Welcome Home

“Welcome home.”

After I was pulled off the wait list, the University’s acceptance letter fashioned itself in a way I didn’t. Yet Walker Percy insists that “there is no fashion so absurd, even grotesque, that it cannot be adopted, given two things: the authority of the fashion-setter (Dior, Jackie Onassis) and the vacuity or noughtness of the consumer.” Many students enter a Notre Dame fashioned as their dream school; many later fashion their undergraduate years as the best years of their lives. We are ND. Continue reading “Welcome Home”

The Emotional Affair of John Paul II

A couple of years before he became Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla wrote to a Polish woman: “God gave you to me and made you my vocation.” The letter was one of more than 700 saved letters between he and Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-American philosopher he met in 1973. The year before Wojtyla’s letter, Anna-Teresa had supposedly written that “she desired to be in his arms and remain there in happiness.” He gave her a scapular he had received from his father at his first communion. She sent him pressed flowers and photographs from her home. Their deeply intimate relationship lasted his lifetime, continuing as she read to him on his deathbed. The whole time she was married to Harvard economist Hendrik Houthakker. Continue reading “The Emotional Affair of John Paul II”

Love in the Landfill

My education at Notre Dame focused significantly on the ancient and medieval world. More than fifty of my 132 credits were on languages, cultures and ideas prior to the modern era, and these classes shaped the way I viewed my own life. I suspect the ways in which I lived and spoke were countercultural, not necessarily deliberately, but because many of my intellectual categories and contexts for thinking about life predated those of the contemporary world by millennia. Continue reading “Love in the Landfill”

On Blind Faith

Ignorant people take things by blind faith. At least, this is the belief of our age, the age which calls itself the “enlightened age.” In an age of technological progress and scientific advancement, the obvious thing to do with “blind faith” is to reject it as a feature of darker times, of primitive man or of tyrannical religion. That being said, I’ve found that Catholicism does involve quite a bit of “blind following.” Catholics are, for the most part “blind followers,” who take up doctrines that they don’t understand and accept them blindly. Catholics, in other words, are just like everyone else. Continue reading “On Blind Faith”

Curriculum Problems are Faculty Problems

In the midst of discussions over curricular developments at Notre Dame, I am mindful of a remark made by Otto Bird, the founder of the Program of Liberal Studies: “In the 1950s I was a member of the Faculty Hiring Committee, a body appointed by the administration to put pressure upon the department heads to seek for and hire the best candidates they could find for positions that became open. As it turned out, I became the one member of the committee who asked the candidate, when he was not a Catholic, about his ability and willingness to live and function in a Catholic university.”

These remarks came out in his 1990 memoir “Seeking a Center: My Life as a Great Bookie,” in which he noted that Notre Dame is a better university than it was in 1950 “measured by the secular standards of non-Catholic universities … Yet it certainly is not as manifestly Catholic as it was.” One might argue over the merits of a less manifest Catholicism — like arguing over the merits of a less incarnate God — but he also writes of PLS: “I do not think that the program today is as good as it was in its first years. In theology and philosophy it has been watered down … There is … less in the way of discipline and rigor … As a whole the program is less ‘intellectualistic’ than it was in the beginning.” I suspect that these remarks could also be applied to the “core curriculum” offered at Notre Dame as a whole.  Continue reading “Curriculum Problems are Faculty Problems”

What’s Next for Love and Marriage?

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, December 11, 2014.

The first dozen times I came out I cried. For many of my friends, it was the first time they had seen me cry. Ever. A high school friend once told me that I had two emotions: happy, and more happy. She was wrong. I felt a lot of things, but I had to hide them.  Continue reading “What’s Next for Love and Marriage?”

The Church I Disagree With

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, October 30, 2014.

I recently gave a lecture in which I tried to take a clever stab at the idea that one indeed can be a Catholic who disagrees with the Church’s teachings. I said something to the effect that I had realized, in my own life, that I couldn’t be “spiritual, but not religious.” I knew my spirituality would consist primarily of self-worship and accommodation, creating a God in my own image. I still think this is a clever argument, but one of the problems with being clever is that someone might ask you to explain what you mean. That’s what happened.  Continue reading “The Church I Disagree With”