So much has been written on the intransigence of Father John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, in view of the mounting pressure on him to disinvite the president of the United States from speaking at commencement and receiving an honorary degree from the university that is dedicated to the Blessed Mother, Mary. This entire question struck me in a completely different way when I was watching Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday.
In that remarkable, yet disturbing portrayal of Christ’s final hours on earth, the woman who played Mary did so with so much grace and respect for the woman she was representing. Thus, it occurred to me that, as on that terrible Friday, the Mother of God must again be weeping for her children who have gone astray. Reflecting perhaps on the same agonizing events, Ricky McRoskey wrote,
I invite every member of the Notre Dame community to gaze northwest and ponder in their hearts what the Lady who glistens atop our Golden Dome is thinking…She will wonder why her university is honoring a man with a philosophy inimical to life. A man who believes the law should protect the right to abortion—a man who, in his first days of office, opened the nation's coffers to international abortion organizations, who proclaimed that abortion is an issue "on which (he) will not yield." She will remember the only article this man wrote for the most prestigious law review in the country, which stated that the law has an interest in safeguarding abortion to "prevent increasing numbers of children from being born [into] lives of pain and despair." She will remember, too, that her Son's own life—the most influential life ever lived—was marked with great pain and agony.
And then there were those eloquent words of a dear friend, attorney Ken Connor, who told his readers,
By honoring Mr. Obama at its commencement, Notre Dame trivializes our culture's devaluation of human life. The consequences of doing so are explained clearly in the Vatican's summary of Evangelium Vitae: "The causes of this 'culture of death’ which threatens man and civilization are traced by the Holy Father to a perverse idea of freedom, which is seen as disconnected from any reference to truth and objective good, and which asserts itself in an individualistic way, without the constitutive link of relationships with others."
Our culture is increasingly embracing a culture of death, and Notre Dame's blessing of our [p]resident is yet another disturbing sign of this trend. If even Catholics are abandoning their traditional, rich understanding of life, who will be left to defend it?
It is the answer to that question, "If even Catholics are abandoning their traditional, rich understanding of life, who will be left to defend it?" that forced me to contemplate the proper response, and then it came to me. It is not Catholics who are abandoning Christ and His Church, persecuting Him and crying for His crucifixion, but rather it is those within the Church who would, if they could, change her into an entity that would be comfortable with evil, complacent with the status quo and categorically in dissent from the very teachings that define Catholicism.
As Professor Alfred J. Freddoso, of the University of Notre Dame, said in his talk at the Palm Sunday prayer rally,
And despite their protestations to the contrary, the administrators of the university have made themselves complicit in the culture of comfort and convenience over against the culture of sacrifice and self-giving; they have made themselves complicit in the culture of fearfulness and quiet despair over against the culture of gratitude to and hope in the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ; they have made themselves complicit in the culture of individual autonomy and individual self-creation over against the culture of faithful and enduring commitment and of shared dependency within a rich communal life – and, sad to say, they have done it under the mantle of the Catholic [f]aith which they profess with their lips. This would be sobering even if we didn't find ourselves at the beginning of Holy Week.
Today we have prayed to Our Lady and her Son in atonement for this betrayal, as well as in atonement for our own individual failures to bring the life-giving and liberating message of the Gospel to those around us. Mary is the patroness not only of this university, but also of the Congregation of Holy Cross, under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows. Think of the Fourth and Thirteenth Stations of the Cross. Think of Mary standing under the cross, joining her unspeakable suffering to the suffering of her Son. Think of the hardships – the crosses, if you will – joyfully embraced by that hardy group of immigrants, Father Sorin and his companions, in order to found this school.
May these examples inspire us all to re-dedicate ourselves to the proposition that Catholic universities have the most to offer our culture when they are not afraid to be distinctive, when they do not accept the facile assumption that intellectual excellence and fidelity to Christ need to be balanced off against one another, when they do not value worldly glory and prestige more than the truth that sets us free.
Mary, Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.
Regardless of the blather, the excuses, the defenses without logic and all the rest, the fact is that Father Jenkins has helped us see that there truly is a difference between those who are proud to be Catholic in the image of Christ, and those who, like the Iscariot of that first Good Friday, forgot his calling, accepted a bribe and bowed to the world.
Recalling the words of Pope John Paul II,
Jesus noted the danger of being ashamed to profess the faith: "Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Lk 9:26; cf. Mk 8:38). Being ashamed of Christ is often expressed in those forms of "human respect" by which one hides one's own faith and agrees to compromises which are unacceptable for someone who wants to be Christ's true disciple. How many people, even Christians, make compromises today!
We proclaim, dear Father John Jenkins, come home to truth. You are in our prayers.