Reconciliation, Not Recalcitrance

Once again, President Obama impressed me at the graduation ceremony at Notre Dame University.  Abortion was the issue of the day, and he faced it squarely and directly.  His message was one of reconciliation; each person must be allowed their own beliefs as dictated by our Constitution.  However, there must always be room for reasoned dialogue.  Without open minds, empathy for the other side and a dedication to keeping the channels of discussion open, peace and prosperity will fall by the wayside.

President Obama was consistent in this message.  His adherence to reason, dialogue and persistence are earmarks of his own self and his leadership.  Even though I was not surprised by his comments, I was still (wonderfully) reminded about how he sticks to his guns on content and process.

As impressed as I was by President Obama’s remarks, I was amazed at the introduction by the university’s President, Rev. John Jenkins.  His thoughts were truly remarkable, delivered with much emotional fervor, gratitude and an honest attempt to make his guest welcomed.  Please take the time to read Rev. Jenkins’ words:

President Obama, Fr. Hesburgh, Judge Noonan, Members of the Board of Trustees, Members of the faculty, staff, alumni, friends, parents, and most of all – the Notre Dame Class of 2009:

Several autumns ago, you came to Notre Dame from home….now Notre Dame has become home. And it always will be. For home is not where you live. Home is where you belong. You will always belong – and I pray you will always feel you belong – here at Notre Dame.

You are … ND.

In my four years as President of your University – I have found that even among those who did not go to Notre Dame, even among those who do not share the Catholic faith, there is a special expectation, a special hope, for what Notre Dame can accomplish in the world. They hope that Notre Dame will be one of the great universities in the nation, but they also hope that it will send forth graduates who — grounded in deep moral values — can help solve the world’s toughest problems.

Their hope is in you, the graduates of 2009.

That is a good place for hope to be. I have great confidence in what your talent and energy can accomplish in the world. But I have a special optimism for what you can do inspired by faith.
It is your faith that will focus your talents and help you build the world you long to live in and leave to your children.

The world you enter today is torn by division – and is fixed on its differences.

Differences must be acknowledged, and in some cases cherished. But too often differences lead to pride in self and contempt for others, until two sides – taking opposing views of the same difference — demonize each other. Whether the difference is political, religious, racial, or national — trust falls, anger rises, and cooperation ends … even for the sake of causes all sides care about.

More than any problem in the arts or sciences – engineering or medicine – easing the hateful divisions between human beings is the supreme challenge of this age. If we can solve this problem, we have a chance to come together and solve all the others.

A Catholic university – and its graduates – are specially called, and I believe specially equipped, to help meet this challenge.

As a Catholic university, we are part of the Church – members of the “mystical body of Christ” animated by our faith in the Gospel. Yet we are also – most of us – citizens of the United States – this extraordinary evolving expression of human freedom. We are called to serve each community of which we’re a part, and this call is captured in the motto over the door of the east nave of the Basilica: “God, Country, Notre Dame.”

As we serve the Church, we can persuade believers by appeals to both faith and reason. As we serve our country, we will be motivated by faith, but we cannot appeal only to faith. We must also engage in a dialogue that appeals to reason that all can accept.

When we face differences with fellow citizens, we will be tested: do we keep trying, with love and a generous spirit, to appeal to ethical principles that might be persuasive to others – or do we condemn those who differ with us for not seeing the truth that we see?

The first approach can lead to healing, the second to hostility. We know which approach we are called to as disciples of Christ.

Pope Benedict said last year from the South Lawn of the White House: “I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.”

Genuine faith does not inhibit the use of reason; it purifies it of pride and distorting self-interest. As it does so, Pope Benedict has said, “human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending … public debate.”

Tapping the full potential of human reason to seek God and serve humanity is a central mission of the Catholic Church. The natural place for the Church to pursue this mission is at a Catholic university. The University of Notre Dame belongs to an academic tradition of nearly a thousand years – born of the Church’s teaching that human reason, tempered by faith, is a gift of God, a path to religious truth, and a means for seeking the common good in secular life.

It is out of this duty to serve the common good that we seek to foster dialogue with all people of good will, regardless of faith, background or perspective. We will listen to all views, and always bear witness for what we believe. Insofar as we play this role, we can be what Pope John Paul II said a Catholic university is meant to be – “a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture” [Ex corde ecclesiae, 3.34].

Of course, dialogue is never instantaneous; it doesn’t begin and end in an afternoon. It is an ongoing process made possible by many acts of courtesy and gestures of respect, by listening carefully and speaking honestly. Paradoxically, support for these actions often falls as the need for them rises – so they are most controversial precisely when they can be most helpful.

As we all know, a great deal of attention has surrounded President Obama’svisit to Notre Dame. We honor all people of good will who have come to this discussion respectfully and out of deeply held conviction.

Most of the debate has centered on Notre Dame’s decision to invite and honor the President. Less attention has been focused on the President’s decision to accept.

President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him.

Mr. President: This is a principle we share.

As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.”

If we want to extend courtesy, respect and love – and enter into dialogue – then surely we can start by acknowledging what is honorable in others.

We welcome President Obama to Notre Dame, and we honor him for the qualities and accomplishments the American people admired in him when they elected him. He is a man who grew up without a father, whose family was fed for a time with the help of food stamps — yet who mastered the most rigorous academic challenges, who turned his back on wealth to serve the poor, who sought the Presidency at a young age against long odds, and who – on the threshold of his goal — left the campaign to go to the bedside of his dying grandmother who helped raise him.

He is a leader who has great respect for the role of faith and religious institutions in public life. He has said: “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”

He is the first African American to be elected President, yet his appeal powerfully transcends race. In a country that has been deeply wounded by racial hatred – he has been a healer.
He has set ambitious goals across a sweeping agenda — extending health care coverage to millions who don’t have it, improving education especially for those who most need it, promoting renewable energy for the sake of our economy, our security, and our climate.

He has declared the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and has begun arms reduction talks with the Russians.

He has pledged to accelerate America’s fight against poverty, to reform immigration to make it more humane, and to advance America’s merciful work in fighting disease in the poorest places on earth.

As commander-in-chief and as chief executive, he embraces with confidence both the burdens of leadership and the hopes of his country.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the President of the United States.”

Pretty inspiring and awe-inducing, no?  Rev. Jenkins is on the same page as our President.  Both of these men stress values, such as reason, faith tempered by individual cultures and reconciliation over blind adherence to one specific ideology.  What good is an unbending belief system if it creates strife and war?  No good at all.

To me, abortion is horrific.  My primary repulsion is that too many people use abortion as a means of birth control.  But rest assured, the overwhelming issue is that each and every woman have the right to a private, personal and safe choice.  Surely if men were the ones to incubate human life, this abortion issue would be moot.  Even Sarah Palin, while in all of her glorious stupidity and blind devotion to strict, hard dogma did not even realize what it was she was promoting, said a few months ago about her decision to have her baby, a Down’s Syndrome infant, that after careful thought of having an abortion, she made the “personal” decision to have the baby.  That is precisely what American women have been fighting for all along: the right to make a very heart-wrenching but personal and private decision about their own lives.  Dumb Sarah did not even see the forest from the trees in recognizing her freedom to choose what was best for her.  If it was up to her, she would take away our right to decide for ourselves.  I guess Palin believes the individual right to choose is valid if and only if we choose HER way.

I am not a religious person and often, become angry at the hatred and wars that religion has caused since the beginning of time.  Yesterday’s ceremony at Notre Dame gave me hope though, that reason and reconciliation can win the day.  The secular world and the religious arena need not be at odds with each other.  The platform may have been local, but the message was global.

Both President Obama and Rev. Jenkins set the example of showing us that recalcitrance is NOT the answer to promoting human decency and world peace.  For the benefit of the greater good, tolerance and cooperation must always trump prejudice and genocide.  NO belief is tantamount to the destruction of human life.  That path is self-defeating right from the get-go.  The correct path, the only way that might sustain harmony for humanity, is to keep all the doors open to the diverse ideas and practices that our world embodies.

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2 Responses to “Reconciliation, Not Recalcitrance”

  1. Natalie R Says:

    Pig headed Protest: I agree with most of what was said in this particular entry. I, however, disagree with some, of it. To me, abortion is NOT horrific. What IS horrific, in MY opinion, is taking a fetus to term when it is not wanted, when the mother cannot afford to raise the child, when it will be raised in a toxic milieu, when the mother is drug addicted, and when the fetus will develop significant deformity including retardation profound and otherwise. There are a host of other rationales for someone choosing abortion and we know the litany well: rape, incest and the health of the mother to name an additional few. All of the profound rationales for abortion discussed above, as I see it, are the most horrific scenarios of all and the main rationales for choosing to terminate a pregnancy. I do NOT think birth control is the main reason for abortion. How much easier it is to use a birth control technique then to suffer a surgical procedure with the risk that entails even WHEN it is in sterile conditions not to mention the psychological humiliation that some women encounter when seeking abortion at a paucity of clinics in various states. Currently even in an affluent suburb of Boston there is conflict as a clinic seeks to move to a larger location but because of the protest of the pig heads (as I call them) seeking to make the woman feel even more agitated than she already may be, its construction is in a state of limbo.

    Contrary to the thrust of one idea of reconciliation of the two sides of the abortion debate, I believe that the secular world and the religious arena will ALWAYS be at odds with respect to the abortion issue. Those who disagree with a woman’s right to choose do so primarily because of religious rationale and it is often sponsored by that bastion of virtue the Catholic Church, fundamentalist Protestant churches and of course the population explosive Mormon Church. If one equates a fetus, dependent on the mother for continuance, with a full term human being of say age 22 then the argument is closed. The religionists will never compromise. I believe the two sides are going to have to agree that they will always disagree and I believe, the president quite rightly said that. The question is whether the two sides, most especially the religiously fanatical side, will do so without violence. When one absolutely knows god is on one’s side and one is on a crusade then what does one have to lose? If they do NOT protest they think they will lose their immortal soul. End of argument as they have, as THEY see it, nothing to argue. There is no possibility of reconciliation if the other side is implacably recalcitrant.

    Part of me thinks, although most at Notre Dame were supportive of the president, that he did not need to subject himself to the onslaughts which would, of course, ensue when speaking at an institution which is part of the Roman Catholic aegis. I thought those who protested this gifted, brilliant, moral and accomplished man did him a grievous insult and Obama gave himself one by accepting their invitation. Just my opinion.

  2. Natalie R Says:

    Updated Opinion: I thought about this more especially after seeing the president deliver the speech. Perhaps, he hit a home run and really served more to illuminate how recalcitrant the hardened opposition is. Possibly this served to reach out to those Catholics who are reasonable, moderate AND moral. He did more to infuse his presidency yet again with rational though. His delivery was perfect.

    I take my opinion back … just a bit. The hardened religious right will never capitulate on abortion, gay marriage or any other hot button issue but the center truly is the important venue and Obama, as usual, played to that with clarity, empathy and prescience. Who in good conscious could disagree with what he said? Probably not many. So, kudos yet again to this most articulate, engaging, and brilliant man. It is unique that we should have gotten this man elected since we were so many years in the desert. There’s a Biblical metaphor in there somewhere!

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