There’s a jarring headline in the Huffington Post: “Cardinal Dolan Denies Catholics Entry at Cathedral Because of Dirty Hands.”
“Why would he do a thing like that?,” a reader might ask.
Well, he didn’t.
First of all, New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan happens to have been in Lourdes yesterday, at the time the Huffington Post says he denied Catholics entry into St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Secondly, as I understand the incident, a group of protesters were told by the director of operations of the cathedral that they were welcome at Mass, but that the Mass was not a place for protests. A few wiped off their hands and went into Mass, while several stayed outside.
That’s not quite what the headline conveys.
Finally, Cardinal Dolan, generally speaking, might be best described as a door-opener. His posture is welcoming. That’s how he manages to evangelize so effectively in unlikely places such as the Today show.
The protest was over Church teaching on the homosexual activity — specifically, a recent blog post of the cardinal’s titled “All Are Welcome.”
“The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a woman or man with a same-sex attraction,” the cardinal wrote, “while reminding him or her of our clear teaching that, while the condition of homosexuality is no sin at all, still, God’s teaching is clear that sexual acts are reserved for a man and woman united in the lifelong, life-giving, faithful, loving bond of marriage.”
To understand why dirty hands were a protest tactic, read the beginning of the same post from the cardinal:
It was a lesson I began to learn when I was seven or eight . . .
My buddy Freddie from across the street and I were playing outside. Mom called me for supper.
“Can Freddie stay and eat supper with us?” I asked.
“He’d sure be welcome, if it’s okay with his mom and dad,” she replied.
“Thanks, Mrs. Dolan,” Freddie replied. “I’m sure it’s okay, because mom and dad are out, and the babysitter was just going to make me a sandwich whenever I came in.”
I was so proud and happy. Freddie was welcome in our house, at our table. We both rushed in and sat down.
“Freddie, glad you’re here,” dad remarked, “but . . . looks like you and Tim better go wash your hands before you eat.”
Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has. Like, wash your hands!…
So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church: all are welcome!
But, welcome to what? To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.
There was nothing wrong with Freddie. There was just an expectation that, if he was going to sit at the table and partake in the meal Mrs. Dolan had prepared for him, he would wash his hands. It’s a matter of respect. It also happened to be best for him!
In that blog post, did the cardinal tell anyone who engages in homosexual activity to wash his hands? Not quite. What he did do was re-issue an invitation. The one that has been at the heart of Pope Francis’s public ministry since assuming the Chair of Peter: Christianity is about mercy; Christ pleads with us to go to Him for His merciful love and forgiveness.
Catholics believe that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the Sacrament of Divine Mercy. It’s the sacrament of healing that our culture so desperately needs. Everyone is invited.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation requires an examination of conscience, one all the faithful are called to daily as a matter of integrity and growth, as the pope happened to preach about this morning. Examination of conscience requires an informed conscience. It requires an openness to that which the Church teaches, a desire to follow it, believing, in faith, that it is what Christ modeled for us.
In fact, if you are going to translate Cardinal Dolan’s “All Are Welcome” post into “the cardinal told gay people to wash their hands,” he directed a whole lot of other people to the water, too.
I think a better translation is: “Open your hearts to the fullness of Catholic teaching. It might just be everything you’ve been looking for. It might just bring you a joy greater than you can ever imagine.”
The public ministry of Cardinal Dolan is a balance of welcoming and teaching. Holding the door open and being honest. The invitation is to hear the Catechism out, to consider the Gospel and the sacraments. It’s the “Evangelical Catholicism” George Weigel writes about in his recent book (which he and I discussed here and here and here).
Joseph Amodeo, one of the Sunday protesters, writes that this incident Sunday has made him aware that he is “spiritually homeless” because he was advised that the Mass wasn’t a place for protests.
No one is spiritually homeless. Faith is a gift of God available to all. We are free to choose whether or not to believe, how to believe, how seriously we are going to take belief, how integral it is going to be to our lives. But as a matter of authenticity, Christianity is a radical call to purity of heart and surrender to the will of God. It’s an ongoing journey of renewal with hits and misses.
Cardinal Dolan doesn’t write what he did in that blog post because he likes to tell people that what they’re doing is wrong, but because he has a duty to welcome people while informing their consciences about just what Catholicism is. Church teaching exists to help us know God’s will in our lives so that we can actually live it. Catechesis, our ongoing spiritual nourishment and learning, is one aspect of this ongoing process. Prayer, prayer, and prayer is another.
Catholics believe the Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us the grace to see this and do this more clearly. We are not going to be perfect tomorrow, but we can be perfected.
Protests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral used to be a mainstay. During ACT-UP’s most active days, Sunday Mass was routinely seen as an opportunity to make headlines. I pray that an incident Sunday isn’t an indication that this is back in season. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is home to the Blessed Sacrament. That’s not for protest. That’s a home for prayer and healing and adoration. Whatever we believe, however we live, this can be transformational. It’s a place of peace in that world. That’s an ecumenical good. Let’s pray we keep it that way.