You Are What You Love

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

Millennial editor Robert Christian writes:

Our habits shape a lot of our behavior, and it is hard to break bad habits and establish good ones. In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith explains why it is so hard to simply think our way to new ways of living.

Smith argues that the end to which we are oriented (and we are all oriented toward some vision of “the good life”) is not primarily something we think about, but what we desire — we are motivated by a vision of flourishing that we crave at a visceral level. This is our vision of what will deliver happiness, of what society should look like, and how the world ought to be. So Descartes was wrong in the end: We are not defined simply by what we think — in many ways, we are what we love.

There are competing visions of the good life. We may think that we wish to seek God and live as kind, virtuous, loving people, but we may very well be worshiping what many Christians call false idols and others call false paths to happiness. Often we follow these hollow desires unconsciously, but we can see them reflected in our daily habits and in our environment.

To be the person we wish to be, therefore, we need to be aware of our unconscious desires and the cultural practices (Smith calls them cultural liturgies) that may be shaping them….

If we wish to break away from the insecurities, materialism, and emptiness of consumerism and our throwaway culture, we therefore must think about our daily rituals and habits so that we can reorient our hearts toward the end we truly value.

This transformation cannot occur in isolation. If we wish to live a life animated by love, to live in communion with God and others, our relationships and communal spaces will play a big role in establishing these habits and reorienting our hearts. They will shape our imaginations and unconscious thinking.

Read the full article here.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Democracy advocates raise alarm after Supreme Court takes election case by Colby Itkowitz and  Isaac Stanley-Becker: “Voting rights advocates expressed alarm Friday, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court said it will consider a conservative legal theory giving state legislatures virtually unchecked power over federal elections, warning that it could erode basic tenets of American democracy. The idea, known as the “independent legislature theory,” represents to some theorists a literal reading of the Constitution. But in its most far-reaching interpretation, it could cut governors and state courts out of the decision-making process on election laws while giving state lawmakers free rein to change rules to favor their own party. The impact could extend to presidential elections in 2024 and beyond, experts say, making it easier for a legislature to disregard the will of its state’s citizens.”

This July Fourth, let’s celebrate our dependence on one another by MSW: “One of the most perceptive of de Tocqueville’s insights was that individualism is linked to materialism, which is why he thought the religiosity of Americans was such a balancing force in society. In our day, it is the nones who are increasing and the pews that are emptying. Social capital has been declining for decades and no one seems capable of finding ways to reverse that trend. We endured a pandemic and, still, the nation found itself divided even over that common and thoroughly nonideological, nonpartisan threat. This July Fourth, perhaps we should mourn the increasing loss of dependence, instead of celebrating our independence.”

Human dignity and holes in the seamless garment by Mike Lewis: “I’m saddened that there seem to be fewer people than I thought who really do embrace the seamless garment in its entirety. Pope Francis does, and for that I’m grateful.”

‘Born a Democrat, Baptized a Catholic’ by John Carr: “Mark Shields, a PBS commentator, Washington columnist, and Catholic layman, died on June 18, 2022, at the age of eighty-five. Mark offered a positive vision of politics, an example of faith in action, and a sense of humor and humility that we will greatly miss. His combination of Catholic values and civic virtues offered a way out of the angry polarization and failing leadership that often demoralize Washington and undermine both public and religious life.”

What Makes a Fetus a Person? by Erika Bachiochi: “Without robust societal support of pregnant women and child-rearing families, too many women will be left to regard their unborn children as trespassers on their already taxed lives rather than unbidden gifts that open new horizons to them. These women need society’s utmost assistance — not abortion, or scorn.”

How America Sold Out Little League Baseball by John W. Miller: “The privatization of American youth sports over the past 40 years is one of those revolutions of late-stage capitalism that should shock us more than it does. We have commodified the play of millions of children into a $19.2 billion business, weakening volunteer-based programs that promise affordable sports for all children. It is a trend mirrored by our schools, hospitals and military. Once-proud public institutions are being privatized, with many unintended consequences.”

Catholics should care about restricting cigarettes by Stephen McNulty: “A society that properly values all human life in turn ought to respect our collective commitment to protecting and preserving life. How can we claim to have a culture of life when entire industries make billions of dollars through a business model that depends on getting people addicted to a deadly carcinogen?”

The Rotten Core of Our Political System by George Packer: “Step back from the page-by-page account of congressional Republicans’ desperate grasping for Donald Trump’s favor or the Biden administration’s struggle to pass its legislative agenda: You’re confronted with a world of almost unrelieved cowardice, cynicism, myopia, narcissism, and ineptitude, where the overriding motive is the pursuit of power for its own sake. It’s rare that a politician thinks about any cause higher than self-interest.”

Democrats must return to being the party of the factory floor, not the faculty lounge by Daniel Lipinski: “Paul Begala, best known for being an adviser to Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, recently made some waves when he told late-night show host Bill Maher, “The Democrats have gone from being the party of the factory floor to being the party of the faculty lounge.” He joked that Democrats have two secret labs, “One in Berkeley and one in Brooklyn, where we come up with ideas to completely piss off the working class.” He added, “It’s working wonderfully.” Sadly, I agree.

Whole Life Responses to the Overturning of Roe

Tish Harrison Warren writes:

The Dobbs Supreme Court decision recognized that there is no inherent right to abortion that flows from a commitment to liberty or autonomy, in part because “abortion is fundamentally different, as both Roe and Casey acknowledged, because it destroys what those decisions called ‘fetal life’ and what the law now before us describes as an ‘unborn human being.’”

Here are three ways that I find abortion rights arguments that appeal to bodily autonomy unpersuasive and ultimately harmful to our understanding of freedom and what it means to be human:

    1. Bodily autonomy is limited by our obligation to not harm others. We already recognize in law that there are limits to physical autonomy….Twice, Justice Clarence Thomas brought up a case where a woman was convicted of child neglect for ingesting harmful illegal drugs while pregnant. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs addresses this as well, saying that an appeal to autonomy, “at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” Our desires to do as we wish with our bodies must be respected but they also must be limited by the needs and rights of others, including those who live inside our own bodies.
    2. The term “autonomy” denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body. One definition of autonomy is “independence.” But no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death. The natural state of human beings is to be deeply and irrevocably interdependent on one another. The only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers. Almost all of us, through age or disability or both, will eventually depend on other human beings — other human bodies — to bathe, dress, feed and otherwise care for us….A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim “bodily autonomy” as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old….Covid threw into sharp relief ways that our bodies and our bodily health depend on the choices of other people….
    3. The pressing issue when it comes to abortion is whether championing bodily autonomy requires us to override or undo biological realities….Except in the horrible circumstances of rape or incest, which account for 1 percent of abortions, women and men both have bodily agency and choices about whether they will have sex and therefore if they are willing to accept the risk of new life inherent in it.

Our bodies undeniably place a disproportional burden on women in reproduction. There is an inescapable asymmetry in male and female bodies when it comes to making and carrying life. To address the particular difficulty that pregnancy places on women, we need to hold fathers more responsible through child support laws. And we need to create a culture that does not shame women for unintended pregnancies but supports them through pro-women policies like paid parental leave, access to affordable child care, free health care and other measures. Yet, the state, in the end, cannot and ought not entirely rescue us from the known realities of human biology….

This is the heart of the question about abortion: What are our obligations to one another? We have an obligation to unborn children. We have an obligation to seek women’s safety and flourishing. For too long these obligations have been pitted against each other, but they need not be and, to move forward, we must create a world where they never are.

Elaine Godfrey writes:

Nathan Berning is one of many abortion opponents who wants, more than anything, to see a substantial expansion of the social safety net. I talked with a dozen others like him—people who said that advocating for things like universal child care and a higher minimum wage should be the logical next step for the movement. But theirs are minority voices in the broader anti-abortion tent. For decades, most abortion opponents have hitched their wagon to a party that has fought tirelessly against state expansion. That alliance is going to constrain any progress toward improving outcomes for women and families….

“The same energy that inspired many to stand for hours on hot pavements with signs, make numerous calls to their congressmen, march, and selflessly give countless funds must be the same energy implored to now demand early education, food assistance, and childcare relief,” Kori Porter, the CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide—USA, told me in an email, adding that activists should prepare for a rise in need for domestic-abuse centers, foster care, and low-income housing….

Last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged lawmakers to address child poverty by extending the expanded child tax credit. Dioceses in California, Maryland, and Washington State have started programs to offer pregnant women free baby supplies and health services. In anticipation of Roe being overturned, the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame kicked off a new social-science project to research best practices for addressing poverty that its leaders hope will inform public policy. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah recently released a new version of his child-tax-credit legislation that a handful of anti-abortion groups have already signed on to, and this week, Senator Marco Rubio released a slate of proposals to support pregnant women and families. A few red states also extended Medicaid coverage to postpartum women….

Abortion opponents who oppose a social safety net may come around to the idea that more social spending is the best way to reduce abortions. Restricting the supply of abortion doesn’t stop the demand for it, as studies have shown. “I would hope after a few years, [when] they realize that these laws didn’t have as much of an effect as they imagined they would, they would see a need for more,” Daniel K. Williams, a history professor at the University of West Georgia, told me. Roe’s downfall, in other words, will probably not be the moment that sends the movement in a new direction. If that moment comes, it will be further down the line.

Brian Fraga and Katie Collins Scott write:

Also through a prepared statement, the Society of Jesus in the United States said it welcomed the court’s ruling, adding that abortion “is a massive injustice in our society, and today’s ruling is a critical step toward the legal protection of all unborn children.”…

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life also issued a statement praising the Court’s decision, but notably also called for “developing political choices that promote conditions of existence in favor of life without falling into a priori ideological positions.”

“This also means ensuring adequate sexual education, guaranteeing health care accessible to all and preparing legislative measures to protect the family and motherhood, overcoming existing inequalities,” the academy said….

Catholic Charities USA said in a statement it “remains committed to walking in solidarity with all those who come to our doors, whether they are girls or women in crisis pregnancies or families facing challenging social, economic or housing circumstances.”

Democrats for Life, a political advocacy organization that has sought to help elect anti-abortion Democrats to Congress, said they were grateful for the Court’s ruling and hope it will help pro-life Democrats nationally.

Kristen Day, the group’s executive director, told NCR she hoped Democrats “can take a more moderate approach and that both parties can come together and do what they can to support women, particularly low-income and minority women.”…

Gloria Purvis, a longtime Catholic pro-life activist and podcast host for America Media, said: “We have a lot of work ahead of us. This is just the beginning.”

Purvis told NCR she hopes that activists who have pushed for an end to abortion also focus their efforts now on advocating for family-friendly public policies that will support young mothers and women facing crisis pregnancies.

She mentioned paid family leave and stricter enforcement of anti-pregnancy discrimination laws as helpful measures, and suggested that anti-abortion activists can work with those who support abortion rights to lobby for those kind of policies.

Cardinal Blase Cupich writes:

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturns the court’s tragic 1973 decision that removed legal protection for unborn children. We welcome this important ruling and the opportunity it creates for a national conversation on protecting human life in the womb and promoting human dignity at all stages of life. This moment should serve as a turning point in our dialogue about the place an unborn child holds in our nation, about our responsibility to listen to women and support them through pregnancies and after the birth of their children, and about the need to refocus our national priorities to support families, particularly those in need.

The Catholic Church brings to such a conversation the conviction that every human life is sacred, that every person is made in the image and likeness of God and therefore deserving of reverence and protection. That belief is the reason the Catholic Church is the country’s largest provider of social services, many aimed at eliminating the systemic poverty and health care insecurity that trap families in a cycle of hopelessness and limit authentic choice.

We also come to this dialogue as Americans, knowing that the principle that all human beings are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and that first among these is the right to life.

Anticipating the ruling, Jessica Keating wrote:

Contrary to popular belief, America’s abortion laws are among the most permissive in the world. The United States, as reported in a Washington Post factcheck, is included among the 30% of countries that allow abortion for any reason, and while the vast majority of these countries have gestational limits for elective abortion (usually 12 weeks), the United States is not one of them. Along with China, North Korea, and Canada, the U.S. is 1 of only 7 countries which has no federal ban on gestational limits. The United States Senate repeatedly failed to pass the “Pain Capable Act,” which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks (five months) gestation, more than halfway through pregnancy.

While we know that views on abortion are incredibly complex and vary significantly based on a cross-section of demographic markers, including race, gender, socio-economic status, etc., the majority of Americans do favor restrictions like the those passed in Mississippi. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 70% of Americans either oppose abortion or favor limits on abortion, particularly during the second and third trimesters. The general approbation for abortion plummets after the first trimester. A reported 65% believe abortion should be restricted in the second trimester, and this number goes up to 81% by the third trimester….

In our time politicians, jurists, and journalists need to euphemize abortion because it is a process far too violent for most people to face, because it requires a brutality that is not easily reconciled with the professed aims of a political party or organization. This is what we have to admit to ourselves if we are going to be thoroughly realist about the consequences of abortion and its legality.

Mark Shields (1937-2022)

via the Washington Post:

Mark Shields, a onetime campaign manager who became one of Washington’s most respected political commentators, both as a syndicated columnist and as a genial liberal counterpart to several conservative sparring partners on the “PBS NewsHour,” died June 18 at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 85….

The Wall Street Journal once called Mr. Shields one of the “wittiest political journalists in America” and “frequently the most trenchant, fair-minded, and thoughtful.” In a statement, PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff said, “Mark Shields had a magical combination of talents: an unsurpassed knowledge of politics and a passion, joy, and irrepressible humor that shone through in all his work.”…

He was, by his own admission, a traditional Massachusetts liberal in the mold of one of his political heroes, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.). He helped organize Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, which was gaining momentum before Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968.

Thereafter, Mr. Shields tended to view politics with a touch of sorrow-filled regret. He often mused that if Kennedy had been elected, he would have become the most inspiring and transformative president in a generation. Instead, Mr. Shields measured the aspirations and achievements of later politicians with a bemused sense of humor, brushed with the disappointment of reality….

In one of his final appearances on “NewsHour” in 2020, Mr. Shields noted that the Democratic Party had traditionally been the political home of lunch-pail, working-class White men. The problem facing the party in the 21st century, he said, “is one of attitude as much as it is of platform. I mean, the Democrats, that were once a shot-and-a-beer party have become a sauvignon blanc party arguing about which wine is more sensitive.”

via David Brooks in 2020:

Every Friday evening for the last 19 years, Mark Shields and I have gathered to talk politics on the “PBS NewsHour.” When people come up to me to discuss our segment, sometimes they mention the things we said to each other, but more often they mention how we clearly feel about each other — the affection, friendship and respect. We’ve had thousands of disagreements over the years, but never a second of acrimony. Mark radiates a generosity of spirit that improves all who come within his light….

Mark’s father was the first Catholic to serve on their town’s school board. The first time he saw his mother cry was when Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Mark went off to Notre Dame and then served in the Marine Corps, before working as a congressional aide.

This was the mid-60s. Evidence that government worked was all around. The G.I. Bill had worked, though mostly for whites. Mark had served with Black Marines because Harry Truman had the courage to integrate the military. Mark saw the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968….

I don’t know if it was midcentury liberalism or the midcentury record of the Boston Red Sox, but Mark instinctively identifies with the underdog. Every year he invites me to do an event with him with Catholic social workers. These are people who serve the poor and live among the poor. They have really inexpensive clothing and really radiant faces, and in their lives you see the embodiment of an entire moral system, Catholic social teaching, which has its service arm and, in Mark, its political and journalistic arm.

He comes from a generation that highly prized egalitarian manners: I’m no better than anyone else and nobody is better than me.

via Paul Begala:

To me, Mark represented an inclusive and empathetic liberalism. He spoke in terms of values, not programs. (No one cares that you voted to expand Section 8; but they do care that you helped a poor family afford an apartment.) At a time when politics is increasingly driven by purity tests, Mark wanted everyone at the table. “There are two kinds of political parties,” he would say. “Just like there are two kinds of churches: those who seek out converts, and those who hunt down heretics.”

The Francis Factor: A Discussion on the First Six Months of Pope Francis’ Leadership, 2013:

Mark Shields, a national columnist and commentator, recalled the joy of Christianity that Pope John XXIII displayed. He believes Francis brings that sense of joy about the gospel as well. He remarked that Francis does not focus on talking about loving and caring in the abstract, but living it out in his interactions with those he encounters. Shields also stressed the communitarian mentality of Pope Francis, his tendency to ask “are we better off?” This again contrasts with the typical embrace of individualism in our society.

The Catholic Case against Libertarianism: Steve Schneck and Mark Shields, 2014:

Shields argued that nonjudgmental tolerance has become the highest virtue in a society where individual economic acquisitiveness and self-expression are so honored. He contrasted this “me culture” with Catholic teaching’s “we culture.” And he argued that the strength of a nation is based on the willingness of the people to make sacrifices for the common good. Shields spent a great deal of time talking about the importance of national service, seeing it as vital in fostering this type of shared sacrifice by getting Americans to look beyond themselves and their own interests. Ultimately, he argued, “We need the politics of the common good again.”

Pope Francis, Catholic Social Thought, and US Public Life, 2017:

You’re gonna put together a majority in the country when you’ve got a third of Democrats who are pro-life? There’s got to be room for and voices for and attention paid to people like Bob Casey and Joe Donnelly. There wouldn’t have been an Affordable Care Act without the votes of pro-life Democrats.

Pope Francis: Don’t Hide Wrinkles With Makeup

Photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash

via the Vatican:

Our epoch and our culture, which reveal a worrisome tendency to consider the birth of a child as a simple matter of the biological production and reproduction of the human being, cultivate the myth of eternal youth as a desperate obsession with an incorruptible body. Because old age is — in many ways — despised. Because it bears the undeniable evidence of the end of this myth, that wants us to return to our mother’s womb to return with an ever young body.

Technology is fascinated by this myth in every way. While awaiting the defeat of death, we can keep the body alive with medicine and cosmetics which slow down, hide, erase old age. Naturally, well-being is one thing, feeding the myth is another. There is no denying, however, that the confusion between the two is creating a certain mental confusion in us. To confuse well-being with feeding the myth of eternal youth. Much is done to always have this youth: a lot of make-up, many surgical interventions to appear young. The words of a wise Italian actress, [Anna] Magnani, come to mind, when they told her she had to remove her wrinkles, she said, “No, don’t touch them! It took so many years to have them — don’t touch them!”. That is it: wrinkles are a sign of experience, a sign of life, a sign of maturity, a sign of having made a journey. Do not touch them to become young, that your face might look young. What matters is the entire personality; it’s the heart that matters, and the heart holds on to the youth of good wine — the more it ages the better it is.

Life in our mortal flesh is beautifully “unfinished”, like certain works of art precisely due to their incompleteness have a unique charm. Because life down here is an “initiation”, not the fulfilment. We come into the world just like this, like real people, like people who advance in age but who are always real. But life in our mortal flesh is too small a space and time to keep it intact and to bring to fulfilment in the world’s time the most precious part of our existence. Jesus says that faith, which welcomes the evangelical proclamation of the kingdom of God to which we are destined, has an extraordinary primary effect. It enables us to “see” the kingdom of God. We become capable of truly seeing the many signs of the approximation of our hope of fulfilment for that which in our life bears the sign of being destined for God’s eternity….

In this perspective, old age has a unique beauty — we are journeying toward the Eternal. No one can return to their mother’s womb, not even using its technological and consumerist substitute. This does not give wisdom; this does not provide a journey that has been accomplished; this is artificial. It would be sad, even if it were possible. The elderly person moves ahead; the elderly person journeys towards the destination, towards God’s heaven; the elderly person journeys with the wisdom of lived experience.

Catholic Leader Stephen Schneck Appointed to United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

via the White House:

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF uses international standards to monitor religious freedom violations globally, and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and Congressional leaders of both political parties.

Stephen Schneck, Commissioner, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Stephen Schneck is a political philosopher by training who retired from The Catholic University of America in 2018, after more than thirty years as a professor, department chair, and dean. At the university he was also the founder and long-time director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies. He received his doctorate from the University of Notre Dame.

As an activist, Schneck currently serves on the governing boards of Catholic Climate Covenant, which advocates for environmental justice and care for creation, and of Catholic Mobilizing Network, a Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and advance restorative justice. Previously, he was the executive director of Franciscan Action Network, which promotes environmental, economic, racial, and social justice on behalf of the Franciscan communities of the United States. He served the administration of President Barack Obama as a member of the White House Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Born and raised in Clinton, Iowa, Schneck now lives with his wife, Suzanne, on Bald Head Island, North Carolina.

You can read our 2019 interview with him here:

“The measure of civilization, to my mind, is how the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the most vulnerable among us fare. This is the measure for justice that’s at the heart of the Christian social justice mission. It’s also the criterion for discerning the common good.”