The Corner

The one and only.

Can Gratitude Save Our Politics — and Our Souls?


As is only to be expected, Cardinal Timothy Dolan made headlines on Meet the Press for what he said about marriage, health care, religious liberty, and immigration. As we get back to work and cyber deals are taken a look at (NRO gathered some for gift recommendations here), what he said about gratitude is worth reflecting on. The archbishop of New York said:

Jews and Christians would always say, “Humility is the key virtue,” in that when we recognize that without God we’re nothing. With God, everything is possible.

When we realize that everything we’ve got, every breath we take is an unmerited gift from a lavishly-loving God, that prompts us literally to fall to our knees and to say thank you. It also reminds us that we’re not the center of the universe. It’s not about me. It’s about Him and it’s about His people. That’s gratitude, that’s faith, that’s humility. That’s thanksgiving.

That’s key to good stewardship, politically, culturally, personally. It’s key to proposing a new anthropology that gives us a chance of using words with definitions beyond political manipulations and vacuous, albeit oftentimes well-meaning, rhetoric.

That’s what Pope Francis is about: pointing to that need for humility and gratitude. To know that you are loved by a Creator with a love that is transformative. Many professed Christians live unchanged, a practical atheism. While we have to go to court to protect religious liberty against a secularist mandate, we had better fight our own secularized temptations this very minute. How do you get out-marketed on marriage? You don’t live like you believe something much different from what the culture dishes out, and you don’t manage to present the world with an awesome alternative lifestyle that is out of this world and yet completely redemptively relevant in it.

(I wrote for the New York Post and for the Knights of Columbus about the pope’s apostolic exhortation over the Thanksgiving holiday.)

I’ve read critiques right and left explaining how Rush Limbaugh was wrong to react to the media read of Pope Francis. But it isn’t Rush Limbaugh’s fault that he hasn’t been overwhelmed by the radical counter-cultural nature of Catholics around him. Pope Francis has been pleading with Catholics to go to Confession already, live the Beatitudes, be instruments of Divine Mercy. And while I see daily Mass a little more crowded and long Confession lines, it’s not like we’re setting the world ablaze with our surrender to the Gospel. If Catholics in politics and media weren’t so concerned with making Pope Francis fit into their ideological worldview and instead be authentically discerning Christ’s call and wisdom in everything we do, people might not have had to spend the last few days debating cartoonish reads of the pope’s latest. 

Or Catholics in public life, thank you very much. The papal exhortation – which was papal feedback in an ongoing conversation about evangelization efforts within the Church – came days, after all, after a seemingly universal heralding of the first Catholic president. The matter of JFK is a the subject of many other posts — the posture of privatizing religion has been a poison and is very much not the posture of Pope Francis, or any of the popes familiar to us over the last decades. Many of us go along on many fronts, we don’t speak up, we don’t inundate the world with joy, we don’t compellingly share what we say we believe with the witness of our lives.

Pope Francis acknowledged in his much-discussed but seemingly little-read document last week that saints do live among us – good people do live sacrificial lives. But every single Christian is supposed to be living something otherworldly, co-workers with God in building His Kingdom here in mercy, love, and justice. They don’t always make headlines. They often aren’t whom we talk about, whom we celebrate. Who we are. That has got to change. That’s Pope Francis’s point. It has to change yesterday. Because my time may be up already – we never know the hour. And a Christian believes he’s going to have to answer for his time here.

In my syndicated column today, I talk about a recent Magnificat –Foundationsponsored “Day of Faith” at the Philadelphia convention center that involved Mass with Philly’s Archbishop Chaput, Rembrandt, Handel, and a Eucharistic procession through the streets. Quite the sight – thousands strong, with a police escort – a passerby along the route asked me what was going on; to be specific, she asked: “What are you protesting?” “Did you say, ‘sin’?,” a wise priest (who needs to write the book on perfect Catholic responses to every question) responded when I told him the story.

The perfect Catholic answer to every question is to live lives of actual faith in Christ. That’s what Pope Francis keeps repeating. Problems – sin and scandal – come when purported Christians aren’t, they’re not focused on and nourished by and transformed by Christ, God Himself, a man. If we don’t live as if that is our very identity, then religion isn’t more than nostalgia — something to make us feel better about ourselves – and it’s no wonder the Obama administration would feel free to dismiss hang-ups from people who aren’t necessarily overwhelming the world with their radically different, deeply fulfilling, contagiously joyful living.

We humans have the tendency to try to mold God in our image, instead of be fashioned in His. That’s the problem Pope Francis is trying to pastorally combat. Because when a person begins to truly encounter the lavish love of God Dolan mentioned on Meet the Press, then we can get somewhere . . . and on some of our most contentious and intimate issues.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review