This past week, Prof. Tracey Rowland, Dean and Associate Professor of Political Philosophy and Continental Theology at the John Paul II Institute (Melbourne), was honored with the The Officer’s Cross of the order of Merit by the Polish Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Professor Andrzej Jaroszynski. The Order of Merit is the highest honour Poland gives to a non-citizen. The Archdiocese of Melbourne website reports:
“I feel very privileged and very honoured to be here with you and to share my joy that Professor Tracey Rowland has been recognised with the highest distinction given to foreign nationals by the Polish Government,” Ambassador Jaroszynski said. “It is not often that theologians are recognised by this distinction.”
The Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (Order Zasługi Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) is a Polish order awarded to those who have rendered great service to the Polish nation. It was created in 1974, and is granted to foreigners or Poles resident abroad.
In accepting the award, Professor Rowland, who is Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne Campus, thanked those present, who included Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr George Luk, Consul-General of Poland, Religious, members of the faculty, students and friends, and expressed her gratitude for the award.
In her speech, Prof. Rowland praised Poland’s cultural and artistic achievements, noted the country’s defense of Western culture, and highighted the legacy of the country’s most famous son:
There is so much that could be said about Poland’s defence and promotion of the high culture of the West. Historians have often referred to Poland as a kind of social laboratory where all the worst ideological viruses are unleashed and their antibodies are then produced for the health of the rest of the world.
In the history of the 20th century this was especially true and those of us who are associated with the legacy of Karol Wojtyła feel a great sense of indebtedness to the Polish people and a strong sense of solidarity with them. Anything that I have done to foster an awareness of Polish scholarship in Australia has been done because I think that Polish scholarship is of world class standard – that it stands with the best of what Western culture can offer.
I am also especially proud to receive this particular medal since it features the Polish eagle argent with a crown above his head.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem about the Polish eagle. I won’t read it because it is one of those poems that is difficult to read without crying, but suffice to say that in the poem, which Chesterton simply called Poland, he compared the Polish eagle to other famous heraldic birds, and the Polish eagle argent comes out as braver than all the others and even whiter than the dove used to symbolize the Holy Spirit.
Your Excellency, the students and faculty of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne are proud of our collaboration with scholars as the Polish Universities, especially the Catholic University of Lublin and the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kraków. Several members of our faculty are currently being published in Polish journals and have been invited to give papers in Poland and we look forward to building these relationships.
In this secular society of ours, Tracey is a beacon of light in a culture starved for love, a culture that wants to believe in the transcendentals of truth, goodness and beauty, but is frightened to challenge the prevailing individualist post-modern orthodoxy. That orthodoxy rejects the transcendentals as nothing more than individual taste, but like every other culture before this, desperately hopes for something larger and more meaningful than ourselves. Religious belief is founded upon our smallness and the greatness of the Creator and all creation. To receive the gift of faith, we must first be genuinely humble, acknowledging our weaknesses and accepting the greatness beyond ourselves.
In rejecting God, I suspect that our culture is rejecting a God in whom authentic Christians have never believed: the old man in the sky with a book of record waiting in judgment upon our miseries.
The God in whom we believe is a great lover who wants to be loved, and asks of us only that we share in that love, love of all Creation. God’s love is both agape, giving oneself in love without seeking reward, and eros, the desire to be received lovingly by another. Love is a tough, demanding master. We have so much to do about poverty and violence, and about restoring harmony to our relationship with the earth and the universe. We cannot be complacent, but we can be at peace with using our talents for those purposes.
Tracey is located within our local Church and knows well her faults and eccentricities, especially the pop music liturgies, and the tendency to accept the desacralisation of everything, not only in liturgy, but also marriage and family. Despite what Tracey refers to as “Billabong Theology”, we love the Church. We love her scholarship and, where they can be found, her beautiful pageantry, music, literature and art.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading Prof. Rowland’s books and interviewing her twice, once for Ignatius Insight (Oct. 2010) and once, just last month, for Catholic World Report. (Also see Fr. James Schall’s 2008 review of Rowland’s book, Ratzinger’s Faith, for Ignatius Insight.) She is a powerful and erudite champion of the Church and the culture of life and a penetrating critic of secularism and the culture of death. Congratulations to her on this prestigious award!
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