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Posted by on Apr 3, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Why the Catholic Right is Wrong

Obama at Notre Dame: Why the Catholic Right is Wrong

notre-dame-indiana-dome1

The Cardinal Newman Society has launched a petition drive objecting to President Barack Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame University’s commencement this year. Here is another approach to the issue.

George B. York III sent this letter to the National Catholic Reporter. It is presented here by permission of the author.

God and Man at Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s President, Fr. Jenkins, has extended
an invitation to President Obama to speak on
campus; the President has accepted. Some object,
asking, How could the President of Notre Dame
compromise with abortion? Closely observing
Jesus’ behavior in the Gospel of Luke, (7:40 and
following), I find Fr.Jenkins’ position consistent
with Jesus’ behavior, and in no way a compromise
with abortion.

In the story of Jesus’ evening in Simon’s
house an outsider, a woman, washes Jesus’ feet
with her tears and dries them with her hair. Simon
thinks, `Doesn’t he know what kind of woman she
is?’ Knowing what Simon is thinking, Jesus
surprises him by simply pointing to ways in which
Simon did not welcome Jesus; in so doing, Jesus
invites Simon to convert from hypocrisy to a
different way of judging and acting toward fellow
humans. While Jesus is uncompromising toward
misdeeds or sin, isn’t he also uncompromising when
it comes to accepting others, friend and foe alike, in
this case, welcoming the woman and challenging
but not rejecting Simon? Are humans defined only
by their real or supposed misdeeds?

About the strategy of some of his brother
bishops to `make war’ on abortion, South Dakota
Catholic Bishop Cupich told them: `…a prophecy of
denunciation quickly wears thin …what we need is a
prophecy of solidarity, with the community we
serve and the nation that we live in’. (quoted in
Commonweal Editorial, 5/12/08).

The way of implementing a prophecy of
solidarity is indicated by American Jesuit
Cardinal Avery Dulles. In commenting on
envisioning unity among Christians; he says, `The
first condition . . . is that the various Christian
communities be ready to speak and listen to one
another. . . . The process of growth through mutual
attestation will probably never reach its final
consummation within historical time, but it can
bring palpable results. . . . The result to be sought is
unity in diversity.’ (First Things, ’07)

Those are not just a Christian condition and
result; they are fully human. Does experience not
validate a claim that the better way between
different, opposed individuals and groups is one
leading to “unity in diversity”? Are exclusion and
isolation anything but impotent and sterile? Aren’t
Simon and the woman drawn within a more human
process? As a result don’t they depart from their
evening with their ability to hear reason and with
their freedom intact? In fact, is it not credible that
both Simon and the woman are invited, if not
actually drawn, closer not only to Jesus but also to
one another? Finally, to return to Bishop Cupich’s
solidarity, doesn’t `E pluribus unum’ mean unity in
diversity — union, not in sameness, but in
difference?

Such solidarity is impossible when one’s
starting point is that expressed in Simon’s initial
attitude: “Doesn’t Jesus know what kind of woman
she is?” Therefore, I have to wonder, Is it truly
Christian or even human to start, as some seem to
start, with a question like: “Doesn’t Fr. Jenkins
knowwhat kind of man Obama is?”

Isn’t the call to every Christian to put on the
mind of Jesus who Christians believe emptied
himself of power and the ways of power and drew
others neither by compromise with sin nor by
isolating rejection or coercion? To the extent a so-
called `prophecy of denunciation’ expresses a spirit
like that of the Pharisees (Simon’s initial attitude),
isn’t it a betrayal of the mind of Jesus? ? Isn’t such
prophecy animated by a spirit aiming at institutional
control, expressing a desire to force conformity in
the name of real or supposed truth? In the case of
NotreDame, doesn’t it express an ill-advised wish to
forceFr. Jenkins to dis-invite a supposedly unclean
Obama?

To the extent your answer is `Yes’, you see
why I say that Fr. Jenkin’s invitation to Obama
could be called a compromise with abortion only if
Jesus’ firm but friendly challenge to Simon could be
called a compromise with hypocrisy.

George B. York, lives in Denver. His
publication, `Michel de Certeau or Union in
Difference’ (2009, ISBN 978 0 85244 684 3),
concerns Faith in the understanding of a celebrated
French Jesuit historian.

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