Thursday, April 14, 2005

Seeking Another City: Beyond Liberal and Conservative Catholicism in the United States

The Center’s 2005 Myser Fellow, Prof. Michael J. Baxter of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology, delivered the spring semester Schmitt Lecture on April 13, 2005. His talk was entitled “Seeking Another City: Beyond Liberal and Conservative Catholicism in the United States.” Prof. Baxter began by reflecting briefly on the voting habits of U.S. Catholics in the 20th century. The Catholic vote, which the Democrats could once count on, has been split since 1968, when divisions arose among American Catholics over Humanae Vitae and the Vietnam War. Baxter went on to assert that “this division between liberal and conservative Catholicism is the result of absorption of the Church into the political culture of the United States.”

He then gave a narrative history of Americanism, that is, the belief that the American government and its principles were benign to and even supportive of the aims of the Catholic Church, and that the United States was a providential instrument to aid the Church in bringing salvation to the world. Though Americanism was condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his 1899 apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae, it has continued to be propagated as a sort of civil theology. Baxter traced this belief through the 20th century to the present day, noting that “both liberal and conservative Catholics have different conceptions of Catholicism, and different conceptions of America, but they both believe there exists a fundamental harmony between the two.” Baxter warned that the danger of Americanism is not the threat of dividing the American Church into liberals and conservatives so much as it is the threat of dividing the American Church from the universal Church.

He concluded that American Catholics would do well to follow the admonition of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, in which he affirms the goodness of the democratic ideals of peace, freedom and justice, but cautions that democracies themselves must constantly be reassessed to ensure that they actually adhere to these ideals in practice.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Hearing the Call

On Wednesday evening, April 6, 2005, the Center hosted its second Breaking Bread dinner. Breaking Bread is an occasion for Notre Dame students to gather for a meal with their peers and professors in order to discuss a topic of central concern to the spiritual life of Christians. The participants, who are selected on a first-come, first-served basis, gather for the meal in the
press box at Notre Dame Stadium. Approximately eight students are seated at each table, along with one Notre Dame faculty member, who serves to facilitate the discussion.

The theme of each Breaking Bread dinner is sounded by remarks given by a speaker during the early portion of the dinner. This spring’s speaker was Dr. Os Guinness, one of the country’s most popular Christian writers and speakers. Dr. Guinness, the author or editor of more than twenty books, received his D.Phil from Oxford. Since 1984 he has lived in Washington, D.C., where he has been a visiting fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies and the Brookings Institution. From 1986-89 he was the executive director of the Williamsburg Charter Foundation. He is also the co-founder of the Trinity Forum and served as senior fellow and vice chairman of its board from its inception in 1991 until 2004. His energies are now principally devoted to writing and lecturing.

Dr. Guinness’s topic at this spring’s Breaking Bread dinner was “calling,” the special mission that God gives, not simply to professed religious, but to every Christian person. The discussion at the tables centered on how one is to discern and live out God’s call in one’s own life. Copies of Dr. Guinness’s book, The Call, were presented as a gift to each participant at the dinner. Many students lined up after the dinner to have their books autographed by Dr. Guinness. This year’s dinner was declared by many to be even better than last year’s. After the event, many students and faculty emailed the Center with rave reviews of Dr. Guinness’s talk and the conversation at their tables, and they promised to recommend it to their friends next year. The event was made possible by a generous gift from Mr. Fran McGowen, who honored us with his presence at this year’s dinner.