Saturday, May 23, 2009

I Surrender All: The Fr. Jenkins Speech

Fr. Jenkins has gotten lots of accolades for his introduction of President Obama. Let's take a look at the more substantive bits (such as they are) and see if we can get this to jive with his previous statements and reality.

In the interest of full disclosure, this isn't the whole thing. You can find the full text here, though. With that in mind, let us begin:

I have found that even among those who did not go to Notre Dame, even among those who do not share the Catholic faith, there is a special expectation, a special hope, for what Notre Dame can accomplish in the world. They hope that Notre Dame will be one of the great universities in the nation, but they also hope that it will send forth graduates who -- grounded in deep moral values -- can help solve the world’s toughest problems.

And whose moral values might those be? If we are grounded in the Church's values, we're going to see a vastly different array of problems to be solved and different priorities in how to do so.

That is a good place for hope to be. I have great confidence in what your talent and energy can accomplish in the world. But I have a special optimism for what you can do inspired by faith. It is your faith that will focus your talents and help you build the world you long to live in and leave to your children.

What faith might that be? Are we speaking of the "one faith" that St. Paul wrote about? Or just faith in any random thing that we choose to exalt, no matter who or what that might be? I suggest that Fr. Jenkins's context makes for the latter definition, since he knows that not all these people are Catholic or even Christian. This begins Fr. Jenkins verbal ambiguities so that he can sound Catholic, while really preaching secularist indifferentism.

The world you enter today is torn by division – and is fixed on its differences.

Weird how that happens, huh? How could we live in such a world.

Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.

Oh yeah.

Differences must be acknowledged, and in some cases cherished. But too often differences lead to pride in self and contempt for others, until two sides – taking opposing views of the same difference -- demonize each other. Whether the difference is political, religious, racial, or national -- trust falls, anger rises, and cooperation ends … even for the sake of causes all sides care about.

Note the verbal massage here. There is no mention of the fact that differences, especially with regards to something important (like God) really mean that someone could actually be wrong and in need of correction. Jenkins immediately casts "differences" as one of three things: neutral, positive, or obstacles.

More than any problem in the arts or sciences - engineering or medicine – easing the hateful divisions between human beings is the supreme challenge of this age. If we can solve this problem, we have a chance to come together and solve all the others.

Nice of Fr. Jenkins to pass on his wisdom as to the supreme challenge of this age and how to solve it. This plays into his prior point about differences. Differences are bad and keep us from doing what is REALLY important.

As a Catholic university, we are part of the Church – members of the “mystical body of Christ” animated by our faith in the Gospel.

Yet you give your own employees carte blanche to attack that faith. You ignore the directives of everyone from the pope to the local ordinary. And, of course, you bestow honors upon those who are encouraging the murder of children.

As we serve the Church, we can persuade believers by appeals to both faith and reason. As we serve our country, we will be motivated by faith, but we cannot appeal only to faith. We must also engage in a dialogue that appeals to reason that all can accept.

Of course, we also must accept that some people are simply unreasonable. This point in the speech is significant, as it introduces the concept of "dialogue."

When we face differences with fellow citizens, we will be tested: do we keep trying, with love and a generous spirit, to appeal to ethical principles that might be persuasive to others – or do we condemn those who differ with us for not seeing the truth that we see?


But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican.

We try. If they are obstinate, we may continue to pray for them. The real answer is found, as usual, by paying attention to what Christ says. I don't think Jesus was looking for Jenkins-esque dialogue when He called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers." Do we condemn such people? Maybe looking at the 2000-year history of the Church would help. From St. Paul onward, the anathema was an act of love, both for the offender (that he be moved to repentance) and the rest of the flock (that they be protected from the offender).

The first approach can lead to healing, the second to hostility. We know which approach we are called to as disciples of Christ.

Yeah, we do. I wonder what Fr. Jenkins thinks of Our Lord's cleansing of the Temple. It sounds sort of hostile to me, but Jesus was probably just looking for some dialogue and accidentally tripped over the money-changer tables. It was all a big misunderstanding.

Pope Benedict said last year from the South Lawn of the White House: “I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.”

Do you think that he defined dialogue in the same way that Jenkins does? I suggest not on both counts, especially given that the quote here mentions that the dialogue in question has a specific end, namely, a humane a free society. Skipping over the Catholic ideas of "free society," I think we can all at least agree that Obama's idea of such a thing isn't the same as the Pope's. I mean, do you really think that the Holy Father had a society that condones abortion in mind when he said this?

Genuine faith does not inhibit the use of reason; it purifies it of pride and distorting self-interest. As it does so, Pope Benedict has said, “human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending … public debate.”

What faith? There is only one really "genuine faith." The Holy Father was clear on this in his past life. See Section 7. I invite everyone to read the full context of the Pope's quote here, by the way, since the whole point he was making isn't so much about dialogue but protecting society from secular egoism.

Tapping the full potential of human reason to seek God and serve humanity is a central mission of the Catholic Church. The natural place for the Church to pursue this mission is at a Catholic university. The University of Notre Dame belongs to an academic tradition of nearly a thousand years – born of the Church’s teaching that human reason, tempered by faith, is a gift of God, a path to religious truth, and a means for seeking the common good in secular life.

First, what Jenkins is glossing over at this point is what he hopes that many will simply presume. He wants you to think that ND is promoting the Faith in its classrooms and other activities and that this Obama stuff is therefore not a big deal. This is not the case, as is obvious to anyone who has had a class with, say, Fr. Richard McBrien or Hugh Page. Where is the "tempered by faith" part? That we have a Basilica on campus and chapels in the dorms? I think Aquinas and Bonaventure would be looking for a bit more than that.

Second, the italicized part begins what is probably the most subtle distortion of the entire speech. "Common good IN SECULAR LIFE." What just happened to all that "path to religious truth" and needing "to serve humanity" stuff? This is where the rubber hits the road, folks. It seems that Fr. Jenkins and his ilk wish to make the common good something that is temporal only. This is absolutely contrary to Catholicism, which has always made a person's soul a necessary consideration in the common good. Reason itself, which Jenkins has been praising this whole time, demands that such consideration be given. This is why the Church set up universities in the first place. To help temper reason with faith with the goal of people getting to heaven. So we see some mentions of paths to religious truth (by which I hope he means Catholicism), while the bulk of his speech is focused on surrendering religious truth so that we can work on temporal problems.

It is out of this duty to serve the common good that we seek to foster dialogue with all people of good will, regardless of faith, background or perspective. We will listen to all views, and always bear witness for what we believe. Insofar as we play this role, we can be what Pope John Paul II said a Catholic university is meant to be – "a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture" [Ex corde ecclesiae, 3.34].

Now that he's nudged in his re-definition of "common good," he can really take off. He can emphasize dialogue. He's even got the gall to quote Ex Corde Ecclesiae. How is ND coming along in getting those norms for Art. 1, Sec. 3 approved by Bishop D'Arcy? Has McBrien gotten his mandatum yet?

Anyways, the real point is that Jenkins is constructing a picture of dialogue in which all that matters is that there is some sort of exchange of ideas. Let's try to keep in mind as he does this that the only sort of "fruit" that we can acknowledge from such an exchange is the spread of Gospel and the subsequent transformation of culture.

This entire line of thought reduces the Church to nothing more than a commentator. The Church is no such thing. The Church is Mother and Teacher. Given that role, an exchange of ideas is a mischaracterization of what sort of dialogue can occur here. Have you ever seen a math teacher enter into a dialogue with a student who thought that 2 + 2 = 5? There isn't much of an exchange. The teacher tells the student he's wrong and explains why. If he persists in his error, he fails. The teacher does not flinch from proclaiming the truth and continues to fail the student if he does not change. She doesn't award him an honorary diploma, and let him speak to the rest of the class about how everyone should just agree to disagree on what 2 + 2 might be, as long as we can all play nice at recess.

Of course, dialogue is never instantaneous; it doesn’t begin and end in an afternoon. It is an ongoing process made possible by many acts of courtesy and gestures of respect, by listening carefully and speaking honestly.

Or it can work like this:

Having faith and a good conscience, which some rejecting have made shipwreck concerning the faith. Of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered up to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Notice how it's all about how the terms get defined.

President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

He left out this part: But we are willing to look past that because he can get us a common good in secular life that is pretty awesome even though babies will still be getting murdered.

Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him. Mr. President: This is a principle we share.

Let us never forget, though, that talk is cheap.

As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.”

This is Fr. Jenkins, the Editor at work. Let's check the context of this quote by reading couple of lines from Gaudium et Spes:

This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.

This strikes me as a bit of a qualifier on Jenkins's quote. Where Jenkins apparently sees dialogue as a simple exchange, in which differences must be minimized in order to find the ever-popular common ground, Vatican II speaks of dialogue as including repudiation of error. In other words, "dialogue" does not mean what he is saying it means.

If we want to extend courtesy, respect and love – and enter into dialogue – then surely we can start by acknowledging what is honorable in others.

And so the sucking-up begins . . .

We welcome President Obama to Notre Dame, and we honor him for the qualities and accomplishments the American people admired in him when they elected him. He is a man who grew up without a father, whose family was fed for a time with the help of food stamps -- yet who mastered the most rigorous academic challenges, who turned his back on wealth to serve the poor, who sought the Presidency at a young age against long odds, and who – on the threshold of his goal -- left the campaign to go to the bedside of his dying grandmother who helped raise him.

Who thinks killing babies, born or not, is Ok.

He is a leader who has great respect for the role of faith and religious institutions in public life. He has said: “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”

Who has been pretty willing to strike conscience protections for health care providers and sign legislation that could potentially close Catholic hospitals. Did I mention the baby-killing thing?

He is the first African American to be elected President, yet his appeal powerfully transcends race. In a country that has been deeply wounded by racial hatred – he has been a healer.

So this makes the baby-killing thing Ok, then?

He has set ambitious goals across a sweeping agenda -- extending health care coverage to millions who don’t have it, improving education especially for those who most need it, promoting renewable energy for the sake of our economy, our security, and our climate.

He'll make the trains run on time! WooHoo! Secular common good, here we come! Ends justify the means!

And thank God that Obama won, because we know that every other candidate wanted to deny health coverage to the needy, destroy educational opportunities, oppose renewable energy, encourage a massive economic decline, and destroy the planet.

He has declared the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and has begun arms reduction talks with the Russians.

Drinks on me! Obama has declared it, so it shall be done. Unlike those other candidates who sought a nuclear holocaust.

What? Dead babies? Did you hear what Jenkins said? We have begun arms reduction talks with the Russians!

He has pledged to accelerate America’s fight against poverty, to reform immigration to make it more humane, and to advance America’s merciful work in fighting disease in the poorest places on earth.

No more poverty! Humane immigration (whatever the hell that means; it must be good or Obama and Jenkins wouldn't support it)! Fighting disease!

Yes, yes!

Wait. Wasn't there something about dead babies?

As commander-in-chief and as chief executive, he embraces with confidence both the burdens of leadership and the hopes of his country.

I've got a newsflash for you. He doesn't embrace my hopes. I had the audacity to hope for a nation that didn't facilitate the destruction of the unborn. Pres. Obama stands opposed to that. You and others have decided that your common good, timely rail traffic, etc. is sufficient cause to de-prioritize the ongoing massacre of children and the denigration of the Church's role in society.

We should all pray for this man and those like him. I close with this final bit:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful but within are full of dead men's bones and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just: but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, that build the sepulchres of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the just, and say: If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

Substitute "unborn" for "prophets." I think it still works.

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