The summer issue of Notre Dame Magazine has a fabulous essay by Dr. John O’Callaghan, an associate professor of philosophy who is the director of the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame. The essay, “Where do you stand?”, touches on a number of pressing questions relating to the spiritual, intellectual, and educational life, drawing upon remarks and ideas from Nietzsche, Josef Pieper, and the architecture of Notre Dame itself. A couple of highlights:
One day in class I discussed with my students a passage in which Nietzsche, the 19th-century German atheist, remarks that in our time, “our noisy, time-consuming, proud and stupidly proud industriousness educates and prepares precisely for ‘unbelief’ more than anything else does.” He goes on to point out that modern times have reduced all of life to a business or a pleasure, and the problem is that we can’t figure out whether prayer is a business, a pleasure, or both. One of the most interesting features of the class discussion was students’ use of the phrase “make time,” as in “I want to make time for my family” or “I want to make time for prayer.” With Nietzsche in mind, I asked them why no one ever speaks of “making time for work” or “making time for the football game.”
I also asked the students what it would be like not to see oneself as a kind of lord of time, one who “makes time,” but instead as one who receives time as a kind of gift. And I asked them to reflect upon how the way they speak about these issues may make Nietzsche’s point. What Nietzsche wants us to recognize is that we have lost the notion of leisure — genuine leisure. Not the leisure that is merely a rest from our business designed to “recharge our batteries” so we can resume being industrious, and not leisure for the pursuit of pleasure, but what he calls “leisure with a good conscience.” This is a kind of leisure that allows for contemplation.
At Notre Dame this could mean the contemplation of a woman clothed with the sun at the Grotto, a leisure that does not feel the demands of time moving the tour along but the gift of time that allows one to stand at Christ’s feet contemplating what venite ad me omnes requires of one.
That’s why I work at the Grotto and stroll God Quad. In the leisure of my work, I pray more. …
Nearly everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, will agree that the task of any university is to pursue truth wherever it may lead. But since God created all things, redeemed them through his death and resurrection and calls them back to Himself in the end, how can any university claim authenticity if it does not pursue that truth? Indeed, even those people or institutions that deny the truth that God created all things, or are even just agnostic about it, are not absolved from pursuing the possibility of its being true, any more than someone who denies that the world is spherical is absolved from finding out the truth.
So, to the extent that any university cuts itself off from that truth, it fails by the standard of what it claims is its essential mission, to pursue truth wherever it may lead. Nietzsche, for all his atheism, might say that in shrinking away from God such a university fears being great — it does not have a “good conscience.”
The truth of Christ, creator and redeemer, gathers all other truths and the disciplines that study them within its scope. Thus the reason the University had to grow is not so we could be like everyone else, but so we could be true to the promise within Notre Dame to embody the genuine character of a university. Notre Dame had to grow in order to show the world what a truly great university could be. It had to grow in order to be a gift of the Church, from the University’s heart in the center of the campus, to a world badly in need of it.
It matters a great deal whether one is looking to become great, or whether one is already great and looking to enrich that greatness. Being committed to Christ and the Church is no guarantee of excellence in the pursuit of truth, so to be true to itself, Notre Dame has had and must continue to draw within itself those who are best at pursuing truth in the various disciplines, even those who are not committed to Christ and his Church. She cannot live up to her greatness without beckoning them all to the Christ who says, venite ad me omnes.
And yet, will the intellectual growth of the University obscure from it the truth that makes it truly great, the truth that sets it free from subservience to what are often no more than ephemeral academic fashions? Will Notre Dame, like the tour guide, turn its back to Christ?
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