Al Smith, American Royalty, and Keeping Calm UPDATED

I’ve always loved politics – I even worked in politics during one of my summer breaks during college.  I love the back and forth, I love the debating, the exchange of ideas.  I love the way it can – when done well build us up as a country.  How rarely that happens anymore!  How often do we instead try to tear each other down.  The one up-manship is not only detracting from real issues but is hurting our relationship as children of God.  Cheap shots help no one.  The discussion of real issues is where we need to be.  Where we need to get back to.

What brings all this up – aside from the presidential election?  The Al Smith Dinner.

I’ve always wanted to go to the Al Smith dinner – most especially during a presidential election year.  It has always stuck out in my mind as about as close to an American royal gathering as possible.  The most important political figures surrounded by the most important ecclesiastical figures in our country.  White tie.  The Whaldorf Astoria hotel.  The Al Smith Dinner is about as apolitical an event can be with the heads of both presidential tickets can be – it’s a fundraiser for Catholic Charities.

This year though, after both President Obama and Governor Romney accepted invitations to speak outrage ensued.   We all know that this president is far from the ideal speaker at a Catholic event.  His policies have put the Church in this country in dangerous territory.  But as one of the bloggers over at the Archdiocese of NY wrote:

“The dinner is not a religious event in any way — it’s a civic/political event that raises money for Catholic charitable institutions.  It’s not held at a religious building — it’s at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  It has no religious component aside from a benediction and closing prayer — much like sessions of Congress…

It’s also important that the politicians who speak at the dinner are not being given any honor or award by the Church, but are rather delivering an address that is one part jocular remarks written by professional jokesters, and two-parts generic political after-dinner bromides.  Any comparison between the Al Smith Dinner and the honorary degree given to the President at Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony is thus completely off-the-mark.”

The Comments to that post number as of this writing 564.  Most of the comments after a quick perusing are stridently against the presence of President Obama at the Dinner.  I understand the concern of all those commenters.  In a way I share some of them.  But this is tradition.  This is nothing new.

What does this have to do with a simple parish priest? Not much.  But simply put – I find it disturbing that we as a community feel it necessary to cut ourselves off from those who disagree with us.  Yes – President Obama does more than simply disagree with us – we all know that.  But no one will be confused by his presence.  No one will take his presence at this dinner as tacit approval of his policies.  Our Lord broke bread with sinners and tax Collectors.  Why must our standards be higher than His?

Politics can be an honorable thing.  Politics HAS to be an honorable thing. We have to get back to that.  We have to stop being afraid to break bread with those we disagree with.  We may not convert every single person we speak with, but charity must reign in our hearts.  We have to be a people of engagement.  Building walls won’t help anyone.

Ultimately  - lets not loose it over this folks.  As the Brits say – Keep Calm and Carry on!

UPDATE

Cardinal Dolan Responded today on his Blog.  He echoes Carl Anderson’s call (and mine!) for more civility in Politics.   In part he said:

Some have told me the invitation is a scandal. That charge weighs on me, as it would on any person of faith, but especially a pastor, who longs to give good example, never bad. So, I apologize if I have given such scandal. I suppose it’s a case of prudential judgment: would I give more scandal by inviting the two candidates, or by not inviting them?

No matter what you might think of this particular decision, might I ask your prayers for me and my brother bishops and priests who are faced with making these decisions, so that we will be wise and faithful shepherds as God calls us to be?

In the end, I’m encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.

Go read the entire post by the Cardinal here.  Its worth it.

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