Waiting for…?

Now that our great sacrificial sorting of elected office holders is behind us there remains a residue of uncertainty as to what will happen next.

Waiting for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride through town… with the pandemic continuing to afflict our country and the world for the past eight months we have all become weary of our masked and distanced social relations. We learn of friends who have become ill and of those who have died from the virus wondering if we are doing enough to protect ourselves and our loved ones. As we approach winter outdoor worship will be become not just inconvenient but impossible in some areas. While many whose jobs were suspended in the Spring have returned to work, millions have no jobs to return to as some businesses have permanently closed. The promise of a vaccine to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is tantalizingly close, but the expectation of its real world distribution to all those in need of it is at least a year away. Again, we have only hope that God will sustain our lives and the lives of those we love. Yet that hope is what we are, as Christians, supposed to be relying on every moment of our lives. In more ‘normal’ times we often find other resources on which to rely, and so our spiritual lives atrophy as we warm ourselves by the world’s charcoal fires. Just so is the proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed diminished.  God have mercy on us.

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Election Day Thoughts

“Cultures are constituted by the union of the living and the dead in rituals of living memory. Never before … has the authority of the past been sacrificed with a more conscious effort of forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is now the curricular form of our higher education.”

– Philip Rieff

What Henri de Lubac wrote in the late 1970s on the subject of the role of the Church is worthy of an extensive quotation:

“Every notion which tends to bring down the supernatural order to the level of nature tends, by that very fact, to mistake the Church for the world, to conceive of her after the model of human societies, to expect her to change even in her essential structures and her faith in order to suit the world’s changes – and this is indeed what is taking place among a number of our contemporaries. In the past a theocratic temptation may have threatened; today, on the contrary … the secularist temptation has come to the fore very strongly … The Church of Christ’s primary, essential irreplaceable mission is to remind us constantly, opportune, importune, of our divine supernatural vocation and to communicate to us through her sacred ministry the seed, still fragile and hidden, yet real and living, of our divine life.”

But de Lubac was quick to reassure his readers of a source of strength which is all too often overlooked, both in the life of the Church and in the life of any healthy nation which has had the good fortune to have fallen under the Church’s influence:

“[The Church’s] spiritual leaders will always be able to count on the backing of the humble and simple among the faithful who spontaneously discern, under the action of the Spirit of God, those things in the Church which are at the service of the Gospel, and those things which would empty it of meaning and smother it under other interests.”

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Voter Suppression

Approximately, thirty-four million voters between the ages of 18 and 47 have been deprived of their right to vote in the upcoming US presidential election. They are not felons, though now this is frequently not a reason to be denied the right to vote. In fact, they are universally considered innocent of any act or condition that would disqualify them from casting a vote. The reason they will not be able to vote in this year’s national election is that they were denied the right to life. Yet, were it not for the decision of the Supreme Court in 1973 there could be approximately 34,000,000 additional voters in this election. Of course, there is no way to know how any of those suppressed voters would choose to exercise their right to vote.

This was brought to mind recently after recalling the thoughts of the late Christopher Hitchens in his memoir “Hitch 22”. When Mr. Hitchens was a young man he learned his mother had aborted a pregnancy not long before 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 mother.

my-moms-gonna-kill-me

Mr. Hitchens never came 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.

Some believe this election may provide hope for amelioration of the unjust decision of the Supreme Court in 1973, especially now that Justice Amy Coney Barrett is on the bench. However, the attitudes of people of the United States of America have profoundly changed since these words from the Declaration of Independence were written:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The unmooring of our national foundations from the moral first principles of the Judeo-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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Fall Appeal 2020 – Fire Next Time Edition

Over the past three years our annual Fall Appeal for support has been prefaced here in Sonoma County by destructive wildfires. 2020, sadly, is no exception. So far, this year has also brought the dire effects of seven months of pandemic and the rippling social, economic and political upheaval ahead of the November elections. What’s next?

Among slaves in the American South prior to the Civil War the song ‘O Mary Don’t You Weep’ was popular. It includes the verse:

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water the fire next time

We here in California have experienced wildfires. But more than ever we need a Pentecostal fire that burns within us such as Jeremiah experienced, “…His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones” – Jeremiah 20:9.

In these trying times please help us as we do our part to enkindle the flame of God’s Logos in hearts and shine its light onto the stories of history and literature refracted through poets and prophets.

In the links below we offer an audio recording of a presentation Gil Bailie made in 1995 introducing a series entitled “The Truth of Poetry and the Poetry of Truth”. This was recently posted to our Keeping Faith & Breaking Ground Podcast. In this Gil picks up themes he continues to elaborate in his current work. We invite you to read about Gil’s work in progress, our current efforts and to respond generously to our only appeal for support this year.

Thank you for your interest in our work.

Blessings & Pax Christi,


The Truth of Poetry & the Poetry of Truth – An Introduction

Notes from Gil Bailie & Randy Coleman-Riese

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The Act of Contemplation

In whatever ‘fire storms’ one finds oneself in these days (and we have just come through another literal one here in Sonoma County) the following from Hans Urs Von Balthasar is offered to assist in finding freedom from our fears and the oppression of ‘profane existence’.

Whoever makes the attempt to perform the act of contemplation will with time be given something like the state of contemplation. The kind of sustained organ-stop which is held under the confused melody of his day-to-day business and which makes itself heard whenever there is a short pause in the activities. He then knows – for he has actively steeped himself in this knowledge – that the whole range of his profane existence is undergirded by a holy of holies and justified by that. Why? Because all this profane existence which shouts so loudly the importance and purposefulness of its own claims is ultimately meaningless, for it cannot find in its own realm any ultimate grounding; it retains something of a ghostly and despairing character, it flees from one meaningless present into an ostensibly more meaningful future, a future however whose deep perilousness, ambiguity, unredeemability, is an open secret for all. But is not this meaningless, this senselessness which undergirds our daily pursuit of meaning as relentlessly as death, taken up for the Christian into the most holy senselessness of the Eucharist: for what could be more pointless than the total self-giving of God in Christ in which he is emptied out, devoured, and thrown away, cast as pearls before swine? This ultimate senseless is the only center of meaning by which we can take our bearings, if we will only for once put our calculating machines aside and reflect on our condition.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Elucidations, 188-189)
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Becoming worthy of the beauty of Being

Recently some friends of the Cornerstone Forum spent an hour with Gil Bailie in a group Skype call in which Gil shared a short draft excerpt from his current writing project. The excerpt was entitled ‘Conversion’ and introduced two examples. One was the experience related by Bob Dylan in his 2017 Noble prize acceptance speech of Dylan’s adolescent identification with Buddy Holly, and the other described the story of O. E. Parker and the carnival tattooed-man from the Flannery O’Connor short story, Parker’s Back.

Gil’s draft text ended with the quotation below

What is a person without a life-form, that is to say, without a form which he has chosen for his life, a form into which and through which to pour out his life, so that his life becomes the soul of the form and the form becomes the expression of his soul? For this is no extraneous form, but rather so intimate a one that it is greatly rewarding to identify oneself with it. Nor is it a forcibly imposed form, rather one which has been bestowed from within and has been freely chosen. Nor, finally, is it an arbitrary form, rather that uniquely personal one which constitutes the very law of the individual. Whoever shatters this form by ignoring it is unworthy of the beauty of Being, and he will be banished from the splendor of solid reality as one who has not passed the test. Thus, while physically he remains alive, such a person decays to expressionlessness and sterility, is like the dry wood which is gathered in the Gospel for burning. But if man is to live in an original form, that form has first to be sighted. One must possess a spiritual eye capable of perceiving the forms of existence with awe.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar
Hans Urs von Balthasar
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Communicating Christian hope in a changing world

We find ourselves back in the same situation as that which the Christians encountered during the decline of the ancient world. Everything depends on whether the Christians … are able to communicate their hope to a world in which man finds himself alone and helpless before the monstrous forces which have been created by man to serve his own ends but which have now escaped from his control and threaten to destroy him.

Christopher Dawson

Thirteen years ago Gil Bailie posted this quote on our old weblog. Today, in reflecting on the ‘forces created by man…which have now escaped from his control’ , all sorts of images came to mind from pollution to weapons of mass destruction to manipulation of human genetic material.

Last week one of the most successful tech billionaires, Elon Musk co-founder of Tesla and SpaceX, unveiled a device developed by his company Neuralink that can be implanted in a subject’s brain allowing for computer to brain wireless data communications and touting the potential for beneficial therapeutic applications of this technology. (Short summary video.)

On the same day Elon Musk was displaying his new device the New York Times published an article entitled The Brain Implants That Could Change Humanity which provides an overview of the research and technological progress being made in this field. One of the themes addressed in the article is the ethical ramifications of the brain/computer interface, mostly focusing on ‘neurorights’ and privacy concerns with an occasional allusion to the possible nefarious uses of this technology previewed in dystopian movies or TV programs.

“People have been trying to manipulate each other since the beginning of time,” …. “But there’s a line that you cross once the manipulation goes directly to the brain, because you will not be able to tell you are being manipulated.”

Today the materialistic basis of modern science is taken for granted. The ability to alter our material substrate without restraint comes with a self-generated (as well as a political and/or economic) imperative to pursue the prospective ‘good’ that is envisioned as the result. History has demonstrated the generally beneficial outcomes from a world transformed by human technology. And the unintended negative effects are considered part of the price to be paid for our comforts and conveniences. But as we enter a time when the material to be altered and ‘improved’ is the human person we tremble at the thought of crossing that threshold. To question the wisdom, not to mention the truth, of the materialist world view is often considered anathema and anti-human both on the left and the right.

But Christians have never been materialists. Creation is received as a gift for which our response is gratitude. We are given the work of nurturing and tending our world making a home fit for human habitation. It has been one of the treasures of the Catholic faith to see in the material world the sacramental infusion of God’s creative power in everything that exists. All of the suffering and injustice heaped up each day by natural disasters and human sinfulness only gives us more work to do. We are not promised victory and success in the material sense. Our hope lies in the One who infuses our world, our lives, and our work with the “power of crucified love”.

Perhaps one day we can download Christian hope directly to our brains…in the mean time I suggest opening our hearts and receiving the sacramental grace to join in the banquet of the Beloved. God help us.

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Cancel Culture…draining the drama of meaning

“Since satisfactory answers [to the question of the meaning of human existence] have not been found apart from Christ, there is an attempt today to cancel the questions or at least to rob them of their dramatic quality. We are living in a time marked by nihilism. But it is no longer the same nihilism as in the first half of the century. The earlier nihilism was ideological and programmatic. Following Nietzsche, it aimed to fill the vacuum left by the abandonment of personal and social morality with the will to power; it desired to return to ‘the birth of tragedy,’ to challenge the Lord of history by declaring him dead and dispensable. Its purpose was to overturn the calculating, everyday morality of the bourgeoisie through the dramatic éclat of the hero, who has no model other than his own action and will. The nihilism at the basis of the totalitarian ideologies disguised itself as an enthralling optimism, as the conquest of new goals. It could proclaim, as in Spain, ‘Long live death!’ and appear on various stages of the world as the ideology of ‘the great march,’ the great leap forward. This was true in the economic no less than in the political field, in science no less than in the vanguard of culture. Its last death-rattle was urban warfare, terrorism, the intoxication of violence merely for violence’s sake.”

Pedro Morandé: Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago
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Fear of Death & Human Nature

Natural Law and Human Rights: Toward a Recovery of Practical Reason (Catholic Ideas for a Secular World) by Pierre Manent

Pierre Manent

From the introduction written by Daniel J. Mahoney:

For the acting human being and the acting Christian, death cannot be the central concern of human existence. All people fear death, and we should not exaggerate the courage of most in this regard. But the acting person, though “naturally afraid of death,” Manent explains, does not do everything and anything to avoid it. He is concerned above all with doing the right thing, with seeking the right action and respecting the rules and priorities inherent in a serious human life. We are sometimes commanded, not by arbitrary authority but by the authority of what is right and good, to put ourselves at some mortal risk. Self preservation can never be the great desideratum for a human being guided by reflective choice and a conscience that honors truth and virtue. The great task of human beings is living well, and not preserving this-worldly existence indefinitely. On this Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, and Saint Paul would surely agree.

Building on Aristotle, Manent shows how no human being can act without deferring to the three great human motives: the pleasant, the useful, and the honorable ( or the just and noble). These are the “objective components of human nature.”

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+ Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger 1926 – 2007

Thirteen years ago this month Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger died. Gil Bailie wrote a short homage (copied below) on our old weblog to mark his passing.

In 2014 a French television channel produced a docudrama about his life – the English title of which is The Jewish Cardinal. It is a wonderful film and I would encourage those with an Amazon Prime account to pay the $3.99 to rent and watch it.


If I am not mistaken, it was Cardinal Lustiger who once said that to be a person of faith is to live in such a way that if God does not exist one’s life has been wasted. I quote it from vague memory, but if it wasn’t Cardinal Lustiger who said it, it was the good Cardinal who gave living witness to its truth. May he rest in peace.

George Weigel has a wonderful tribute to Cardinal Lustiger here.

Gil Bailie, August 6, 2007

George Weigel wrote another lengthy piece for First Things about Cardinal Lustiger in 2010 that is worth taking the time to read as well – The Lessons of Jean-Marie Lustiger

I recall that René Girard was invited to meet Cardinal Lustiger in Paris…to have been privy to that conversation would have been a great gift!

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