Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Dying

Breaking Bread, our semi-annual dinner and evening of spiritual discussion for Notre Dame students and faculty, continues to draw great interest from students and professors alike. While no longer able to boast of the Notre Dame Stadium Press Box as its venue, the dinner nevertheless remains popular among students for its exceptional physical and spiritual nourishment. Attendees enjoy a thought-provoking speaker, intellectually stimulating dinner conversation, and delicious food.

At this fall’s Breaking Bread event on November 18, 2008, Robert B. Sloan Jr., president of Houston Baptist University, delivered a stirring reflection on the Christian’s outlook on death. Sloan, recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, spoke of realizing his own mortality, which challenged him to more closely examine the Christian view of death.

Using the example of Paul and other early Christians, Sloan described how their outlook on death developed as they realized the return of Christ would not come in their lifetime. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul, imprisoned and believing his death to be imminent, wrote to the Church in Philippi to counsel them on the subject of death. Sloan stated that for Paul, his faithful death was the final step in his conformity to Christ. Sloan also discussed Paul’s desire to know God through his death. As Paul said, “[T]o live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Sloan concluded with a word of advice to the students gathered at the dinner. “We are not called to live lives based on apparent success,” Sloan said. He further challenged young people to think more about their own deaths, so that it may direct them how to live.

Those who attended the dinner received a complimentary copy of As I Lay Dying, a meditation on “facing death, and living again,” by the recently departed Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, which suddenly became all the more poignant this January. May he rest in peace.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Family: Searching for Fairest Love

In his 1994 Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II stated that "only the truth will prepare you for a love which can be called 'fairest love.' The contemporary family, like families in every age, is searching for fairest love." Pope Benedict, too, has made the family a central theme of his pontificate. As recently as his message on the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2008, the Holy Father said, "The natural family, as an intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman, constitutes "the primary place of 'humanization' for the person and society," and a "cradle of life and love." By examining the family, its origins, and status in society and under the law, we at the Center hope to address this multi-dimensional crisis and instill hope for the future of the family.

The weekend of November 6-8 welcomed over 400 scholars from Catholic, Christian, and secular institutions—as well as students and the intellectually curious—to Notre Dame’s McKenna Hall to discuss the fragile modern conception of “the family” and its implications for traditional family values in America and across the globe. John Finnis, Biolchini Family Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame and Oxford University, delivered the Thursday evening Josef Pieper Keynote Lecture, “On Retranslating Humanae Vitae.” Before presenting an in-depth and engaging analysis of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, he was introduced by longtime friend and colleague Gerard V. Bradley who expressed a hope for the eventual incorporation of American slang in the vocabulary of the native Australian, Brit-educated natural lawyer. The auditorium rang with laughter, and the busy weekend kicked off to an amiable and enthusiastic start.

The remainder of the weekend was filled with an astonishingly diverse range of presentations that would have needed to be spread out over two weeks if one was to attend each one. Unfortunately, as is the case every year, the conference attendants had to limit their choices. Some highlights of the numerous lectures were:

Thomas Hibbs’s engaging lecture on “The Family: The Crisis and the Romantic Temptation”; William Saunders’s reflections on marital union with regard to the Supreme Court and International Human Rights Law; Philip Bess’s architectural analysis of the Notre Dame campus and its potential to be a true Aristotelian polis; Monsignor Charles Brown’s discussion of the twenty-first century’s setting for family structure and ecclesiological progression; and Helen Alvaré’s thoughtful meditations on the Catholic view of the law directing intimate partnerships.

Each year the conference is complemented by two special liturgies, and this year was no exception. On Friday night the Notre Dame Filiae Mariae organized a Mass in the beautiful Alumni Hall chapel with Monsignor Charles Brown presiding.

The conference came to an enjoyable conclusion on Saturday night with a festive banquet where old and new friends had the opportunity to mull over these topics one last time. After dinner, David Solomon, Director of the Center, offered some thoughtful remarks on how to carry on fostering a healthier conception of the family within our communities.

This ninth edition of the Fall Conference provided a venue for discussion of one of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity—the family. It also celebrated in a special way the anniversaries of two important papal documents. In 2008, Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, enjoys its 20th anniversary, and Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae, celebrates its 40th anniversary. A conference devoted to the family was a perfect opportunity to reflect on the importance of these two documents.

This incredible event was made possible again by the generosity of the Strake Foundation, the Maas Family Endowment for Excellence and by a grant from Our Sunday Visitor, and we at the Center are especially grateful. We invite all of you to The Summons of Freedom: Virtue, Sacrifice, and the Common Good, the 10th anniversary edition of our Fall Conference which will take place November 12-14, 2009 in McKenna Hall here at Notre Dame. We look forward to seeing you all there!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Criteria, for an Otherwise Pro-life Voter, Constitutes a Sufficient Proportionate Reason to Justify a Vote for a Pro-choice Candidate?

Since its establishment last fall, the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life has had a fruitful year which promises to serve as a strong foundation for the future. As we described in our last newsletter, the Fund’s inaugural event was a discussion between two Notre Dame law professors examining the 2008 presidential election in terms of the life issues. Vincent Rougeau, an associate professor and member of Barack Obama’s National Catholic Advisory Council Steering Committee, and Gerard Bradley, professor and member of the Catholics for McCain National Steering Committee discussed the question, “What criteria, for an otherwise pro-life voter, constitutes a sufficient proportionate reason to justify a vote for a pro-choice candidate?” And, in late January, the Fund sponsored a trip to Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life, helping to provide transportation and other expenses for over 300 Notre Dame students, as well as the staff of the Center for Ethics and Culture and their families.