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Thoughts from Inside the Beltway Print E-mail
By Joseph R. Wood   
Saturday, 23 June 2012

On this summer Saturday, dear readers, your correspondent once again approaches as an Idler (Dr. Johnson’s title for himself when producing essays “as hastily as an ordinary letter”) and a Rambler, the name of Johnson’s publication where he asked his readers to pray “that in this undertaking thy Holy Spirit may not be withheld from me, but that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation of myself and others.” 

A few diverse observations from the nation’s capital, as we begin the Fortnight for Freedom that the bishops are leading, between the Vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher last Thursday, and July 4th:

A Conversation at Farragut Square: I have learned much about the spiritual and physical benefits of walking from Fr. James Schall, at whose encouragement I get around the city on foot whenever possible. But despite his best efforts, I’m not prepared for every encounter on the sidewalks.

Washington has legions of young people deployed to strike up conversations with passers-by for various causes. Greenpeace and Children International are prominent exponents of this technique.

I recently encountered such a young man bearing the emblem of Planned Parenthood. He politely asked me to talk, and he seemed bright. So, out of character for me, I stopped to chat.

I began not with “hello” but with a question: “When do you think human life begins?” His answer had to do with the sentience of life, a stock argument that will allow just about anything to be done to anybody if really taken to its conclusion: “Let me make sure I understand. In your view, a human embryo is less deserving of protection than an orangutan.” “Yes,” came the quick reply. I wished him well – it had all been in a friendly tone – and sped off to my next appointment.

It is probably a vain hope, but I imagined that with his “Yes” came a flash of doubt in his eyes, as in, “Do I really think that?” But I don’t know.

Modern Conveniences: Washington summers are notorious for heat. French and British diplomats, familiar with the most sub-tropical climes of their former empires, tell me that nowhere on the planet is the precise combination of heat and humidity so preternaturally miserable as in Washington in July and August.

Before air conditioning, those who had the resources left town for these months. Those without money worked in the morning until they could no longer stand it and went home. Air conditioning has made it possible for Washingtonians to sit in their cubicles and think up new ways to hate each other all twelve months of the year.

         Between WWII and Lincoln: the Reflecting Pool

The return of major league baseball a few years ago brought with it the hope that official Washington would come out of its chambers to the ballpark near the Capitol in summer, restoring a sense of common cause, or at least common disappointment (though this year the Nationals are reasonably good).

But when political arguments come to be based on dramatically different views of the human person, on whether any authority other than the autonomous self can be valid – well, baseball doesn’t work miracles.

Around the Monuments: I greatly admire the families who come to Washington, children and grandparents in tow, to see the museums and monuments around the National Mall. It is tough slogging in the heat, and it is not unusual to come upon quarrels.

But the nobility of the “little platoons” comes through as they see for themselves the nation’s familiar political architecture, the memorials to great leaders, and the museums with everything from the Declaration of Independence to the 1903 Wright Flyer to the inauguration gowns of the first ladies.

The constructive patriotism of these visitors, their inculcation of the idea of the country as something bigger than themselves handed down to them and to be handed forward, lightens the jaded mind too familiar with the lobbyists on K Street, the vast bureaucratic-administrative apparatus, the media, and the rent seekers running for reelection.

But as I look at the monuments and stately buildings, I am also struck by how indifferent Christ would have been to them. Christ’s attitude towards political authority seems always to reflect almost a casual nonchalance: “Sure, give Caesar his money, pay your temple taxes. Now let’s talk about something important.” 

In the second volume on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI describes the encounter between Christ and Pilate, the political power of the place and day.

Previously, Christ had said, “My kingship is not of this world.” When Pilate asks him if he is a king, Jesus responds, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” The pope concludes, “If power, indeed military power, is characteristic of kingship and kingdoms, there is no sign of it in Jesus’ case. . . .This kingdom is powerless. It has no ‘legions.’” 

As American Catholics during this Fortnight of Freedom think about our government, we are almost startled to realize again what the American Founders, celebrated in the capital’s monuments, knew well: The government in Washington can be either an instrument of, or a rival to, the kingdom Christ proclaimed.

This July 4th, therefore, is a little different from the others.. Something fundamental is – more clearly than usual – at stake. The Fortnight of Freedom is an affirmation of something reflected in Washington’s monuments and something much greater.

Joseph R. Wood is a former White House official who worked on foreign policy, including Vatican affairs.
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Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Frank, June 23, 2012
I like to give my wife a card and write a few thoughts to her just before she travels on a business trip as I did a few days ago. I always tell her I'll miss her. What seems a routine comment I don't consider routine, the fact is I miss when she's gone and am happy to have her back upon her return. I'll share something in that note I wrote to her based upon a conversation we had a few days ago. Starting in the 60's, this country began to get angry with itself and as time has passed, we are getting angrier and angrier at one another. Clearly, there are now discernible sides and lines that were drawn are wider and starker from their beginning. Each side thinks the they are the "keepers of the light" and the other side are "keepers of the darkness." The last time this anger came to a head, approximately 630,000 Americans died at the hands of their own countrymen at places like Manassas, Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, etc etc. I hope and pray it does not come to this but the behavioral signs manifest today are getting way too close to the same behaviors and attitudes that began in the 1840's and finally met their end at Appomattox.
Thus, I heartily commend Mr. Wood for engaging the young man from Planned Parenthood in such a manner; polite, to the point, plant some doubt, leave immediately and pray the Holy Spirit works in Divine Time to change the young man's heart.
Changing hearts one at a time is much more preferable than massive deadly violence. And those who think it can't happen here again are whistling past the graveyard of history.

written by Dave, June 23, 2012
I doubt, sadly, that the young man would have had a flash of doubt in his own eyes at his remarkable statement, for he, too, is a religious believer, his religion being progressivism and statism, the Left having long ago co-opted millenial longings and arrogated to itself the belief that it can bring about a perfect state of affairs on earth. Joe is so right that more is at stake: it is time for Catholics and other Christians to reawaken to the words of St. Thomas More, "I die the King's servant, but God's first." It is time for us really to examine what does it mean to "seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness," and to reject the allures and blandishments of the easy/ier life promised by the Entitlement State.
written by Manfred, June 23, 2012
Planned Parenthood? human embryos? Msgr. William Lynn, of the A'diocese of Philadelphia, was just convicted of "endangering CHILDREN" by covering up for predatory priests. Jerry Sandusky was just convicted of sexual abuse of ten BOYS over fifteen years. The cover-up at Penn State resulted in the firing of Joe Paterno and Pres. Graham Spanier. John Adams wrote that the American experiment was very fragile and could not be exported. It is predicated on the fact that all its citizens must be RELIGIOUS as, without the curb of an informed God-fearing CONSCIENCE, society could descend into viciousness. It obviously has many years ago. Waterboarding? American troops were doing it to Filipinos in 1903. Two atomic bombs on a defeated Japan-"carpet bombing" of Japan and Europe in WW II-Agent Orange on agrarian Viet Nam where birth defects are still resulting from it today. And we are worrying about aborted fetuses? From a purely secular point of view they could be considered the lucky ones.
written by Diane Peske, June 23, 2012
10 years ago I visited the Supreme Court building. It was my first D.C. trip. Walking up the steps into that 'temple' I was in 'tourist mindset'...simply walked in casually. The court was in recess so we were able to walk into the room where arguments are held. As I headed into the room and walked down the aisle I literally heard the Voice of God boom in my head: "THIS IS WHERE THEY MADE THE DECISION TO KILL MY BABIES." In all honesty, as a believer and pro-lifer this was not on my mind. But immediately I saw that room as God did. I started shaking, crying and my husband looked at me stunned as I told him I had, I HAD to leave immediately. I then sat on the steps outside weeping. THAT opened my eyes in a way nothing else could.

Also we have a child in the military and as I walked around all the war memorials, that WAS something on my heart because I did weep at the Vietnam Wall, etc...praying over and over the prophecy found in Isaiah and Joel : And every man beneath his vine and fig tree, shall live in peace and not afraid. Into plowshares turn their swords; nations shall learn war no more." I silently found myself praying that over and over in the Mall walk.

It is my intercession that more followers of Jesus pray especially as they pass these buildings and memorials - seeing them as Jesus does..."O Jerusalem, Jerusalem."
written by Graham, June 24, 2012
Manfred, Those of us who had to personally deal with a morally squalid subculture in the priesthood during the 1960s and 1970s have often been in danger of using it as an escape clause in the moral contract of natural law and Catholic teaching. I supported abortion throughout my twenties, but in my thirties slowly began to ask questions and actually think about it. Prompted in no small part by women kneeling in front of a Manhattan clinic praying the rosary. Moved also by the Holy Spirit I have to believe. I was in danger, in other words, of putting my moral obligations at a far remove. Global humanism, global peace, global love, global compassion. Citizen of the World. It's how activists and artists speak. As urban ignorance, despair, violence, and hatred roil all around them. And it's worse. We have seen actress Cynthia Nixon ("Sex and the City") demonstrate for NY's public schools; actively condoning what has been documented even in the NY Times. In the end the personal is political means being cold, aloof, and dismissive of human suffering in the name of "regaining our consciousness" to borrow a phrase. We have obligations to our history. But I also live in the 21st century now and if you'll excuse me for quoting from the King James Bible, "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

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