AM[D]G           

George Weigel

Last November 11, on the centenary of its relocation to a 93-acre campus in suburban Washington, D.C., Georgetown Preparatory School announced a $60 million capital campaign. In his message for the opening of the campaign, Georgetown Prep’s president, Father James Van Dyke, SJ, said that, in addition to improving the school’s residential facilities, the campaign intended to boost Prep’s endowment to meet increasing demands for financial aid. Like other high-end Catholic secondary schools, Georgetown Prep is rightly concerned about pricing itself out of reach of most families. So Prep’s determination to make itself more affordable through an enhanced endowment capable of funding scholarships and other forms of financial aid for less-than-wealthy students is all to the good.

What I find disturbing about the campaign is its “branding” slogan. I first became aware of it when, driving past the campus a few months ago, I noticed a billboard at the corner of Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane. In large, bold letters, it proclaimed, “FOR THE GREATER GLORY.” And I wondered, “…of what?” Then one day, when traffic allowed, I slowed down and espied the much smaller inscription in the bottom right corner: “Georgetown Prep’s Legacy Campaign.”

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam [For the greater glory of God], often reduced to the abbreviation, AMDG, was the Latin motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Georgetown Prep is a Jesuit school. So what happened to the D-word? What happened to God? Why did AMDG become AM[D]G while being translated into fundraising English?

I made inquiries of Jesuit friends and learned that amputating the “D” in AMDG is not unique to Georgetown Prep; it’s a tactic used by other Jesuit institutions engaged in the heavy-lift fundraising of capital campaigns. That was not good news. Nor was I reassured by pondering Father Van Dyke’s campaign-opening message, in which the words “Jesus Christ” did not appear. Neither did Pope Francis’s call for the Church’s institutions to prepare missionary disciples as part of what the Pope has called a “Church permanently in mission.” And neither did the word “God,” save for a closing “Thanks, and God bless.”

Father Van Dyke did mention that “Ignatian values” were one of the “pillars” of Georgetown prep’s “reputation for excellence.” And he did conclude his message with a call for “men who will make a difference in a world that badly needs people who care, people who, in the words Ignatius wrote his best friend Francis Xavier as he sent him on the Society of Jesus’s first mission, will ‘set the world on fire’.” Fine. But ignition to what end?

Ignatius sent Francis Xavier to the Indies and on to East Asia to set the world on fire with love of the Lord Jesus Christ, by evangelizing those then known as “heathens” with the warmth of the Gospel and the enlivening flame of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. St. Ignatius was a New Evangelization man half a millennium before Pope St. John Paul II used the term. St. Ignatius’s chief “Ignatian value” was gloria Dei, the glory of God.

Forming young men into spiritually incandescent, intellectually formidable and courageous Christian disciples, radically conformed to Jesus Christ and just as deeply committed to converting the world, was the originating purpose of Jesuit schools in post-Reformation Europe. Those schools were not content to prepare generic “men for others;” they were passionately devoted to forming Catholic men for converting others, the “others” being those who had abandoned Catholicism for Protestantism or secular rationalism. That was why the Jesuits were hated and feared by powerful leaders with other agendas, be they Protestant monarchs like Elizabeth I of England or rationalist politicians like Portugal’s 18th-century prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal.

Religious education in U.S. Catholic elementary schools has been improved in recent decades. And we live in something of a golden age of Catholic campus ministry at American colleges and universities. It’s Catholic secondary education in the U.S. that remains to be thoroughly reformed so that Catholic high schools prepare future leaders of the New Evangelization: leaders who will bring others to Christ, heal a deeply wounded culture, and become agents of a sane politics. Jesuit secondary education, beginning with prominent and academically excellent schools like Georgetown Prep, could and should be at the forefront of that reform.

Jesuit secondary education is unlikely to provide that leadership, however, if its self-presentation brackets God and announces itself as committed to “the greater glory” of…whatever.

COMING UP: The Next Pope and the Crisis of the West

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In February 1968, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła wrote Father Henri de Lubac, SJ, about a project in which the cardinal was engaged: a philosophical explanation of the uniqueness and nobility of the human person. The idea of the human, Wojtyla suggested, was being degraded, even pulverized, by ideologies that denied the deep truths built into us. The response could not be “sterile polemics.” Rather, the Church should counter-propose a higher, more compelling view of “the inviolable mystery of the person.”

That project eventually became Wojtyla’s major philosophical work, Person and Act. And while his immediate target was the communist “disintegration” of our humanity, Wojtyla likely intuited that other disintegrating forces in Western culture might prove even more threatening, over time, to “the inviolable mystery” that is every human person.

That time is now. For on June 15, the Supreme Court of the United States decreed that it is an illegal act of discrimination in certain circumstances to invoke what was, until recently, the universal idea of the human person, biblically expressed in Genesis 1:28: “…male and female he created them.” The author of the Court’s majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, Justice Neil Gorsuch, claimed that its ruling only touched employment practices involving same-sex attracted people and those who consider themselves “transgendered.” In fact, the Court jack-hammered a degraded, pulverized, and, yes, disintegrating idea of the human person deep into the foundations of American civil rights law.

According to that idea, each of us is what we say we are, period. Willfulness is the measure of the human and biological reality doesn’t matter. Thus as David Crawford, Michael Hanby, and Margaret Harper McCarthy pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, the Court’s decision means that “we are all transgendered now, even if sex and ‘gender identity’ coincide in an overwhelming majority of cases.” And, as always, detachment from reality has consequences. For as Mary Eberstadt noted, citizenship itself is subverted when Americans are coerced, socially and in some instances legally, to “assent to untruths.”

The usual suspects cheered Bostock’s alleged defense of freedom. But what kind of “freedom” is this? It certainly isn’t a mature freedom, tethered to truth and ordered to goodness. It’s more like the pseudo-freedom of the two-year old who imagines that his or her will is supreme: I want it, and I want it now. Once, childish willfulness was thought to be something that parents and educators should help children overcome, for the children’s sake and society’s. Bostock, by contrast, insists that the most extreme (and often deeply disturbed) forms of willfulness are legitimate exercises of liberty protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, published earlier this month by Ignatius Press, I note an instructive historical fact. The modern popes from Leo XIII through Francis have been men of different backgrounds, intellectual formations, and life experiences. Yet, they’ve all taught that the contemporary crisis of Western civilization, which first manifested itself lethally in World War I and which has intensified ever since, is fundamentally a crisis in the idea of the human person. Who are we? How ought we relate to others of our kind? What is our destiny? When a culture gets the answers to those questions wrong, there is hell to pay – and in this life.

As Wojtyła suggested to de Lubac, the Church’s response to this crisis cannot be the “sterile polemics” too frequently indulged by doomist Catholic ultra-traditionalists and woke Catholic progressives. The Church’s response must be that of the Second Vatican Council: “Christ the Lord….fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” Christ the preacher of the Beatitudes, Christ the Good Shepherd, Christ who thirsts for the faith of the Samaritan woman, Christ crucified and raised from death to a superabundant form of human life – this is where we encounter the truly, fully human. This is the truth of who we are and what our destiny is.

The entire Church must bear witness to those truths. For in a West dying from the incoherence that breeds both coercion and the plague of identity politics, those truths are cultural life-support now and a source of renewal for the future. By being relentlessly Christ-centered in his preaching, the next pope can empower all of us to rescue the idea of the human by proclaiming the crucified and risen Lord, the embodiment of self-giving love, as the true image of humanity and its freedom.