The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beyond Synthesis

Much ado has been rightfully made of the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Obama to act as commencement speaker for this year's graduation. Because this university has served as an icon in America symbolizing the best in Catholic education, it seems very much out of sorts for it to now invite the man who is leading the charge in the unfettered killing of the citizens he purports to lead at a rate of over a million per year.

On the other hand, Notre Dame has long since fallen victim to the phenomenon of symbolism over substance. The university actively supports the gay and lesbian lifestyle, and recent polling data shows its student body supported Mr. Obama in the election by a majority and that abortion was not an issue for them. So the fact the Mr. Obama will soon appear in the midst of this fallen institution perhaps waxes more emblematic of cultural Catholicism in America, today.

And while the University's president, Reverend John Jenkins, has stated that the university does not support Mr. Obama's views, his profession that it's important to "engage in conversation" seems terribly weak. What conversation needs to be had? Abortion is murder. That's an absolute, and the good Reverend Jenkins knows this. All the conversation in the world will not change that fact any more than conversation will alter the course of the sun. How dreadfully insincere to position this as an act of reaching out to form or reform Mr. Obama's conscience.

Perhaps Notre Dame should pay all due respect to the President of the United States. In fact, given Obama's messianic allure, including to many Catholics, perhaps instead of using the introduction of, "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States," Reverend Jenkins should open his scripture and proclaim from John's Gospel the words of Pontius Pilate, "Ecce Homo!" or "Behold the man!" With that, the affront to Christ's church in this sad situation would be complete.

Seen in Notre Dame's decision to engage Mr. Obama is the perpetuation of the philosophy that originated in Germany in the late 1700s and remains popular in academia. A triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis became an accepted way of coming to discover the relative truth in just about any philosophical debate. One would propose a thesis; another would propose an opposing view called the antithesis; and blending the two opposing views one would arrive at a synthesis, which very well could turn into another thesis, antithesis, synthesis...and so it goes.

The problem with that line of thinking rests in the fact that it completely falls apart when dealing with absolutes; yet man persists to varying degrees to pursue this method of understanding his world. So God, who is absolute, gets pitted against an array of antithesis which cannot ever be equal to the Almighty in the first place, and the synthesis which emerges always falls short of the truth. After centuries of this kind of flawed thinking, man now finds himself in a world of abject relativism.

"Quid est varitas? What is truth?"

Perhaps this question asked to Christ by Pilate is the question Notre Dame students, faculty, and administration should be asking themselves. For in the face of moral absolutes, opposing opinion brings only obtuse intellectualism.

If Reverend Jenkins truly wants to engage President Obama, would it not be more loving and pastoral to do be a doer of the word and deny Mr. Obama the honor attributed to the respected commencement duty and Honorary Law Degree the Reverend proposes to install upon The President, and instead take him into his office and minister to him?

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Matthew 18: 15-17

Notre Dame has chosen to allow the unrepentant tax collector to address her students. How ironic that such an institution whose motto is Vita, Dulcedo, Spes (Life, Sweetness, Hope) has entrusted a leader to address her graduating class of 2009 whose policies find no sanctity in human life, no sweetness in the miracle of creation, and no hope for the unborn should they be conceived in less than subjective ideal conditions.

Our Lady (Notre Dame) of the Americas...Pray for us.


Blogger Rebecca M. said...

"The university actively supports the gay and lesbian lifestyle, and the University Health Center Pharmacy gladly dispenses contraception."

As a Notre Dame alum, I was puzzled to see these assertions about my alma mater, as these certainly were not the case when I was a student (I graduated in 2005). I called the Health Center today to verify, and they do not dispense birth control for contraceptive purposes -- in order for a young woman to receive birth control pills, she must have a prescription and note from a doctor detailing the medical reason (i.e. ovarian cysts, etc.) for which she is requesting the birth control; contraception is not a sufficient reason.

Secondly, the university has a standing committee on gay and lesbian student needs, which is a small group of students who identify the ongoing needs of gay and lesbian students to the Vice President for Student Affairs. There is, in addition, a small number of social events for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning students throughout a school year. Both of these things seem appropriate, as far as I can tell, as the Church does not deem homosexuality itself as a sin; acknowledgment that some of the students attending the University are gay, lesbian, or bisexual and may have a special set of social/emotional needs, or a supportive social group does not violate any Church doctrine. The university most definitely does not "openly support" a gay and lesbian lifestyle. In fact, AllianceND, which is ND's gay-straight alliance on campus, has been repeatedly denied official university recognition.

In response to the uproar about President Obama speaking, I would offer the following: One of the phrases we heard again and again when I was a student was "God, Country, Notre Dame." Notre Dame attempts to instill within it's students a strong Catholic foundation, a strong sense of patriotism/respect for our country, and a strong education. Along with that education comes a call for students to carefully analyze situations and information in order to come to well-informed opinions and views of the world. I find it disheartening that so many people would feel that the undoubtedly intelligent students of Notre Dame should not be given the opportunity to hear firsthand from such a prominent figure in today's society and in history. I am quite confident that the class of 2009 will use their good judgment in determining whether President Obama is worthy of their esteem.

2:03 PM  
Blogger David Jackson said...

Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately I failed to verify some information I had heard with regard to the Health Center, and I will edit my post accordingly. Upon researching the Health Center myself, it seems that while birth control can be dispensed, it must be under the conditions you described.

With regard to the University's support the gay community, I can understand the need to provide pastoral care for the individual; however, sanctioning the Notre Dame Queer Film Festival as an academic event seems to extend far beyond pastoral support. In the same vein, allowing Notre Dame students to stage a production of the Vagina Monologues, seems out of place for a Catholic university.

Finally, history ultimately will determine whether Mr. Obama is famous or infamous. I have no doubt that Notre Dame students have the intellectual capacity to listen to the President's speech and come to their own conclusions. Without question these are smart young adults. At question in my mind remains how good of a job Notre Dame has done in forming the consciences of these students? Polling data shows the student body already supports Mr. Obama and that abortion is not a big issue for them. At many other Catholic universities it would be. So what is different about the Notre Dame experience? And if it is right for Mr. Obama to receive the universities esteem, why does the local bishop choose to not attend such an event?

Pax vobiscum

8:03 AM  
Blogger Rebecca M. said...

Thanks for addressing my reply. I appreciate your hearing the information about the Health Center, and your extrapolation about the support of homosexual lifestyles -- I'm admit to being a liberal Catholic, and so I found the Queer Film Festival to be a refreshing, open-minded event for ND, but in a more general vein, the University did NOT feel supportive of homosexual students and lifestyles when I attended. In fact, it ranked pretty high on the "Most homophobic campuses" list in the Princeton Review my senior year.

When I was reading your reply about President Obama, there was one very minute detail that caught my eye -- the assertion that on other Catholic campuses, abortion WOULD be a big issue for students. I guess I wonder how accurate that is vs. how much conservative Catholics HOPE it's the case (and please excuse my caps, I'm going for italics-like emphasis here, not yelling). Notre Dame is a big school with an ever-increasingly diverse student body, even among Catholic students. With any large Catholic university in the US, I imagine that there will be some students for whom abortion IS a very big deal -- many of my friends at ND feel this way. But with a multi-faceted student body, there will be a large number for whom it is not the most prevalent political issue. I think that even at other major Catholic schools, one would find a diversity of opinions similar to those found at ND. I know the Catholic "right" hopes this isn't the case, but as ND pushes for diversity (which I think is a very good thing), then some of the black-and-white Catholic teachings become more gray within the student spectrum.

6:28 PM  
Blogger David Jackson said...

I understand where you're coming from, as at your age (I'm 45 now) I felt very much the same way. Lived experience has proven to me that one is not a left wing or right wing Catholic, but rather one exists in communion with the Church or not. If one wishes to live outside of communion with the Catholic Church, as I did for about 15 years, there are 40,000 + Protestant denominations where one can likely find an ecclesial community in line one's own personal opinion and explore a multitude of shades of gray. If, however, one is going to make a profession of faith in Catholicism, then one has to accept the Church as she was gifted to humanity by its founder, Jesus Christ. A study of scripture reveals that the opposite of faith is not doubt...but rather disobedience. Those are hard words indeed for many, especially in our culture which puts an overabundance of value on self fulfillment versus self-donation as Christ instructs.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Doug A. said...

Dear Rebecca M.,
In your post, you stated that you are a liberal Catholic. You are either Catholic or you are not; there is no in between! It's all in your discipline. Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ or not? Discipline (derivitive of Disciple) is "the strict control to enforce obedience." On that thought, you also stated that "the Church does not deem homosexuality itself as a sin," but it does say that participating in a homosexual acts are sinful. Things which promote or lead one to actively engage in such activities are considered a sin. If you had family member who is an alcoholic, you would not invite them to a bar or offer them a drink, would you? So why promote events that would possibly entice someone to act on their tendencies and CAUSE them to sin? I agree that homosexuals need groups or places to go in which they can get comfort, advice or discuss the issues they face. I don't believe that a Queer Film Festival is a proper setting to get such support. Remember God does not hate a sinner, He hates the sin. That is why He sent His Son to die on a cross for us. We are called as Catholics to love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength. Love is not a feeling, Love is a commitment; it is what you DO. We also are to love Barack Obama as he was created in the likeness and image of God, as we were. However, that does not mean that we have to agree with or support his political agenda. Supporting abortions, passing out contraceptives or denouncing that this is a Christian Nation are counter Catholicism and we Catholics need to stand together and be in deep prayer for him, this country and the entire world. (Side note: as you said, please know that I am not raising my voice with the CAPS. There is no way to italicize.)

7:43 PM  

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