Cardinal Dolan on “The Law of the Gift”

The Catholic University alumnus spoke to its graduating class this weekend:

Just six days ago, Pope Benedict XVI, in addressing bishops from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming, spoke warmly of Catholic education here in the United States, and of the need of our Catholic colleges and universities “ . . . to reaffirm their distinctive identity in fidelity to their founding ideals and the Church’s mission in service to the Gospel.”

The Holy Father showed a somber realism, though, when he expanded that need to include “ . . . ecclesial communion and solidarity in the Church’s educational apostolate, becoming all the more evident when we consider the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership . . .”

Is not a big part of our gladness and pride this happy morning of graduation a grateful recognition that this university does indeed exude such “ecclesial communion and solidarity?” That this university is both Catholic and American, flowing from the most noble ideals of truth and respect for human dignity that are at the heart of our Church and our country? That a university’s genuine greatness comes not from pursuing what is most chic, recent, or faddish, but what is most timeless, true, good, and beautiful in creation and creatures? That the true goal of a university is to prepare a student not only for a career but for fullness of life here and in eternity?

Some might wonder if Pope Benedict’s description of a university is way too impractical; if a university can be really Catholic and American; if the genuine freedom a university demands can flourish on a campus whose very definition includes a loyalty to Holy Mother Church . . . well, to them I say, as you and I did, “Let them come to Brookland!” This university you can now, with me, call alma mater, at the heart of our nation, is also ex corde ecclesiae, at the heart of the Church. For that I am most proud.

The Holy Father mentions not only truth as being at the core of the mission of a Catholic university, but also love. And so I want to tell you about a wonderful woman named Clara Almazo. Just a little over a month ago, Clara and her little eight year old grandson, Michael, were walking home from Holy Thursday Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Staten Island. As they crossed the street, a car barreled toward them, with little Michael in the crosshairs. His abuela, Grandma Clara, pushed her grandson away to safety, taking herself the whole force of the car, and was instantly killed.

Clara’s selfless act of heroic love was, as you might imagine, the tearful talk of New York over the Easter weekend. No one failed to note that her life-giving act was made the more poignant as it came on the night before Jesus died, returning from the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper, when He predicted His own sacrificial death, and where he gave the touching example of selfless service in washing the feet of His apostles.

When I celebrated her funeral on Easter Tuesday, every one of her 13 children and 23 grandchildren were profoundly sad; but not one of them was surprised, for through their sobs, they told me she was a woman of constant, heroic, selfless giving.

Jesus Christ . . . His Church . . . this university . . . Clara Almazo . . . truth . . . love . . . the words of Pope Benedict . . . the achievement and the hopes of the Class of 2012 . . .

Let me try to bring all of these together with the coherence I learned at this University.

Might I suggest these all coalesce in what we call the Law of the Gift.

“Greater love than this no one has, than to give one’s life for one’s friends.” There’s the Law of the Gift as defined by the Son of God Himself.

“It is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” There’s the Law of the Gift as chanted by St. Francis.

“I know Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life for others. I understand well the meaning of the cross. I am ready to give up my life for my people.” There’s the Law of the Gift as stated by Shabaz Bhatti, a Catholic who served as federal minister for religious minorities in Pakistan.

“For we are at our best, we are most fully alive and human, when we give away freely and sacrificially our very selves in love for another.” There’s the Law of the Gift as described by Blessed John Paul II.

Not long ago at a dinner I sat next to Admiral Mike Mullen, a Marine, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, himself a Catholic, who asked me, “What percent of the American population is Catholic?”

I replied, “I’m not sure exactly but I think about 24%.”

“But do you realize,” he went on, “that 40% of the Marine Corps identify themselves as Catholic?”

I did not realize that, but I was not surprised, nor was Admiral Mullen, for at the heart of the Church’s ethos is the Law of the Gift, and it would be tough to be a Marine — or to be an abuela like Clara Almazo — if you didn’t believe in that.

Or, as the head of the department of pediatric oncology at a leading hospital recently told me, “Cardinal Dolan I’m not even a religious believer, but, when I hire doctors, nurses, attendants, or staff for this grueling work of trying to heal kids with cancer, the applicants who are alumni of Catholic school have a leg up.”

I didn’t know that either, but, I’m hardly surprised, for, while it’s sure not listed in any catalogue, the course on the Law of the Gift is part of the DNA of any Catholic school, this sterling one included.

So, I conclude that all of you, at this university where every classroom features the most effective audio-visual aid of them all, the crucifix; and where the entire campus is overshadowed by the dome of the shrine devoted to the Jewish woman who whispered, “Be it done unto me according to your will, not mine,” that I’m looking out at graduates who have majored in this Law of the Gift.

Read the entire text here.


  1. friscoeddie says:

    Of course Admiral Mike Mullen was not a Marine but probably most of the other stuff spoken was mostly true.
    ““Cardinal Dolan I’m not even a religious believer, but, when I hire doctors, nurses, attendants, or staff for this grueling work of trying to heal kids with cancer, the applicants who are alumni of Catholic school have a leg up.”
    Just like J Edgar Hoover said about Catholic alumni… It’s because they were trained to follow orders. {not a compliment in these times folks]

  2. The photo of the cardinal is such a reminder of Batman!! With his bright red cape fully flowing in the wind, Cardinal Dolan is now the NEW Defender of “Gotham” The Catholic Church of USA!!!

  3. Therese Z says:

    The fire fighters and police officers who charged up the World Trade Center stairs were disproportionately Catholic. True, they are also probably disproportionately Irish and Italian which skews the percentage, but just because those were the original ethnicities to load the fire and police departments, city jobs open to them when they arrived, doesn’t mean that it would stay that way after nearly 100 years. The urge to serve doesn’t change.

  4. I have heard that from many employers over the years. Catholic school alumni were known to be able to write in complete, understandable sentences.

  5. Barbara P says:

    I don’t understand the use of the Marines to illustrate Catholic love. While I respect their service and dedication, and accept that in this imperfect world military strength may be necessary, they are trained to kill their enemies not love them. What am I missing?

  6. The speech was rather light-weight intellectually, and although he attempted to tie it all together, with a theme of “Law of the Gift”, it was a series of non sequitur. I am sorry to see that he (of course) endorses the Pope’s wish to bring Catholic institutions of higher learning to heel under Vatican bureaucrats (as many if not most US Catholic institutions are resisting), and he made a brief plug to the graduates about the faux assaults on “religious freedom”. However, I am sure that it was jovially delivered, and it sure could have been worse.

  7. pagansister says:

    GP—the comment you made about Cardinal Dolan’s cape was the first thought that came to my mind also. I also thought he just looked like he was getting ready to fly away—

  8. I am happy to see he endorses the Pope’s wish to bring Catholic institutions of higher learning into conformity with Catholic belief and teaching.Any university that doesn’t should no longer be called Catholic. Of course Catholic University isn’t a Jesuit or Holy Cross University.
    As for it being “light weight” intellectually he was trying to relate to some of the commenters here.

  9. The Vatican is seeking control of the lives of individuals in every way it may achieve, whether through civil laws affecting everyone, be they Catholic or non-catholic, and even through a control of the university system. The Vatican has very little understanding or appreciation of American traditions of academic freedom and intellectual pursuit. It is quite one thing to control the content of a curriculum in a seminary, but entirely another to control the faculty and course content of colleges and universities for a general student body, Catholic and non-Catholic, in diverse subject matters. The Vatican proposal would diminish the standing of all Catholic colleges and universities, and devalue the excellent work and quality of scholarship that they produce without such interference. Although you are “happy to see” such Vatican meddling, can you name the precise problems, specific professors, exact publications, enumerate the heresies, that this is meant to address?

  10. I’m finding more and more of what he says to be non sequitur. Perhaps once he gets all of the first-time-as-cardinal events out of the way he will deliver more content than stand-up.
    That said, I thought his almost-under-his breath comment about only recently finishing up the payment of his tuition to be humorous. Certainly not true, in that he was sent to study… but humorous.

  11. Vatican meddling? Oh you must mean the Catholic resistance to the HHS dictate from his un-Godliness, president BO. You must be capable of looking below the surface to see that the water is deep fool. BTW: I doubt you couldn’t match wits with Cardinal Dolan on an off day.

  12. The Vatican isn’t seeking to control anyone (unlike our current aadministration) it is seeking to make universities that call themselves Catholic –Catholic. If one does not want to be exposed to Catholic teaching then don’t go there. Some of the oldest colleges and universities in America are Catholic institutions so they are part of the so-called American tradition.
    How many specifics do you need? Inviting those who are contradicting Catholic teaching to speak at graduation? Professors who contradict teaching in theology classes? Ever hear of McBrien? How many of our young people have lost their faith after attending Catholic colleges?

  13. “Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.107″ (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

  14. Also, one must remember that Love is the self-giving to the beloved. Marines and all our servicemen give themselves in sacrifice to the beloved people of this great Country, thus exemplifying true Love.

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