The Corner


William F. Buckley Jr.’s Enduring, Palpable Presence and Guidance

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

I just got back from Rome a few days ago and confess to being totally envious that I missed the rare snowfall there yesterday. The photos inspire gratitude for the beauty of creation in the best of William F. Buckley Jr. ways. How he loved beauty — the love of sailing, the love of God, the appreciation for freedom and man’s need for it, which would bring forth excellence and obedience, too, to the Divine gift giver.

As you may have noticed, today is the tenth anniversary of Bill’s death, which seems impossible to believe on one hand. But I remember the call with the news, breaking the news online, and the stories that poured in as a result. So many people had so many beautiful stories to tell about him and his impact on their lives. How he influenced their careers — including religious vocations. How he was a fatherly presence in their lives, even from a weekly TV screen. You can read some of the reader tributes that came in in the days after his death here.

Today I started the day at St. Francis Assisi Church over by Penn Station. I don’t remember Bill ever talking about having been there, but it wasn’t far from the traditional National Review area, so it’s possible. The first reading today is from Isaiah and is a nice rejoinder to yesterday’s white-covered Eternal City:

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Come now, let us set things right,
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
If you are willing, and obey,
you shall eat the good things of the land;
But if you refuse and resist,
the sword shall consume you:
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!

After Mass, I couldn’t help but be drawn to WFB’s Nearer, My God on my Kindle. And this, at the end of chapter ten:

We do not abandon reason, we merely recognize its limitations. We reason to the existence of God, it is revealed to us that His Son was the incarnation, and that such was His love of us that He endured a torture excruciating in pain, and unique in aspect — the God of hosts, mutilated by His own creatures, whom He dies forgiving, loving. Can we do less? Yes, we do less, but we must try to do more, until we die.

And, so it is. For every reflection on the future of conservatism, WFB seems to redirect the attention to gratitude, Beatitudes . . . what matters most.

As he put it in one speech:

We cannot repay in kind the gift of the Beatitudes, with their eternal, searing meaning — Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But our ongoing failure to recognize that we owe a huge debt that can be requited only by gratitude — defined here as appreciation, however rendered, of the best that we have, and a determined effort to protect and cherish it — our failure here marks us as the masses in revolt; in revolt against our benefactors, our civilization, against God himself.

To fail to experience gratitude when walking through the corridors of the Metropolitan Museum, when listening to the music of Bach or Beethoven, when exercising our freedom to speak or, as happened to us three weeks ago, to give, or withhold, our assent, is to fail to recognize how much we have received from the great wellsprings of human talent and concern that gave us Shakespeare, Abraham, Lincoln, Mark Twain, our parents, our friends, and, yes, the old lady in Stratford. We need a rebirth of gratitude for those who have cared for us, living and, mostly, dead. The high moments of our way of life are their gifts to us. We must remember them in our thoughts and prayers; and in our deeds.

When Bill died ten years ago, George Weigel immediately described him as among the top five of the “most publicly consequential American Catholic[s] of the 20th century.” As we think about the future, perhaps bewildered by the present, WFB is not just a polemicist from years past, but a guide to being better.

Today we’ve republished WFB’s cover essay on his pilgrimage to Lourdes, the Marian apparition site in France that has been a source of healing for many. He writes, in words I never tire of reading:

They are in Lourdes because of this palpability of the emanations that gave birth to the shrine. The spiritual tonic is felt. If it were otherwise, the pilgrims would diminish in number, would, by now, have disappeared, as at Delphos, which one visits as a museum, not a shrine. What it is that fetches them is I think quite simply stated, namely a reinforced conviction that the Lord God loves His creatures, healthy or infirm; that they — we — must understand the nature of love, which is salvific in its powers; and that although we are free to attempt to divine God’s purpose, we will never succeed in doing so. The reason is that we cannot know (the manifest contradictions are too disturbing) what is the purpose behind particular phenomena and therefore must make do with only the grandest plan of God, which treats with eternal salvation. To keep the faith: To do this (the grammar of assent) requires the discipline of submission, some assurance that those who are stricken can, even so, be happy; and that the greatest tonic of all is divine love, which is nourished by human love, even as human love is nourished by divine love.

(You can read the full essay here.)

The idea that we’re created, and that’s good. That’s not a given these days. And it could help a lot.

When we’re reflecting on where America goes from where we are today, WFB’s 1979 “What Americanism Seeks to Be” isn’t a bad place to start. He talks about how the U.S. comes “out of a long, empirical journey, the eternal spark of which, of course, traces to Bethlehem, to that star that magnified man beyond any power of the emperors and gold seekers and legions of soldiers and slaves: a star that implanted in each one of us that essence that separates us from the beasts, and tells us that we were made in the image of God and were meant to be free.”

And also, this, which Ed Feulner highlights today:

While he was reluctant to provide a final definition of conservatism, he offered himself as a definition, admitting he was dependent on human freedom, not as an end, but as a means — to “live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.”

Those of us who pray continue to pray for WFB’s eternal rest. And that, perhaps, he might be in the position to intercede for us as we try to find our way in current realities. Because “we must try to do more, until we die.”

(A little more on WFB and faith here.)




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