To Christ Through His Church

Observations on the Synod regarding the New Evangelization

Feast of Blessed John XXIII

50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council

Opening of the Year of Faith

For us pastors from the United States, this fraternal gathering in Rome is a powerful reminder of how young we are!  We are just “babies” in the Church, when compared to the ancient churches of Rome, the Middle East, the Eastern Rites, and Europe.

Perhaps because of our youth, we have many reasons for hope and promise as we consider the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith in North America.

Here are some of those reasons:

For one, the United States is actually very religious, contrary to the caricature that it is a pagan, secular, materialistic country.  Not at all!  As Chesterton, the acclaimed British apologist, wrote, America “is a nation with the soul of a church.”  The very foundation of American life is the Jewish-Christian tradition.  Over 50% of Americans take the Sabbath seriously; over 90% of us believe in God, and consider the Bible a source of God’s wisdom and teaching; and over 80% believe Jesus to be divine.  As a recent poll demonstrated, the overwhelming majority of American citizens would have no problem voting for an evangelical, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, a Mormon, a Hindu, or a Buddhist as president – but never for an atheist!

Two, we still benefit immensely from immigration, with devoted Catholics arriving each day from, for instance, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.  They bring us wonderful people with a vibrant faith, strong families, who, upon arrival in America, search for welcoming parishes, where they are faithful to Sunday Mass and the sacraments.

Three, the Church in America is vigorous with sacred enterprises of charity and education, especially in care for the sick and our elders, in schools, and in agencies of service. These apostolates are ambassadors of evangelization.  Pope Paul VI remarked that men and women today learn more from witness than from words.  We attract folks to Jesus and His Church by radiating love.  Just look at the witness of our soon-to-be canonized Kateri Tekakwitha and Mother Mary Anne Cope.

Four, the clear, consistent teaching of the Catholic Church is well known, if at times misunderstood or attacked.  Even those who disagree with these teachings of the Church – and “their name is legion” – usually, at least, grudgingly admire the Church for her tenacious preaching on the dignity of human life; peace, justice, and charity; solicitude for the suffering of the world; and defense of marriage and the family.

These features give us confidence in the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith.

However…all is not rosy!  We have challenges to this sacred commission as well.

Let me list just a few:

For one, while we Americans are, as I noted above, religious by nature, there are undeniably present in our culture those that are not only irreligious but anti-religion.  These would be evident in some vocal segments of the entertainment industry, the press, academia, and even in government.

Such forces view faith — especially, pardon my thin-skin, the Catholic religion — as opposed to everything they see as liberating, enlightening, and progressive in the world, a repressive voice to be resisted and maligned.

For us, then, a genuine challenge of the New Evangelization is to present faith in Jesus as alive in His Church as we know Him and her really to be:  the premier force in history for all that is good, true, and beautiful in humanity.  As the Holy Father claims, the Church is a yes, instead of a no, to all that is honorable, noble, and decent in the human person.

Two, people today have no trouble believing, they tell us; but they’d rather not belong.  As a recent newspaper magazine cover put it, “Jesus, yes.  The Church, no.”

For us Catholics, such a choice is crazy.  As Saul/Paul learned on the Road to Damascus, Jesus Christ and His Church are one.  No wonder he would later compare the love of Jesus and His Church to that of a husband and a wife.  “What God has joined together” – husband and wife, Jesus and His Church – “we must not divide.”

In a recent interview, Joe Girardi, the manager of the Yankees, reported that, while he was raised a Catholic, he really never met or knew Jesus until he met his future wife, Kim.  While I can hardly question Joe’s report, as sad as I find it, I feel compelled to remind him that, literally, billions of people, for 2000 years, have found Jesus through another woman: not named Kim, but a woman known as the bride of Christ, Holy Mother Church.  Through her, they have been baptized into His death and resurrection, nourished by His own body and blood in the Eucharist, strengthened by the sacrament of confirmation, embraced by a supernatural family which includes both the saints of Heaven and friends who share faith and values here on earth.  This is the Church.

As the great French theologian, Henri du Lubac, asked “For what would I ever know of Him without her?”

Three, as we soberly acknowledge, we today confront a new opponent to the New Evangelization in recent bureaucratic, and judicial invasions against the deep American constitutional heritage of “our first and most cherished freedom,” religious liberty.  Recent intrusions upon the integrity of the Church, even presuming to define the nature of the Church’s ministers and ministries, imperil our right to live our faith, in obedience to Jesus, as a light to the world.

Especially toxic to the New Evangelization is the fad to reduce religion to a hobby, limited to Sunday morning, and not a normative, positive influence on everything we do, dream, and dare.  Religion is personal, yes; but it is hardly private.

Four, while the durable tradition of freedom in the United States has served the Church well, we now face a chilling reduction of liberty to libertarianism.    For some, this means a selfish callousness to the needs of those beyond our own little world, a stubborn claim that we only need tend to ourselves, nobody else, even those in need.  For others, this libertarianism means we have the unfettered right to do whatever we want, wherever, however, whenever, with whomever we want, unchained from any limit placed by ethics, morals, faith, or reason.  No divinity, no church, no faith, no natural law, they say, has any claim upon our urges and drives.

As Blessed John Paul II would remark, “Freedom is hardly the right to do whatever we want, but the ability to do what we ought.

A powerful force in America resists any ought, and is suspicious of any authority – including that proposed by the New Evangelization, Jesus and His Church – which would propose an “ought” tethering our freedom to responsibility and reason.

Here at the Synod on the New Evangelization, I am in awe of the more venerable churches of the world, which have millennia of experience.  We “baby” Americans are grateful to them for evangelizing us.  Now, we Americans are honored to be partners with them in the New Evangelization.

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10 Responses to “To Christ Through His Church”

  1. Cardinal Dolan, you are speaking my language. While I would like for our tribe called the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to grow, I most desire that we can work together in evangelization of our country.

    May God grant us the integrity to serve Him together for the glory of God and His Church on earth.

  2. Phil says:

    Hi Cardinal Dolan,

    For my taste, the best sentence in your article was…

    “Pope Paul VI remarked that men and women today learn more from witness than from words.”

    Pope Paul VI had it exactly right. People respond to the walking of the walk, more than the talking of the talk.

    When people say “Jesus yes, Church no” they are teaching us exactly how to reach them and bring them to Jesus. We should listen.

    They will respond to…

    Less talking of the talk, more walking of the walk. Less ideology, more love. Less Church, more Jesus.

    The Church is a means to an end, not an end in itself. When the Church starts becoming an obstacle to bringing people to love, it’s time to change the talking points.

    If I understand it, Catholic Charities is the second leading social service provider in the United States, a remarkable achievement.

    I hope you will trumpet this achievement at every opportunity, as I believe it to be the secret weapon at your disposal.

    You’re a salesman for Jesus. Just listen to what your prospects are telling you they will respond to and give them the stories they are asking to hear.

    They want to hear about love.

    Love in action.

    Not ideology and the Church.

  3. JoAnne says:

    Praise be to God,and Peace be with You!

    I am so excited,This is exactly what we need a swift smack in the back of the head to wake us up from this slumber. This is what the Lord meant by we all be one,new wine in new wine skin? or wine that has aged with beauty,fragrant full of body and depth and seeped in tradition ah sounds like sound doctrine which I would Love to drink slowly and engaged.Let us get off our Lazy buts and seek the Lord he is waiting!

  4. Joan says:

    Hi Cardinal Dolan, I have most often enjoyed your writings and i am compelled to write on this one.

    I love our church and I’m thinking I may have missed something or don’t understand this writing. I am perplexed why you find sadness in that Mr. Girardi met and came to know Jesus through his wife? Jesus came to us born of a woman. What about the Sacrament of Marriage and what it represents? I think it’s more than just a possibility that it was God’s plan and providence for Mr. Girardi to come to know Jesus in the way he did. No matter how or where… it’s that one lost sheep. Mr. and Mrs. Girardi live that life of manifestation of participation in the Divine life for us to see how they love one another.

    Woman was made as a suitable partner for man, flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone. His helper.

    Blessings ~

  5. Amy R. Salerno, MD says:

    And I, as a Catholic, do believe that the message of Jesus and his redeeming grace is often obscured by the unclear voice of evangelization of the Catholic Church! I know that Joe Girardi is not alone when he states that he came to an understanding of who Jesus is OUTSIDE the embrace of the Catholic Church. I myself found my faith in The Lord outside the Church. And I was, and continue to be, disappointed in how the church fais it’s flick in so many ways..

    Cardinal Dolan, with all due respect, please do not doubt the faith testimony of Joe Girardi.
    Rather, may I suggest that you might listen — with a humble heart — to his testimony. Instead of admonishing him, why not use his faith testimony to try to understand why so many Catholics are poorly informed and formed by the clergy of the church? Use his comments as an opportunity to reflect upon the deep flaws of the many humans who make up our Catholic Church — and in such humble reflections you might just find the supernatural inspiration to help the clergy and lay ministers learn to better catechize the flock.

    Each day I thank Gd for the many ways He manifests His saving message to me. Today it was Joe Girardi. Can you hear God speaking through Mr. Girardi also? Please try.

    Pax Christi

  6. Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, for a beautifully written, wonderfully reasoned essay of hope! May God bless you and lead you in leading us.
    Carolee Gifford

  7. frank powell says:

    Americans are religious people and they have a firm faith in Jesus. The mixed race is one of the factors which has benefited this cause tremendously.

  8. Americans are religious people and they have a firm faith in Jesus. The mixed race is one of the factors which has benefited this cause tremendously.

  9. J Dean says:

    Hi Cardinal,

    Dr. Amy’s comment is just loaded and definately worth a slow read through. It is my observation that the majority of people really don’t understand what or who the church is. And although your description includes the statement, “friends who share faith and values here on earth”, the statement is almost overshadowed by what and how most people in this world today see the Catholic Church today. Yes, the Sacraments are important. That’s Catholic, that’s fullness. However, without the organism of the Body of Christ, to the non-evangelized or uneducated observer, all that’s really left is a consumeristic view; a group of people filled with duplicity, a club of some kind. I hate that, it’s painful to me… I love our Church.

    That’s why living our faith, witness, is so important. It is Life in Him, it is Mercy he wants, not sacrifice. To love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

    Yes, discipline is critical and once one is evangelized and HE is alive and active in one’s heart of hearts, i think, desire to please God with one’s life comes a little more (super)naturally.

    One more thing, God is the Giver of Gifts, I think we’d agree on that. It scares me to think we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be in charge of the “life” of God’s Priestly line. Where is the faith in that?

  10. Linda Dailey says:

    Evangelism yes – triumphantialism no. Bishops need to remember that the Catholic Church does not equal the Reign of God. For some of us the Catholic Church is mother-in-law rather than mother as our primary relationship is to Christ.