If you walk into my house and observe my family I hope you know a Catholic family lives here. Statues of saints nestle amongst the plants in the front flower beds. A crucifix hangs over the front door and in virtually every room. The periodicals scattered about include The National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and The Magnificat. There is probably a rosary on one of the family room end tables. Open the kitchen cabinets and copies of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are pasted on the inside of the door. As we set the table to enjoy our plenty I want to remind us of the need to serve others. We will always say grace at meals. Dinnertime conversations will include news of the day and comments about what the Church thinks about the issues. You will find us at Mass every Sunday. No excuses. (Other than childbirth. Two of my kids were born on Sundays)
On the other hand, you will also see artwork that is not religious in nature. Our periodicals include the Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Economist. The dinnertime conversation is not always catechesis. It is just as likely to be analysis of a recently played soccer game. Our television is tuned to something other than EWTN most of the time. The music in our lives includes much more secular music than sacred music. Everything that comes into our home is held up to the backdrop of our Catholicism. Some things never make it past the front door because they are such an affront to our Faith. We let a limited slice of the secular world into our home. Yet I don’t think it has compromised our Catholic identity.
I think this is the struggle facing Fr. Jenkins at the University of Notre Dame. How much of the secular world can he let into the university and still retain a Catholic identity? He has decided to renew the practice of performing the very vulgar and controversial play, The Vagina Monologues at Notre Dame. You can read his statement here. You can also read the very passionate debate on the issue at Amy Welborn’s blog. Last I checked it had nearly 200 comments.
The decision to allow the production of The Vagina Monologues does not a priori have to compromise Catholic identity if it is done against the backdrop of Catholic teaching. This is not the history of the production, however. It is usually done as part of a feminist protest that decries the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality. In the same way, Brokeback Mountain could be shown on campus. However, a festival that celebrates the homosexual lifestyle should not be on a Catholic campus. There is an unlimited secular world to engage beyond the gates of Notre Dame. If it wants to retain (some might say rebuild) its identity as a Catholic university, Notre Dame must be willing to place limits on what comes within its gates. Otherwise, it is just a university.