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Mar 31, 2009



Hear, hear! I love how you say precisely what I was incoherently thinking...


First, I do not think that this whole event is a big deal. We should get that out there as soon as possible.

Now, honoring Obama with this degree (which is just a piece of paper but nonetheless an honor) does question how we perceive reality since it reveals the dramatic tension between the Church and the world.

There is the question of how a Catholic institution should honor somebody. The standard argument against Obama is this:

P) A Catholic institution should not honor somebody who maintains beliefs against the principles and doctrines of the Catholic Church.

At reflection, however, (P) looks counterintuitive. This means that a Catholic institution should not honor a monothelite president who had just signed a law that made abortion illegal. But certainly, such a view is implausible; of course we should honor somebody who had just ended a particular genocide even if such a person is a heretic.

This way of thinking, however, seem to separate nature and grace. Does not the event of the Incarnation reveal to us that Someone has made a claim on us? In all things, therefore, the Incarnation has priority and all of our actions must be a response to this event. Hence, is not the Chalcedonian dogma something that has equal, if not more, weight than the belief against abortion? Limiting the common good and the political sphere simply to the principles of the natural law seems inadequate since it does not take into account the event of Christ and the Church’s role to help form the conscience of man; the Church and State, of course, have juridical autonomy although they must be open to one another.

It seems to me, then, that if one is to object against Obama going to Notre Dame, he must not use (P) or at least, if he is to use (P), he has to be consistent in that only Catholics can be given an honorary degree. So, we want to reject:

(P) A Catholic institution should not honor somebody who maintains beliefs against the principles and doctrines of the Catholic Church.

(Q) Only Catholics should be awarded with an honorary degree in a Catholic institution.

How can we, then, reject (P) and (Q) while at the same time adhering to:

(R) A Catholic institution must be faithful to its Catholic principles.

The proper response is simply that (R) being true does not entail that all people must believe all Catholic principles and doctrines. Christ honored the Good Samaritan who was neither Jew or Christian; certainly, he did not have the right beliefs. We should also say that a person does not necessarily have to have the right actions performed in ordered to be honored. Christ honored a woman who was just caught in adultery. In fact, she didn’t even asked for forgiveness and yet, Christ embraced her. Forget all the “symbols” the Church might express (in the media) if she gives Obama an honorary degree. What gets into the heart of the matter here, and this also get us back into the question of (P) and (Q), is: what exactly is the institution proposing here to Obama? When Christ forgave the woman, he corrected her. In every encounter with Christ, there is correction and space (and time) for the person to freely choose and adhere to Christ; hence, every correction is an exaltation and embrace of freedom. To put it in another way, the Church proposes forgiveness. What is Notre Dame proposing? Is Notre Dame proposing, in the proper sense of the word, forgiveness to Obama by honoring him with this award?

Even if a Catholic institution is honoring a person who has achieve much success (defined broadly here), the offer is still the same: divine mercy. Without this proposal, the honorary degree is meaningless not only to Obama but also to anybody. But in order to propose such a sublime gift, Notre Dame must have once again an encounter this event of mercy and embrace it. The question is not so much of whether Obama can be given this degree as much as Notre Dame should give out any.

So, to convince me that Obama should have been invited, we need to see whether Notre Dame can and has proposed something to Obama worthy to be called “mercy.”



This is brilliant. Would you mind terribly if I posted this on my Facebook/blog or something, along with my own thoughts/judgments on the issue? I wanna tag some of my UD friends in it. It would probably scandalize them. But what you say is absolutely true. Particularly at an American Catholic school, (I'm referring to UD, not ND) a common understanding of a Christian life is the effort to be morally coherent, to live for a "Good" that is, in my estimation, often nebulous. The fact that grace enters our lives, that his presence touches through reality is frequently lost on people. The fact that this grace could touch a man who has been worshiped like a god, and change him, actually change him as you and I have been changed - this is the real reason for hope.

Dale Price

Of course, that requires that he will be meeting people who have it firmly in mind that they are the Body of Christ, with all of the responsibility and level-headed sobriety that requires. And, not, say, a group of star-struck Christians saying "Stay beautiful!"

There are many ways to obscure His presence, and reducing the matter to politics is just one of them.


Of course, and in this, Dale, is precisely the REAL problem. Read the judgment that the Notre Dame CLU wrote (posted above), it gets right to this heart of this matter.

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