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Friday, January 27, 2017

We Got Our Dream Finals

At odds that the bookmakers place at 5000-1, the men's and women's singles brackets at the Australian Open feature Venus and Serena Williams, and the men's final is Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal. Are we sure it's 2017?

You may not realize that elder sister Venus has been fighting an autoimmune disease for several years. Also, she's 36. Tennis is not kind at the highest professional level to people in their 30s. Serena, of course, is 35 herself. She will regain the number 1 world ranking if she beats Venus.

I suppose the men are aged also. Federer is 35, playing his first tournament in six months, recovering from a knee injury. Now, there are no points for nostalgia in the tennis rankings; it is little more than a rolling 52-week average of results. So Federer--despite being regarded as one of the four best on the planet even at this moment--has fallen to number 17.

Nadal, meanwhile, has had a terrible couple of years. It was so bad that many thought he was done. I have been writing tributes myself. Not so fast. Nadal is 30 himself.

So this Saturday will seem like a trip in a time machine to 2006. If you can set the DVR, it'll be worth it. The women play Saturday at 2 AM Central time; the men play Sunday at 2 AM Central time.

A Correction

A previous post stated that Rafael Nadal was 33-10 head-to-head against Roger Federer. In reality, he is 23-11. We regret the error. [I don't.--ed.]

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rafael Nadal: A True Champion

The 14-time major tennis champion (3 fewer than all-time leader Federer) has 9 French Open titles. Nine. Now he strolls into a semifinal match at the Australian Open, needing one win to play for the title against his nemesis and counterpart, Federer. If we can say that one legend "owns" another legend, we should say it in this case, because Nadal has beaten Federer 33 out of 43 matches between them.

It will be a battle for the ages if it happens, a contest between two gentlemen ambassadors for the sport. You could easily make an argument that Nadal is the greatest player of all time, owning his native clay courts, and learning to best the great Federer on the others. And here he is still, hoping to add to his legend.

Yet we return to Federer, who endured Nadal's lengthy challenge to his supremacy, and then could argue that he alone consistently threatened the rise of Djokovic, as Djokovic collected 12 major titles of his own. And here we are again.

So tennis is set to reprise its own version of Ali-Frazier, though Nadal can make a strong case to be in the role of Ali. We can't say it's just like old times, because these guys never left. The two oldest members of what fans call the "Big Four" may well be primed to battle again. You could be forgiven for thinking it's 2007, instead of 2017.

Either way, let's enjoy ourselves.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Case Of Flawed Reasoning

I have a friend who complained about the re-instatement of the "Mexico City Policy," a prohibition against the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions internationally. (We have a similar policy domestically: the Hyde Amendment.) Presumably because some of the groups that will now lose funding also do other things of which he heartily approves, he added, "This [policy] will actually increase abortions. It would be funny, if it weren't so sad." The argument goes thusly: why not support oral contraceptives and other services provided by these now-disfavored groups, if I really want fewer abortions?

The plainest answer: I don't want fewer abortions; I want none.

Let us assume for a moment that the basic anthropology offered by the Catholic Church is correct; abortion and contraception are contrary to humanity's purpose and destiny. Let us further assume that I am a Catholic politician. My understanding of my obligation as a legislator and a Catholic is that I may work incrementally, permitting moral evil, provided that I have no other good option, and that I make clear what I am doing, and that the present state is not morally acceptable.

I have no obligation to cooperate even remotely in evil. I would be happy to cooperate in a more general sense, when moral obligations are not at stake. It is usually at this point that an objection is raised: Religion is being imposed! More than that, we are a pluralistic society.

This objection mistakes advocacy for imposition; it also assumes that the multiplicity of value systems implies that no one is correct. Tolerance is meant to serve peace and solidarity; pluralism is not a virtue in itself.

I regard this latest change in policy as a good one. We may have to do other things to make the horror of abortion less likely. If we fail, through callousness or imprudence, the fault is ours. But we never will serve the greater good by doing evil.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Stay With Me Here

I just taught the RCIA class for the church in the neighborhood, [The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the church of His Excellency, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson? That one?--ed.] and fair enough, this parish church is pretty notable. But we talked about the "Last Things"--death, judgment, resurrection, Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell--and it got me thinking. Always dangerous, I know. If I think about "faithfulness to the end" or however we like to say it, it's too big. It's too big, and I'm too small. But if I start with right now--and think of all the truth you can pack into a moment, a thought--Jesus loves me and died for me, the Father wants me for His child, the Holy Spirit is my Helper and Teacher, now we're on to something. Granted, I may die before I finish this post. But more than likely, life will go on, and I will face the reality of my weakness and sin. The great challenge of the spiritual life may be the more obvious pride: "I have no faults! I am wonderful! Everyone should know this!" or something much more subtle: "I am dirt, and worse than dirt. No one should love me, or forgive me anything, least of all God." In either case, we are wrong.

The shadows of our sins discourage us, but in the end, they are shadows. If we have any strength in this moment, any encouragement, let's give thanks to God, because the love that calls us upward to Him has never dimmed. Even in the darkness of sin. True, error may threaten to keep us from knowing it, but that truth will not be altered. We only hope and pray for hearts open to receive that love. And to do whatever He asks in order to be reconciled. As long as we tell the truth, and let God tell the truth about us, there is nothing to fear from speaking of the tenderness of God.

The glory of the saints is that they turned their entire lives into an extended moment of walking in the light of Christ, of basking in God's tenderness and mercy.