The Audacity of Humility

/ 18 May 2009

That’s Andrew Sullivan’s headline for his coverage of President Obama’s speech yesterday at Notre Dame. It was such a superb headline I couldn’t resist re-using it. I watched the speech live (courtesy of MSNBC), and have to admit that I wasn’t as inspired by it as I have been by some of the president’s speeches. On the other hand, the quotations that Andrew offers are really powerful as quotations. So maybe there was more to the speech than I at first gave it credit for:

In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.

This quote also reminds me that the president was quoting someone, I think Theodore Hesburgh?, in talking about being BOTH a lighthouse, and a bridge builder.