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Cardinal Dolan is Our St. FrancisAugust 16th, 2012
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12
Cardinal Dolan has recently sparked controversy from many of his supporters when he invited President Obama to the annual Al Smith dinner, a benefit dinner in New York City. Dolan broke file with previous Archbishops of New York by inviting a pro-abortion President to the dinner. This invitation is all the more controversial because President Obama is the architect of the crippling HHS Mandate. Many Catholics who are deeply invested in the culture war that is currently raging in our country took this as a betrayal. Cardinal Dolan, the President of the USCCB, the General of this war that is just heating up, has just consented to sit down and have dinner with the enemy.
But is President Obama really the enemy?
This whole controversy has reminded me of St. Francis and his famous encounter with the Sultan of Egypt during an intense conflict between Christians and Muslims. Here is a short explanation of this extraordinary exchange:
While thousands of Christian soldiers took up arms against Muslims, one person among them followed his heart and the example of Christ. He sought a way toward peace and understanding through dialogue with Malik-al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt. St. Francis of Assisi’s initial goal was to convert the sultan to Christianity or to become a martyr while trying.
But what he learned from that pilgrimage changed his life, sending him on the path to peace… “Francis wanted to dissuade people from the war.” The fighting was terrible and Francis had rightly predicted the Christians would ultimately lose the battle. Sickened by his fellow Christians’ violent behavior, Francis decided to visit the sultan… “He wanted to be a martyr but he succeeded in being a man of charity,” Father McCleary explained.
Francis entered the sultan’s camp empty-handed as a peacemaker. “He did not consider, whom he had been taught by Christianity to be his enemy, as his enemy,” said Franciscan Father Michael Cusato, director of the Franciscan Institute at New York’s St. Bonaventure University, and a native Clevelander. “He approached all people, beginning with the leper, as his brothers.
Read the whole story here.
I won’t deny that we are in the middle of a culture war. It is clear that the Church has been vocal about many attacks on our religious freedom, and the Culture of Life from the current Administration. While most of us are taking up arms, Cardinal Dolan is speaking of dialogue, taking his cue from the Second Vatican Council and the example of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI who both have made controversial gestures of dialogue with “the enemy” whether that enemy is a pro-abortion politician or an Islamic leader.
In my opinion, these men, St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Cardinal Dolan, see the world through different eyes than the rest of us. They see that “our struggle is not with flesh and blood.” They can look at “the enemy” and see a child of God. They can stand up for what is right with clarity and conviction while at the same time show the world that change does not come in winning an argument but in witnessing to Jesus Christ – and there is a real difference between the two.
There is an argument/counter argument going on in the blogosphere about this. “Jesus ate with sinners,” some say. Others argue that this is tantamount to Mary and Joseph inviting Herod to Jesus’ first birthday party. We should remember that Jesus not only ate with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors, but also with Pharisees and betrayers, those that would eventually send him to his death. It was for these people that Jesus begged His Father on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Who is the real enemy?
By meeting with President Obama, Cardinal Dolan is showing us there is another path we can travel besides the path we are about to travel this political season. One which will certainly be rife with mudslinging, gossip, slander and many, many talking heads that will attempt to scream over their opponent.
In the midst of this war, Cardinal Dolan walks through the battlefield, crosses into enemy territory and sits down for dinner with the “enemy.” It is yet to be seen if he will emerge as peace-maker or as martyr.Photo Credit: Wendy Gittleson