CFN Conference Report from 2013 “Saints, Sinners, Scholars and Scoundrels” CFN Conference, Cleveland Ohio
A Magnificent Weekend!
Report from 2013 “Saints, Sinners,
Scholars and Scoundrels”
CFN Conference, Cleveland Ohio
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“The conference was outstanding" said one attendee.
“Really spectacular and inspirational. These conferences keep getting better and better,” said another.
Catholic Family News held its “Saints Sinners Scholars and Scoundrel Part II” Conference in Cleveland Ohio, the weekend of April 5-7. It was a spectacular weekend.
Ten speakers chose a person in history, told his story, and explained why this individual is of interest to Catholics today. It was a glowing weekend of story-telling, inspiration and education.
Well-known Catholic author Cornelia Ferreira gave the first talk entitled: Saint Damien of Molokai: Apostle to the Living Dead
A number of people were in the verge of tears during this immensely moving presentation. The nineteenth-century Belgian priest, Damien de Veuster, prayed to be a missionary like St. Francis Xavier. Totally dedicated to extending the Kingdom of Christ on earth, Damien wangled a posting to the Hawaiian mission of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Shortly thereafter, probably aware he was signing his death sentence, he volunteered to labor amongst the exiled lepers on the remote Hawaiian island of Molokai.
Slogging through incredible hardships, like the great Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Damien single-handedly built a “micro”-Christendom amongst the poorest of physical and spiritual outcasts. Even after contracting the dread disease he continued laboring until his body totally failed. The details of his work with the lepers are stunning. His heroic zeal for the glory of God, and his untiring advocacy on behalf of the people he loved in Christ dispelled prejudices, effected vitally-needed social change, and inspired a worldwide outpouring of charity and philanthropy. Reflecting the finest of Catholic missionary tradition, St. Damien’s life shines in brilliant counterpoint to the insipid anti-evangelism of modern Catholics.
Father Cyprian, OSB, Prior of the Traditional Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Silver City NM, spoke on: Saint Benedict, Founder of Western Monasticism.
“What a great privilege to be a son of such a great Father,” opened Father Cyprian, “and a great privilege to talk about this great Father.” Father Cyprian offered a compressive lecture on Saint Benedict and the rich contribution of Benedictine Monasticism to the Church and to Western Civilization. The monks’ first work is “to seek God”, and all other things were given them besides. He quoted Cardinal John Henry Newman who categorized three ages of the Church: the Benedictine Age, starting in the 5th century; the Dominican age that began in the 13th, and the Jesuit Age that commended in the 16th. The Benedictine age was one of flight from the world. The Dominican age was the golden age of knowledge (epitomized in St. Thomas Aquinas); the Jesuit age was the practical age of instructing mass swaths of people. We are now in the “Modern” age where we have returned to decay.
Father Cyprian explains the heart of the Benedictine life: “The center of Benedictine life is the worship of God. All else surrounds it and supports it; like the tabernacle that encloses the Blessed Sacrament, like the sanctuary that surrounds the tabernacle, like the church that encloses the sanctuary, like the monastery that is constructed around the Church. And then beyond the buildings; the fields to supply wheat for the host, the vineyards that supply grapes for the wine for the Mass. And the entire way of life surrounds these realities. The Benedictine way of life is the model for all Christendom.” Father Cyprian also covered the Rule, the succession of miracles in Saint Benedict’s life, and Cardinal Neumann’s observations that in this modern age of decay, we must return to the spirit of Benedictines to supply the stability in the face of crisis, and the conversion of life to bring us closer to God. A magnificent presentation.
Catholic Family News Editor John Vennari spoke on “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Man vs. the Myth (with a Special Mention of Pope Francis)”.
Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most misrepresented saints of our time. He is portrayed as a champion of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue; a proto-environmentalist; a kind of hippie peace-nik pushover. None of these portrayals are accurate. In an organized and entertaining manner, Mr. Vennari presents the fascinating true story of Saint Francis, the contemporary forces that shaped who he was, and how he was a great enemy of heresy in religion and slackness in religious life. Saint Francis and his Order represented the “Knighthood of the Cross,” with all the chivalry, adventure and heroic strength that goes the valiant Knight in service to his King.
Newly-elected Pope Francis was also discussed at the end of this presentation and the question is posed: Is Pope Francis more in line with the true Saint Francis, or with the false, modern ecumenical Francis who never existed? Mr. Vennari also gave vital helpful key principles on how to accurately consider modern Popes: we must look at each one with our intellect (who he actually is) rather than with our will (who we would want him to be).
Dr. Andrew Childs’ talk was titled, Don Juan, Operatic Hero, Cautionary Tale.
Don Juan is one of the most famous libertines in all of literature. To the humanist, he is a ‘hero’, the epitome of the free man following his own will. To the Catholic, he is a scoundrel, a seducer, a man who fills us with dread, and whom we would never want our daughters to meet. Dr. Child’s delivered a fascinating speech on the historicity and the myth surrounding the man and the artistic depiction he inspired, from Molière and Byron in literature, to Mozart and Richard Strauss in music.
As is usually the case in Dr. Childs’ unique and informative presentations, he provided a sound track to make his point: in this case, the work of Richard Straus from the humanist perspective, and Mozart from what can only be called the Catholic perspective. For Straus, Don Juan simply withers and dies. For Mozart, Don Giovanni refuses repeated calls to conversion and is then consumed by the fires of hell. A frightening and dramatic presentation. It is a “Cautionary Tale” as it serves as a warning to all men and women not to follow the free-wheeling spirit of Don Juan.
Dr. Brian McCall spoke on the pivotal topic: “Saint Thomas Aquinas: Go to Thomas to Find Our Way out of the Crisis”.
After a brief and comprehensive rendition of Saint Thomas life, Dr. McCall plunged into the importance of Thomistic philosophy and theology for the life of the Church. St. Pius V made him Doctor of the Church. Leo XIII declared him patron of all Catholic universities, academies, colleges, and schools throughout the world. Sixty popes recommend above all others. Innocent VI’s words deserve special mention: “His teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language, an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error.”
Dr. McCall particularly demonstrated how the theological errors that Aquinas fought in his own day have come back in the form of Modernism’s “Evolving dogma”, no fixed essences, confusion of nature and supernature, denial of cause and effect (which is why modern Vatican prelates claim that the Council did not cause the present crisis), and almost every other error we now face. It is no wonder Saint Pius X said that Thomistic Scholasticism is the remedy to Modernism. Pius X went so far as to declare in his 1920 Decree regarding the Oath Against Modernism, ‘“In the future the doctorate in theology or Canon Law must never be conferred on anyone who has not first of all made the regular course in scholastic [Thomistic] philosophy. If such a doctorate is conferred, it is to be held as null and void.”
Noted Catholic author and speaker Louie Verrecchio spoke on: “John Courtney Murray: Broker of the Post-Conciliar Apostolic Cease Fire.”
According to neo-conservative icon, George Weigel, “It took the Church the better part of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to develop a robust Catholic concept of religious freedom” as enshrined in the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, and this thanks in large measure to the “intellectual virtuosity” of the American born Jesuit theologian, John Courtney Murray. Mr. Verrecchio explained that this so-called “American contribution” to the Council is not an achievement to be applauded, but a debacle to be lamented.
The talk contained a brilliant examination of Murray’s writings, both before and after the Council, offered remarkable insight into his motives and his methods for attempting to reconcile the Church's traditional doctrine on religious liberty with the pluralistic U.S. Constitutional approach. Revealed in the process are the fundamental flaws that all but assured that the Church moving forward would labor, as She does to this day, under a self-imposed apostolic cease fire, wherein missionary zeal has effectively been relinquished in exchange for a seat at the table with humanists, heathens and heretics. Mr. Verrecchio has a gift a making this seemingly complex topic easy to understand, as well as the ability to deliver an enjoyable presentation.
Catholic writer Susan Vennari ’s presentation was: “Something Foreign: George Makdisi on the Rise of Conflict Between the Theologians and the Magisterium”
The presentation centered on a scholar with whom Mrs. Vennari worked for years. Dr. George Makdisi, and thus the talk was both personal and unique. She started with the question: today there seems to be a rivalry between the “authority” of the theologian and the magisterium of the bishops. Where did this “split” come from? It turns out, it comes not from the West but from classical Islam wherein authority to teach does not flow from the Sacrament of Holy Orders (as it does in Christ’s true Church) but from the “Doctorate”. Mrs. Vennari spoke of the immense contribution to this subject by Professor George Makdisi, an expert on Middle East studies of the 11th Century, and an expert on Intellectual History.
Makdisi became one of the most respected researchers in his field, and was granted academic honors from institutions worldwide. His meticulous scholarly research led him to produce two major works on the problem of the rise of both scholasticism and humanism (i.e. the studia humanitatis) in the Christian Latin West. He also had much to say on the conflict that had been tearing the Church throughout the recent times: Her magisterial authority versus the theologians. In somewhat of a memoir, Mrs. Vennari reflected on the intellectual life and the formation of a Catholic scholar before plunging into an explanation of Professor Makdisi’s tantalizing thesis on the foreign elements that fomented the modern conflict in the magisterium.
Dr. Peter Chojnowski’s talk was on the great Hilaire Belloc: Hammer of Historians.
Dr. Chojnowski’s talk began in a most entertaining manner, as he regaled the audience with humorous and rather dark children’s poetry written by Belloc. He also focused on Belloc’s early life, his tumultuous courtship, and the fact that after he was initially rejected by the girl he hoped to marry, he walked the entire length of the United States from California to New York, and then returned to Europe. Dr. Chojnowski also briefly treated of the other ‘other half’ of Belloc, G. K. Chesterton.
Hilaire Belloc was the apologist in the English-speaking world for the great “enemy” of the Liberal Enlightenment mind, the Catholic Church. This poet, historian, controversalist, parliamentarian, economic theorist, and grand human personality could have been one of lights of British academia and letters if he had done one thing, given up his membership in the Catholic Church. Instead of renouncing what he knew to be the true religious patrimony of Britain, he took of the sword of his pen and his words in defense of the Catholic Church and the civilization that She had created both in England and throughout Europe. The robust, assertive, and erudite personality of Belloc serves as a model for all traditional Catholics who confront all the evil ideologies of Belloc's day, but to a degree almost unimaginable to Belloc himself.
Christopher Ferrara’s presentation was “John Locke: Un-Lockeing America”.
American is not so much a Christian nation as it is a Lockian nation, a nation founded on the principles of the “Enlightenment” philosopher John Locke. This talk is a kind of one-stop summary of Mr. Ferrara's spectacular book: Liberty the God that Failed.
According to “conservative” thread of the Liberty narrative, our "conservative" inheritance consists of the supposedly "moderate" political theory and natural rights philosophy of John Locke and the "wisdom" of the Founders and Framers in following a Lockean blueprint when they waged a revolution and devised a Constitution for the new nation they "conceived in Liberty." But the "moderate" Enlightenment of which Lockean liberalism is the exemplar was objectively a radical break with the Greco-Catholic vision of social order embodied in the Christian commonwealth of fifteen centuries' standing. The demolition of Christendom – first in theory and then in practice – created the trajectory from Locke to Obama. Today we behold the final consequences of Liberty, the god that failed. Corrects many of the myths of America and Americanism, including the actual philosophy that drove both sides of the American Civil War. Insists on the one and only true answer: Jesus Christ and his Social Reign over nations.
Father Nicholas Gruner, publisher of the Fatima Crusader, spoke on “Blessed Jacinta of Fatima: Little Giant of Heroic Virtue”.
Father Gruner gave an impressive overview of Jacinta who was clearly the repository of extraordinary graces. Perhaps the most singular incident that shaped Jacinta’s life was the vision of hell of July 13, 1917. She became consumed with a desire to make sacrifices for sinners and lived this commitment to a heroic degree. Imposing on herself severe penances, even Our Lady had to come to temper her zeal.
Father Gruner takes you through her life, including the remarkable last years where she suffered in the hospital in Lisbon, having four ribs removed even though the local anesthetic did not work. The doctor was profoundly moved to hear her say during this intense agony, “Now, my Jesus, you can save many souls, because I suffer very much.” Along with the various aspects on Jacinta’s life, Father Gruner gave some preliminary reflections on the newly-elected Pope Francis. Will Pope Francis be, even in spite of himself, the Pontiff to finally perform the Consecration of Russia? There is much food for thought.
The conference contained a magnificent variety; uplifting presentations. We hope you purchase the lectures, bring the conference home, and benefit from the rich collection of lectures from the weekend.
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Special price for the entire set.