On Eating Well (And Why God Enjoys Deep Dish Pizza)

I’m going to start this article by declaring I am not against fast food. In fact, it’s sometimes quite nice – who doesn’t like grabbing french fries from the golden arch at 10pm?

As humans, we’re a little obsessed with food. Just a little – we even have a holiday dedicated to it in America, called Thanksgiving. (I mean, let’s be real. We’re all about overstuffing ourselves and passing out on the couch after, as much as we’d admit otherwise. I will publicly admit to the sin of gluttony as well. This is not a civic virtue, for the record.) But there’s also something about eating that humans have peculiar to themselves – I mean transforming eating into a social event, into something particularly more than just the need of a creature. I refer back to Thanksgiving – we all look forward to the (hopefully) good conversation, time spent with friends and family, and general good will had by all. Food, something rather basic, becomes an opportunity to rise above the animal nature to something higher. The imagery of a feast is something included in many religions, whether it be the halls of Valhalla for the Norsemen, to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Heaven for Christianity. The art of eating becomes, in some ways, a path to the Divine.

Now I don’t want to over spiritualize eating. After all, a hamburger is just a hamburger. Or is it? Does the way we eat trickle into our culture? Our modern American dream, founded on efficiency and one-night stands, is all about how little commitment we need to put into something. We’ve all done this – selected the “maybe” response on a Facebook event; it’s so much easier to say we might make it than to make a hard decision either way. Charlie Brown is, in some cases, the perfect reflection of this; he doesn’t really know which way he’ll decide on something, and waffles back and forth forever. It’s so much nicer that way, actually. No obligations, no prior commitments – it’s a millennial dream come true!

But in the midst of all this, something very human is being lost and forgotten – the art of eating well. Yes, I did say art; eating well requires practice, and a certain level of decorum. Just as the ancient priests of any religion needed to be brought in slowly to the inner sanctuary, so we as humans need to be taught the art of eating well. If you’ve seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,  you know exactly what I mean. The Beast, through years of neglect, has forgotten what it is to eat well. Belle has to re-teach him what it means, and he begins to remember what it meant to, well, be just a little bit more human. While scarfing down a burger may satisfy our stomach, it’s not a particularly transcendental experience. But think instead about sitting down to a meal with family or friends. Seems a little more…human, right?

As a kid, one of my favorite series to read was Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. If you find yourself smiling at the mention of that series, good. You’ve done something well. (And if you haven’t read them, it’s never too late.) In Jacques’ fictional accounts of mice, squirrels, and otters fighting against wicked weasels and savage stoats (alliteration, anyone?), we find numerous feasts being laid out in great detail. You never ate (excuse me, read) the books on an empty stomach – Jacques’ detailed feasts would set your mouth watering and your stomach rumbling. Yes, all would eat their fill. But they’d share favorite platters with each other, and share in something wonderful. Now imagine if we had the same thing – we do at weddings, at least. The greatest celebration for humans is to have a feast, where simply nourishing our bodies becomes something more.

So why don’t we have more of these? Is it simply because we’ve run out of time – the 21st century was supposed to give us all the devices that would enable us to have more time, not less. Perhaps it’s because we never learned. Or we’re simply not interested. But I dare you to try it sometime – find a recipe (previously tried, of course – no one wants to see if eggplant and pineapple lamb will be a hit), and invite a few friends over. Don’t be rushing on to something else after – take your time. Start the night off with some appetizers; cheese and crackers are easy and a simple start. Have a tablecloth and real plates, not paper (as wonderful as they are). Think. Listen to your friends and get to know them better – what are they interested in? Bring the conversation a level deeper than just niceties; you’re friends with these people, so hopefully you respect them enough to respect the fact that they know how to think. Use your brain – after all, you are human, and more than just a creature. You’ve got within you the Divine Spark. Realize it, as you feast with friends. Eat well, enjoying what is before you rather than acting as if you’re in a food eating contest. Take your time, and slow down a little. And in so doing, may you become a little more human.

Slainte.

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Witness to Truth

We exist in strange times; as someone once put it, “something is afoot”. The similar remark was made that Christianity is now entering into a new age, an Apostolic age. This comes as no surprise to many of us; the general culture is undoubtedly no longer as Christian as it once was. Instead of former Christendom, we’re now moving back into the Apostolic age, closer to the early first centuries of the Church.

If this is so, what does this mean for us politically? Since politics reflect to an extent how we are culturally, is it possible we need to readdress the existing political paradigm? In previous ages, much could be argued from a theological standpoint; now, with Christianity ever on the attack, this no longer seems to be the case. If we are indeed moving back into the Apostolic Age, it might be wise to briefly reflect on what attributes were found in the early Church, and then see if those apply to our modern “political problem”.

First of all, the Church won cultural victories through two ways: personal example and baptizing the local culture. Personal example could be the early Christians going to their deaths in the Coliseum singing, or bringing joy into a culture that had largely forgotten what true joy was. Baptizing the local culture meant finding what was good in the local traditions and claiming it for Christ. Taking the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and instead replacing it with Christmas was one way the early Church would do this.

Secondly, arguments could be made about the good simply because, well, it was good. Society benefitted if a man and woman stayed in a faithful relationship, i.e., marriage; local communities would benefit from this union as the man and woman would look to invest in each other, and the local communities around them as they become more stable and began to put down roots. Similarly, a society that valued its children generally fared better than one that did not; children were formed better, thus became better adults, and would grow up to be well-formed and invested citizens. In turn, they would then pass on the gifts they had been given as children to the next generation. All this meant that society flourished, and with it, the human person. People saw that there were some things inherently good for man That is to say, these things were to be pursued by man simply because they were good for him as a human being. Because of that, things could be argued for simply by reason; we look t Aristotle, who reached that virtue was inherently good for man despite having no revelation.

So what does this have to do with Christianity, in particular the Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church brings something distinct to society that no one else has ever, or will ever, do. In this case, proclaiming human rights, individual dignity, freedom, and a call to something higher. All these will disappear if the Church is forced from the public square. The Church stands for every human being because she sees each individual person as precious. The bigger she keeps the public square open for herself, the larger it becomes for others; and the reverse stands as well. If the Church is forced from the public square, then one of the last checks on government has been removed. Men then only have the incentive of Hobbes’ Leviathan to force its citizens into quiet servitude.

Living out our personal witness is crucial for the times ahead; people are not going to be won over if we’re always moaning and dour about life. Honey attracts more flies than vinegar (not to draw a perfect analogy, but still). But even as we live out our own lives well, we need to take what is good from around us and baptize it. America’s culture still has remnants of good left in it; it’s up for us to extract what we can from the culture around us just like the early Church (if you think I’m giving up on my annual summer Marvel movie, you’ve got another thing coming).

A recent story was circulating around Facebook about a priest that had recently passed away. Fr. Arne Panula, a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei, had worked for years at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., pursuing his vocation amid professional life to bring others to Christ. George Weigel penned the following comments about him in National Review here

Father Arne became, for many, the embodiment of what Saint John Paul II called the “New Evangelization” in the nation’s capital. He could do that because, like the witnesses the Church will read about during Easter Week, he had met the Risen Lord. And that made all the difference.

An encounter with Truth can only happen if we ourselves encounter Truth, Christ Himself. Yet, even if we ourselves experience this, we cannot then shy away from it, from proclaiming that same Truth to others. Charles Chaput, then Archbishop of Denver, reflected on Pauls’ example in using the language of the times to bring the Gospel to the culture in an article for First Things here. Written shortly after Obama’s first election in 2008, he speaks tellingly to our current situation:

There is a second practical lesson we can learn from Paul, for he refused to fear. If “Be Not Afraid” became John Paul II’s motto, it is because fear is the disease of our age. And Catholics are by no means immune to it. Paul wasn’t afraid to bring to the Areopagus the new and profoundly radical idea that God and truth could be known through a person—Jesus Christ—and ultimately in no other way. Finding this one way to truth matters eternally for each of us. Elegant, academic discussions may appeal to us as an intellectual exercise. But the only thing that finally matters is truth.

I would posit that John Paul II was one of the most admired and influential men of the 20th century. Yet, here was a man who was unafraid to proclaim the Truth. In doing so, he helped to topple one of the great evils of the 20th century – Communist Russia. Proclaiming the Truth boldly, with both joy and personal witness, can do much in today’s world.

I return to my thoughts at the beginning of this essay, and close with a thought about politics. Humans are by nature political animals, according to Aristotle. We are endowed with reason, and use it in entering into political life. As the Church moves back into the Apostolic Age, those of us in the beloved US of A should not despair. Personal example goes a long way, and true, authentic joy is something our world craves. We have a vast array of knowledge at our fingertips to help us better know and understand Truth. Our Catholic Faith is something built on both faith and reason; as we enter into public discourse, let’s make sure to use both. We can argue things from reason, and thus need to be well-formed intellectually if we are to be ready to engage in debate when necessary; prudence would dictate when and how. More importantly, however, are we ourselves living out what we preach in our daily lives? If not, we fall short of being a witness to Truth. And that makes all the difference.

The Revolution is Nigh

In the last few years, the modern left has largely found itself championing the rights of the marginalized. Their ideals are quite lofty, seeking equality, liberty, happiness, autonomy, among others. They claim to be the party of the masses, while the reverse is the party of the rich. Yet, their rhetoric has become largely contradictory and rings hollow in the face of fact. The masses are dividing rather than uniting, losing sight of the true ideals of equality. What we are seeing is a modern-day French Revolution here in this country, a party that has lost sight of the true Lockean nature of the Constitution and instead become only infatuated with the lofty—not necessarily practical—ideals of the Lockean and Rousseauian Declaration. A new Revolution is upon us, and the Terror is not far behind.

This seems like quite a claim at first, but with further explanation, hopefully I can clarify my point. Here in this country there is a distinct brokenness between classes and people, a separation between governor and governed. I find a core issue is a failure to understand the founding of our country, and a broken understanding of its Founding documents. As such, some political agendas are rapidly reflecting the beliefs of the French Revolution rather than the American founding. We must correct that. First, let’s briefly address the philosophical foundations of the two ideological events—Rousseau and Locke.

First, Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke were both products of the Enlightenment, thinkers who delved into the concepts of community, man and government. Both clearly believed in life, liberty and equality, but there, their definitions differ. Rousseau held a purer belief in the goodness of man, an understanding rooted in his theory that man’s perfect form was in the rawest natural state—the “noble savage”. While unable to regain that state, man seeks to enter into political life in order to enhance that goodness, returning total autonomy to the masses. Here the general will would rule through popular sovereignty. This political theory largely birthed the French thinkers in the Terror, and eventually partially influenced communist thought. In contrast, Locke presents a darker, more Puritanical view of man. Here, Locke sees that true, man is entitled to life, liberty and property, but the darker nature of man will lead towards those rights being trampled in a natural state. Therefore, government is founded in order to protect those rights and protect against man’s darker tendencies. To Locke, experience was the ultimate teacher—something that greatly influenced the Founding Fathers.

With this brief understanding in mind, what then do I mean that the modern left holds the ideals of the Declaration without the structure of the Constitution? Well let’s first look at the Declaration and its writer. First, Thomas Jefferson was a wholehearted advocate of the French, and eventually was a supporter of their Revolution. Like them, I think that some parts of Rousseau influenced him, and eventually a line in the Declaration. In writing this document, he was utilizing the rhetoric of Locke in that of life and liberty, but he changed property to “pursuit of happiness”—a distinctly abstract notion that is found much more in the ideals of Rousseau than Locke. Thus, a much loftier ideal is set, but one that is not necessarily clarified. Man must seek that which is his own happiness. But that was the very purpose of the Declaration, it was meant to convey a sense of lofty ideals and righteousness. It was never intended to be more than that, and most certainly never intended to be a ruling document. That’s why we have the Constitution. As it is often represented, the Declaration is a golden apple, while the Constitution is the frame that provides structure and protection to the ideals of the apple.

In the context of the French Revolution, the Rousseauian understanding of that apple removes the frame. Not that the left disregards the Constitution, but simply seeks to emulate the ideals of the declaration and specifically the section relating to pursuit of happiness—without the stability of the Constitution. This understanding leads to happiness and equality becoming equated with the general will of the people.

The French Revolution largely sought this—a return of the power into the hands of the 3rd Estate (the general masses). Now there were three phases to this revolution, but the most important are the first two. The first separated the nobles and king from the 3rd estate, as the nobles sought more power and the 3rd estate realized their own worth in the face of rising taxes. The third estate called for a total reconstruction of the government and social orders. What this then turned into would become the second phase, or the Terror. In seeking total autonomy through violence and their own force, the people took away structure. What was initially lauded as the will of the people turned rapidly into the will of Robespierre. As a result, the ideals of equality and liberte that were shouted from the rooftops quickly turned into the division of rival factions, to the point of execution without trial. Their ideals could not exist without a proper structure, which through their obsession with their own autonomy they destroyed.

The fault of the left is the failure to understand the fundamentals of a representative republic versus a total democracy. They call for social change through large crowds, social media, and even as we have seen through blocking those that they view as “anti” their own view. This is stark reflection of the old French Revolutionaries—the Voltaires and Robespierres. In the name of equality and autonomy, they seek to remove their rivals and institute their vision as fact. While promoting diversity, they instead destroy it. Nothing holds its original meaning. A paradox has set in, slowly creeping into the rhetoric of a party so obsessed with promoting welfare that they destroy opinion. The will of the people is their watchword, but not their action. Their salvific notions have raised a fictitious god of the masses who sets and dictates truth, just as in the Second Phase or the Terror. Now we see that this Terror is very much a growing beast in this country now; a beast hungry for opinion, discourse, and diversity.

This fictitious god of fraternity is traced by Kim Holmes in a lecture given to the Heritage Foundation on the ideological divide between the French and American Revolution. She discusses the three fundamental words of the French movement, liberte, egalite, and fraternite. According to her, the most dangerous was the French spirit of fraternite, a spirit fundamentally rooted in holding an indivisible consensus among the people—an impossibility. She writes “pushing for agreement to the extreme of violence is the most divisive—and exclusionary—thing you can possible do.” Her article nails the failure of Rousseau and the French. Essentially, their spirit of unanimous opinion and the single general will was fundamentally paradoxical. By including all you exclude many, by instituting a single justice through violence, you commit violence through injustice. Her article is worth a read. Yet this is the struggle that is facing America today from the progressive and radical left. In its desperation for agreement and inclusion, the left in fact has become exclusionary and divisive—look at any college campus with a conservative speaker or to a more extreme, Antifa; heck even the women’s march.

The issue then found in such exclusionary tactics is clear. It will only continue, excluding more and more. The French Revolution presented this—at the height of the Terror, two-thirds of those in prison were citizens who had supported the Revolution initially. Such a mentality will only turn on those that originally supported it and I think we are seeing that in sphere of public discourse. The new guillotine is not one where heads are rolling, but rather one slowly killing off  the great nobility of ideas and discourse upon which this country formed.

Yet too, we see that in the Great American Experiment, the Founders started with ideals—“we are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That we are endowed by are Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are the defining words of the American people, there is no question to it. They were the defining words of the French as well. But these words are nil without the beginnings of another—words found only here— “we the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” The Founders saw to it that they put the foundation of ideals in place first, setting a moral high ground, but then placed a great fortress around that ground to protect it, known as the Constitution. Ideals without structure become merely fleeting emotions, not unlike motivation without drive or willpower—eventually it will die. Not so with stability.

The purpose then of the Constitution was and is to provide stability to the people. It provides a structure for society to function without impugning on the rights of others. It provides benefits, and protects against the imposition of the governing upon the governed. Additionally, it institutes the Lockean reality of equality—that property and opinion will not always be distributed equally. The structure of the system then works to promote peace among the citizens through stability against the darker nature of man. This stability is the catalyst for virtue to grow among the citizenry, its federalist intent placing the burden upon the lowest rungs of government to solve problems and promote happiness. But in order for this all to grow smoothly, this structure must be followed and lived in, with virtue as its key.

One of the most important things that the American Founders understood was the fallibility of human reason and understanding. Humans are fickle beings, easily swayed by the signs of the times. Thus, in order to counteract a fundamental failure of human nature, the Founders set out to institute a structure riddled with checks and balances against the worst tendencies of man. Simply put, experience is the ultimate teacher, and experience taught the Founders that reason alone was not enough. The French did not learn this lesson, elevating reason to the highest of thrones—and thus falling.

The fundamental misunderstanding by the left now is a failure to see the points made by the father of the Constitution James Madison. Federalist 10 is one of the most important documents to understand the calculated purpose behind the Constitution, a purpose directly opposed to the populist radicalism of the modern left. This essay, dedicated towards quelling the violence of faction, stresses the various methods and checks within the new system. Freedom cannot be destroyed, nor can human opinion be forced into solely one camp or another. Madison writes:

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other, and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.

There we see it—something fundamentally different between French and American. Here in the American world, the first order of our government is to protect the opinions of all and their right to voice that opinion. This in inherently opposed to Rousseau’s failed concept of “the general will”—there is no general will. Man will have different opinions, and that’s ok. We must encourage that and look back to our Founders for a constant reminder of how and why our system of government was formed. We cannot continue to fail, especially in the face of this new Terror.

 

The Time and Crises of Today

 “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We’ve all been there – talking with friends, colleagues, family, and the subject turns to how good people had it before us. We wish we had this president again, or that time of goodwill. If only they hadn’t enacted this policy, or followed that one through! This sense of nostalgia at times seems like it wants to engulf us – we’re creatures of the present eternally rooted in the past. Yes, we undoubtedly have ties to the past – we are creatures of time and space, after all. But there’s something important and worthwhile about being grounded in the present moment.

In his book The Fractured Republic, Yuval Levin talks about our nation being stuck in an “age of nostalgia”. Levin writes:

“Our political life is now exceedingly nostalgic. The ambitions of most of its various partisans begin with calls for a reversal of some portion of the great diffusion of our national life that has defined the American experience for more than half a century. This nostalgia is at the core of the frustration that so overwhelms our politics now. If we could see our way past it, we might gain a much better grasp of the nature of the problems we face and the shape of potential solutions.”

Levin goes on to reflect that most of us are stuck in either a hope to return to the 1960s or 1980s, depending on our political persuasion. But both, he thinks, are not thoughts focused on the present. We’re in a completely new age and social paradigm (what a great word), and what we’ve done before doesn’t set precedent now; simply sending a letter to someone via snail mail would be considered a rude replacement for a phone or Skype call.

This doesn’t mean we ignore the past in some Hegelian blindness that sees only the present age as the “end times”. No! We have roots in the past, and learn from it – but it’s about taking those experiences and learning how to apply them to the present moment. In arguing for the new Constitution, the Federalists used examples from history to illustrate how they had (hopefully) learned from the past, reflecting on the failures of Sparta and other ancient Greek city-states to show how their new Republic would be different. It’s ok to miss the past and hope for the good that was – it’s often because of something good that we yearn for a past time. Levin writes “Nostalgia, after all, is by no means bad. And the analysts, scholars, journalists, and politicians who bemoan how things have changed in this half-century are pointing at some important truths about both the past and the present. We must be careful not to dismiss what they see, but also not to ignore what they miss…to learn from nostalgia, we must let it guide us not merely toward ‘the way we were’, but toward just what was good about what we miss, and why.” We don’t want to cut ourselves off from our forefathers because they had some truths about ourselves that we could learn. But it’s up to us to actually digest these things and then see how we can apply them to our present time. Why? Because our present time needs us very, very badly.

Josemaria Escriva once remarked that “These world crises are crises of saints. God wants a handful of men ‘of his own’ in every human activity. And then…’pax Christi in regno Christi – the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ’.” Two idea pulled from this saying of his: One, these crises are ones that require a saint to face; or two, these crises occur as a result of a lack of saints. Either way you look at it, think about this: what would have happened to the Cold War if John Paul II had not helped topple the USSR? Or if Rudolph Hoess (commandant of Auschwitz) had decided to do better with himself? If we are indeed creatures of time and space, why aren’t we doing something to change the time and space we live in?

So my practical note to close. Why should I care? Who cares if I’m holy, if I’m pursuing the true, the good, and the beautiful? Who cares if I pursue a relationship with Love or not? The famous economist Milton Friedman had a theory about an idea known as “the neighborhood effect”. This effect boiled down to the idea that when someone did something good, other people would indirectly benefit. Say for example you decide to invest in repairing your local soccer field so your kids have a place to shoot goals. You’re not doing this at face value for your neighborhood, but as a result of your hard work, the rest of the neighborhood can now enjoy playing soccer. The same goes for us if we pursue holiness in the times given us.

Don’t look for the next crisis. The next crisis is now, here, today, now. It starts with you, in smiling at that person who’s being a particular kind of something this morning. It starts with you being patient with that coworker who’s maybe taking longer to understand a concept that comes easily to you. It starts with you. Frodo was welcomed as great by those around him – yet he didn’t slay any mighty beast. He didn’t even throw the Ring into Mount Doom at the end. But he did persevere in his small steps, day after day. He persevered so that while he was unable to cast the One Ring into Mount Doom, someone else was (albeit on accident). Abraham Lincoln wasn’t born in the White House – he was born in a little log cabin in the middle of nowhere. He worked his tail off quietly, silently for many years, preparing. So don’t be let down if you’re not at the center yet. You will be one day – it may not be where or when you were expecting, but it will happen. The question is, will you have used the time given you well so as to be ready for the time then? What will you decide to do with the time given you?

The Glory of Work and the Joy of Living

First off, Happy Birthday Teddy Roosevelt! Yesterday was October 27th, TR’s 159th birthday, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about one of my favorite presidents. Honestly, to those who don’t know much about him, he is a fascinating study into the evolution of the Presidency and the onset of the Progressive Era. Yet, in my opinion, he’s so much more important than that. In my eyes, he was one of the greatest Americans who has lived not because of his role in the public life, but rather in the way he carried himself—he was John Wayne and Ron Swanson all in one.

Now obviously, he was one of the all time greats—you don’t get your face on Mount Rushmore for no reason. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, that’s some pretty good company. One is considered the father of our country, the second was the author of the Declaration, and finally the third saved the country from the brinks of disaster. Now what about Teddy? Why does he fit in? Well, according to those who built this edifice, he represents the great changes in the United States. Considering all his work in both the preservation of national parks and the sweeping progressive changes he instituted, this seems fit. But I like to consider a different aspect, mainly that Teddy Roosevelt represents the great ideals of American manhood.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” is one of his most remembered phrases. It calls to mind the silent but tough man, something inherently American. But let us examine TR further, by looking into his autobiography. He would write,

There must be the keenest sense of duty, and with it must go the joy of living; there must be shame at the thought of shirking the hard work of the world and at the same time delight in the many-sided beauty of life. With soul of flame and temper of steel we must act as our coolest judgement bids us. We must exercise the largest charity towards the wrong-doer, that is compatible with relentless war against the wrong-doing. We must be just to others, generous to others, and yet we must realize that it is shameful and a wicked thing not to withstand oppression with high heart and ready hand. With gentleness and tenderness there must go dauntless bravery and grim acceptance of labor and hardship and peril. All for each, and each for all, is a good motto; but only on condition that each works with might and main to so maintain himself as not to be a burden to others.

There is something beautiful to these words, hearkening back to the “old days” when men were free and tough. But there is also an inherent balance that Roosevelt construed. The balance between gentility and courage, peril and tenderness, beauty and labor. This balance is the perfection of manhood—as an old priest friend described, a balance between beast and wimp. In this sense then, man becomes a guardian. In Roosevelt’s own eyes, he became a steward of his family, his land, and his country.

These are the virtues that we must hope to reflect in our lives. Steward, guardian, leader, whatever label is placed on it, the virtues stay the same. American manhood is just such ideals. We are called to speak only when necessary, not raising our voices in gossip, slander, or wasting our breath with useless self-praise. Be appreciative of that given to you and the beauty that surrounds. Take courage and hold your ground for your fundamental principles. Think well. Read. Exercise. This is American manhood. Yet all is grounded in the principles of self-control, simplicity, and hard work. This is where Teddy is such a perfect example and such a great American hero.

There is something quite dashing about Teddy. He was the man of all trades—author, cowboy, statesman, family man, and soldier. He lived for the outdoors, loving nature and reveling in its beauty. As a child, he wanted to be a naturalist in the strain of Chapman or Muir. Roosevelt seems to have lived life to the fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity presented to him. We can take example from that—no adventure is too great. But we must be dedicated in our work, as Roosevelt was; only then can we master opportunity.

This theme of dedication and work were constants in Roosevelt’s life. By this I mean that hard work and perseverance were the watchwords that he lived by. Indeed, nothing was easily gained by him—he worked for it all. This fundamentally hearkens back to his youth, when as a sickly boy he forced himself to become physically adept, training for years in boxing and weightlifting. From this point on, all revolved around hard and brutal work. Discussing his years on a cattle ranch, Roosevelt would write “we knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst; and we saw men die violent deaths as they worked among the horses and cattle or fought in evil feuds with one another; but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.” This is the best kind of success, but that which is least recognized—the success of hard work over talent. I especially like that last line a lot, the glory of work and the joy of living. Often we try to separate those words, especially glory and work. But there is glory in a hard day’s work, even if you are the only one who lives it—there is victory in a small accomplishment.

I feel the need to diverge on this briefly, that there is glory in work which leads to joy in life. Josemaria Escriva writes, “heroism at work is to be found in finishing each task.” This is exactly it, as to work is man’s intent—even in the Garden, man was placed to work. Roosevelt is a modern model for this, reinstituting the glory of work into our minds. Hard work is virtuous. This is the basis for American manhood. Even more so in a spiritual sense, there is sanctification to be found in the daily work. This heroism of daily work is our calling. Yet there is also so much joy to be found in life. Look at Roosevelt’s work in the natural surroundings of this country. He found so much perfection in nature. Not all of us are outdoorsmen, but we can still stop to value a starlit night or a simple moment with an autumn leaf.

You see, this is the mindset behind the American dream; work hard. Yet that vivacity in life and its joys is often set on the backburner. Teddy brings that back to the forefront. Life is full of joys, even in the midst of the its most brutal labors. You must seek them out. This is what separates him from the workaholic mindset. Teddy found joy in wherever he was, seeing his work as a growth in virtue. Workaholics see their labors as a never ending means to an end, rarely seeing true joy.

This virtuousness of Roosevelt has been lost in the America of today. Rarely do we see our generation simply putting their nose to the grindstone with a reckless abandon. It seems that today, to work is license to complain. Yet, Roosevelt reveled in the challenge of the daily. We must hearken back to his example. There is a stark need for balance in our lives—a balance of joy and work, beauty and courage. There is glory still to be found; we can find it.

When You Come to Narnia, Your Worries Come Too

It’d be a little cliche to say I was reading something lately…that seems to be the going trend for how I write most of these articles. But I was reading something recently, and I am going to start that way. So ha.

I was recently reading an article  in The Atlantic on why we should read fiction by a fellow of the name of Lev Grossman here. Apparently he’s written some sort of “older” Harry Potter (Whatever that means). I’ve never heard of him before, nor have I read his works , so I post a caveat that this post is not a proclamation of his works. Merely of an article I read by him. So if I’ve accidentally introduced some modern Nietzsche, my apologies. There is more than the void.

So with that out of the way, I was reading this article about why we should read fiction by Lev Grossman. For Grossman, fantasy is something that helps us better learn how to deal with the world we live in. He writes:

I bristle whenever fantasy is characterized as escapism. It’s not a very accurate way to describe it; in fact, I think fantasy is a powerful tool for coming to an understanding of oneself. The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you re-encounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world. Edmund doesn’t solve any of his grievances or personality disorders by going through the wardrobe. If anything, they’re exacerbated and brought to a crisis by his experiences in Narnia. When you go to Narnia, your worries come with you. Narnia just becomes the place where you work them out and try to resolve them.

When you come to Narnia, your worries come too. There’s something about the world of fantasy that helps us see better what it is we fear, what we’re most afraid of confronting. Perhaps it’s the dragon under the Lonely Mountain. Or maybe it’s the Brain, sitting at the middle of its web of despair.

What reading good fiction shows is how human we really are; it flips things upside down so that we can gain a better perspective on things by putting us in someone else’s shoes. Even something like Jacques’ Redwall, mentioned in my earlier blog here, shows us how much we need good companionship and community through something like food.

I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago who was rethinking his school’s history curriculum. His grievance with the current history textbooks was that they simply transposed a series of dates onto a timeline. The problem when we do that, he said, is that we lose sight of why we actually study history. We study history (or used to) in order to learn something about the human person; that’s what history is, after all – a series of events involving the human person, right? People used to read Plutarch’s Lives not just because they were learning about a series of dates, but because they were learning about the human person. When we simply hear about the dates of the Peloponnesian War, we lose sight of what really happened. We lose sight of Pericles and his love for Athens, the city of beauty. Instead, when we learn history through reading the lives of those who came before us, we learn not just dates, but something more. We learn how about the human person as that human person reflects us and those around us. So too with fantasy.

By taking things and putting them inside out, we’re better able to get a sense of where the land lies. By exacerbating things, as Grossman put it, we’re forced to come to grips with things sooner. Edmund undoubtedly would have let things fester for much longer if he hadn’t been put on the line by the White Witch. Yes, sometimes fiction can help us to escape, for a little while, the cares of this world; and sometimes not. Sometimes it is to help us see clearly, to help us turn things inside out so we can get a better look. It’s meant to help us learn more about..us. About you  and me. Good literature, then, is one that helps us be better, to be more human. C.S. Lewis’ closing book in his Space Trilogy, entitled, That Hideous Strength, is a wonderful example of this. Within the pages of this book, Lewis paints the human person with all their struggles. One particular character, the scientist Mark, is caught in the middle of the battle between good vs. evil, but in this case, it’s a much more real, more “grey” evil. The evil of Lewis’ Hideous Strength is one that paints itself as “that group” that we all want to be part of; it’s the “inner circle” that we’re all afraid of being left out of. Marc so desperately feels left out, so alone, that he gives up his very soul to be “in”. And do you know what? We’ve done the very same, so many times. Like Mark, we come this close to forsaking what is most dear to us – to find out more what I mean, you’ll have the read the book. Cheers.

Reading then, is not just a path to some escapist reality. Rather, it helps us to see the world better, to get a better angle on things through characters with whom we’ve learned to laugh, cry, and love. Reading helps us see that the wicked prince we hate so much was once good. Really, he was; he just made a few bad decisions, surrounded himself with the wrong people. We see the dragon and realize that sometimes it’s okay to run away when we don’t have Gandalf to protect us. And we see the Pearl of Great Price, so valuable that a merchant would sell all he had to possess it.

So why read fiction? Why walk into the land of Narnia at all? Sometimes, a story can help us see what it is we really value most. It can help us turn our darkest corners inside out, so the light can help us better clean out those dusty corners. And sometimes, it can help us see that good really does win in the end, that we really are made for more.

So maybe reading fiction isn’t your thing. Fine. Good. Go read some history. Go read Plutarch’s Lives. But do think about what you read, and ask yourself this: am I more like Lucy, or am I more like Edmund? Am I like Alcibiades, or am I like Coriolanus? Where are my worries, and how am letting Aslan conquer my White Witch?

Take my hand, then, and take a step with me through the wardrobe. I guarantee you will not be the same.

Who knows? Even brats come back as mighty kings and queens. And sometimes the most unbelievable things really are true – like a lowly village girl becoming the Mother of God.

It’s a dangerous world out there. But it’s a beautiful one.

The Instinctive Presence

In the Christian life, we often become discouraged, feeling alone, angry, despondent. In moments like these, it is important to recall why we call ourselves Christian, why we follow the call of the One. We must hearken back to that first moment when we instinctively felt Him touch our lives, that first moment that we can clarify His Presence in our life. We must reflect back on that first moment we said yes to His call and felt our longing fulfilled. In the Gospels, this initial call to fellowship with Christ began with the most simple of calls, “follow me.” What follows is the profound journey of the Christian calling, to enter into life with Christ by following the Master, for those who have found Him have felt the emptiness that was and is no more. The journey is one of seeking, always searching to discover the greatness of that Presence.

Biblically speaking, Christ promised to be with His chosen people always, promising “I will be with you even until the end of the age.” Truthfully, he kept to his word, and remains with his people. He founded a Church into which those who respond to His call must enter. Within this, He centrally placed Himself—in the form of the Eucharist. In this, Christ is recognized and truly present with his people. Yet to be recognized as Him, one thing is most apparent—that first yes by man to His call.

With all its constructs, codes, laws, and dogmas, the Catholic Church fundamentally stands upon the yes of man to follow the call of Christ. As it was with Peter, “You are the Christ” and Christ’s subsequent proclamation, “upon this rock I will build my Church,” there must be a moment in the life of every Christian where they feel a burning of truth within their heart, and follow it to its source. Peter found this, did not understand it and yet still followed, knowing that the truth was just so, even if he did not understand it. In the words of Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, Peter saw Christ as “an immense revelation, still to be clarified.”

There is something quite profound in Giussani’s statement on Peter’s understanding of Christ. Yet this idea of the mystery surrounding Christ is actually quite common throughout the Gospels. The apostles never seem to fully understand what His mission is, until after His death. Even on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion were wandering, unclear, lost, and failed to recognize Christ until again he was gone— “and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.” Yet this mystery of Christ seems to consistently take root first in the heart of man, as a silent, emotional movement that will not be ignored.

The beginning of Christian understanding and morality, begins first and foremost in the heart. As at Emmaus, when their hearts burned within them, so to must our hearts burn with the fire of Christ. This is the beginning of faith, of our true life in Christ. This is an instinctive knowledge and attraction placed within our hearts, our first encounter with Him. The encounter is that which draws us, roots desire in our heart. It is this first moment that we are then constantly faced with, which becomes a deeper and deeper call to fellowship and love. St. Peter encounters it dramatically in John 21, at the seaside with Christ. Christ asks him thrice, “do you love Me?” and peter is dumbstruck, heartbroken, ashamed. Yet in spite of his failures, he hearkens back to that original moment when he was called by Christ to leave all behind, to follow, when he followed that stranger, and in reply he says, “Yes.” Giussani calls this the true birth of the new Christian morality. An instinctive Presence that once is rooted, can never be forgotten.

This is not to say that we must never grow in our faith; we must or we will constantly be falling into sin or waywardness, but this initial hearkening to Christ’s Presence in our world, our personal life, is the moment that our faith truly becomes our own. In it, we take the faith as much more than a set of rules, rather it becomes our life, for in it we begin to reach that Presence more and more, closer and closer. The Presence becomes not a long distant memory, but a constant moment in our life. This is living presence of God, realizing that this Presence is omnipresent, always here to be recognized, received, and reciprocated. Julian Carron speaks on this as well, describing Christ and the human heart as a perfect correspondence in love, “It is precisely in meeting Jesus that what the heart is comes to the surface, because Jesus corresponds to the heart and so He fills us with reasons, and the more you meet Him, the more reasons you have for following Him. Little by little, this arouses an affection for Jesus unlike anything else, because you experience this hundredfold in life, you see how life becomes more and more intense, greater, finer; as time passes, you become more and more aware of why Jesus is different.” In the most intense way, “a presence like that of Jesus, an instinctive attraction like that evokes by Jesus prevails over all the misdeeds we may have committed.” This is not to say that we will not stumble often—we will, St. Peter did too—but rather, that the “do you love of Me” of Christ is so present in our lives that we cannot help but always return, and continue to seek the depths of our Yes to Him. And the reason that this Yes is manifested truly in the Catholic Church, is that the Presence can be truly and fully sought by us in the Eucharist, where He is truly and fully. As at Emmaus, His Presence is manifested to us in the Eucharist, where we realize what we were seeking and what we said Yes to, which is joy and life. With this, we cannot help but continue to follow.

Here love is found. Here that despondency of the heart is removed. Christ’s Presence is one so fundamentally magnetic, that once found, cannot ever be truly left. The yearning for it is so wholly human, and so Christ gave himself in a human physical way to us. The Eucharist is the Presence, truly and wholly. Daily we have the opportunity to re-enter into that yes, by going to Him, receiving Him and giving Him our hearts as He gave us His. There in the Eucharist, He calls daily, “Follow me. Be not afraid, for I am with you.”

First Let me Be Clear: Lincoln, Trump, and Aristotle

Recently, I had a discussion with someone, where they kept beating around the bush rather than getting straight to the point. Obviously, this frustrated me to no end, and I simply wanted a straight answer: yes or no. They simply could not be clear. In later reflection, I realized the need for clarity in speech is a fundamental part of reaching a conclusion, where both sides agree and truth is found. This thought would not leave me, and more recently, I began to reflect on clarity in the political realm, after rereading some of Lincoln’s speeches. His words in both speech and debate presented such a crisp clarity that I found shocking, especially given the current state of political speech, where politicians too often fall upon emotional manipulations over clear and reasoned speech. This seemed to me to be something worth exploring.

In researching more into clarity, I realized that clarity is oft considered a virtue by the philosophic realm. This was both surprising and intriguing and I went to a fundamental political writer, Aristotle. The Greek word “Sapheneiais scattered throughout Aristotle’s Rhetorica. Translated, it roughly means clearness of speech.  Aristotle placed a supreme emphasis on this for multiple reasons, the most important of which was that a clear argument is the most convincing argument. Thus, in the study and practice of rhetoric, clarity becomes a virtuous act, as it helps convince the audience of the truth of the speaker’s words—a foundational principle in convincing the audience. Not only does this convince the audience, but it becomes a path upon which those involved are led to the good. By understanding what they are hearing, they can form a better judgement of what is right and wrong. Emotional appeals are only a component of a good speech, rather than the primary aspect as seen in the recent election, where emotional appeals were simply used as political manipulations of a voter base. In American politics, this needs to become again a primary facet of public speaking. In a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people, it would seem that those in government would want to be clear to those who elected them. Clarity in rhetoric is the best way to convince your audience—hearkening back to Lincoln provides proof of former success in this aspect.

Lincoln’s speeches are shocking in both their beauty, but also their logical clarity—of which he was wholly aware. A largely self-educated man, Lincoln’s grasp of the English language is quite impressive. He had a unique ability to craft arguments grounded in solid reasoning, that soared with a beautiful, Biblical simplicity. He saw the clarity in his words as his duty, even a virtue. In an 1832 speech, he wrote “it becomes my duty to make known to you—the people whom I represent—my sentiments in regard to local affairs.” Dwell on that for a minute. “It becomes my duty”; what a strange phrase. Lincoln shows that his clarity is his duty to the people as their representative. Not only is it his duty, but the civic duty of all elected officials. He then proceeds to lay out his views in a list form, providing factual evidence and his reasoning behind his argument. Again, his speech at Peoria lists out the issues with the Missouri Compromise and where they went wrong, and then he proceeds to rebut them; clearly. One such moment in this speech combines the perfect emotional and reasoned appeal, “This is the repeal of the Missouri Compromise… I think, and shall try to show, that it is wrong; wrong in its direct effect…and wrong in its prospective principle.” Clearly, he lays out what he thinks, and the areas in which he will direct his words. This speech is devoted to the issue of slavery and it extension into the western territories. In a divided moment with a divisive issue at hand, Lincoln clearly presents his opinion, “I hate it,” “Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature.” Union is his key hope, and he presents that with clarity, presenting his hopes and personal opinions. Even his lofty “House Divided” speech is distinctly understandable because of his ability to present a picture with clarity and confidence. We are a far cry from that now.

First, the 2016 election was ugly. Let’s get that out of the way. Vulgarities, infighting and division aside, one thing was clear about the victor: he had no clear message. Donald Trump could never seem to present a clear message to the people. It was always a “drain the swamp” or the blame game. His own policies were vague and disjointed. While I wholly disagree with Bernie Sanders, at least you could understand his platform and what he supported and what he did not. Clarity was again missing in the recent healthcare debates in the House of Representatives. Secrecy ruled the day, as Republican legislators crafted a bill behind doors so closed that many of their own party were clueless as to the contents of the bill. Where is clarity? Politics and partisanship rule the day instead. Lawmakers must be very prudent with secrecy, much like the Founding Fathers in forming the Constitution in committee. Yet it seems that prudence is not the ruling word here, rather partisanship takes its place. They must be clear with their own Party and the opposition, lest they risk further division within the Capitol.

A third and more recent moment of failed clarity can again be attributed to Trump. This time it was during the Charlotte demonstrations and subsequent rioting. Again, the nation found itself polarized, focused on a single set of events that threatened to increase the political and social divide. In a moment, true clarity of the good was needed from the President, clarity against supremacists, clarity against an ethos that is fundamentally rooted against all that this country stands for. And Trump failed to be clear, blaming both sides, not understanding the gravity of his words. In a moment, he could have unified, and instead, through a failure to clearly speak out against Nazism, he failed.

We are seemingly in the middle of a crises, where political speech is simply a machine of manipulation for partisan battles. The President is failing to sew these divisions, with an inability to speak clearly to the people or present an understandable, reasoned viewpoint. Is it too far gone to remember the days of Lincoln, when clarity was still seen as virtuous and a path to truth and goodness? Maybe not, but reflection, discussion, and clarity above all are desperately needed in a world sorely lacking. If these can be returned to the political realm, then maybe these division can begin to be repaired.

Work and “Pushing the Bucket”

I’ve been reading Arthur Brooks’ recent book The Conservative Heart. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you pick up a copy for yourself. Brooks looks to create a sequel to Russel Kirk’s momentous volume The Conservative Mind, which followed conservative thought throughout the ages (Kirk somehow misses Madison and Jefferson in it, two of the greatest conservative minds for America, but that’s a different story for a different day).

In The Conservative Heart, Brooks attempts to make the argument that conservatives have forgotten to fully communicate why we hold work to be so important, and why economic issues are, at heart, moral issues. A brief snapshot from the book follows:

“We (conservatives) admire hard work, admonish people who slack off, and support policies such as work requirements for welfare. We understand that when society empowers people to work for social assistance, we help those people twice. First, through welfare, we are helping their immediate material needs. And second, through work, we are helping them earn success – the key to a fulfilling and dignified life.”

Sometimes we fail to properly argue these thoughts and instead, as Brooks points out, turn them merely into materialistic arguments. I don’t want to raise the minimum wage so I can line the pockets of billionaires, but because I want to help those people on the bottom rung of society that would be hurt by increasing the minimum wage.

Why haven’t we talked this way before? Is it something that we, as conservatives (sorry libertarians, but you’re getting thrown into the mix as well) are missing? So often we argue against something, rather than for something. Changing our arguments makes all the difference. With that in mind, I’d like to refocus on the meaning of work.

We all joke about winning a million dollars and never working again. But would we really? There’s something fused into the human person that craves work, something to do. We all look for meaning in life. Ultimately, that’s found in our Father God who, in the words of John the Evangelist, “So loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Different story for a different time. But at the beginning we read in Genesis how Adam was put into the garden to care for it. Oftentimes we have this rather idyllic view of Eden, with Adam walking around as fruit literally falls into his hand; Adam didn’t have to expand any effort to make this happen.

This sort of narrative is, I think, wrong. It paints work as something to be shunned, something that became part of The Fall. Those today who are lucky to be rich enough to avoid work somehow have been able to conquer the Fall itself. I’d propose instead that it’s only the toil associated with work that became part of the curse of Original Sin. Work itself was good, in fact, was part of man’s original vocation. Adam was placed in the garden to care for it; the second Creation narrative in Genesis tells how the ground had no herbs coming forth as there was no man to till it. Creation is only complete with the work of man to care for it.

In light of this new narrative, work takes on new meaning. It’s something to be pursued, to be done well. Just as the Ancient Greeks saw doing things excellently as to be commended, so we too should once again turn to pursue work well. What does this look like for us daily? A cheerful smile, putting in 110% to something we may find dull or mundane, in short, doing our best. This is not an ode to workaholics; on the contrary, it is simply to working well. It’s an ode to stewarding well the gifts given us.

If we find fulfillment in work, why would we not want others to share in this same fulfillment? If you have good news, you want to share it, right? So in this new understanding of work; those who perhaps are unable to find work, how can we help them better their position? Unfortunately, in today’s age of all things college, the focus has shifted to mostly white-collar work; somehow any working with one’s hands has fallen below us. But there’s something quite fulfilling and human in working with one’s hands all day, whether that is anything from construction to plumbing. All have potential for discovering more one’s own inherent dignity. There are different types of work for all according to their talents and abilities; their work does not make them more or less human than you or I. If the office janitor didn’t do their job well, we’d be walking around in piles of trash. Thank them for the hard work they do; look them in the eye and see them as another human being.

Brooks tells the story of an organization in New York City known as the John Doe Fund. The John Doe Fund’s goal is to help the incarcerated get back on their feet and off the streets. It all starts with “pushing the bucket”, or cleaning the streets of New York City. These men start to realize something as they work; they feel wanted, needed. They give directions to people, keep the streets clean, help remove snow in the winter months. But they begin to hold their heads higher; in seeing that they can do something simple well, they begin to realize their human dignity. Eventually, they learn a skill that will help them place a skilled job in the workforce. In giving them a chance at working, they begin to realize their own inherent worth.

So the moral of this story is simply work hard, and the rest will come, right? Wrong. There’s undoubtedly something wrong with the way we currently help the homeless as a country. Perhaps more John Does need to spring up around the country. But I think it’s something more. It’s our very attitude towards work – how often have you and I complained about having to get up for work on a Monday? Work is a wonderful gift – can we learn to appreciate it, and so open a dialogue with others on how we can thus help others learn to appreciate this same gift?

The moral that’d I’d like to draw, then, is this: as conservatives who promise a lower tax rate, greater economic prosperity, better governmental spending, are we truly communicating that we care about these because we fundamentally, at the core, care about the human person? Do we communicate that we care not really about how much money a person makes, but more about his finding meaning in work, because it reflects his original vocation here on earth? Do we look someone in the eye and see a human person, rather than a number that’s “eating tax dollars”? If so, then we are no better than the person across the aisle from us. No, we are no better than a certain Ebenezer Scrooge, who was so caught up with money that he lost what was most precious to him, his very soul. Only through the intervention of three spirits did he eventually come around; may we never have to come to such a point.

Let us not be Scrooges. Let us be John Does, realizing that not only do we have worth, but that the lady taking our coffee order does too. By your example, show others that there is something distinctly, beautifully, human in work. Take the following words from Martin Luther King to heart:

“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.”

You profess to have heard the Good News? Go and act like it. Go be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Many Partings and Stewards of Gondor

In some ways, the ending of the Tolkien’s fellowship parallels our leaving college; we’ve all gone to Mordor and back again together, and now the time approaches for each of our own fellowships to end. That’s not to say we still won’t foster and cherish those friendships; on the contrary! But it would be naive not to admit that an age has ended; perhaps our own Third Age. First Age being childhood, the Second Age being adolescence, and the Third Age our coming of age in college. Now the Fourth Age, adulthood, approaches. Will you and I be up to the task at hand?

It’s told that the stewards of Gondor received their power from the king, who gave them strict instructions to take care of the kingdom until his return. Sadly, the last king died with no heir, leaving the stewards to tend Gondor for centuries. Eventually, the Third Age and the War of the Ring came, culminating in the overthrow of Sauron and the restoration of the kingdom of Gondor under Aragon, son of Arathon, and rightful heir to the throne of Gondor.

You can see where the analogy is going; we’ve been given care of the kingdom by the King until His return. Each of us have unique gifts that we’ve hopefully been honing and preparing over the past years. But I’m not ready, is my response. Insert yourself into Frodo’s place in the following exchange:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong.’

We fear not being ready, not being up to the task. Our time in college was so short! If only we had another year or two – then we’d be ready! But our time is now. At the end of the Return of the King, the hobbits beg Gandalf to accompany them to help cleanse the Shire. But Gandalf refuses, telling them that they are more than ready. Now is the time to prove their mettle, to put to the test all that they’ve learned.

To all my fellow Ravens, or fellow graduates wherever your alma mater may be – do not be afraid! The time is ours to take; the chance, if you choose to join the Fellowship, is now. A new Fellowship is forming, to defeat the Sauron of our times. This Sauron is ours to battle with and defeat. A new Mordor looms on the horizon, threatening to take over our dear land. But this war is not to be won in some great battle far off; no, it’s to be won in the small daily victories. In the small Shires we create by welcoming others cheerfully, in making the lives of others easier through our joy, sacrifice, and witness to Truth.

It’s time for our own Scouring of the Shire. The ruffians are among the Gaffer’s cabbage patches, and Sharkey looms, bringing with him the shadow of Mordor. Yes, the King has already won; but there is still much work to be done. I stay purposefully vague because I don’t wish to give particular directions; they are not mine to give. Rather, they are for you to figure out by looking around you; what needs fixing, what ruffian needs running out? You’ve received the training – now put it to use! The King will return one day; but in the meantime, let’s make sure there’s something worth returning to. The stewards kept the kingdom of Gondor faithfully; can you do the same?