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Lighting up

Claire Heininger | Thursday, September 2, 2004

It was everything a first time is supposed to be – exhilarating, spur of the moment, a bit hypocritical. Clumsily ignoring the skeptical glances of silent, more experienced onlookers, defiantly squeezing my eyelids shut, I took a deep breath and lit the match. My eyes opened to a tiny spark and a rapid prayer I’d done it right. I still felt sorely out of place. Any moment now, I’d be found out as the abortion rights advocate, the “why not” voice on gay marriage, the Christmas-and-Easter churchgoer. My disdain for dogma is only equaled by my fervor for a married priesthood. Lighting up at the Grotto isn’t for people like me. Is it?Notre Dame wears its Catholicism on the walls of its classrooms, the necks of its administrators, the rising tide of its library. Seeping from the University’s roots and pulsing to its core, that much faith can be as intoxicating as it is inspiring.It can also be intimidating. Non-Catholics here – not to mention those who check the box but are less than convinced – are, deliberately or not, an afterthought. True, students and professors of other faiths make their presence felt on campus. True, the University is taking steps towards diversity. But for now, homogeneity still reigns. For now, the name “Notre Dame” still implies “Catholic.” And there’s nothing wrong with that – until “Catholic” starts to imply other connotations. Like Catholic bishops who refuse communion to John Kerry, condemning the Democratic candidate and his pro-choice political peers as killers unworthy of the body of Christ. Like Catholic bishops who cover for abusive priests, shuffling them from parish to parish while shushing victims as a crisis of public relations, not irreversible pain. In their crusading, they have lost the Church’s essence.But at the Grotto, the essence refuses to fade. Because at the Grotto, the essence is the whole point. Even for first-timers – especially for first- timers – its welcome is universal.Setting down my candle and backing away, I watched as my flame flickered next to hundreds of others. Just as brightly as the most vehement pro-lifer’s. Eyeing the wax trickling down the sides, I smiled as it created ridges and ripples. Just as smooth as the holiest priest’s.I still felt hypocritical, or cynical at the very least. But what mattered was that I felt included. A far cry from bishops’ politicized agendas and priests’ muffled regrets, the Grotto’s simple serenity packs a powerful message.Candles don’t judge.Neither should Catholics.