Monologues’ promote discussion
Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday marked the 150th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. In honor of the occasion University President Emeritus Father Hesburgh delivered the homily for the Basilica’s evening mass service. This beautiful sermon, which celebrated the miracles associated with Notre Dame – particularly Father Sorin’s naming a (then) mere log cabin the University of Our Lady, the university’s rebuilding after a devastating fire, and the creation of the Golden Dome – served as the reconciling capstone to the controversies that have afflicted the University recently.
I was deeply disturbed to hear that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had retreated from its original intention to hold its seminar on the Notre Dame campus because the timing of the event might look like support for Eve Ensler’s “Monologues.” I understand the Conference of Catholic Bishops’ seminar is a private event and that those who objected to holding it at Notre Dame were not doing so to reflect adversely on the university, but a conference in February does not indicate endorsement of a production in March. Our Lady is loved and protected by the Father and nothing that human beings do can stain her, as some have claimed on-campus performances of the Monologues would do. What can be stained are human institutions like universities – but not by a sincere search for the truth, wherever that search leads us. Notre Dame is a Catholic university. Love and pursuit of truth, as a Catholic institution and as a university, is its absolute mission and staging the “Monologues,” in an appropriate academic forum, is consistent with that mission.
The “Monologues” is not in line with Catholic doctrine. They were not meant to be. They were written from a secular perspective to explore women’s identities and to acknowledge women’s value as whole persons. Personally, I think the way the various skits articulate women’s value is mostly (though not entirely) wrong and would be greatly enhanced by including Catholic perspectives (as Notre Dame’s Loyal Sons and Daughters does). But this does not destroy the fact that the production attempts, however wrongly, to acknowledge women’s experience. What remains is for Catholics to take this attempt in the right direction, not to discourage an open discussion of what the characters in each skit are trying to convey about women’s experience of suffering, joy, pleasure – and the devastation that abused sexuality causes. Father Jenkins made the right decision in balancing the demands of academic freedom with those of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. His decision has been misrepresented by the national media and he has not received much support from those on either side of the controversy.
Father Hesburgh’s sermon crystallized for me why I had felt this to be a particularly pernicious injustice. Father Hesburgh spoke about the reverence that Father Sorin had for Our Lady – that it was his particular love for her that channeled his faith in God into the creation of this university. The miracles that Father Hesburgh mentioned are visible signs of Our Lady’s intercession, but they are not the only miracles. The repentance of hardened sinners, the healing of bodies broken by illness or sin, and the redemption of humanity by Our Lord’s suffering – these are miracles. And if faith is the belief in things not seen, then faith can find Christ in the experiences described in the “Monologues.” The faculty discussion panels that Father Jenkins’ policy requires to be part of any on-campus production of the “Monologues” are the academic response to Christ’s directive, “Seek and ye shall find.” Catholic faculty and students have a duty to participate in these panels and discussions actively and whole-heartedly. We are at Notre Dame to find the
Truth: let’s seek it with courage and charity, trusting that God will not mislead us. Father Jenkins is continuing the faithful leadership of Father Sorin, Father Hesburgh (the first Notre Dame President to admit women to the university of Our Lady), and Catholic leaders who, trusting in God’s goodness, take on the burden of turning a mustard seed into a flourishing university. Good for Notre Dame.
English Ph.D. candidate