Monday, April 26, 2010

Close to Catholic Films

This spring’s Catholic Culture Film Series took on the same theme as its literature counterpart. We chose to focus on two films that are in many ways “close to Catholic”: Arthur Miller’s famous play turned film, The Crucible (1996), and Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2004). This time, we changed the venue from Legends to the new Andrews Auditorium in Geddes Hall which is more centrally located on campus and has nice theater-like seats for watching a feature-length film. On two consecutive Monday evenings in March, we met in Andrews, watched a film, and then gathered in the Coffee House to discuss the themes over coffee and hot hors d’oeuvres.

We started with The Crucible and the discussion was led by our Program Coordinator, Kathryn Wales, who claims it as her favorite film. While she was teaching theology at St. Joseph’s high School in the fall of 2007, she co-directed the play and talked to the actors throughout about the “Catholic” themes in the drama. “It is a brilliant, multi-faceted look at the human condition under pressure,” she said. “And it is a timeless and universal story about martyrdom.” She and the Notre Dame students in attendance mainly discussed the fact that none of the major contributors to the film—from writer to director to actor—are actually Catholic or even Christians. But this phenomenon acts as a great witness to the unity of truth, beauty, and goodness that is exemplified in the film and understood fully in the Faith. For instance, John Proctor lays down his life for the Truth and to give witness to the holiness of those executed before him and with him. He and his wife transcend the Puritanism of their time and place to discover fundamental Catholic notions of penance, forgiveness, and redemptive suffering. One student said, “I had seen the Crucible in high school and didn't particularly like the movie. I saw it as a critique on religion as such; but watching it again and discussing it afterwards made me realize that Catholicism isn't afraid of the secular world's critiques. We take a coherent stance on reality, and because of this we can critique as well as connect with the secular world, and even find merit in secular martyrdom."

Like last year, we followed an intense drama with a more quirky and light-hearted film. Big Fish is a sort of modern day fairy tale that is filled with colorful visuals that mean more than what meets the eye. Notre Dame theology graduate student, Jay Martin, gave an introduction to the film which encouraged the viewers to watch for notions of sacramental grace in the film’s images and execution of those images. There were plenty of water scenes, wedding ring shots, and more which made for a robust analysis. He also was a theology teacher at St. Joseph’s High School and used this film in his Sacraments class to great success. This time, Notre Dame students had the opportunity to benefit from Jay’s very careful and inspiring view of Big Fish. As one of them expressed, “What I found especially intriguing was the use of water in the film to signify the cleansing and purification of Baptism. From the scene with Edward and his wife in the bath tub together, to Will lowering his father into the river at the end, water symbolized a sort of liberation, much like that provided by Baptism from sin." All of the participants were happy for the opportunity to appreciate a piece of mainstream entertainment as kindling to their faith. It is our hope that they will continue to judge films, books, and the like in this way, and develop an ever more discerning eye for the “close to Catholic.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tenth Anniversary Celebration

On Thursday, April 22nd of this year, we celebrated our 10th anniversary in McKenna Hall in exactly the way you might expect: with a top-notch academic event followed by a festive reception and a sumptuous banquet with continuously pouring wine. For this occasion, we chose to honor our Senior Research Fellow, Alasdair MacIntyre with a symposium on his latest book, God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition. The format involved three presentations followed by Prof. MacIntyre’s comments. In planning this event, we sought to find commentators on this book drawn from the disciplines engaged by MacIntyre, but who were also familiar with the practical affairs of the contemporary Catholic university. We especially hoped to identify a philosopher, a theologian, and a historian of Catholic institutions who could critically engage MacIntyre’s ambitious project. We were very fortunate to find ideal commentators close to home, indeed among our most distinguished colleagues on the Notre Dame campus:

Our philosophical commentator was The Reverend John Jenkins, C.S.C., President since 2005 of the University of Notre Dame. Father Jenkins has a D.Phil. in Philosophy from Oxford University and is a member of the Department of Philosophy at Notre Dame while serving as President of the University. He is the author of a number of significant publications in philosophy, including his most recent book, Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas.

Our theological commentator was Professor John Cavadini, Chairman, since 2001, of the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Prof. Cavadini is a noted scholar in patristics and early Church history and the author of three books and many scholarly articles. His most recent book is Miracles in Christian and Jewish Antiquity: Imagining the Truth.

Our historical commentator was Dean John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame since 2008 and a distinguished historian of the Catholic Church in America. He is the author of two books, the most recent being his award-winning historical study, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History.

The three commentators offered very interesting and provocative reflections which were all well received. After these, Professor MacIntyre offered a reply which included such memorable bits as his assertion that “grades are one of Satan’s inventions,” by which he means not that evaluations should never take place, but rather that every three years or so, physicists should have to take a competency exam on opera. He emphasized that we should all be broadening our education all the time. To help make this point, he said that undergraduates should never be focused on specialized research, but instead they should be cultivating a generalist education. Video of all four presentations is available on our website, and we strongly encourage everyone to watch them all in full.

Fr. Jenkins, after the concluding remarks, graciously gave a public expression of gratitude to David Solomon for his leadership of the Center for Ethics and Culture. Everyone rose to a standing ovation for our fearless leader. It was a beautiful moment. Afterwards, we all gathered in the atrium for a reception and everyone was buzzing with their thoughts about the symposium. If you’ve ever been to one of these receptions of ours, you know exactly how fun it was.

Finally, the CEC staff and many close friends gathered in the basement for a banquet to celebrate and remember our 10 years. On one wall, a slideshow of photos from the first event to the most recent ran on a loop throughout the dinner. At one point, the Notre Dame Glee Club treated us all to a wonderful performance of a few of their best-loved songs. Towards the end, David Solomon led everyone in a toast to Alasdair MacIntyre for his 80th birthday, and then thanked all of the member of the CEC staff for all of their hard work through the years: Elizabeth Kirk, Tracy Westlake, Kathryn Wales, and the current undergraduate assistants, Tom Everett, Octavia Ratiu, Kelly Mason, Peter Freddoso, and Victor Ratiu. Then, the Center’s first undergraduate assistant, Jennie Bradley paid tribute to the Center by presenting a “ND: What do we fight for?” commercial specifically tailored for the CEC, complete with theme music. Next, Elizabeth Kirk, Associate Director for the last five years and David’s right hand, and Dan McInerny, who flew in from Baylor for the event, sharpened the focus on David specifically, thanking and honoring him for his ten years of strength, courage, warmth, humor, and much more with delightful anecdotes and sincerest gratitude. Dan presented David with a leather bound collection of tribute letters from David’s current and former colleagues, students, and others whose lives have been touched by him. David was then presented with two beautifully framed posters, one displaying all ten Fall Conference posters and the other all of the Catholic Culture Series posters. He chastised everyone for their exuberant praise and thanked everyone back and again. It was a very merry night indeed.

Thank you to all of you who have supported us and were not able to attend the event. We hope that you will be a part of our next ten years and beyond!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Abortion Paradox: Why Do Human Rights and Social Justice Movements Forget the Unborn?

The spring semester’s Bread of Life dinner took place on April 13th and featured remarks by Notre Dame political science professor (and Fund to Protect Human Life committee member), Dan Philpott. Philpott enlightened those in attendance with an insightful reflection entitled, "The Abortion Paradox: Why Do Human Rights and Social Justice Movements Forget the Unborn?,"in which he described the divide that separates many social justice issues from abortion. There are many international and national organizations that strive for economic and social justice and the protection of human rights in line with Catholic Social Teaching, Philpott said. Yet these organizations, and the movements behind them, often exclude abortion as such an issue. However, the right to life, he added, is essentially tied to the principles behind these movements. Part of our work, Philpott suggested, is to show others the underlying connection between the pro-life position and the tenets of the human rights and social justice movements.