Episode 19 Reclaiming the Piazza II

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: a conversation with Dr. Leonardo Franchi.

In the Apostolic Constitution, Ex corde ecclesiae, Pope St. John Paul II famously wrote that the Catholic University, “is located in that course of tradition which may be traced back to the very origin of the University as an institution. It has always been recognized as an incomparable centre of creativity and dissemination of knowledge for the good of humanity. By vocation, the Universitas magistrorum et scholarium is dedicated to research, to teaching and to the education of students who freely associate with their teachers in a common love of knowledge. With every other University it shares that gaudium de veritate, so precious to Saint Augustine, which is that joy of searching for, discovering and communicating truth in every field of knowledge. A Catholic University’s privileged task is ‘to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth’.”

That project is threatened today by forces found both within and without the Church: the fragmentation of he unity of knowledge – and of knowing as a cultural project, on the one hand; on the other, a strange twofold movement at once toward anti-intellectualism as the default cultural starting point, and toward the elevation of those with applied scientific know-how to positions of high esteem, approaching the level of a sort of priestly caste.

Against this tide, a group of scholar-teachers is quietly and diligently working to ensure that Catholic institutions of higher education will be able to carry out their mission, which is of vital importance to the task of evangelization, especially and in a privileged way by being open to all human experience and ready to dialogue with and learn from every culture.

The advancement of that work is in turn complicated by the increasing pressure on those committed to it to retire to the margins or retreat from the public square entirely.

Hence, the project of Reclaiming the Piazza: an initiative spearheaded by our guest, Leonardo Franchi, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, on the faculty of education. He is a member of the Creativity, Culture and Faith Research and Teaching group there, and specializes in Religious Education. He is also a member of the Executive of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, and editor – along with Ronnie Convery and Raymond McCloskey – of the volumes Reclaiming the Piazza: Catholic Education as a Cultural Project and Reclaiming the Piazza II: Catholic Education and the New Evangelization, which features a foreword by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and contributions from Tracey Rowland, Francis Campbell, Bishop John Keenan, Isabelle Boyd, Fr. Joseph Lappin, and Natalie Finnigan, in addition to the essays of the editors, which provide a framework for the project and give careful articulation to the basic problems of education as they are encountered in the current cultural context.

Our broad-ranging conversation began with the question: from whom do we need to reclaim the piazza – the public square, and what are the fundamental “do’s and don’ts” of that work of recovery and reappropriation?

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Episode 18 A conversation with Fr. Paul Samasumo

Fr. Paul Samasumo of Zambia is vice president of the World Catholic Association for Communication, SIGNIS, the first African to hold one of the top three positions in the organization, to which he was elected in the summer of 2017 by the delegates to the SIGNIS world congress in Quebec.

samasumo

Trained in communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Fr. Samasumo served for several years as spokesman for the Zambia Episcopal Conference and Executive Director of  Catholic Media Services in Zambia, before becoming head of Vatican Radio’s English for Africa service in 2014, a role he continues to hold in the new Vatican Media department of the Secretariat for COmmunications of the Holy See.

Generous and personable, Fr. Samasumo’s gentle demeanor sometimes disguises, sometimes reveals his keen powers of observation. He is a straight talker, and he has seen things.

His years as a parish priest – pastor of a parish covering 200 square kilometers in the Zambian bush – taught him lessons of service to people on the peripheries, where the presence of the Church through healthcare and education is often literally a matter of life or death.

He carried those lessons with him to Rome, and was kind enough to share some of them with me during a broad-ranging conversation on the state of the Church in Africa.

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SIGNIS is the World Catholic Association for Communication. Its mission is to engage with media professionals and support Catholic Communicators transform cultures in the light of the Gospel by promoting human dignity, justice and reconciliation.

Africae munus is the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pope Benedict XVI issued following the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa in 2009.

Churches Health Association of Zambia is a Lusaka-based ecumenical organisation of Church-affiliated health institutions and community health programs committed to serving communities so that people live healthy and productive lives for the Glory of God.

 

Episode 17 The erotics of education

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: a conversation with David Franks.

Dr. David Franks-1

One of the great things about the age in which we live is the ease of communication. If social media have made it harder to have sustained conversations, especially when the effort of them involves placing and conducting disagreements, David Franks is a fellow whose efforts in these regards are truly a model.

He is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and Director of Development for that same. A trained theologian and poet, David is deeply Catholic and profoundly patriotic: people don’t talk like he does anymore – and discovering him through mutual friends has been a delight.

He talks about the “erotics” of education, and he knows of what he speaks: the duty of the teacher to foster the desire for wisdom in his students, and the duty of students to be faithful lovers of the beautiful, the true, and the good, after the fashion modeled for them by their teachers.

He is steeped in the tradition, though he is no mere laudator temporis acti – no “praiser of times past”. Rather, he inhabits a world of thought he feels – and I feel with him – it is the mission of the Catholic intellectual who is also the citizen of a great republic to nurture, develop, and pass on.

That work of tradition is what the social doctrine certificate program he designed and began to implement for Massachusetts Citizens for Life last year is all about.

The program draws in particular on Catholic social doctrine, appropriating it in the spirit of the liberal arts, incorporating Scripture, theology, philosophy, political theory, American history, and literature. Though grounded in Christianity, this course is designed to be accessible to those of any faith, as well as to the non-religious.

Profound respect for the human person – for each and every real human person, flesh and blood and soul and spirit – is the hallmark of David’s didactic approach, and the true barometer of his classroom. The program is most emphatically not, however, a “safe space” for the like-minded. When David says, “All questions and viewpoints are welcome,” he means it.

David and I talked via skype over the Christmas holiday – on New Year’s Eve, to be precise – and, though I’d promised to bring you a conversation with Fr. Paul Samasumo in the next episode, the editors and I considered that David’s conversation sets out the whole range of the season’s scope, and with such perfect pitch, that we ought to bring it to you first.

Not to worry, though: we’ll bring you our conversation with Fr. Paul in the next, regularly scheduled episode, set to drop on Monday, January 8th.

*********** Show Notes ***********

David Franks is theologian, a poet, an author, and teacher. He blogs at New City Rising.

The letter of Thomas Jefferson to which I refer is one he wrote from Paris, to Michel Guillaume St. John de Crèvecoeur, who wrote the Letters from an American Farmer. You can find Jefferson’s letter to Crèvecoeur online, at the Founders Online page of the National Archives.

 

Episode 16: Season 2 Premiere

Hello, friends! A “Happy New Year!” to you all! Welcome to another season of Thinking with the Church. I’m your host, Chris Altieri.

New Year’s Day, 2018 – the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Prayer for Peace.

Andreas_Ritzos_-_The_Mother_of_God_of_Passion_-_WGA19511

Andreas Ritzos, “Mother of God of Passion” via Wikimedia Commons

I marvel at the thematic confluence that this day offers – God’s coming into the world, through the womb of His mother – the Mother of the Word Incarnate, whom we hail in His human nature, as the Prophet Isaiah tells us, as Wondrous Counselor, and Prince of Peace.

He came into a broken world, to make us friends again, and He did, on the Cross, which now signs the world and points the way toward eternal friendship with the world’s author.

Nevertheless, we labor under the effect of the sin, from the guilt of which our Baptism in Him has washed us clean.

Peace is always a gift of Divine Mercy: it is promised to us in the New Jerusalem perfectly, and by a strength that cannot fail, on which we place a hope that cannot disappoint, and we wait in joyful hope for it. Our waiting, however, cannot be idle: we are called to work works of peace, which are always pleasing to Him, who is Prince of Peace.

This eschatological tension, as it is called in technical parlance, creates the space in which we play out matters of eternal life and eternal death.

As I said in the very first edition of this podcast, almost exactly a year ago to the day:

One of the things at which Catholicism has excelled through the centuries is story-telling: the story we told was – is – true, and it is the story of each and every one of us; an epic adventure in which each of us is at war with the forces of hell – forces that are at once “inside” us, and in the world – invisible, preternatural, unspeakably powerful.

In this story, each of us is playing out matters of eternal life and eternal death in every moment, waking or sleeping: there are no minor characters and there are no breaks in the action; all of us, each second of each day, are in the fight.

That is a great story, and one in which “the rules” not only make sense, but themselves make the story make sense.

Two questions press themselves on us now: where are we in the story, and how are we to manage the tension of existence between the beginning and the beyond – the metaxy? In other words, how are we to live in history, our humanity redeemed but not yet fully repaired?

The Catholic Church has been thinking about these questions – really one question with two distinct moments – for a long time, now: the answer she has to give is to be had in what we call, “Catholic education” – a project imperiled within and without in this day – which makes the present very like the past – and the one that will constitute for us the principal focus of the whole season.

Everything we do over the course of the next 20 weeks will be ordered to an exploration of what Catholic education is – and is not, or ought not be.

*********** Show Notes ***********

Segment 1: Leonardo Franchi

Leonardo Franchi is a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, on the faculty of education. He is a member of the Creativity, Culture and Faith Research and Teaching group there, and specializes in Religious Education. He is also a member of the Executive of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, and editor – along with Ronnie Convery and Raymond McCloskey – of the volumes Reclaiming the Piazza: Catholic Education as a Cultural Project and Reclaiming the Piazza II: Catholic Education and the New Evangelization, which features a foreword by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and contributions from Tracey Rowland, Francis Campbell, Bishop John Keenan, Isabelle Boyd, Fr. Joseph Lappin, and Natalie Finnigan.

I reached him via skype for an extended conversation, from which I’d like to share an excerpt here and now, in which he responds to a question: from whom does the piazza – the public square, need to be reclaimed. and why is this a proper challenge for Catholic education and Catholic educators?

Segment 2: David Franks

 

The educational crisis in society more broadly is being met by courageous citizen-educators, who are rising to the challenge of the present day and meeting it with a kind of thinking that is at once deeply rooted in tradition and very much “out-of-the-box”:

David Franks is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Citizens for Life – the oldest pro-life advocacy organization in New England, and the only statewide pro-life organization with its own extensive educational program, which helps form thousands of citizens – mainly young people – each year, most recently through a pro-life social doctrine certificate program that is inspired in large part by the social doctrine of the Church.

I spoke with him, also over skype, for over an hour recently, and we’ll be hearing more of our conversation in the weeks to come. One of the things I appreciated most in my talk with David was his ability to put the world in a nutshell:

Segment 3: Music in the Heart of the Church

In this last segment of the program today, we go to where the cultural rubber meets the civilizational road: in early Jun of last year, a group of five choirs under the direction of guest director, Prof. John Dickson of Louisiana State University performed in several venues in Rome – including St. Peter’s Basilica.

I spent a morning with them as they rehearsed, and I can promise you: it was an education.

These were choirs from across the United States: the Baton Rouge Symphony Chorus from Louisiana; the Bel Cantos Choir & MiniCassia Chorale of Idaho, directed by Douglas Fisher; the Central Community College Spectrum of Nebraska, under  Director Jeff Kitson; the Monte Vista Touring Singers of California under Director David Anthony Dehner; the Whitewater High School Choir of Georgia under Director Richard Prouty.

These were young men and women – many of them little more than boys and girls, and some of them well into middle age: high school students, undergraduates, professionals – all of them passionate and disciplined – clearly used to the punishing rhythm of preparation for performance at the highest level.

The voice you’re about to hear is that of John Dickson: he’s the Stephanie Landry Barineau Professor of Choral Music and Chair of the Division of Ensembles and Conducting in the School of Music at Louisiana State University, and the guest director of the five choirs who performed this past June here in Rome.

I asked Prof. Dickson about the importance of understanding the pieces they were preparing to perform, inside and out…

The serious, soul-searing business of singing is – I warrant not unlike the “serious play” of philosophy – and not despite the gravity of the enterprise, but because of it, a good deal of fun.

Omar Rodriguez and Jessica Hetrick are from Santa Cruz, California, and sing with the Bel Cantos.

What does it take to bring such diverse group of disparate origin together?

To find out, I spoke with Michael Clossey: chief executive and co-owner of KI Concerts the US based company that organized the choral adventure we’re exploring…

Music is also a powerful – and powerfully subversive – tool of evangelization.

David Anthony Dehner is a 2015 GRAMMY Award-nominee as a music educator, with over 30 years’ experience in teaching, and a committed Christian. I asked him how his life in music has informed his life of faith.

 

Episode 15: Will Pope Francis Pull It Off?

 Will Pope Francis Pull it Off? is the title of Prof. Rocco D’Ambrosio’s new book about the reform program of Pope Francis.

Born in 1963, Prof. D’Ambrosio is a priest of the Diocese of Bari in southern Italy, and holds the chair of political philosophy in the School of Social Sciences at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He is also a freelance journalist, whose by-line may very well be familiar to many listeners, especially – though by no means exclusively – those who read the Italian journals.

His slim, provocatively-titled volume is deceptively dense, and poses serious questions in the engaging style of a seasoned journalist who knows his beat.

He has his opinions – and while he is not afraid to share them – you’ll hear – he does not let them get in the way of clear presentation of the facts, nor is he afraid to say what we don’t know about the complex realities facing the man who was elected to reform the governing apparatus of the Universal Church.

Will Pope Francis pull it off?

The first – and obvious – question is: what is it?

That is where our conversation began, and as you’ll hear, it was harder to nail down than one might think.

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Show Notes

  • Will Pope Francis Pull It Off? The Challenge of Church Reform (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn., 2017) was originally published in Italian as Ce la farà Francesco? La sfida della riforma ecclesiale (Ed. La Meridiana, 2016). Barry Hudock prepared the English translation.
  • Pope Francis sent a letter to Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, naming him Papal Emissary Extraordinary to celebrations marking the *450th anniversary of the conclusion of the Council of Trent – in the audio, host Chris Altieri misspeaks and refers to the occasion as the 500th anniversary of the Council’s conclusion. The Council of Trent ran from 1545-1563, and did its business in twenty-five sessions over three major periods and one minor period, which was held at Bologna.

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can donate by going to thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and clicking on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Like the Vocaris Media page on Facebook to stay abreast of all the doings at Thinking with the Church and in our other initiatives: facebook.com/VocarisMedia/

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Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Episode 14: irreconcilable differences

Hello friends, and welcome to Thinking with the Church. I’m your host, Chris Altieri.

We were late getting this latest edition to you – we hit some technical snags – and then the events of the week forced a radical re-thinking of the structure and scope of the episode.

As most of you will know by now, a suicide bomber attacked concert-goers at Manchester Arena on Monday night killing twenty-two people and wounding fifty-nine others, twenty of whom are at risk of life or limb.

The attacker targeted children, and succeeded in killing and injuring many of his intended victims.

Pope Francis was among the world leaders who condemned the attack, calling it, “[B]arbaric,” and, “[a] senseless act of violence.”

While I certainly join the Holy Father in condemning the attack, the terms in which he condemns it call for close, careful analysis.

That the attack was barbaric is not true without qualification, for the wholesale slaughter of children is not incompatible with civilization – not even with our own.

Pharaoh ordered the slaughter of every man-child born of a Hebrew woman, and Herod ordered the same at the time of Our Lord’s birth.

Nor was this bloodlust an Oriental caprice.

Caesar, at Avaricum, ordered the city stormed and the population slaughtered “without respect to age or sex.”

It was only under the influence of Christianity that such behavior as a matter of policy came to enjoy general disapproval, and that general disapproval has far too often been honored in the breach, and too rarely have rulers of nominally Christian nations eschewed it with due rigor when dealing with enemies.

From Agincourt, where boys were cut down behind the lines and prisoners were shot with arrows, put to the sword, or burned alive – the accounts vary – to Magdeburg in the Thirty Years’ War, to the German rape of Belgium in 1914, to Rumbula, to the burned-out rice villages of Vietnam, to the hovels of Afghanistan and the tenements of Sadr City, armies and those who command them have either ordered or winked at the murder of children with appalling regularity.

Nevertheless, we do condemn such slaughter as evil, and that is something.

In an important sense, the attack was also “senseless”: evil is always lacking in due rationality, and ultimately futile – Christ Our Lord has won deathless victory over sin, and reigns even now from Heaven.

In this sense, however, all evil is “senseless”.

Whatever else the attack in Manchester was, it was not “senseless” in its scope.

The attack targeted children and young people: the attacker executed his assault at a moment chosen in view of its aptness for destruction and mayhem; he carried out the attack in the name of a creed – a version of a creed – irreducibly inimical to ordered liberty as the members of the society, whose children he chose to destroy, broadly understand it; he attacked a little more than a fortnight ahead of a major general election.

The sense of such an atrocity could not be plainer, were it written on a wall in blazing letters.

Whether they shall prove to read, “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin” depends entirely on the quality of the response we give.

To desire peace with all men is a basic and imprescindible tenet of our creed.

That we should behave in a manner consistent with that desire at all times, even when circumstances require us to respond most forcefully to aggression and even to go out to punish evil done against us, is thereof a necessary and exceptionless practical corollary.

Remember that indignation undisciplined becomes blind rage, and mis-becomes the wielder of the sword of vengeance.

Peace with all men: what is peace?

When authors writing in English employ the word, “peace” they are more or less consciously wording a concept represented by Christian political and theological authors with the Latin, pax.

Arabic is the language of Islam.

The Arabic word most often translated to English as “peace” is salaam, which is, like pax, a technical, juridical term.

In the Christian tradition, pax (peace) is the presence of “justice”.

“Justice”, in its turn, is “the condition of concord in society” achieved through the “rule of law”.

“Law” is a “dictate of reason promulgated by competent authority and ordered to the common good”.

“Reason” is a peculiarly human faculty, by the proper exercise of which human nature may attain to an understanding of Divine ordinance.

Salaam, on the other hand – and as far as I understand it – refers to the state of absolute submission to the manifest will of the one God. Now, “submission” in this case renders the Arabic word (another juridical term) islam, from which the Muslim religion has its proper name.

The Arabic for “one God” is Allah, who makes his manifest will known through the Qur’an (which literally means, “recitation”, meaning the recitation the being claiming to be the archangel Gabriel ordered Mohammad to make), and is therefore the name of the Muslims’ holy book, often transliterated as Koran (and misleadingly, though not erroneously rendered as “revelation”).

Qur’an is the source and ultimate authority in and for law under Islam – for it is the “revelation” given to Mohammad, whom Muslims revere as the “Seal of the Prophets”.

Peace, according to the Muslim religion, is the absolute rule of Islam, or absolute submission to the will of Allah, as made manifest through His revelation, which is Law.

It would seem to follow, that there is no salaam where there is no islam, no “peace” outside the “complete subjection of each and every living person’s will, to the will of Allah as made manifest in the Qur’an”.

Muslim rule means something very specific.

It is essentially theocratic and exclusivist.

There is, in other words, no distinction between the temporal and the spiritual – no ‘separation of Church and state’, as it were – by which I mean to say not that there are no separate institutions in Muslim majority nations, but that the distinction is lacking in theory or in principle.

God’s revelation through Mohammad, “The Seal of the Prophets” has been given to the whole world: Islam has been proclaimed and exists de iure over the whole planet; the task of Muslims is to bring every living person into the ummah, the “community of believers” in which the rule of Islam is realized in fact.

We are used in the West to talk unproblematically about “moderate” Muslims and “moderate” Islam.

Commentators like Victor Davis Hanson and Thomas Friedman have both written to the effect that the Islamic world needs its own “Enlightenment” – as though it were a simple matter of fathoming notions of equality, democracy and free inquiry (without realizing that the Enlightenment forms of these were really perversions of the classical notions, and directly tending toward the present Western ills of radical secularism, legal positivism, technocracy, but let us grant for the sake of argument that an Islamic “Enlightenment” would be a good thing) – and unthinkable that the intellectual and spiritual elements of such a cultural revolution might be lacking.

In the Christian tradition, peace (pax) is the presence of justice, which is the condition of social concord through rule of law, and law is the perfection of reason (ratio), by which human nature participates in the Divine order.

There seems, therefore, to be little to justify translating both the Christian pax and the Islamic salaam with the English “peace”.

“Law”, after all, is for Christians the participation of human reason in the Divine order, while for Muslims, “Law” is ultimately the manifestation of Divine will, a will that one cannot hope to understand and to which one must only submit.

The question whether Islam is a religion of peace arises, then, from a misconception created by the inappropriate use of a single word in English to translate two different words from two different languages, words that function as technical juridical terms in distinct and conflicting cultural systems.

Where does this leave us?

That is another question.

One thing, however, is clear: as far as Islam is concerned, there can be no “peace” until everyone living has submitted to the dictates of the Muslim religion.

Once the Law has been proclaimed, to refrain from an act of submission is, quite literally, to place oneself outside the law, i.e. to be an outlaw.

This is why joint condemnations of the deliberate killing of innocents are of such dubious worth.

No one with any use of reason countenances the killing of innocents as a matter of policy: but, who is innocent?

If professing a creed and belonging to a group were all there is to it, then there would be nothing for it but to recognize irreconcilable enmity between Muslims and, well, everyone else.

Even if Islam and Christianity are irreducibly opposed – and indeed they are – anyone committed to the idea that mankind are one family, and human nature essentially rational, must reject the idea that any person, or group of people, should be irretrievably cut off from amity.

Here Benedict XVI is our teacher.

I remember receiving advance copy of his remarks in the early morning on the day he delivered his now-famous Regensburg discourse – and I remember first calling the home office to let them know the HF would be making news – and then calling my folks to tell them to get to confession and Mass.

But, what did he do in that speech?

Most pertinent to our present purposes, Benedict told a story of an Emperor who, during the decade-long siege of his capital city, snuck out of his besieged capital to engage in dialogue with one of the enemy’s learned men.

During the course of the dialogues, the Emperor entertained very blunt language regarding the enemy’s religion.

The Emperor’s host did not react violently, but allowed himself to become the Emperor’s interlocutor.

Benedict, in other words, told a tale of learned warrior-leaders who freely sought dialogue in the midst of the most difficult conditions.

“If they could do it,” Benedict suggested, “then surely we can.”

There is, however, one final condition of possibility, which must be met:  we must recognize each other as moral agents.

We must resist the temptation to reduce terrorists to pawns: whether by treating them as brainwashed fanatics or as otherwise helpless victims of social, political, and cultural conditions.

However necessary and proper considerations of what we sometimes call “structures of sin” are in our efforts to understand the “causes” of terrorism, the pretense that terrorists are somehow other than moral agents who choose evil is offensive to their dignity.

We can – we must – respect the good faith of our interlocutors, and the sincerity of their convictions – and we must demand reciprocity in these regards – even as we meet them without stint in reasonable discourse.

Charles de Steuben’s Battaille de Poitiers and a piece of Giotto’s scenes from the life of St. Francis

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Show Notes

  • Some of the paragraphs on Islam rely on pieces host Chris Altieri published as commentary in print media some years ago.
  • Nulla in mundo pax sincera by Antonio Vivaldi, vocal performance by Vera Milani under the orchestral direction of Lorenzo Ghielmi

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can donate by going to thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and clicking on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Like the Vocaris Media page on Facebook to stay abreast of all the doings at Thinking with the Church and in our other initiatives: facebook.com/VocarisMedia/

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

 

Episode 13: The Measure of Man in a Connected World – a conversation with Prof. Philip Larrey

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: a conversation with Philip Larrey, priest, professor and author of Connected World: from Automated Work to Virtual Wars – the future, by those who are shaping it (320 pages, Penguin, 2017).

CW Cover

Connected World is a collection of interviews – conversations, really – with industry giants, entrepreneurs, academics, innovators, consumers, and thought leaders in fields of science, technology, research, private and public security, military hardware development, advertising, public relations, and information.

Larrey’s subjects are, quite literally, creating the space and defining both the contours and connections within the weave of the world we inhabit, as we speak.

He had extraordinary access to figures such as: Eric Schmidt of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and Jared Cohen of Alphabet’s Jigsaw program, as well as Carlo d’Asaro Biondo of Google Europe; Maurice Lévy of Publicis Groupe; the neuroscientist, Anders Sandberg and philosopher Johan SiebersSir Martin Sorrell of WPP; and several others, including Vocaris Media co-Founder and host of TwtC, Chris Altieri.

Even though several of the major players had teams of lawyers vetting the transcripts before publication, the interviews are quite frank, and often frankly unsettling: waking and sleeping, technology is affecting every area of life, from how we make what we need and want, to how we decide what we want and need to make, to what is ours to know about ourselves and others, to what’s worth knowing at all, to how we educate our children to how and why we fight our wars.

That is where we pick up the thread of the conversation, with a brief explanation from our friend, the author, about how he got his subjects to open up.

Prof. Larrey spent Easter Week in and around Boston, Massachusetts, talking about his book – and the ideas it addresses – with students and faculty at Harvard University and MIT.

Those conversations took place behind closed doors, and were not open to the press, though we’ve been promised a report from the author on how things went – a report to which we are very much looking forward.

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

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St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Special: Eight Days of Easter

In this special edition of Thinking with the Church: a reflection on the Octave of Easter.

When we left each other, friends, it was Good Friday: the body of Our Blessed Lord was still warm and sticky with blood and grime and filth, hanging lifeless on the Cross.

How long ago it seems: as the Pevensie children said once on a hunt in Lantern Waste, when they came upon the lamp post there, “Like something out of a dream, or the dream of a dream.”

This is, I think, the reason – or part of the reason – for which Our Blessed Lord kept His wounds: not for His sake, but for ours, to remind us of the price at which he purchased our salvation.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why my favorite moment of the Easter season is the first singing of the Regina Coeli at the end of the vigil: Regina coeli, laetare! Alleluia! Quia, quem meruisti portare resurrexit, sicut dixit! Alleluia! Ora pro nobis Deum! Alleluia! 

The simplicity and directness of that ancient Eastertide prayer of Marian devotion has always stuck me: Christ’s faithful call out to the Mother of God, reminding her to rejoice – and why?

I think it must be that she was and she remains the Mother of Sorrows.

Christ’s faithful feel a special solicitude for the Mother of God, who, in His human nature, suffered and died for our sins.

Our Lady knew intimately that her Divine Son was to destroy death itself – He has defeated our ancient enemy utterly, you must know – though, even when He had, her grief was not erased, but transformed – turned into something – not different, no – but something more like itself – mysteriously so like itself as to be unrecognizable.

Turning: the Gospel readings of this week are filled with turnings of all kinds.

God turning defeat into victory: the angel turning away the stone; the Chief Priests and the Scribes and Pharisees, with the Roman authorities, turning the story into something else; Mary Magdalene turning and turning and turning again at the sight of the angel, and of Our Lord, at the tomb – we are given to see her almost whirling in place – and it must have been dizzying.

We are offered an image of conversion, which is another word for turning, or a word for a specific kind of turning: something I have described elsewhere as:

[A] matter of emigration from ourselves, as we are, and a coming into something that will be like a received mode of speech, a discovery of ourselves as participants in a conversation that we did not start and cannot finish, a conversation regarding precisely the question of who we are and where we find ourselves.

This is at once conversio and conversatio, where this last is an outpouring of self into community of sense. – The Soul of a Nation, 98

Mary Magdalene’s turning may be a turning-in-place, but this turning is also of another kind.

Listen to the Evangelist:

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.'”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her. – Jn. 20:11-18

The verbs of movement in this passage are all telling: when it starts, Mary is staying – abiding, from ἵστημι – at the tomb; then, seeing something and being prompted by the speech of messengers, she first stoops (παρακύπτω – which is to bend down and examine closely – almost “to have a gander”) then turns (στρέφω) – and sees Our Lord, but does not recognize him yet; then, after an exchange with Him (whom she takes – to my endless delight, to be the gardener – and is she wrong?), she turns again (here the root is the same – στρέφω, but the verb form is different, participial – στραφεῖσα, meaning literally, “having turned again”), she recognizes Him at last; “Rabbouni,” she says to Him ; then, He tells her to go (πορεύου) and bring word to His disciples, and she goes (ἔρχεται – from ἔρχομαι, which literally means coming and going) and does what she was told to do.

It is especially that second turning, which happens while she is speaking to this strange fellow, that is most telling: I cannot but take it as the turning of con-version, even as I accept that the text tells us she turned bodily.

It really is a rather pedestrian thing: I think of how I did a double-take when I saw my friend, Patrizia, out walking her family dog the other day, right in our neighborhood, for the simple reason that I was thinking about other things, and did not expect to see her; I did not notice it was she, until she spoke a greeting – and then I was past her, and I did have to turn around (and now that I think of it, perhaps I ought to have apologized for not noticing her) to wave and return her salutation.

Community of sense: we should wonder at how it does make sense, after all: resurrexit, sicut dixit. “He rose, just like He said he would.”

Christianity transforms the order of society, bringing with it a new social reality and opening new possibilities for common life. Christianity does not, however, because on its own premises it cannot not break the power of the old ways of seeing things – or not seeing them – in history.

Christianity cannot force anyone to see that the world is good.

Christians can, however, show the goodness of the world, though only by living lives of sanctity, and we must live those lives in the world: in the midst of institutions designed for all men, noble but fallen creatures awaiting the Good News of their salvation, often unaware of what it is, for which they are waiting.

This is made the more difficult for us, since we do await the final fulfilment of redemption.

St. Paul describes us as people who see now through a glass darkly, capable of recognizing the goodness of the world only through premonitions.

St. Augustine, in book after book of the City of God, presents us to ourselves as pilgrims in a foreign city.

This state or condition is what we mean by the technical term, eschatological tension – a term that refers to a basic human experience: of the world as good, and at the same time not yet good enough — not yet as good as it should be.

“The world is a fine place, and well worth fighting for,” wrote Hemingway in For whom the bell tolls. “I very much hate to leave it,” concludes the famous line, spoken by Jordan, if memory serves.

It may be worth fighting for, but the point is that it is not a fine place: there is plenty of unfinished business about it.

The world, in the words of St. Paul, is groaning in travail:  sharp pangs that come at closing intervals, interspersed with periods of dull pain, and anxiety, and boredom, and a desire to meet new life mixed with a desire just to be done with it already.

The joy of Easter will wane, and give way to humdrum, over and over again, for so long as we remain in history.

Meanwhile, we have a tremendous opportunity: as long as we are here, we have the chance to prove, contra Paganos, that Catholic religion is not only not inimical to the morals of a republic, but can – if practiced – in fact have a quite salutary effect thereupon.

I’ve said it before and here, I’ll say it again: the Catholic Church is the bearer, the caretaker, the champion of the greatest intellectual and spiritual tradition that ever there has been or shall be; that tradition has always inspired those in it to dedicate themselves to the task of making subtle and particular distinctions within the unity of truth, to seek and always be in awe of the infinite nuance necessary and possible within the oneness of knowledge, to live in the confidence that comes from knowing that the world is larger (the Church wiser, and God greater) than one’s own powers of apprehension; indeed,  true religion has always inspired men and women to think all the good they can of those with whom they find themselves in disagreement; to mark and toe the line between the position and the one who holds it; to pronounce judgment only in the case of gravest necessity, and only for the best of all possible motives, i.e. the salvation of souls (the salus animarum, which in the present context also has the added incentive of serving the salus rei publicae).

Well, we may or may not save the republic: I’ll be sorrier than most to see it go, I think, though I am sure the best hope for it is to live so as to make it worth saving, and to leave the rest to providence.

The whole point is that the glory of the world is passing: only Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.

Surrexit Christus! Surrexit vere! Alleluia!

Resurrection
“Resurrection” by Piero della Francesca, via Wikimedia Commons

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Show Notes

Stabat Mater composed by Charles Villiers Stanford, performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (there is a version available on YouTube under their standard license here)

Regina Coeli standard Gregorian plain chant.

Surrexit Christus Hodie composed by Samuel Scheidt and performed by Vox Luminis under the direction of Lionel Meunier (hear a short sample on YouTube here).

 

 

 

 

 

Special: Good Friday

Why do we call this Friday, “Good”? The question is not occasioned by any sort of mystical inkling, but by something rather more prosaic: the UK grocery chain, TESCO’s unfortunate ad, flogging their Easter weekend beer and cider sale.

“Good Friday just got better!” their ad proclaims. As Our Lord had only easel and gall to wet His lips, the bar were fairly low.

First, it bears mention that “Good Friday” is a diction peculiar to English. In most modern European tongues, anyway, the day is simply “Holy Friday”, while in the typical edition of the Roman Breviary, it is feria sexta infra hebdomadam sanctam – Friday of Holy Week.

So, if we are thinking with the Church about this peculiarity, we are not only thinking with the Church in English, but thinking with the English-speaking Church.

What is good about this day?

Certainly, it is good to recall the event that won for us redemption, and for the world, salvation.

The thing itself, though: the death of God?

What is good about that?

Nothing.

And also everything.

God made the world out of nothing, and it was good.

He annihilated Himself in His human nature, to save the world He had made.

The world of His creation is rife with examples of good things coming out of evil, but these are always cases of consequence, and often unintended.

On the Cross, God Himself becomes the nothingness of sin – for evil is privation, it has no being – and, having become that nothingness, makes all things new.

Stat crux, dum volvitur orbis.

I’ve always loved the hymn, “Were you there?”

I know it’s Protestant in origin.

I don’t care: there’s nothing wrong with it theologically (the way there is in many Catholic hymns from the silly season).

What do I love about it? I love its simplicity: it indicts us, and through it, we indict ourselves.

“Were you there?”

No, I wasn’t.

If I’d been alive, I’d have scattered and hid like His other “friends” … or I’d have been there, in the crowd, calling for His blood, or holding a scourge or a hammer.

That does cause me to tremble.

Ave crux, spes unica!

Orrente-crucifixion

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Show Notes

Vexilla Regis performed by the Choralschola, Capella antiqua München, under the direction of the late Konrad Ruhland.

Were You There?” instrumental overture performed by the Annie Moses Band

Were You There?” performed by Victor Trent Cook and the Three Mo’ Tenors

 

Special: a meditation on Holy Week

Dear friends, this week and next, in view of Easter, we are not bringing out any regularly scheduled programming. Nevertheless, we thought it fitting to bring you some meditative reflections on the significance of this week in the life of the Church and of all those, who profess her creed.

In this special edition, we’ll be reflecting first on Holy Week in general, and on this Holy Week in particular.

Nowhere is it more visible – to those with eyes to see – that the Church is the Body of Christ, than in her liturgical life, and so at no time more clearly than during Holy Week.

Her official prayer is tense, taut, more and more so as the Week progresses; the Propers are terse, pregnant with anticipation and foreboding; her music wanes, tempos become irregular, harmonies withering as the hour of Passion approaches; then, all erupts in a song of lament to break the heart and shatter the sky, and then all tone gives way to thunder, and thunder to a soul-slaying murmur on Good Friday, with the cacophony of a death rattle, then…silence, and the darkness of the tomb; sometime later, a still, small voice pierces the silent but unquiet gloom, and a light flickers, grows, and spreads to fill the universe with its splendor and its glory, and a song of deathless joy fills the world.

Seven days, to mirror the Seven Days of Creation: we begin with a riot of color and pomp, as Our Lord enters the Holy City, Jerusalem; as the week progresses, the sounds and the colors and even the textures and olfactory delights first grow, then quickly fade and darken; they lose their strength, their vital complexity; on Good Friday, we are left only with the clang and clatter of the crotalus; then, silence.

GaudenzioFerrari_StorieCristo_Varallo2
Gaudenzio Ferrari, Stories of life and passion of Christ, fresco, 1513, Church of S.M. delle Grazie, Varallo Sesia, Italy, via Wikimedia Commons

Holy Saturday, the Seventh Day, Our Lord rests: not in glorious regal and imperial presidency over His creation, which He made for His abode and dwelling place among his creatures, with Men to be his stewards in the Garden; this is the silent sleep of death.

Night falls.

All creation is plunged into utter darkness.

Then, out of the darkling silence, a glimmering light, and a single, still sad and solemn note, that together split the night: Lumen ChristiDeo Gratias.

Then, not a riot, but a song of exultation and of praise: rising from beneath the basement of Time, a Song of Victory, waiting to be sung since before the fashioning of the world.

Exsultet iam angelica turba caelorum exsultent divina mysteria et pro tanti Regis victoria, tuba insonet salutaris. Let now the heavenly hosts of angels rejoice let the living mysteries be joyfully celebrated: and let a sacred trumpet proclaim the victory of so great a King.
Read the whole text of the Exultet at Preces Latinae

Reflections on the pitch and moment of this week, in which the whole course of history – from the first casting of light, to the cold failure of the universe – is played out for us in a pageant mysteriously more real than you or I – can often give rise to sentiments of penitence, gratitude, and deep delight.

The past several years, running, this has been the case for me: no matter what has been going on in my life, Holy Week has presented itself to me as a time of consolation.

This Week is different.

This Week for me is signed by dryness: I rise and work and eat and sleep a little, answer letters and run errands, and the world seems to fall apart.

If I am honest, I will say that I am angry – and I believe my anger to be righteous.

Then, I reflect that the Iscariot was worldly wise, politically savvy, and as legitimately aggrieved as almost any other member of his people.

That is as it must be, I suppose – and there, but for the Grace of God, go I (there go we all).

There is, however, something I have described elsewhere as a sort of grim determination: adamant, even uncanny.

This comes from knowing that what might go wrong must go wrong, that the center cannot hold, that the world is given over to the infernal powers for the punishment of the wicked.

This knowledge, however, is coupled with another: that, beyond history, there is the Victory established before the foundation of the world, in the slaying of the Lamb.

Just before his election to the See of Peter, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI said, “The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: he himself suffers for us, in the person of his Son.”

Here we are.

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Show notes: all the music used for the audio package is under fair use.

The pieces are:

The links take to full executions of the pieces, with full performance credits.

The crotalus sound effect was our production, based on a sample from FC Ziegler.