Our Lady embarrassed
Bishop David A. Zubik
Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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
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
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withdrawn his promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act if presented to him,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
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
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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