|Nicholas C. Lund-Molfese: The best thing that could happen is
people come back to what I call a thick religious tradition and
away from worshipping the self. Catholic New World photos by Sandy Bertog
Using professional ethics as a path to faith
This week, Catholic New World staff writer Michelle Martin talks
with Nicholas Lund-Molfese.
The Interview, a regular feature of The Catholic New World, is an in-depth conversation
with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect todays Catholic.
It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always
Nicholas C. Lund-Molfese, 32, leads the Integritas Institute of
the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at
Chicago. The institute promotes professional ethics, and, Lund-Molfese
said, helps bring people to God by encouraging them to think about
their obligations to their fellow human beings. Lund-Molfese will
write occasional columns for The Catholic New World.
The Catholic New World: How did you get interested in the field
of professional ethics? Where do you start with this?
Nicholas C. Lund-Molfese: I start with the person. Ive been fortunate to bump into people
who were really questioning what they were supposed to do with
their lives, what life means. Ethics is the way the average person
originally comes in contact with a more-than-human source of meaning,
so they become aware of some sense of right or wrong, of obligation,
and then they come to the realization that the obligation has
a personal source: God. And then they start to seek God. So the
person that Im describing would be your typical lapsed whatever,
who was raised in a religious tradition and fell away from it,
which is what I find is the most common casethe need for re-evangelization.
TCNW: Are the programs of the institute open to students and faculty
who are not Catholic?
NCLM: Yes. All our programs are open to anybody who is interested.
The things the institute works on are universal. Theyre questions
all people have to ask about meaning and value. Typically, thats
what distinguishes the Integritas Institutes programs from programs
more typical of the Newman Center. The Integritas Institute tries
to use reason available to everyone and particularly looks at
the different professions for guidance and consideration. The
professions have a long history of considering ethical questions
or ethical issues.
TCNW: Does the institutes association with the Newman Center
put off some people who arent Catholic?
NCLM: We are who we are, and I think the fact that our programs do
involve speakers from a variety of religious perspectives helps
people to see that our purpose isnt to beat people over the head
and steal away adherents of other religions. Were really trying
to help people who are alienated from their religious traditions,
and this is a way to do that.
TCNW: The institutes motto is Mercy, justice, charity. How
did you come to light on those three virtues?
NCLM: It comes from a psalm that I fell upon. Those values are universal,
but theyre also Gospel-based. Charity goes beyond justice. It
gives what isnt directly owed, or what one doesnt have a strict
obligation to give. Justice is required, and its giving people
what is their due, and its something business people have a great
deal of reflection on, whereas mercy is something we more clearly
associate with nurses and with doctors.
TCNW: You focus on health care and business because there are
great numbers of students in those programs here. Are there programs
for any other professional fields?
NCLM: Yes. Our goal is to be in every professional college at UIC,
and thats a goal were steadily approaching. Im talking with
the college of engineering about launching a full program next
semester where the institute would be responsible for giving an
introductory ethics lecture to all incoming students. Were also
talking with the college of education.
TCNW: What do you hope to accomplish with the institute?
NCLM:This campus is 60 percent nominally Catholic. It has more Catholic
students than any other college, Catholic or secular, in the Midwest.
And the Newman Center doesnt see all those students. The idea
with the Integritas Institute is we do. They dont come to our
Masses, but they might come to a lecture on ethics in the workplace
next semester. They dont come to our Bible study, but theyre
going to be a doctor, and they show up for a talk by Eugene Diamond
(a member of the Catholic Physicians Guild) on euthanasia. Or
theyre not Catholic, theyre Muslim, and they show up for one
of our talks by a member of the Islamic Medical Association, and
they learn more about a tradition that they might be estranged
I think the best thing that could happen is people come back to
what I call a thick religious tradition and away from worshipping
the self, which is what much of popular spirituality amounts toworshipping
a god made in your own image, basically worshipping yourself.
Because were all fallen and were egoists, its very easy to
fall into that trap.
A thick religious tradition, like Catholicism, like Islam, like
Judaism, prevents that, because it will teach things you dont
like. A thick religious tradition has a history, it has a body
of belief. It has to be taken seriously.
There are many issues that serious Jews and serious Muslims and
serious Catholics can agree on, and were very effective when
we work together. Basically, the institute wants to make these
reflections of these religious traditions intellectually respectable,
and present them.
TCNW: Give an example.
NCL: I have to decide what time to go home tonight. Thats a morally
serious decision. I have a wife and two children waiting for me
at home. I also have a ton of work sitting in this office. If
these programs dont happen, these students dont get served,
and theres plenty of programs that dont happen because we dont
have the resources. If I abandoned my family duties, we could
definitely do more here. Theres no church teaching saying that
you should work no more than eight hours a day at work. There
is a church teaching about the duty that one owes ones children
and ones spouse, and there is a church teaching about the diligence
one owes ones employer. So there are principles and theres guidance.
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