Faith in Action Blog
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!
After 15 years in the home-inspection business, Philip Halpin ('97) has joined the StoryTel Foundation, which produces Catholic documentary films about people and organizations who answer God’s call to “restore the sacred.” In that capacity, he has co-produced, co-written, and edited Where Heaven Meets Earth, a documentary about St. Peter's Church in Omaha, Neb. — a once-failing urban parish transformed by a young priest who was determined to embrace the whole of Catholic tradition.
The documentary, the trailer of which is available above, recently appeared on EWTN. DVDs are available via the StoryTel website.
The above video is a trailer for Diary of a Country Mother, a new book by Cynthia (Six ’77) Montanaro that chronicles the life of her beloved son Tim, with the liturgical year and changing seasons as a frame. The book reflects a yearlong journey of prayer and meditation, begun about six months after Tim’s death in 2005 at the age of 15. Written in diary form, it includes Scriptural, religious, and literary quotations, as well as beautiful photographs of Tim captured by his dad, Andrew Montanaro (’78).
“I envisioned an extended period of time in which to record, before memory failed me, all of the little humorous and profound incidents that made up my son Tim’s short life,” says Mrs. Montanaro. The result is a work that is replete with the love of a mother. That love is also on display in Mrs. Montanaro’s blog.
Writes Dr. Thomas Howard, author of Chance or the Dance and Hallowed Be This House, “Cynthia Montanaro have given us the story of a splendidly faithful Catholic household. … The word ‘contemplative’ is the key to this memoir … and the quiet pace belongs to its essence.… Every chapter (or meditation) entails some concrete, softly-textured, domestic narrative, all of it bespeaking both Tim’s inner man, and the household in which the Lord placed him to pass his brief time here on this earth.”
“Like Our Blessed Mother’s sorrow,” says fellow alumna author Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres, “Cynthia’s sadness is illuminated and shot through by the light of the resurrected Christ. This book is in no way depressing. Instead, Cynthia’s diary entries record time and again the peace that passes all understanding, the beautiful hope that only true faith can give, and most of all, love elevated and fulfilled by Love.”
A worthy read for the Easter season, Diary of a Country Mother is available via Amazon.com.
Frederick DouglassA professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05), has written a thoughtful article for The Public Discourse about the present state of the pro-life movement:
In a manner similar to the case of slavery as outlined by Douglass, there are two simple points that, once admitted, join to condemn clearly the practice of abortion: (1) the embryo is a human being from the moment of conception, and (2) all human beings have a natural right to life.…
The problem is that the younger and less developed the embryo is, the less it excites what some have called our “moral sense,” our sympathy with it as another human being like us. And as Hume correctly notes, human beings tend to be moved more by their passions and feelings, including the so-called “moral sense,” than by their intellectual understanding of the world when determining their actions. Even if our reason and common sense tell us clearly — as they undoubtedly do — that the embryo is a human being with the right to life, our moral sense or sympathy lets us off the hook.
So where does this leave pro-life advocates? How can we bridge the Humean — and human — gap between intellectual understanding and actual practice in our nation? The answer lies in the parallel between the issue of abortion and those of slavery and subsequent civil rights. The pro-life movement needs to model more closely in its organization and practices the antebellum abolition movement and the civil rights movement in order to achieve similar success in ending the evil of abortion.
The entire article, Abortion and Our “Moral Sense,” is available on The Public Discourse website, published by The Witherspoon Intstitute.