Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Religious Mission Conversations at CUA

Last Friday, together with fellow MOJers Rick and Patrick, as well as MOJ friend Fr. Reggie Whitt, I participated in a panel discussion at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law on “Realizing Religious Mission in Legal Education.”  (Forgive the length of this, but I promised Rick that I would post this, and it might tie into our ongoing discussions about “distinctiveness” and mission). 


The discussion as a whole took as a springboard Judge John Noonan’s 1992 essay, “What is a Catholic Law School?" (67 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1037).  I picked up on two of the principles that he identified as part of the distinctive character of a Catholic law school: 1) Recognition of the “unchallenged importance” of philosophy, and in particular recognition of how the metaphysical dimensions of the person should inform legal categories and frameworks; and 2) Ample room for the expressly theological: even for scholarship that invokes scripture, the example of Jesus, prayer, in short, the “fusion of the responsibilities of the lawyer and the love of Christ.”


Giving a couple of examples of how in our work at Fordham, particularly in our “Love of Neighbor and the Law” project, I emphasized how we have benefited greatly from the work of our non-Catholic faculty, not only in terms of collaboration, but also in leadership, and while Noonan would find any of this problematic, I argued that it did nonetheless suggest a slight shift in the framework for discussions about “realizing religious mission.” 


For example, Noonan asked who are the participants in fulfilling the distinctive mission of a Catholic law school.  “Must the students and the faculty be Catholics, too?” His answer is: “not all, but enough to give substance to the claim of the school to be a Catholic law school . . . I see no point in pretending that it does not make a difference what religion the faculty professes.”  This seems to suggest two things: one, that it is in some way a question of numbers; and two, that there is a correlation between the religion that one professes and one’s capacity to draw out the connections between one’s Catholic identity and one’s law teaching and law scholarship. 


My experience at Fordham indicates that it is definitely more complex.  As a member of “generation X,” I ask myself, what difference does “professed religion” make when most Catholics of my generation—including Catholic law faculty—lack the formation in the driving ideas of their religious traditions that might make a difference for their legal scholarship and teaching?  And it is not just a generational problem, because the generations ahead of me often carry a largely private (or at time ethnic) conception of religion which tends to focus, for the most part, on liturgy and individual expressions of spirituality, in ways that may not connect directly with the law school curriculum and community.  So it’s not just post-Vatican II ignorance, but also pre-Vatican II tendencies to privatize the impact and implications of faith perspectives.


Now Noonan is certainly open to pluralism.  As he himself states, he is neither a proponent of trials for heresy, nor of excluding or discounting the contributions of faculty from other religious traditions who are attracted to the distinctive dimensions of Catholic legal education.  But I would push further.  I think it is a mistake to frame the interaction as a matter of allowing people of other faith traditions to enter and participate in a Catholic environment.  Instead, we need to emphasize that mission also means appreciating how we can all learn and grow from mutually enriching relationships.  Dialogue needs to be fostered not as a concession, not as an afterthought, but as the very fabric of our life together, and as an essential dynamic in the life of the Church itself. 


As you all know, I am not saying that we should not pay attention to the task of finding faculty who have or who might develop both the capacity and the interest in drawing out what the Catholic intellectual tradition offers to legal scholarship and law school teaching.  But even as I think about these projects, I find myself asking what kind of resources might help us to both appreciate all that the tradition has to offer, and at the same time embrace the rich contributions that faculty and students from other religious traditions might bring to the endeavor.


Some ideas, grounded in Jesus’s own capacity to “empty” himself; and in a model based on the life of the Trinity, in which, as Chiara Lubich put it, “I am myself not when I close myself off from the other, but when I give myself, when out of love I am lost in the other”—are outlined more fully in a piece recently published in the ACCU’s Journal, Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education, “Sparks and Bridges: Catalysts of a Catholic Higher Education That Works” on the sidebar under my name.      


However the project is framed, I think the key to realizing religious mission is to place our trust in the content of love, a love that fosters the deepest sense of personal integration and identity, and at the same time, a celebration of the gifts that others, with all of their differences, might bring.  As Pope Benedict put it in his encyclical Deus caritas: love is “a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.”  This presence of God, can then become a guide to discover the manifold ways in which God is already at work in our students, our colleagues, and our institutions as a whole.


Uelmen, Amy | Permalink

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