Our Experience at the Chesterton Conference

We’ve been away from the blog for a while, so I’m here to fill you in on what we were up to last month.

August began with a dream come true – the American Chesterton Society held it’s 34th annual conference right here in San Antonio! Being long-time readers of Gilbert MagazineIMG_2728 and fans of GK Chesterton, we were thrilled at this opportunity to attend the conference right in our own backyard.   On August 5th Dale Ahlquist arrived in SA to set up for the conference. This provided a chance for us to have him in studio with us on A Good Habit Episodes. Back in 2013 Dale was our very first guest on the show, joining us via phone from his home in Minnesota, and we were eager to have him on again. Dale is always gracious, funny and a great fit for our show since we talk about “anything and everything” – which also describes all the different topics and ideas about which Chesterton wrote.

After the show we drove Dale to his hotel, and he very kindly invited us to join him and some of the other ACS members for a lateIMG_1656 lunch. So we found ourselves at the restaurant of the historic Menger Hotel right across from the Alamo. We have often passed by this San Antonio landmark, but have never been inside. As was often mentioned during the conference, the hotel bar was the site where Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders, and where Oscar Wilde likely had lunch while in San Antonio.  It can now add “Site of the 34th Annual American Chesterton Conference” to its list of notable achievements.  The Menger is also said to be haunted, something they are very proud of. We didn’t see any ghosts, but we did encounter Nancy Carpentier Brown, whose book on Frances Chesterton, The Woman Who Was Chesterton, is soon-to-be released.  She also took this picture of us having fun in the old phone booths by the lobby.

It felt a little surreal to meet people you’ve known for years, though only through the pages of a magazine.   We were introduced to Richard Aleman (President of the Society for Distributism and contributing editor for Gilbert Magazine), Kevin O’Brien (one of the conference speakers, he also writes for St. Austin Review and spends most of his time on stage with his Theater of the Word, Inc), Julian Ahlquist (Dale’s son, who apparently spoke at one conference on the topic of Chesterton and Aliens!), and Mairin and Rose, two lovely young ladies from the ACS office.

When dining with Chestertonians there are two things you can expect: good food and good conversation. Well, maybe a third thing you can expect is fermented beverages.

 Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world. ― G.K. Chesterton  

As for the good conversation, Richard Aleman’s end of the table covered the topic of distributism – always worth talking about, since it is so little understood.1514623_10152948046197301_2043875294044550129_n At the other end of the table Dale and Kevin O’Brien covered other topics – I’m not quite sure what they were, actually, since I ended up in the distributist conversation. All I know is that there was a lot of laughter and loud conversation coming from their end of the table.

The next evening the conference began with a welcome talk by Dale. We just love listening to Dale talk about Chesterton; he’s completely imbued with his thought, which is only natural since he’s been marinating in Chesterton for many, many years. One thing he IMG_2778talked about which really struck me was that GKC’s greatest accomplishment was that he remained GKC; he became the person God created him to be. Freedom, he said, is the ability of a thing to be itself. And in that sense Chesterton was truly free, and filled with a spirit of gratitude and wonder.   For myself, I really did feel Chesterton’s presence throughout the conference, and I had a sense that I was receiving a lot of graces through his intercession.  Though he’s not a canonized saint (not yet, anyway) I have long counted him among my saint friends, and I dare say he is my favorite (after Our Lady, of course). Since the conference, I have been asking for his help that I might develop a truly grateful heart and a child-like sense of wonder. The whole idea of gratitude hits home with us because our religious order is dedicated to Eucharistic Adoration in a spirit of thanksgiving, so thankfulness and gratitude are quite central to our spirit as Franciscan adorers.  Gratitude leaves little room in our heart for resentment, always something with which I always need help.  Another remarkable thing about Chesterton was that he truly loved his enemies; in fact, he didn’t consider them enemies at all.  He had a real gift for argument and debate, all in charity, without ever losing sight of the dignity of his opponent.  Chesterton was a truly amazing man whose virtues I hope to acquire one day.

One thing which struck me was the number of young people in attendance.  It’s a good rP20-GKC-800x500eminder that truth has universal appeal, and there are still plenty of young men and women whose ears are more attuned to truth than to the noise and distractions of the world.  It was unusual, and so refreshing, to see people sitting around talking or reading books (real live books, not Kindles or iPhones) during the breaks.

The conference ended with Mass at nearby St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. This little jewel is surrounded on three sides by Rivercenter Mall, so you could almost miss it if you weren’t looking. The Germans built this beautiful little church over a hundred years ago, and even though Joske’s Department Store tried to buy it and tear it down in 1945, the Church is very much alive, and Joske’s is no more. The Blessed Sacrament Fathers have been caring for the parish since 1982, and this is one reason we love going there whenever we have the chance; we always feel at home wherever the Blessed Sacrament is loved and adored. Monday through Friday they have Eucharistic Adoration and confession in the morning – what more can you ask for?

It was very moving to end the conference worshiping God in a beautiful Church, all of us together. Fr. Spencer Howe, a young priest from Minnesota who also spoke at the conference, gave a very beautiful homily about spiritual childhood, which was one of Chesterton’s most notable virtues.   This was the only time all weekend I didn’t take notes, so I’m hoping they include it in the conference talk CDs, or at least publish it in Gilbert Magazine.

The whole conference was permeated by a very tangible joy, and a feeling of camaraderie. Out of all the conferences I have been to, this one had a spirit all its own, of laughter, joy, and friendship. Even though it wasn’t a Catholic conference per se, with Chesterton it always does end up there, because he was always oriented toward the Truth, and it lead him into the sacramental embrace of Christ in His Catholic Church. Not all of the attendees were Catholic, but I dare say they will likely all end up Catholics one day.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of our favorite conference talks.

A golden thread in the tapestry of the Church

Miniature of St. Benedict

It’s hard to overstate the influence of St. Benedict of Nursia.  He is the Father of Western Monasticism, whose rule of life became the strong root from which so many religious orders grew.  Were it not for St. Benedict, the light of truth, wisdom, learning, art, history, music, and the works of ancient philosophers may never have survived, for without his influence, there might not have been numerous monasteries of resilient monks to rebuild and restore civilization after the barbarian invasions.

We want to share a wonderful address given recently by Fr. Thomas Rosica at the Catholic Media Convention in Denver, Colorado.  We especially loved the way he links the great Saint Benedict of Nursia with our own Saint Francis of Assisi, and Pope Emeritus Benedict with our present Pope Francis.  Using a beautiful quote from the celebrated book on Saint Francis by GK Chesterton (a quote which we  just happened to hear for the first time when Dale Ahlquist was on our radio show a couple weeks ago),  Father Rosica draws the parallels between these four men, whose names and missions intertwine in a way that shows the marvelous workings of the Holy Spirit.  Four men in different times, different centuries, and yet interwoven together in the amazing tapestry of the Church.  We hope you find it as inspiring as we did.

Click here to read Fr. Rosica’s address at the Catholic Media Convention.

Home & Hearth

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This past Wednesday we had the privilege of chatting with Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, on our radio show.  His ardent love and enthusiasm for the thought and virtue of GK Chesterton is contagious – we found ourselves talking about it for the rest of the evening.

Among the many prophetic insights of Chesterton which Dale shared with us, the one that most struck a chord with us  was GKC’s realization that the west was facing the rise of a new Dark Ages (and remember, he saw this coming some 80 years ago), with an attack on the sanctity and autonomy of the family.  In these new times, he said, the family would be as the monasteries of old during the Dark Ages of barbarian invasions – luminous beacons  tasked with preserving truth, beauty, craft, art, life, and culture.  (For an in-depth look at how exactly the monasteries did this, read How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas Woods, Jr).

Wow!  Think about that for a moment: the family, the domestic church, as Pope John Paul II often called it, acting in the capacity of the monasteries which did so much to preserve, transform, and build the culture of Europe.  As quickly as the barbarians burned the monasteries to the ground, the monks began anew, rebuilding churches, re-copying ancient manuscripts.  They were hardy and resilient; like weeds, they just kept coming back.

Home is where the hearth is.  It is also the first place we should find holiness, beauty, art, and truth.  That hearth that warms our homes is to be more than just a cozy place to gather our families. God is asking us to stoke that fire until it becomes a blazing beacon of light, whose brilliance will shine out against the darkness of a culture of death and hopelessness.  And as you stoke the hearth fire in your own home, others will be kindled, too.  One thing about fire, it’s hard to contain, and this fire of truth and beauty is the kind that needs to spread.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Jn 1:5

Listen to our interview with Dale Ahlquist:

To learn more about GK Chesterton, or to find out more about the American Chesterton Society, including their upcoming conference, click here.  You’ll find lots of resources, events, and other things to feed your mind and your soul.

And if you’re new to the writings of Chesterton, you’ll find great suggestions on where to start reading by checking out their Chesterton reading plan.

Consider a subscription to Gilbert Magazine (one of our favorite publications), an artfully and thoughtfully produced periodical devoted to Chesterton’s thought and writings.

From Beaconsfield to ‘the end of the earth’

What do they have in common? Tune in Wednesday to find out!

What could an English journalist who died almost 100 years ago have in common with an Argentinian Jesuit drawn from ‘the end of the earth’ to the Chair of Peter?  A lot!

Tune in to A Good Habit this Wednesday, June 26th, to hear Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, expound on the connection between GK Chesterton and Pope Francis.  It’s sure to be a great show!