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, “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.


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