Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Come, and You Will See

Our semiannual Breaking Bread event continues to be a popular and cherished tradition for Notre Dame undergraduates. This dinner and evening of spiritual discussion draws the interest of a great many students, as well as professors, enticed by the promise of food for both the body and soul. Students and professors enjoy the opportunity to listen to a thoughtful speaker and share an excellent meal and discussion.

At this spring’s Breaking Bread on April 28, 2009, Prof. John Staud delivered a thoughtful and encouraging reflection on saying ‘yes’ to God in our lives. Staud, the Director of Pastoral Formation and Administration for the University of Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education, began by reading the account of the calling of the first disciples from the Gospel of John. Jesus responded to the disciples’ questions by saying, “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39). There is always uncertainty whether we are truly following God’s will, Staud said, but “miracles happen when we make commitments.” Saying ‘yes’ in our lives also means saying ‘no’ to other things, said Staud. He emphasized to the students the importance of thoughtful and prayerful discernment, and the value of the wisdom of family and friends, in making the big decisions regarding their majors, professions, and spouses. Staud shared an anecdote from his own process of discernment, and cited the value of advice from his good friends and family—those that knew him best. Staud also cautioned students that saying ‘yes’ to God is not often easy. “To be a recipient of Christ’s cross costs nothing, to follow it costs everything.” He also reminded students that they are called to lives of service. Staud concluded with a quote from Mother Teresa. “We are called not to be successful, but to be faithful.”

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bill McGurn: "A Notre Dame Witness for Life"

Of course, things heated up on campus in late March with the announcement of the choice of President Obama as the commencement speaker and honorary law degree recipient. In April, to contribute to the dialogue on campus about the invitation and its impact on the University, the Fund sponsored an evening lecture by Bill McGurn, Wall Street Journal columnist and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, entitled “A Notre Dame Witness for Life.”

A small excerpt:
For most of her life, Notre Dame has served as a symbol of a Catholic community struggling to find acceptance in America – and yearning to make our own contributions to this great experiment in ordered liberty. We identify with those who are poor and downtrodden and on the margins of acceptance because that is where the Gospel points – and because we remember whence came our own parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. If we are honest, however, we must admit that in many ways we – and the university that nurtured us – are now the rich and powerful and privileged ourselves. This is a form of success, and we need not be embarrassed by it. But we must be mindful of the greater responsibilities that come with this success.….

I appreciate that for some people, the idea of Notre Dame as an unequivocal witness for the unborn would be a limit on her work as a Catholic university. The truth is just the opposite. The more frank and forthright Notre Dame’s witness for life, the more she would be given the benefit of the doubt on the many judgment calls that the life of a great university entails. At this hour in our nation’s life, America thirsts for an alternative to the relativism that leaves so many of our young people feeling empty and alone. This alternative is the Catholic witness that Notre Dame was created to provide … that Notre Dame is called to provide … and that in many ways, only Notre Dame can provide.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Science and the Human Good: How to Think Philosophically About the Place of Values in Science

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, April 21, a group of eager undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members gathered in the auditorium of McKenna Hall hoping for an engaging lecture. Professor Don Howard, Director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, did not disappoint. Professor Howard delivered the spring 2009 installment of the Arthur J. Schmitt Lecture Series in the form of a presentation entitled “Science and the Human Good: How to Think Philosophically About the Place of Values in Science.”

In his lecture, Professor Howard described the many ways in which values affect the way that science is practiced. He argued that, “Science, like any human practice, lives in a historical, cultural, social, political, and economic context,” and that these factors affect the structure of scientific institutions, as well as the psychology of individual scientists. Professor Howard then argued that, given these facts, values play an indispensable role in the way that science is practiced, and that values are essential in determining how research funds should be allocated and in shaping research methods.

Professor Howard supported his claims with a number of examples from the history of science. He used examples from the lives and work of such scientists as Pierre Duhem, Galileo, and Albert Einstein. This fascinating lecture was followed by a reception. Afterwords thirty invited guests, including many graduate students who are Schmitt Fellows in the Schools of Science and Engineering, joined Dr. Howard and Center Director David Solomon at the Morris Inn for a dinner in honor of Dr. Howard. The evening was filled with more spirited discussion of Dr. Howard’s ideas. The food was delicious, the company friendly, and the conversation lively.

The charge of the Schmitt Lecture Series is a broad but essential one: to reflect on the ethical, political, and religious dimensions of science and technology. The Schmitt Fellows 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. We would like to thank Professor Howard for his lecture, and we would like to thank the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation for their generous and continuing support of this lecture series.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bread of Life: Abortion and Social Justice

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. This spring, following in the steps of the Center’s enormously successful dinner/reflection series, Breaking Bread, the Fund began a new dinner series for students entitled, Bread of Life. Through this event, we sought to draw students into reflection on their attitudes to beginning-of-life issues. We particularly hoped to attract students who might not already be strongly committed to the Church’s teachings on these issues but who were open to exploring them.

The inaugural reflection was given by Professor Carter Snead, a member of the committee overseeing the fund. Snead spoke in his reflection of the false dichotomy in today’s political climate between issues of social justice and issues surrounding a culture of life. Citing abortion as the targeting of an entire group of people for discrimination, Snead affirmed the right to life of the unborn child as one of the fundamental social justice issues of our time. Similarly, he characterized the issue of embryonic stem-cell research as the harming of one group of persons to the benefit of another group, noting that such a practice is ultimately “self-destructive.” He also touched on questions surrounding legal personhood, asserting that a new, genetically unique and self-directed life is created at the moment of conception. He concluded with a challenge to the students, as future leaders, to be mindful of issues of social justice, and to remember that such issues especially include the rights of the unborn.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Family in Film

The inspiration for this spring’s Catholic Culture Film Series came from a panel at our Family conference in the fall which focused on literary and cinematic perspectives on the family. A talk by one of ND’s own Theology grad students, Kevin Haley, explored the theme of family in the 2006 Danish film by Susanne Bier, After the Wedding. His presentation was so engaging that a line of people eager to jot down the title of the film and share their own insights formed immediately after he finished. Clearly, showing this movie and discussing it afterwards was sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Pairing After the Wedding (which is an intensely dramatic story) with the more quirky and humorous 2001 Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums, we modeled the event on “Theology on Tap,” staging it at Legends with a spread of hot hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar stocked with beer and soda. After the Wedding was shown on the evening of March 23rd with Kevin Haley as the discussion leader. Kevin gave a brief introduction in which he told the audience to look for specific cinematographic techniques (such as the numerous extreme close-ups on the characters’ eyes) to help us to discuss the director’s method of conveying her themes. The emotional grip of the story had everyone leaning in toward the screen the entire way through. A quick pan of the crowd found eyes riveted and mouths halted from quesadilla-chewing out of awe or the phenomenal acting. Any revelation of plot details in this article would be a mistake, for the narrative contains so many important surprises and turns.

The Royal Tenenbaums was shown and discussed on April 14th. For many of the viewers, it was their first time ever seeing the movie or any other of Wes Anderson’s films. His cinematographic world is unlike any other in its combination of darkness and whimsy. In the introduction to the story (set to a very lively version of “Hey Jude”), the narrator bluntly lays out the state of the Tenenbaum family as one marred by “two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.” But what is so refreshing about this film is that it does not glorify dysfunction as so many others do. Rather, one senses the longing in each character for the traditional family structure founded on love. The Center’s new Program Coordinator, Kathryn Wales, led the discussion that followed. The audience seemed most interested in the character development of the family patriarch, Royal, wondering at such elements as the movie’s title and the hilariously absurd epitaph that winds up on Royal’s tombstone. Everyone’s participation made for a very fruitful and enjoyable talk.

One student shared his impressions of the event: “Film plays a prominent role in our society, and we often leave the theatre dazzled by the imagery but largely unreflective on the complex morals and lessons provided in the story and characters. I think the Catholic Culture Film Series addresses this tendency by presenting thought-provoking films and allowing students the opportunity to think about and discuss the issues and problems presented in these great works of cinema.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Insider's Look at Hollywood: An Intimate Conversation with Dick Lyles, CEO of Origin Entertainment

On Tuesday April 7, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture sponsored an event called “An Insider’s Look at Hollywood: An Intimate Conversation with Dick Lyles, CEO of Origin Entertainment.” The event was meant to supplement the Center’s Catholic Culture Film Series, which reflects on ways in which the cinema plays a substantial role in our culture and how Catholics can use the industry to exert a positive influence. Besides being CEO of several companies, Lyles developed training programs for businessmen that cover six continents and wrote the bestseller Winning Ways. As CEO of Origin Entertainment, he helps ensure the making of films that are skillfully crafted while conveying meaningful ideas.

“We are at a critical point in what’s happening in the world right now,” Lyles began. He briefly outlined the economic history of the 20th century, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s prediction in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum that communism would ultimately fail and be replaced by the triumph of capitalism. A century later in 1991, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Centesimus Annus which confirmed capitalism’s success, but warned of the threats associated with this victory.

Capitalism depends on the Catholic principles of liberty and personal freedom, which can be abused if people choose selfishness and irresponsibility. The encyclical further included the fear of those putting themselves above the common good. “Are we seeing this today, twenty years later?” Lyles asked, “It’s everywhere, in all major institutions.” Government and business are among those institutions that are “wounded,” Lyles explained—reflected in the disappearance of politicians who nobly pursue the common good and as evidenced in the current economic crisis. The destruction extends to journalism, which gave up on its old goal to “report and describe” in favor of strongly pushing an anti-Christian agenda, Lyles explained as he held up a cover of Newsweek bearing the title, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”

Lyles moved on to Hollywood, another one of these broken institutions. In fact, its dysfunction is a major issue. Hollywood is an organization that “shapes how people view the world and shape their values,” Lyles commented, “It is a Church of the Masses,” endorsing a theology of narcissism, self-gratification, and greed. “It threatens Catholics and Christians, as well as anyone who cares about free enterprise, capitalism, respect for self, humanity, and our world in general,” Lyles said, “That’s why we should care that it’s broken.” Because Hollywood promotes narcissistic self-indulgence and greed, general incompetency has tarnished the foundational principles of craftsmanship and quality of work. “It’s a people-centric business where few people know how to be effective in their interactions with other people,” Lyles stated. Movies are made which have several excellent features, but fail to come together in an integral whole. Lyles held the egocentricity of actors, directors, and producers alike responsible in part for this failure. “Hollywood lacks cohesive leadership discipline,” Lyles continued.

The biggest testament to Hollywood’s incompetence? The kinds of movies that get made. G-rated films gross $78 million, PG-rated $28 million, and R-rated $4 million. Yet 95% of the films Hollywood creates are R-rated because “that’s what people want to watch.” In these chaotic times, Lyles urged us to think of the implications of not acting. “The culture around us is changing to the point that it’s becoming toxic to the very foundations of our society, and we’re letting it go by,” he said. “We have to make a difference.” Lyles pointed to a rediscovery of the Judeo-Christian tradition and ethic, which he believes was responsible for American cinema’s “golden days,” producing actors like Charlton Heston and Meryl Streep and films such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Christians must somehow project their values into the world in an effective way. Lyles’ solution to this is companies like Act One, an organization that trains Christians for Hollywood careers in screenwriting. He also emphasized the need for groups like the Genesis Initiative, a non-profit organization that will ensure the re-establishment of a Catholic presence in society for future generations via movie and television projects. “We’re in a values culture war without ammunition,” Lyles stated urgently, “so as Christians we need to learn about our values and how we relate to them.”

Visit for more information about Dick Lyles and his endeavor.