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Tough questions about being genuinely Catholic

Andrew DeBerry - ND Changing Times | Wednesday, September 10, 2003

I say I’m Catholic, but am I lying? More than 90 percent of us claim Christianity, and almost all of us claim some virtuous faith, but what does this mean? We have the top American and international students who are likely to join the ranks of success in fields ranging from business to science and community leadership around the globe. But are we genuinely living what we profess?

In searching our ways to cut the grain from the chaff, it must be extremely clear that actions and not individuals are defined as good or bad. The focus is on a positive, encouraged quest to fulfill the greatness we can achieve together.

There are pressing questions on the conscience on these issues. Where do I spend my free time and money? Do I spend more on alcohol or in giving to those in hard, life-threatening conditions? Or is it just accepted that college is a time to party more so I can focus better on the serious work to come? Christ’s first miracle was making wine; He’s a God of celebrations. But He also endured great pain for the sinful and suffering and called us to follow. 

If I were to see a homeless person begging on campus, would I live out the Catholic corporal works of mercy and welcome the person with open arms? Or would I consider it a nuisance to avoid? The University does not allow panhandlers on campus and may issue a trespassing violation letter before escorting them away. Has my “universal” Catholic faith become exclusionary at Notre Dame?

Seeing the Main Building and Golden Dome directs me to recognize the glory of the Blessed Mother in the community. But what is the cost of my admiration of this landmark? There are costly paintings within. The bathrooms have made a “Restroom Hall of Fame” for its Victorian tile floors and solid oak stall doors. Mary is clad in gold. When Notre Dame-sponsored service activities have shoved my hands into those of people searching for food and shelter both home and abroad, how can I justify this affluence?

A couple years ago, children from the Center for the Homeless had an evening on campus with AFROTC’s Arnold Air Society. When a little girl on my shoulders first saw the Dome, she was in awe: “Wow, what is that?” A question that tears at the heart, it’s easier asked than answered when it comes from a homeless child.

I’ve heard friends in the business college bemoan the corporate focus. But I’ve met and written about the dean of that college. She’s felt the burn of poverty and has an unmistakable value-centered view of her college’s education. So why do some students feel a disconnect? Are they simply failing at grounding idealism in necessary tangible skills, or have parts of our community become corporatized?   

Several question ROTC on campus and the military it supports. Pope John Paul II opposed the war. How do I answer his criticisms? Can Notre Dame succeed in strengthening a moral voice in the military? Can I make a difference?

What are our institutional priorities? Are we sacrificing our content and focus on social justice for our academic reputation? Or are we really intending to witness to the secular world through the respect we gain?

Which comes first between Christ and career? Having a financially secure job in engineering can help me provide for a family and others in need, right?

Are these questions symptomatic of a secularized Catholicism being influenced by American consumerism? Other faiths from both the Eastern and Western spheres are also struggling, though in different ways, with faith and modernity.      

Christ said the road to life is narrow and so difficult that only those who actively search and work on it find the path. Some of his apostles cried, “This is harsh teaching; who can follow it?” and ended their walk. He told a parable where some enter Heaven because they cared for the suffering whereas others are separated from those who go to Hell because they didn’t. Must I serve within a life of faith to enter Paradise? Can I call myself Christian if I don’t? 

It’s noted in Ezekiel that we will be held accountable if we don’t dissuade each other from any evil ways. Although these are questions I don’t have quick answers too, I know they’re worth asking. 

Through all the tough questions, I have faith that everyone can find the way. God speaks of us in Isaiah: “[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be lead forth in peace, the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” 

How do these questions relate to the community here? If Christ were to visit in person, what would he say? 

What do you think? 

Andrew DeBerry is a fifth-year aerospace engineering major. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.