Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mary Ann Glendon, Example of Piety

Some readers might know of this, but, for those who don't, the distinguished professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard (former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican; current president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences; defender of the unborn) did a very noble thing today in witness to the sanctity of human life. She declined to accept the prestigious (and in her case, deserved) Laetare medal from Notre Dame because Notre Dame will be giving the stage to and bestowing honors upon President Obama on the same occasion (Notre Dame commencement ceremonies) at which she would have been awarded the medal.

This is getting a lot of attention in the Catholic world. For an example of excellent commentary about this and for more about Professor Glendon, see the article here by Fr. Raymond de Souza. I agree with Fr. de Souza that "In her life of extraordinary accomplishments, the witness given by Glendon by not going to Notre Dame next month is something of a crowning achievement."

But I want to post on this topic not to speak directly of the situation at Notre Dame (which many are doing elsewhere), but, to ask a question and draw attention to a virtue. I thought that especially in light of my earlier comments about the cultivation of virtue it would be worthwhile to consider: What virtue (or virtues) is Professor Glendon putting into action by her principled decision?

One could probably list several. What comes to your mind? The virtue that came first to my mind, was piety.

Now, by piety, I am not speaking of it in the everyday, ordinary sense. I am speaking of it in a more traditional, older, classic sense. Fr. Hardon's handy Modern Catholic Dictionary gives a short definition of piety (in keeping with this classic sense I am thinking of) as,
Honor and reverence given to someone in any way responsible for our existence or well-being. Thus God as our Creator and constant Provider, parents, near relatives, country, tribe, or people.

So here are a few observations about how, it seems to me, Professor Glendon in her rejection of the Laetare medal manifests a great example of piety.

1. Professor Glendon honors and reverences God. Many people of lesser virtue would find the prestige and attention of such an award too attractive to resist. But, in her rejection, Glendon shows that she honors God more than man. It is more important to respect God, the creator and author (and truest lover) of all human life, than to receive the praise of mere men (even if the President of the United States will be there). God's principle is never to take innocent life--which includes the life of the unborn growing in the womb. Our President's principle is not only to allow it, but to defend it. For a person of piety, when there is a clash between God's principles and those of men--deference is given to God every time.

2. Professor Glendon honors and reverences her parents. By her action, she shows herself to be a person of deep-seated integrity and character. Virtue of this sort, when it appears in a public fashion such as this, speaks very highly of the memory of her parents.

3. Professor Glendon honors and reverences her country. By her action, she shows that she truly cherishes her country--so much so that a highly inappropriate bestowal of an honor upon her President, an honor which will represent (because of the President's disregard for unborn life) a betrayal of the values of equality and respect for life and liberty which are so foundational to our country, has induced her to decline to stand upon the same stage with him. And I would wager that she does so, in part, out of true respect for the office of the Presidency, aware of the importance that one who occupies this office not tarnish it.

Would that we all would have such piety! Thank you, Professor Glendon, for your example.

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