Ever since the news broke that President Obama has accepted Notre Dame's invitation to be this year's commencement speaker, I have been vainly trying to collect my thoughts for a blog post. My first response was utter revulsion. This man stands against so much that the Catholic Church stands for, and a supposedly Catholic university is going to invite him to speak and honor him with a degree? The details have been discussed and debated ad infinitum on many Catholic blogs more illustrious than mine, so I will limit my blog post to my personal response. (National Review Online has a pretty awesome commentator roundup, and American Papist is posting updates regularly.)
I found out Saturday night and it was with a heavy heart that I attended Mass at the Basilica Sunday. I'll admit it - I was resentful. Having seen so many hopeful signs of Notre Dame's reclamation of its Catholic identity, I felt very much betrayed. When I decided to come here, my rather cynical, non-Catholic husband warned me that I would expect too much of Notre Dame and be disappointed. I hate to say it, but he was right in this instance. This is just too much.
I also have to share my husband's response when I told him the news - "Wait, this guy is pro...well, basically all the things you Catholics are against, and Notre Dame invites him to give the commencement speech? ...are they stupid or something?" Well, what he lacks in charity he certainly makes up for in clarity. It's sad when a non-Catholic can see so plainly what some lifelong Catholics choose to blind themselves to.
I look at Notre Dame and I see a microcosm of American Catholicism. Some are still firmly aboard the Barque of Peter...some are clinging to the sides, and others have jumped ship completely. The student reactions run the gamut from delight to apathy to anger. It saddens me to see the divisions. It saddens me still more to realize how many Catholic students don't fully understand the teachings of their own church. It seems that being strongly pro-life is looked on as being somehow "extremist."
Much is being made of Obama's commitment to "social justice," but if I understand it correctly, the root of social justice is the worth and value of all people as children of God. How can you proclaim the value of all people and then say that it is OK to kill the unborn? How can someone be committed to social justice and then admit that there is an entire class of people unworthy of legal protection? I wish people wouldn't behave as if being pro-life and pro-social justice were mutually exclusive. I'd posit that they are mutually inclusive. Let's also not forget that Obama recently made it legal for embryos to be created solely for research purposes. How can anyone who believes that life begins at conception, not feel a chill when thinking of the implications of that?
Add to all the above Obama's recent moves to bring down conscience protections for Catholic medical workers, and there is absolutely no good reason why a Catholic university should honor this man. The university has spouted some feel-good pablum about "diversity" and "dialogue," to which I can only respond - what dialogue? It is his speech - he will determine the message, not the university. Obama will come, give his speech, and be fawned over by adoring students and professors. I somehow doubt he will find time in his so-busy schedule to debate those he believes to be "extremists." He professes to be open minded, but it's all so many empty words. He is firmly wedded to the pro-choice cause. For Notre Dame to try to spin this invitation as some kind of conversion attempt - well, pearls before swine, anyone? Yes, let's debate him, but this is not the forum for debate. Yes, let's pray for his conversion, but let's not honor him in a misguided attempt to have him change his ways. If anything, the message he will be receiving is "Keep doing what you're doing - Catholic America loves you just the way you are!"
Right now, I'm reminded that I am an outsider, too. I admire the school spirit of the students, but I think it is not right when that love of school trumps all else to become clannishness. The attitude I am picking up is, "So what about Catholic teaching? Notre Dame can do what it likes!" (I overheard a girl in LaFortune complaining about the letters of protest in the Observer - "They need to just get over it!" Indeed - millions of dead unborn and we should just "get over it." Behold your next generation of leaders, Catholic America.) Even the more orthodox-minded students are bristling about the intervention of outside groups like the Cardinal Newman Society. The vibe that I'm getting is, "We can handle this ourselves - and everyone with no stake in Notre Dame should butt out." The Graduate School has its own separate graduation, so there isn't really the same furor amongst the graduate students. In any case, most of them probably wish they could be at the commencement!
I want to offer my support, protest...anything right now, really. But I get the sense that this is not my battle. The Catholic student groups here have been blessed with outspoken, articulate student leaders, and they are currently trying to formulate a response. Although I'm angry as any Catholic should be, I don't have the same sort of attachment to Notre Dame that these students do. I suppose all I can really do is offer my prayers and support. And once I'm coherent again, I will write a letter to Father Jenkins. I know it won't do much good, but I feel that I have to at least try.
I will leave you with this excellent article by Dr. Ralph McInerny - Is Obama Worth a Mass?. He is retiring this year and will be sadly missed at Notre Dame. He is a strong voice for orthodoxy on campus.