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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame


I'm just catching up with President Obama's controversial visit to Notre Dame.

A reported seventy (70) of four hundred and fifty (450) Roman Catholic bishops criticized the presence of President Obama at a Notre Dame graduation and they denied the value of his speech.

This was, of course, before they had a chance to hear it. Why bother when you are already secure that the knowledge you possess is 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God'?

Sr. Joan Chittister
says it was their loss and Notre Dame's gain. She called the President's address a "face-up-to-the-life-you-have-just-inherited" speech, saying,

"It was a call not only to this year's graduates but to all of those who have preceded them intent more on winning than on working things out."

"It was a call to adults to stop acting like sophomores in the name of faith. It was a cry to those on both sides of every issue to refuse to suppress complexity in a global, interfaith world. It was an attempt to move beyond force, beyond the denunciation of those who are just as committed to resolving problems as we are without making outlaws of those for whom the issue cannot wait for long-term answers.

It was, most of all, a very Catholic speech."

Imagine that!

To my ears, that is the best of what Anglicanism is all about - or, at least, what I once thought it was all about.

A few more words from Sr. Joan:

"Obama asked graduates to see themselves as responsible for the global good as well as for their own success. He challenged them to go beyond the commitment to personal advantage to global good. He taught them that the zero-sum game, the notion that for me to win everyone else must lose, only means that everyone else will lose, and I, too, eventually. How can anyone in that audience who just went through an economic meltdown driven by greed which eventually brought the entire country down, doubt the value of those words, of that kind of commitment to a pro-life agenda.

He asked them, as an article of faith, to recognize the value of self-doubt that leads us to forego our own self-righteousness and inspires us to learn to listen to the wisdom of those around us.

He called them not to revel in the grandeur of their degrees from an isolated perspective but to remain open to the rest of the world. He called them to live their ideals but to resist the attempt to force them onto others.

He taught them to gain their hope from what has already been done in the past, what we as a people have already worked through and achieved, already overcome as a people together like the oppression of a king, the disregard for civil rights, the exploitation of laborers, the enslavement of a people, the struggle for animal rights, the recognition of women's equality, the movement beyond racism. It was, indeed, a very Catholic speech."

Gee, that sounds like a list of resolutions from any one of the five General Conventions I've attended over the past few years. Are we sure the President isn't an Episcopalian?

Then again, perhaps that is what all religion, at its heart, is all about - seeking the heart and mind of Jesus.

NCR (National Catholic Reporter) journalist, Heidi Schlumpf, reported that the President was interrupted three times during his speech.

"The third interruption, again from the seats near the press box where parents and guests were seated, came, somewhat ironically, as Obama was saying, "Your generation must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity: diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief. In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family."

His speech closed with a story--on this, the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education--about the Civil Rights Commission, which included former ND president Father Ted Hesburgh (who received almost as much applause as Obama). As the story goes, the group had difficulty finding a hotel or restaurant that would serve the black and white members of the commission together. So Father Ted flew the group to the university's retreat house in Wisconsin, where they hammered out what would eventually become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs," Obama said. "And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin , they discovered that they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history."

Obama implored the graduates to remember that lesson. "Remember that in the end, in some way we are all fisherman," he said. "If nothing else, that knowledge should give us faith that through our collective labor, and God’s providence, and our willingness to shoulder each other’s burdens, America will continue on its precious journey towards that more perfect union."

Somebody give the President an "Amen."

You can watch the entire speech on YouTube (in four parts) here.

22 comments:

DeanB said...

You wrote, "Then again, perhaps that is what all religion, at its heart, is all about - seeking the heart and mind of Jesus." I suppose that as a Christian you are bound to conflate Jesus with the divine, but for those of us of other religions, it would be easier to find "What truth is here?" (as you said so beautifully to your confirmation class) with a slight change in wording that did not imply that "all religion" must mean Jesus. Except for one word, I can agree whole-heartedly with you!

whiteycat said...

I watched the whole thing live and it was indeed a very moving experience. I felt it was a real call to the gospel message. I am so proud of Notre Dame for forging ahead with this and not bending to those of narrow mind and heart who believe that their way is the only way. Bravo Notre Dame University. This was truly catholic!

Jim said...

Amen indeed.

Interesting minor note dept. You wrote: Are we sure the President isn't an Episcopalian?

Actually he may be, at least a little bit. As I am sure you know (for your readers) there is an Episcopal church directly across Pennsylvania Ave. from the White House. It has been a presidential place of prayer for a long long time. Mr. Lincoln used to drop in.

Various (snide) rumors on another blog suggest that the president and family have occasionally been quietly there since moving in. Of course on that other site, this is proof of his evil religious leanings. ;;sigh;;


FWIW
jimB

Hiram said...

"Why bother when you are already secure that the knowledge you possess is 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God'?"

I am glad to hear that you are willing to reconsider the goodness and rightness of affirming same-sex sexual relationships as capable of being blessed by God.

Utah Savage said...

This was the best and most informative piece I read on Obama's speech at Notre Dame. I saw the speech and thought it was one of his best. And he had the audience with him. So much for the Catholic Church's official displeasure.

susan s. said...

Amen!

Fr Craig said...

as expected, a wonderful speech. He had a standing ovation, too

David said...

if a Canadian voice counts in the hallowed halls of ND
I'd say 'Amem' and add God bless you President Obama- you and your family and adminstration.

David@Montreal

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oops, sorry, DeanB. What if I said, " . . .all religion, at its heart, is all about seeking the heart and mind of the Divine."? I think that's really what I meant to say. Thanks for calling me on it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane R said...

The President was right in line with the Catholic social justice tradition and Catholic traditions of reasoned discourse. (They're not just Anglican :-).) A superb speech.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JaneR - my counterpoint, with all due respect, to Sr. Joan, is that they were not 'just Catholic'.

susankay said...

I believe that I have read somewhere that the Vatican miraculously has had positive comments about Obama's speach.

Pray.

Grandmère Mimi said...

The end of the speech gave me chills - good chills. I'll say, "Amen!"

Oh my, do we need a president who can lift our spirits with his words! He may not do everything each of us wants him to do, but, I give thanks that there's an eloquent man in the bully pulpit, who calls us to be better than we are.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hiram - I never said that blessing the covenants of same sex people was 'the truth'. I said it was 'right'. Big difference.

Hiram said...

Elizabeth, the difference eludes me. What I believe to be right comes out of what I believe to be the truth. Right action cannot be based upon a falsehood; such a thing is inherently unstable. What is true forms the only reliable basis for action possible.

"Let's dialogue" from the mouth of a progressive usually means, "Listen to me until you come to your senses and agree with me."

gerry said...

Interesting minor note dept. You wrote: Are we sure the President isn't an Episcopalian?

I recall reading somewhere in the heat of the campaign that President Obama was baptised in the Episcopal Church as a child. Don't recall the place. But he has been attending St. John's Lafayette Square in DC and was perfectly comfortable using the BCP and Hymnal at the Service the Morning after the Inauguration.

JCF said...

Right action cannot be based upon a falsehood; such a thing is inherently unstable.

But we human beings ARE inherently unstable, Hiram! (And never moreso, than when we bandy about certitudes---as I just did, Lord have mercy!)

When we bless something---an opposite-sex marriage, as much as a same-sex one---we can only do so, from a position of provisionality (Pronouncing God's blessing, AS IF we were sure God really blesses it. Yes, assuming we are ready to pronounce that blessing AFTER our prayerful study of Scripture, Tradition and Reason).

...but that's no reason NOT to bless, just because we can't be sure. (e.g., I don't know that your marriage, Hiram, has been a blessing---to you, your wife, or anyone else---but I will trust it has).

FranIAm said...

I wish I had time to discuss this with you. As you can imagine, I have gotten into more than one dust up on the Catholic blogs over it.

He did brilliantly.

Sending love and prayers.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Hiram - I can't think of any more to add than what JCF has said. Thanks, JCF.

Hiram said...

I have to admit that I have not had formal training in logic, but it still mystifies me that a person could admit that he or she is not sure about what it true, but be absolutely confident of what is right. Perhaps you all are saying that "truth" is an abstraction, while "right" deals with actions, and so follows some different way of knowing. Such an idea makes no sense to me. I am convinced that there is an unbreakable link between what is true and what is right or wrong.

Of course all knowledge and conviction is provisional. Only God knows all things and their proper relationship to each other. But if that is so, then your conviction that blessing same-sex relationships must also be provisional.

If you believe that those who oppose abortion on demand must be willing to reconsider their position, it is hypocritical for you to refuse to be willing to reconsider your position on same-sex blessings.


JCF said "...but that's no reason NOT to bless, just because we can't be sure."

Two decades ago, about the time the first non-celibate same-sex attracted priest was ordained, I told some friends, "Here is the difference between the two sides: the conservative say, 'We do not understand all about same-sex attraction, but it is clear from Scripture that God forbids same-sex sexual activity, and tradition and reason are in line with this.' The liberal says on the other hand, 'We do not understand all there is about same-sex attraction, and that makes what the Bible says about it unclear. Since it is unclear, we will try to go forward in the way that seems best to us.'"

In the long run, I believe that all this goes back to Gen 3:4, "Has God really said...?"

IT said...

Now, the BIble is pretty clear about slavery, and the service that slaves must give their owners. It's quite pro-slavery, in fact.

But about 150 or so years ago, some people decided that despite Biblical support of slavery, it was wrong. The conservatives, of course, did not agree. THey even fought a war over it, pointing at the Bible the whole way. But despite what everyone agreed was in the Bible, slavery was finally eliminated.

The Bible is also pretty clear that women serve men, and that they are inferior to men. But, wow, in Western society, we have recognized that woman are deserving of rights and equality, and we even gave them the vote!

Then there is the use of the Bible to justify strictures against inter-racial marriage.

And we also know now that the earth revolves around the sun, and leprosy is curable, and disease is not caused by demons. All of which counter the Bible.

Do you really need us to go on, Hiram? Because the conservatives have been on the losing side of all of those.

The Bible says nothing about homosexuality as an orientation, nor about faithful gay couples. It says a lot about sexual promiscuity and abuse. It is perfectly possible to read the same passages you point to as referring to lack of sexual continence. Sexual promiscuity is not homosexuality; some homosexuals are promiscuous, of course, but a lot more heterosexuals are promiscuous (simply because there are a lot more heterosexuals).

We now know that homosexuality is a normal human variant, and that it is found in all cultures and populations. God given knowledge, you might say. Right up there with knowing that blacks are the same as whites, and the earth revolves around the sun, and disease is caused by viruses and bacteria. Being hung up on gays is merely the modern equivalent of being pro-slavery or anti-women's suffrage.

(I don't know why I bother, but I try, I try.....)