Posts Tagged ‘New York’

A Beautiful Public Observance of Faith

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

One of the things I’ve most come to appreciate during my 5 ½ years as Archbishop of New York is just how seriously our Jewish neighbors approach their holy days.   Traffic is lighter, things quiet down a bit in this hectic City, as the observance of these solemn days begin.  Whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, or any religion – or no particular religion at all – this public observance of faith being lived out is a beautiful example that we can all admire.  It is a joy and an honor for me to be able to offer my prayerful best wishes to all the Jewish family, as today they celebrate  the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, followed by the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, and, finally, the Festival of Sukkot, the ever-timely reminder of God’s providence and care for His people.

We are fortunate that, here in New York, there exists such a warm and close relationship between the many different faith communities that call this City home.  We saw that most recently when I was asked by Mayor DiBlasio to host a meeting of religious leaders, brought together to help find a way to reduce tension at a difficult time. We all agreed, however, that our gathering must not be simply in response to a particular “crisis” but must instead be the occasion for the beginning of an ongoing effort to continue and expand the efforts each faith group was making to serve God through our service to those around us.

Today, far too often, we see religion portrayed as being responsible for division and separation, and a cause for hatred and violence.  Last Sunday, in Albania, Pope Francis declared, “Let no one use God as a ‘shield’ while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!”  Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, this twisted interpretation of religion is a reality.  We are blessed that we New Yorkers know from our shared experience that religion can be the foundation of tolerance, understanding, and unity.  Would that our experience be a model for others to follow!

Of course, Jews and Catholics in New York have long enjoyed a special relationship that extends back decades, built upon a joint dialogue that has resulted in mutual respect, and friendship.   I have personally come to appreciate the beauty of that friendship as, for instance, I have lit a candle on the menorah at Temple Emanu-El, hosted a gathering at my residence of Jewish leaders to discuss the visit of the Pope to a Synagogue in Rome, attended a Passover seder, or accepted the gift of a granite bench from the ADL in commemoration of the wonderful spirit of interfaith understanding between Catholics and Jews.  I am grateful to my predecessors as Archbishop of New York, as I am to those leaders of the Jewish community, whose work bravely brought us closer together at a time when relationships were not as strong, nor the atmosphere as open for dialogue as it is today.

While each of the Jewish holy days and festivals has special meaning, I am particularly inspired each year by Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for sins, and a recognition of God’s great mercy towards His people.  There are, of course, parallels in Christian practices.  I am reminded of Lent and Holy Week in the Christian calendar, where we reflect on our sins, and, for Catholics and many other denominations, are encouraged in a special way to participate in the Sacrament of Confession (Reconciliation), and to engage in fasting and acts of self-sacrifice.  Who can forget the many times that Pope Francis has spoken of the great and tender mercy of God.  All of these find their roots in the Jewish call for examining our lives, acknowledging our sinfulness, seeking reconciliation with God and neighbor, and undergoing a personal conversion of heart.

What message could be more timely for us today than one that reminds us of the need to own up to our shortcomings and seek God’s help for doing better in the future.  It’s easy to think of conversion of heart as something that other people need to do, and we are especially reminded during UN week that there are many troubled spots in our world, places like Syria, or the Ukraine, for instance, where it is easy to pray that God will bring about a change of heart and peace will come.  But what about conversion in our own hearts and lives?  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that shining symbol of holiness and self-sacrifice, said it best when she was once asked, “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” She replied, simply, “Me.”  All of us, starting with yours truly, need to ask: Am I living up to what I profess? Where do I fall short and what about my life needs changing?  It’s at the heart of Yom Kippur, and a welcome reminder to us all.

So, as we wish our Jewish brothers and sisters a peaceful and prayerful celebration of their High Holy Days, we also thank them for reminding us of the reality of sin and necessity of conversion.

 

Science and Spirit

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

This past weekend, the New York Times printed a story about a remarkable doctor in New York City who exhibits deep spiritual faith. Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the care of children, is an inspiration and  a wonderful role model to all. I was really amazed with his ongoing effort to bridge faith and science in his everyday life. I encourage everyone to read this article.

Here is an excerpt:

Dr. Dutkowsky has made efforts to bridge the chasm between science and spirit. As president of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, he had the Rev. David Farrell, a Catholic priest who has worked among Peru’s poor since 1964, address the group’s convention last year on the topic of “Poverty and Disability.” That same year, on his third pilgrimage to Lourdes, Dr. Dutkowsky took part in a conference on faith and medicine, delivering a speech he titled “Dignity and Disability.”

He took the occasion to wrestle with the ontological question embodied by the unmerited suffering of patients like Mike and Christian.

“For years, when asked why I chose this profession, I had no good answer,” he said, “until I came upon the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who was blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Did this man or his parents sin that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered that the blindness was not the result of the man or his parents’ sin. The man was born blind ‘so the glory of God might be revealed.’ Every day in my work I find myself in the revealed glory of God.”

You can read the whole article here.

Unpleasant Truths

Friday, February 25th, 2011

I’ve known for a long time that I should lose some weight.  So, last week, I visited my doctor, and he showed me a gross, disgusting, dripping ball of yellow wax.  “This,” he said to me, “is what ten pounds of fat looks like.  This is what you’re carrying around in your body.”  Was it upsetting?  Unnerving?  Sobering?  You bet it was.   It was also true, and it was effective, as it strengthened my resolve to get my weight under control.

Being confronted by the truth can often be unpleasant.  That’s why those who fight so hard to eradicate world hunger will show us what hunger does, with a picture of a starving child, covered with flies and sores. Does it disturb us to face that truth, an image we’d rather not see or think about?  It should, even as it spurs us to action.

It’s the same with smoking.  I’m sure you’ve seen those television commercials that graphically portray the effects of smoking.  It’s unpleasant to look at open heart surgery, or a pair of diseased lungs, or to see a person who has lost fingers, toes, or the esophagus, all due to smoking.   The ads are nauseating, even hideous, to see.  But the New York State Department of Health, among many others, sponsors these kinds of ads because they know that they can help to save lives.

Another ad has been generating some fierce reactions.  Here in New York, a billboard was recently displayed, that simply stated “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” This message was accompanied by a photograph of a young, African-American girl.

Is that message unpleasant?  Is it upsetting?  Does it get our attention?

Yes!

Because the message is somberly true. The City of New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently released its vital statistics from a year ago which showed that 59.8% of African-American pregnancies in New York City ended in abortion. That’s even higher than the chilling city-wide average of 41% of pregnancies ending in abortion. (I joined other community leaders from a diversity of religious and ethnic backgrounds at a press conference sponsored by the Chiaroscuro Foundation about this a few weeks ago.)

So why has the billboard suddenly been taken down? What was it that moved many of our elected officials to condemn this ad and call for the gag order. Are they claiming that free speech is a right enjoyed only by those who favor abortion or their pet causes? Do they believe that unpleasant and disturbing truths should not be spoken? Or are they afraid that when people are finally confronted with the reality of the horror of abortion, and with the toll that it is taking in our city, particularly in our African-American community, that they will be moved to defend innocent, unborn, human life?

Perhaps I’m more saddened by this intolerance right now because on Monday I will be celebrating the funeral mass for Doctor Bernard Nathanson, that giant of the pro-life movement, who died earlier this week. If you don’t know Dr. Nathanson’s story, you should. At one time, he fought hard to promote and expand abortion on demand in this state and in our country. He was one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League.  He ran what he called the “largest abortion clinic in the Western world,” and bragged about personally performing thousands of abortions. But, when Dr. Nathanson was confronted with the undeniable truth, when he could see the unborn baby in the womb through the use of ultrasound technology, he abandoned his support for abortion and became a crusader for the protection of the life of the baby in the womb.

His courage and bravery should be an inspiration to us, especially when we have to face unpleasant and sobering truths.