This week in my own parish I discovered an untapped reserve of energy, enthusiasm and determination among my people. The drill that unleashed this gusher was our Bishop’s letter standing firm against the unjust HHS mandate by the Obama administration.
As our Bishops stood united the entire church united behind them. Astoundingly the “progressive” Catholics united with the”conservative” Catholics. Liberal Catholic journalists, academics, politicians, religious sisters, university professors and media leaders presented a united voice. Very few Catholics supported the mandate, and those who did not speak out against it, were at least silent.
As our Bishops united and spoke out the people rallied behind them. Not only did Catholics of all opinions unite behind the Bishops, but Protestants and Jews stood up and spoke up.
When engaged in debate in the public square there is a time for conversation and compromise. There is a time for tact and tactics, strategies and stratagems. Then there is a time when war is declared and leaders emerge to wade into battle.
This conflict has, no doubt, been led by our dynamic new cardinal-to-be- Archbishop Dolan. A happy warrior if ever there was one, he has appeared on our screens as a jovial, intelligent and articulate uncle. Serious one moment and cracking a joke the next, he is almost a prelatical Chesterton. I met Archbishop Dolan in Los Angeles soon after he was appointed to New York, and hear one of the best Catholic homilies from a bishop ever. He encouraged, inspired, enlightened and motivated all of us.
Now that we have seen what a united Catholic Church can do perhaps more Americans will realize that a shift in the self understanding of the Catholic Church is now underway. The old model, (which we might call Kennedy Catholicism) was one in which the Bishops in Northeastern cities dined with the wealthy and powerful in their grand residences. The Bishops were part of the inside circle. They had access to the men of power. Indeed, they had real influence over the men of power.
Not any more. Instead, the Bishops (partially because of the devastation of the child abuse scandals) are chastised. The big, wealthy dioceses of the Northeast establishment are discredited. Archbishops are selling their magnificent homes, closing parishes and schools and with the belt tightening, are discovering that all the austerity may just be training for war. As the secular state continues to set it’s sights on Christianity, (and the Catholic Church is the biggest target) the Catholic bishops have found their feet and found their voice.
Let us hope and pray that they will continue to speak with a united voice–sometimes pastoral and gentle, but other times speaking out as leaders of the Church Militant.