Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reflections on the Observer...

These last two days, I have been somewhat bemused by stories appearing on the pages of Notre Dame's own official student publication, The Observer. This amusement, I should note well here, has nothing to do with the strangely personal attacks on my fellow Rovers which have appeared on more than one occasion in the Observer's pages this semester (kicking puppies? see this post.)

The degree to which the paper seems to be out of touch not only with a particular segment of its readership on campus, but with the identity of the university its reporting--willingly or not--represents, has become quite apparent. I figured this out long before these few examples came to light (read: freshman year), but I thought I'd share these recent developments nonetheless.

Yesterday, I grabbed everyone's favorite daily paper on my way to class, surprised to see the name of my favorite Dominican Doctor above the fold on the front page! I celebrated with a friend who had taken the theology course "Aquinas and the Pursuit of Wisdom" with me last semester--only to be, well, disheartened to see the reason the Observer justified printing an article on Thomas in that esteemed location:
Professor lectures on Aquinas: Scholar Encourages a Skeptical Reading
Skeptical reading? of Aquinas? "Now why," asked my buzzing little theological mind, which admittedly feels almost as much at home in Thomas' disputed question format as it does in Mass, "would anyone encourage such a thing?!?" It was unpleasant to be hurled into an alternate universe, where my friend Thomas is being read by the skeptic, instead of the person seeking to travel a transformative path towards union with God. I searched the text of the article for answers.

I didn't find much, for the article was rather light on content. But I did locate this reason given in the article (I did not attend the lecture) for skepticism in our reading of 'St. Aquinas' (this unusual moniker, given in the article):

"Aquinas is still, among Catholics, a weapon in the culture wars," she said, adding that, because his writings aren't Scripture, "we should be even more skeptical of him."

Sounds like a rather Protestant reading of, well, any theologian. Skepticism about any teaching which does not come directly from one's own interpretation of the divinely inspired Word of God sounds just like sola scriptura, and any Catholic scholar should flee from it, whichever side of the 'culture wars' they are on. And yes, one would think that the many truths found in Aquinas' thought, which are in continuity with what the Church had taught up to the 13th century and has taught since, would have a role to play in our modern cultural debates. We don't have the luxury of reinventing and reinterpreting Christian ethics in each generation.

So much for Thomas.

Today's paper featured an article helping to gear up the ND community for "National Coming-Out Day" tomorrow--woohoo. The promotion of these sort of 'gay pride' events is in direct contradiction of Catholic teaching on the matter. Yes, the university should be a place where the human dignity of all should be respected, and where love of neighbor ties the community together. But implicit in our coming together as a learning community under the patronage of Our Lady is that we are together striving to live Christian lives--to be transformed and become virtuous in the sort of way Aquinas' works indicated. When certain members of our community embrace a lifestyle--that is, one involving certain actions, I am not here addressing the orientation--that is antithetical to virtuous self-control, it's plain that the rest of the community can't sit back and cheer them on. Instead, in love and always with respect, we are to witness to the truth of God's plan for human sexuality.

This certainly applies to the SMC community as well, which I understand as part of the larger ND family. So the discussions being covered yesterday in the article are ones which seem to completely disregard the life of virtue to which we are all called. Instead, we are to accept the vice--and endorse it.:

"Your coming out is at your own pace and you have to be O.K. with it [before you can actually go through with it]. Until you are comfortable with who you are, you won't be comfortable in the world," Warner said.

All three panelists spoke of how far the College has come in its acceptance of homosexuals on campus.

"Twelve years ago, when I came here I had to stay closeted so I didn't lose my job," Porter said. "I think a lot has changed since then."

Porter, who eventually came out after receiving tenure, said that while Saint Mary's has a non-discrimination policy - which can apply to sexuality - she thinks the College could go even further and offer benefits, such as healthcare, for the life partners of homosexual employees.
Finally, on to the coverage of the Tridentine Mass coming to Notre Dame, following Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum this summer.

Headline? "Students demand Latin Mass after rescript".

Two immediate thoughts:

1. Rescript? What's a rescript? The search string I entered into Google--"rescript Latin Mass"--amusingly immediately returned this very article to me as the top search result, followed by other blog posts which helpfully told me that 'rescript' is pretty much the English term for 'motu proprio'. OK, I'll take it. We don't want classical languages on the front page. Too churchy.

2. Students DEMAND Latin Mass? It sounds like Domers descended on campus in mid-July and proceeded to bang on the doors of Campus Ministry until their wish was granted. Read on to discover that the 'demands' consisted of expressing interest and providing the evidence required by the motu proprio of a "stable community of the faithful" requesting that the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite liturgy be available on campus--expressing interest in emails and a Facebook group. But we have to make that crazy Latin-obsessed Catholic cadre seem off its rocker...

The article was actually quite good on content, with quotes from Fr. Warner and Brett Perkins of Campus Ministry. But there had to be that headline...

I am often confused or dismayed by the attitudes of my fellow students, and perhaps the Observer is just an all-too-visible way for me to see it, day in and day out, in sometimes the silliest of examples. And I'm sure that this is an ageless problem, for young adults have never been famed, as a group, for their stunning self-control or great wisdom.

That's why we need our University to teach us these things. Catholic faculty hiring is of the utmost importance in retaining the Catholic identity of this University, for it is the faculty who help to transform us from rebellious teens (think Thrasymachus) into faithful and virtuous young adults. When both students AND the faculty who are supposed to lead us cease to care about the life of faith of the community into which they have been called--and the moral development which that life requires--enormous problems facing the very identity of our University are inevitable.


Rachel said...

phew, that was long. I'll be surprised if anyone reads it all! My apologies...

Johnny Domer said...

Regarding a "skeptical" reading of Thomas: It's not as if Thomas' teachings have gone entirely unchallenged by faithful, believing Catholics over the last 8 centuries or so. There are philosophical camps (the Scotists come to mind) which have disagreed with Thomas and which the Church has certainly not entirely condemned. Further, it is accepted by all Catholics that Thomas was flat out wrong about certain things, including the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother. To say that we should "read Thomas skeptically" seems to be implying, I think, that Catholic scholars of the last 700 years have been just a bunch of sheeple who accepted all of the teachings of Thomas uncritically; this is entirely not the case. Thomas' writings have been analyzed and critiqued by many, MANY scholars over the course of time; the fact that his work is so revered and praised by Popes of our present time is proof of his great worth.

And as for the Latin Mass, nobody DEMANDED anything...Fr. Rocca was not pleased by that headline.

Greer Hannan said...

excellent post