Last weekend two of us attended the Napa Institute in Napa, California, at the invitation of the Becket Fund, a co-sponsor of the event. What a intellectually simulating, spiritually edifying and gastronomically delicious weekend!
The Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges of what Archbishop Charles Chaput has called the “next America.” This term denotes today’s emerging secular society, which threatens the Church’s relevance and liberty to exercise her mission in the world. The Napa Institute seeks to lead Catholic leaders to a deeper understanding of the truth behind the faith with “a peaceful confidence that is borne out of solid formation, fellowship and spiritual enrichment.” Although it sponsors a number of events, the cornerstone of the Napa Institute is its annual summer conference, held at the Meritage Resort in the heart of Napa’s wine country. This year’s conference welcomed 450 participants from around the U.S. and abroad.
We flew into San Francisco and set off for Napa before sunrise on Thursday, July 30 in a car borrowed from our Little Sisters there. From the Golden Gate Bridge, which was just emerging from the darkness of night, we headed northeast along scenic roads, taking in the vistas of rolling hills before us. After about an hour we found ourselves in wine country, where vineyards broke up the dry, scorched landscape with neatly arranged green stripes. The vineyards are watered by elaborate irrigation systems, so they remain green and fruit-filled despite California’s drought.
There were several west coast bishops in attendance at the conference, along with numerous members of the clergy and several women’s and men’s religious communities. The Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart from Alhambra helped assure the music for liturgies. We also spent time with the Nashville Dominicans and met the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, a new community from Spokane, Washington.
The conference schedule was packed with interesting and edifying talks, breakout sessions and several
Masses each day, celebrated in various styles, giving us our first experience of the Latin extraordinary form. The resort’s underground wine cave, usually used for weddings and other events, had been transformed into a chapel for the weekend and there is a permanent chapel just inside the hotel lobby. There were also recreational and cultural activities in the evening, including previews of several soon-to-be released movies.
Among a host of prominent theologians, evangelizers and ethicists, Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P. stood us and touched us all with his gentle fatherly manner and sense of humor. He gave us an hour-long tour of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the writing of which he played a key role, highlighting twenty of its key articles.
Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J., the Napa Institute’s president, was also very impressive. Although suffering from progressive blindness, Father Spitzer gave several presentations and served as emcee, summarizing each speech in a most joyful, compliment-filled manner.
We were thoroughly energized by the weekend and headed back to San Francisco remembering something that George Weigel had suggested during one of his presentations: “Mission territory begins here!” (meaning everywhere!), and “It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre” (Pope Pius XI)!