Posts Tagged ‘Archbishop Dolan’

Blessings of the Fourth

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Hi readers, and welcome to the summer! Glad that you are all checking back – from my last post update you know that recently I have been busy assisting our Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan with his weekly radio broadcast “JustLove” on the work of the Church in the world on the Catholic Channel on Sirius/XM Radio. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve done some terrific shows on both the tragedy of the continuing oil spill in the Gulf, as well as a different kind of tragedy – a moral one – in the continued use of the practice of torture for last week’s observance of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. I’ll have more to say on both these topics in posts to come, but for now I’d like to share with you a bit about what we discussed on this week’s show which we dedicated to the observance of Independence Day. On this week’s show we had two guest – the eminent Federal Senior Circuit Judge John Noonan, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as well as Dr. Patrick Griffin, Professor of American History at the University of Notre Dame. Judge Noonan spoke eloquently of what he referred to as “the luster of our Country” – the legacy of religious liberty that we American’s enjoy as a consequence of the First Amendment of our Federal Constitution – and Professor Griffin discussed some little known facts regarding the American Revolution – including the contribution of Catholics to the cause of American Independence.

While doing some of the background research for the show, I have to be honest and admit how astonished I was at the level of bigotry that existed against Catholics among the population of what was then the 13 colonies of the nascent United States:  at the time of the Revolutionary War, only three of the original 13 colonies allowed Catholics to vote; all New England Colonies except Rhode Island and the Carolinas prohibited Catholics from holding office; Virginia would have Catholic priests arrested for entering the colony; and Catholic schools were banned in every state save Pennsylvania. In the late 1760s and early 1770s, colonists routinely celebrated “anti-Pope days”, an anti-Catholic festival derived from the English Guy Fawkes Day (named for a Catholic who attempted to assassinate King James I and blow up the entire British Parliament – and these “festivals” included mock hangings and burnings of effigies of the Pope, as well as cartoons and orations linking the Pope to the devil and his minions. In fact, a little known action of the British Parliament in 1774 helped fuel some of this anti-Catholic sentiment and caused tremendous anxiety in the populace of the 13 colonies: in that year, the Parliament passed the Quebec Act – an enlightened law that let the Catholic Church remain the official Church of Quebec. This action on the part of Parliament appalled and terrified many American colonists, who assumed that this was a British attempt to subjugate them religiously by allowing the loathsome Catholics to expand into their colonies. In fact, no less of an American patriot then Alexander Hamilton said of this action of Parliament that “Does not your blood run cold to think that an English Parliament should pass an Act for the establishment of arbitrary power and Popery in such an extensive country?…Your loves, your property, your religion are all at stake!”

Thankfully, the great man George Washington rejected this Catholic bashing – though mostly for practical,  not philosophical, reasons: he was one of the first to recognize that a revolution based upon “liberty” would need to encompass a new approach to religious freedom. In addition, as Commander in Chief, Washington had to contend with the fact that Catholics were among the volunteers who were members of the Continental Army. Because of this fact, on September 14, 1775 Washington banned the burning of effigies of the Pope on “Pope Day”; and in fact, the practice of burning the Pope in effigies disappeared as a result of this decree. As a result of this tolerance, Catholic soldiers shed blood for the American cause: the Maryland militia was brimming with Catholics who helped thwart British raids from Virginia, and among the soldiers who had gone to aid Boston in its hour of need were Catholics from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In considering this little known but critical part of our own Nation’s history, I thought of how funny it was that despite how much some things change, other things remain the same. Folks who may be reading this in other parts of the country may not be aware, but in the past few months there has been a lot of intense opposition to the Muslim community here in New York City building houses of worship for their members – both in the Brooklyn Diocese as well as here in the Archdiocese of New York in lower Manhattan and in Staten Island. In voicing opposition to these plans, some opponents have cited traffic concerns, but the overwhelming amount of objections have focused on more intangible and frankly volatile issues including:  fear of terrorism, a distrust of Islam generally and a linkage between these two concerns in protesters minds. The recent case of the Times Square bomber has only exacerbated the situation. In response to these situations and the concerns that they raise, Archbishop Dolan wisely wrote in his blog that there are “legitimate and understandable concerns…about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build…(but) what is not acceptable is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American (and for us Catholics, the religious) virtues of hospitality, welcome and religious freedom”.

I have to be honest that on reflecting on these situations, I have a personal history that very much effects my position on these matters. Frequent readers may recall that I have several Muslims among that great community of people that I call my friends; in fact there is a particular person in that community whom I consider one of my closest friends. I have mentioned him in a previous posting here before , and in fact – coincidentally – it was at a party on the Fourth of July I first met him. As with every human relationship be it at home in our families, at work or at play, our friendship has had its ups and downs. In fact – right at the moment – our friendship is going through a rough patch, the roots of which are – as with disagreements between friends – poorly chosen words, misunderstood actions, and hurt feelings. Added to that are some particular challenges and difficulties that come from being from two different places with different languages, cultures and customs. Still, difficult and challenging does not equal impossible. When it comes to arguments with family and friends, its always been my belief that the best thing to do is to extend to the other person “the benefit of the doubt” – for me, the relationship is almost always more valuable then the conflict that threatens it.

In a funny kind of way, this is exactly I think where some of the difficulties I discussed above have both their origin and at least some possible solution. I am almost certain that many of the people who oppose the Muslim community building a mosque in their neighborhood do so out of a place of fear and unfamiliarity, many – if not most – I’m sure do so with vivid memories of the horrors that our city endured on September 11, 2001 fresh in their minds. I share those memories as well. I also however share other memories: memories of good times shared with good friends – friends who are good people who may pray differently then I do, but who share a belief in a God who is Father to us all. I am mindful that the same prejudice that my good friends must endure today because of the unconscionable actions of 19 young men who were raised in the same faith that they were is of a kind with the prejudice that my ancestors in colonial New York may have encountered because of their faith as well. We should not forget that much of the prejudice that the non-Catholic, mostly Protestant population of the 13 colonies felt towards Catholics was born out of memories of religious persecution and wars that raged all over Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries – at the hands of both Protestant and Catholic forces. There is a reason that the Rolling Stones, in their Rock and Roll anthem “Sympathy for the Devil, put the line “I watched with glee while your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the gods they made” in the voice of Satan; no theologians they, Mick Jagger and his band knew that God – the loving Father of the whole human race – would never countenance killing in his name.

As regards my friend and the difficulty that we recently encountered in our friendship; it is this day one of my sincerest hopes that he and I can extend to one another the “benefit of the doubt”, mend the fences that were broken, and resume to enjoy the great times, conversations and laughs that we enjoyed in the past; in a similar way, I believe it would be a wonderful thing if we collectively could  – in this season of Independence Day – follow in the footsteps of George Washington, and in the spirit of the “Father of Our Country”  extend to another community that worships God a bit differently then ourselves the “benefit of the doubt”, mindful of the wonderful spirit of religious liberty and tolerance that truly gives a “luster to our Country”.

Fireworks on the banks of the Tiber….

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Ciao, dear readers. I apologize for the longish interlude between this post and my last, but one of the things that I have been doing in the interim was spending two magnificent weeks with my family and friends in the beautiful country of Italy. Traveling as one of the almost 200 who made the journey to Rome to witness our new shepard, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, receive the pallium of his office as Archbishop from Pope Benedict XVI back on June 29th (link), I really feel as if my time there was as much a pilgrimage as a vacation. My very first trip to Rome, I can’t begin to tell you the excitement I felt as I walked up the broad boulevard of the Via Della Conciliazione on that bright sunny morning and got my first glimpse of the iconic dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica. As I walked further down that broad street built by Mussolini and entered past the curving majesty of Bernini’s Colonnade to enter St. Peter’s Square, I was struck with the fact that – despite its immenseness size – the church itself did not overwhelm me; instead, I felt the beauty of the space and the Mass (link) welcome me – the sweep of the Colonnade on either side of me feeling like the arms of a friend reaching out in a warm embrace, the beautiful music, prayers and song lifting my spirit like the words of a dear loved one. Although far from New York, I felt right at home – and being able to sharing the Sign of Peace and the Eucharist with so many fellow Catholics from all over the world brought the universality of the Church and its teachings on Solidarity home to me in ways I had never quite experienced before. This tremendous feeling of welcome was only magnified later that day after the Mass when we were able to attend the reception held at the North American College for the five U.S. Archbishops who received the pallium along with Archbishop Dolan; from the hospitality shown by the seminarians to the warm greeting that our new Shepard extended to everyone who came up to congratulate him, the experiences of that day will stay in my memory forever.

Because tradition dictates that Archbishops receive the pallium on the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), it was unfortunately necessary for me to be out of the country this year for the Fourth of July. Generally, I don’t like to be away on Independence Day – I’m a real lover of all of the pomp and patriotism that holiday represents (not to mention the fireworks and my Dad’s barbeques!) I remembered the last time we were out of the country for the Fourth we were – somewhat ironically – in England for the holiday. At the time, when we had gone out to supper at the local pub, we thought it wise not to be too demonstrative in our celebration lest we raise a potentially sore subject to our hosts. We, of course, could not have been more mistaken – once our hostess had figured out that we were from the States, we were overwhelmed with well-wishers who made a particular point to come over and chat with the folks from one of the “thirteen rebellious colonies”, making that one of our most memorable Fourth of July’s ever. I kept wondering what the celebration of the Fourth in Italy would be like – would there be similar well-wishers, would there be fireworks along the Tiber River the way there was along the East River back home (only perhaps in red, white and green as opposed to the traditional colors). As Independence Day came in Italy – and the hot, dry day turned into a cool, clear night – I looked up to the night sky and saw no fireworks: only the beautifully lit dome of Saint Peter’s reflected in the river and the stars twinkling above. Instead of the traditional loud noises and the oohhhs and aaahhs of the crowd, there was only silence, broken occasionally by the whine of a vespa’s engine carrying it’s owner home after a days work. I was actually grateful for this silence: it gave me the opportunity to prayerfully contemplate the day’s meaning in ways that if I were at home I probably never would have. As I stared out of Saint Peter’s – dominating the Roman skyline – I thought of some significant similarities between my home in New York and the Eternal City: both considered “empire” cities, both perceived as at the pinnacle of their respective cultures, both attacked in uncivilized manners because of their perceived importance – and yet, both these great cities survived and carried on. Of course there are some very profound differences as well – Rome is well over 2,000 years old with ruins and monuments of multiple civilizations all over the city, the facades of its buildings sturdy, solid, low and old, where as New York is barely over 400 years old, the facades of its buildings tall, sleek, shiny and new, and where squabbles are still take place about what the appropriate monument should be at the construction site in lower Manhattan where our most terrible tragedy occurred – and only within this decade.

Thinking about these two great cities on Independence Day – and their similarities and differences – got me thinking about two significant components of my personality that evening: I thought first of Rome – of its age, its enduring nature and permanence – the arms of the Bernini Colonnade reaching out – and then I thought of our Roman Catholic faith. Following up on this, I then thought of “home” – of New York and America – the spires of our skyscrapers reaching up, our nation’s relative newness and promise in the family of nations, our love of freedom and our American pragmatism and the opportunity for a new life that she extends to newcomers. As I contemplated these two major “components” of what makes me authentically “me”, I was awash with gratitude that God had allowed me the blessing to be born in these circumstances – as a Catholic and an American – and at this time. There are those who would view being born into either of these circumstances as more of an affliction then a blessing: on one side, those who view the ancient moral and social teachings of the Church as “out of date” and “oppressive”, on the other, those who see America as an amoral nation awash in licentiousness. Frankly, I think that people who view matters this way have misunderstood the nature of our God-given gift of human freedom, and the tremendous responsibility that this gift imparts us with. As Americans, we are wonderfully blessed – by our Constitutional rights to free speech, religious liberty, to assembly, to petition our government – to have a unique opportunity shape our nation’s policies and laws through our democratic institutions. These rights of course, impose upon us considerable responsibility. Our previous Pope, the great John Paul II, said it best in the homily he gave at Orioles Park in 1995 when he said, “America has always wanted to be a land of the free. Today, the challenge facing America is to find freedom’s fulfillment in the truth: the truth that is intrinsic to human life created in God’s image and likeness, the truth that is written on the human heart, the truth that can be known by reason and can therefore form the basis of a profound and universal dialogue among people and the direction they must give to their lives and their activities…it is important for America that the moral truths which make freedom possible should be passed on to each new generation. Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”(link)

While I was in Rome, the two most powerful representatives of these “bookends” of my personal make-up met on July 10: Pope Benedict XVI and President Barack Obama (link). Many in the media on both sides of the Atlantic thought – because of fundamental disagreements on the meaning of human life and dignity – that this meeting would be confrontational, a veritable clash of the titans, with a winner leaving victorious and a looser vanquished. Instead, the meeting was cordial and genial – the two world leaders discussed matters of great importance: concerns of social justice, disarmament, the Middle East and Cuba, as well as violations of the dignity of human life like stem cell research and abortion. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Pope gave President Obama a copy of the document “Dignitas Personae” (link) – which explains in detail the Church’s defense of life from conception until natural death, and urged the President to read it. In doing so, the Pope demonstrated that he correctly understands the nature of human freedom. Through his appeal to the President as one man to another the Pope was showing that we authentically exercise God’s gift of freedom – “the right to do what we ought” – through ongoing engagement and reasoning together person to person. It is a responsibility that all Baptized Catholics share, and it’s a lesson that we all sorely need to learn today – on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some Change We Really Can Believe In

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

By the time this is posted, our new Archbishop, Timothy Michael Dolan, will be in his office for a little over a week; in that short amount of time, he has certainly taken the City (and its environs) by storm! Already termed “The Happy Bishop” by the New York news media (link), in just eight days Archbishop Dolan has already seen a Yankee game, distributed food to the hungry at a Catholic Charities run food pantry, visited incarcerated women at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, and preached a Sunday homily from what is arguably the most prestigious pulpit in American Catholicism. The Archbishop began his tenure a week ago Wednesday in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral at a three hour Mass that displayed all of the beauty, pageantry, magisterial ritual and continuity of Roman Catholicism. ( In that packed Church, a Papal Representative, fellow Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious Men and Woman, Ecumenical Representative and leaders from other religious traditions, a Governor, current and former Mayors, Senators, Congressmen, State Representatives, dignitaries and ordinary parishioners – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – joined with many others who watched the coverage on all the New York media outlets at home, and together they participated in what could authentically be called the “inauguration” of the spiritual leader of the 2.5 million Catholics of the Archdiocese of the New York or, as Pope John Paul II termed the office, the “Archbishop of the Capital of the World”.

The evening before the official Liturgy of Installation, I had the great pleasure of being at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for the somewhat more intimate but no less beautiful event where the people of the Archdiocese welcomed then Archbishop-Designate Dolan to his Cathedral Church. Called a “Canonical Possession“, this millennium old ceremony began with Archbishop Dolan knocking at the great bronze doors of Saint Patrick’s with a hammer; when he had completed his third series of knocks, the Cathedral doors were opened to him and he was greeted by a thunderous round of applause as he entered the bright warmth of his new “See” Church from the damp cold April evening air outside. He began his long march up the center aisle up to the sanctuary, and a solemn prayer service began. (link)

A couple of days later, I was having a conversation with several good friends before dinner, and I began to recount to them my experience of the previous two days. At first when we were “catching up” with each other’s recent experiences, and I told the group that I had attended a “Canonical Possession“, some of my listeners – who were less then familiar with official Ecclesial language – gave me a quizzical look and questioned whether I was going on an expedition to recover an artifact from a sunken warship or Revolutionary battlefield. I quickly cleared up their confusion by explaining the ceremony to them, and elaborated on the wonderful words that the Archbishop used – both in the Cathedral and in the print media that day – to describe his sense of his mission.

Far from being a parapet from which to attack that my friend’s comical misunderstanding could connote, the Archbishop’s words that day instead were that he would approach his office as an instrument of God’s abundant love. In an Op-Ed piece published that day for the New York Daily News, he stated in part that he “aim(s) to be a happy bishop, sharing joys and laughs…You will see me at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and…the new Yankee Stadium, and at processions and feast days and barbecues across our almost 400 parishes”. (link) Upon hearing this, my friends were all heartened, and for good reason: with all of the tremendous difficulties that our city, our country and world have experienced in the past several years – the events of September 11th and terrible loss of life here, the two wars that those events precipitated and which both still continue, the shrinkage and near collapse of the world’s economy, and the terrible abuse crisis within our Church that still shakes the foundation of faith for so many – we have so seldom needed a “happy bishop” to lead us more.

In the week that has followed, our new Archbishop has shown that what he wrote and said on the occasion of his Installation were not merely words, but instead a plan of action. On Friday April 17th, Archbishop Dolan visited the Catholic Charities Emergency Food Program (one of more then 50) and Rusty Staub Mobile Food Van at the Highbridge Community Life Center in the Bronx; located in the poorest congressional district in the United States, the food pantry is a collaboration between Catholic Charities and the Rusty Staub Foundation and provides nutritious meals to over 500 hungry New York families a year (link). While there, the Archbishop helped distributed food and blessed dozens of people who rushed forward to meet him. When asked why he was there by the media, the Archbishop answered plainly saying that the work of Catholic Charities “…is where the Church shows its love and compassion”. Several days later, when he visited New York State’s only maximum security prisons for women, he reiterated what he had said further, stating that Jesus will not judge him as Archbishop based upon a visit to Yankee Stadium or a Sermon from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s, but instead “He is going to say, “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was in prison, you came to see me…” (link).

In his Op-Ed in the Daily News, Archbishop Dolan proclaimed his love for the Church in plain language, telling us that he “love(s) being a Catholic”; he then invited us to share in this love reminding us that “loving the Church means supporting her indispensable work caring for the poor, the immigrants, the sick and elderly, the lonely, the unborn and the abandon….It means speaking…for justice and peace, for religious liberty and the sanctity of all human life.” In finishing, Archbishop Dolan promised to teach “the Catholic faith in season and out of season, as a good Shepard must…reminding New Yorkers that they must welcome God to this “capital of the world” as warmly as they have welcomed so many others.”

2009 has been a year that has witnessed some marked changes in our society – some of them have been billed as the kind we “can believe in”. Witnessing the appointment of Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan and having heard about his activities within the past week, I am filled with God’s hope that here in this Archdiocese of New York, we can wholly embrace that phrase as true statement, and proclaim it to others on behalf of our beloved Church…yes, we can!