year including our annual Fall Appeal. Our Spring 2017 Newsletter is being sent out today. A link to the latest on what is happening at the Cornerstone Forum appears to the right, just click on the image and read all about it!

As an incentive to reading about Gil Bailie’s latest writing project and Randy Coleman-Riese’s changing duties, we are including a coupon for a complimentary downloadable MP3 file of Gil’s Reflections on Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida Part 1. Use the coupon code ‘spring’ when going through check out in our webstore. (For those too busy to read the newsletter the link to the free MP3 audio file is HERE.)

Also included in the newsletter is streaming audio player of a 1996 interview Gil Bailie conducted with René Girard in the mid-1990’s.

Finally, for those who do not currently receive our episodic newsletter and would like to, here is a link to our newsletter signup page.

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In the Garden…

On Holy Thursday in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we commemorate the last Passover meal the disciples shared with Jesus, their Teacher and Master. Afterward, the whole party retired to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. There, while the disciples slept, Jesus experienced an agony unknown and unknowable to mere men. In 1980 Bob Dylan wrote a song entitled “In the Garden” that begins:

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?

In a filmed recording of a live concert performance in the early ’80s Mr. Dylan is heard to introduce this song by asking the Australian audience if they have any heros, suggesting the names of famous Aussies to which the crowd responds. He follows up by saying he doesn’t care much for any of the ones he mentioned, but that he does indeed have a hero and will sing a song about his hero – launching into a rocking version of “In the Garden”.

More recently Mr. Dylan has been exploring the ‘Great American Songbook’ recording songs by George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin among others. In a recent interview exploring his long and varied songwriting career Dylan was asked if he thought there were any of his songs that did not receive the attention they deserved. He named two, one of which was “In the Garden”.

The verses of ‘In the Garden’ are comprised of a series of questions, like the one quoted above. Anyone familiar with the Biblical stories from which this song was taken will sense the ambiguity and uncertainty involved in attempting to answer them. Jesus’ foremost disciple, Simon Peter, had in earlier days declared that he knew or believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the son of the Living God. On this night, however, he abandoned his Lord in the garden and denied him three times in the high priest’s courtyard shouting with curses, “I do not know the man!”. We ask ourselves, ‘Did Peter really know Jesus was the Lord?’. I ask this question of myself even I as tap out the words, knowing of my own betrayals.

As we traverse this Triduum recalling the events leading into the Paschal Mystery of Easter Sunday it would be a profitable exercise to reflect on the questions posed ‘In the Garden’.

The final verse ends with the repeated question:

When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?

A blessed Easter to all,

Randy Coleman-Riese

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No Father…No Family…No Faith

Some years ago, a friend of mine and I collaborated as part of a Lenten series of presentations at a Catholic parish here in Sonoma, California. One thing that my friend said had a great impact on me and on those to whom we spoke. He described, as I recall, how his father was a formidable sort of man, not one who wore his heart on his sleeve. But each Sunday when the family attended Mass, he would look over and see his father kneeling in prayer, his head in his hands. At those moments my friend said he glimpsed out of the corner of his eye something about his father that left a deep impression on him. He concluded his reverie about his childhood by saying something to this effect: “If I hadn’t seen father kneeling in prayer like that, I’m not sure what would have become of me, but I doubt that I would be standing here before you today bearing witness to my faith.”

I was raised by a single mother, my father having been killed in the closing days of World War II. There were a few father figures whom I managed to glimpse out of the corner of my eye, and I developed a gift for finding surrogate father figures. But it was chiefly from my mother (and my grandmother) that I received my faith. I am ever in their debt for that gift.

In looking back, however, I realize now that in many ways my mother became my father and the Church became my mother – the Church which was at the time so marvelously represented by nuns galore, most of whom were paragons of selfless fidelity. Those were the days – I entered the first grade in a little Catholic grammar school in 1950 – when such things were possible.

These memories are stirred by a recent piece in the Canadian National Post by Barbara Kay entitled “Men of the church,” in which she cites a fascinating report from Switzerland on demographics and religious practice. She summarizes the report’s findings this way:

A statistical report from Switzerland in 2000, “The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland,” reviewed the results of a 1994 survey of Swiss religious practice, and arrives at a fascinating conclusion about the impact of mothers’ vs. fathers’ church attendance on the future religious observance of their children.

The detailed survey indicated that if the father attended church regularly, and the mother was non-practising, then 44% of their children became regular church-goers. But if the mother attended regularly, and the father was non-practising, then only two per cent of their children became regular church attenders.
Even when the father was an irregular attender and the mother non-practising, a full 25% of their children became regular attenders, while if a mother was a regular attender and the father irregular, only three per cent of the children became regular attenders.

In short, if a father does not attend church, it won’t matter how dedicated the mother is in her observance, only one child in 50 will become a regular attender. But if a father is even somewhat observant, then regardless of the mother’s practice, at least one child in three will become a regular church-goer. The disparity is too stunningly wide to be culturally insignificant.

The rather provocative title of this weblog post is from a comment Barbara Kay quotes in her article. It is a must read. It has been reissued by the Catholic Education Resource Center here.

(this was originally posted in March 2007 on our old weblog

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