Two things to know: first of all, the Graduation happened on Pentecost. You can't get an easier softball of a graduation day than Pentecost: there's all sorts of "sending forth" and "different gifts" themes. You can find the day's readings here. The first reading is Acts 2:1-11, with the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. The second is 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13, in which Paul talks about how there are different spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit. And the Gospel was John 20:19-23, in which Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles to give them the power to forgive sins.
Second of all, by "the Graduation," I mean three separate ceremonies which took place within a few hours of each other: the Baccalaureate Mass in the morning, the Commencement in the early afternoon, and the Distribution of Diplomas by Section immediately thereafter. Virtually every law graduate went to the Commencement and to their Section's diploma distribution, but the Baccalaureate Mass only had about a dozen or so of the roughly 600 graduating full- and part-time students. It was still pretty packed, since it was open to all of the graduates from the main campus and medical school.
I. The Baccalaureate MassThe Mass had the potential to be very good. As I said, the readings were for Pentecost Sunday, there was a principal celebrant (the main priest doing the Mass) three other principal concelebrating priests (other priests who lead at parts), and perhaps another 10 concelebrating as well (priests who were just praying up on the altar, and who distributed Communion). Yet the Mass turned out thoroughly mediocre. The homily was on the second reading, from 1 Corinthians, and it had lots of gems. The homilist was pointing out that there's the politically correct version of diversity, and there's the Christian version. And the Christian version is simply incredible. The best part of the homily was when he compared this diversity to the Holy Trinity. The Father is not the Son, and neither are the Holy Spirit, yet they remain perfectly unified, a family and a community.
I got the above from Wikipedia, but it's a great expression. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are both in perfect harmony and distinct from one another. They have different roles, and even an internal hierarchy: the Son serves the Father, for example; the Holy Spirit proceeds from both. Yet they are 100% equal in majesty and glory.
That's the goal which all legitimate diversity should strive for. The problem with much of second-wave feminism was that it tried to prove women were equal to men by making them men. It didn't work, and it didn't work namely because it seemingly conceeds the chauvinist view that "men's work" is what really matters. So the chauvinists and many of the feminists were united in that being a housewife and mother wasn't a legitimate vocation. Peter Kreeft has it right when he says:
The main fault in the old stereotypes was their too-tight connection between sexual being and social doing, their tying of sexual identity to social roles, especially for women: the feeling that it was somehow unfeminine to be a doctor, lawyer, or politician. But the antidote to this illness is not confusing sexual identities but locating them in our being rather than in our doing. Thus we can soften up social roles without softening up sexual identities. In fact, a man who is confident of his inner masculinity is much more likely to share in traditionally female activities like housework and baby care than one who ties his sexuality to his social roles.
This is a real goldmine of an insight from the homilist, and from Kreeft. Our inherent dignity as persons, and as Christians, derives not from our success, or even our vocation, but from the dignity bestowed upon us by God. This understanding is the only philosophical basis I know of by which we can cogently say, "All men are created equal" and mean it. It's also a very good reason we're against abortion even before the fetus can feel pain, and against murdering people in their sleep. They have an inherent and intrinsic dignity which is a gift from God. To argue that someone is less Christian than us because their spirituality or life isn't ours is arrogant and silly. It's also expressly condemned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:21.
The homilist then botched things pretty badly, as he wondered off into Modernist navel-gazing. He said at one point that the goal of our lives was not to be like Christ, but to be "like ourselves." And, I kid you not, he said we spend too much time asking "What Would Jesus Do?" and not enough time asking "What Would I Do?" Watching what had been a good homily degrade into this heretical nonsense was heartbreaking. The question should be, "What would Christ have me do?" After all, we are called to imitate Christ, and 1 Corinthians doesn't deny that at all. In fact, 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." So we are called to imitate Christ, although in a manner unique to ourselves. [By the way, this self-praising theme only got worse later in the day. In an otherwise quite good short speech, our section speaker (a friend of mine), told us to "be selfish." In fairness to him, he meant simply to pursue our own goals, rather than the goals our professors and employers set out for us (a message I heartily agree with). But there's no reason that's selfish: I want, for example, to be less selfish. That's my own goal. ]
After the homily, things got worse. The principal celebrant lead the Creed, and instead of praying "By the power of the Holy Spirit, He [Jesus] was born of the Virgin Mary, and became Man," he changed the last bit to "became one of us." That was obnoxious for many reasons.
- First, lots of non-Catholics were likely there for their relatives' graduations, and were reading the Creed from the missalette (which said "became man"). So the priest in charge of leading the congregation in the Creed decides to go solo with his own version of the Creed? That's terrible pastoral leadership, period.
- It's also a stupid fight to pick, since even those people who claim God is feminine or non-gendered conceed that Jesus Christ was a male. The priest in question almost certainly affirms, or at least admits, Jesus' masculinity. So what's he signalling? Just that "man" is a bad word?
- It's an even stupider fight, given the homily. That is, it's okay that Jesus was a male and that many Christians are female. Their dignity as Christians isn't diminished by being demographically dissimilar to Jesus any more than our dignity as Gentile Christians is. Again, St. Paul, people! (Galatians 3:28).
- But it's a yet stupider fight, given that "man" in this context refers to mankind. Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." That verse is a key to understanding so much of the gendered language of the Bible. Hebrew uses gendered nouns. Similarly, the term for animal, hayyah, is female, but it's used to refer to both male and female animals. Rebelling from the term "men" on the grounds that it's sexist is not just ignorant, it's counterproductive. Now, people who would have read "men" in the Bible and elsewhere as "humans" (the correct understanding) read it as "male humans," and are lead to believe that the Bible "forgot about" women. It's putting sexism into the Bible, or in this case, the Creed.
- It's condescending, and substitutes our judgment for God's.
- Finally, and this is a big one. You don't get to change the Creed. The Mass, and the Creed in particular, are not yours (or mine) to change. If you don't believe the Creed as written, don't pray it, but don't call yourself Christian, either, since that's one of the early and best litmus tests for orthodoxy. Certainly, don't call yourself a priest.
Beyond this, the Mass was a sort of death by a thousand paper cuts: mostly liturgically-permissible but silly things, like changing "brothers and sisters" (which is how it was written in the missalette) to "sisters and brothers," and having everyone stand during the Institution of the Eucharist (this is permitted where there is insufficient space, as was the case here, but it's still frustrating when we're worshipping God but without space to kneel). None of this prepared me for the afternoon.
II. The CommencementThe speaker chosen to do the commencement speech, the Rt. Hon. Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond (UK), continued the queasiness about masculinity. Baroness Hale is the first female Supreme Court justice in the UK. This, while true, is sort of a joke, since the Supreme Court was formed in 2009, and she's been on it from the start. More importantly, she became the first female law lord (Lord of Appeal in Ordinary) of England in 2004 -- this was the closest thing that the UK had to Supreme Court justices at the time. Her speech was almost entirely about women's pay disparities, and the glass ceiling. As a matter of history, there's little doubt she's correct. She was in law school when the first woman became a judge in the UK, after centuries of being denied the spot. She's had a pretty incredible career in making it not just to a judge's bench, but the judge's bench in the span of a generation of that barrier being first broken by a woman.
But there's plenty of doubt that her story is particularly instructive for women graduating today. After all, by 2001, women constituted over 49% of law school students, and were slated to become a majority until there were shifts towards other professions. It's true that female attorneys still make less than their male counterparts, but at least two external factors play a large role here. First, because the law was dominated by men for so long, men occupy the upper echelons of firms (since they're the ones with the most experience). Second, women are more likely to pursue a part-time legal career to balance childrearing: in Yale's look at the "tope ten family-friendly firms," they discovered that 80.6% of the attorneys working part-time were women. So it's not exactly surprising that the women who have (on average) fewer years of work experience and are putting in fewer hours are drawing smaller salaries. That's not to deny that sexism still exists: it certainly does, both in the legal profession and elsewhere. It's just to say that the pay disparity figures given by feminists don't tell the full story. The challenges facing the female law student graduating today just aren't the same as those facing a woman graduating in her mother's generation. And consider that 80.6% figure, above. That suggests that while it's still mostly women trying to balance childrearing and breadwinning, that a growing number of male lawyers seem to be doing the same.
Frankly, there's a potentially fascinating commencement speech on the changing face of law just waiting to be drawn out. Men are freer now to work part-time and be at home with the kids because of the success of the women that went before them in the law. Women are graduating now who've never been told that they were too female for the law. The women who pioneered the legal profession succeeded in changing it, largely for the better. But none of that was Baroness Hale's focus. Rather it was the stock "women good, men bad" drivel that's long past its expiration date. She began her speech by saying that "behind every successful man, there's a shocked woman... or two." It was an inappropriate icebreaker, and condescending, telling the male graduates before her, basically, that it was a surprise to see them there. And more than anything, that was my problem. Whatever the merits of Baroness Hale's talk under general circumstances, this was a commencement, and her talk focused almost exclusively on only the female graduates. It was alienating and, had it been done in the reverse at a commencement, would have been considered intolerably sexist (and rightly so).
But the worst of the day came with the "prayers." Georgetown, you will recall, is a Jesuit university. Any guesses on how many time Jesus was mentioned during the Commencement, by anyone? Whoever guessed "zero" just won. The invocation prayer was done by Georgetown's Muslim imam and Protestant pastor, while the benediction was done by the Catholic priest and the Jewish rabbi. At a Catholic university, the invocation wasn't done by a priest. Dozens of priests live at Georgetown, but neither prayer was even Christian. And intentionally so. There were multiple priests at the Commencement... at a Catholic University... and Georgetown couldn't bring itself to favor Catholicism over Protestantism, Judaism, or Islam.
How sad. How utterly unfortunate.