Fish Creek Canyon, Neuhaus, etc.

The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.

Theodore Roosevelt


Cactus with some personality on the east slope of Superstition Mountain

The mighty hand of Providence can bring a man to Phoenix.

I passed through the Jubilee-Year holy door in the cathedral of SS. Simon and Jude, prayed for the pope’s intentions, and thought of you, dear reader.

Believe it or not, one of the main reasons for the trip: informal ecumenical dialogue with the Laestadian Lutherans.  (Devout Finnish followers of sola scriptura.)  We wound up dialoging on the surprising subject of: spacing births within marriage!

But first:  a view from the rugged Echo Canyon ascent of Camelback Mountain, looking north at Piestewa Peak, with part of northeast Phoenix in between:


…Now, we agree with our brothers the Laestadians on the Incarnation and the Trinity, of course.  We also agree that our doctrine regarding marriage and family must come from the New Testament.  And we agree that using artificial contraception offends God.

Pope Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae that spacing births, by practicing periodic abstinence, does not violate divine law.  “Be fruitful and multiply,” to be sure.  But couples may agree, with a good reason, to refrain for a time.

A Laestadian preacher recently preached on I Corintians 7:1-6.  He offered guidance very much like Pope Paul’s.  Turns out:  The idea that couples have the prerogative to abstain periodically by mutual agreement proved quite controversial among the Laestadians.

I found myself thoroughly fascinated by this.  May God be glorified when brother Christians can share insights!

Meanwhile, I learned that the population of the world can be divided into those who have driven the Apache Trail east of Phoenix, and those who should.

But first: here’s Weaver’s Needle as seen from Fremont Saddle in the Superstition Wilderness:


(I have to hand it to these new-fangled smartphones.  They can take some nice pictures.)

Before I left Roanoke, an Iroquois friend told me to look for a feather during my hikes in Apache territory.  I have yet to find one.

But, in the depths of my silent solitude–the last hiker on Peralta trail before nightfall, with the company only of birds–I heard voices on the wind.  Could not make out the words.  But the meaning was clear:  encouragement.  Keep it up!  –Thank you.  I will try.

I also had the opportunity to ride the Phoenix Valley Metro in its entirety.  Very reminiscent of the Denver light rail.

On my way to a Colorado Rockies game in the summer of ’10, I had to laugh at the attitude being copped by the young Denver toughs getting on their “Metro,” as if they were cholos hopping a Bronx-bound D train.  Same thing happened here in Phoenix.

To an easterner with experience on the New York and Washington subways, these western mass-transit contraptions look like dinky monorails, fit for Disneyland.

Anyway:  the Apache Trail, which Teddy Roosevelt so eloquently elegized…


What glories God has made!

No offense to geologists and evolutionary biologists, but:  The idea that “billions of years of water and wind” have given us the spectacle of Horse Mesa, Four Peaks, and Buckhorn Mountain rising above the Salt-River dam that forms Apache Lake…?  That idea is considerably less intelligible than the idea that God made these things.  Just like the idea that billions of iterations of ‘survival of the fittest’ made the desert cardinals:  considerably less intelligible than the idea that God made them.

Here’s an old postcard:

Apache Trail postcard

(After all, no one has ever successfully measured the work of wind and water over the course of even a thousand years, or the work of ‘survival of the fittest’ over even a thousand generations.  Therefore, speculating about billions and gazillions of chippings away, or tiny evolutionary steps, has no more real precise intellectual content than simply affirming that God did these things.  Considerably less precise intellectual content, in fact.)

The driving on Rt. 88 is not for the faint-of-heart.  Plus, for 20+ miles, there’s no pavement.  Makes you reflect that many an Apache passed this way and meditated on himself as a quintessence of dust.  But: make the drive anyway!

Okay, speaking of church controversies…

According to Kathleen Kaveny, right-wing Catholics hate Pope Francis for “sowing division” in the Church.  (Long-time readers here will remember how much we have admired Kaveny’s work in the past.)

neuhausWrong, she says.  It’s not Pope Francis’ fault.  The real villain, truly guilty of dividing God’s Church, is–RIP–Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, founding editor of First Things magazine.  Fr. Neuhaus, Kaveny maintains, gave us a distorted “neo-conservative” version of St. John Paul II.

To try to make this odd point, Kaveny proposes arguments with which Fr. Neuhaus not only would agree, but which he would himself make more precisely and beautifully than Kaveny makes them.  Fr. Neuhaus no doubt would laugh out loud at the idea that Commonweal has posthumously named him as some weird kind of antipope.

R.R. Reno has written a response to Kaveny.  I relate, since I spent the whole latter part of the 90’s reading First Things with nearly desperate enthusiasm.

Reno says that Fr. Neuhaus made First Things not a politically conservative magazine, but a theologically post-liberal magazine.  Meaning:  Our age is not the age of definitive discovery.  Tradition holds wisdom, often hidden below the surface.  Instead of doubting the Fathers, let’s doubt the findings of 19th-and 20th-century theology instead.

Amen to all that.  Nothing particularly “divisive” about it, nor retrograde.  St. John Paul II, who suffered through Nazism and communism, loved living through the 20th century anyway.  JP II embraced everything that Vatican II embraced.  But the saint pope never thought that now, this age, offers us the one-and-only opportunity for understanding stuff.

Also, re: politics, Neuhaus, and my personal journey through the 90’s…  When you embrace the pro-life movement, especially at a young age, you look first and foremost for a way to vote pro-life.

You don’t look for ways to make pro-Roe v. Wade candidates seem palatable on other grounds.  Nor do you patiently wait while supposedly pro-life conservatives babble on about non-issues ad nauseam, while the innocent and defenseless unborn still have no legal protection.  And you wind up having a hard time knowing for whom to vote.  But Roe v. Wade for/against has to decide it.

Anyway, Kaveny’s fundamental point seems to be that we Catholics must be loyal, above all, to each other.

Have pro-life bishops unfairly anathematized Catholic Democrats?  Maybe.  But, if they have, that particular right-wing conspiracy doesn’t seem to have done much damage to the Democratic party.

Cam Newton PanthersCatholic tribal loyalty:  Yes.  But mindless tribal loyalty:  No.

The tribe that looked mindless to me and most of my seminary mates in the late 90’s, was, in fact, the Democrats of the northeast, post Roe v. Wade.  Unfair anathematizations?  Our generation experienced those from our Boston-Democrat professors on a weekly basis.  First Things came to us then as a balm in Gilead.


A day arrived when Neuhaus and Co. did not make sense.  Early 2003.

The aforementioned saint-pope sent a Cardinal to the White House.  The Holy See begged, pled, tried everything to talk W. out of it.  All sound reasoning from Catholic principles prohibited our starting a war with Saddam Hussein.  But First Things rationalized it.

Politics sucks.  No one can judge rightly every time, in this vale.  Fr. Neuhaus strove to penetrate as close to the truth as his amazing mind allowed.  He does not deserve Kaveny’s odd broadside attack.

That said, we will all face plenty of purgatory time for our culpable lapses in judgment.  W. made a bad decision.  First Things struck up some music for the bandwagon.  Fr. Neuhaus sided with the wrong tribe that time.  I, for one, had to go looking for balm in Gilead somewhere else.

(But a kind reader here has ordered your humble servant a First Things subscription, and I am grateful!)

…In the Valley of the Sun, everyone’s rooting for the Broncos.  Not because they like them.  But because of being bitter over the Cardinals’ stinging defeat at the hands of Cam and the Panthers.

This particular pilgrim, however, will be rooting for the Carolina boys.


One thought on “Fish Creek Canyon, Neuhaus, etc.

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