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Apr 07, 2009



Jack, Cheeky, you are both right. You win. Is that better?

I am sick of this debate because it belies the fundamental problem in this discussion, which is that for the most part the responses are totally devoid of any concrete witness to an experience of Christ.

Today, at the GS Lenten Retreat with the kids, it was evident to me why Christ's prayer before his death is "Remain in me." He knows how fragile we are, how quickly we fall into projects and positions and ideas and how quickly we stop being in wonder that the God of the universe became flesh for me, encountered me, moved me, brought me into himself.

One of the kids, who was my student last year at Good Counsel, spoke at the assembly about his friendship with a girl in Toronto. He spoke about how one day she was talking with him about how Christ had made a situation better, someone she knew was going to have an abortion, but they had a chance to talk and now the abortion was not going to happen. They were talking about how amazing Christ is and how he was going to do amazing things for them. Then after they hung up she called him back because she received an email that the abortion had already happened. They were immediately disappointed and spoke for a couple minutes ending on "That's just horrible." But after they hung up, within a minute, my student called her back because he thought "No, Stephen says Christ is the lord of everything, so its not enough that we say it's horrible, I want to be certain of him." So they spoke for a while longer about this and realized that in the very fact of their friendship, of this possibility of being recalled to the fact that happened to both of them, the reason for their friendship, they were both moved to tears because it was clear to them that Christ was answering them precisely in the witness of each other to the fact that evil does not win because despite the death of this baby, they were able to affirm to the truth of that baby, the truth of themselves, and the truth of all of reality.

Now, when this girl in Toronto sees her friend she can speak to him with certainty about the meaning of this tragedy. The next day, when my student woke up, he called me for the Angelus because he wanted to be recalled to the truth of his day from the first the very first minute.

We are Christians. Our fight for justice and truth is not a battle we wage against each other with a desire to be proven right. Better that I be proven wrong and grow in love for Him than that I win this argument and lose my certainty of Him. I cannot help but feel that people have a dog in this fight only to be right.

Honestly, did you beg him to come to you, to reveal himself to you even in the poverty of this blog discussion? Who desired to know him rather than score points? Who even cared?

I don't really care what you think of me or of my post. I don't care if you think I sound self-righteous or sanctimonious. I don't care if you think it's arrogant or dismissive or even if it makes you want to wretch. I have met a man who has told me everything I have ever done, and knowing him, being with him, remaining in Him is the only thing that is interesting to me. Only His presence can change the world, I want him, I need him.

"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them." John 17


It's interesting to see that two lawyers have been most provoked by this judgment. Lawyers are like modern knights, fighting under one banner or another. Christian lawyers risk their career and their professional reputation if they fight for the common good as the Church teaches. ND conferring a Catholic law degree on President Obama would be like naming Frederick II the title Defender of the Faith.

I would like to say that the honorary law degree means nothing, because in fact its meaning is ambiguous. But I don't know if I can do this without reducing every university degree to a piece of paper... and yet - this problem is not new. Isn't the same thing true about the honorary doctorates ND awarded to Presidents Carter and GW Bush? Is it too much to expect these honors to be a clear gesture of an education as an introduction to all of reality?

I can't solve these issues: they are matters too great for me. I will say that the judgment in this flyer has changed my perspective. I realize that if I expect ND's gestures to be clear proposals then my gestures also need to be clear. I am disappointed, but this disappointment does not determine my response. What do I want? I want a serious education that treasures whatever sliver of good it can find. I want Christ. The political wrangling is not a clear gesture. It does not cultivate the Christian experience. It accepts the default position that power is what saves us. Forcing ND to tow the line will not make it more Catholic, more Christian. For that, we need Christians.

Cheeky Lawyer


Thank you for answering some of my questions. Some of what you have said is actually helpful. Some of it, I fear, fails to engage my criticisms. Perhaps, I just need to go to the Assembly on this and try to understand things better.

I want to be clear that I separate my questioning, concerns, disappointment with the flyer from my criticisms of your words. My problem is less with the flyer and more with the response here from you and Stephen. As I said I think the flyer goes to the heart of things, I don't think it is clear enough and I don't think it helps those outside the Movement dig deeper on this question. I do not think you and Stephen are saying the same thing as the flyer especially given as it is a profound criticism of the university that sees the invite as a symptom of a larger failure, a failure to make Christ present.

But I return to my criticisms of what you are writing.

You write: "Christ is not an ideological filter but the truth of everything, particularly the human heart, which is characterized by an unlimited desire. Inasmuch as real unity comes from an answer to that heart, Christ must be the starting point. Yes, I also desire witness and unity."

I agree. I am not suggesting he is. I am suggesting that you have latched on to words without going beyond them to understand the whys.

I also want to be clear that I don't think it fatuous to say that I or my friends met Christ at Notre Dame. That is a most important thing. What I think doesn't follow from saying that is that one has no problem with this invitation. That is what I found fatuous, unconnected. That I met Christ at Notre Dame doesn't answer the question, "Do I think Obama should have been invited?"

I don't want to win an argument Stephen, I want to understand this flyer, but I also want to defend in charity those both of you have been attacking, whose Christianity you've been impugning. I could simply be blind, but your judgement of the reactions to the invitation doesn't match mine. I haven't perceived all the reactions to the invitation as sectarianism, as lacking Christ, etc. Again, I could be blind, but that's what I am writing against. Not to win, but to say, hey look, my experience of this has been different, I've seen something different, I've seen the very things you are denying have been there. But again I could be misperceiving, I could simply be latching on to one aspect of reality. Given my other friends in CL like JACK who are seeing exactly what I see, I tend to think my experience is a valid, true one. But still, I beg to understand, to be corrected, to come to know Him better, to see more truly. I want to know why I am not satisfied with this judgement, with your and Francis' words. What am I missing? Again, this probably isn't the best place to figure it out, but I do desire to know Him better.


Cheeky -

I am glad you are desiring to learn more about the reasons given for the judgment and seeking to understand who Christ is. This was also for me the position that provoked me into writing my post (Either Protagonists, Moved By Mercy, or Nobodies)...My initial reaction to the situation was "who cares? is it really that big of a deal? why did we want the Pope to speak so badly at La Sapienza, and why were we so upset when he was forced to withdraw from speaking, but are now unwilling to let the president speak at our Catholic institutions?" All the moral outcry seemed disingenuous in that regard. Then, I thought "yeah, it does look bad for the university to invite this pro-choice politician and to give him an honorary law degree." This made the university sound disingenuous, and even myopic in its decision. Both positions are, to me, surface level positions (ideologies), and set me up for a battle of remonstrations.

What changed the situation for me was talking to some friends who pointed to a deeper problem, with a more profound answer. This is what the flyer says to me: the outcry is indicative of a crisis of identity, of a skepticism concerning whether the Christian event is still possible. Even more striking, the words of Fr. Giussani seem to get to the heart of the matter:

"This, we can say, is the indicator of our faith’s truth, its authenticity or lack thereof: if the faith is truly in the foreground, or if in the foreground there is another kind of concern; if we truly expect everything from the fact of Christ, or if we expect from the fact of Christ what we decide to expect, ultimately making Him a starting point and a support for our projects and programs."

And, further, he indicates two effects of this reduction:

"a) First: “An efficientistic conception of Christian commitment, with accentuations of moralism.” Not accentuations–with wholesale reduction to moralism! Why should anyone remain Christian? Because Christianity pushes you to action, presses you to commitment, no other reason! It’s like a father and mother who tell you, “Come on, you have to do this!” and then they leave you alone to do it yourself, as if they weren’t there. (Instead, Jesus says, “I will be with you to the end of time.”) This is a concept of incarnation in which the Christian is truly cut in half, cloven in two. And from the contingent, historic point of view, Christians still have the right to remain in the world only to the degree in which they throw themselves into worldly action: it’s ethical Christianity, that is, Christian ethics, Christian behavior, which means being Christian in the world identified with worldly commitment....

b) Second consequence (and this is the gravest thing): the incapacity to “culturalize” the discourse, to bring one’s Christian experience to the level in which it becomes systematic and critical judgment, and thus a prompt for a modality of action. It’s the Christian experience blocked in its potential for impact on the world, because an experience impacts the world only to the degree to which it reaches a cultural expression....Cultural expression means judgment, capacity for systematic and critical judgment of the world, of worldliness, of the historic circumstance, and thus it becomes a suggestion for a modality of program and of action."

Giussani's words are always a reminder of the truth of Christ, of the Fact of Christ in our lives. Christ is the Alpha; but He is also the Omega. We are not the Omega. I think we agree on mostly everything except where you say the flyer doesn't go to the heart of things. Something can't get to the heart of things and be lacking a necessary dimension. If Christ is just the Alpha, then yeah, we have some work to do on the flyer. As it stands, I think the flyer is proposing exactly this digging deeper that you are suggesting. Think about your experience: you are obviously intrigued (struck?, frustrated?, disappointed?, etc. by the flyer) but you are going to an assembly to understand more the reasons given in it. This, to me, is beautiful. Invite your friends!! Don't worry about a language barrier!! Where else did this happen? Where else did the discourse provoke you to dig deeper, to not remain at the efficientistic (I swear, Giussani makes up words sometimes) level?

A few more things. I was in no way impugning anyone's faith. That would be a ridiculous position, probably most in line with the liberal minded Catholics who want to shove this controversy in the face of supposedly conservative prudish closed-minded Catholics. I want to make it clear that my position is in no way a silent endorsement of Obama.

I think this is also where we are not on the same page on another comment I made, about the encounter with Christ in a specific context not being fatuous. I did not mean that it follows that Notre Dame should endorse Obama. What follows from it is that CHRISTIANITY IS POSSIBLE!! IT IS POSSIBLE TO BUMP INTO THE FLESH OF CHRIST ON EARTH!!! IT IS POSSIBLE TO KNOW HIM, TO BECOME FAMILIAR WITH HIM!!! That is what I was disarmed by, and that is why I think the judgment is complete. Those who want to take action in other ways, are fine by me. Does the flyer in any way repudiate the position of those who are protesting, other than to say that our task is not one of condemnation but witness?

That is all I want to do: witness to the truth. That is what I attempted to do in my post. Its absence from the dialogue is what saddened me. Neither I nor the flyer are criticizing certain sects of believers for not witnessing... instead it is a reminder for all of us, and I think in this situation that is what was most needed.

In my experience, this position is what truly changes things. First of all, it changed me. Second of all, as I said before, one of my friend's atheist friends was interested in my post. I was moved by this. That guy probably doesn't give a shit about our protest of Obama's visit. What interests him is a human experience of fullness, which in every occasion we are called to witness to. I sent my post to another one of my friends, and she thanked me for helping to remind her the meaning of what we do on Good Friday when we follow that man going to Calvary. In this sense, the approach of the flyer and the approach I attempted in my blog post are an attempt to respond to the opportunity for witness, and thus to make a judgment, in the sense that Giussani uses the word above. It is more consonant with my experience to witness in this situation to the possibility of the Christian experience, rather than make a condemnation. Of course, people have their circumstances, and some may be called to protesting. I don't know. I wasn't. Christianity is not against anything. It is only against evil, which is nothingness. I must be reminded constantly that my position, devoid of a witness to Christ, is just as evil as any other. Let's not try to fool ourselves. It is false for me to think that I am better than Obama because I am a Christian. This is a surface level reaction. More correspondent is to say that I am happier than Obama, I have a hope that he can't give me, because I met Christ! There is a difference between the two positions. Since I think the latter is the truer position, this is all I tried to communicate in my post.

I agree with what my friend Fred said, "The political wrangling is not a clear gesture. It does not cultivate the Christian experience. It accepts the default position that power is what saves us. Forcing ND to tow the line will not make it more Catholic, more Christian. For that, we need Christians." What we need are Christians witnessing to a new life that is possible. The flyer both acknowledges the tragedy of an life lived devoid of Christ's presence, but affirms with certainty that our witness to Christ's work in building a new creation is the important thing. It may seem like a tiny, fragile seed; it may seem incomplete. It may seem like the first brick laid after the University was burned down. But in that tiny seed lies the salvation of the world.

Happy Easter!! Christ is risen!! We need nothing else but to witness to that fact!!



I don't wish to be disrespectful, but after reading this "judgment" three times, I still don't know what it says. I'm not sure it says anything.

I accidentally found this site doing a google search for people's reactions to the ND controversey. I am truly interested in what people have to say about the matter. You appear to be a genuinely caring person of strong faith. But very little of what you said made sense to me. What exactly are you judging (or who?). And what is your judgment? Just say it plainly. Communication is very important.

Just saying . . .


All CL members should read Pope St. Pius X's encyclical Pascendi ( http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_x/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_19070908_pascendi-dominici-gregis_en.html ), especially sections 7, 8 & 14, 15. The "CL-speak" of "experience" is really troubling to me.

To quote §8, e.g.:
They find "in this sentiment ["religious sense," "experience," etc.] not faith only, but with and in faith, as they understand it, revelation, they say, abides. For what more can one require for revelation? Is not that religious sentiment which is perceptible in the consciousness revelation, or at least the beginning of revelation? Nay, is not God Himself, as He manifests Himself to the soul, indistinctly it is true, in this same religious sense, revelation? And they add: Since God is both the object and the cause of faith, this revelation is at the same time of God and from God; that is, God is both the revealer and the revealed.

"Hence, Venerable Brethren, springs that ridiculous proposition [...], that every religion, according to the different aspect under which it is viewed, must be considered as both natural and supernatural. Hence it is that they make consciousness and revelation synonymous. Hence the law, according to which religious consciousness is given as the universal rule, to be put on an equal footing with revelation, and to which all must submit, even the supreme authority of the Church, whether in its teaching capacity, or in that of legislator in the province of sacred liturgy or discipline."

Maybe it's just me, but it seems he's speaking directly of CL, or at least how I conceived CL.

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