Egg Stand, Anniversary, Williams Ephs, and America

VMFA egg stand

Granted, the desire to spend an hour in a museum, gazing at 18th- and 19th-century English silver table settings, qualifies as a highly unusual mood.  But if such a mood never overcomes you, when will you ever encounter an egg stand like this one?

I experienced just such a mood yesterday afternoon, during a brief sojourn in Richmond.  The Gans Collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts also includes this exquisite chalice from the 15th century:

VMFA chalice

…Speaking of lifting up the cup of salvation and calling on the name of the Lord:  fifteen years ago yesterday, St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, a lot of other people, and I all took part in Holy Mass at St. Peter’s Square together.


We Washington seminarians had traveled with new-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s consistory pilgrims.

John Paul created Jorge Bergoglio a Cardinal at the same consistory.

I think it’s safe to say that, on that day, only the Lord knew how new-Cardinal Bergoglio would one day become Pope Francis.

Ad multos annos, Holy Father!

…A tempest has erupted in the teapot of one of my alma maters.  Williams College rescinded a speaking invitation, and the campus free-speech fighters of the world find themselves up in arms.

The speaker has published his canceled talk on-line.  The man may very well be a hate-filled bigot.  But the talk he has published does not give evidence of that, and it raises questions that I myself have often wondered about.

What does “being American” mean?  Derbyshire eliminates the possibility that American identity arises solely from agreement about particular ideas.  He shows that even the Founders did not envision it that way.  They believed in common English ancestry among American “patriots” (even though that belief was, in fact, inaccurate.)

In my own personal reflections on the question, I have come to the conclusion that the only genuinely distinguishing factor we can use for “American” is the land itself.  If we live in the United States of America, if we exercise our social nature as human beings on this particular expanse of earth, then we are Americans.  (And, of course, we owe each other–everyone with whom we share our beloved land–respect, good will, and mutual support.)

If you have been reading this little weblog a long time, you know that one of my “issues” is:  I don’t find much use in ideas like Church/state separation and the First-Amendment religion clause.

I think the early-21st-century “crisis of identity” is far too profound for such ideas.  The dream of “American freedom of religion,” when removed from the far-deeper foundation of belonging to the Christian Church, does not have any content.

I think the dream of American freedom and individual autonomy has become a dangerous chimera, in fact.  Imagining that I can serve as an ultimate authority on moral and religious matters only cuts me off from the basic elements of human identity.  Because I belong–to a family, to the family of God–I can know how to live a decent life.  Without that belonging, I’m lost.  And that belonging comes at the price of my autonomy–there is no way to get around that.

I don’t know if Donald Trump is a Christian or not.  I don’t consider it any of my business.  (I continue to think that his immigration-policy proposals fall well beneath the loving kindness that Christian solidarity with our neighbors demands.)

Also, I certainly do not consider it any of my business to judge whether or not Pope Francis should accuse Mr. Trump of neglecting Christianity.

But this much I will say:  The idea that no one has the right to declare whether or not I am a Christian, other than me:  that idea sounds like the dream of “American religious freedom.”  Thank God it isn’t true.

No prelate should lightly proclaim that any individual abides outside the flock of Christ.  But: a world in which no shepherd has the authority to make such a declaration is a world of hopeless isolation.  It is a world in which the one “identity” we all need–redeemed children of God–has been lost.  Because we become redeemed children of God precisely by becoming members of His Church.  The only known means of divine adoption is:  Holy Baptism, according to the rite of the Church.

This is a fact I think we have to face:  To be the Americans we want and need to be–that is, loving and responsible social animals in our beloved land–we need to belong to the Church first.  And belonging to the Church means that we submit to authority.  We submit to authority precisely in matters that pertain to my most-intimate relationship with my Creator.

Which means that the late-20th-century American ideal of individual religious self-determination is simply impossible.

“Roadside” by Stephen Fox

Mesmerizing oil painting, tucked in a little hallway on the second floor of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, next to the bust of Benjamin Franklin at the entrance to the American galleries.

Easy to miss, in other words–unless you use the glass elevator. But don’t miss it, if you find yourself anywhere within a hundred miles of it.

Beautiful Richmond Painting of the Day

…Beautiful prayer of the day (consecration of holy Chrism):

God our maker, source of all growth in holiness, accept the joyful thanks and praise we offer in the name of Your Church. In the beginning, at Your command, the earth produced fruit-bearing trees. From the fruit of the olive tree you have provided us with oil for holy chrism. The prophet David sang of the life and joy that the oil would bring us in the sacraments of Your love.

After the avenging flood, the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch announced Your gift of peace. This was a sign of a greater gift to come. Now the waters of baptism wash away the sins of men, and by the anointing with olive oil You make us radiant with Your joy. At Your command, Aaron was washed with water and Your servant Moses, his brother, anointed him Priest. This, too, foreshadowed greater things to come. After Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, asked John for baptism in the waters of the Jordan, You sent the Spirit upon Him in the form of a dove and by the witness of Your own voice You declared Him to be Your only, well-beloved Son. In this You clearly fulfilled the prophecy of David, that Christ should be anointed with the oil of gladness beyond His fellow men.

And so Father, we ask You to bless + this oil You have created. Fill it with the power of Your Holy Spirit through Christ Your Son. It is from Him that chrism takes its name, and with chrism You have anointed for Yourself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs.
Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism. Wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam, and when they are anointed with this holy oil make them temples of Your glory, radiant with the
goodness of life that has its source in You. Through the sign of chrism grant them royal, priestly, and prophetic honor, and clothe them with incorruption. Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit. May
they come to share eternal life in the glory of Your Kingdom. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Baptized people are anointed with Chrism to be confirmed. Men’s hands are anointed with Chrism to become priests. Altars are anointed with Chrism to be consecrated.

Relics on the James

To all the FFVs* of Richmond:

I have “five under the ground” in the most beautiful city in the western hemisphere. I bow to no man in the realm of cosmopolitan patrimony. But your town has some excellent things. I can see why you regard it as the center of the cosmos.

I would have much more to present here, dear reader, if only the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ website were not so impossibly bad.

Does the Kreuser collection of Art Nouveau belt buckles make Richmond the most excellent repository on earth? Just about.

* “First Families of Virginia.” At West Point in the 1840’s, the FFVs considered Stonewall Jackson a hillbilly beneath their notice, since he grew up in the Ohio River basin.