Boulder Aquinas Center hosting Father Mike Schmitz and more for virtual speaker series

Aaron Lambert

Over the next few months, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder is hosting a stacked speaker series that’s sure to be as intellectually stimulating as it is informative and useful in navigating some of today’s most contentious issues.

The Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought is the intellectual formation arm of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Each year, they host a variety of speakers and debates which address some of the hot topics of the times from a Catholic perspective. This year, due to COVID restrictions, these events cannot be held in-person, so the AICT is going the virtual route instead.

Instead of the usual lecture format the speaker series utilizes, Dr. Scott Powell, director of the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, will be engaging in livestreamed conversations with the speakers, the first of which was Sept. 22 with Father Josh Johnson, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La. and author of Broken and Blessed, who discussed “Loving Well Across the Racial Divide.” The conversation format, Powell said, is both “easier to listen to,” and also reflects the goal of the speaker series, which is to show that it is possible to engage in conversations about contentious issues in a loving and civil way.

“There is an underlying theme that kind of runs through[the talks],” Powell explained. “The point to make is that a lot of folks aren’t actually having conversations about these things. We’re hearing soundbites. We’re hearing people yelling at each other. We’re seeing things being thrown at us and spit at us and yelled at us by the media, but we’re not seeing the experience of sitting down and talking through things.

“The reason I chose these particular topics and these particular speakers is that these are the questions that our students are asking and these are the conversations that they’re having online with each other,” Dr. Powell said. “I want them to know definitively that the church has stuff to say about this.”

Next Monday, Oct. 19. Dr. Powell will engage in a conversation with Father Mike Schmitz about “Building Community in a Time of COVID.” Father Schmitz is the director of youth and young adult ministries in the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., and is best known for his YouTube videos in which he answers theological and moral questions.

On November 19, Dr. Powell will host a conversation with J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, on the topic of “Fake News and Spiritual Exhaustion.”

Finally, on Jan. 14, 2021, Dr. Powell will speak with Professor Robert George of Princeton University and Professor Cornell West of Harvard University and ask the question: “Is Civil Discourse Dead?” Professors George and Cornell are at two different ends of the ideological spectrum, yet their friendship and ability to engage in discourse is well known among the scholarly community.

“The climax, of course, is the one with Robert George and Cornell West in January; two men who have a deep, deep love for each other and a deep friendship with each other, but who disagree pretty intensely, politically and societally and about all sorts of other things,” said Powell. “Theirs is a demonstration of how we can actually disagree with each other in love.”

The talks start at 7 p.m. mountain time and can be viewed on YouTube or at thomascenter.org/aict.

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.