February 01, 2005
Catholic Legal Education and Dialogue
I want to second Patrick Brennan's recommendation of Jesuit Education 21: Conference Proceedings on the Future of Jesuit Higher Education as a helpful resource for fruitful reflection on the important question of how to understand the identity and mission of a Jesuit, Catholic law school. I attended that conference at a time in my own apostolic discernment when I was struggling with the question of whether it made sense for me to live out my Jesuit priestly mission as a legal academic. I found one of the conference talks particularly helpful, "The Jesuit Mission and the Dialogue with Culture," by John McDade, S.J. His essay is a thought-provoking reflection on the implications for Jesuit higher education that flow from the Society of Jesus' understanding of its mission as involving a commitment to bringing the Gospel into dialogue with contemporary culture. In an American culture that is profoundly shaped by law, and in an academic culture that is often hostile to religion, the Jesuit law school can, and should, have an important role to play in this mission of bringing the Gospel into dialogue with culture.
In our most recent General Congregation (GC 34), the Society of Jesus articulated a vision for pursuing this mission through a ministry of conversation, not one of impostion:
"A genuine attempt to work from within the shared experience of Christians and unbelievers in a secular and critical culture, built upon respect and friendship, is the only successful starting point. Our ministry towards atheists and agnostics [and believers from other traditions] will either be a meeting of equal partners in dialogue, addressing common questions, or it will be hollow."
McDade recognizes that GC 34's commitment to a dialogue with culture gives rise to a ministry characterized by an inherent tension -- an unavoidable creative tension between respectful, authentic dialogue -- which demands real listening and openness to learning and change in conversation with others -- and proclamation of the Good News that transforms all cultures. He sees this tension alive in GC 34's use of two Christological images to describe the relation of Gospel and culture:
"[T]he first is Incarnational in which inculturation [and dialogue are] seen as a dimension of the indwelling of the Word of God in all the divesity of human experience. The Word comes to dwell in all human cultures [even the law school] and shapes them. The second is Paschal and dialectical: cultures, under the liberating power of the Gospel, are freed from their negative features by being confronted with the counterchallenge of the Kingdom. The Word confronts and challenges human cultures [even the law school] by refusing to be assimilated by them." [Jesuit Education 21, at 57]
Different institutions, with different histories and traditions, will give flesh to this mission of dialogue and proclamation with its inherent creative tension in different ways. There is no single magic bullet answer to the mission and identity question. I don't think it's particularly fruitful to mourn the missed opportunities of the hiring decisions of the last 25 years or to spin out a narrative in which we seek to recover the dying light of a lost golden age that probably never existed. Instead we ought to acknowledge that we are asking a new question about law schools: how do we in our various institutions embody a ministry of legal education animated by the long tradition of the the Church and the Society of Jesus that (1) engages in rigorous intellectual pursuit of all authentically human questions, including questions arising from faith and from the promotion of the justice of God's kingdom, (2) that risks serious, respectful, open, potentially transformative dialogue engaging the questions and experiences of our colleagues and students, and (3) that helps to form students for professional lives that are integrated into a human life understood as vocation to wholeness and freedom.
The question of how to embody that mission of dialogue and proclamation in the law school culture is definitely a question worth struggling with.
On a somewhat different front, as a member of the Society of Jesus and a Georgetown alumnus, I was a bit dismayed by Patrick's characterization of Georgetown as "that Jesuit University that could not locate a Jesuit to succeed to its presidency." I don't think our struggle with the questions of institutional identity and mission is much advanced by implying that authentic identity is somehow tied to whether or not the president of the institution is a Jesuit or a lay person.
Id' like to again quote from GC 34, which reaffirmed the commitment of the Society of Jesus to cooperation with the laity in mission:
"A lay person can be the Director of a Jesuit work. . . . The emerging "Church of the Laity" will . . . have an impact on our own Jesuit apostolic works. This transformation can enrich these works and expand their Ignatian character, if we know how to cooperate with the grace of the emergence of the laity. When we speak of "our" apostolates," we will mean something different by "our." It will signify a genuine Ignatian partnership of laity and Jesuits, each of us acting according to our proper vocation. Lay persons will rightly take on a greater role of responsibility and leadership within these works. Jesuits will be called on to support them in their initiative by Ignatian formation, inculcation of Jesuit apostolic values, and the witness of our priestly and religious lives. If our service will be humbler, it will also be more challenging and creative, and more in accord with the graces we have received. This actualization of the vocation of the laity can show more clearly the grace of our vocation."
So, the choice of a lay person as president of a university may mean something more than the simple failure "to locate a Jesuit to succeed to its presidency." It may instead reflect a considered apostolic judgment, made for appropriate apostolic reasons, that this particular lay person is the right choice to lead this particular institution at this particular moment in time.
I have a deep and ongoing concern for the Jesuit and Catholic identity of Georgetown. I am grateful for the profoundly Jesuit and Catholic experience that I had during my four years there as an undergraduate; my introduction to the Catholic intellectual tradition, to a deeply rooted faith that was open to struggling with questions, and to priests whose ministry in the classroom and in the chapel provided powerful witness to the meaning of the Incarnation all shaped my faith in very concrete ways. If that weren't enough, I doubt that I would be a Jesuit in the absence of my experience of such a place.
From what I know of Jack DiGioia, he is a man deeply rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and commited to Jesuit higher education and the mission of the Society of Jesus. As a Jesuit (and in light of the governing documents of the Society of Jesus as I understand them), my primary concern is that the president share the vision of St. Ignatius and the Society of Jesus, whether or not he has S.J. behind his name.
August 26, 2004
Thoughts re Rick's Comments
I'm grateful to Rick for his thoughtful comments on my recent America essay. I'm in fundamental agreement with everything that he's said in his posting. My reference to abortion as a matter of constitutional right was meant only to note the current state of constitutional doctrine and the limits it places on what pro-life public officials are capable of doing through legislative efforts. As a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, I would agree with Rick that our current constitutional law on abortion is a profound mistake, and, given the gravity of the moral issue involved, it is a profoundly tragic mistake. I would certainly welcome the appointment of judges who are open to permitting legislatures to meaningfully regulate abortion. Our hope for such a doctrinal development, though, has to be tempered by the recognition that predicting what judges will do once they are appointed to the federal bench is not an exact science. Moreover, I think the way in which both parties at the national level can make a judge's position on Roe a litmus test can itself polarize and paralyze the appointment process in ways that may have detrimental implications for the common good. In a related vein, central as the abortion issue no doubt is, it is only one aspect of the courts' business, and it's possible that a judge who might look like a sure vote to correct the Court's mistakes in Roe and Casey might distort other areas of doctrine. Working for a change in constitutional doctrine is certainly an essential part of a pro-life jurisprudential strategy, but in light of the uncertainties that surround the prospects for such doctrinal change anytime soon, I simply think it's crucial to think about what it means to be a pro-life public official in a broader moral-political-legal context.