Whence Human Rights?

“When there is no agreement about what a human person is, there is no possibility of a shared vision of human rights. John Paul II was aware of this problem. In a speech to the Vatican Diplomatic Corps in 1989 he observed that ‘the 1948 Declaration does not contain the anthropological and moral basis for the human rights that it proclaims’. He then implored his diplomats to work on promoting the Christian understanding of human dignity based on sound anthropological and moral foundations.” — Tracey Rowland

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Summer Newsletter – Fall Plans…

We recently sent out our Summer Newsletter to all those on our newsletter email list.

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 upcoming travel and speaking plans and Randy Coleman-Riese’s goings on, we are including a coupon for a complimentary downloadable MP3 file of Gil’s Reflections on Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida Part 5. Use the coupon code ‘summer’ 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.)

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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Have you thanked God for this failure already?

Arvo Part

Gil Bailie has posted a link on the Cornerstone Forum Facebook page to a short video of an excerpted portion of a speech Estonian composer Arvo Part gave in May 2014 accepting an honorary degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. The link is here, and a transcript follows:

Please allow me some thoughts from my musical diaries.

In the Puhtitsa Monastery, Estonia, “Have you thanked God for this failure already?” These unexpected words were said by a little girl. I remember exactly…it was July 25th, 1976. I was sitting in the monastery’s yard, on a bench in the shadow of the bushes with my notebook.

‘What are you doing? What are you writing there’, the girl who was around ten asked me. ‘I am trying to write music, but it is not turning out well’, I said. And then the unexpected words from her, ‘Have you thanked God for this failure already?’

The most sensitive musical instrument is the human soul. The next is the human voice. One must purify the soul until it begins to sound. A composer is a musical instrument and at the same time a performer on that instrument. The instrument has to be in order to produce sound. One must start with that, not with the music. Through the music the composer can check whether his instrument is tuned, and to what key it is tuned.

God knits man in his mother’s womb, slowly and wisely. Art should be born in a similar way. To be like a beggar when it comes to writing music, whatever, however, and whenever God gives. We shouldn’t’ grieve because of writing little and poorly, but because we pray little and poorly, and lukewarmly, and live in the wrong way. The criterion must be everywhere and only humility.

Music is my friend, ever-understanding. Compassionate. Forgiving. It’s a comforter, the handkerchief for drying my tears of sadness, the source of my tears of joy. My liberation and flight. But also, a painful thorn in my flesh and soul, that which makes me sober and teaches humility.

Thank you. Forgive me, please!

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Mortality and The Gift of Fr. Arne Panula

The recent (and all to frequent) hiatus in posting to our weblog has a both a sad and joyous reason. We learned earlier this month of the death of our friend Robert Glass, one of the Cornerstone Forum’s most generous supporters. I had met with Robert and his wife Leslie along with another long time supporter, Jim Steinwedell, in Los Angeles in January. Among many things we discussed how our work could be made available to new audiences. The excitement and enthusiasm generated at our breakfast gathering that day will stay with me as a gift. Gil Bailie attended Robert’s memorial service in the LA area and gave a short homily. While he was there Gil received the news of the death of a dear cousin in Tennessee. Returning from Los Angeles, Gil traveled to the funeral in Tennessee. And while in Tennessee he learned of the passing of our long time friend and supporter, Fr. Arne Panula.

Fr. Arne Panula

Fr. Arne had been for many years the director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC. During the Emmaus Road Initiative’s ‘road show’ in 2008-9 Gil made monthly presentations at the CIC. Gil noted Fr. Arne’s death on the Cornerstone Forum Facebook page. In the post Gil linked to an article entitled, “Did You Ever Think You’d Known a Saint?”, that provides a brief introduction to this extraordinary man.

Being close by to Washington, DC while in Maryland, I attended the wake at the CIC chapel and experienced the mysterious mixture of sadness and joy as those gathered recounted the gracious gift of friendship shared with Fr. Arne. Another article, of a more personal nature, was posted on The Catholic Thing by Hadley Arkes entitled, “What Fr. Arne Shaped” This reflection, more than a recounting of acomplishments, gets to the heart of what so many people experienced, whose lives were changed by the encounter with this man. The joy underlying the loss of we feel at the casket of those whose life reflected the life of Our Lord so faithfully is the hope of the resurrection. Requiescant in Pace.



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An Everlasting Gift…

One of the benefits of working with the Cornerstone Forum is having available the archives of Gil Bailie to draw from. One of the recent reviewers of Gil’s book, “God’s Gamble”, on Amazon says in part, “Anything that Gil Bailie writes has been thought and rethought for decades.” It is true. Gil Bailie’s work often reflects something of a plowman going over the field multiple times to find the rich earth beneath and bringing it to the surface.

During these slow summer months I am recycling some of the postings from our earlier internet blog while Gil continues to work on the text of his next book project and I continue to keep the plates spinning at my multiple jobs.

The following reflection from a decade ago bears on the subject of grace/gift:

“Each of us will be eternally that which we shall have made ourselves on earth.” -Jean Danielou

Now that’s a truly daunting prospect. Here, however, is what saves us from it, (taken from the Eucharistic prayers):

“May He make us an everlasting gift to You.”

So, praise God, it is not entirely what we make of ourselves, but what God in Christ makes of us. Our task is less to make something of ourselves than to open ourselves to Eucharistic assimilation.

Everyone has to pull his or her own weight, but God does the heavy lifting.

To the question, “Well, which is it? My effort, or God’s grace?” The answer is …YES!

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Revisiting the Colloquium on Violence & Religion Conference…


Because of a scheduling conflict with another conference the topic of which is highly relevent to Gil’s  current writing project he is unable to attend this year’s annual meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion in Madrid being held next week. Gil is a founding member of the COV&R organization and has given presentations at a number of it’s meetings. I thought revisiting one of those meetings, and Gil’s remarks from a decade ago might be of interest. Much to his chagrin, Gil’s remarks were the primary basis of an Amsterdam newspaper story on the conference at the time. One wonders why the reporter bypassed the many other learned papers and presentations at the conference to focus on Gil Bailie’s remarks. Included below is a letter he wrote to the editor of the Dutch newspaper…

I’m reporting from the 2007 Colloquium on Violence and Religion conference in Amsterdam, where I’m happy to be seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I was asked by the organizers of the conference to serve on the panel discussing the keynote address. The panel also included Dr. Abdulkarim Soroush, an Iranian Muslim, a visiting professor at the Free University of Amsterdam; Dr. Markha Valente, an American trained professor of history now also teaching at the Free University in Amsterdam; and Dr. Monjib Maati, a Muslim professor of history at the Université de Rabat in Morocco.

Prior to my formal remarks, I made brief reference to the keynote address by Ian Buruma, author of Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, and to the response to the address by my old friend Wolfgang Palaver, a professor of Catholic Social Thought at Innsbruck University. I simply expressed my general agreement with what they had to say – not complete agreement to be sure, but I was in substantial agreement with them. To which I added something extemporaneous to this effect, anticipating the need for it:

Let it be said that in what follows the historical sins of Western culture – known in great detail by every 12-year-old in the West – are hereby acknowledged and, to the extent that I can be contrite for someone else’s errors, I hereby apologize.

I daily remind myself of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, that love does not gloat over the wrong-doing of others but delights in the truth, but the truth can be uncomfortable, and we are here today to search for it.

My Formal Remarks:

Believe me, it is not easy it is to say what I’m about to say, for I know it will be misunderstood. If I was confident that someone else might say it, I would happily to leave it to them to say. But I’m not confident of that, so I’m going to ask your indulgence as I put on my very best Jeremiah impersonation.

At the heart of the European crisis, as I see it, is a loss of faith – Europe’s loss of its Christian faith and then, as a predictable consequence, Europe’s loss of faith in itself. It is fundamentally a Christian problem, but today of course it has both a Muslim and a Jewish component.


One of the West’s greatest shortcomings is its aversion to accurately assessing its own cultural uniqueness and especially the religious sources of that uniqueness. The key to the kind of pluralistic and politically secular polity that the West rightly cherishes is the parallel cultural coexistence of a religious tradition whose faithful are taught to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s and to recognize the dignity of the person and his or her right to follow the voice of conscience.

The last time Europe lost faith in itself this profoundly was in the aftermath of World War I, and in a heartbeat the primitive gods were back, tricked out on that occasion in ideological disguises. Whatever these gods will look like next time, the European loss of self-confidence and Europe’s confusion over its historic identity will provide the occasion for their return. At issue, it’s important to remember, is the spiritual condition of the West itself: whether or to what extent it has lost its soul and in the process lost its way in history and is no longer willing to pass on its cultural inheritance to the next generation.

Nothing exemplifies Europe’s lack of faith in itself more than its reluctance to reproduce. As Mark Steyn put it: the future belongs to those who show up for it. A great number of European Muslims are going to show up, but they will be joined by only a relatively small number of European Christians and Jews and by a statistically insignificant number of European secularists. The future belongs to the fertile. Europe – radical jihadists worldwide now have reason to believe – will fall into their hands by mid-century. For many of the most radical, however, that seems too long to have to wait.

Which brings us to THE MUSLIM COMPONENT

Henri de Lubac pitied those who learned their catechism against something, and the worst way to revive the Christian spirit in the West is to do so in order to counter non-Christian influences, whatever they might be. That said, however, there is in fact a Muslim component to the present crisis, and it is rooted in a few uncomfortable but undeniable realities:

#1. Mohammad: The founder of Islam, whatever his other virtues, was a conquering warrior who spread his religious beliefs by the sword. One doesn’t have to be an expert in mimetic theory to recognize the salience of this or its contemporary relevance.

#2. Since Mohammad’s modus operandi was inscribed in the Qur’an and made normative in the sharia, the second uncomfortable but undeniable reality is that obligatory acts of violence enjoy the highest possible Islamic sanction, and are regarded by Muslims of the strict observance as unalterable and immune to more benign construals.

I am genuinely honored to share the dais with Islamic scholars who have tried to foster a more irenic understanding of Islam, and who have, no doubt, paid a personal and professional price for doing so. Unfortunately, those courageous few – they are both very courageous and very few – who have publicly and unequivocally resisted the jihadist revival have had their voices drowned out by the radicals, who cite Qur’anic authorizations the moderates appear unable to effectively refute. In any case, it is now clear that such reform efforts are better appreciated by Westerners – desperate for signs of Islamic moderation – than they are by the sea of radical Islamicists who now dominate the discourse in the Muslim world.

#3. Religious Tolerance: The first freedom is religious freedom.

How many instances are there of societies with a Muslim majority or an Islamic regime where anything remotely resembling Western religious freedom exists? As mosques sprout up like Starbucks in the West, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and native animists are being denied basic religious freedoms and/or physically intimidated and persecuted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Indonesia and so on. In an Islamic society, can a Muslim cease being a Muslim without endangering his life? Can a Hindu or a Mormon try to convert a Muslim without endangering his?


It was fashionable not long ago to sagely observe that the Palestinians are the Jews of our time. The truth, of course, is that the Jews are the Jews of our time. Now as ever, the Jews are the canary in the European mineshaft, and to repeat the cliché that their predicament is reducible to “the politics of the Middle-East” is a species of the 1930s slander about Jews in the international banking system, and it is shameful.

In Europe today, Jews are once again having to be cautious and to avoid certain areas out of very legitimate fears for their safety, while imams both inside and outside Europe spew forms of anti-Semitism that would make the Nazis blush. No dialogue that ignores these matters deserves the name.

St. Peter admonished Christians to be prepared to give nonbelievers the reason for their hope, and he did so no doubt because there seemed precious little empirical evidence for it. My own hope is of that same sort. I actually am hopeful, but I can’t let on if I am to play the gloomy Jeremiah role all the way to the end. Nothing less than sober biblical hope will do. It’s the best kind anyway. There is reason to hope, wrote the historian John Lukacs, “that the New Dark Ages may not last hundreds of years; and there is reason to believe that their darkness will not be uniform.”

In the question and answer period, I was able to clarify a number of points, but I also found an opportunity to add something that was part of my formal remarks, but which was inadvertently ommited in the text I took with me to the auditorium:

The history of this century and beyond will be very largely determined by whether the West finds a way to reclaim and reaffirm its spiritual inheritance and thereby reenergize a culture that fosters the genuine flourishing of its people and to which others – whatever their race, creed, ethnicity, or background – will want to transfer their national allegiance, culturally assimilate, and contribute their part.

Embarrassed to have become the focus of the press attention, when my conference colleagues deserved much more attention for their much more substantial contributions to our deliberations, I decided to write to the editor of the Dutch newspaper. I left both the letter and the decision as to whether or not to send it to the newspaper with my Dutch friends.

In any case, and for what it might be worth, here is the letter:

To: Editor, NCR Handelsblad

The article in the July 8, 2007 edition of your paper about the conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion dwelt on a few remarks I made as one member of a four-person panel at the opening session of the conference at the Free University of Amsterdam. The quotations were accurate and fairly characterize the points I wanted to make. I stand by them. However, what gave my remarks their pertinence was their context within the much broader discussion which the conference was organized to foster. Taken out of that context and highlighted as they were in the piece by Maarten Huygen, my comments lose their relevance to the larger discussion of which they were a part.

The conference – co-sponsored by Pax Christi The Netherlands, the Blaise Pascal Institute, and the Free University of Amsterdam – was a rich and multifaceted exploration of the very complex challenge now facing Europe and much of the rest of the world: How to continue to honor the historic commitment to cultural openness and generosity without eviscerating the religious and moral sources of that very generosity? My rather candid remarks were made simply as a small contribution to that much larger discussion and should not be taken as emblematic of it.

Gil Bailie,
The Cornerstone Forum

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Every revival of paganism involves a lessening of intellectual vigor, or, at best the substitution of a formal intellectual virtuosity for a more substantive and productive exercise of intelligence. On the contrary, each new step in the on-going discovery of the scope and ramifications of Christian truth is accompanied by an intellectual surge capable of bearing fruit in virtually every field of learning to which it might turn.

Henri de Lubac



“The faith which is born in man liberates him from superstition,” says Henri de Lubac, and the liberation is accompanied by “an illumination of the intellect.”


Not only does the converted subject recover his “ontological moorings,” but, both spiritually and intellectually, he becomes like the one Jeremiah described who is planted by the waterside. He sinks his otherwise parched roots into the world’s great source of moral and intellectual vigor. His own sinfulness will mar all his attempts to draw upon that source, but all his failures will be superior to the most altruistic of his moral accomplishments and the most brilliant of his intellectual ones performed prior to his conversion.

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Some thoughts to keep in mind as we prepare to celebrate the 241st anniversary of the birth of the United States of America this July 4th…


Premodern philosophers viewed freedom as a prerequisite of human virtue. … Freedom is the means that allows human beings to become virtuous; it allows order to be instilled into human nature. If happiness qua virtue is the telos for man, then freedom is instrumental to – but does not constitute – that end.

John Safranek

To imagine that freedom has no telos, no purpose other than itself, is precisely what we call nihilism, and we are drowning in it today.


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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 gil-bailie.com in May 2007)

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