Tonight’s TV
news on NBC drew the world’s attention to the fact that Mary Ann Glendon
declined Notre Dame’s famous Laetare Medal that is given at the commencement
exercises in May. By the way, 2009 marks the 126th year of the award. The medal
honors the distinguished work of Catholics; once reserved for the laity now
also given to the clergy and religious. These events have me thinking about the
meaning of these events surrounding the craziness of inviting the US president
who stands contrary to Catholic faith and Professor Glendon who is a faithful
Catholic to be on the same stage.

It seems to me
that when you pan the comments of academics at Catholic colleges and university
what you don’t see is rhetoric about Christ, faith as a way of knowing, truth,
the objectivity of the Church, the intersection of faith and reason, etc.  What you will find are comments like:
“We don’t see a conflict with our Catholic identity if we have a speaker on
campus who may have views that are in conflict with Catholic teachings. We
consider the contributions the speaker has made to society as a whole, and that
doesn’t necessarily mean we endorse all of their positions or views. We’re
committed to a Jesuit tradition, which doesn’t suppress educational issues and
intellectual debate,” said Kristine Maloney, a spokeswoman for the College of
the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. But Ms. Maloney fails to understand that this
type of forum gives credence of equality to contrary views to Catholic faith.
Obama’s speech is a monologue not a dialogue.

Or, let’s take
the president of Trinity Washington University’s Patricia McGuire who reminds
us that Catholics have long struggled to get a place of respectability in the
market place of ideas and that to blindly follow the bishops would simply be
parochial.  In her estimation, “The
diminishment of the idea of the university by [some critics] betrays two
centuries of intellectual advancement and real leadership by Catholic higher
education in this nation.” Really, I don’t think it is narrow-minded to stand
with the Church I profess to believe in and follow unto my salvation in Christ.

Let’s just take
the Jesuit college’s perspective since there are far more people memorized by
the so-called Jesuit tradition realizing neither the history nor the aim of
Jesuit, Catholic education. Let’s remember what many faculty members said at
the last search for a Holy Cross College president: we don’t want a lay person
as president because he or she might make the College too Catholic; a Jesuit is
freer to allow us to think and act the way we want. Hence, what you see
embedded in Ms. Maloney’s remarks about the Jesuit intellectual life of the
university is true now but historically that same Jesuit intellectual tradition
followed Christ unconditionally because it was rooted in the Spiritual
Exercises. In fact, contemporary Jesuit apostolates are said to exist “To
follow Christ bearing his Cross means announcing his Gospel of hope….” Jesuit
institutions stood for faithfulness to the Gospel, to Church teaching and the
dignity of the human person. The Jesuit educational apostolate explored the
limits of faith and reason but always came back to faith as the mother of
virtue and true knowledge. In a former time there was not a capitulation to
secular values that divorces Christ from reality, that removes the Church from
the public square or merely wants to fit-in at all costs.

I fail to see
why fitting-in is a value for academics at Catholic institutions: theirs is a quest for the reasonableness of Truth. Being like
the professors in secular universities in my estimation is a failed enterprise
and one that has lead away from Jesus Christ as Savior and reality. True to the
Ignatian heritage of Jesuit educational institutions it would be good if Holy
Cross College and 27 other Jesuit colleges and universities did the Examen according
to the mind Saint Ignatius of Loyola asking the Lord for the grace of
conversion while attempting to live in “that harmony with the Magisterium which
avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God” (Benedict XVI to
the Jesuits, 2008)

Many US
Catholics seem comfortable with beige Catholicism and a theology based on
sentiment. There is no arguing otherwise given Notre Dame’s honoring of
President Obama and now the growing list of “Catholic” institutions of higher
learning caving to political pressure and respectability with no significant
outcry from the bulk of 60 million Catholics in the US. When encountering Saint
Peter at the heavenly gates I hope the academics don’t get offended if Saint
Peter has a different view on what it means to be a Catholic and to labor at a
Catholic higher educational institution. Let’s be clear: Christ didn’t come to
found a Catholic university–He came to bring us to the Father with the distinct
claim that He, Christ, is the way, the truth, and the life. Anything short of
that is nonsense.

In world where
clarity of Catholic faith is “normal” Catholic education would not afraid of
differing theological or philosophical positions, especially those that may run
contrary to orthodox Catholic teachings; in fact, a Catholic ought to be
respectful of what others have to say, always proposing the Gospel and the
Church teaching as true and a place of encounter with Christ.  Having said this, a platform at a
Catholic institution needs to sensitively, yet firmly follow Christ and the
teachings of His Church. Clearly, playing footsy with positions contrary to the
Church cannot not be presented as equally valid to what the Church holds or

Let’s not grow faint of heart by following Christ and keeping in mind the motto of the Laetare Medal: Magna est veritas et prevalebit (Truth is mighty, and it will prevail).