Faith in Action Blog
Timed for the Feast of St. Tomas Aquinas, alumnus Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has published a thoughtful article about the College’s patron on Catholic Exchange. In it, Mr. Fitzpatrick discusses the child-like simplicity and innocence that made Thomas both a saint and the Church’s Universal Doctor:
Though Thomas Aquinas was a man of formidable stature with a fair head like the sun at the crest of a hill, he possessed a delicate genius. He looked upon the world with the authentic wonder and perceptive power of a youth, and engaged it with a youth’s zeal, honesty, and solemnity. There are few things more serious than a child engrossed in his play, and Thomas resembled one of these in his work. The brilliance of his writings shines with a virtuosity like play. Though the connotation may exist, and with good reason, to depict or classify Thomas as an austere academic of furrowed brow and no nonsense, there is a straightforward delight and precision about this saint and his compositions that can evoke the schoolboy as much as the scholastic.
The heart of this mystery surrounding Thomas Aquinas is a terrible innocence. By a miraculous grace, Thomas was permitted to retain a moral integrity throughout his fifty years of life, and a disposition that was not drawn towards the darker regions of human depravity. His sins were reputedly the simple sins of small children, and this virtue freed his intellect from the temptations and distractions that drive away wisdom. Thomas had the liberty to examine the intricacies of the worlds around him unencumbered with the disturbances that human nature often introduces.
The full article is available via Catholic Exchange. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!
Alumna journalist Katrina Trinko (’09) has been named the new managing editor of The Foundry, the online publication of The Heritage Foundation. Her job responsibilities include overseeing the website’s daily editorial operations developing its content.
Geoffrey Lysaught, the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for strategic communications, says Miss Trinko’s hiring is part of the think-tank’s ambitious plans for making The Foundry “the go-to site for smart, conservative content.” He adds, “We’re excited to have Katrina on our team to help us achieve this goal.”
For the last three years, Miss Trinko reported on politics for National Review magazine. She is also a member of the Board of Contributors at USA Today.
In the online magazine Crisis, alumnus Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has a timely piece about the importance of Christmas giving — not the commercialized sort, but the true, sacrificial kind that is fitting for the season. Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:
“Just as the Son of Mary was God’s Gift to mankind, so mankind should offer himself as a gift to God; and thus do men and women give gifts to one another as a sign of the Love that unites them to He who was born, lived, died, and rose again for all. Gifts play a central part in the iconography of Christmas …”
As an illustration of this sort of cultural iconography, Mr. Fitzpatrick discusses O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” which he describes as “a quintessential story of that spirit of sacrificial gift-giving that makes Christmas the joy it should be.” In that tale, a young couple — Jim and Della — give up their most prized possessions for their beloved, only to discover, as Mr. Fitzgerald puts it, that “they were, in fact, giving a gift that was priceless.” He concludes:
“We are sons and daughters of the King. If our gifts are true, be they ever so poor, they will be found rich. If our gifts are gifts of love, Love Himself will purify them. If our gifts are gifts of self, they will be “satisfactory.” Then, and only then, are we true gift-givers.”
Be sure to include the whole article among your Christmas reading. Merry Christmas!
We recently featured a story about Gregory the Great Academy, a new, private, boys’ boarding school founded by Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) and Luke Culley (’94). That school is now the subject of an article Mr. Fitzpatrick has written for Crisis — A School Without Screens, which discusses GGA’s “radical” policy of shielding students from digital distraction.
Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:
“Students at Gregory the Great Academy are required to embrace a life of ‘technological poverty,’ which means relinquishing cell phones, iPods, computers, and the like; arriving at school with only the essentials for a ‘disconnected’ life. The pedagogy at work here is simply to free students from distraction and to allow them to focus on the important things in life: growth in virtue, cultivation of friendship, and contemplation of the Divine. …
“The results are surprising. Deprived of the usual modes of diversion, students quickly adopt healthy alternatives to sex-steeped music, inane literature, and mindless entertainment. Without iTunes, boys tend to learn to play the guitar well enough to accompany folk songs. Without television, students enjoy reading aloud to one another round fires. In an environment of ‘technological poverty,’ students actually eat together, pray together, play together, and learn together.”
The ultimate goal of this policy, Mr. Fitzpatrick adds, is to enable students “to make contact with the real … which removes barriers to the world as God made it.”
On March 13, the day of His Holiness Pope Francis’ election to the Chair of St. Peter, Megan Baird (’02) launched a Facebook page dedicated to the new Holy Father. “Initially, it was a small project that I wanted to do during Lent in memory of my Mom, who died of cancer in 2007,” explains Miss Baird, an assistant manager for the Fort Worth Library system. “My mom would have LOVED this new Pope.”
Since then, Miss Baird’s online tribute has grown into something much, much larger. In eight months the page has received more than 50,000 “likes” — 50,650 as of this writing.
Friends of Pope Francis, which is “devoted to the spiritual support of our new Holy Father and the Church,” invites visitors to “leave messages and prayers of support for him.” Its feed contains many of the already iconic photos of Pope Francis visiting with the faithful, notable quotations, and prayers left in his behalf.
As its readership has expanded so, too, has Friends of Pope Francis’ mission. “The page has broadened in scope to honor our Catholic faith and the wise words of Catholics and previous popes and saints,” Miss Baird writes. “For Pope Francis himself said, ‘Christ is the center; not the Successor of Peter.’ It would be appropriate, then, to put focus on the Faith of the Church as well.”
Mary Rose (Bacani ’93) Valenti, the recently retired TV producer/reporter who left the news business to turn her full attention to motherhood, has written two new columns for the Knights of Columbus’ “Fathers for Good” website. In the first, Little Rich Girl, she describes how, in striving to give her daughter, Chiara, a simple life, she has come to appreciate simplicity all the more for herself:
I provide a daily rhythm in the home that’s important for me as a human being. Manual labor, involving my whole person, connects me to reality, fulfills me wholly because I’m using my body. And if I move slowly and rhythmically, almost prayerfully, my child absorbs this, too. She imitates not only what I do, but the spirit with which I do it.
When Chiara was born, I stopped “working.” I now have a work that demands my whole being. Aside from my love, the greatest thing I can offer is a spirit of poverty that enriches her life.
This theme continues in the second column, A Nightly Prayer, in which Mrs. Valenti writes about other ways that motherhood has shaper her outlook:
“… our lifestyle decisions have surprised us. We always thought we were city people, but we found our happiness in the suburbs, close to quiet nature and away from the busyness. We are happily getting rid of stuff and are so content with owning very few things. We are starting to appreciate the mystery of Sunday, our Sabbath, when we let ourselves rest.”
Mrs. Valenti also reveals the exciting news that she and her husband, Richard, are now expecting their second child! May God bless their growing family!
The last time this blog mentioned Mary Rose (Bacani ’93) Valenti, it was to report that the veteran TV producer and host was hanging up her microphone to become a fulltime mother. Now, less than two years later, we have an insight into what Mrs. Valenti’s new life is like, thanks to a column she has written for Fathers for Good, an initiative sponsored by the Knights of Columbus:
“I had traveled to different parts of the world as a television producer — from North America to Australia, from Europe to the Middle East. In my new job as a stay-at-home mom, the farthest I have to travel is from the kitchen to the bedroom and back. My previous job entailed interviewing high-profile people. Today, I am the one interrogated by a two-and-a-half year old toddler.…
“The heart of what I did professionally and what I loved about my work was telling stories. Ironically, I’ve never been pressured as much as I am pressured now by my child to come up with stories. Where are the earthworms hiding today? Did the bubble get hurt when it popped? I am doing what I love — learning, teaching, studying, storytelling, and being and being loved for just being.”
If you are in Southern California, be sure to come this weekend to a book-signing party for The Bossy Boulder, the first children’s book by self-styled artist, poet, and philosopher Monica Estill (’98). The book tells the tale of a boulder who sits atop a mountain and — he thinks — the world, until time and change humble him. It is a story of how, only in becoming small, one can achieve true greatness.
The book’s inspiration goes back to Monica’s student days when, she says, she would hike in the foothills and mountains around Thomas Aquinas College, contemplating the works of Aristotle and St. Thomas that she was reading in class. She is hopeful, she says, that the book contains truth — truth about nature that people can see — and as such will help readers to see that there is also truth about human nature and how to live happily. Her wish is for The Bossy Boulder to help change hearts and bring people to God.
When: September 8 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: 1272 Rice Road in Ojai
“One day he realized something important. ‘I am only a stone! I am only a stone!’ As he thought about this, the boulder began to be filled with joy.”
A professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05) has published an article in The Public Discourse, arguing that Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species fails the “eye test.” That is, he says, elements of the theory of evolution contradict what we can perceive with our own eyes. Dr. Seagrave writes:
“Darwin is clearly aware — and bothered by the fact — that his theory of evolution through natural selection is not only unsupported by, but actually contradicts, the reports given to us through our senses, as well as the ‘common sense’ we gain from these reports over time. So he argues, in response, that this common sense is founded on mere ‘imagination’ rather than ‘reason,’ and with a Kantian determination he asks that we repress our ‘empirical’ impressions in favor of our abstract theoretical convictions.
“Yet why, we can ask, should we trust Darwin’s theory more than our own eyes? As persuasively as this theory explains many phenomena of nature and archeological discoveries, is its acceptance worth having to admit that the world is actually nothing like our experience of it? If a theory that the earth rests on the shell of a giant sea turtle explained enough phenomena, would it similarly command our assent?”
That article, perhaps not surprisingly, generated some controversy, leading Dr. Seagrave to issue a follow-up:
“The sort of ‘eye test’ I have in mind, and which I believe poses an underappreciated challenge to Darwinian evolutionary theory, involves much more than simply ‘looking’ or physically seeing; it is, rather, precisely what Aristotle describes as ‘the originative source of scientific knowledge’ in his Posterior Analytics. According to Aristotle, all scientific knowledge must build upon previous knowledge, leading to the problem of knowledge’s ultimate origin. This origin lies, according to Aristotle, in a process of induction or intuition whereby sense impressions become memories, and memories become ‘experience.’
“This experience is defined by abstraction — we human beings experience the world in terms of stable and defined universal concepts, and these concepts in turn form the building blocks of all subsequent knowledge. Our experience in this special Aristotelian sense, for example, tells us that elephants are different in kind from human beings, and not in degree, however large this degree may be. Our experience, on its own and apart from whatever scientific education we may possess, tells us that human beings are separated from elephants by rationality — not by millions of years of differential development.”
Meanwhile, one of Dr. Seagrave’s classmates, Greg Pfundstein (’05), has also published a story in The Public Discourse, based on a recent comment from kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart. Miss Smart remarked that, when she was sexually abused, she thought her life had “no value” — because one of her teachers had once compared those who were no longer virgins to a “chewed-up piece of gum.” That recollection quickly inspired a rash of denunciations of school-based abstinence programs from a wide range of critics, including some Christian conservatives, who argued that such programs present a warped, even dehumanizing, image of sexuality.
Not so fast, says Mr. Pfundstein. A board member of the National Abstinence Education Association (as well as the president of the Chiaroscuro Foundation), Mr. Pfundstein has co-authored an article for The Public Discourse, in which he argues that the sort of messages that Miss Smart received are not representative of most Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) programs:
“While no one can vouch for every abstinence program that has been used by well-intentioned presenters over the last two decades, we can confidently say that the sort of demeaning messages received by Smart and others are outside the mainstream of state-of-the-art abstinence-education programs.
“Perhaps most relevant to the current controversy is the fact that the SRA approach is the only one that believes in ‘another chance’ for any individual who has made unhealthy decisions in the past. Far from being ‘used up,’ teens are given renewed hope for starting over. ‘Renewed abstinence’ is an articulated goal of SRA programs, and there is some evidence that it is easier to get young people to choose renewed abstinence than to get them to use condoms.”
With the HHS mandate thrusting the issue of contraception into public conversation, three alumni authors have recently addressed some of the myths — and realities — that shape the debate.
First, in the Washington Times, Catherine Short (’80) questions the rationale for the mandate, namely that “free” contraception will improve the health of women. The legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, Mrs. Short and her co-author, Dorinda C. Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund, have filed an amicus brief (PDF) in some of the lawsuits seeking to overturn the mandate. Their article describes how the HHS has oversold contraception’s purported benefits while ignoring its documented dangers:
For more than four decades, federal and state governments have been pouring money into “family planning” programs … Our brief informs courts of empirical evidence showing the result: a 40 percent increase in unplanned pregnancy, including among teens and low-income women, the very demographic targeted by these programs. Quite predictably, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases have also skyrocketed in these groups, as the false security of abundant birth control leads to riskier sexual activity by teens and young adults. …
[A] 2009 study showed a 320 percent increase in the risk of triple-negative breast cancer, the deadliest form of breast cancer, in women taking oral contraceptives. Long-acting contraceptives — such as one major implant rod, Implanon — increase risk of ectopic pregnancy, pulmonary emboli and strokes. Implanon is the product that replaced Norplant, which is no longer on the market in the United States after more than 50,000 women filed lawsuits — including 70 class actions — over the severity of its side effects. Injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera puts women at double the risk of HIV infection.
What about the other oft-repeated argument for more widespread distribution of contraception — that it would reduce the number of abortions? Journalist Peter Baklinski (’04) debunks that claim in LifeSiteNews. Citing data from Spain, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, Mr. Baklinksi demonstrates that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, higher use of contraception correlates with higher rates of abortion. He quotes two prominent champions of legalized abortion who concede as much:
“Most abortions result from failed contraception,” admitted Joyce Arthur, founder and executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, earlier this year.
Arthur’s statement parallels a prediction made in 1973 by Dr. Malcolm Potts, former medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, who said: “As people turn to contraception, there will be a rise, not a fall, in the abortion rate.”
Given the abundance of empirical evidence to refute the claims that widespread contraception improves women’s health and reduces abortion, why do these myths endure? Because, says Peter Kwasniewski (’94), a professor of theology at Wyoming Catholic College writing for Truth and Charity Forum, the demand for contraception stems not from medical need, but spiritual poverty:
Better health coupled with an unbounded desire to share God’s gifts of love and life should naturally have led, in modern times, to larger and healthier families than in the past. The fact that this has not happened indicates the dark side of the motivation behind the development of modern technology. Contraception means spiritual death, the death of the natural “love affair” with life.
In the battle over marriage, procreation, and the defense of life, we must realize that we are up against a combination of metaphysical nihilism and spiritual egoism vastly more powerful than any human army or political system — a demonic corruption of mind and heart, which sound education and the example of a life well lived can prevent from spreading, but which ultimately will refuse to be driven out except by prayer, fasting, and martyrdom.
Sobering words — and a call to prayer!