28 April 2010

Musings from Notre Dame

Well, I threatened that I might have more to muse on from my time at Notre Dame. I am making good on that threat. I have to say that I was encouraged by what I saw at Notre Dame. OK -- before anyone starts pointing out all the faults of the place, let me say that I was not blind to them. For example, there was evidence around of some sort of gay agenda week recently. I went to check out the University's web site about it, and what I found was not entirely satisfactory. On the other hand, it is a far cry from the LGBTQI office at Vanderbilt. There was some effort to present and engage the Church's teaching on the matter. So I will say that all is not well at Notre Dame. I did, however, see a lot of good things that I simply cannot imagine finding at another university of equal academic reputation.

(This attitude that I am taking about Notre Dame is an attitude that I am trying to take across the board. Since I am a limited human being, I will try to limit myself to the good that I can do. I will not shirk dealing with something bad that is my responsibility; but if it is not my responsibility, I am trying not to waste my limited energy on it. Let me focus on something good that I am responsible for instead. There is more of that than I have time for as it is. So if I were actually at Notre Dame, I would probably need to concern myself more with the bad that needs to be corrected; but as it is I have the luxury to appreciate the good.)

So back to Notre Dame -- what a great accomplishment and resource for the Church. Here at Vanderbilt, I feel that I serve in a sort of resistance operation in occupied territory. It is good work and, I think, the work that most of us in this culture need to undertake. Christendom is gone and, as far as I can tell, isn't coming back anytime soon. (That is simply a statement of fact, not of preference.) At Notre Dame, I felt that I was getting some R&R in a friendly environment. We need that, too, and I appreciate it. Notre Dame is not an academic boutique but a real university, maybe about the only one we have that is really a university and recognizably Catholic. Maybe I am wrong about that, and I hope that I am. In any case, it was my first experience of it.

I am convinced more and more of the good Thomistic principle that grace builds on nature. I think that too often we religious folks fail to appreciate the wonder of our human nature and its potential. Of course, we are limited and fallen and therefore capable of great evil -- which we too often blame on the Devil when it is mainly our own fault! Yet our nature is awesome and capable of such excellence. Let's strive to achieve it with all that we have to offer. Too often we presume on grace to overcome laziness or lukewarmness in applying ourselves naturally. The story of Notre Dame is, of course, one of grace but grace in direct connection to robust natural effort and excellence. It is hard to see where nature ends and grace begins. Generally speaking, I believe that is what God wants from us: hearty natural achievement, enriched by grace. It is one of the principles of FOCUS and of Opus Dei that I admire. I found it at Notre Dame, threatened indeed by secularism. I hope that it survives. For those of you not in academia, I hope that you can appreciate just how radical it is in that world to recognize God at all in a public and institutional way. Religion might be tolerated as a quirky personal preference but not as a public reality. That is what Notre Dame still does.

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