Hedge fund or mustard seed
Devon Chenelle | Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Much of the last half-century of Notre Dame’s institutional policy might be described as attempts to make us more similar to the secular powerhouses we so desperately wish to be recognized by as a peer. Although these efforts have met with mixed success, I have found a solution. Notre Dame ought join one of academia’s hottest trends: the replacement of racist mascots. We already have available for denunciation an explicitly racial mascot insultingly stereotypical in both attire and comportment, summoning up ugly old prejudices about the pugnacity and intemperance of the lovely and dignified Celtic people. For our new mascot, I suggest the dragon Smaug, desolator of Erebor, as a menacing and appropriate option. Like Smaug, the University possesses a massive gold hoard that it seeks to enjoy and expand seemingly only for its own sake, sharing its wealth rarely and begrudgingly.
In this way, at least, Notre Dame is already similar to mainstream research universities, which are, in effect, gigantic hedge funds. Notre Dame holds, per its latest annual report, assets worth a jaw-dropping $10,410,000,000, the 12th largest of all university endowments. This sum largely grows itself for no apparent reason, as the University spent a trifling 3.29 percent of the endowment last year, while tuition continues its steady march upwards. Perhaps our theologians have discovered that a camel’s passage through the eye of a needle is facilitated by the application of sufficient lucre.
The Notre Dame investment website announces “we celebrate a distinctively Catholic mission,” and it’s Approach page indicates its “adherence to Catholic Social Teaching.” Can this University exist as a profoundly and essentially Christian institution, while also acting as massive agent of capitalism? I’m dubious. Christianity and capitalism co-exist, not in harmony, but in profound discomfort with each other. The notion that the road to the Kingdom of Heaven is paved with gold is a fundamental error I might expect of some backwater televangelist, not from one of the Church’s premier intellectual institutions.
Let’s see what Christ had to say about the accumulation and retention of wealth. In Matthew 6:24, Christ is clear that “you cannot serve both God and money,” because “either he will hate the one and love the other.” In Matthew 10:23-25, He states “how hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Explicitly problematic is Luke 12:13-21, where Christ, warning his disciples “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions,” narrates the parable of the foolish rich man, chastised by God as a “fool” because he “thought to himself I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.” Most pressing is the episode with the moneychangers in the Temple, where the sight of commercial activity in the House of God incites the prince of peace to violence, overturning tables and even “making a whip of cords” to drive out the merchants.
Catholic Social Teaching is enamored with the preferential option for the poor, a notion with which the accumulation of massive financial assets in an institution that overwhelmingly serves the wealthy sits uneasily. Catholic Canon Law itself states “the Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor.” It’s almost unthinkable what the Notre Dame endowment could do to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the downtrodden. In South Bend alone, the fabulous wealth and power of this Christian university exists alongside terrible poverty and deprivation, and given St. Thomas Aquinas’ dictum that “charity is the love of God,” it seems Notre Dame is compelled to contribute more to its impoverished neighbors. Furthermore, for a Christian riches are not a blessing but a potential trap. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, “there is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.”
Notre Dame must choose whether to embrace the pursuit of an ever-greater endowment, impressive to the great secular institutions of learning, or to earnestly embrace the Christian call to charity and give away more of the endowment. In my heart, I have confidence in the strength of the convictions this University and its leadership hold for the truth and importance of Christian doctrine, embodied across campus in so many ways. Without a doubt, I owe the greater part of the thanks for the salvation of my own soul to the teachings imparted by Our Lady’s University. I can only hope that the University will do the right thing, and begin pursuing with its endowment the social justice that Catholic Social Teaching demands.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.