Faith in Action Blog
“We have books and catechism classes to educate the mind, but the heart is captivated above all by the majesty and mystery of divine worship.”
So writes Dr. Peter Kwasniewski (’94) — a professor of theology and philosophy, an instructor of music, and the choirmaster at Wyoming Catholic College — at Corpus Christi Watershed, where he blogs regularly. As the above quote suggests, the liturgy, its music in particular, is near and dear to Dr. Kwasniewski’s heart — so much so that he has recently authored Sacred Choral Works, a book containing 20 years of his musical compositions for the sacred liturgy. Complementing the book are three CDs featuring recordings of nearly all the compositions, so as to facilitate their learning for choir directors and members alike:
“Without the Bread of Life, there is eternal death for us,” Dr. Kwasniewski continues. “That is why, as long as the New Evangelization means what it should ― the proclamation of the truth that Jesus is Lord and there is salvation in no one else, either for the individual or for society ― it will also always and everywhere begin and end in the sacraments, and in particular, the Most Blessed Sacrament, in which, says St. Thomas, the common good of the entire universe is found.”
On a recent episode of EWTN’s Life on the Rock, the show’s young viewers heard some music and words of wisdom from several members of the Thomas Aquinas College community. Appearing on the show was the Hope and Justin Band, named for Thomas Aquinas College Regent Justin Schneir and his wife, Hope. Backing up Mr. and Mrs. Schneir were three recent graduates of the College: Sean Wood (’13) on the fiddle, Daniel Bagdazian (’13) on the bass guitar, and Gabriel Bagdazian (’14) on the keyboard. (Band appears at the 8:40 mark in the video below.)
In the episode Mr. and Mrs. Schneir described how their band came into being when various friends — including several students of the College — would visit their Camarillo home for Tuesday-night jam sessions. From thence sprung the music that, the band’s members hope, will evangelize audiences with its simple focus on the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Toward the end of the show, the hosts interviewed Mr. Wood, who discussed how he wrote about this theme of evangelization through the arts for his Senior Thesis at the College. “My thesis was basically how an encounter with beauty can lead us to God, tracing the thought from Plato up to Thomas Aquinas, to John Paul II and von Balthasar,” he said. “Those encounters really open our heart to become receptive to God’s love. And I think they’re really necessary in order for a true conversion, and in order to really see the Faith as something not merely worth following, but worth giving your life for.”
Music that is “authentically human,” Mr. Wood continued, can show us “what the human condition is, and see that we are made for so much more.”
Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05), an assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, has recently published a new book through the University of Chicago Press: The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law. The book, according to the publisher’s summary, attempts to answer the question, “Does the concept of natural rights have the natural law as its foundation or are the two ideas, as Leo Strauss argued, profoundly incompatible?”
Although Seagrave acknowledges that the notion of natural rights does not derive from traditional natural law, he argues that the two concepts are nonetheless compatible — when viewed through the lens of John Locke and St. Thomas Aquinas. After presenting a comprehensive philosophical explanation of natural morality, drawing heavily upon the authors and works studied in the College’s classical curriculum, he then turns to many contemporary issues of political import, from the preservation of marriage, to healthcare, to the death penalty.
The book has already earned several positive reviews, with one scholar hailing it as “one of the most important books on natural law and natural rights in a generation.” It is available for purchase via Amazon, and other of Dr. Seagraves’s writings can be found at The Public Discourse website. Notably, Dr. Seagrave has recently written three articles that touch upon themes contained in Foundations of Natural Morality:
- Aristotelian-Thomism in the Modern World (March 26)
- What Can a Modern Philosopher Teach Us About Natural Law? (March 27)
- Do Ideas Really Have Consequences? (May 9)
On Easter Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning featured the above segment about the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, who have topped the Billboard Classical Music Chart with their albums of sacred music. Two of the nuns, Sr. Mary Josefa of the Eucharist, OSB (Kathleen Holcomb ’07), and Sr. Sophia Eid, OSB (’08), are alumnae of the College. Sr. Mary Josefa can be seen — front and center in — the video’s choir shots.
Last summer Sr. Mary Josefa sat for a rare interview with the Cardinal Newman Society, in which she discussed the role of liturgy, sacred music, and Catholic identity in higher education Among her notable responses, Sr. Josefa had these kinds words to say for her alma mater:
I chose to attend Thomas Aquinas College because it integrated classical and Catholic education; I was fascinated by the liberal arts program, with its consideration and discussion of original sources, introducing the student to the perennial questions with which mankind has always grappled, but I was further drawn by the Catholic identity of the school, which orders this program of studies in order to lead the student from the contemplation of created truth to the contemplation of God Himself. …
At TAC, I was blessed to be part of a community that was really unified and ordered by its Catholic identity. I attended daily Mass and Rosary with my teachers and fellow students; the chapel was the central point of the campus and teachers and students always would stop on the way to or from class for a visit; everyone acknowledged senior theology as the culminating point of the curriculum to which all the other classes were ordered; in these and countless other ways, I experienced a community that recognized that the invisible realities are more real, more important than the visible ones. Naturally, this greatly nourished the inclination that I had had to religious life since I was young. Many of my fellow students were also drawn to religious life as a result of the strong Catholic community and contemplative program of studies, and having peers considering a vocation really strengthened my own.
The full interview is available via Catholic Education Daily.
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!