A Letter From Fr. Jenkins

ND logo

Here is a copy of the letter that Father Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, sent out to the Graduating Class of 2009 addressing the “controversial” invitation to Obama as Commencement speaker and the bestowing of an honorary degree.

May 11, 2009

 Dear Members of the Notre Dame Graduating Class of 2009:

 
This Sunday, as you receive your degrees at Commencement, your joy – and that of your families – will be shared by the faculty, staff, and administration of the University. We have had the privilege of laboring with each of you to inquire and discover, to teach and to learn, and we will send you off with affectionate and fond hopes for the future.
For those of you who are undergraduates, I feel a special kinship. You arrived in your dorm rooms as I arrived in the President’s Office. You have learned much; I may have learned more. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to learn with you, come to know you, and to serve you during our time together at Notre Dame.

 
During your years here we have endeavored to train you in the various disciplines and urged you to ask the larger questions – discussing not only the technical and practical but also the ethical and spiritual dimensions of pressing issues. I have been proud of you as you’ve grappled with intellectual, political, and spiritual questions. But I have never been more proud than I have been watching the way you’ve conducted yourselves over the past several weeks.

 
The decision to invite President Obama to Notre Dame to receive an honorary degree and deliver the Commencement address has triggered debate. In many cases, the debate has grown heated, even between people who agree completely on Church teaching regarding the sanctity of human life, who agree completely that we should work for change – and differ only on how we should work for change.

 
Yet, there has been an extra dimension to your debate. You have discussed this issue with each other while being observed, interviewed, and evaluated by people who are interested in this story. You engaged each other with passion, intelligence and respect. And I saw no sign that your differences led to division. You inspire me. We need the wider society to be more like you; it is good that we are sending you into that world on Sunday.

 
I am saddened that many friends of Notre Dame have suggested that our invitation to President Obama indicates ambiguity in our position on matters of Catholic teaching. The University and I are unequivocally committed to the sanctity of human life and to its protection from conception to natural death.

 
Notre Dame has a long custom of conferring honorary degrees on the President of the United States. It has never been a political statement or an endorsement of policy. It is the University’s expression of respect for the leader of the nation and the Office of the President. In the Catholic tradition, our first allegiance is to God in Christ, yet we are called to respect, participate in, and contribute to the wider society. As St. Peter wrote (I Pt. 2:17), we should honor the leader who upholds the secular order.
At the same time, and born of the same duty, a Catholic university has a special obligation not just to honor the leader but to engage the culture. Carrying out this role of the Catholic university has never been easy or without controversy. When I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame, Fr. Hesburgh spoke of the Catholic university as being both a lighthouse and a crossroads. As a lighthouse, we strive to stand apart and be different, illuminating issues with the moral and spiritual wisdom of the Catholic tradition. Yet, we must also be a crossroads through which pass people of many different perspectives, backgrounds, faiths, and cultures. At this crossroads, we must be a place where people of good will are received with charity, are able to speak, be heard, and engage in responsible and reasoned dialogue.

 
The President’s visit to Notre Dame can help lead to broader engagement on issues of importance to the country and of deep significance to Catholics. Ultimately, I hope that the conversations and the good will that come from this day will contribute to closer relations between Catholics and public officials who make decisions on matters of human life and human dignity.

 
There is much to admire and celebrate in the life and work of President Obama. His views and policies on immigration, expanding health care, alleviating poverty, and building peace through diplomacy have a deep resonance with Catholic social teaching. As the first African-American holder of this office, he has accelerated our country’s progress in overcoming the painful legacy of slavery and segregation. He is a remarkable figure in American history, and I look forward to welcoming him to Notre Dame.
As President Obama is our principal speaker, there will no doubt be much attention on your Commencement. Remember, though, that this day is your day. My fervent prayer is that May 17 will be a joyous day for you and your family. You are the ones we celebrate and applaud. Congratulations, and may God bless you.
In Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President

Couldn’t have been stated any better. Well done. The letter appeals to the true meaning of our namesake, Catholic as “universal.”

I’m not going to get into any political/moral shenanigans here right now. I’m much too heavy for a soap box anyways. However, The Heap’s position is that regardless of political, religious or moral affiliation, it is an honor to have The President of the United States as speaker. As many media sources have already pointed out, there have been many past speakers that have not had beliefs 100% in line with those of the Catholic Church. Controversy is not new to Notre Dame Commencement. And perhaps the degree of protest and dismay isn’t either. I have a good feeling that media coverage has probably made this a bigger deal than it really is.

I know abortion is a big deal. I know the artificial development of human cells is an issue. It would be insensitive and even reckless to passively address the issue. But the topic is for another time and another place.

The time and place of May 17th  on the greatest of all campuses in the land will provide a national stage for accomplishment. THAT is what should be at the forefront. But I guess it is appropriate that demonstrations will be occuring. The real world is at hand. This is what has been handed to us. While I don’t agree with some of the extreme opinions that will probably be voiced, I would also be glad to see that we can live in a country where an opinion can be had, so long as it doesn’t violate personal space and regulations.

I recently read that 50 or so students are planning on boycotting the ceremony by instead having a prayer service. More power to you.

On the other hand, you bet I would be at Commencement after working my tail off for 4 years, and paying enough to by a house for my education, no matter who the speaker was. It’s a moment I worked for- for myself but most importantly, for my parents.

My advice to all in attendence is to listen. Perhaps you don’t agree with President Obama on ANYTHING. You might think his policies are only going to further debilitate our country. You may not like his manner, or uncanny humor, but his call to our generation for change is clear. What he has accomplished, as a devoted family man, and an outspoken social advocate for the improvement of quality of life alone is worth lauding.

I can only hope that he can top the address to Arizona State last night, because that was spectacular. Even if the speech echoes of the same themes, the message will be just as powerful, and perhaps even more meaningful to a university which has historically changed the world.

Just Listen.

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

Advertisements

A Pre-Lenten Reflection

http://icanhascheezburger.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/funny-pictures-cheezburger-lent-cat.jpg

Lent is my favorite part of the Catholic calendar. The obvious association is that of giving something up for those 40 days or so. It’s a wonderful tradition and it’s certainly the least we can do as Christians when it comes to what Christ endured. Lent is much deeper than the simple sacrificial action or non-action. It’s about how the Lenten sacrifice enriches your spiritual life and how you use this period of renewal n order to grow closer to God.

The sacrifices of fasting and not eating meat are a traditional component. We Catholics know ALL about traditions. I couldn’t tell you why we don’t eat meat on Fridays or why it’s customary to abstain from something desirable. It’s just tradition, and a harmless one at that. It fits in well.

Most of the religious aspects of modern Catholicism are themselves ancestral relics of action- customs which have survived persecution, fundamental resistance, and time. It’s a tradition I am proud to partake in, despite the conspiracies behind why Catholics started eating meat on Fridays. What does it matter? Perhaps in the past the reasons were tainted with hints of corruption. As we’ve learned in CCD or Catholic School, this part of our religious history is a regrettable part of history.

I just choose to celebrate it as part of our tradition as well. I mean, why not help further the stereotype, right?

This act of sacrifice in the season of Lent goes hand in hand with the ultimate sacrifice which occurs on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Through our own seemingly insignificant sacrifices we symbolically emulate Christ’s path to the cross. (Oh, we LOVE symbols!) We give up something that is very integrated in our lives thus rendering us as lacking, and as time goes on, as wanting. Alas, our sacrifice is transformed into a nice euphemism for Lent’s entire purpose- the recognition of how much we as sinners are in ultimate need of Christ for salvation. He becomes your favorite carbonated beverage, your hours watching TV, or the plethora of other things we give up or pledge to do during Lent.

It should be our goal to recognize the season as such. Yet, an acceptance of the absence and needed presence of God in our lives leads to the realization that perhaps as an individual I haven’t steered the right course. Lent is most importantly about personal renewal.

Enter the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

If you don’t go any other time of the year, this is the period of time best to do it in. All souls get tarnished by the wear and tear of free will. You can’t make the right choice all of the time. Reconciliation is a humbling of the human ego through the admission of wrongdoing. What results is a renewal of resolve and spirituality. It’s about the effort.

Let’s look at it this way. Our Supreme Professor has made this test so hard that there is no one gets 100% in this class.  All we can do is go to office hours (multiple times in our lives through Sacrament and through prayer), admit we made wrong choices, and learn from our mistakes, leaving with an empowering resolve to not make the same mistakes. As long as we do our part, we can only hope he takes notice at our efforts and offers a large curve :).

I’ve always wondered why the Feast Of Christ the King, the Sunday before Advent, ushers in the new fiscal year of the liturgical calendar. For me, the season of Lent and Eastern are the essential definition of the Christian experience. Why wouldn’t renewal be synonymous with a new “year?” I digress.

Lenten Goals for 2009

  • No Coke or any similar products
  • Resume regular Mass attendance with ultimate participation in Communion after a good confession prior to Easter
  • No Drinking of Alcohol either
  • Being More Positive and No Cursing
  • Being more expressive and spending more family time
  • The infamous “Lenten Challenge”

logo