The Detroit News published a column yesterday that I wrote about Catholic identity and the controversies sparked by President Obama’s visit to Georgetown and his planned speech at Notre Dame. National Review Online also published a variation of the same column last week under the title, The Catholic Identity Crisis.
Here’s the Detroit News column:
President Barack Obama made an interesting comment on economics during his April 14 speech at Georgetown University. “We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand,” he said. “We must build our house upon a rock.”
I doubt anyone would accuse him of plagiarizing here, but what he is paraphrasing came from Jesus’ parable. The man who built the house on sand paid the price. The winds took down the house. The man who built on stone enjoyed a house that withstood the storm.
It is quite appropriate that the parable was quoted at this Catholic university founded by Jesuits. Crucifixes, statues of Mary and other religious items are everywhere, revealing the rich tradition here.
Oddly, the president’s advance team insisted that all religious symbols be covered in the place in which he was speaking. Incredibly, Georgetown officials complied. At the request of the White House, university officials placed a cover over the letters IHS — the Greek abbreviation for the name of Jesus — during the president’s recent talk there.
This incident follows the ongoing uproar over Obama’s planned speech at Notre Dame, where he will be given an honorary doctorate, because of his pro-choice social policies.
What is happening is that political realities are capitalizing on a cultural shift and may be causing a Catholic identity crisis.
In the past half-century, Catholics have overcome a hostile culture and been assimilated, along with their own institutions. So complete has been this assimilation that on almost any matter of public policy or lifestyle choices, Catholics are indistinguishable from other Americans — until comparing regular practitioners with the nominally faithful.
It may not be farfetched to assert that there is an identity crisis among nominal Catholics, who are embarrassed by the distinctiveness of their more faithful brethren who hold to fast days, don’t approve of abortion and think marriage is what their grandparents thought it was, among other hot-button questions.
Of course, nominal Catholics would deny such an identity crisis. They may simply believe in a pluralistic and tolerant society.
But if the religious family that was once the church’s leading defender is willing to blot out the very name that is their own name (Jesuit), and their historic inspiration, please tell me what would constitute an identity crisis.
Think of it: A Catholic university was willing to cover up the name of Jesus, hide it from the cameras, because the president was coming and his advance team asked university officials to do so. The fact alone gives me chills.
At the root of tolerance is the notion that one is permissive about the beliefs of those with whom one precisely does not agree. If you do not know who you are and what you hold to be true, you cannot be tolerant.
We have come to the point in our society that the most significant contribution Georgetown or Notre Dame could make to society’s diversity would be to become, once again, Catholic and not be embarrassed about it.
The Catholic Church and the Jesuits in particular (such as the infamous case of the persecution, torture and execution of Edmund Campion by England’s Queen Elizabeth I) have in their own history heroic examples of martyrs willing to die for the faith and those very same martyrs refusing to submit to secular authority.
The least these campus authorities could do would be not to take active measures to undermine their own identity — as if the faith that inspired their existence were a mere add-on that could be easily covered over.