Cardinal Dolan Gets It, Yet Again

by Michael Potemra

On The Colbert Report, New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan captured the essence of Christianity as a religion of sheer grace — of the unmerited love of God for sinful humanity. Stephen Colbert asked him why the Pope said that even atheists are redeemed by Christ: If that’s true, why can’t I play golf instead of going to church on Sunday? Dolan explained that the purpose of going to church (and, by extension, of other religious actions and observances) is to thank God for His grace, not to earn our salvation. He didn’t mention this, but the very word Eucharist — referring to the central liturgical act of Christianity, also known variously as the Mass, and the Lord’s Supper — means “thanksgiving.”

By historical accident, the phrase sola gratia (“by grace alone”) has been for a few centuries a shibboleth dividing Protestants from Catholics. (In the stereotype, Protestants are said to believe this, and Catholics not.) But Dolan, a Catholic’s  Catholic, knows how fundamental the doctrine of God’s sheer unmerited grace is to Catholicism as well. He is laying out the basis for an “ecumenism of gratitude” that embraces all Christians, and, I would contend in my Rahnerian way, all mankind. You can watch the relevant portion of Dolan’s comments here. (If you read what the comboxers there have to say about Dolan — and honestly, why would you want to do that? — be cautioned that the angriest and most hateful voices in any religious or political group are vastly overrepresented in the comboxes of their websites. Any Protestant or atheist or whatever who is tempted to think less of Catholicism because of those sorts of people would do well to remember that Catholicism is not alone in this regard: The comboxes on many Protestant or atheist or whatever websites sully the character of Protestantism/atheism/etc. in a very similar way.)