Tuesday, April 30, 2013
From a while back:
Notre Dame's provost, Nathan Hatch, delivered this (I thought) moving and provocative <a href="talk" _mce_href="http://www.nd.edu/~ndethics/archives/hatch.shtml">talk">http://www.nd.edu/~ndethics/archives/hatch.shtml">talk </a>after the opening Mass at the University this year. Hatch's remarks built on observations by David Brooks and C.S. Lewis (!) to remind the students that:
<blockquote>Your identity does not derive from how successful you are. All of us, from the top of the class to the bottom, derive our tremendous worth because God, our creator, knows our name, calls us sons and daughters, and takes joy in our own unique gifts. Who you are does not rest on a fickle ability to write brilliantly, to solve the experiment correctly, or climb the organizational ladder.
My second word of advice is this: living in a pressure cooker of achievement, how do we view our neighbors. Our reactions are often twofold, to envy those who seem more gifted and to look past people who seem ordinary. In his recent book on envy, Joseph Epstein notes that envy runs high in the world of art and intellect. “How little it takes to make one academic sick with envy over the pathetically small advantages won by another: the better office, the slightly lighter teaching load, the fickle evaluation of students.”
What is the answer to resenting those who break the curve and ignoring others who seem uninteresting? In his essay, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis asks us to attend to a proper theology of the human person. He challenges us with the awesome reality of the human person, bearers of the very image of God. “There are no ordinary people,” he concludes. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization––these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, exploit. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself,” he continues, “your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
In this academic community, during the coming year, may all of our work be leavened by this reality: Neither you nor your neighbor is an ordinary person. </blockquote>
I've always loved Lewis's "The Weight of Glory." In my view, the observations that "there are no ordinary people" and that, indeed, "your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses" are beautiful -- and jurisprudentially significant.
From a (very happy) day in April of 2004:
This is, I admit, shameless: I'm pleased to report the birth, on April 22, of <a href="Elizabeth" _mce_href="http://www.nd.edu/~ndlaw/faculty/facultypages/garnettr/rick_garnetts_kids.htm">Elizabeth">http://www.nd.edu/~ndlaw/faculty/facultypages/garnettr/rick_garnetts_kids.htm">Elizabeth Ann Garnett</a>. In order to justify posting this announcement, I suppose I should point out -- given our discussions about school choice, religious freedom, and CST -- that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton serves as a patron to school-choice reforms and parochial-school boosters. God is good.
Reflecting on Church, State, Politics, Trends, and Values at St. John Lateran
Today was the last of our ten days in Rome with our extended Sisk and Gilchrist families, which we concluded with a visit to the Basilica of St. John Lateran. We thereby completed our pilgrimage to all four of the major basilicas in Rome (the others being St. Peter's, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls). I am grateful for being able to spend this time in Rome, attending the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's with thousands of the faithful from all over the world, visiting the four major basilicas, and seeing again many of the other churches and holy places in Rome that I have cherished (such as Santa Maria Trastevere and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva).
And I have been reminded at nearly every holy place that the Catholic Church has always struggled with its proper place in worldly society while also seeking to transcend time and place and point the faithful to the higher things. Although I am very tired as we pack late in the evening for an early morning departure, and so I apologize if this post is poorly worded, I thought I would share these thoughts while they were fresh in my mind.
In each of the past twenty centuries, the Church has had the mission of being fully engaged with the particular society of a time and place by being a locus of coherent and integrated values, while always holding fast to the Deposit of Faith and passing on that tradition and revealed teaching through the Apostolic Succession. As sons and daughters of the Church, we on the Mirror of Justice also are confronted with the difficult task of upholding the continuing relevance of Catholic teaching for the peculiar problems arising in this particular time and place, while needing to remain sufficiently independent from political, cultural, and academic movements to be led by our faith rather than by our preferences or aspirations. Along with St. Paul, we seek “unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God,” and want to avoid being “tossed one way and another, and carried hither and thither by every new gust of teaching (Eph 4:11-15).”
Of course, the Church has not always succeeded in every era in rising above temporal trends and temptations. From the Bronze Doors taken from the Roman Senate (Curia) in the Imperial Forum to symbolize the Church's political reign over Rome to the large statute of Constantine in the portico, the Basilica of St. John Lateran amply illustrates that the Church at times has been too willing to seek to exercise direct political power. We should learn from the Church's failures as well as its successes.
We have the opportunity on this jewel of a web site to find a way toward a uniquely Catholic common-ground in which we resist accommodation to academic or political trends of every nature and ideology and seek instead to find and apply those more transcendent values that have carried the Church through twenty centuries. Without becoming isolated from our communities and while being open to new insights into human nature and experience, we also need to remember – as one finds in the most moving and powerful of the icons and imagery and stories found in the holy places of Rome – that the Church typically is at its most effective as a counter-cultural witness for values.
As I sat today meditating in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, I found my eyes constantly returning to the statue of the basilica's namesake. As rendered in the statute, St. John the Evangelist holds his quill with a waiting hand away from the book as he looks above and listens for the voice of God. While I do not expect that any of our writing, either in academic venues or on the Mirror of Justice, will reflect the immediate revelation experienced by St. John, we too must remind ourselves to pause regularly and listen for the voice of God. We should never presume that what we say proceeds from the mouth of God, but neither should we ever write on matters of values and faith without opening our ears to that quiet and powerful voice.
Statue of St. John at Basilica of St. John Lateran (photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
"Gone Baby Gone"
I'm probably behind the curve on this one, but I just saw the (relatively) recent movie, "Gone Baby Gone." Here's the opening line (spoken by the main character, a private investigator "from the neighborhood" in Boston):
I always believed it was the things you don't choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family.
I won't provide any spoilers, but here's a thought: "Juno" and "Bella" (and "Knocked Up") notwithstanding, "Gone Baby Gone" was one of the most "Catholic" -- and, I thought, one of the most pro-life (in a subtle way) -- movies made in recent years. Discuss.
Following up on my exchange (below) with Vince, I recommend enthusiastically -- to anyone interested in what Christianity means for our thinking, and our acting, regarding criminal punishment -- an essay by Professor Jeffrie Murphy, of Arizona State University: "Christianity and Criminal Punishment." Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to the paper, but it is available in the <a href="journalhttp://www.sagepub.com/journalIssue.aspx?pid=99&jiid=1025100503">journal</a>, Punishment and Society, and also as a chapter in Murphy's new <a href="bookhttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/index%3Dstripbooks%26field-keywords%3Djeffrie%252520murphy%252520getting%252520even%26store-name%3Dbooks/103-9038779-0883019">book</a>, "Getting Even: Forgiveness and its Limits." Many readers are likely familiar with another work of his, "Forgiveness and Mercy" (with Jean Hampton).
Here's a blurb from the abstract: "Christianity organizes thinking about punishment around the value of love. Love requires a focus on the common good and on benefit to the soul or character. Punishments harmmful to the soul are to be avoided, and punishments beneficial to the soul are to be favored."
That's the title of a new post at ReligiousLeftLaw by University of St. Thomas law professor Charles Reid. The post begins:
"From 2003 to early 2009, I wrote a series of historically-grounded papers that reached the common conclusion that marriage equality represented a radical departure from the western tradition of marriage and so, for that reason, should be rejected as a matter of public policy. I have now changed my mind regarding this conclusion. While there is no question that marriage equality represents a dramatic departure from what has gone before, I can now find support within our western tradition for expanding the definition of marriage to embrace loving, committed same-sex unions.
Let me begin with my professional background: I am a lawyer and an historian. These two sides of my brain co-exist in what I like to think is, for the most part anyways, a creative tension. The lawyer side of my brain considers public policy issues in the urgency of the present. The historian's training, however, summons me always to look at the deep picture, to appreciate what has come before, and it was this innate conservativism that long governed my instincts on marriage equality. In my historical writings on the subject, I made essentially three arguments: (1) In the few instances in which same-sex marriage was debated on the historical record, it was rejected; (2) a principal reason for this rejection, furthermore, was because marriage was about procreation, and only procreative relationships should therefore be recognized as marriage; and (3) public policy should remain within these tightly-drawn boundaries, because any departure would be likely to result in arbitrary line-drawing."
The rest of the post, is here, where, if you want, you can comment.
In reply to the query with which Michael ends his most recent post, I answer simply: no, the thesis is not worth considering - not in the slightest. It is nothing more than another instance of a distasteful and unhelpful brand of paranoid invective that used to be confined to rightwing and leftwing echo chambers but now, sadly, is worming its way onto this weblog. As for Patrick's latest queries along similar lines, I offer no reply at all. For Patrick is right that these questions 'answer[ ] [themselves]' - which is precisly why they are neither serious, interesting, nor in need of response.
I encourage all readers simply to take a brief look at some of our recent post-headings at this weblog. 'Hideous Monsters.' 'Spiritual Rape & Treason.' 'fascist, retrograde, and incapable of understanding diversity.' And so on. When and by whom was it decided that we should henceforth constitute a tabloid rather than a forum for reasoned discussion? And how has it come to pass that law professors at American law schools now lament at this site that the U.S. Constitution is 'godless' and difficult to amend in the name of instituting a Christian theocracy?
We call this site 'Mirror of Justice.' If posts of the strange new variety now on display here continue, fair warning to the general public will counsel we rename it 'Mirror of Anger,' 'Mirror of Hysteria,' or some similar thing. 'God help us' indeed.