Here is the text of Fr. Jenkin’s introduction of Pres. Obama at the commencement ceremony on Sunday 17 May.
This introduction sounds oh so right, in a gooey sort of way, but it is oh so wrong in many others.
Many would say, just let this drift off into the history’s Mass grave of weasely speeches. I think we can benefit from a post-mortem. So let’s do the smelly work of revisiting what Fr. Jenkin’s said to introduce President Obama, upon whom the University bestowed an honor in recognition of his stated positions and record.
My emphases and comments.
"President Obama, Fr. Hesburgh, Judge Noonan, Members of the Board of Trustees, Members of the faculty, staff, alumni, friends, parents, and most of all – the Notre Dame Class of 2009:
Several autumns ago, you came to Notre Dame from home….now Notre Dame has become home. And it always will be. For home is not where you live. Home is where you belong. You will always belong – and I pray you will always feel you belong – here at Notre Dame.
You are … ND.
In my four years as President of your University – I have found that even among those who did not go to Notre Dame, even among those who do not share the Catholic faith, there is a special expectation, a special hope, [It is a novelty to hear "hope" in a speech at a commencement. But this word, given the controversy, has a greater significance. It immediately calls to mind the vague rhetorical of the presidential campaign.] for what Notre Dame can accomplish in the world. They hope that Notre Dame will be one of the great universities in the nation, but they also hope that it will send forth graduates who — grounded in deep moral values — can help solve the world’s toughest problems. [What are those deep moral values? Rather, how deeply are those moral values founded and upon what?]
Their hope is in you, the graduates of 2009.
That is a good place for hope to be. I have great confidence in what your talent and energy can accomplish in the world. But I have a special optimism for what you can do inspired by faith. [The Catholic Faith?]
It is your faith that will focus your talents and help you build the world you long to live in and leave to your children.
The world you enter today is torn by division – and is fixed on its differences. [Sorry… but the world has always been that way.]
Differences must be acknowledged, and in some cases cherished. But too often differences lead to pride in self and contempt for others, until two sides – taking opposing views of the same difference — demonize each other. [Watching the video of the speech you get the sense that he is whining about the flack he has taken during the weeks of controversy which preceeded the ceremony. He is painting himself as a victim of prideful people who "demonize". BTW… I sadly project that there will be an uptick of the use of "demonize" in the liberal media.] Whether the difference is political, religious, racial, or national — trust falls, anger rises, and cooperation ends … even for the sake of causes all sides care about. [The word "cooperation" is a code word. People who "demonize" are not "cooperating" in the liberal agenda, which despite gushy claims is the only legitimate agenda.]
More than any problem in the arts or sciences – engineering or medicine – easing the hateful divisions between human beings is the supreme challenge of this age. [I think they teach history at Notre Dame, right?] If we can solve this problem, we have a chance to come together and solve all the others. [Uh huh. Does this smack of a utopian vision? I am commencement there may be a tendency to go a bit over the top, but "hateful divisions" are not a recent phenomenon. I think what he is trying to convey, however, is that anyone who disagreed with the inspired decision to honor Pres. Obama is day is a hateful divider.]
A Catholic university – and its graduates – are specially called, and I believe specially equipped, to help meet this challenge. [I agree. And so, we ought to cast around and find a Catholic University which is rising to the challenge.]
As a Catholic university, we are part of the Church – members of the “mystical body of Christ” animated by our faith in the Gospel. [Which implies adherence to the Church’s doctrine and conformity to her laws. At this point I interject: Ex corde Ecclesiae.] Yet we are also – most of us – citizens of the United States – this extraordinary evolving expression of human freedom. We are called to serve each community of which we’re a part, and this call is captured in the motto over the door of the east nave of the Basilica: “God, Country, Notre Dame.”
As we serve the Church, we can persuade believers by appeals to both faith and reason. [I think this phrase is, in the mouths of this event’s speakers, fairly important. IMO, we saw both Fr. Jenkin’s and Pres. Obama try to shift Catholic thought away from the fides et ratio in the sense presented by John Paul II.] As we serve our country, we will be motivated by faith, but we cannot appeal only to faith. We must also engage in a dialogue that appeals to reason that all can accept. [There. The liberal strategy is to push for dialogue. It is not supposed to be real dialogue, in which the actual truth is sought. It is to be dialogue which guides all involved into agreement about the liberal agenda. Note also the "appeal to reason". I don’t think they really mean "use reason, make distinctions, drill down to the fundamental principles". I think he means "be reasonable", in the sense of "don’t make problems". At the same time, you will hear all during this address and that of Pres. Obama, a carefully projected "reasonableness", juxtapositioned to those who "demonize" by dissenting from the liberal gospel.]
When we face differences with fellow citizens, we will be tested: [read: these last few weeks I have been unjustly persecuted and you should feel sorry for me.] do we keep trying, with love and a generous spirit, to appeal to ethical principles that might be persuasive to others – or do we condemn those who differ with us for not seeing the truth that we see? [sniff]
The first approach can lead to healing, the second to hostility. We know which approach we are called to as disciples of Christ. [Read: People who were mean to me are not disciples of Christ.]
Pope Benedict said last year from the South Lawn of the White House: “I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.” [I wonder. Was it a gesture of respectful dialogue, truly, to bestow an honor on Pres. Obama. Again, I don’t think the problem was so much that the President was invited to talk – though there is a problem there too – but mainly that they wanted to bestow a Doctorate of Law on him. Not just any degree, but a Doctorate of Law, which involves the use of reason for the ordering of the true common good.]
Genuine faith does not inhibit the use of reason; it purifies it of pride and distorting self-interest. [Here is an interesting code phrase, which will be picked up again in Pres. Obama’s address: "self-interest". I think the implication is that "self-interest" is bad. But I don’t think this is being used in the sense of "violation of charity". Charity is the sacrifical love which seeks the true good of the other. If you are going to take a position that it is okay not to object to abortion for the sake of pursuing another agenda of social retooling, I don’t think you can say that your opponents are one with a problem of self-interest.] As it does so, Pope Benedict has said, “human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending … public debate.” [The key here is the phrase "public debate". He is trying to say "We are just ‘engaging’ here. We just want ‘dialogue’. Our opponents want to stiffle dialogue. They are so mean and self-serving. They demonize us, who are meek and reasonable and serving everyone." The problem is that they chose also to bestow an honor on the most aggressively pro-abortion politician, and a very powerful one, whom we have ever seen. I don’t understand how that is in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic Church.]
Tapping the full potential of human reason to seek God and serve humanity is a central mission of the Catholic Church. The natural place for the Church to pursue this mission is at a Catholic university. The University of Notre Dame belongs to an academic tradition of nearly a thousand years – born of the Church’s teaching that human reason, tempered by faith, is a gift of God, a path to religious truth, and a means for seeking the common good in secular life. [I wonder if it would have been acceptable at the University of Padua in, say, 1309 to give a Doctorate to someone who had openly stated that he would make abortion possible without restrictions. And yet ND is supposedly the heir to this tradition. The speaker is repeating the word "reason" over and over again. What the students and most everyone else is really hearing is not ratio, but rather, "reasonableness" set against narrow-minded adherence to a doctrine.]
It is out of this duty to serve the common good that we seek to foster dialogue with all people of good will, regardless of faith, background or perspective. We will listen to all views, and always bear witness for what we believe. Insofar as we play this role, we can be what Pope John Paul II said a Catholic university is meant to be – "a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture" [Ex corde ecclesiae, 3.34]. [What incredible nerve… to cite Ex corde Ecclesiae.]
Of course, dialogue [blah blah] is never instantaneous; it doesn’t begin and end in an afternoon. It is an ongoing process made possible by many acts of courtesy and gestures of respect, by listening carefully and speaking honestly. Paradoxically, support for these actions often falls as the need for them rises – so they are most controversial precisely when they can be most helpful. [Again, he is back to whining about how he was treated over the last few weeks.]
As we all know, a great deal of attention has surrounded President Obama’s visit to Notre Dame. We honor all people of good will who have come to this discussion respectfully and out of deeply held conviction. [Notice how this shifts the focus away from the President’s record and stated goals for his administration. The use of "honor" is reconnect your mind to this business of dialogue rather than to what this President has done and says he is going to do. Gee, he just wants to talk! Hey! So do we! Let’s honor him for wanting to talk!]
Most of the debate has centered on Notre Dame’s decision to invite and honor the President. Less attention has been focused on the President’s decision to accept. [The reason why the President accepted is so that he could suborn another Catholic institution and widen the gap between the dissenting left and the increasingly large group of Catholics who are becoming stronger in their Catholic identity.]
President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. [Right. And does anyone… anyone actually think that anything expressed by the Church or happens/happened on this Sunday is going to shift this President from his agenda? Really? Anyone? "But Father! But Father!", some of you alert readers are probably saying, especially those of you who voted for Pres. Obama. "You’ve got that wrong! You are being unfair! You are deeeeeemonizing him now! Don’t you – [sputter] – remember how the Doctoratus in Chief told the heart-warming and reassuring parable of how he received an e-mail from a guy about being ‘fair’ and, because of that e-mail he ordered that a whole word be changed on his campain’s website?!?. Now that’s openness! That’s fairness! You are mean." Yah… boy.. ya’ really got me there! I’m convinced. This dialogue has really helped. I now believe that Pres. Obama will be moved to rethink his positions because of this invitation to Notre Dame. How could I have been so unreasonable and self-serving. Truly we should honoring him for dialoguing. What hope I now have!]
Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. [What a snarky dig at Mary Ann Glendon. Was that demonizing? Noooo… only the other side does that.] But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him. [How wonderful.]
Mr. President: This is a principle we share.
As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: [WE INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST FOR A NEWS FLASH! REPORTS ARE COMING IN THAT THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL IN GAUDIUM ET SPES 51 TAUGHT CLEARLY THAT "Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.". WE NOW RETURN TO THIS BROADCAST IN PROCESS… ER PROGRESS… UM… WE RETURN TO THIS BROACAST…] “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.”
If we want to extend courtesy, respect and love – and enter into dialogue – then surely we can start by acknowledging what is honorable in others. [How very reasonable.]
We welcome President Obama to Notre Dame, and we honor him for the qualities and accomplishments the American people admired in him when they elected him. He is a man who grew up without a father, whose family was fed for a time with the help of food stamps — yet who mastered the most rigorous academic challenges, who turned his back on wealth to serve the poor, who sought the Presidency at a young age against long odds, and who – on the threshold of his goal — left the campaign to go to the bedside of his dying grandmother who helped raise him. [and?]
He is a leader who has great respect for the role of faith and religious institutions in public life. He has said: “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”
He is the first African American to be elected President, yet his appeal powerfully transcends race. In a country that has been deeply wounded by racial hatred – he has been a healer. [Hosanna. Remember: What he is doing here is listing reasons why it is unreasonable to say that the President’s position on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research is grounds for not bestowing an honor. We must ignore that and honoring him for all these other things because they outweigh that abortion and stem-cell thing. That is also the position of the Kmiec Catholics and it is the dodge of the party operatives who are soft on abortion, etc. These admirable qualities outweigh the fundamental right to be born. Read now the list being heeped up on the scale.]
He has set ambitious goals across a sweeping agenda — extending health care coverage to millions who don’t have it, improving education especially for those who most need it, promoting renewable energy for the sake of our economy, our security, and our climate.
He has declared the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and has begun arms reduction talks with the Russians.
He has pledged to accelerate America’s fight against poverty, to reform immigration to make it more humane, and to advance America’s merciful work in fighting disease in the poorest places on earth.
[This sounds like the liberal gospel. But remember: people of good will can differ about how to approach all these social issues. We can argue, and do, that this way or that is the best way to relieve hunger or improve education and reduce tensions in the world. But we cannot disagree that life is sacred from conception and we cannot white wash the destruction of innocent human life. That is where Fr. Jenkin’s and Notre Dame have caved in.]
As commander-in-chief and as chief executive, he embraces with confidence both the burdens of leadership and the hopes of his country.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The President of the United States. "
It is distasteful to review this, I know. But it is useful.
Many people, especially young people, haven’t really been taught to apply critical thinking to texts. They haven’t been coached to hear what is really being said.
Some of you may disagree with my reading. Fine. I think you are wrong, but go ahead and disgree. However, I suspect that some of the younger readers may – if they go back and watch the video of the introduction again – find new things they didn’t initially pick up.
People can e-mail comments which I will review.