Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vita, Dulcedo, Spes

I don't mind admitting that I love the University of Notre Dame, or that it has has a considerable potential to frustrate and disappoint me, or that it has often actualized that potential.

Sometimes when I consider an aspect of the University, I rejoice; other times I lament. Notre Dame is not consistent, and I wish it knew this about itself as well as I and many others do. Specifically in the area of academics, the University needs to come to grips with the fact that while its research may be benevolent, useful, and innovative, and its professors are well-trained in their respective subjects and often very good at teaching, it has fallen away to a great extent from any kind of integrated approach, and its Catholic identity, of which it seems to recognize the value more and more with time, is not unified with its academic identity, resulting in a most unpleasant situation of not being One, which as always weakens its ties, and even perhaps its communion, with the Church. I do not mean to imply that Notre Dame is in schism; it is still far from that, but trends have now long been in development which if encouraged may prove quite detrimental to unity.

This situation cannot be solved merely from above or from below, by good students or good professors or good administrators, but it rests more with those in authority to guide the place, and as it stands now, the Board of Trustees has the greatest power. The task of electing the president of the University is entrusted to them (as Trustees, obviously), and if they choose a weak president, as they have been known to do twice over in days not long past, they have a clear way to getting done whatever they want done. Now why their agenda should have become so radically distinct from the Catholic identity and mission of the University as it used to be, I cannot fully say, but it has, I can wretchedly state, a great deal to do with -- to put it plainly -- money.

Inasmuch as a university is part of the economy (and it undeniably is: people work there and -- like it or not -- train for future work), money is a factor that must be taken into consideration. However, it would seem that if financial concerns trump the Catholic identity per se or (as seems especially to be the case at Notre Dame) its integration into academics, someone has made a sizable mistake, and those in highest charge of the University's finances, namely its Trustees, are the ones who must be courageous enough to do something about it, even at risk, painful as it may be to men and women rendered mercenary by the Fall, of losing some prestige, some innovation, or some -- to put it plainly -- money.

A university cannot survive without money, and money comes at least partly from students. And a good university cannot exist without good students. Thus the solution is not to keep away from Notre Dame and hope it will get better: what would that avail us? Why would we want to go there after all the good professors have left when they see that no students there even wants an integrated education permeated and fulfilled by the Faith of Christ? We know from experience that almost everything in this world is a joint effort of some kind. Not everyone can love Notre Dame, especially as it exists today, but no one should give up on it. It is not the best university for every individual: l am among the first to acknowledge this; but it is has things going for it that have stood the test of time and can, if fostered, emulated, and expanded, lead to a renewal of greatness, as defined by strong academics, a love of Truth Himself, and a commitment to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

Here are a few examples. The last two are, in my mind, the most important, so you may skip to them if you wish, but the others are admirable in their own ways.

1. The Liturgical Choir (and some other choirs, but I know Lit Choir best). These splendid people (I can say this now, no longer being one of them) sing for Mass each Sunday, and on several other occasions, and they know (thanks to their excellent directors) why they do this: to give glory to God and to assist others in doing the same. If only these goals were applied in the academic realm, the University would be a healthier and lovelier place. Furthermore, as a community whose members work together for a common goal despite their different functions, Lit Choir can be seen as an example to Notre Dame as a whole. Then, too, there is the beauty of the music they sing. Nothing truly beautiful can lead away from God. As long as the music (not to mention the Mass [see no. 3]) remains at Notre Dame, it will not have failed: far from it.

2. The Center for Ethics and Culture. Judging from its inimitable conference held each autumn, this Center could just as well be called the Center for Charity and Truth. It is has always been viewed as suspect by the University, since, as I see it, if it were left to its own devices and given total control, driven by students as well as faculty, it would more or less implement the necessary reforms throughout the University community. Hence, the University, which sees peril in such a possibility, has considered it prudent to provide as few devices for the Center's use as possible, and to prevent its gaining devices in any other way. We must remember to thank the Center for all it does, since the University would be a far less lovable -- and loving -- place without it.

3. Our Lord is really present in every single one of the 29 dorms on campus, as well as in many other buildings. Mass is celebrated many times every day, and for many the Paschal Triduum is a highlight of the spring semester. As long as the love of Christ shines forth at Notre Dame, as long as priests and people there keep desiring Our Lord and making him present sacramentally and in other ways, he will be present there. And if the just and merciful Judge has not abandoned or condemned a place, who are we to despair and leave it for dead?

4. Finally, a word on Our Lady, Notre Dame. The University has been placed under her patronage, and as long as this continues, she will not fail to protect it from ruin. I believe this wholeheartedly. And since Mary's will is perfectly attuned to that of the Heavenly Father, it is true to say that God is for Notre Dame. And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). I ask you all to pray for Notre Dame. By trusting in the charity of God, she can and will overcome.

And I don't mind admitting that I long to see that day.

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