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Notre Dame Student Editor Laments ‘Cafeteria Catholicism’ on Campus

Mudflap DC

Matthew Archbold - published on 09/10/13

A recent graduate of The University of Notre Dame had some very strong words about the Catholic identity of his alma mater.

A recent graduate of The University of Notre Dame had some very strong words about the Catholic identity of his alma mater, saying “cafeteria Catholicism” has “run amok” on campus.

Bob Burkett , former editor-in-chief of The Irish Rover and recipient of the 2013 Sycamore student award, spoke at the Sycamore Trust Annual Breakfast during Alumni Weekend at the University of Notre Dame. His talk, presented in June, was published last week at the Trust’s website.

He said that it was his dream to attend the University named after Our Lady, but sadly he was “appalled” by the behavior of students at the school.

“It seemed that Our Lady's University was really no different on the weekends than any other college I had ever heard about. Why was this?” he asked. “Notre Dame was supposed to be a Catholic university – and not just any Catholic university – the premiere Catholic university in America and throughout the world. I felt like I had been tricked.”

He lamented the “cafeteria Catholicism” on campus. “This concept that we are free to choose our own morality and our own beliefs plays a central role in the crisis of Catholicism occurring today at Notre Dame,” he said. “At the heart of the matter is the idea of Catholicism, of what it means for a faith community – in this case a university – to be Catholic.”

While Burkett makes clear that aspects of Notre Dame's Catholicism on campus “are truly exceptional,” he paints a disturbing picture of a typical evening Mass on campus.

People often dressed down and some even wore pajamas. The attire worn seemed to detract from the importance of Mass as one of the most important practices of the Catholic faith. With regard to the liturgy itself, everything was fine except for one part – the sign of peace. The sign of peace could go for as long as 5 minutes, with people criss-crossing the chapel to hug each and every one of their friends. The excitement of the participants and sheer length of the sign of peace seemed to emphasize the human aspect of the community to such an extent that it overshadowed the real reason for gathering together – the Eucharist. Yes, the Mass fulfilled Sunday obligations for many students who otherwise may not have come, but it also seemed to shift the focus from one that is Christ-centered to one centered around the human community, with Christ as some sort of subsidiary sideshow.

Burkett said that Notre Dame’s administration has often in a similar way “striven for solidarity with the human community” instead of focusing on its faith.

You can watch the entire video provided by The Sycamore Trust here.

Originally published by The Cardinal Newman Society's Catholic Education Daily on 9 September 2013.

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