I’m forever uncomfortable with the concept of the Sunday morning political talk shows. As someone both naturally inclined to and professionally obligated to watch such shows, I have always wanted them to be Saturday morning shows. I would watch Firing Line then back in the day and I would happily watch these news chat shows on a similar schedule.
A quick story that added to my discomfort: A few months back, David Gregory interviewed Michele Bachmann after she won the Iowa straw poll on Meet the Press. (Remember that? Seems so long ago. Also reminds you how valuable an indicator of electoral results that fundraiser for the Iowa GOP is = not so much of one.) He described religion as considering God as merely “a sense of comfort and safe harbor and inspiration.” I thought Gregory did a good job there of encapsulating exactly the challenge before us: We live in a culture where you don’t have to be actively, consciously hostile to religion to be a secularist — or an accessory to — wanting to drive it to the margins, wanting to keep its practice to inside a church or to a morning or end-of-the-day private reflection, something harmless and maybe healthy like yoga. The existence of these shows on Sunday mornings has always seemed to me a cultural gesture in favor of that marginalizing posture.
That said, there can be some wonderful, apostolic moments on those Sunday shows. Anyone who cares about what Cardinal Dolan said on Face the Nation in a taped interview that aired Easter Sunday morning, probably cares about the political points he touched on — the whole real point of having him on, right? But while as cardinal archbishop of New York and current president of the bishop’s conference in D.C., he finds himself with a political role, he is primarily a shepherd. So you can’t take that away from him when he’s participating in our political religion’s services.
In a closing exchange on Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer asked Cardinal Dolan about his “greatest challenge.” Dolan ran with the opportunity for a pastoral moment in the media. “In a way,” the cardinal said, “it is the same as it was that first Easter Sunday morning, to try to show that God, religion, the church is on the side of life and light and freedom and hope.”
“That is the biggest challenge, that life giving, liberating, ennobling, uplifting message … of the Bible, of morality, of the church, of Jesus,” the cardinal continued.
Engaging the man he is conversing with as much as the audience watching, Cardinal Dolan addressed the host, bringing him into the picture as much as anyone, not forgetting a soul as he delivers his message, which, of course, isn’t his but His:
that’s our challenge, Bob, and in a world — I mean you are on the frontlines, you got to report bad news all the time, most of the time we want to cry when we see the news, because there is so much darkness and tragedy and sadness, so the greatest challenge I got is try to preach the good news and try to show that the light and life and promise of The Gospel always trumps the bad news that we hear all the time. There is a great religious challenge.
Welcome to Easter Monday. Let’s get to work.