March 25, 2009
By Al Kresta
Nothing would better settle the question about Notre Dame’s value as a Catholic witness to the Kingdom of God than for its graduating students to greet this year’s commencement speaker, President Obama, with a vivid sign of Christian faith, hope, love, and courage. During his address, each graduate should cover his or her face with a two foot by two foot photo of either an aborted child or a beautiful Leonard Nilsson photo of an in utero human.
The President prizes learning, and a lesson of this sort should delight him. It would place him in a new “pay grade.” Think of it: an auditorium of courageous and robust young men and women, willing to set themselves apart from the apathy of bourgeois society in order to confront the culture of American violence, all gathered under the patronage of a Woman and out of respect for the office of the Presidency. Isn’t this the type of coming generation President Obama hopes to cultivate?
For these Notre Dame students, the time to choose between Christ and Caesar has come. Even if the moment has eluded Notre Dame’s president, Fr. John Jenkins, Bishop D’Arcy, in whose diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the University of Notre Dame resides, has already decided that this is a time for choice and a time for action. For the first time in 25 years, he will not attend the graduation. “I wish no disrespect to our president. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic Faith ‘in season and out of season’ and he teaches by not only by his words – but by his actions.”
While this is a painful decision for the Bishop, it is not unclear. I have in mind also the statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2004. “The Catholic Community and Catholic Institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions. Indeed the measure of any Catholic institutions is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for.”
President Obama during his campaign made it clear that he supported the Freedom of Choice Act, which, had it been passed, would have swept away all state restrictions on abortion. As Bishop D’Arcy succinctly described in referring to the President’s decision to approve Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research which destroys human embryos: “It was just a few weeks ago that President Obama has recently reaffirmed and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.”
The New Testament distinguishes between two different types of time, “chronos” and “kairos”. “Chronos” refers to time as duration. Heaven knows, these graduating students have put in their time at Notre Dame. Their chronos is coming to an end. “Kairos”, however, refers to time as the pregnant moment, the time of crisis and decision, the instant when time seems to stand still and one realizes that this particular choice will determine his or her future direction and character.
Notre Dame’s graduating class of 2009 can settle for a routine college commencement ceremony sprinkled with a little glitz of American civil religion or they can turn the moment into an international testimony to the dignity of the human person. They can proclaim “The Gospel of Life” and broadcast to the watching world that when it comes to protecting the weak and vulnerable, God doesn’t grade on the curve. Presidents and janitors, football players and grad assistants, priests and prostitutes are all judged by the same unwavering standard: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Al Kresta is President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications.
His afternoon radio program is heard on over 200 stations as well as Sirius satellite radio.