Thursday, April 30, 2009

Society of Jesus hiding the name of Jesus?

IHS - Jesuit Residence - SJU

The “IHS” symbol was covered over when “Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind the Gaston Hall stage.” “The White House wanted a simple backdrop of flags and pipe and drape for the speech, consistent with what they’ve done for other policy speeches. Frankly, the pipe and drape wasn’t high enough by itself to fully cover the IHS and cross above the GU seal and it seemed most respectful to have them covered so as not to be seen out of context.”

- Julie Bataille, Georgetown UniversityPres Office

Roman Catholics traditionally use “IHS” as an abbreviation for Jesus’ name. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “St. Ignatius of Loyola adopted the monogram in his seal as general of the Society of Jesus (1541) and thus became the emblem of his institute.” The Society of Jesus is the formal name for the Jesuits.

Just two days after the Easter Triduum, the most solemn time of the Church year wherein we celebrate the central mysteries of our faith, President Obama gave a speech on the national economy at Georgetown University in Washington, the oldest Catholic university in the nation. Before the speech, the White House asked that all signage and symbols behind the stage be covered, including a gold cross and IHS monogram representing the name of Jesus. School officials deferred to the White House and covered the symbol with a piece of black plywood.

The school has explained that the White House wanted a simple backdrop of American flags and blue drape for the speech and, in fairness, let us grant that the White House’s request was driven by simple staging priorities. The school, I am sure, was merely trying to accommodate the president’s advance team. Yet, in deciding to give the speech there, the Administration knew well that the venue was a Catholic University. To ask the University to cover a symbol that gives evidence of its Catholic identity was shameful; but to comply with such an unfair request was scandalous.

Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante, D.D., J.C.D. - Diocese of Camden - “Catholic” a mere label?

Loss of symbols gives rise to thought --

More than 40 years ago, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur coined the phrase ''the symbol gives rise to thought.''

His analysis of religious symbolism demonstrated a crucial link between thinking and expression, both of which are intimately connected to the depth of human experience.

Unlike the ordinary language we use to describe our living, and the more scientific language that gives precision to our knowing, symbols touch the realm of the mysterious: They point to meaning beyond us; they convey the meaningfulness that lies within us.

Even in a virtual world, where simulation has become astonishingly accurate and animation appears more and more lifelike, symbols still hold sway by their power to to evoke something profound.

Consider, for instance, the flag-draped coffin of a fallen soldier, the sight of which moves one to silent attention, stirs one to grateful admiration, and gives rise to thoughts of civic and human solidarity.

In religion, symbols are necessary because they express what cannot be conveyed by our limited language. By definition, symbols point beyond themselves to something else, and allow us to evoke what is supernatural and what transcends the ordinary. Christians see this especially during Eastertide -- in colors or sounds or things. The penitential purples of Lent and the bloody crimsons of the Passion give way to the dazzling whites of the Resurrection.The uplifting tone of words like ''hosanna'' and ''alleluia'' touch a chord in the soul when sung aloud.Most of all, a paschal candle remains lit to symbolize the light and new life of the risen, one that now (and still) dispels the darkness and death that shrouds our existence. The tallest of candles, the paschal light burns throughout the season to signify the exultant reality of what Christians believe about the Easter event and promise it bears for the world.

But just as a person's religious character is not confined to a church, so the character of religious symbols is not limited to worship. Because such symbols evoke a meaningfulness that cannot be communicated by other means, they constitute an important way to express not only one's belief but also one's identity. Without such symbols, meaning is lost, and meaningfulness is absent. Thus, the temporary loss of symbols at Georgetown University gives rise to the thought that an institution's religious character is merely fashionable, able to be covered up for different occasions. Recently, university officials there chose to conceal from any camera's view the Christogram -- the letters ''IHS'' with a cross extending upward from the center -- that adorns the archway above the dais at which President Obama delivered a speech on economics (a message, ironically, based, in part, on the biblical metaphor of ''the house built upon rock'').

One effect of this cover-up was to provide a ''consistent backdrop'' to the presidential speech; the other was to hide away the religious ''identity'' of the place, for those letters are central to the seal of the Society of Jesus, the Catholic religious order that founded the university. Which effect was intended, and whose initiative led to the iconoclastic decision, have been matters of debate. But whether it was sought by the White House or offered by the university, the symbolic message was evident -- nothing religious should be considered alongside political posturing. Some may brush this aside, as even one Jesuit (Thomas Reese, SJ) did when he said it was more about ''camera quality'' and ''communications strategy'' than theology.

But if Ricoeur is right, a new thought arises from the symbolism of covering one's religious identity in what looked like a black cloth.

Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, OSFS, is director of the Salesian Center for Faith and Culture at DeSales University in Center Valley.

more... Obama at Georgetown: No Jesuit seal

Jesuit Cemetery at Georgetown; what would those great men have thought?

Better yet... think he'd have ever hidden the name of Jesus?

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