Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Ironic Catholic Alternate Notre Dame Commencement Speech

(...flying into South Bend in my snazzy academic gown, askew and frazzled after working crazy 10 hr days under nausea and general tiredness. Backstory here. Grabs microphone...)

Way to do the sabbath, people! Graduating on a Sunday? You interrupted my nap, you know. (ahem, straightens tam)

My goodness, I thank you for the gracious and unexpected invitation to provide the alternative Commencement speech to your fine students. Well, OK, it's true, I wasn't invited; I crashed your party. But your campus is attractive, there's birdsong in the air, swelling concert bands doing the celebration music, and you younger people are obviously happy in your accomplishment. It's all quite lovely.

However, I am a president too--the self-appointed president for life (for life, get it? Hee.) of Mad Pregnant Catholic Theologians for Life. While it's true no one elected me, I serve the common good with good will and ugly humor. And I don't need an honorary degree, which is convenient.

Mad Pregnant Catholic Theologians for Life has a rudimentary set of guidelines for membership. First, you must be pregnant, and with more than the Holy Spirit. Physical pregnancy, folks. You must be Catholic. You must be a theologian, which handily makes you quite mad. And you must support the right to life from conception to natural death. I'll admit this makes for a smallish group, but that's probably just as well. Hormonal, tired, nauseous theologians in a room together--well, you don't want to know. We're usually torn between vomiting, napping, and overthrowing the sinful universe.  All at the same time. While blogging.

As your alternative presidential address speaker, I have a serious point to make here today. If you--all of you--could recognize that your truest voice comes not from your prestige in the American public square, but from the Holy Spirit; that you have a call to be prophetic, and not just polite, then the controversy of the past few weeks will not have been lost. Because here's the news, folks: God is not an American. Indeed, one of your own theology professors wrote a fine reflective essay on that this point. (Hi, Mike!) And as much as the late 19th-early 20th century immigrants who supported and bolstered this university struggled to find their rights met in this new adopted country, we are no longer the hardscrabble newcomers who have to prove our love of America. We have nothing to fear from promoting a seamless garment of the right to life, from conception to natural death.

Honestly, I'm not sure we ever did have to "prove" our love of America. I'm not denying the discrimination many of these immigrants, your great grandmothers and grandfathers, endured. And that not a few still endure. That is not justified, and must be resisted. But to be in a more settled place in terms of citizenship and influence--and you are--is a gift, and gifts should not be squandered. You are the University of Notre Dame alumni, or will be in an hour. You have influence now. How are you going to use it? How would your great-grandmother want you to use it?

In the end, I think this whole controversy is about home, strange as it sounds. The immigrants who grew this university wanted to create a home for intellectual Catholicism and kick-ass football in the United States. And they did it. They did it. They created a home for you for four (or more) years. That's why commencements are not all celebration, and always bittersweet for students: leaving home is hard. But...honestly, is the Golden Dome your homeland? What is home, anyway? Is there any home outside of God's joy in the sheer splendor of all creation, especially its crown, the human being?

This is the gospel for today, after all:

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another."

Because as Christians we believe that our home is God's joy, as I said, we have nothing to fear from promoting a seamless garment of the right to life. Joy drives out fear, and joy demands sharing. This is our birthright. This is our happiness. This is the welcome mat before our home. And it should be obvious to anyone who comes to our door we make payment to God in loving each one of us--completely, totally, and without merit--by embracing and loving the most vulnerable and poor in our society. No matter who that sets us against.

I hope if you see President Obama on campus today, you respect him--more because he is a child of God, and loved by God, than because of his office. And that we will all pray for each other. Support his administration's policies that deserve our support, but fight the destruction of human beings at any stage. That's being an American, yes, but more importantly, it is working for the sanctification of our society. It is being a spiritual agent of hope and change. And it is being a friend of our crucified and risen savior, Jesus Christ.

I wish you all a joy-filled life. I'm now going home and going back to bed.



p.s. On a more serious note--I love Amy Welborn's measured and wise first reaction to the real speech. Especially this: "The bigger issue is Notre Dame and Catholic higher education. I was as distressed as anyone by the rock-star reception by Obama, just as I would if Bush or any other politician were greeted in such a way at a Catholic institution. We've had enough problems with sucking up to civic authority over the last few dozen centuries, haven't we?"

Tweet, tweet.


Steve T. said...

John Cardinal Newman, The Idea of the University I risk it all by saying that. Your post was still funny.

SherryTex said...

Linked to you. Nice job. Get a good nap in...or listen to the commencement speech and the breathless commentary that shall follow from those who think this is a splendid idea.

That should either fire you awake from sheer iritation, or the languid constant maple syrup prose will lull you to sleep.

Magnetic Cash Gifting said...

I am pro-life but believe that he had the right to speak at the school.

There is no different set of rules for the president than there is for the common citizen in this regard. Many people who support abortion have stepped foot on campus and you can be sure that they've had debates in the classroom. It is a college university after all.


Meredith Gould said...

If I still had my graduation cap, I'd being tossing it in the air with joy and gratitude for this post. Always appreciate the fervent faith and accompanies the humor.

Your nausea might lift if you stopped reading Catholic "news."

Colleen said...


Anonymous said...

Bravo -- now put your feet up and get a good rest!

Patricia Gonzalez

ファン said...

I just finished my Freshmen year at ND - can you imagine what an eventful Freshmen year it was with all the controversies and national exposure? Haha anyway, I agree with you: as Catholics (Christians, to speak generally), we should be welcoming, open-minded, kind-hearted and understanding and most importantly, LOVING, to everyone and concerning every topic, whether it be immigration or health care or abortion. I think it is an honor to have Obama speak at the Commencement (I wonder who will speak at my graduation in 2012) but that does not, by any means, mean that I support this views on abortion (I don't - I am sternly pro-life). Now, about him receiving an honorary degree - I'm a little iffy about that. Nevertheless, his speech was great. And it's all done and over with. Notre Dame will continue to be criticized and slandered but that's the price to pay when you're the best (yes, school pride).


The Ironic Catholic said...

Ryan and ND freshperson--
just to be clear on my position, I do not theoretically have a problem with President Obama speaking at any university, especially if there is a chance to "talk back" to him.

But giving him an honorary law degree when the man has stated he vehemently agrees with Roe V Wade makes no sense at best, and really approaches scandal. And I think offering him a chance to speak at graduation was still an "honor," not an educational opportunity, that was best avoided.

Commencements are not part of the allowing free and open exchange of ideas that all universities by definition are about--that happens in the classroom. Commencements are celebrations and exhortations. Frankly, I don't think any politicians should be speaking at them (unless its a relevant school, like one of the military academies).

Jesus Petry said...