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On the Humana communitas in the age of pandemic, Will Carroll, and the Super Bowl.


❖ The Vatican website is in our opinion the most attractive in existence. It is also a wonderful source not only for major encyclicals and other papal documents but for what can only be described as the random beauties of the Ordinary Magisterium. Here, for example, is a speech given by Saint Paul VI upon the quadricentennial anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth:
We feel it our duty to thank the promoters of this commemoration of the fourth centenary of the birth of William Shakespeare, for the kind invitation which they have extended to this admirable evocation of the life and art of the great poet. We also express Our pleasure to the British Catholic communities in Rome for this undertaking, and We are happy to note the generous collaboration given by friends, by artists and by the Italian authorities. Particular praise is due to the directors and actors of the Royal Stratford Theatre for their presentation of scenes and recitations from the works of Shakespeare, which we have all enjoyed and appreciated. This brief spectacle brings many thoughts to Our mind, starting with the visit We made about thirty years ago, as an enquiring and hasty tourist, to the city and the home of Shakespeare in Stratford-on-Avon, and continuing with the impression of fantastic riches and psychological truth which We experienced through the limited knowledge which school lessons and private reading gave Us of the work of the great poet; and concluding today with the thought that this commemoration is particularly adapted to Rome, always avid and prompt as she is to honour the high achievements of the human spirit, and happy as she is today to celebrate, in this supreme writer, the magnificent cultural tradition and artistic genius of the English people. We take especial pleasure in noting how the profound humanity of Shakespeare, ever open to adventurous and poetic exploration, leads to the discovery of the moral laws, which make life great and sacred, and lead us back to a religious understanding of the world. His lofty genius and powerful language induce men to listen with reverence to the great verities he expounds, of death and judgment, of hell and heaven. The plots of his plays are a salutary reminder to modern man that God exists, that there is a life after this life, that evildoing is punished and good rewarded. Our enjoyment of the poet’s vision of humanity should not make us overlook the high moral lessons and admonitions contained in his works. With the prayer that meditation and consideration may bear this valuable fruit, We gladly bestow upon the actors and their colleagues, upon all of you and your loved ones at home, Our paternal Apostolic Blessing.
Far too many books about the modern popes are written either by philistine academic historians or frenetic Italian journalists to whom such tired Anglo-Saxon conventions as “truth” or even “plausibility” appear to be unknown. We like to imagine that one day a writer of real imagination will apply his gifts to a proper Life of this saint. One can imagine such a book beginning with the young Montini—that product, like Cardinal Ottaviani, our last Renaissance prince, of centuries of Christian humanism—in Stratford, an image with which Saint John XXIII’s famous remark about Hamlet might be juxtaposed. In the meantime, might we get an edition of Paul’s letters?
❖ Speaking of worthwhile avenues for biographical (and indeed hagiographical) research, we think it unfortunate that so little is known on these shores of Mary Seacole, the Jamaican businesswoman who did so much for the relief of British soldiers during the Crimean War. (In a poll conducted in 2004, she was voted “greatest black Briton.”) In 1860 Seacole was received into the Church and died a faithful Catholic.
❖ After contracting the new coronavirus earlier this year, Will Carroll, the drummer of the metal group Death Angel, went to hell. Or so he thought upon waking from a medically induced coma at a hospital in California. According to a newspaper report, the comatose musician “had dreams of visiting the afterlife. He saw himself leave his body and plummet down to hell, where Satan—a woman in his case—punished him for the deadly sin of sloth, morphing him into a Jabba the Hutt-like monster who vomited blood until he had a heart attack.” Carroll told reporters that he has decided to refrain from smoking—as opposed to eating—cannabis and that he now acknowledges the existence of a “higher power.” Such resolutions are praiseworthy, especially when they are followed by Carroll’s other recent admission: “I don’t think Satan’s quite as cool as I used to.” Pray for him.
❖ If you want to understand what is wrong with the conservative legal movement to which Catholics in this country have sacrificed decades of fruitless labor, look no further than a recent dissent by Justice Brett Kavanaugh of the Supreme Court, who took issue with his colleagues’ refusal to grant injunctive relief to churches affected by an executive order in California:
I would grant the Church’s requested temporary injunction because California’s latest safety guidelines discriminate against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment. In response to the COVID–19 health crisis, California has now limited attendance at religious worship services to 25% of building capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower. The basic constitutional problem is that comparable secular businesses are not subject to a 25% occupancy cap, including factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries.
“Comparable secular businesses”! This phrase appears nine times in Kavanaugh’s dissent. You will seldom find a more perfect or concise expression of what the public worship of God represents in the modern conservative imagination: one species of commercial activity that competes with payday lending, online pornography, and video streaming services for the business of Americans—all enterprises toward which public authority must observe a studied neutrality. And we wonder why the culture war thing hasn’t worked out.
❖ Many of you have told us that you were pleased to find a bedtime story for your children hidden in the middle of this section. Here is another favorite, the tale of “Old Sultan”:
A shepherd had a faithful dog, called Sultan, who was grown very old, and had lost all his teeth. And one day when the shepherd and his wife were standing together before the house the shepherd said, “I will shoot old Sultan tomorrow morning, for he is of no use now.” But his wife said, “Pray let the poor faithful creature live; he has served us well a great many years, and we ought to give him a livelihood for the rest of his days.” “But what can we do with him?” said the shepherd. “He has not a tooth in his head, and the thieves don’t care for him at all; to be sure he has served us, but then he did it to earn his livelihood; tomorrow shall be his last day, depend upon it.” Poor Sultan, who was lying close by them, heard all that the shepherd and his wife said to one another, and was very much frightened to think tomorrow would be his last day; so in the evening he went to his good friend the wolf, who lived in the wood, and told him all his sorrows, and how his master meant to kill him in the morning. “Make yourself easy,” said the wolf. “I will give you some good advice. Your master, you know, goes out every morning very early with his wife into the field; and they take their little child with them, and lay it down behind the hedge in the shade while they are at work. Now do you lie down close by the child, and pretend to be watching it, and I will come out of the wood and run away with it; you must run after me as fast as you can, and I will let it drop; then you may carry it back, and they will think you have saved their child, and will be so thankful to you that they will take care of you as long as you live.” The dog liked this plan very well; and accordingly so it was managed. The wolf ran with the child a little way; the shepherd and his wife screamed out; but Sultan soon overtook him, and carried the poor little thing back to his master and mistress. Then the shepherd patted him on the head, and said, “Old Sultan has saved our child from the wolf, and therefore he shall live and be well taken care of, and have plenty to eat. Wife, go home, and give him a good dinner, and let him have my old cushion to sleep on as long as he lives.” So from this time forward Sultan had all that he could wish for. Soon afterwards the wolf came and wished him joy, and said, “Now, my good fellow, you must tell no tales, but turn your head the other way when I want to taste one of the old shepherd’s fine fat sheep.” “No,” said Sultan, “I will be true to my master.” However, the wolf thought he was in jest, and came one night to get a dainty morsel. But Sultan had told his master what the wolf meant to do; so he laid wait for him behind the barn door, and when the wolf was busy looking out for a good fat sheep, he had a stout cudgel laid about his back that combed his locks for him finely. Then the wolf was very angry, and called Sultan “an old rogue,” and swore he would have his revenge. So the next morning the wolf sent the boar to challenge Sultan to come into the wood to fight the matter. Now Sultan had nobody he could ask to be his second but the shepherd’s old three-legged cat; so he took her with him, and as the poor thing limped along with some trouble, she stuck up her tail straight in the air. The wolf and the wild boar were first on the ground; and when they espied their enemies coming, and saw the cat’s long tail standing straight in the air, they thought she was carrying a sword for Sultan to fight with; and every time she limped they thought she was picking up a stone to throw at them; so they said they should not like this way of fighting, and the boar lay down behind a bush, and the wolf jumped up into a tree. Sultan and the cat soon came up, and looked about and wondered that no one was there. The boar, however, had not quite hidden himself, for his ears stuck out of the bush; and when he shook one of them a little, the cat, seeing something move, and thinking it was a mouse, sprang upon it, and bit and scratched it, so that the boar jumped up, grunted, and ran away, roaring out, “Look up in the tree, there sits the one who is to blame.” So they looked up, and espied the wolf sitting amongst the branches; and they called him a cowardly rascal, and would not suffer him to come down till he was heartily ashamed of himself, and had promised to be good friends again with old Sultan.

❖ We recognize that Sultan’s story is not nearly as long as “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids.” In recompense we offer the following joke suitable for the five-and-under set (get them while they’re young!) courtesy of our editor’s daughter: “What time is it when an elephant sits on a fence? Time to get a new fence.” We believe but cannot confirm that the source was a popsicle stick.
❖ Less than half a decade after promising to spend some two billion dollars providing “relief” to American homeowners, Goldman Sachs is continuing this no-doubt valuable work by foreclosing on thousands of homes, the profits from the sales of which they use to fund their federally mandated altruism. We presume that in turn many of those families currently benefiting from the so-called relief efforts will find their homes seized and sold in order to make possible a continuation of Goldman’s philanthropy. With charity like this, who needs covetousness?  
❖ We pass along the following lines from a recent article by a Catholic author in the former Atlantic Monthly:
I am a believer in the power of higher education to change lives and create opportunity, and am proud to teach at one of the greatest universities in the world. College is absolutely the right choice for many. But my son reminded me of a fundamental truth, which is that each of our lives is a start-up enterprise, and there is not just one path to success.
Is this true, fundamentally or otherwise? We would be hard pressed to think of a more impoverished description of human life, even engaged as we are in what can only be described as a kind of “start-up enterprise.” We say this not only because the language of the entrepreneurship cult is so all-encompassingly banal, but because it is not Christian anthropology. Sub specie aeternitatis there is, in fact, only “one path to success.” God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven, not, as it were, to “break sh—.”
❖ In a press conference in which a New York franchise of the nation’s largest human abattoir chain announced that it would remove the name of the company’s eugenicist founder from its building:
The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color.
We cannot think for the life of us what the phrase “historical reproductive harm within communities of color” is supposed to mean. This is not because we are unaware that “reproductive harm” is a euphemism for the murder of infants, but because the eugenicist ambitions of Planned Parenthood’s founder are not in any sense “historical.” As we write this, more black children are being aborted than born in New York City. In many states throughout the country, practically the only places in which it is possible to obtain abortions are those in which there is a sizeable African-American population. This is why we cheer for those brave souls who wave signs emblazoned with “KLANNED PARENTHOOD” and similar slogans outside the Chinatown metro station in Washington.
❖ Speaking of the Vatican website, just as we were preparing to go to press, we read a statement released by one of the pontifical academies on the subject of this year’s lockdown measures. It is a very important piece of writing, one that demands close study. We were especially taken with the following paragraph:
The pandemic has given us the spectacle of empty streets and ghostly cities, of human proximity wounded, of physical distancing. It has deprived us of the exuberance of embraces, the kindness of hand shakings, the affection of kisses, and turned relations into fearful interactions among strangers, the neutral exchange of faceless individualities shrouded in the anonymity of protective gears. Limitations of social contacts are frightening; they can lead to situations of isolation, despair, anger, and abuse. For elderly people in the last stages of life the suffering has been even more pronounced, for the physical distress is coupled by diminished quality of life and lack of visiting family and friends.
Unlike the vast majority of commentary we have read on this topic, the document entitled Humana communitas in the age of pandemic: untimely meditations on life’s rebirth acknowledges the genuine human and spiritual costs of the actions taken by most of the world’s governments in response to the new coronavirus. It draws our attention to “prevailing metaphors now encroaching on our ordinary language [that] emphasize hostility and a pervasive sense of menace,” to “our pretentions to monadic solitude,” themselves founded upon “an atomistic social philosophy” and “an ethics of calculative rationality bent toward a distorted image of self-fulfillment, impervious to the responsibility of the common good on a global, and not only national, scale,” and to “the seeds of hope [that] have been sown in the obscurity of small gestures, in acts of solidarity too many to count, too precious to broadcast.” What we like most about it, though, is its call for a return to politics properly understood: “Coming back to life, after savoring the ambivalent fruit of its contingency, will we not be wiser? Will we not be more grateful, less arrogant?” One can only hope so.
❖ We are fascinated by Nick Kapur’s list of literal translations of names in various languages for the insect called the praying mantis in English. Our favorites include “the Prophet’s mare” (Arabic), “the praying beggar” (Icelandic), “the little horse of the Virgin” (Greek), “the devout elf” (Hungarian), “the camel of Solomon” (Hebrew), and “the demon of death” (Korean).
❖ Admit it: when you were five you thought the line was “Dirty Deeds / Thunder Chief.”
❖ Of the making of books there is no end, especially when the books in question are entitled The Next Pope. We are not especially interested in these discussions about who will succeed the present occupant of the Holy See, whom we revere. We are, however, very interested in arguing about who will win the next Super Bowl. Here are the quarterbacks most worth rooting for in the National Football League this year.

i.   Philip Rivers: If he and the Colts don’t go all the way this year, Pope Francis should put the whole country under interdict.

ii.   Cam Newton: The only thing more fun than watching Bill Belichik prove once and for all that it was always him and not the health-obsessed would-be C.B.A. with six rings to his name will be watching him do it with the funniest quarterback in the league.

iii.   Lamar Jackson: A real-life combination of the Tecmo Bowl incarnations of Bo Jackson and Dan Marino.

iv.   Josh Allen: W.H. Auden says somewhere that Tennyson had the best ear of any English poet and was also the stupidest. Allen has the best arm of any N.F.L. quarterback and is, if not the stupidest, the one whose S.A.T. scores probably had the least to do with his admission to his alma mater.

v.    Patrick Mahomes: The guy is basically the Thunder Chief.

vi.   Gardner Minshew: Just look at the man.

vii.   Kirk Cousins: Can a boring white quarterback genetically engineered from the D.N.A. of every other former Michigan State Spartans signal caller who throws medium-distance completion after medium-distance completion off play-action while relying on his team’s run game win a ring?

viii.   Ryan Tannehill: Cf. vii. minus the M.S.U. bits.

ix.   Ryan Fitzpatrick: Cf. vii. minus both the East Lansing origins—one wonders how his salary compares with that of the average person in his graduating class at Harvard—and the line about being good off play-action. We honestly have no idea how Fitzmagic works, but it’s real.

x.   Dwayne Haskins: We do not have a terrible amount of sympathy for former Buckeyes in these pages, but we also really want to see a franchise known for destroying the careers of so many talented quarterbacks do right by somebody.

xi.   Derek Carr: The autumn wind is no longer a Raider.

xii.   Drew Brees, a.k.a. Captain Checkdown.

xiii.  Tom Brady.

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