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  Readers Write
     
   

“Triumph of the Holy Cross”

Based on my reading of Rev. Michael McFarland’s homily on the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Cross (as appearing in the Fall 2000 issue), it seems that the College will, in the future, continue on the course the administration chose some time ago: that of being a theological resource for a variety of beliefs rather than a specifically Catholic college. And while this may seem broad-minded and certainly politically correct, it also seems to me to be more appropriate in a secular college or university such as Harvard or Yale.

Isn’t now a time when the truth and beauty of our Catholic Faith are more needed in the world than almost ever before? And was there ever a time when institutions that call themselves Catholic had a greater obligation to nurture the Faith in its participants? Fr. McFarland says in his homily “We cannot become a closed fortress of Catholicism,” and yet that is precisely what we should be—a fortress of truths that develops men and women who will fight for what they believe, whose lives are dedicated to Christ, His Church and to their fellow human beings.

To my mind, this determination to offer a kind of theological cafeteria as part of the College’s curricula seems to be based either on the suspicion that Catholicism, the source of truth in the world, is not sufficiently important enough to be exclusively taught and promulgated by an intellectual community or by a decision not to be a Catholic college but a sort of inter-denominational one with far broader appeal and funding possibilities.

Finally, it seems ironic that Fr. McFarland cites the Jesuits of the time of the Reformation as examples of his thesis. Those dedicated, self-sacrificing men gave their lives to defend the Faith and would, I’m certain, be appalled by the relativism of today.

Daniel J. Gorman ’54
Winter Park, Fla.

“A Dialogue Between Colleagues”

I found truly compelling the recent, “distilled” debate over the social responsibilities of intellectual life in a Jesuit college between Professor David O’Brien (whom I now really regret never having studied with) and Professor Joseph Lawrence (who hopefully does not remember me and the unfortunate case of loud hiccups I had during a final for his course on “Discord and Thought” in Spring 1993).

For a 1996 graduate who went directly from an English major to doctoral work in literary studies, their debate speaks directly to my own concerns with how to negotiate the thorny issue of social responsibility for injustices in the world “out there,” beyond the relative safety of academic walls, with the inevitably limited perspective of one “in here,” engaged in academic work whose relevance to those injustices is often difficult to identify.

I speak as someone who has found most illuminating, for my own studies, those admittedly very secular varieties of literary critical work that engage issues of gender, class, internationalism and postcolonialism through narrative. Such critical work does not view the novel as a tempting, formally diverting escape from the world “out there,” but rather as a reflection of that world’s difficulties, and also as a route to potentially transformative critical commentary upon them. And yet, even with these aims, I find O’Brien’s observations on a certain type of intellectual leisure class and its “mastery” of “the art of obscuring the sources of its freedom and thus the enormity of its responsibility” particularly relevant to contemporary dilemmas over the social roles of academic intellectual life. I find the “learned English country gentlemen pursuing philosophical questions supported by the wealth of empire” unpleasantly close, in his situation, to “learned” Holy Cross graduates like myself pursuing “philosophical questions” over, for example, the fate of Bertha Mason in Brontë’s Jane Eyre, within an academic setting that—by virtue of its placement within the United States—bears a certain complicity with current globalizing economic policies that have helped (as O’Brien described) to “impoverish” the “world’s poor,” replaying the economic exploitation that helped to imprison West Indian Bertha Mason in the attic of Thornfield Hall in the first place.

I think that O’Brien and Lawrence both stress, in different but complementary ways, the need to acknowledge our profound connectedness and responsibility to social injustices in the world “out there,” from the perspective of contemplative life “in here,” whether in American academia in general, or in the (if anything) more urgently mission-oriented setting of a Jesuit liberal arts college.

My heart, along with all the hopes I have for a future academic life that will possess some minute form of redemptive effect upon the victimized, is with O’Brien’s points on the necessity of always emphasizing the generation of a responsible sense of connection within the goals of intellectual life, so that “the very notion of self or spirit cannot and should not be imagined apart from those connections.” However, I also find that Lawrence’s response contains something crucial that O’Brien’s lacks: the contemplative methods for how one might begin to imagine such connectedness from the relatively removed perspective of a Jesuit college, or indeed of any American academic setting. “To be educated” through culture, Lawrence describes, “is to be brought out of our selves, to be delivered from the temptation to absolutize our own finite perspectives … To be locked within our own perspectives is to make the patronizing assumption that those who are downtrodden require nothing more than to become like ‘us.’ A mark of education may be the realization that we ourselves should be learning from them.” In a way his response helps me to make sense of the Jane Eyre example I used above; that is, the sort of engagement with culture that should be encouraged, both “between colleagues” and in teaching undergraduates, might be one which utilizes the novel’s capabilities to bring us out of ourselves, in order to envision our own connectedness with others, and particularly to envision what we have failed to learn about others, and what we persist in failing to grasp about ourselves.

Lisa Fluet ’96
Princeton, N.J.

 

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