conf.ndChristendom College Faculty members, Dr. Chris Shannon, Dr. Thomas Stanford, and Mrs. Mary Stanford, delivered papers at a conference held by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, held November 6-8, 2008. The faculty’s contributions were well received by both institutional leaders and attendees alike.

Dr. Chris Shannon delivered a paper entitled “What Does It Take?  Community and Family in Contemporary American Political Discourse.” Shannon, Assistant Professor of History, examined the contemporary American debate over the role of the family in society in light of the understanding of community at the heart of Catholic social teaching

“For the last thirty or so years, ‘family values’ has served as one of the major fault lines dividing left and right in American political discourse,” Shannon said. “Conservative Republicans came to political dominance in part by claiming to defend the family against attack from social engineering by liberal Democrats. Yet, the free-market economic ideals espoused by the Republican Party have done just as much to undermine the community stability necessary for family stability.”

Shannon pointed out that liberals and conservatives flip-flop back and forth in their stance on how exactly to deal with the “problem” of the family in the modern world.  “From the perspective of Catholic social teaching, professional expertise, free market, and privatization are symptoms rather than solutions,” Shannon said. “Attempts to secure family stability—apart from community stability—are destined to fail.”

Dr. Thomas Stanford, Chairman of Christendom’s English department, delivered a paper entitled “Membership and its Privileges:  Family and Community in the Novels of Wendell Berry.”

Stanford noted that all of Berry’s novels feature the same fictional setting, the small farming community of Port William, Kentucky, and all the stories are drawn from the same set of characters – that being the people of Port William.

“The community found in Berry’s novels effectively becomes its own character, which is understood as a particular web of marriages, familial relations, and friendships,” Stanford said. “As a character, this community lives and grows and changes and even decays over time—it is an organic reflection of the persons of which it consists.”

Stanford also said that the novels continually underscore that caritas, or self-giving love, is required to bind persons into a community that may enrich them emotionally and spiritually. Berry offers this family-like community as a humane contrast to the hollow communities associated with suburban life in the industrialized world.

Two experts of Berry both agreed with Stanford’s ideas and urged him to publish his work.

Mrs. Mary Stanford, an adjunct professor of Theology specializing in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, delivered a paper entitled “‘Wives be Submissive to your Husbands’: Authority in Marriage.” She said that a husband’s authority—headship—is not even possible without a free and gracious reception on the part of his wife. “Indeed, a husband needs to be allowed—freed—enabled—to be head,” she said. “A man’s headship is a free gift from wife to husband for the sake of all. A father is called to self-sacrifice to the point of death for his beloved ones. Like Christ, he is not a tyrant, but a lover. He does not exercise authority by taking, but by giving.”

There will be no authentic equality between spouses, no true flourishing of the persons in the family and no embodiment of the domestic church without self-sacrificing love and generous acceptance on the part of man and wife. The asymmetry—or better the complementary difference—between man and woman is placed at the foundation of family life precisely because it is life-giving—physically and spiritually,” she said.

Internationally known theologians Dr Michael Waldstein and Dr. Janet Smith attended Mrs. Stanford’s presentation and praised her work.

Inspired by the late Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals Centesimus AnnusVeritatis SplendorEvangelium Vitae and Fides et Ratio, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture aims to transform the culture into one where the dignity of human life is respected, the compatibility of faith and reason is recognized, and the connection between the truth and genuine freedom is understood. The Center funds appropriately focused scholarly research in ethics and its dissemination in the classroom and the broader culture.

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