It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Gwyneth Paltrow wants to sell you something

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

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On Thursday, we reported that Cardinal Cupich of Chicago wrote to Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila last week to express “a number of concerns” with an essay Aquila wrote in America magazine on Eucharistic coherence last week.

Apparently after he received the cardinal’s letter, Aquila wrote a second essay explaining his explanation of the Church’s sacramental teaching, and noting that a bishop had written to him, but the archbishop did not indicate who his correspondent was, and did not comment on our look into the matter. 

With the USCCB set to debate a proposed document on Eucharistic coherence in June, the Cupich-Aquila exchange may prove an interesting glimpse of what’s to come.

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We also reported on the coronavirus situation at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the university well-known to be at the center of much in American Catholic life. University administration declined an offer from local public health authorities to set up a vaccination site on campus, shortly before cases on campus spiked sharply, to what the school president called an “unsustainable” level.

Some faculty members told us there has been trouble coming up with, and enforcing, a coherent COVID strategy on campus, with some members of the community opposed to both masks and vaccines. We reported on the story because it fits some broader trends within the Church about the way perspectives on the coronavirus have occasioned — or revealed — some divides in the ecclesial landscape.

Heading back to Chicago: There’s been another development in the ongoing case of Fr. Michael Pfleger and his former parish of St. Sabina. According to Cardinal Cupich, members of parish leadership have been organizing tactics of “intimidate” members of the archdiocese’s Independent Review Board charged with looking into accusation of sexual abuse against Pfleger.

Cupich also said that there had been a coordinated effort to flood phone lines dedicated to taking calls from victims of abuse and from law enforcement. He told the current parish administrator that he was considering turning the whole investigation over to another diocese and that “there will be no further warnings” about similar behavior from the parish.

Also this week, the USCCB issued a statement on the Biden administration’s Friday announcement that it would not raise the refugee cap for the remainder of the current financial year, despite having pledged to do so.

But the statement came days after the administration had already changed its plans. I took a look at what might be hampering the USCCB’s comms department.

And finally, Villanova University’s law school is having an all-day conference on “the Biden effect” on American Catholicism. It’s a very interesting line-up of speakers, and I am going to be dipping in and out as the day allows. If you have time, the must-see-TV portion of the day is probably going to be my friend Stephen White at 12.30.

In addition to being a fellow at the EPPC (apparently I’m the only one who isn’t, these days) Stephen runs the Catholic Project at Catholic University here in Washington, and I have a lot - a lot - of time for the work they are trying to do. Watch if you can.

It’s the end of the world…

If you spent yesterday anywhere near a computer or a smartphone, you probably noticed that it was Earth Day. Sparing us all a debate about anthropogenic climate change, and the science for and against it, it is worth noting that the care of our common home is a cause near and dear to the heart of Pope Francis, and was, of course, the subject of his encyclical Laudato si. 

The throwaway culture consistently lamented by the pope is, indeed, a real and tragic hallmark of our age, and a moral, economic, and ecological mess.  

It is, then, all the more unfortunate that the basic idea of caring for the planet, stewarding creation in line with the Genesis narrative, and husbanding the inheritance of our children, should have become so overrun with faddery and factionalism.

Here in Washington, demonstrators tipped out wheelbarrows of manure as close to the White House as they could get, before forming a drum circle around their dung pile, in protest of promises from the Biden administration’s to reduce emissions, which the demonstrators, rather demonstratively, called “bullshit.” 

I am not sure what they hoped to achieve by the stunt, apart from proving that at the center of every drum circle is a big pile of crap. 

And, of course, to make work for the people who had to clean the spectacle up, after the demonstrators, I assume, walked back to the zero-carbon yurts in which they live on a diet of mung beans and performative indignation.

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...But she feels fine

Another Earth Day piece of performance art which crossed my screen was an ironic viral ad for a new venture selling toilet paper made from bamboo instead of wood, marketed as a means of limiting deforestation. 

After the year we just had, I would have thought there was a more obvious pitch for diversifying our bath tissue supply lines, but I don’t run a hipster marketing company, so what do I know? 

Nevertheless, I took a second to look into the company, and discovered that one of its more famous backers is Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress, activist (I just assume), and foundress of Goop, an online shop/lifestyle blog/Netflix series/new age spirituality through which she sells extreme scented candles and the Californian catechism of “self-care.”

Now, full disclosure: I bumped into Gwen once, many years ago, when I was living in London. She crashed into me coming around the bend of a pedestrian tunnel under Blackfriars Bridge on the South Bank. To be honest, it was all her fault. But, being then a well-brought up young man, I reflexively apologized. She, being an actress from California, did not. Make of that anecdote what you like.

Noted minimalist Gwyneth Paltrow wears: G. LABEL STELLA ORGANIC COTTON SHORT-SLEEVE CREWNECK T-SHIRT, goop, $145; CARTIER PANTHÈRE NECKLACE, Cartier, price upon request; G. LABEL MAVERICK STRAIGHT-LEG JEANS, goop, $295 /Image from Goop.com

Anyway, I do not know if the world really is about to end because of climate change, but, I assure you, five minutes on the Goop website will make you wish it would. 

Apart from the high-price yoga mats and recipes for cannabis-spiked cocktails, Goop’s “curators” have thoughtfully put together a Mother’s Day gift recommendation list. It includes the usual minimalist’s essentials, like $500 sweaters of the kind you can pick up at any decent Walmart, and a $300 canvas bag which promises to “fit your whole life.” 

Alarmingly, the Mother’s Day gift list also includes a rather pricey item called the “Womanizer Premium” — a sex toy.

Leaving aside the terrifying Oedipal nightmares who are, apparently, Ms. Paltrow’s target demographic, there’s a wider point to be made here about the mentality which underpins our throwaway culture. 

Despite being as publicly “green” and “sustainable” as it’s possible to be, the good life that Goop is selling boils down to material self-indulgence: designer labels, self-abusive self-pleasure, booze, drugs, and a bit of exercise thrown in to substitute for virtue.

It is a philosophy of ever-so-mindful egocentricity with a very high-end gift shop; try building a society around that.

Care for our common home, if it is ever going to be a common human endeavor, is not going to be built on a philosophy of materialism. It needs the kind of self-denying love which understands that seeking the good of the other is the foundation of authentic human relationships. It needs Christ, and Christian families who live open to life, not just their own, and not just for now, but for future generations. 

It needs, above all, a witness to love of neighbor, not of things, and not of self. 

I may try writing that on a yoga mat and selling it.

See you next week, if the world doesn’t end.

Ed. Condon

Editor

The Pillar