Politics & Policy

Opening the Door with Timothy Dolan

New York's newly installed archbishop issues an open invitation.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City – On Tuesday the president of the United States gave a much-anticipated economic address at Georgetown University. While speaking there, a usually impossible-to-miss “IHS” — a common monogram for Jesus Christ — was missing from its perch at the center of the auditorium stage. 

Georgetown is, of course, a Catholic university, and the fact that Jesus Christ is represented prominently in the school’s much-used auditorium is no surprise. And it wouldn’t come as a shock if someone from the school — perhaps aware that a defender of infanticide was coming to speak — attempted to remove any sense that Jesus might be endorsing the president (or his Sermon on the Mount-metaphor speech).

That the president’s people might have asked the school to remove the IHS wouldn’t come as a shock either. After all, a speech on the economy is no Passover Seder at the White House, and who knows who might be offended. As it happens, the White House did request that the IHS be hidden during the president’s appearance. But Georgetown officials should have reacted immediately by asking that the speech be delivered elsewhere — anything to avoid obscuring the school’s reason for being.

#ad#If my e-mail inbox is any indication, folks are mad. Following the speech, many Catholics and Georgetown grads sent me compare-and-contrast photographs: Here’s Jesus; here He’s not. In the wake of the University of Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to deliver the school’s commencement address this year, many Catholics are both angry and weary; they’re withholding funds and looking for leadership. 

Well, that leadership showed up in New York City this week in the person of newly installed Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan. With a confident and endearing smile, he quickly hit upon several hot-button issues for Catholics — including marriage, abortion, and euthanasia. He did so with a wise, prudent, and firm hand, and with a love that is both fatherly and brotherly. Most of all, he kept his focus where it has long been: on the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus Christ. 

Here at vespers on Tuesday night, Archbishop Dolan ran with the image of a door. As part of the ceremony, he knocked on the cathedral’s great door three times (representing the Trinity). He told the congregation — and the countless viewers watching on local news and EWTN, the Catholic network — that one of his favorite images of Jesus Christ is “the familiar one of Him standing outside the door of a simple home, gently knocking.”

He remembered seeing that image when he was in the second grade at Holy Infant School in Ballwin, Mo. His teacher, Sister Mary Bosco–who flew in from Ireland to read from the first Letter of Saint Peter for the Tuesday-evening service–had asked the second-grade class to indicate what seemed strange in the picture. “There is no door knob!” Carolyn Carey, a fellow second grader, announced.

“Right,” observed Sister Bosco, “because Jesus cannot open up and barge in on His own. He patiently waits for us to open the door of our hearts and invite Him in to stay with us.” 

Dolan asked listeners on Tuesday night if they’re ready to open that door Sister Bosco told him about back in the second grade: “Will we open up in faith, hope, and love to the God who gently knocks on the door to our being, asking Him in to live with us? Or will fear, self-absorption, and darkness keep us locked up in ourselves?”

Rather than a voice of disapproval toward the world, Dolan’s is a voice of challenge. He challenges not only Catholics, but every person. He declared, firmly and lovingly, “The Church is at her best, faithful to her mission, when she invites people to open the door and ask Jesus in. That’s precisely the invitation this Archdiocese of New York extends; that’s the proposal the Church makes to the world. As Bernini explained the massive colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square, ‘Those are the arms of Mother Church reaching out to embrace all people!’”

Those weren’t mere words aimed at the cameras. Dolan has committed his life to calling upon the world, believing that “Everyone is a somebody in whom God has invested an infinite love.” Everyone is called to embrace eternity through a life of holiness. In his 2008 book, To Whom Shall We Go? Lessons from the Apostle Peter, Dolan describes the possibility:

To this day I remember the story I heard for the first time in second grade, about St. Dominic Savio. Do you remember the little fourteen-year-old saint? Do you remember the motto that guided his life, “Death rather than sin”? That’s how much he dreaded sin, this young boy on the road to perfection.

The one who takes seriously Our Lord’s call to the deep, daily strives to fight sin. He or she is always at work on a particular one, and he or she frequently examines his or her conscience to let the light of God’s grace show the “streaks.” We are constantly on the fight against sin. 

I remember being in Rome right before the canonization of Philadelphian St. Katharine Drexel, the great apostle to the African-Americans and Native Americans, when a reporter called me from [the] United States and interviewed me. He said, “Monsignor, all these beatifications and canonizations that the Pope is doing — isn’t all this goodness and holiness and virtue unrealistic and impossible today?” 

I replied, “Listen. The pope’s point is just the opposite! The pope’s point is that such goodness, holiness, and virtue are possible — and not only possible, but expected, in those who claim to follow Christ.” 

Dolan’s motto is “To Whom Shall We Go?” The answer is to Christ, the continuing journey. Dolan concluded his inaugural homily as archbishop of New York with a request: 

Let Him “turn us around” as He did those two disciples, turned them around because, simply put, they were going the wrong way, and sent them running back to Jerusalem, where Peter was, where the apostles were, where the Church was.

For three weeks in July, 1992, I was on pilgrimage in Israel. I had a wonderful Franciscan guide who made sure I saw all the sacred places in the Holy Land. The day before I departed, he asked, “Is there anything left you want to see?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I would like to walk the road to Emmaus.”

“That we cannot do,” he told me, “You see, no one really knows where that village of Emmaus actually was, so there is no more road to Emmaus.”

Sensing my disappointment, he remarked, “Maybe that’s part of God’s providence, because we can now make every journey we undertake a walk down the Road to Emmaus.”

My new friends of this great archdiocese, would you join your new pastor on an “adventure in fidelity,” as we turn the Staten Island Expressway, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Broadway, the FDR, the Major Deegan, and the New York State Thruway into the Road to Emmaus, as we witness a real “miracle on 34th street” and turn that into the road to Emmaus?

For, dare to believe, that:

From Staten Island to Sullivan County

From the Bowery, to the Bronx, to Newburgh,

From White Plains to Poughkeepsie . . . 

He is walking right alongside us.

Notre Dame screwed up this year. Ditto for Georgetown. But on the ceiling near the front of Saint Patrick’s remain the three letters that Georgetown obscured: IHS. Jesus Christ remains. He remains regardless of who the president is, of who your bishop is, or even of who the pope is.

Men, even some clergy, will turn off the road to Emmaus. But in a second-grade classroom this month some child may learn a lesson that will stick like Sr. Mary Bosco’s stuck with Timothy Dolan.

As long as we make sure that we have the door open and are traveling with Him, we have a shot. 

Or, as Dolan closed his installation homily: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”

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