Rev. Martin Luther King and the Value of Faith

August 28th, 2013

Yesterday, during my radio program, Conversation with the Cardinal, that is broadcast on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM, I talked about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the great impact his faith had on his life.  Here’s a little of what I had to say:

“Where would we be without his enlightened leadership?  But once again, would you find that today those who would extol, rightly, the Reverend Martin Luther King’s leadership would also very often might not be on our side with religious values being in the public square?  In other words, today it is kind of a secularist mindset that religion, morality, the Bible, teachings that we have from our religion, our churches, those are best kept private.  And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I’m sure glad Martin Luther King didn’t believe that.’  I’m sure glad that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King did not believe that what he prayed on Sunday morning was not to be implemented on Monday morning.  For him, politics was shot through with religious values and for him there was no apologizing for the fact that the Bible, that Jesus, that the Old Testament prophets, they were definitive in culture, in life, in our nation….So, I’m proud of him as a religious leader, as a clergyman, as a minister, as a preacher, that he’s the one that led us in this great act of freedom and emancipation.”

I’m also happy that I got to participate in NBC-TV’s celebration of Dr. King’s speech, in what they’re calling #DreamDay.  You can find my video here.

Great Supporters of Our Schools

August 28th, 2013

Feast of St. Augustine, Year of Faith

The approach of Labor Day means that school starts soon!

As the doors of our Catholic grade and high schools re-open to welcome 75,000 of our children and youth, it’s a good time to praise God for the gift they are, and to thank God for the passionate promoters, leaders, and benefactors who have fought, advocated, cajoled, and begged to keep these schools strong, excellent, affordable, and accessible.

In recent months, we’ve lost three giants in that crusade to sustain our Catholic schools:  Ted Forstmann, Paul Woolard, and Peter Flanigan. I was honored to know them all, and commend them to the Lord for their radiant generosity to our schools.

Ted Forstmann would tell you that it was his brother, Nick, and his then archbishop, John Cardinal O’Connor, who coaxed him into advocating for our schools.  The Inner-City Scholarship Fund for Catholic Schools was established by Cardinal Terence Cooke, and, later, then auxiliary Bishop Edward Egan, and Nick was one of the pioneers over three decades ago, and he eventually lassoed his at first reluctant brother, Ted, into it.

Ted would confess that he came aboard later just to get Nick “off his back,” and because Cardinal O’Connor bluntly asked him at breakfast, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?”  Yes, Ted admired our schools for their splendid academics and emphasis on character, virtue, and faith, but he also admitted that, as a successful businessman, he considered support for our struggling schools to be a shrewd investment, producing competent, reliable leaders for the community, and because private schools served as healthy competitors to the unhealthy monopoly of public education.  This is what lead him to co-found the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to students in Catholic and other private schools throughout the country.

Paul Woolard was there at the start, again with Cardinal Cooke, and Sister Eymard Gallagher, and he felt himself, he told me, a salesman for our schools.  He and Sister would spend all day going from office-to-office, visiting prominent business and civic leaders, Catholic or not, to ask their support.  Much of the credit for the vast network of loyal, ongoing investment into our schools that is characteristic of this community, evident in our sparkling and effective Inner-City Scholarship Fund for Catholic Schools, and, through many of the donors that Paul brought to our schools, the creation of our Partnership for Catholic Schools, all due to Paul’s relentless salesmanship.  With his ever buoyant wife Ruth at his side, he would “not let up.”  Due to his passion for our schools, we now have second and third generation supporters we can count on.

Then last month we buried Peter Flanigan.  The same indefatigable energy he gave to serving his country, to politics, and to business, he showed to his beloved Catholic schools.  He was a man of ideas, of alternatives, of principles, and a “dog with a bone” when it came to our schools.

An intensely loyal and committed Catholic, Peter’s fidelity promoted him to tell the truth, especially to us bishops.  Ever respectful, he was hardly unctious or subservient, and he was most effective in prophetically calling us to protect our schools, to never give up.

I must tell you that, at first, he was suspicious of our Pathways to Excellence, which called for painful closings of some struggling, half-full schools, resulting in fewer, but stronger, regional schools.

“Don’t close any of them!”  was his early refrain.  But, his more dominant mantra was,  “It’s not about buildings, it’s about our kids!”  Once Dr. Tim McNiff, Monsignor Greg Mustaciuolo, and I could show him that, as many, if not more of our children would benefit from our schools, even if in fewer buildings, he was on board.

Never did he let up on the injustice of the government’s refusal to allow parents to designate their tax money for the school of choice for their kids.

True to his own family background, Peter had a big Irish heart for our Catholic school children, and a steely German determination to keep them strong and successful!

Thank God, there are more like them, as the legacy of Forstmann, Woolard, and Flanigan goes on.

I dream that, when they met the Divine Teacher face-to-face, Jesus thanked them for “letting the children come to me!”

 

Vivat Jesus!

August 14th, 2013

What a grand summer so far . . . sure, some time-off with family and priest-friends, but also the 150th Anniversary Mass at Gettysburg, and World Youth Day in Brazil.

Last week added to a banner summer as I joined 3,000 other members at the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in San Antonio, Texas.

All of us are gratefully aware of the “K of C,” as we call them, observing them with admiration at parish, community, and archdiocesan events.  We especially appreciate their unflagging devotion to pro-life work, Catholic schools, vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, physically and mentally handicapped, and youth work.  As most bishops and parish priests will tell you, “If you want something done, go to the Knights of Columbus.”

In addition to all of this work — they are the largest volunteer organization in the world! — they run the best insurance program around, loyal to the goal of their founder, Father Michael Mc Givney, to care for the widow and orphan of poor, immigrant Catholic workmen.

They have also carried the light of faith to the public square, especially in efforts to protect the fragile life of the preborn baby, the definition of marriage, and religious freedom.

All in all, as I commented in the remarks I was honored to give at the festive States’ Dinner, they are a radiant exhibit of what the Second Vatican Council called for in the vocation of the lay faithful.

The Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, is an astute churchman, and in his splendid “state of the order address,” always a highpoint of the convention, he showed his attentiveness to the invitation now coming from Pope Francis, and encouraged us brother knights in our call to charity and service.

Mr. Anderson referred to the Holy Father’s warning about a “globalization of indifference.”  As I observed to the convention, “indifference is not a word you will find in the dictionary of the Knights of Columbus.”

I was particularly proud of my two brother bishops, Gustavo Garcia-Siller, the host Archbishop of San Antonio, who preached and celebrated the inspiring opening Mass; and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, who gave the Keynote, as they both gave priority to our care for the immigrant.

To promote the dignity of the immigrant was especially appropriate with the K of C.  Why?  Well, they were founded precisely to offer fraternity and care for Catholic immigrant workers of 130 years ago, who were then, as now, the victims of prejudice, and whose families were so vulnerable if the breadwinner died or was injured; and two, the Knights themselves are of all nations and ethnic backgrounds, so are naturally free of the nasty nativism that sadly characterizes anti-immigrant sentiment today.

Brother Knights, to be with you was like a retreat — yet fun! . . . as I was with you in prayer and recommitment!

Keep up the good work!

Vivat Jesus!

A Prayer for Fr. Paolo

August 12th, 2013

I am still catching up on my summer reading as I continue with my summer travel and pastoral visits. I came across an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest missing in Syria. Let us take a moment to say a special prayer for the safety of Fr. Paolo.

Here is an excerpt from the op-ed:

On Wednesday, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass for the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order to which he belongs. The pope paused to remember those Jesuit priests who had given their lives in service of their faith. “I’m thinking of Padre Paolo,” he said.

At the moment, no one in the room knew if Father Paolo Dall’Oglio was still alive.

Two days before the pope’s prayer, Father Paolo, an Italian Jesuit priest associated with the Syrian opposition, had been seen walking the streets of Raqqa, a rebel-controlled area in northern Syria. Then he disappeared. Activists reported that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a militant group affiliated with al Qaeda, had kidnapped him. Contradicting reports soon emerged. Had Father Paolo been kidnapped, or had he purposefully met with the group to negotiate the release of hostages and to broker a truce between Kurds and Islamic extremists fighting in the north?

One thing is certain: No one has heard from him since.

You can read the whole op-ed here.

The Church and Baseball

August 6th, 2013

I’d like to share with you the following excerpt from my SiriusXM show, “Conversation with Cardinal Dolan.” You can hear the audio segment by clicking here.

On today’s edition of “Conversation with Cardinal Dolan,” the Cardinal’s weekly show on The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, Cardinal Dolan and co-host Father Dave Dwyer, CSP, discussed the news of the suspension of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Partial transcript:

Father Dwyer:  “For those of us who have been seeing this in the headlines, does this bring up issues for us of, not only right and wrong, models for children?”

Cardinal Dolan:  “Sure it does.  I think part of the wisdom of sports in the United States, every country is sports conscious, but in the United States we have always seen our athletes not just as wonderful specimens of human talent [and] physical prowess, but also models of virtue and character and honor and decency and integrity.”

Cardinal Dolan:  “So I think it hurts us.  It hurts the game.  It hurts our young people when you see a guy that would have fallen.  And this one, it’s the same with priests and bishops, right?  I mean, they need to look up to us as icons of virtue and integrity and we’ve let them down on occasion.  And our ballplayers do it, too.  And here you’ve got a guy (Alex Rodriguez) who is a whale of a ballplayer, nobody doubts that, but now it’s not some type of, the flaw affects his ability to play the game because maybe people are saying, ‘Wow, are some of the things that we celebrated – his home runs, his RBIs, his on-base percentage – were those enhanced by drugs?’  You know who I feel sorry for are the good hard-working ballplayers that have never taken an illegal substance and are kind of left in the dust.”

Cardinal Dolan:  “So anyway, I’m glad.  I pray with and for Alex Rodriguez as I would with anybody who is going through personal difficulties.  But I am kind of grateful that baseball is in reform mode.  Lord knows we in the Church are, right?  ‘Ecclesia semper reformanda,’ the Church always in need of reform.  And so is baseball.  It’s constantly trying to clean up its act and I’m glad they are because it is important to us.  It is important to the psyche of the nation, isn’t it?”

***

Father Dwyer:  “With the Alex Rodriguez scandal it makes me think that the things that tempt us most greatly to that are power and influence.  We think we can get away or hide from God if we have more of our own power and less dependence on God.”

Cardinal Dolan:  “I see what you mean.  Almost that we have to enhance our own drive and power instead of counting on the gifts that God gave us.  This is a man of mountainous talent to begin with.  Why would one need to enhance it unnaturally?  Yeah, you enhance it by practice and by exercise but why would one need to enhance it chemically?  I don’t know.  I feel kind of bad for him.  I feel bad for the Yankees because they are a darn good team, they stick together, this has drug them down, they are missing a great player.  It sort of casts a cloud on everybody.”

“Conversation with Cardinal Dolan” airs every Tuesday at 1:00 pm ET on The Catholic Channel, SiriusXM channel 129.  Today’s show will replay today at 4:00pm ET and 9:00 pm ET and at other times throughout the week.

What the Holy Father Said

July 31st, 2013

Well, since everybody else is talking about it, I guess I should.

I’m speaking about, of course, the Holy Father’s remarks to the journalists on the plane returning from World Youth Days in Brazil.

Since I finally got to read the whole text of his conversation, it’s a good time to weigh in with a half-dozen or so of my own observations.

For one, the Pope was visibly “on a high” from his first international pastoral visit in Rio.  Understandably so.  Because I was there with him, I can verify that the superlatives being used — “oceanic” crowds, “frenzied” welcomes, “inspirational, heartfelt” words — are not exaggerations at all.

After the conclave, one of my brother cardinals predicted to me that, as Pope John Paul II “won back” the formerly communist controlled “Eastern bloc” countries, Pope Francis would revive the Church on his home continent of Latin America.  From what we saw in Brazil, he’s sure off to a great start.

In Rio, he was so positive, upbeat, forward looking, realistic, and challenging.  Look at his heartfelt pleas for “a Church that is poor and for the poor” as he visited hovels in the favela; his rejection of a “throwaway culture” that marginalizes elders, youth, babies, weak, handicapped, and refugees; his embrace of a “youthful, energetic faith,” with 3,000,000 young people giving the lie to the stereotype of a withered, listless, moribund Church; and his ringing chant that “lasting hope and joy comes from our faith in Jesus, from a God who enjoys surprising us.”

Two, mercy is the word that seems to summarize Francis’ talks:  both God’s tender mercy for us, and the mercy He wants us to have for one another.  I recalled his first Angelus in Rome after the white smoke, when he spoke of God’s lavish mercy, and his homily at his inaugural Mass on St. Joseph’s Day, when he asked us to be tender.

This mercy flows, not instead of or in spite of the Church, but through her!  This pastor reminds us that Jesus Christ and His Church are one.

Mercy, he claims, is not just for those who show-up.  No, says the world’s parish priest, “We shouldn’t just wait for the wounded to come to us; we go out and reach for them.”

Three, mercy was not just the theme of those radiant World Youth Days in Rio, but also of his now renowned hour-and-twenty minute comfortable conversation with the press on the plane.

So, his brief remarks on homosexuality were about mercy:  everyone has a welcome home in the Church; the Church considers unjust discrimination against any homosexual a sin;  and homosexual acts, which are contrary to Revelation — as are heterosexual acts outside of lifelong, life-giving, faithful marriage between one man and one woman — can always be healed by God’s mercy.  And when God’s mercy is sought, it is always given, the sin wiped away and forgotten; because of this, nobody — not the Pope, not a bishop, not a priest — can judge another!  Actions?  Yes; the heart? No.  No change in Church teaching here . . . or no intended “correction” to a more “dour” approach by his predecessors.  After all, it was under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that the Catechism was composed, which reminded us that people with same sex attraction were as much God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, as anybody else.

Four, his comments on the alleged “gay lobby” in the Vatican were perceptive.  What bothers him is any lobby.  There can be only one agenda in the Church:  that of Jesus Christ, His Gospel, His Church.  He even praised the favorite “whipping boy” of all of us — bishops included — the Curia, which is made up, he insisted, of a vast majority of selfless, generous, virtuous priests and people, with, okay, a few lemons.

Then, five, there’s his reaffirmation of the need for a “theology of women,” who hardly need a Roman collar to lead and serve in the Church.  After all, Pope Francis reminds us, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “is the most important of all the apostles.”

A few final words.

One wonders if the Holy Father is frustrated by all this attention to his interview.  For six days he spoke powerfully about lofty issues such as friendship, service, trust, joy, hope, love for the poor, humility, discipleship, faith, and simplicity.  Those words got a bit of coverage.  The “hot button” issues such as women’s ordination, contraception, divorce and remarriage, abortion, homosexuality, or celibacy, as I noted in my blog Monday, did not seem of any concern to the three million youth, or to their beloved Pope Francis.

But, as usual, the press predictably brought these weary issues up, and have given them more ink than any of the other noble themes that rang through Copacabana Beach.  It’s not the Church that is obsessed with those topics, but the media!

And haunting all of the coverage is the hint that we now finally have a Pope who will change the Church’s ageless teaching.  Of course, Catholics know that the Pope, like all of us, is a servant of the truth of the Gospel, not a crafter.  Doctrine is a given; it is settled, inherited, faithfully passed on.  That’s his duty, and he’s sure doing it well.  As Gayle King commented during our interview on CBS This Morning yesterday, “This really seems a change in style rather than substance.”  Bingo!  And the change I find refreshing!

Then the very event of a Pope comfortably, glibly, confidently visiting and dialoguing with the press!  That in itself, as more than one journalist remarked to me here in New York, is what’s really “revolutionary.”

Respecting Religious Freedom

July 31st, 2013

Since I returned from Rio, I am catching up on some reading. I came across this insightful op-ed on religious freedom that was published last week’s Wall Street Journal.

Here is an excerpt:

A common theory about freedom of religion suggests that such a value is grounded in a modus vivendi, or compromise: People agree to respect each other’s freedom in order to avoid religiously motivated strife. But the modus vivendi theory obscures the deep ground of principle on which the right of religious liberty rests and the true reasons for respecting the religious freedom of others.

As a Republican and a Democrat on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, we are committed, with our colleagues, to advancing religious liberty around the globe. One of our goals is to make clear that such liberty is not simply a matter of sensible social compromise, or just an American ideal or a Western value, but an essential element of human dignity.

You can read the whole op-ed here.

In Memoriam: Lindy Boggs

July 30th, 2013

Just home yesterday from World Youth Days in Rio, with three million young people and Pope Francis, I am saddened to learn of the passing of one of the more gracious, influential people I’ve ever come to know, a woman at 97 still ever young, Lindy Boggs.

I came to know her when she served with such charm and effectiveness as the American ambassador to the Holy See.  There she told me that she relished the appointment when offered it by President Clinton, as it gave her the chance to work for two of the towering loves of her life, her Church and her country.

Or, as she quoted her daughter, Cokie, as remarking, “This job is made for you, mom, because you’ll get to do every day the two things you most enjoy:  going out for lunch, and Mass!”

I found her remarkably perceptive at the Vatican about issues of mutual concern to both the Holy See and the United States:  world hunger, disarmament, the plight of refugees, religious freedom, the rights of women and unborn babies, healthcare, education, human trafficking, and world peace.

She had worked hard on these concerns during her celebrated years in Congress, so, she was a natural.

And she could get by with calling everybody, even the most formal and stuffy cardinal, “Honey.”

Never will I forget a dinner I shared with her and Lady Bird Johnson at the Villa Richardson, the residence of the American ambassador, on a sultry Roman July evening.  I had just read an article about the heroic efforts of both women in working closely with their renowned husbands on civil rights in the mid-60’s, and about their courageous train tour through the South to encourage leaders to support civil rights legislation.  Over a “mint julip” – - Lindy’s home was the only place in Rome you could find one – - they reminisced, to my delight, over their lobbying.

I never knew her age – - she told me once that it was “the fourth secret of Fatima” – - but her energy left many in the dust.

Although she told me she was “baptized a Catholic – - and a Democrat!” she did not hide her high disappointment over her party’s abandonment of the right to life of the innocent baby in the womb, and wondered if that’s what kept her from the vice-presidential nomination in 1984.

Ambassador Boggs – - even though she kept insisting, I could never call this great woman “Lindy” (although I loved it when she called me “honey,”) – - tonight I toast you with a mint julep, as I commend you to the Lord you so loved and served.

And I’ll remember January 26, 1998, when the man you so revered, Blessed John Paul II, arrived in my hometown, St. Louis, for a visit. You were there, the caboose in a lengthy line of people President Clinton was introducing to the Holy Father.  When you stood before him, the President began, “Your Holiness, this is . . .,” but Pope John Paul II stopped him:  “I know her!  I love her!”

That’s infallible!  We all loved her.  Now, by God’s mercy, and the intercession of her friend, our blessed Mother, Mary, we trust God loves her forever!

Young People in Rio – Thanks!

July 29th, 2013

You did it again, dear participants in World Youth Days . . .

This was my sixth one.  Before each of them, I debate, should I go?  It’s so much trouble, travel, time; it will be unorganized and so jammed; there will be a lot of walking, waiting, and inconvenience . . . is it worth it?

Yes!  Monday morning, home safe and secure, after a glorious week in Rio, yes!   It was worth it!

You young people in Rio, you worked a miracle:  you made me young again!

Our Catholic faith is “ever ancient, ever new.”  At World Youth Days, you young people show us that the wise, tender, loving, grandmotherly Church, with teachings and traditions timeless, is also a dazzlingly beautiful young bride who enchants all of us.

In Rio I marveled at you:  standing in line waiting for us priests to hear your confessions, that dramatic occasion of the conversion of heart we all crave;

Kneeling silently before the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist;

Singing and embracing as you walked for miles in wind, rain, and chill (it was their winter);

Attentive at the three catechetical sessions I was privileged to lead, thoughtful in your questions and testimonies, so joyful and reverent at Mass;

And you got stronger, more and more enthusiastic, instead of fatigued and bored:  1½ million lining the Holy Father’s motorcade that “welcome ceremony” on Thursday; swelling to 2 million for that moving Stations of the Cross Friday; a crescendo of 3 million for Saturday’s vigil and Sunday Mass.

Copacabana, the three mile stretch of stunning beach, Rio’s jewel.  For carnivalé, Mardi Gras, it’s known for revelry and actions, I hear, less than noble.  Last week, it was the scene of prayer, virtue, friendship, Christian discipleship, solidarity in values and searching, exuberance in cheering the man who simply described himself as an “old pilgrim” among the young, Pope Francis.

You raised none of the “issues” flowing from ideologies or problems in the Church:  nothing about women’s ordination, priestly celibacy, same-sex marriage, the HHS mandate, even immigration or abortion.

You concentrated, not on issues, but on a Person:  the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ, your thirst for Him, your desire to know, love, and serve Him in His Church. He is the way, the truth, and a life! He is the answer to the question posed by every human life.

Today, back home, I’m tired, hoarse, coughing, sneezing, and out of clothes.  But, I am young again in my faith . . .

. . . thanks to you, Young People of World Youth Days in Rio! See you at the next one.

Remember Lampedusa!

July 16th, 2013

You probably didn’t even hear about it:  about a month ago, 12 refugees, fleeing war and poverty in their home, Africa, drowned at sea, victims, not only of a leaky, worn-out, wooden boat, but also of unscrupulous traffickers.  These poor folks were close to sanctuary on the tiny island of Lampedusa, just off the coast of Sicily.

You probably didn’t hear about it, right?  Tragically, it’s hardly news anymore, as the Mediterranean Sea has claimed 19,000 refugees the past 15 years alone.

One man did hear about it, and decided to do something about it:  Pope Francis. Last week, on July 8, he travelled to Lampedusa, his first trip outside of Rome as our Holy Father.

He wanted, he stated, to do penance for our callousness toward refugees, so he offered a Mass of Atonement there on the little island;

He wanted to thank the people of Lampedusa, because so many there have tried to welcome and care for the refugees;

Pope Francis desired to embrace those immigrants who had arrived, and are still in camps and shelters eager to start a new, secure life;

He especially wanted to “wake us up,” to remind the world that, when any human person is treated like trash, even starving, scared, oppressed Africans “on the run,” without anything but hope, all life is degraded!

You probably didn’t see much coverage of his one-day visit to this four mile-long island off Sicily, to this section of the sea that is now an aquatic cemetery to thousands of refugees.

That’s sad. . . because the Holy Father wanted to “wake us up.” Here he showed the tenderness he spoke of last March 19, when he began his service as pastor of the Church universal. The media mostly ignored it.

Something tells me that this Pope is not about to drop it. As Harry Bosch, the L.A. police detective in Michael Connelly’s series, repeats, “Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”

This Pope will not let us forget anybody:  the baby in the womb, the immigrant, the refugee, the beggar, the elders, the sick, the homeless and fleeing, the prisoners – – “Everybody counts… or nobody counts.”

Remember Lampedusa!  Cry for the victims; do penance for our ignoring their plight; resolve to welcome the immigrant and refugee.

Pope Francis… like Jesus, like St. Francis… is going to nag us about it!