Cardinal Dolan writes a forthright account of his thoughts and deliberations and prayers concerning the Al Smith dinner invitation to President Obama (which I wrote about on National Review Online last week here):
an invitation to the Al Smith Dinner in no way indicates a slackening in our vigorous promotion of values we Catholic bishops believe to be at the heart of both gospel and American values, particularly the defense of human dignity, fragile life, and religious freedom. In fact, one could make the case that anyone attending the dinner, even the two candidates, would, by the vibrant solidarity of the evening, be reminded that America is at her finest when people, free to exercise their religion, assemble on behalf of poor women and their babies, born and unborn, in a spirit of civility and respect.
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.
You can read his entire blog post here.
I think this exercise is a reminder that there is nothing we do that does not reflect upon who we say we are as Christians. People interpret our actions through wounds, through scandalized, disappointed lenses.
Compassion, I think, includes giving people the freedom to discern their way. The cardinal here shows a window into his discernment, a modeling of how to approach the struggle that is prudential discernment in our lives. It’s the Christian life in fuller view. Our lives must be lives of discernment in Christ.I think this endearing photo is, too.
Helen Gurley Brown’s most conspicuous contributions to our cultural life were not quite the healthiest, and yet here you see the aforementioned cardinal greeting her as a sister, which she was, Cosmo or not. Which is the point in this dinner matter, it seems to me. The cardinal is clear. Other brother bishops are clear. They have been defending the freedom of all Americans against current White House policy. And this late October dinner affords an opportunity to highlight some of the charities who are threatened by the Department of Human Services abortion-inducing drug, sterilization, contraception mandate under the president’s health-care law.
We’re all sinners. We don’t have perfect records. But surely we all can be merciful with each other as we try to make our way. This strikes me as why we’re Christian and what is Christian. There is a time for admonishment. But always charity, too.
A dance with an elderly widow does not an endorsement make, nor does a laugh with a man whose policies promise to perpetuate a culture of death. Not when you are teaching chastity and life. Not when you are communicating with clarity and love. Not when the prayer is to model Christ in all things. Not when the very heartbeat of your life, as the bishop of Buffalo put it Friday, is the Eucharist.
Whether to invite the candidates or not is a prudential call, as the cardinal blogs, and God be with this pastor (and all of us!) as he seeks to always communicate with clarity and love, as Christ would, as Christ calls him to, as Christ calls us all to.