The National Catholic Review

In All Things

A group blog by the editors, columnists and frequent contributors to America.

August 2015

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    On the night of Monday, August 24, Marcy Borders died. As recounted in The Washington Post, she was only 42 years old. She had died after suffering from stomach cancer; but that was only one of the many other ailments that she had undergone: she also suffered from other illnesses, including those of high blood pressure,...

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    Christina Crawford (photo provided)

    Christina Crawford is an American actress and author best known for...

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    Prompted by a series of undercover videos, this past weekend saw the largest protest against Planned Parenthood in history, with tens of thousands turning out in over 300 U.S. cities. Sadly, most reporting on the videos continues to use the traditional right/left, life/choice binaries. If you are a conservative you most likely support defunding Planned Parenthood, and if a liberal you most likely do not.

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    “I go through a loop in which I notice all the ways I am—for just an example—self-centered and careerist and not true to standards and values that transcend my own petty interests, and feel like I’m not one of the good ones” — David Foster Wallace

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    More than 30 years ago, I was tasked with preparing Pope John Paul II’s meals during his visit to Oaxaca, Mexico, where I lived in a convent. This year I will join with 100 women to walk 100 miles to greet Pope Francis when he arrives in Washington, D.C.

    Reflecting now, I see that my life has been a combination of faith, migration and service, exemplified by these experiences with the two popes.

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    Those two-year terms are a killer.

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    In the summer of 1974, a man went around America surveying a country badly wounded by the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of a scandal known as Watergate. He stood about 5-foot-9, was sandy-haired, and had an ambling type of walk. At the time, some people, if they took notice, remarked that he had some kind of vague resemblance to John F. Kennedy. The most notable thing about him was his gleaming white teeth and megawatt smile (which, later on, caused some wags and opponents to uncharitably...

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    Stephen H. Webb (photo provided)

    Stephen H.

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    In earlier blog posts (5/28 and 8/13), I wrote at some length about how food has become an issue not only about our sustenance and survival, but also about how it can be used as an instrument for intrigue and government policy, as seen in the recent actions/reactions by Russia as regards its recent intervention/...

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    One of the most frequent conversations I have with strangers after they learn that I am a Franciscan friar is about the uniqueness of Assisi. Every year, millions of people flock to the medieval home of Francesco di Bernardone (better known as St. Francis of Assisi to most of us) located in the Umbrian Region of Italy on the western side of Mount Subasio. When I encounter some of these past visitors, they often share their impressions of the place as something like going back in time or...

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    Surprising fact: Yonkers is the fourth largest city in New York state, ahead of Syracuse and Albany. Home to 195,000 people and covering 18 square miles, the city exists (almost literally) in the shadow of the great metropolis immediately to its south. I grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, and as a teenager Yonkers was wearingly familiar to me. It was not an especially pretty place to visit, but it’s movie theaters and shopping malls were easier to reach than midtown or...

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    Melbourne, Australia—I am nearing the end of my third month-long visit to Melbourne and the Australian Catholic University, where I once again been a visiting research scholar and a kind of academic consultant in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry. It is August 16th, I know, but this morning here, below the Equator and in late winter, it was 38 degrees.

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    On a winter’s day in early 1940, a 65-year-old woman opened the front door of her house in Ludlow, Vermont, and went to her mailbox. Her mailbox was just outside the door, and she reached up to open the lid to retrieve the delivered mail. She’d done it many times, but this was no ordinary trip. The minute she opened that mailbox and picked up its contents, she automatically became a part of American history and lore (though she would not have realized it at the time).

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    At last count, seven Catholics are running for president — six Republicans and a Democrat. But surprisingly, the candidate who’s talking about Pope Francis the most often is a Jewish guy from Vermont.

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    Back in the spring, I wrote a blog called “Some Food for Thought” (5/28). In it, I  wrote about how much food is actually wasted and how individuals as well as international organizations such as the UN are trying to arouse consciousness about the ever-growing situation concerning food production, food consumption and food waste and what individuals and organizations can do—and are doing—about it.

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    Thomas Merton and my father were born within a month of each other, 100 years ago, at the start of World War I. Each suffered early parental loss; one became a poet, the other—a scientist.

    Merton described being born “in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain” where “the world was a picture of Hell.”

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    Google shocked the world at the beginning of this week with an announcement of its restructuring. What had been Google has become a holding company called Alphabet (think Berkshire Hathaway, but for Silicon Valley), and all the services that most of us associate with internet giant—search, Gmail, YouTube, etc.—now belong to a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet called Google.

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    We all turned off our TV’s Thursday evening after a strange but entertaining two hours with 10 people we had never met before but who were seriously presenting themselves as wise and experienced administrators, diplomats, leaders. Donald Trump seems to have dominated the campaign, the debate and the commentaries on the debate: his bad manners, his ego, his sexism, his admission that he has distributed cash to most of the other candidates on the stage and just about everyone in public life...

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    Father Jeff Putthoff, S.J. (Hopeworks 'N Camden)

    Jeff Putthoff, S.J., is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Camden, N.J. for the last 18 years. He is the founder and outgoing executive director of Hopeworks ’N Camden, a youth technology program that teaches web design/development, Geographic Information...

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    At 3 a.m. in the morning on Halloween, I held my new son in my arms. He was plump and like a loaf of bread. “Baby has Down syndrome,” I whispered, and the nurses gave me disapproving glances. “This is my son,” I thought, “and I will do whatever he needs of me as long as I am around.”

    When he was two or three a decision had to be made: would he learn sign language, a guaranteed but limiting way of communicating, or try for talking. The latter approach might not work as...

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    Shortly after 9 P.M. on an August summer evening in 1974, practically all televisions in the United States were tuned in to the three major networks so that people could bear witness to a historically startling announcement. Seated behind a desk and before the cameras and their hot klieg lights (which never failed to make him perspire and required him to have a handkerchief at the ready to dabble his upper lip), the man with a sheaf of papers read from a prepared text. After some minutes, he...

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    Screenshot of Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show"

    Jon Stewart devoted a substantial part of his final show to warning us about the dangers of “bull**t,” particularly of the “premeditated institutional” variety. But we also have reason for hope, he told us, because purveyors of this toxic manure “have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected … The best defense against bulls**t is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.”

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    It was Shakespeare who said: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is of interred with their bones.”

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    This past Monday, the United States Senate voted on a plan to divert the federal funding allocated for Planned Parenthood towards other community health clinics and pregnancy centers. This action followed controversy over a series of secretly recorded videos which emerged over the past few weeks and revealed some deeply disturbing aspects of the operations of the United States’ largest abortion provider.

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    It was 37 years ago, on August 6, 1978, that Pope Paul VI died of a heart attack at the age of 80. He had been in ill health for some time; he had suffered greatly from arthritis, which restricted his movements. At the time, like many in Rome, he took his annual vacation up in the Alban hills to his summer residence in Castel Gondolfo to escape the heat of the August summer.

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    The New York Times today issued a correction—16 days after the story—to one of its first articles about the Planned Parenthood undercover video story. The correction said that the original article, which was published six days after the initial release of the videos,

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    Regardless of the possible criminal behavior of abortion and medical tissue providers, or the moral and ethical issues surrounding surreptitious videotaping for journalistic purposes, the legal issues presented by the release of these videos involve a complicated mix of federal and state law. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution governs the relationship between the government and the people and prohibits the government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

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    I remember it well. It was August 7 and the whole family—my journalist father, teacher mother, athlete younger brother Dave and I—were enjoying our summer vacation on a farm near Reading, Pa. As we cantered along on horseback along a country road and I, a 12 year old, was enjoying a strange moment of political reverie. We had just heard on the radio about this wonderful new weapon, and I had looked up “atomic” in the dictionary. That didn’t help much, but I presumed it was something we were...

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    Jean Vanier is a French Canadian Catholic philosopher and humanitarian who founded L'Arche, an international network of 147 communities (35 countries, five continents) for mentally disabled persons and their caregivers. With Marie-Hélène Mathieu, Mr.

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    Few things can humble me more quickly than a brief trip to the Home Depot. During a recent project, I immediately became lost among the store’s countless plumbing supplies. When I sought the help of an employee—a former contractor—he looked at me with what appeared to be the disgust of an English professor being asked to spell ‘cat’ and grunted toward a shelf before shuffling off in the opposite direction.

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    The use of "undercover" reporting tactics by a California pro-life group in an attempt to expose suspected illegal actions by Planned Parenthood doctors pertaining solicitation of funds for the acquisition of fetal tissue has stirred discussion and debate.

    In recent weeks, the California-based Center for Medical Progress has released several videos—and plans to release more—that show doctors affiliated with the nation's leading abortion provider discussing fees for fetal tissue.

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    Before anyone gets all worked up about this blog’s title and rushes to “Google” atychipobia (or, if you’re of baby boomer vintage, like yours truly, reaches for that trusty and ever-available Webster’s Collegiate), I will save you the trouble. This word (as defined by Wikipedia) is the “abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure,” which can have “particularly devastating…effects on a person’s willingness to attempt certain activities” or “subconsciously undermine...