Notre Dame is a university renowned and beloved for the sense of closeness and solidarity felt by its members, both amongst one another and for the school itself. Many graduates – and many who work and teach here – speak of a sense of community that really sets Notre Dame apart from other schools. The metaphor used most frequently to express this sense is that of the “Notre Dame family.”
This family rhetoric expresses a particular dynamic. Our campus is a setting in which people feel very much at home and genuinely cared about. It is here that they build lifelong relationships and together share many traditions and values.
The image of Notre Dame as a “family” has been invoked for various reasons. It is invoked in the aftermath of tragedies within the community in order to draw the grieving together. It is invoked in the face of hardship or outside criticism as a motto of solidarity. But the phrase “the Notre Dame family” now also calls to mind ideals of inclusivity, acceptance, toleration, and welcoming – plastic words which tend to carry unspoken meanings according to today’s rhetoric, but which nonetheless have become staple adjectives in Notre Dame’s self-advertisement as a “family.”
It is time to rethink this “family” image and recalibrate its use. The catchwords which now seem to define the family are inappropriately used and often misunderstood. Their ubiquity is a reflection of the moral confusion that muddles Notre Dame’s institutional responsibilities and ability to witness to the faith. Most importantly, the identification of such ideals with the family distorts a proper understanding of the family and the Notre Dame community. I suggest that the people at Notre Dame and even the university itself stop using this language so freely.
Every single member of the Notre Dame community can call himself a member precisely because he freely chose to come to Notre Dame. He chose to enter into a community centered in the Catholic tradition; answerable to a distinct Mission statement; and founded by a religious order with a distinct vision for moral, spiritual and intellectual education. These understandings should foster proper communal expectations of the truths for which the “Notre Dame family” will stand.
Second, the catchwords of inclusivity, toleration, etc. have been co-opted by larger society to be the “champion virtues” of a collective vision in which objective moral judgments are suspect and “traditional” (religious) beliefs stand in the way of the harmonic unification of all members of a pluralistic, diverse republic. If inclusivity and toleration are to be sovereign virtues, then it becomes apparent that the greatest obstacles to a truly virtuous society are those stubborn pockets and communities that continue to affirm their belief in authentic human flourishing according to a natural moral law. Anyone can see that a society in which these virtues are sovereign is a society which has a rendezvous with relativism. We at Notre Dame ought to be worried that these same catchwords will carry the same amoral – essentially antimoral – implications when they are applied to life at Notre Dame.
Third, many at Notre Dame seem to misunderstand how a virtuous family ought to interrelate. The greatest virtue of family life is charity. Charity is always demanding, and charity can never simply wish happiness for the beloved. Charity wills the good for the beloved. “To each his own.” “Live and let live.” “Anything? Fine by me!” These sayings seem to embody our society’s understanding of what it means to be a good Christian, a loving Christian, a good member of the human family, and a good member of the Notre Dame family.
The problem with this understanding is that it is just one part, and a small part at that, of what it means to be a Christian. Christ taught that the commandment to love everyone, including one’s enemies, means to desire, pray for, and work toward everyone’s genuine good. Frequently this requires correcting or even impeding the present pursuits of others.
The societal understanding of the true and the good speaks to truncated and impoverished beliefs concerning the nature of morality and of the meaning of charity. This societal understanding fits well within the vision I described above: a vision opposed to a Church in which moral distinctions are made, one in which persons with different inclinations, orientations, sins and vices are called to honor moral truths.
The rhetoric of inclusiveness and toleration has recently permeated the student body’s collective vision of what sort of “family” Notre Dame ought to be. One distinguishing characteristic of this vision is a disregard for the truths of sexual morality and the university rules which embody and uphold them.
Many find the university’s morals and rules to be rigoristic, oppressive and out of touch with reality. But these morals and rules are what distinguish the Notre Dame community from its university counterparts. Take them away and Notre Dame is far from unique and even further from fulfilling its Mission. It merely becomes another secular research university at which the mind is cultivated with little thought given to the heart and soul – not exactly what Blessed Basil Moreau envisioned for one of his order’s apostolates.
The dignity of every member of the Notre Dame community should be respected. Everyone should be loved by each member of the community. Everyone should love and be loved, however, as Christ commanded us to love – a commandment not to be nice or affirming or even accepting, but to share the truth with everyone, with clarity and in charity. This is what it means to be a member of the Notre Dame family in the best sense of the phrase. To expect the university to abandon positive and negative moral judgments grounded in its Catholic tradition in order that “all may feel welcome,” is to ask it to be a bad family member.
Michael Bradley, a junior studying theology and philosophy, is grateful to his own parents and siblings for putting up with him for 21 years and takes personal credit for the remission of much of their future purgatorial stays. Contact him at email@example.com.