Friday, May 22, 2015

immodest reconstruction of Catholic higher education

Ah, Catholic higher education (CHE).  It's why I'm here, meaning my teaching career, and it's why, well, lots of things.  Twenty-something years ago, back in my grad school days, a spate of books and articles about CHE appeared.  St. John Paul II had released Ex Corde Ecclesiae  in 1990, and basically American Catholics spent the rest of the decade trying to get their heads around what it meant.  Thus the publications came forth.  These were produced by players, laywomen and men as well as priests and religious who had experience in CHE.  They had taught, graded, and administrated Catholic colleges and universities, and thus they knew the issues and what was at stake.

What they produced was a conventional wisdom that ran something like this:

Catholic higher education maintains Catholic identity through a) Catholic theology courses; b) visible Catholic spaces (chapels, churches, basilicas, shrines); c) Catholic accoutrements & material culture--crucifixes in classrooms, statuary, even meatless Fridays during Lent in the dining facilities; and d) tradition--a sort of tautological "it's Catholic because it's always been Catholic" idea.  This CHE conventional wisdom worked well in both cities and rural/suburban areas. 


Yeah, what if I told you that this narrative missed about half--if not more--of the fuller history of CHE?  The entire narrative structure above presumes one unexamined presupposition:  "Catholic higher education" means institutions founded by men's orders.  Y'know--Notre Dame, Fordham, Boston College, Marquette, Catholic University, all the Loyolas, St. Bonaventure, St. John's (in NY or MN), etc.  The conventional wisdom distinguished between all these using religious order charism, e.g., part of Providence College's uniqueness stems from its being the only Dominican-founded college in the US.

Here's the problem:  all of the Catholic universities granting doctoral degrees in....just  about everything (humanities, sciences, education, and, yes, theology) were institutions founded by men's orders.  So when it comes to this core issue of who and what is "American Catholic higher education" the apples did not fall far from the trees. 

coercions both external and internal

Not about to wade into or in any attempt to settle the gay marriage debate.  This does not mean I am not concerned about it.  If not it itself then the ramifications of its legalization look to be the religious freedom debates we will have for the coming years.  This time will not pass easily nor gracefully.  Prayers for all are needed.

That being said, somebody who IS wading into the fray, Rod Dreher the omnipresent one on this blog, posts this:

You understand, of course, that this is not about getting equal treatment. The lesbian couple received that. This is about demonizing a point of view, and driving those who hold it out of the public square. Just so we’re clear about that.

Why the stridency?  As is implied above, a lesbian couple in Canada asked a jeweler to make them wedding rings.  The jeweler, who actually opposes same-sex marriage, made the rings.  OK, so far, so good.  This jeweler sounds like the other, less-vocal side of the "Would Jesus bake the cake?" debate.  Christians are called to convert the culture and here's a guy doing his level-best at his job, which is making jewelry.  For whom it matters not;  God is glorified by the jeweler's honest work.  I could also see Escriva-ian/Opus Dei and St. John Paul II angles to this, too.  Work in the world is the arena God gives us to return our gratitude and love to God.  Real work humanizes us, giving us myriad opportunities to develop in faith, hope, and charity our unique skills. Work need not draw attention from the world;  by working well quietly God is praised.

But once the lesbian couple discovered the jeweler's true feelings about same-sex marriage, they returned the rings, and demanded a full refund which the jeweler, again perhaps exemplifying a quiet but very real current throughout Christian spirituality, did.

Thus Dreher:

I’m sorry that <<the jeweler>> gave in to this intimidation, but I suppose if you are a small businessman, you have no choice once the mob turns on you. It does indicate, though, the next phase in the March of Progress. You must not only bake the cake, or arrange the flowers, or make the ring, you must hold the correct opinion when you do it.

Read it all here

Right--coercions and conversions now seek both internal and external transformation.  You must submit thoroughly and completely or you will be punished.  This attitude represents a secular, totalitarian inversion--for surely the Stalinists, Maoists, and Nazis sought the same level of complete assimilation--of the Christian ethic.  St. Paul's delicate balance of love as the new law of the Christian Church, illuminated by the Resurrection, requires more than faith or works (I Cor 13).  One must act and live with love, for that alone does not fail.  This new ethic, though, replaces love with acceptance and affirmation--which is not the same thing.  And truth be told, the emerging powers know this and request it anyway...because they can.  This abuse of power--of which, yes, the Church is surely guilty--indicates that the "love" animating the ethic is of the self and not God.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Catholic Church as the Second Heaven

The Catholic Church as the Second Heaven

From last month, Andrew Kim tells of a Korean butcher who has converted:

"Moreover, the butcher did not have a formal theological education
like the priest did, so, with a shrug of his shoulders the butcher
addressed the room: “I think the Catholic Church must be the second
Heaven, the Heaven on earth, because it is the only place where I have
ever been treated like a human being.”

Kim concludes: "I believe that this is what the Catholic Church is supposed to be. As stated in Gaudium et Spes,
the Church is called to form the human race into a single family of
God. A family is a place where everyone can enjoy the freedom and
comfort of belonging despite their differences. The Church should be a
refuge from the divisive, degrading, and dehumaizing structures that
beset the modern condition.

God’s Other People

God’s Other People

With Pentecost approaching, Andrew Kim reminds us that God is God of all.

Marriage Ministry as a Moment for Evangelization

My SJCME colleague Carmina Chapp's webinar from the Catholic Apostolate Center--great stuff as always.

line of demarcation

...because sometimes enough is enough.

Here's a recent Rod Dreher post at The American Conservative. Dreher's reading audience must number in the thousands for it surely displays a wide diversity of perspectives. Thus many of Dreher's posts involve letters/emails from his readers.  This involves a woman explaining her re-conversion to Roman Catholicism.  The light begins to shine when she confronts the unavoidable ridiculousness that characterizes much of modern thought regarding gender. 

At that moment my lifelong assumption of a culture of shared Logos was shattered. I wish I had said something obvious, but I was mute -– it felt as if we were suddenly all thrust into a bizarre alternate reality where even one’s identity as a male or female was subject to erasure by a ham-fisted cultural elite.

I thought about this incident for days. I was shocked to the core that a well-educated person of some importance in academia could say something that, at least on the face of it, appeared not only nonsensical, but deeply threatening to human dignity and freedom.
Thus, one either succumbs to the madness, or returns to church to take a stand.

At the end Dreher's reader concludes:

Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism contain a vast profusion of ideas over a span of two thousand years – ideas of God, Heaven and Hell, the purpose of life, art, beauty, social good, and human exceptionalism, excellence, and nobility.

Orthodox Christianity is a vast room filled to overflowing with a profusion of inexhaustible gifts. Protestantism appeals more, perhaps, to the need of Americans for a simplified approach, a streamlined emphasis on the Gospel as opposed to history, art, and the whole mysterious drama of the saints depicted within the walls of cathedrals.

 Usually Dreher contributes his own copious, insightful commentary. Readers know how much I appreciate Rod's writing and arguments, so it's interesting to see him here grant the entire space to his contributor.  As usual there is much to contemplate there:  the recognized regret of failed action, realized new convictions, appreciation for the broader traditions around us, and rediscovering a spiritual home that stands ready to welcome us all home...even if we might be newcomers (as Dreher and I are). Read it all here.

Reading this post made me think not of rants against American academic foibles, nor accelerating cultural/spiritual rot, nor more rhapsodic reminders that "beauty will save the world" (although it will--never doubt that).  Oh no.  This reminded me immediately of my beloved Wabash College.

Wabash archivist Beth Swift provides the full story here.  Back in the Victorian days as the American college experience as we know it in the 20th and 21st centuries emerged, the Wabash student body--which was and remains all-male--gathered to discuss the College's sports teams.  One student suggested heliotrope:

At this point--much like Dreher's contributor above wished she had done--another student hopped up and shouted: "Heliotrope, hell! We want blood! So, Scarlet it is." 

Like all great narrative traditions--and don't be mistaken, attending a college is participation in a narrative tradition...our place, our teams, our rituals, etc--Wabash has celebrated this ever since.  Perhaps wisely Bill Placher did not mention this when gently guiding a bunch of 19-year-old boys/men through Alice Walker's The Color Purple in 1989.  Furthermore, given what has transpired in gender and sexual politics, one can scarcely imagine what Wabash would be like today if it remained all-male with its sports teams decked out in heliotrope.    Thank God a few years later, inspired by the scarlet-clad teams, two Wabash graduates penned Dear Old Wabash, the nation's longest college fight song.  A musical and lyrical challenge, the song celebrates scarlet, the "gorgeous dye of the color we love so well."

It's not merely "red," just as heliotrope isn't merely "purple."  The song, like the story that gave rise to it, also represents a choice--and a choice that's decisive, celebratory, and inspiring.  Are there other teams and schools that wear red, even scarlet?  Of course, but in this story it is ours.  This identification, this line demarcating 'us,' resonates behind Dreher and his contributor who confronted the spiritual and intellectual abyss that modern academic life seems content to throw itself into.  Pulling us back from the line is the apostolic Christian tradition--Catholic and Orthodox--whose multivalent resources offer so many points of contact.  True, Americans might prefer, at least initially, the simpler explanations of evangelical Protestantism, but too much simple sugar can very easily lead to type II diabetes...and simplistic spirituality and/or unwitting intellectual pride can often lead to spiritual diabetes.

Smaller Manhattans: Summapalooza 2015 Class 3

Smaller Manhattans: Summapalooza 2015 Class 3: The 7 Arks of Salvation History  by blogger and catechist Christian LeBlanc--good stuff!