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Our Lady embarrassed

Bishop David A. Zubik
Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Catholic
April 23, 2009

It is a long and loving litany. To list all the titles given in honor and devotion to the Blessed Mother would fill not only this column, but probably this whole newspaper: Mother of God, Handmaid of the Lord, Hope of Christians, Theotokos, Star of the Sea, Queen of Peace, Mystical Rose.

Then we have, among hundreds of others, Our Lady of Knock, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Americas, Our Lady of Loreto.

One title has always struck a special chord for Catholics in America: “Notre Dame,” which means simply, “Our Lady.” It is the name given to the great cathedral of Paris, built between the 12th and 14th centuries. The name was also given to a small Catholic university begun on the snowy fields of Indiana by a young French Catholic priest, Edward Sorin, and his seven companions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, on Nov. 26, 1842.

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., has always represented to Catholics in America — and to any American, Catholic or not — more than just one school. It has been a symbol of Catholic education in America throughout its history. Catholics who never had a hope of attending college — immigrant coal miners, steel workers, bartenders or dock workers — worked so their children or their children’s children might be able to attend Our Lady’s Catholic university.

Notre Dame — Our Lady — is a title and devotion that every Catholic holds close to heart. Which is why it is so painful that the current leadership of the university has been so sadly forgetful of its responsibility to its sacred name, and to all the faithful, by deciding to give an honorary degree to our president, who has made so clear his opposition to the church’s teaching on the sacredness of human life. It must leave Our Lady — “Notre Dame” — embarrassed.

Who created this mess?

There is no doubt President Obama’s position on legalized abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, for example, stand in stark contrast to the church. Among his first acts as president was to lift restrictions on funding for groups outside the United States that promote abortion, expand embryonic stem-cell research, undertake a study to remove conscience clause protections for medical workers who cannot take part in abortions because of their beliefs, and has not withdrawn his promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act if presented to him, which would roll back even the minimum restrictions on abortion that have been put in place.

President Obama has not been a quiet supporter of abortion rights. He has been a vociferous cheerleader for legalized abortion through his political career. But the difficulty here is not President Obama. Notre Dame extended the invitation and he accepted it. All courtesy should be given to the president. After all, he is our president and he deserves our respect. But it was the University of Notre Dame that created this mess. The university should never have considered honoring him.

This is not a matter of the proper respect due our president, or even inviting him to speak on campus, or one of political motivation or a denial of free speech. The issue is not as clear as it must be. To give an honorary degree, to confer such an honor, makes the statement that the recipient of the honor reflects the mind and the heart of the giver. That certainly can’t be true in this instance! This is Our Lady’s university choosing to give an honorary degree to the single most outspoken pro-abortion president since the issue was foisted upon the country by the Supreme Court. It must, indeed, embarrass Our Lady.

Our pilgrimage to God

Bad situations can sometimes bear at least a few positives. Perhaps the positive we can each take away from this is our own examination of conscience. The action of Notre Dame has embarrassed Our Lady and embarrassed our church. But what do we do every day that might have the exact same results, though less publicly?

Have we embarrassed Our Lady, and our church, by sin? Have we embarrassed Our Lady, and our church, by lies, theft, blasphemy, or simply living as if God does not exist? Have we embarrassed Our Lady, and our church, by what we read or seek out on DVDs or the Internet? Have we embarrassed Our Lady, and our church, by cheating or treating our co-workers unfairly?

Have we embarrassed Our Lady, and our church, by outburst of anger, violence, racism or sexism? Have we embarrassed Our Lady, and our church, by ignoring our responsibilities to each other, by failing to live out the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude; by refusing the grace of faith, hope and charity?

So we have our own list to study. Our lives are a pilgrimage to God. We can get lost on the way, but God’s grace is always there to call us back. That good examination of conscience can lead to confession, absolution, penance and the pledge to amend our lives.

Let’s take that from this sad affair — our pledge to do better. Maybe we can hope that Notre Dame — the university of Our Lady — will make a similar pledge.


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