Sunday, March 22


Thoughts, at last

Some of you have probably been wondering where we’ve been since 4:30 or so on Friday. Speaking for myself, I’ve been winnowing through what’s being said around the interwebs, and waiting, as counseled over at Whispers, for the other shoe to drop:

"Later this weekend, the university -- the crown jewel of American Catholic education -- will announce 2009's winner of the aforementioned Laetare Medal, the Stateside church's most prestigious homegrown honor.

As Catholicism at its purest tends to favor the "great et et," any sound reaction to today's news might just want to wait until the other shoe drops.

In other words, stay tuned."

And I finally feel ready to say a few words about this whole situation. You might want to top off your coffee before you settle down to read this one, folks, it’s going to be a tad long (though nothing for Matt’s devoted readers, I’m sure).

Okay? okay. Well, folks, this one is pretty bad, and no doubt about it. Now, on the one hand, of course, I would imagine that Notre Dame, like many other major universities, invites the sitting President as a matter of course. They may not have expected an acceptance any more than usual. I am not pointing this out to excuse the invitation, because, of course, one would hope that there is much thought put into any honor bestowed by the University. I am merely noting that he may not have been singled out particularly. It’s still inexcusable, as they’ve managed to bring scandal to many, as well as marring the exercises by causing many graduates to question whether they can even attend their own commencement in good conscience.

I gather that the administration's take is that we need to engage the president in dialogue, and that inviting him to speak somehow fulfills this. I imagine that I do not need to point out the flaws in this argument to our readership, as he is being honored by the university, and not merely invited to lecture or debate. Keeping the lines of communication open is always good; but I doubt they’re turning the commencement exercises into a town hall debate.

The flaws in the argument having been duly noted, I think that being aware of their rationale can be helpful in voicing our objections. It is true, of course, that we are called as Catholics to engage those with whom we disagree. The problem is that the opportunity for scandal to the Faithful has been ignored, perhaps willfully, by the administration. The argument for inviting him is rather nuanced, if flawed, and it behooves arguments against his coming to be well thought out and address more nuanced points. As a commenter elsewhere noted:

"saying ‘ND thinks it's okay to kill babies!’ fails to recognize the complexity of the situation. Something like ‘ND isn't taking Obama's policies toward life issues into serious enough consideration’ is a much better argument.

The difference between an ordinary speaking engagement or debate and the honor of giving a commencement address ought to be highlighted, as well as our duty to avoid giving scandal. We are not trying to retreat to the ghetto, and we do need to live in the world, but given the at least potential appearance of endorsing the president's pro-abortion actions, the choice was a highly imprudent one, at best.

Of course, that "other shoe" mentioned earlier, the bestowal of the Laetare medal upon Mary Ann Glendon, is a rather interesting wrinkle in the whole affair. I have often said that Notre Dame is a microcosm of the Church in America, for better or worse, and this juxtaposition certainly highlights the "here comes everybody" aspect of the place. Now, as Rocco noted, Laetare recipients are informed months in advance, whereas the Commencement speaker was only secured days ago, so please, no jumping to conclusions about the University covering for themselves; Ms. Glendon was chosen on her own merits.

Now, as to responses: I realize that Notre Dame is representative of American Catholic identity in so many ways, and thus we all (in the US, at least) have a stake in this. First, though, please understand that those of us with a stronger connection to the University really do love her; enough, paraphrasing Chesterton, to smash the whole place for the sake of herself, if it comes to that (though I don’t think we’re there yet). If we get a bit defensive at comments made by those who are less tied up in it, it is likely because we see a lot of smashing and not much love, and we ought always to speak with charity, even of institutions. I’ve read from many people ready to abandon the place to the wolves, but, as her "loyal sons," we just can’t do that, no matter how disappointed we are. Besides, those of us who know her beyond what is said on the blogs know that it’s not a Sodom and Gomorrah situation, with only a few good men worth saving. I’m not being sentimental when I say that the academic and spiritual vibrancy there has transformed the lives of too many people to begin naming.

Thus, any sort of protest, public and private, needs to be measured in terms of its effectiveness. I’ve read a lot of word from third parties proposing major protests on the day of the event, and I can understand the sentiment behind this, but it is my strong opinion that any such efforts need to come from within. It’s pretty meaningless to sacrifice someone else’s commencement day, honestly, and I would imagine that even students who disagree with the choice are going to be more annoyed at outside protesters crashing their campus and marring their commencement than anything.

Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; … It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. CCC 1806 (emphasis mine)

For those of you who are curious about the mood on-campus, I received an email this morning from a current student with permission to excerpt:
First off, we were just as blind-sided as everyone else on Friday. Rather than act on the first righteous anger we felt, the students are taking a few days to decide how best to present a unified and effective front. Keep in mind that, as students, we have lots of other demands on our time, and it's just not possible for us to come with a clever, effective strategy in an hour. Rest assured that it is foremost in our minds; we just don't want to take the first outraged, half-assed, counterproductive form of protest that comes to mind.

Having established that, I hope it's clear why we're not all thrilled about the prospect of CNS or anyone else coming in to "rescue" us. At this point, it really is best if those groups step back, let the students formulate a response, and be there for support if we need you.

There are several Facebook groups dedicated to this protest, whatever form it ultimately takes. One of them can be found here, and I would encourage people - especially students - to join. Besides being the best way to get updates, high group membership is (strangely enough) the kind of thing that news outlets pick up on. Also, ND Right to Life's Collegiate Conference is coming up next weekend, and in light of these recent events, it would be great to have high attendance.

Finally, I would ask that people pray for Our Lady's University. Don't pray that it be struck down with divine flames. Don't pray that the poor brainwashed Domers come to their senses and transfer out of there. Don't pray that the good professors come to their senses and go elsewhere. Pray for the Catholic character of this University and for all those who are trying to do what's best at this critical moment.
If I may go on a slight tangent about third parties, while I’m at it, I honestly found this passage from the Cardinal Newman Society’s alert to be both condescending and self-aggrandizing: "The Cardinal Newman Society today faxed a letter to Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, notifying him of the scandal." (emphasis mine) Had the wording been "voicing their concern" or even expressing a hope for his timely and strong response, I would have no particular problem with this. The idea that they would somehow need to notify the bishop of these goings-on, however, bespeaks a lack of faith in Bishop D'Arcy's attention to his own flock. Their role in disseminating information notwithstanding, I find their attempts to claim the forefront of this fight, which rightly belongs to those with closer ties to the University, to be disingenuous, at the very least. I wonder if they consulted the local ordinary, or anyone more intimately acquainted with the situation, before establishing an entire website dedicated to this one speech?

With regard to letters written to the University, and I do encourage you to write them, please take the time to make them informed, well thought-out, and respectful. As I’ve noted, those who do agree and love the university might get a little defensive at some comments, so how much more will those who are on the fence, or who see no problem at all with inviting the President? I’ve seen blog comments that throw around "facts" such as CatholicTV being one of the few places that doesn’t feature Mass from the Basilica (it does, every Sunday), or that the speaker was announced on the cusp of Spring Break in order to quell criticism (off by two weeks). A little research and sticking to the facts will go a long way towards being heard. And, if I may throw in a pet peeve shared by many fellow Domers, don’t call it "Notre Dame University" or "NDU"; it’s "The University of Notre Dame" (ND for short, of course).

As a note to the fellow alums and other Notre Dame Family members who read the blog, as you're well aware from all those 574-631- phone calls on your caller ID, it's fundraising time. I'd like to encourage you, rather than not giving at all, to consider directing any contributions you might have planned to a new pro-life fund started by the Center for Ethics and Culture. The page goes into very specific detail as to why this sort of fund is the best way to assist campus pro-life initiatives, and how the money will be used. I wish something like this had been around when I was a student trying to navigate the funds allocation process. And, of course, tell the University exactly why your contribution is not going to the general fund (but be nice to those poor minimum-wage students manning the phones).

One of the more unique comments I’ve heard in all of this is the hope that the President would be influenced by Our Lady during his time on campus. But really, why should that be such a singular statement? If we truly believe in the transformative power of our Faith, why should that not be our first thought in this whole affair, rather than an afterthought? So, of course, as we work and pray in prudence and charity, let us recall St. Paul’s exhortation not to empty the Cross of its power. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17)

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