Dave Gregory on Georgetown and Catholic witness
June 20, 2013 § 2 Comments
Responding to the recent controversy over the strength of Georgetown University’s Catholic identity, alumnus Dave Gregory shares a personal reflection on how Georgetown shaped his faith and helped him fall in love with Christ.
Encountering Christ at Georgetown University
By Dave Gregory
June 20, 2013
I fell in love with Jesus Christ at Georgetown University.
Madly, truly, deeply in love. Seriously in love; the kind of love that my life makes no sense without. It’s this love that, though I didn’t recognize it at the time, made me want to be a priest as a child. It’s this love that reduced me to tears when I first witnessed Jesuit deacons lie prostrate before the altar of God moments before their ordination. It’s this love that drove me into the Jesuit novitiate and then out of the novitiate 21 months later. It’s this love that has sent me to the last place I ever expected to come, the southern California desert. It’s this love that instills within me two desires, leaving me in a state of ambiguity: the desire to be a husband and a father, and the desire to be His priest.
Georgetown fostered and sharpened this love within my heart, but it enveloped and overwhelmed thousands and thousands of lives apart from my own. This love bound daily Mass communities around Father Tom King’s altar each night at 11:15pm for forty years. This love expresses itself between men and women several times on campus each weekend in the Sacrament of matrimony. This love pours over the foreheads of students baptized into the Catholic Church each Easter. This love is memorialized with each Jesuit father or brother buried on the University’s sacred grounds.
These memories and thoughts come to mind as I consider William Peter Blatty’s recently publicized petition to “make Georgetown honest, Catholic and better,” a petition to draw the University into deeper compliance with the norms of the apostolic constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae, lest Georgetown lose its ability to call itself Catholic and Jesuit.
As an undergraduate, I had my qualms with certain actions initiated by Georgetown’s leadership. Should it have invited Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and abortion rights advocate, to offer an address at commencement exercises? No. Should it have covered up the name of Christ in the hall where President Barack Obama spoke? No. Should it give free reign to the pro-choice student organization on campus? No. Each of these decisions reflected poor discernment at administrative levels, the results of which are indefensible.
These decisions, however, hardly characterize or damage the University as a whole, which is an active and fruitful apostolate of evangelization. And that, really, is where my main disagreement with Blatty’s petition lies, in its misunderstanding of evangelization. The petition even fails to include evangelization in its discussion, a particularly troubling omission given that Ex corde, the very apostolic constitution that the petition cherishes, views a Catholic university’s primary purpose as that of evangelization.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, there exist a variety of ministerial works understood as forms and methods of evangelization. A parish administers the Sacraments, a Catholic school provides a Christocentric learning environment, and Catholic charities provide physical and financial aid to the marginalized, regardless of whether those in need profess the Catholic faith or not. Why would a Catholic organization provide aid to those who are not Catholic? Because that is precisely what Christ would have us do.
The question to ask when pondering the Catholicity of a given institution is whether or not the institution faithfully represents Jesus Christ. Put more elaborately, we might ask, “Is this a means by which I am entering into a deeper, more authentic, more genuine love of another human being? Do I love in the same way that the Lover loves? Am I allowing myself to be a channel of His grace?” Compared to the narrow alternative — “Is this a conveyance of official dogma and doctrine?”– I believe Christ to be more concerned with the former. It’s not that the latter should be ignored, but it should not be held to be the sole standard by which the effectiveness of a Catholic apostolate, including schools, is measured.
When it comes to evangelization, love is central. The transformative love that I experienced at Georgetown is by no means confined to things explicitly “religious.” All sorts of liturgies celebrate this love: the liturgy of Healy’s bells sounding across campus, the liturgy of students moving in at the end of every August, the liturgy of a capella groups lifting voices in harmony, the liturgy of debates between students and professors seeking truth, the liturgy of lives moving to salve a bloodied and bleeding world. God’s grandeur flings itself wide across a one hundred acre Hilltop in the District of Columbia. These melodies cry out to the Heavens, and the Heavens cry to Hoyas through these melodies.
All that said, do I think Georgetown evangelizes? I can give personal testimony that it does. Georgetown evangelized me in specific and broad ways, cultivating a devotion to Christ and to his Church, even to the beauty of its teachings. And, as I’ve seen repeatedly, Georgetown evangelizes all those students and faculty willing to become men and women for others.
Blatty’s petition, therefore, is severely misguided. It implies possession of knowledge that Georgetown contributes to the damnation of more souls than it helps to save. It overlooks the countless ways in which God works on campus, because the petition only looks at the actions of a select few. It essentially says, “No, grace isn’t operating here, God isn’t able to do His work here. This university no longer permits Christ to be present.” It thereby posits gnosticism in the modern age.
Knowing the outcome of salvation history is an impossible claim for any mortal to make. Georgetown has her faults and flaws to be sure, but God has borne fruit of human folly since the beginning. When compared to the fruit she bears, the follies of the first Catholic university in these United States are trivialities.
God will continue to knock, even though we might remain unaware, and we will answer, even though we might remain unaware. I, for one, trust that God incessantly and relentlessly labors so.
Hoya Saxa. May Georgetown live forever.
Dave Gregory teaches theology and coaches soccer at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA. He graduated from Georgetown University in 2010 with a double major in philosophy and theology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gregory’s prior essays at The Ignatian Educator can be found here.