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Catholic Universities and "Sin"

I have posted a few times about the Catholic identity of Catholic Universities. It seems all the big names have been in the headlines in recent months. Notre Dame decides to embrace Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and Villanova hesitates to construct a pro-life memorial for fear it will be offensive to non-Catholics.

Robert Araujo, sj, has a terrific post addressing this issue on Mirror of Justice today. In it he suggests part of the difficulty for Catholic universities resides in their reluctance to discuss the concept of “sin”.

The second point regarding Catholic identity emerges from an important topic of concern to many Catholics and others affiliated with Catholic education that is not discussed on Catholic campuses as frequently as it should: that is the subject of sin. While keeping in mind the clever characterizations and commentaries of others about sin that many of us have heard when someone attempts to dismiss its relevance to the world of today, there is the need to acknowledge that sin exists and to discuss how it affects human existence. This discussion belongs on a Catholic campus. Strangely, discussion of this important matter today on Catholic campuses seems sparse and, sometimes, absent. Sin and the temptation to sin are parts of human existence that arise through the exercise of free will. Ultimately we, as individual human beings, make the final decision to sin or not. But is the word “sin” a part of our contemporary vocabulary; is it something that gets regularly discussed and examined on the Catholic campus; is it the sort of matter we reflect upon when we address a major issue of God and the incarnation? Do we in the Catholic intellectual world consider in our discussions, teaching, research, etc. the question: why did God become incarnate? Well, the basic response to this question, I believe, is this: to save us from our sin. I remember having a conversation with a brother Jesuit a few years ago. He had served for many years as a distinguished superior and administrator in Catholic higher education. When he and I had this conversation, he was teaching a required theology course to freshman students. It was clear what the subject was that his students had difficulty grasping. After listening to him, I said, “Oh, you were discussing ‘sin’ with them”? He said, “Oh, we can’t use that word… the students wouldn’t understand!” My final comment (question) was: “Why not?” Why is not only the discussion but its examination in an academic context off limits? Ms. Ensler would like us to add one of her favorite words to our daily vocabulary, but why do we shy away from using another word, “sin,” that should come natural to our Catholic discourse?


How true! The doctrine of “moral relativism” allows there is no absolute standard for sin. What is right and wrong depends on one’s perspective and situation. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, rejects this concept. It offers a steady standard of sin and virtue. Shouldn’t a Catholic university boldly proclaim this without fear of offending? It is not our place to pass judgment on other people. That is God’s prerogative. As Catholics, however, we must assess the rightness and wrongness of behaviors and actions. Judas’ great failure was not necessarily the betrayal of Jesus. It was his failure to repent and ask God’s forgiveness and mercy. How can we repent and ask for mercy if we do not recognize sin? It is a duty, not just a desirable option, for a Catholic university to unambiguously proclaim and support Church teachings. Dissent from Church teachings should be clearly labeled as such.

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