I have been following the events at Notre Dame with great curiosity, and when I read what Sharon blogged (she has links to everyone else, so just read what she wrote and follow her links) on the subject, I sensed an invitation in her post. So, here I am!
Every time I began to think about the president's invitation to speak at (and to receive an honorary degree from) Notre Dame, a conversation I once overheard would run through my mind. A Catholic philosopher who was teaching at the University of Chicago was speaking to the dean of one of the colleges that is considered more orthodox and serious about its Catholic identity. The philosopher observed that he could always tell which of his students were either Catholic or Jewish from the rest of the students. The dean asked him how he could tell, and the philosopher replied, "The Catholic and Jewish students all have a sense that there are other countries in the world, that people speak other languages, that in the past there were people, people who came from cultures very different from our own, who thought great things and whose works are worthy of examination." The dean seemed bemused and then said, "Well, we know our students are Catholic because daily Mass on campus is packed with students, because they often gather together to pray the rosary, and because a majority of them major in theology, and because they engage in a multitude of pro-life activities." And that was the end of the conversation.
I think that Stephen (not my husband, but a good friend) is right that the people who now decry Notre Dame's invitation to President Obame are (more or less) the same people who have been suspicious of Notre Dame's claim to being a truly Catholic institution. It seems that this controversy provides them with a litmus test -- to judge just how "Catholic" Notre Dame is. Will Notre Dame waver under the barage of email, phone messages and letters of protest, or will she remain "Catholic in name only"?
The question about what makes a University Catholic and what makes its students Catholic seems to be the unspoken heart of the whole brouhaha. There is enormous pressure on the students to "prove" their Catholicism by protesting or even boycotting their graduation ceremony.
What troubles me is that this drive to reject a man (who is after all, our president) seems neither human nor Christian. Many of the children in my atrium pray for President Obama that he may be a good president and make good decisions. A few pray that he will stop killing babies. Both prayers indicate a commitment toward his person, toward his humanity, I think. These prayers imply a relationsionship with the man. If we want these things for him, for his ultimate good, then we must spend time with the man. Jesus spent more time with Pharisees than he did even with the poor and the lame -- at least, his conversations with the Pharisees use much more ink in the Bible. Why? Why did he spend time with them? Why did he pray with them, witness to them? Why did he forgive them from the Cross?
As Catholics, we should think hard about how we approach those who come from other worlds, who speak another language. God has placed this president in our lives for a reason. He exists and leads us for our good, to lead us to Christian maturity (as Sharon so beautifully points out). We should spend some time thinking about what is best for him, how we might help him "to be a good president and make good decisions."
Cross posted at Come to See.