Michael Novak


American Catholic Philosopher, Journalist, Novelist, Author and Diplomat, U.S. Chief Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Author Quotes

Yet I would be astonished if [my childhood sports friends] and all the millions of others like us didn?t still watch? Namath, Unitas, and all the Sunday heroes with exquisite pleasure, admiration, and beauty-scorched memory. What we wished to do, strove for?what do I mean? still strive for, still emulate?they do as gracefully as gods. We were for a season gods, or at least boys with dreams; we still are. We went to our limits, as they go to theirs; and if theirs exceed ours, we regard them not with envy but in brotherly participation.

A man is too insignificant to be preoccupied with his failures. All of the energy he has is required for attending to the loneliness, the pain, the needs of others.

Athletic achievement, like the achievements of the heroes and gods of Greece, is the momentary attainment of perfect form?as though there were, hidden away from mortal eyes, a perfect way to execute a play, and suddenly a player or a team has found it and sneaked a demonstration down to earth. A great play is a revelation. The curtains of ordinary life part, and perfection flashes for an instant before the eye.

Baseball without cunning, trickery, and pressing for advantage would scarcely be a contest. Our sports are lively with the sense of evil. The evil in them is to be certain, ritualized, controlled, and channeled.

Basketball is jazz: improvisatory, free, individualistic, corporate, sweaty, fast, exulting, screeching, torrid, explosive, exquisitely designed for letting first the trumpet, then the sax, then the drummer, then the trombonist soar away in virtuoso excellence.

Being, beauty, truth, excellence, transcendence?these words, grown in the soil of play, wither in the sand of work. Art, prayer, worship, love, civilization: these thrive in the field of play.

Coaches and scouts seek out desire. Athletes with lesser talents but great desire are better fitted for actual contests than men [and women!] of vast ability but psychological reluctance.

Command by instinct is swifter, subtler, deeper, more accurate, more in touch with reality than command by conscious mind. The discovery takes one's breath away.

Each athlete in every sport discovers very early that others, in this way or that, are his superior. Each finds what he can do best. Each picks his level. Each labors to learn all that he has talent, endurance, and will to learn. Each must, sooner or later, cease pretending to be what he is not, cannot be, and rejoice in playing up to the limit given him. Life is not equal. God is no egalitarian. Prowess varies with every individual.

Each sport is for most a teacher of humility and reconciliation.

Even rock stars are entitled to privacy.

Granted that I must die, how shall I live?

Half the pleasure of football is the contest between wit and brawn.

I had a bartender friend in Philadelphia years ago, a devoted baseball fan, who told me, and he said this with tears in his eyes, that the most beautiful thing in the world, more beautiful than any blond, more beautiful than a mountain lake at sunset, was bases filled, two out, three and two on the hitter and everybody moving with the pitch.

A democratic power has a tough time staying at war for a very long time ? because people have a vote. They begin to think the cost is too high. And it?s often very hard to understand what?s going on all around the world, why the war is so important. The impulse brought on by the bombing of the World Trade Center buildings in 2001 gave Americans the will to fight. We got to get those terrorists. First in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a quite monstrous man what he was doing to his own people. He went against the very treaties he had signed with Bush the First. A lot of young people volunteered. But as the going got tough, more and more people became more and more reluctant to support it. But it was coming along slowly. There had been more and more stories of democracy growing in the Middle East ? the most in 200 years. It was slowly turning those countries in a new direction towards democracy, towards human rights. That was giving young people in those countries a new [goal], instead of just rebelling and destroying others ? killing ? a lot of them began to get the vision of developing a better country. ?There?s no reason will all these oil wells that we have so many unemployed. We got to get going in building an economy so people can have a future.?

A friend asks if I know the difference between a saint and a martyr: A saint is someone who radiates goodness and bears no faults. A martyr is someone who lives with a saint.

A great rival is a great gift. How can one extend oneself into fresh heights if there is no on to force higher? An artist of any sort who has no peers suffers from the lack. Great peers make one greater than on could become in solitude.

If a Catholic cannot feel confident in a time of globalization, what is the point in bearing the name ‘Catholic,’ which is another name for global? (The imperative for globalization began with the commission ‘Go preach the gospels to all nations,’ which turned Christianity away from being the religion of one tribe or one people only, and commanded it to see the whole human race as one people of God.) Globalization is the natural ecology of the Catholic faith.

You're a sovereign as a citizen. If you're not involved in your government, you're not doing your job. In the long run that's very bad for the Republic.

We really feel happier when things look bleak. Hope is endurance. Hope is holding on and going on and trusting in the Lord.

The universe moves in the direction of Liberty.

Individual freedom is a Jewish idea, but it's one of the functions of Christianity to make this idea universal.

In most of history, societies have not been free. It's a very rare society that is free. The default condition of human societies is tyranny.

To know oneself is to disbelieve utopia.

Christians must be Jews. The truth of what we believe depends on the truth of Judaism, depends on the first covenant.

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American Catholic Philosopher, Journalist, Novelist, Author and Diplomat, U.S. Chief Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights