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Indignation … for the love of God … and Notre Dame

| Monday, December 3, 2018

“Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, those who forsake your law” (Psalm 119:53). These words appeared in a daily Mass reading, shortly following the announcement of the University’s decision to include contraceptive coverage in its self-funded health insurance plans. This verse accurately described my sentiments in response to the new policy, and the first reading for that day also drew further parallels. A passage from the first book of Maccabees described a period when Israelites under worldly pressures adopted pagan customs contrary to God’s law: “The people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the gentiles, so they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to gentile custom, and removed the marks of their circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant … Many from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath” (1 Mac 1:13-15, 43b).

While recent news of the decision weighed heavily on my thoughts, the Lord provided for this passage to appear in the liturgical calendar, offering a lens through which to view the University’s abandoning of an important Church teaching by adopting the worldly custom of contraception. Old Testament readings, as the Church teaches, are never simply narratives of past events, but are symbolic of the challenges we face today. We can recognize the modern relevance and learn from certain characters’ mistakes, or we can choose to repeat them in our own lives.

In a world that is increasingly confused about the nuptial meaning of the body, the University has an important vocation to be a city set on a hill, to witness to the beauty of God’s plan for marriage. However, the administration opted to back away from the opportunity to set an example of never abandoning Church teachings as declared by St. Peter and his successors, who are entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of Heaven and are protected from doctrinal error on faith and morals. The University has declined to offer the much-needed testimony that adherence to moral laws leads to real happiness, and that obedience to the truth is the only path to authentic freedom.

The most important mission of a Catholic institution is to assist souls on their journeys toward eternity. Through this policy, however, the University encourages the perilous error that we can set our own moral norms. This decision confuses and weakens individuals’ beliefs of conscience on a range of related ethical topics, both in the student body and the wider Catholic population. Any support of contraception proliferates the contraceptive mentality, which disrespects the dignity of the human person, objectifies the human body and in a particular way leads to objectification of women. If we believe in Christ’s watchful protection over the Church (Mt. 16:18), why is it acceptable to normalize “cafeteria Catholicism,” the notion that any difficult Church teaching can be tossed aside? After venturing onto this slippery slope, what is to stop additional deviations from other matters of faith and morals? Truth has been replaced by opinion, as any question of doctrine now simply can be dismissed by two little words: “We disagree.”

Arguments supporting the new policy cite the primacy of conscience as a means for dismissing authoritative Church teachings. It is true that we must follow the dictates of conscience, but this viewpoint omits an important detail: We also have the duty to inform our conscience in light of the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, because we are always tempted to favor our own judgment (CCC 1783). Therefore, with proper docility to the Holy Spirit, it is not possible for a Catholic to arrive at a conscientious decision to use contraception, and it is not possible for a Catholic institution to arrive at a conscientious decision to aid Catholics or non-Catholics in a practice identified by our Church as harmful to the well-being of souls and society.

Contraception is popularly promoted today as essential for “women’s health,” yet the detrimental health effects of hormonal birth control are well-documented and ignored. Alternatively, natural means of family-planning offer many emotional and physical health benefits in addition to being ethical and free of cost. For young people, where is the inspiration and support to value the beauty and wisdom of abstinence? Contraception for women’s health? I would say: women deserve better. When implementing policies, Catholic identity should never be eclipsed by worldly interests: public opinion, concern for faculty retention and pursuit of academic excellence all must take second place to the living of our convictions with a trust in God to take care of the rest (Mt 6:33).

On a campus which claims to value dialogue, it is strange that the University deems students and employees unable or unwilling to understand the arguments against contraception, or to see that moral laws guided by the Holy Spirit bring about the greater good of all. These reasons are not easily reducible to convenient sound bytes, but they should be addressed and developed intellectually and on a Catholic campus. Adherence to the truth does not mean that one relinquishes the use of his mind, but that he does not allow his mind to become his god.

When I joined the student body 14 years ago, I considered the University’s faithfulness to the Catholic faith as its greatest attribute and strength. Now, however, the University seems ashamed of the Magisterium; what is a faithful Catholic who loves Notre Dame to do?

Our Lady set an example of obedience by her “fiat,” saying, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” The university which bears her name therefore should be an example of obedience to God, who entrusted authority to the Apostles and their successors. As the Lord asked, “Who do you say I am?” He also asks today who we say that we are: The University of Our Lady, faithful to the teaching office of the Church? Or should we change the name of our campus to “South Bend State University?” For the love of God and our beloved Notre Dame, I pray that we choose right.

David Varga

class of ’08

Dec. 3

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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