Two Popes, Nehemiah,  & Walls

Overlooked in the flurry of objections to this year’s Vatican crèche is what the installation indicates about the personal—not to say profane—ambition of our current pope. Jorge Bergoglio is in a posthumous contest with Karol Wojtyla for a papal legacy. On October 16, 2002, John Paul II left his mark on the rosary, adding five more decades—the Luminous Mysteries—to a beloved devotion untouched for eight hundred years. Now comes Francis I to stamp his identity on the eight hundred year old crèche, rebranding it as a marketing tool for his trademark promotion of limitless migration and open borders. Continue Reading
A Plea For No Christmas Letters

The holiday has been put away. The wreath is turning brown. Town Christmas tree pick-up began last week. It is time to head to the Met to buy next year’s cards at half-price in the museum store. The general run of  contemporary Christmas mailings ranks low on any measure of cultural exchange. It is not nostalgia that sends me hunting for cards with older images. It is the clear, transparent fact that the graphics of a previous generation addressed themselves to the eye—and the spirit—with an intelligence that is fast disappearing from our sensibilities. Continue Reading
The Obamas' Portraits & Identity Politics

At the end of each presidency the Smithsonian commissions an official portrait of the outgoing royals for the National Portrait Gallery. Museum curators advise, suggesting names to suit the sensibility and self-image of the couple. Barack and Michelle Obama have each selected their individual immortalizers. Kehinde Wiley will collaborate with the former president on his own iconography. Amy Sherald will work with the former first lady on hers. Final commentary awaits delivery of the finished products. Meantime, there are things to be learned by looking at the signature styles that brought Mr. Continue Reading
The Vatican's Social Justice Créche

Joy to the world and a lump of coal in your bourgeois stocking. That is the mixed message of this year’s updated créche in St. Peter’s Square. Admonitory additions to the traditional créche illustrate Orwell’s contention that all art is propaganda. He did not have the ancient manger scene in mind, but he might as well have. Right-thinking Vatican set designers appear intent on proving him correct. And exhibiting their own high moral conscience at the same time. A polemic in disguise, this year’s installation is a leaden tutorial from earnest men with stern expressions and furrowed brows. Continue Reading
The Lord's Prayer: Guardini vs Bergoglio

Did The Lord’s Prayer need revision? Have we had it wrong all these centuries? Pope Francis thinks so. He announced last week that he is blue-penciling the Our Father. By Francis’ lights, that ancient Matthean phrase “Lead us not into temptation” needs correction. It has been misleading from the get-go. The wording ought to go more like like this: “do not let us fall into temptation.” Francis explained:
It is I who fall, it is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell.
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