Notre Dame: The Passion Continues

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by Fr. Roger J. Landry

The Anchor
Editorial
April 3, 2009

On Sunday, we will all listen to St. Mark’s account of the Passion. We will recall Judas’ perfidy, the failure of Peter, James and John to stay awake in prayerful vigil with the Lord in his agony, the way all of Jesus’ friends abandoned him in the Garden, Peter’s multiple denials that he even knew Jesus, the duplicity of the witnesses at his mock trial, and the crowd’s repeated choice of a murderer over Jesus and persistent clamors for his crucifixion. Were it not for the fidelity of those few who stood by Jesus when he was hammered naked to the Cross and ridiculed by the chief priests, the soldiers, the passers-by and the robber to his left, it would be a tale of near universal betrayal. Jesus, however, in his first word from the Cross, cried out not because of the literally excruciating pain, but in supplication for those causing the pain, both his executioners and all those whose betrayals and sins had brought him to the gibbet: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Even though most were technically aware of every action they were undertaking, all were blind, Jesus reminded his Father, to the significance of what they were carrying out. 

Such betrayals of Jesus have not ceased. Many continue to sell out Jesus for a payday. Others, including those closest to him, prefer sleep or comfort to prayer. Others stay mute or run away when he or his bride is attacked. And mobs – including those who are accustomed to shout “Hosanna!” when it’s easy, as many did on Palm Sunday and many still do at Mass – turn on him and elect Barabbas in disguise as many in authority wash their hands out of fear or self-interest. 

As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his powerful meditation for the first station of the Way of the Cross, “Pilate asked the mob to choose between the two: ‘Whom do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus?’ How would I have answered that question had I been in the courtyard that Good Friday morning? I cannot escape answering by saying that the question belongs only to the past, for it is as actual now as ever. My conscience is the tribunal of Pilate. … As often as I choose to speak the uncharitable word, do the dishonest action, or consent to the evil thought, I say in so many words, ‘Release unto me Barabbas.’ And to choose Barabbas means to crucify Christ.”

Christ is scheduled to be crucified in this way on May 17 in South Bend, Indiana. 

The betrayal came about when Notre Dame University decided to disobey the clear guidelines of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference -“the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” by giving such figures “awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” – and award two prestigious honors to President Barack Obama, an honorary doctorate of law and the privilege of delivering its commencement address. 

In his first 60 days in office, President Obama has three times acted in defiance of the fundamental moral principle of the natural law, confirmed by revelation and defended vigorously by the Church, that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception. He has forced U.S. taxpayers, in the midst of an economic crisis at home, to fund abortion clinics in other countries. His administration has announced plans to rescind protections for health-care workers not to participate in procedures that are against their consciences, most notably abortions. He also declared that the government would start paying for human embryos to be created and destroyed for research purposes. President Obama is the first commander-in-chief to view abortion not merely as a regrettable public choice that should be “safe, legal and rare,” but as a public good that is to be promoted by the government and funded not just domestically but overseas. 

Notre Dame has given two arguments in its defense. The first is that the invitation to President Obama merely continues a tradition of inviting newly-elected presidents to give the commencement address. The 44th president will be following in the footsteps of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, Jimmy Carter in 1977, Ronald Reagan in 1981, George H.W. Bush in 1992 and George W. Bush in 2001. None of those presidents, however, was opposed in principle to the teaching of the natural law and the Catholic Church on the sanctity of innocent human life. It’s also clear from the gaps of presidents in the list that invitations are not pro-forma but deliberate. 

The second defense is that the president has been invited to the campus so that a “dialogue” can take place. If the president had received an invitation, for example, to participate in a symposium on how to reduce abortions, there would not have been the same uproar. The President, however, was invited not to share in a dialogue but to give a monologue; in fact, to give the most prestigious address of the academic year. In doing so, the university is not inviting the president to compromise his convictions, but asking faithful Catholic students and others to compromise theirs. By its invitation, the Notre Dame administration is lifting up President Obama as a model of wisdom to the graduating class and saying, in effect, that it is more important for graduates to listen to what he has to say than to what the Church has to say. It’s also saying that the president’s vigorous support for the destruction of innocent human life is in the end a small matter. 

To aggravate the situation, the university will bestow on President Obama an honorary doctorate of law, which basically states that it believes he is worthy of esteem as an interpreter, teacher and servant of the law. In his Constitutional Law classes at the University of Chicago as well as during his tenure as a politician, however, Obama has used his formidable legal training to advance the cause of abortion. Testifying before the Illinois State Senate, for example, against protecting from death infants born alive, he put his legal convictions on display: “Whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a … child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially … would forbid abortions to take place… because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child.” For a Catholic University to award President Obama an honorary doctorate for this type of use of the law is about as just, one commentator has noted, as granting Judas Iscariot a posthumous honorary doctorate in business administration. 

Various bishops have denounced Notre Dame’s decision because it affects the Church’s witness as a whole.  The most relevant critique came from Bishop John D’Arcy, the leader of the diocese where the University is located. He called the invitation “shocking,” implied it was an instance of choosing earthly “prestige over truth,” and stated that, for the first time in his 25 years as bishop and to prevent further scandal, he had decided not to attend the graduation. In essence, after the bishop’s announcement, Notre Dame was given a choice between having a successor of George Washington or a successor of the Apostles attend its commencement, and its administrators, by refusing to rescind the invitation to the President, decided to prioritize the earthly kingdom over Christ’s kingdom. Such a decision is simply not one that a university faithful to its Catholic identity and to Christ would make. 

That the betrayal will occur in a place formally dedicated to Mary, the Mother of all those made in the image of her Son, only makes matters worse. Two thousand years ago and still today, that Mother can hear the cries of the slaughter of those innocents killed in her Son’s place. 

 “Father, forgive them,” Christ’s words continue to echo, “for they know not what they do.”

Editors Note: This by far has been the best commentary (homily) I have come across concerning Barack Obama’s scheduled appearance at Notre Dame. It deserves to be spread far and wide… You can contact Fr. Landry below, or find other articles on his site: Catholic Preaching

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish
1359 Acushnet Avenue
New Bedford, MA 02746
Phone: 508-993-1691
Fax: 508-999-4775
Email: click here

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