As I mentioned, I read three Brian Moore novels last week. I want to spend a bit of time on Catholics.

As most of you probably know, Catholics is Moore’s novel published in 1972, so just a few years after the end of the Council, set in an indeterminate future – after a Vatican IV, as a matter of fact – in which a youngish with-it priest is sent to shut down, once and for all, the last traditional Mass still being said – by a group of monks whose monastery is on an island of the coast of Ireland. It was one of the first – if not the first – made-for-television movies, starring Trevor Howard and Martin Sheen.

I edited a version of it published in the Loyola Classics series years ago, but you can get other editions – and you can even read it free online via archive.org. It’s very short – really a novella.

Readers tend to focus, naturally enough, on the liturgy and church politics and Moore’s seemingly prescient take on the ecclesiastical scene, and I’ll get to that in a moment, for it’s quite interesting.

But first, let’s talk about faith. For faith and the loss of it is Moore’s interest, one that pops up in most of his novels in one form or another. After I read those three novels last week, I though a bit about that, and compared him to other Catholic and Catholic-ish novelists who also focused on faith struggles – which is most of them, because, you know – fiction requires drama and tension, and what greater drama or deeper tension is there?

I decided, though, that there’s a difference between Moore’s take and what we find, say, in Greene. It seems to me that Greeneland presupposes that the object of faith actually exists, and our protagonists are always doing battle with Him – where our sympathies lie is up to us, but it does seem that Greene’s faith-tormented characters don’t actually doubt what’s ultimately real and true – they reject and they fight it (like Greene himself) and then at some point are put in a position in which they have to make a choice about it.

Moore’s strugglers are different. They are trying to believe, or more often, just not believing at all even though they are assumed to be – in something that is probably not true anyway. It is like we are watching mental patients trying to be healed or sad hypocrites plodding along, too cowardly to live out the truth.

So it is with Catholics. The plot twist (stop reading if you don’t want to know) is that the abbot of the monastery that is holding on the traditional ways has, unbeknownst to anyone, completely lost his faith. It happened at Lourdes, when he saw all the great suffering coming with great faith, hoping for healing, and leaving, apparently just the same as when they arrived.

Nonetheless, he has kept on, holding it together in the monastery and, when put on the spot, defending his monks’ holding on to the old ways – for a while.

So there’s that.

But what I wanted to highlight for you were a couple of conversations from Catholics about faith and authority. I thought they were quite applicable to the present moment. Eerily so.

I think what I’m going to do is just share the pertinent pages. The themes that struck me are, in the first passage, the irony (Moore likes irony, but who doesn’t?) of the liberal priest representing the liberal church being a heresy-hunter, with implicit being the question – if everything is okay, how can anything, including this Mass – be forbidden? Why is this not okay if everything else is? Not to speak of the irony – against implicit – of earnestly talking about “unity.”

(If you click “open image in a new tab” – a larger version will pop up.)

Secondly is the question of authority and obedience. Kinsella is the young enforcer priest, he’s met resistance and strong arguments, but he goes to bed, confident, nonetheless, because he’s come from Rome and so he’s got authority and obedience on his side. The last refuge, even when none of the arguments make sense – even for the most self-proclaimed open-minded among us. The issue is urgent because there’s an apparent dialogue opening with the Buddhists that the continued existence of this Mass complicates. So in the name of openness, authority will be asserted.

Like I said: prescient.

Friday Random

Mostly (but not all) frivolous. But I am feeling much better, so there’s that.

  • The only other piece of interest to me in the issue was a short Talk of the Town about Edith Piaf. That led me down a rabbit trail regarding one of the songs mentioned – Perrine – which was about a priest’s housekeeper who had an assignation with a young man in the rectory, heard the priest come in, locked the young man in a trunk, forgot about him, and then he was eaten by rats and then they made his legs into candlesticks.


I could not find a recording of Piaf singing this, but the French-Canadian McGarrigle Sisters did a version. So here you go. Deceptively cheery tone, wouldn’t you say?

I enjoyed it mostly for Rod Stieger’s performance – he was just dynamite as the crooked impresario who brings the Bogart character in to market a supposed Argentinian phenom who is a big lug, but can’t actually, you know, box. Much fixing and many pay-offs are involved. A couple of other points – there is, of course, some Catholic Material. You know I will highlight that for you. Toro, the boxer, prays the rosary when he’s waiting for news about the health of an opponent he knocked out – and then makes the decision to leave the circuit when his mother’s pastor in Argentina contacts a priest in New York City to tell him to get home, please.

The most striking aspect of the film, though, was an interview with an actual broken-down former boxer. The interview is conducted by an actor who plays a sports reporter, but was unscripted. It’s quite sad – and one of the points of contention between Schulberg and the film’s director, the latter of whom was totally anti-boxing, which Schulberg was not. You can watch the scene here.

Lighten up!


Padre Pio today – he’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints:

More here about the book – and the other books in the series. Which you might consider ordering for yourself or others to support your home-based religious education efforts!

Thursday Random

Fighting a cold here. Hopefully my mega-doses of vitamin C and plentiful sunshine (mid-90’s again today) will do the trick. Anyway, some random for you:

  • I’ve read four books over the past four days: Catholics, Cold Heaven and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, all by Brian Moore, and David Milch’s memoir, Life’s Work. I’m also working my way more slowly through this – a history of the Pecos pueblo. Purchased there, right before I discovered my bum tire. (I went back later and toured the ruins.) The NPS actually has the text of the whole book on its site. Well, that’s interesting!
  • I will have a post on Judith Hearne later, either today or tomorrow. I had never read it, and had not realized it is 90% about the loss of religious faith – 100% if you take “religious faith” as a metaphor for other losses as well. It was startling, and not satisfying. Not because of the subject matter, but because I felt, in essence, that what Moore was doing was projecting his own issues onto a near-caricature of a woman. More later.
  • Milch, for those of you who don’t know, is a television creator – after studying and teaching literature at Yale (with Robert Penn Warren among others), he got his television start with Hill Street Blues, moved on to NYPD Blue, created some other shows, and then, most famously, Deadwood.

He was also a lifelong addict – drugs and gambling. He also has dementia. At the time of writing the memoir, he was still functional in the mornings, and wrote the book with help, of course, mostly from his daughters and his wife. I read it, not because I am a Deadwood devotee – not at all. My capsule take was always, “This week on Deadwood– sixty minutes of men in moustaches saying ‘c—s—–‘ to each other!” I found it convoluted and confusing and didn’t watch more than a few episodes, but was intrigued, recently, when my Movie Guy son told me that Milch wrote much of the dialogue in iambic pentameter – which the memoir affirms.

No, I read it because I am always up for learning more about artists’ creative process, and the weird turns that takes, and boy, I got it here. For example, did you know that Deadwood had its origins in an idea Milch had for a series on the Apostle Paul? He got obsessed with Paul, pitched the series, HBO said, “Great pitch, but we already have Rome, you know.” So Milch, whose interest in the Paul story was not just in the inherent drama, but in the moment in which the organizing principle of a society changes – in his mind, here from the emperor to the Cross – tried to think of another moment or situation in which such a transition occurred – and he came up with 19th century Dakota territories, and gold. So interesting.

Milch also has a lot to say about spirituality and creativity, so perhaps I’ll get around to commenting on that as well.

“The heart of Marajó is the chapel and we know that the One who is in the chapel is the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.

“Today we have seven chapels, but we want to continue building where there are none … so the Blessed Sacrament can be there,” because it makes “a very big difference,” she said.

  • Mexico? Día de los Muertos? Great idea!
  • Next read – it’s received very mixed reviews, but it was on the library shelf, so why not.

No true transwoman?

I ordinarily try to avoid doing back-to-back posts on this issue, but here you go.

(For much from me on this issue – see this page.)

I’m not going to post an image of the Canadian shop teacher. It’s gross. I have a couple of points to make – take and share, if you like:

First, if you didn’t believe that some of this transactivist movement is grounded in fetishism – do you get it now? I mean – wtf is this? You cannot get prosthetics of this type and size except through fetish sites – it’s not something available or desired – it goes without saying – to women who have, say, undergone mastectomies for breast cancer.

It’s a fetish.

And in case you haven’t made the connection in your own mind yet, let me help: this guy is living out his fetish with teenagers.

I don’t know about you, but I’d call that sexual abuse.

Note: I am not saying this is the root of all trans-related desires and actions, but, as I have said many times, it is at the root of quite a bit of it, especially among males.

Secondly, the response.

I’ve drilled down in this space time and time again about self-identification as a goal for this movement. This is where it takes you. This and men in women’s prisons, of course. This is why attempts to build replace “sex” with “gender” or insert “gender identity” or “gender expression” – all of which are based, in the activists’ toolkit, on nothing more than self-identification – into law and policy – must be resisted.

Meghan Murphy says it best at Feminist Current:

(She’s Canadian, this case is Canadian, so the references are of course to Canadian law and policy.)

Transgenderism, for most men, is not about the invented concept of “gender identity.” There is no such thing as having a “feminine” interior and a male exterior. One cannot be born with or acquire a “feminine” soul. In truth, what most men who now publicly identify as “transwomen” (or simply as “women”) have is a fetish and/or some form of mental illness.

While even many of those critical of the trans trend continue to treat transgenderism as a legitimate concept (that is to say, they believe and speak as though “trans” is a legitimate identity — as though some people in this world truly are the opposite sex “on the inside”), the reality is that, for most men, this is a sexual fetish. These adult “transwomen” are men who are turned on at the thought of themselves as “women,” as well as by moving about in public dressed as such. Part of this fetish is indeed about exhibitionism — being seen dressed “as women” in public.

….It is thanks to Bill C-16 and consequent policies and practices adopted across Canada, preventing “discrimination based upon gender identity and gender expression,” that Kayla Lemieux has been entitled to parade his private sexual fetishes around in public — at work, in a classroom, at that.

When Rebel News spoke to Curtis Ennis, the Director of Education for the Halton District School Board (who specifies “He/Him” pronouns in his Twitter bio), he told the reporter that the Board is “committed to supporting all of our teachers and staff and students in an environment that upholds their dignity, their gender identity, and their gender expression.”

….It is amazing to refer to “upholding dignity” in reference to a man who is embarrassing himself, the school, and his students, as though any of this is “dignified.” But what this all comes down to is institutions upholding the Ontario Human Rights Code, in keeping with Bill C-16, which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. As a result, Lemieux could claim “discrimination” were he to be fired for displaying his “gender identity” at work.

This is why the least dignified scenario imaginable is being defended under the guise of upholding “dignity” and human rights…

….the problem lies in having defended “gender identity” as a legal concept in the first place, and in insisting that “inclusivity” means accepting and celebrating any and every “identity” and “sexuality” claimed as part of the LGBTQ++ umbrella. It is not necessary to “accept” drag queens in the classroom, nor must we protect the “rights” of men who claim to be women in the public sphere. “Transgenderism” as a legitimate legal concept is the problem — once we say that men who claim to be women are indeed so and cannot be challenged with the truth, all is lost. We cannot protect kids or women if we go along with this charade.

The result is that men with fetishes now dictate who may tweet (and about what), when and where women may have safety and privacy (nowhere), who must be fired should they challenge the men’s identities, on what grounds women must compete in sport (unfair ones!), and what girls must accept at school.

The fact that we are having this conversation at all (and that Lemieux is being protected) is the result of Bill C-16, and due to progressives across the country having supported the notion that one could “identify” as the opposite sex, and must be protected, legally, on those grounds.

Kayla Lemieux is not a “she.” Stop with this nonsense. He is a ridiculous, entitled, inappropriate man with a fetish and anyone who cannot say so is a coward. Calling him “she” is not respectful, it is an insult to all females.

Jo Bartosch at Spiked:

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if a man stuffs a bra with a modest handful of tissues or hefts around a massive pair of silicon mammaries, the idea that such a costume is a sincere expression of womanly ‘gender identity’ is beyond insulting to women. Prosthetics such as those worn by the Oakville teacher make clear that many men who pretend to be women have drawn their beliefs about what makes a woman from pornography. It is notable that such men seldom seek to express their ‘gender identity’ by doing the myriad of mundane chores that still, in many households, fall to women. It is as if being on hand to pick the kids up from school when they are sick or remembering family birthdays don’t validate one’s sense of womanhood in quite the same way.

Ultimately, transgenderism is largely a male fetish that wears the clothes of a civil-rights campaign. Viral stories like that of the Canadian teacher are to be welcomed. They expose the mantra of ‘transwomen are women’ for the dangerous fantasy that it is.

More from me on sex & gender issues.


If you are new around here (and I hope you stick around!), you probably want to know that one of the horses I am currently beating to death is the issue of “gender.” You can find links to much of what I’ve written here. I do need to update it, though.

My writing in this space has always been about articulating angles and approaches that I’m not seeing voiced in many other places, especially in the Catholic world. So with this issue. There is certainly discussion about this matter, but what I try to bring to the discussion here are the insights from outside the Catholic world that others – even those who are working on the issue in Catholic Land – are reluctant to bring to bear, for whatever reason: for to discuss this openly involves being honest about difficult and not-family-friendly topics like sexual fetishes, being forthright about unpleasant, even grotesque medical procedures and their outcomes, as well as the important role secular radical feminists (as opposed to captured mainstream liberal feminists) and lesbian-rights activists are playing in fighting the Trans Agenda, or to even acknowledge the enormous role that misogyny plays in the trans-rights movement.

Catholic discussions are, for the most part, also still bending over backwards to try to deal with this by affirming the existence of “trans” as an actual thing. It’s not. There is no way that a “reality” which includes young women noping out of womanhood and heterosexual men in wigs and stripper clothes demanding access to women’s private spaces is an actual cohesive identity.

So a few links for today:

Kara Dansky on this matter. Dansky is a liberal Democrat who has been on the forefront of this issue in this country, especially related to sports. This short column is a decent primer.

The crux of the matter is this: People across the political spectrum have been persuaded to accept that there is a coherent category of people for whom sex is irrelevant and that this category of people is called “transgender” (or simply “trans”). Democrats on the whole support “rights for ‘transgender people,’” and Republicans on the whole oppose allowing sex-confused people to hijack sex-specific spaces. But regardless of whether or not a person supports or opposes “rights for ‘transgender people,’” that person probably believes that there is such a category of people.

But there isn’t. “Trans” is a lie. It is a lie as big as the lie that the emperor is wearing clothes. He isn’t wearing clothes. He’s naked. He’s just too arrogant to acknowledge it, and everyone around him is too cowed to say so….

….But that is exactly the goal of gender ideology: to take over our institutions and destroy from within any truth that grounds us to material reality, including biological sex. The entire edifice of “trans” is being driven by a vicious industry whose aim is to literally obliterate the reality of sex. This industry is a loose conglomeration of Big Tech, Big Pharma, medical supply companies, legacy media, and government agencies. I realize this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it isn’t. This industry operates out in the open, from renowned children’s hospitals to legacy newsrooms to the White House itself.

Related to Danksy’s last paragraph are a couple of items of which you might be aware, if you follow these things.

WPATH is the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Last week, it issued revised guidelines for “gender-affirming” healthcare. The basic purpose was to: lower permissible ages for treatments, drive wedges between parents and children, and to be blunt, reduce liability for medical practitioners

Here’s a good summary:

  1. Removal of minimum ages for irreversible medicalisation – The standard does not place any weight on nuanced concern for the welfare and wellbeing of vulnerable children. It does not consider that gender dysphoria is a mental-health symptom and many young people have co-morbidities such as autism and mental-health diagnoses. The guidelines have removed any minimum age limit for a child to be given puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or sex-reassignment surgery (so long as that child has reached ‘Tanner Stage 2’ of puberty, which can be as young as nine years old). Interestingly, minimum ages had been included in the originally published document before these were quickly removed via a ‘correction’ online. The guidelines state that double mastectomies, euphemistically called ‘chest masculinization surgery’, “can be considered in minors”. Equally, ‘vaginoplasty’ may be considered for under 18-year-olds. The guidelines make it clear that there should be no requirement for a child to have taken cross-sex hormones prior to surgery, “if not desired” by a child – emphasising the consumeristic nature of these guidelines. Hormone treatment is recommended even though it can cause infertility
  2. Chest binding and genital tucking for children – Healthcare professionals are instructed to provide education to children on both ‘chest binding’ and ‘genital tucking’, on the basis that this will provide “comfort” and “lower rates of misgendering”. Chest binding can cause pain, infection and even fractures and the tucking can cause decreased sperm concentration.
  3. Alienation of parents – Healthcare professionals are advised to “challenge” parents who are unsupportive of their child medically transitioning. Equally, they are recommended to prescribe hormone treatment for children without parental involvement, if such involvement would be “harmful or unnecessary”.
  4. Focus on irreversible surgery – The guidelines provides a ‘shopping list’ of recommended surgery for children and adults with ‘trans’ identities. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Body contouring
  • Voice surgery
  • Hair transplant
  • Jaw augmentation
  • Liposuction
  • Brow lift
  • Lip shortening
  • Calf implant
  • Mastectomy
  • Hysterectomy
  • Vaginoplasty
  • Phalloplasty
  1. Abandonment of mental-health safeguarding – The guidelines explicitly state that therapy or counselling should “never be mandatory” before prescribing irreversible medication or surgery, including for children. Therapeutic professionals are told that they must not impose their own narratives or preconceptions, yet are also told that they must be “gender affirming”. These principles are fundamentally incompatible.
  2. Disregarding of mental ill-health – Clinicians are advised that not all mental illness “can or should be resolved” prior to prescribing irreversible medication or surgery. The standard recommends that hormone treatment should not be withheld simply because a child has a ‘neurodevelopment condition’.
  3. Eunuchs – A completely new chapter is dedicated to ‘Eunuchs’ who are defined as individuals who are “assigned male at birth and wish to eliminate masculine physical features or genitals”. The guidelines appear to support individuals who seek “castration” and they are now deemed to fall under the “gender diverse umbrella”. From an ethical and therapeutic standpoint, this is deeply concerning.

On this last point, from one of the many Twitter accounts worth following on this:

We really need to understand this – a hyperfocus on children’s sexuality, an assumption that they should be even thinking about it, does, indeed, collapse the boundaries between children and adults.

Also: someday, perhaps, a mass-rising will take place among mental health practitioners who will point out that to say one can only be one’s true self via taking one’s healthy body and subjecting it to surgery, hormonal tricks and life-long medical care ….does not make sense. Maybe.

Of course, you probably know about Matt Walsh’s expose of what’s going on at Vanderbilt. The governor has called for an investigation.

As he summarizes it:

So, let’s review. Vanderbilt got into the gender transition game admittedly in large part because it is very financially profitable. They then threatened any staff members who objected, and enlisted a gang of trans activists to act as surveillance in order to force compliance.

9/26 Update: Here’s a firefwall-free link to a NYTimes article today focusing on “top surgery” – aka double mastectomies – and the question of minors. Not completely balanced, but not completely silent about criticisms, either,

Circling back to some points of which you should be aware, if you are not already.

The goal of this movement is not, despite these horrors, to just codify the medically-transitioned as a new category called “trans.”

It is, self-identification. That is, the conviction that your declaration of your sex (or gender or whatever – it’s confusing) is totally, and absolutely dependent on nothing but your own desires. You say you are a gal and should be allowed in this changing room? Encoding self-identification into law and policy makes that not only possible, but inevitable. With no defense possible, at all.

You do know that you can change your sex-marker on your passport now, without providing any documentation of any medical or even other legal change, right?

You can select the gender marker you would like printed on your U.S. passport. The gender you select does not need to match the gender on your supporting documentation such as a birth certificate, previous passport, or state ID. We no longer require medical documentation to change the gender marker on your U.S. passport.

At this time, you can select male (M), female (F), or unspecified or another gender identity (X) as your gender marker if you are applying for a U.S. passport book and selecting routine service. You can apply in-person at a passport acceptance facility or renew by mail. 

That’s the goal, right there. So that women and girls will have no defense against males in their spaces, whether that be restroom, locker room, shelter or prison.

And on a less serious – but still serious note – so that idiots (or genius trolls – I used to assume he was doing an Ali G, but gender – but I don’t think so…) like this guy can be invited to speak at the “Forbes Power Women’s Summit.”

Mulvaney’s Instagram. He has almost 8 million followers on TikTok.

Here’s some St. Matthew-related things for you:

Here are the symbols of the evangelists from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols:


I have another title in this series coming out next year. Once it’s on the publisher’s website, I’ll clue you in.

Also from Loyola, a Bible study I wrote on Matthew’s account of the Passion.

From B16’s General Audience series on the Apostles.

Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus’ call: “he rose and followed him”. The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew’s readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.

The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.

Jesus once said, mincing no words: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19: 21).

This is exactly what Matthew did: he rose and followed him! In this “he rose”, it is legitimate to read detachment from a sinful situation and at the same time, a conscious attachment to a new, upright life in communion with Jesus.

Lastly, let us remember that the tradition of the ancient Church agrees in attributing to Matthew the paternity of the First Gospel. This had already begun with Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in Frisia, in about the year 130.

He writes: “Matthew set down the words (of the Lord) in the Hebrew tongue and everyone interpreted them as best he could” (in Eusebius of Cesarea, Hist. Eccl. III, 39, 16).

Eusebius, the historian, adds this piece of information: “When Matthew, who had first preached among the Jews, decided also to reach out to other peoples, he wrote down the Gospel he preached in his mother tongue; thus, he sought to put in writing, for those whom he was leaving, what they would be losing with his departure” (ibid., III, 24, 6).

The Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew or Aramaic is no longer extant, but in the Greek Gospel that we possess we still continue to hear, in a certain way, the persuasive voice of the publican Matthew, who, having become an Apostle, continues to proclaim God’s saving mercy to us. And let us listen to St Matthew’s message, meditating upon it ever anew also to learn to stand up and follow Jesus with determination.

As I regularly and tediously remind you, I wrote a study guide to these talks (as well as to his talks on the early Fathers) for OSV. The study guide is available as a free pdf here – it would be a nice, free resource for an adult or even high school catechetical program. The talks are online, this is a free pdf – there you go. No charge.

The pertinent pages:

Here’s the link to the Fathers study guide.

Tuesday Random

A couple of books I have my eye on for either Inter-Library Loan, or if I’m feeling splurgy, actual purchase:

The Mystical Presence of Christ investigates the connections between exceptional experiences of Christ’s presence and ordinary devotion to Christ in the late medieval West. Unsettling the notion that experiences of seeing Christ’s figure or hearing Christ speak are simply exceptional events that happen at singular moments, Richard Kieckhefer reveals the entanglements between these experiences and those that occur through the imagery, language, and rituals of ordinary, everyday devotional culture.

Kieckhefer begins his book by reconsidering the “who” and the “how” of Christ’s mystical presence. He argues that Christ’s humanity and divinity were equally important preconditions for encounters, both exceptional and ordinary, which Kieckhefer proposes as existing on a spectrum of experience that moves from presupposition to intuition and finally to perception. Kieckhefer then examines various contexts of Christ manifestations—during prayer, meditation, and liturgy, for example—with attention to gender dynamics and the relationship between saintly individuals and their hagiographers. Through penetrating discussions of a diverse set of texts and figures across the long fourteenth century (Angela of Foligno, the nuns of Helfta, Margery Kempe, Dorothea of Montau, Meister Eckhart, Henry Suso, and Walter Hilton, among others), Kieckhefer shows that seemingly exceptional manifestations of Christ were also embedded in ordinary religious experience.

Mother of the Lamb tells the remarkable story of a Byzantine image that emerged from the losing side of the Crusades. Called the Virgin of the Passion in the East and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the West, the icon has expanded beyond its Byzantine origins to become one of the most pervasive images of our time. It boasts multiple major shrines on nearly every continent and is reflected in every epoch of art history since its origin, even making an appearance at the Olympics in 2012.

Matthew Milliner first chronicles the story of the icon’s creation and emergence in the immediate aftermath of the Third Crusade, whereupon the icon became a surprising emblem of defeat, its own fame expanding in inverse proportion to Christendom’s political contraction. Originally born as a Christian response to the Christian violence of the Crusades, it marked the moment when Mary’s ministry of suffering love truly began. Having traced the icon’s origin and ubiquity, Milliner teases out the painting’s theological depth, and continues the story of the icon’s evolution and significance from its origins to the present day.

As the story of the icon moves well beyond Byzantine art history, both temporally and thematically, it engages religion, politics, contemporary art, and feminist concerns at once. Always, though, the icon exemplifies dignity in suffering, a lesson that–through this image–Byzantium bequeathed to the wider world.

Links do not go to Amazon, but to publishers’ websites. Obtain them however you wish, if you wish.

And the rabbit hole began with Alan Jacobs’ newsletter, in which you might be interested.

Current super-exciting read, along with another Brian Moore novel. Purchased at the gift shop for the Pecos National Historical Park.

On Beast Academy:

We spent months trying to figure out: What is our delivery mechanism? We had 150 pages of worksheets, and we’re like, “No, this doesn’t work.” And then in one five-minute stretch, someone said comic books, and someone else said monsters. And we got a fantastic artist and started building out the books.

Cold Heaven has got to be the strangest Brian Moore novel I’ve read. Is it the strangest of his novels, period? I’m going to pick “yes,” even though I’ve not read them all. It’s unlike any other his books that I’ve read (probably 7-8 or so).

I’m going to be on a bit of a Moore jag this week, at least early. I’m hungry to read, but in a rather gluttonous all-in-one-sitting way, so Moore – who writes short novels – it is. At least until my hold copy of David Milch’s memoir arrives at the library across the park, hopefully by the end of the week.

I re-read Catholics last night, which is not even a novel – more of a novella – published in a Loyola Classics edition (which I edited) years ago, but you can easily find it online, and you might think about it, especially if you’re one of the thousands who landed here on Monday because of this post. It’s quite pertinent to the present moment, although the tradition vs. New Thing theme is really not, as entertaining and prescient as it is, the point. The point is faith and the loss of it, and operating through and within that loss and absence – which is a frequent, even regular theme for Moore.

As in Cold Heaven. Whew.

As I read this, I thought, this would probably make a good movie – only to discover that it was, indeed, made into a movie thirty years ago, but alas, not a good one. The reviews were bad, the trailer is ridiculous and the synopsis of the film indicates that no one making it really got the point of the novel at all. Which is not surprising. It’s a subtle point, Moore’s perspective is ambiguous and heck, I’m not sure I got the point myself.

I’m going to offer a synopsis, and in doing so, it’s impossible not to spoil the plot a bit. I can’t discuss the themes of the novel without it, folks. So…if you think you might want to read this and don’t want to be spoiled….go away.

Are we all here now? All right. I’ll make this concise.

Marie Davenport and her physician husband are riding a pedal boat off the coast of Nice, when a speedboat collides with them (he’s swimming at the time), he’s seriously hurt and, apparently dies in the hospital.

Except the next morning, Marie is called to the hospital and told, Madame – your husband’s body is gone. Missing. What happened? This part of the book is quite the page turner as the Marie considers and tracks the impossible – that her husband did not die, broke out of the hospital morgue, and somehow managed to get himself back to the United States.

Aside from and really underneath this basic plot are two other elements: Marie has been having an affair with another doctor named Daniel, and had been planning to tell her husband she wanted a divorce the day of the accident. Secondly, a year before the accident, lapsed Catholic and unbeliever Marie had a vision on the California coast, around Carmel – a vision of a young woman, glowing, who identified herself as the Virgin and asked for a shrine to be built on that spot, a vision Marie had, of course, told not a soul about, and which also had been the subject of regular nightmares in the year since.

It gets weirder, as Marie does, indeed, find her husband and sees that his health, as one might expect, is, shall we say, erratic, and in a creepy way, as he seemingly dies and comes back to life…several times.

But this is not just a thriller, as compelling as that element is. It’s an exploration of faith and doubt and, I think, how human beings respond to the challenge, not only of spiritual phenomenon, but the question of the meaning of events and the interconnectedness between them in general.

For Marie, despite being an professed unbeliever, is convinced that what has happened to her husband – and what will happen to him – is connected to her response to the apparition’s request. That is, she comes to regard the accident (occurring a year to the day from the apparition) as a punishment for her disobedience. She begins to think that “they” – spiritual forces, I suppose – are pulling her into circumstances in which she really has no choice but to go public about the apparition, and that if she resists, her husband will die (which would make her a murderer of sorts) or be in ill health (which would make her leaving him…awkward).

But she doesn’t want to do this, not only because she doesn’t want to believe it’s really real, but because it would require her to simply be honest about her life.

As I said, it’s a strange, although compelling book. The mystery of both the apparition and Davenport’s condition certainly pull you along, but given the fact that our third-person narrator places us within Marie’s tortured spirit most of the time, it seemed to me it was her questions and agony which merited my attention most of all.

Marie is a professed unbeliever, but she still believes. Just like most professed unbelievers believe in something. She believes that there are forces restricting her freedom – even though one of the priests she consults assures her that miracles are not given to us to compel us to belief. Nonetheless, Marie is tight in the grip of a conviction that the course of earthly events is determined by her obedience to some kind of mandate from on high.

So what is Moore saying here, through Marie? Is he saying that this is the leftover impact of religious belief, individually, and socially – a kind of fearful superstition? Or that it’s actually the guts and core of religious belief, no matter how much “Christian freedom” we like to think we have? Or is it simply Marie’s guilt at work here? She’s making choices – to leave her husband – and she doesn’t want to take responsibility for that, so she fabricates a spirit world that is actually in control of events?

Or is Cold Heaven simply about the strangeness of life and the mystery of the connections between events and our openness to seeing those connections?

It’s pretty bizarre, but also meaty and thought-provoking.

Too bad they clearly botched the movie…..


Statues – at least commemorative, memorializing statuary – is difficult for the modern world, and understandably so. I’m not big on it myself. The inevitability of fallen idols and all that.

Nonetheless, we still want to commemorate, and sometimes two dimensions does not seem enough. A couple recent examples of statues that, I think, work – one seen on a recent trip and another still in the proposal state:

The statue of James Meredith, the first African-American admitted to the University of Mississippi, which I saw a few weeks ago on my way to New Mexico.

Of course, there’s been controversy, including questions from Meredith himself, but I think it works and communicates effectively and in a quietly powerful way.

I learned about this statue of Mary Wollstonecraft via the Ovarit message board a few weeks ago, and I find it very striking.

The sculptor’s explanation:

As a woman, it made sense to me that she had been interrupted from her work – she’d been sitting on the bench writing and reading when the visitor from Porlock appears. I preserved from Martin’s maquette her look of defiance/self-possession, but I also wanted to find a way to create a sense of immanence. This quality had been brought up by a friend about Wollstonecraft. She has risen from the bench, but knows her books have been brushed by her movement, so she is both moving forwards and reaching back simultaneously. Multi-tasking. 

She was a writer, so it was essential to keep the quill in her hand for the strong message. Generally, props are bad for sculpture, so one tries to reduce them to a minimum. ‘Costume’ is a prop too – that is the difference between sculpture and Madame Tussaud’s – so although her clothes conform to the period, they aren’t costume. They’re drapery. Drapery has a specific and complex role in figurative art: it is used to create movement, compositional ‘framing’, suggest anatomy, even thought. There has always been abstract art – it’s right there in the two thousand year-old tradition of drapery. 

Nonetheless, I stuck her in my own dressing gown (cf Balzac and Hogarth) that meets the style of the period, as writing in the eighteenth century without central heating was a cold profession, and I wanted to distinguish between a portrayal of her really doing her job and the portrayals (all by men) of Wollstonecraft sitting for posh portraits. The dressing gown also contributed to completing the pyramidal composition and solved a problem in the competition maquette where her dress imbalances the quote inscribed on the bench: it meant I could reduce the dress on the tight side and lift the dressing gown end up behind the bench to preserve the pyramid. I wanted to do that because of my belief that her quote – what she actually wrote – should be prioritised compositionally. The complexity of drapery at the back of the sculpture, for me, mirrors her thought.

Good compositional sculpture is incredibly demanding: it must work from all angles – in the round – and pull the viewer to move. The drapery helped with this, as well as uniting the vertical figure with the horizontal architectural axis of the bench – cf. the curved sweep at her front. The whole mass, even in the details, is a rhythm of pyramids. Pyramids focus energy: at the centre of the pyramids is the quill: the act of human agency. 

Now. Let’s compare that to the competition-winning statue called “A Statue for Mary Wollstonecraft” erected in 2020.

So this new proposal (the first I cited) has been crowdfunded and created based on the runner-up design to this “winner.” You might disagree, but I find the newer proposal really beautiful and evocative – a fine representation of a woman, her personality and her contributions – rather than something that would undoubtedly make the honoree herself uncomfortable, to say the least.

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