There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.” Usually, or so I’m told, this means don’t make your emotions so obvious, don’t carry on, don’t weep uncontrollably and wring your hands. Don’t swoon in the streets over some dreamy handsome young man/strikingly beautiful woman. Your shining eyes give you away. The heart, which I think is traditionally associated with the innermost part of you, is not meant to be worn out in public for people to spit upon, to jeer at, to tear away from you, trample on and then return to you a mangled broken mess. I believe the word to describe this phenomenon is “vulnerability”.
Today, I wore my heart on my sleeve, or rather, I wore the Notre Dame monogram on my sleeve. Having been at Notre Dame for the past four months, I thought almost nothing of it. But the truth of the matter is, I was going to pray at an abortion mill, and when participating in pro-life activity outside of the university, we Notre Dame students tend to get a lot of colorful responses. It would be tiresome to say the least to go into the specifics of why, but of course, Notre Dame doesn’t have the cleanest record when it comes to honoring pro-abortion politicians. You would think, wouldn’t you that the fact that you are at an abortion clinic to pray should be a sign to some people that Notre Dame isn’t full of unfeeling, baby-haters, right? Well, as far as my experiences go, that is far from true. The monogram instead says “liberal, pro-choice, unCatholic, secularized trash” to many in the pro-life community. And just so you know, it’s not easy to defend Notre Dame. There are many things that happen at Notre Dame, and not even just concerning the abortion issue, that have scandalized/outraged me. However, I have always loved the place, and I want desperately to be able to blow away all criticism, but alas. I find myself in the position of loving the symbol of what is wrong with Catholic Higher Education in the United States. However, as much as the next man, and probably even more, I want to change the place. G.K. Chesterton said that we don’t want to change something unless we love it. If Notre Dame was lost would I want to save it? No. But it is not lost, and I will assert that until it becomes “The University of National Democracy.” Why is the name so important? It is, probably, the most important thing about it. A name is the most important symbol that something has. It is at once a description and that which individuates. The University of Notre Dame is the University of Our Lady, and that lady on the Dome isn’t Lady Liberty. Because we are under the mantle of Our Lady, however, it is that much more troubling when we act wrongly. It is also because we are under this mantle that we shall not lose as long as we do not lose hope. And it is hard to maintain that hope when wearing the monogram will warrant you a lecture on the Notre Dame 88 (google it), get you cold stares, or condescending veiled hints as to why you are the scum of the earth for not going to “a Catholic university.” I should be used to this trampling on my heart, on the little hope I have left in Our Lady and her Son, but let me tell you. I am not.
The problem is that as Christians, our symbol is a symbol of being trampled on. Our God, who is an awesome God, chose to make himself vulnerable, and ultimately of course suffered much worse than cursory jeering and spitting. So if “they” hate us, we know that they hated him first. When we wear the cross, we must expect to be trampled down, for we stand for something which is not necessarily agreeable to everyone. And see, the Church isn’t always perfect, being made up of sinners. You know, it’s HARD to be perfect, right? Well, our opponents do sure as heck use our sinfulness to justify tearing the cross from our clutching fingers and raising it above their heads as a victory dance. They have taken our Heart. They own us now and there’s nothing we can do. But do we stop wearing the Cross on our sleeves? I don’t think so. No matter how much certain members of the Church have failed us, we don’t let go of Crux, Spes Unica, Cross, the only hope. But how can we hope in the Cross when the Church it symbolizes has been stained with filth and blood? It’s because God is behind the whole project. When we are sick to our stomach over the latest scandal, we can remember that God has suffered even more for these sins and he did it to forgive those sins. And He will remain with us always. He will not abandon us. And if He has chosen the Church for his instrument, who are we to doubt? And anyway, as Peter once said “To whom shall we go?” The words of eternal life are still found with Christ in his Body the Church.
And this is also how I force myself to think about Notre Dame. I want to lash out and defend my university, but I know many things are indefensible. And anyway, nothing I can say will ever change people’s minds. However, I need somewhere to stand, and I stand by the belief that Our Lady is looking after her school and will until it is dismantled by the powers of the world and burned to the ground, and even then, the true sons and daughters of Notre Dame will remember what is stands for. And so as often as those who trample my heart beat me to the ground, I will take my cue from Christ. If Christians are called to suffer for the cross, on the cross with Our Lord, who am I to complain about suffering for Our Lady’s university? I mean, I might write a gospel relating all the excruciating details, but nothing more...God did, right?