Sunday, April 30, 2006

Walking with Cleopas: Emmaus and the Theological Life

As evening sunlight streamed in through the windows of the Notre Dame Stadium Pressbox, students, faculty and staff at this Spring’s Breaking Bread event—our semi-annual dinner and evening of spiritual discussion—were enlightened by Rev. Michael Heintz. Father Heintz, the rector and pastor of St. Matthew Cathedral Parish in South Bend, offered a reflection entitled, “Walking with Cleopas: Emmaus and the Theological Life.” Father Heintz began his reflection by reading the passage from the Gospel of St. Luke in which Cleopas and an unnamed companion encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus. As they walked, and at first did not recognize Jesus’ true identity, He “interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures,” thereby revealing to them how He fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament. Upon their arrival in Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend persuaded Christ to stay with them. “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”

Father Heintz’s selection was apt, as this particular account of the two companions who recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread provided the original inspiration for the Breaking Bread dinner series. This passage, suggested Father Heintz, provides an excellent model for the theological life – a life of faith seeking understanding. Father Heintz examined five aspects of the Emmaus story, in particular “its provisional, communal, conversational, Christocentric and ultimately Eucharistic dimensions.” First, Father Heintz noted that the account involves two disciples traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus – they were on a journey. “There is something profoundly provisional, deeply incomplete, about our life in the here and now . . . ultimate meaning, complete satisfaction, and enduring happiness are yet to be experienced.” Therefore, the theological life is always a “work in progress.” Second, pointing out the passage’s communal aspects, Father Heintz pointed out that Cleopas was not traveling alone, and that it is “precisely in community that Christ reveals himself, as He did to the two on the road to Emmaus.” Third, he observed that during their walk to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion were engaged in conversation when Christ joined them. Likewise, the theological life must be “essentially one of conversations” both with one another and with our “forbearers in the Tradition of theological reflection, the saints and doctors of old: a kind of conversation and engagement with their ideas and their thoughts, about our shared experience.”

Next, he examined the inherently Christocentric aspect of the Emmaus experience, pointing out that Christ did not merely walk with Cleopas and his companion, but also revealed Himself and the fullness of his salvific role to them. “For those of us committed to the theological life, Christ must be at its center as a living companion, the pivotal companion on our journey.” Father Heintz concluded his reflection by emphasizing the Eucharistic dimensions of the Emmaus passage – Christ revealed Himself to them in the breaking of the bread. Although Jesus then vanishes from their sight, “the mode of His presence becomes what is later termed sacramental: it is in the Eucharist that Christ abides with them – and with us. Now even those Christians not of the Catholic communion and who may have very different notions of what exactly the Eucharist is or signifies nonetheless have a deep regard for table or meal fellowship.”

The students at Breaking Bread greatly appreciated the opportunity to enjoy their own meal fellowship and to consider Father Heintz’s thoughtful spiritual reflection. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, Father Heintz teaches in the Theology Department at Notre Dame. He is completing his doctorate in Theology at Notre Dame under John Cavadini and Rev. Brian Daley. He enjoys reading, sports, and is a licensed baseball umpire.

Breaking Bread is chiefly administered by the Center’s current undergraduate assistants, Kate Wilson, Stephen Freddoso and Greer Hannan. It has become the Center’s most popular undergraduate event, and a beloved Notre Dame tradition. The Center once again thanks Mr. Fran McGowen, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, for his generosity in sponsoring this event.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hollywood: Mission Field or Mission Impossible?

Our inaugural Spring Catholic Culture Series was devoted to the art of cinema and the renewal of culture. Entitled “Hollywood: Mission Field or Mission Impossible?,” this inaugural series featured three prominent Catholic speakers who each took a different angle on the question of how Catholics and their fellow Christians might positively engage the film industry in Hollywood in order to revivify the art of the cinema in the light of the Gospel.

The first of the three speakers in the series was Rev. Willy Raymond, CSC, who since September 2000 has served as the national director of Family Theater Productions in Hollywood. The mission of Family Theater, which was founded in Hollywood in 1947 by Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, now a sainthood candidate, is to evangelize culture by using mass media to entertain, inspire and educate families. Family Theater’s famous slogan is “The family that prays together, stays together.”

On Tuesday evening, April 4, Fr. Raymond kicked off the series by giving a talk in Hayes-Healy entitled “Young Catholic Hollywood.” Fr. Raymond’s central point was the encouraging news that already there are many devoted and talented Catholics, especially young Catholics, doing good things in the film industry in Hollywood. After showing the audience a short promotional film on the mission of Family Theater, Fr. Willy then exemplified his point by showing a short film entitled Christmas Wish List, one of the finalists in the annual Angelus Awards, a film festival for student filmmakers started by Family Theater in 1996. Christmas Wish List—in which a self-absorbed lawyer finds himself the unwitting accomplice in a doctor’s efforts to fulfill the wish list of a child cancer patient, and in the process finds his own heart softened by the act of giving—delighted the audience and demonstrated the promise of young Catholic filmmakers in Hollywood.

Fr. Raymond also pointed out the various pastoral initiatives sponsored by Family Theater, which give Catholics in Hollywood a place to gather with their fellows in the industry who are also fellow believers. Family Theater sponsors an RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), a monthly open house called Prayer and Pasta to welcome newcomers to Hollywood, a course of studies on Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, and a weekly occasion for reflection and discussion of the faith called “Going Deeper.”

The second speaker in the series was wellknown Catholic writer, speaker and blogger, Amy Welborn. Ms. Welborn is the author of several books, but is perhaps best known for her De-Coding Da Vinci (Our Sunday Visitor Press, 2004), which debunks the many myths masquerading as truth in Dan Brown’s best-selling thriller, now a movie. Her blog, “Open Book,” also serves as a virtual meeting place for those interested in a wide variety of issues affecting the Church and culture.

On Monday evening April 10, in DeBartolo Hall, Ms. Welborn spoke on “De-Coding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code.” She explained the worldwide phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code in terms of the eternal return of gnosticism, which ultimately comes down to human pride in being singled out to share in a very special secret. And what is the secret The Da Vinci Code wants to share with us? The absurdities of its plot aside, The Da Vinci Code seeks to tell us, ultimately, that Christianity is the enemy of truth. Instead of witnessing to the truth, and indeed to the One who is Truth, the topsy-turvydom of Dan Brown’s mythical world sees “official” Christianity as something that must be exposed as a fraud if the real truth about Jesus is to be brought to light. Given not only the enormous success of the novel, but also the premiere of the The Da Vinci Code film directed by one of Hollywood’s most esteemed directors (Ron Howard) and starring one of its most celebrated actors (Tom Hanks), Ms. Welborn underscored the grave threat that certain segments of popular culture pose for a truly Christian evangelization of culture.

To help counter that threat, our third and last speaker in the series, Barbara Nicolosi, founded Act One, Inc., a nonprofit organization located in Hollywood that trains people of faith for careers in mainstream film & TV. Stressing artistry, excellence, professionalism, and spirituality, Act One prepares students to be “salt and light” in writers’ rooms, on sets, and in studio and network offices. Act One’s goal is not to produce explicitly “religious” entertainment, but movies and TV programs that combine “mastery of craft with an unusual quality of depth.”

On Thursday evening April 26, in DeBartolo Hall, Ms. Nicolosi offered a lecture entitled, “Why God Cares About Hollywood: The Role of Entertainment in Human Life.” In her lecture Ms. Nicolosi argued that the Church has always been a patron of the arts because the Church has always situated the arts within what Josef Pieper calls “festivity,” that praise of God that affirms the beauty of God’s creation. The art form that characterizes our moment in history, Ms. Nicolosi stressed, is the cinema; the “Abel’s lamb” of our time. For the cinema to serve as a source of festivity, however, as a manifestation of the beauty that involves a love and longing for God, it must seek to be truly excellent in terms of the three components of beauty: integrity, harmony, and radiance. In particular, Ms. Nicolosi urged Christian writers to follow the example of Flannery O’Connor and seek to tell stories that, even in the midst of suffering, show that grace is being offered to mankind.

This inaugural spring Catholic Culture Series on cinema and the renewal of culture turned out to be a big success, and we now look forward to this spring series being the annual counterpart to our fall Catholic Culture Series on Catholic literature. We are deeply grateful to our three speakers. A special word of thanks goes out to Fr. Raymond and Barbara Nicolosi, who before their talks shared a meal with Notre Dame undergraduates thinking about a career in the film industry. Finally, we acknowledge our happy debt to our friends, Clarence and Frieda Bayer of Arlington, Texas, whose generosity to the Center made this series possible.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Stem Cells, Embryos, and Ethics: Is There A Way Forward?

As the national and international debate over the moral and political implications of human embryonic stem cell research rages on, some scientists have begun to suggest new ways of thinking about the problem. Among them is the Center’s Spring 2006 Schmitt lecturer, Dr. William Hurlbut, a physician and Consulting Professor at Stanford University’s Neuroscience Institute and, since 2002, a member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. On Tuesday afternoon, April 18, in the main auditorium of Notre Dame’s McKenna Hall, Dr. Hurlbut delivered a Schmitt Lecture entitled, “Stem Cells, Embryos and Ethics: Is There A Way Forward?” in which he discussed the seemingly paradoxical possibility of harvesting human pluripotent stem cells without destroying human embryos. The destruction of human embryos is morally out of the question, Dr. Hurlbut argued. But he went to outline a path of research he called Altered Nuclear Transfer, which involves “the artificial construction of a cellular system lacking the essential elements for embryological development but containing a partial developmental potential capable of generating embryonic stem cells.

”Altered Nuclear Transfer, in short, creates an entity that fails to bring together the necessary elements of a human embryo, but which nonetheless contains the pluripotent stem cells that scientists believe contain so much potential for curing various diseases." Dr. Hurlbut drew attention to the fact that his research on Altered Nuclear Transfer has received the approval of many notable Catholic moral thinkers.

After receiving his undergraduate and medical training at Stanford University, Dr. Hurlbut completed postdoctoral studies in theology and medical ethics, studying with Robert Hamerton-Kelly, the Dean of the Chapel at Stanford, and subsequently with the Rev. Louis Bouyer at the Institut Catholique in Paris. Dr. Hurlbut’s primary areas of interest involve the ethical issues associated with advancing biomedical technology, the biological basis of moral awareness, and studies in the integration of theology and the philosophy of biology. He is the author of numerous publications on science and ethics, including the co-edited volume, Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue (Oxford, 2002), and “Science, Religion, and Human Spirit” in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion. He is also co-chair of two interdisciplinary faculty projects at Stanford University, “Becoming Human: The Evolutionary Origins of Spiritual, Religious, and Moral Awareness,” and “Brain, Mind and Emergence.”

Dr. Hurlbut’s lecture was followed by a reception in McKenna Hall, and then by a dinner at the Morris Inn, after which Dr. Hurlbut graciously took more questions from the audience. The lecture and dinner were once again well attended by Notre Dame’s Schmitt Fellows, those graduate students in the Schools of Science and Engineering who are the principal recipients of the generosity of the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation to the University of Notre Dame. It was for the sake of honoring that generosity that the Schmitt Lecture Series was founded. Our special thanks go out to Mr. Peter Wrenn, a member of the Schmitt Foundation Board, who joined us for both the lecture and the dinner.

The aim of the Schmitt Lecture Series—which in the past has featured such distinguished lights as Gil Meilaender, Mark Siegler, Paul Griffiths, Stanley Fish, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and last fall’s lecturer Carter Snead—is to provide an occasion to reflect on the ethical, political and religious dimensions of science and technology. Both our Schmitt lectures this academic year focused on the problem of human embryonic stem cell research. This is entirely appropriate, for there is hardly a contemporary issue that answers the charge of the Schmitt Lecture more than this one. The Center is proud to have contributed to this debate by sponsoring these two very fine Schmitt Lectures this year.