The following is a judgment written on the Notre Dame Commencement controversy surrounding Notre Dame's invitation of President Barack Obama to receive an honorary Doctorate of Laws and give the 2009 Commencement address. I encourage you to read the judgment with an open mind and heart. It goes beyond the typical politicization of the issue in an desire to arrive at what is most essential and necessary in this situation, that is, to arrive at the truth, which is Christ.
A New Commencement
Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to deliver the Commencement
address and to receive an honorary degree unleashed a wide controversy and
provoked violently opposed reactions among all who look upon this University as
a sign of the ideal of Catholic higher education. The community finds itself
divided and confused, and the integrity of the University’s educational mission is
being challenged. On such an occasion, with great urgency we feel the need to
take hold of the reasons for which such an institution exists.
What is the meaning of Christian education, and even more fundamentally
what is Christian life today? How do we live today the fruitful faith that led a
handful of French missionaries a century and a half ago to found a tiny college
on the shore of Saint Mary’s Lake—where before there was nothing—with the
firm conviction that that the school “will be one of the most powerful means for
doing good in this country”? How is that connection between faith and life
present as the impetus for our work in the university and in society?
For us faith is not an ethical code nor an ideology but an experience: an
encounter with Christ present here and now in the Christian community.
Christian faith gives us a freedom and a passion for living that express
themselves above all in the form of questions as we face reality, and an
inexhaustible openness to everything human. Political and ethical categories do
not define us; our life springs from belonging to a fact, to a story begun and
carried forward by an exceptional Presence in human history. Over the course
of two millennia, that Presence has inspired innumerable initiatives that have
educated men and women, including the University of Notre Dame. We cannot
limit our thirst for truth and our desire to enter into a genuine relationship
with reality; we want certainty about its meaning in its totality. We need a place
where faith and reason are not enemies, where their unity launches us on a path
of knowledge that is fearless, open, and free.
An invitation to a Catholic university – an invitation to anyone, especially to
the President of the United States of America – should be an invitation to
encounter that history, that method of relating to reality, and that experience
of life and freedom.
What then is at stake in this Commencement Day? Much more than merely
defending values — even the most sacred — or affirming a Catholic institution’s
“openness” to the world. At stake is our hope for the future of the university
and the future of society.
For us hope begins from the recognition that with Christ we discover a new
way to live life, to study, to do research, to be involved in politics and
economics, to work in the world. In commencing from that Presence, we live
hope not merely as a sentiment, a dream, or a project of power but as a certainty
for the future that springs forth from an experience happening now.
With the certainty of faith that Father Sorin had after Notre Dame burned to
the ground in 1879, let us recognize at the end of each day that we “built it too
small … so, tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild it, bigger and
better than ever”.
-Communion and Liberation