I saw something Thursday night that surprised me, and it might surprise you, too.
Cardinal Dolan, along with God and Jerusalem, was originally persona non grata at the Democratic National Convention. No surprise there. I’m not sure anyone claimed that his original non-invite was a “technical oversight”—though that’s how Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (with an impressively straight face) explained the exclusion of Jerusalem and God.
The invitation was reluctantly extended in the end, and he took them up on it.
What surprised me was not that he dared mention unborn babies, or religious freedom, or marriage. I expected that, though I was struck by how gracefully and confidently he managed it.
Then again, integrating concern for babies, old people, immigrants, the rich, the poor, the sick, and yes, even the politicians, into a seamless whole comes naturally when you represent a universal Church. It wasn’t a cobbled-together public-relations ploy, but an expression of what we actually believe, in (election) season and out. We rightly debate how all this concern ought to translate into policy, but a prayer isn’t supposed to be a policy.
What struck me as beautiful, even heartbreaking, were the faces in the audience. Take a close look at them (it's a short video).
They’re living proof of something I keep telling my kids: that, yes, there are a few people at the top who are knowingly lying, misleading and manipulating people. (We should pray especially hard for them, because they have more to answer for, and they’re subject to temptations that most of us are never up against.) But much, much more numerous are the objects of all that lying, cheating and manipulation. If Anne Frank, hiding from the Nazis, could say "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart,"
then maybe, looking at the faces in the DNC audience, we can, too.
You might wonder: How could they not know better? What could possibly explain their support of such radical pro-death policy but willful ignorance or outright malice? Well, “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”—so only He knows for sure. I can’t prove there’s no malice in them from a few seconds of footage any more than someone else can prove they’re faking piety. I can’t calibrate anybody's culpability.
Still, remember that:
Most people are products of the American public education systerm. Maybe you've seen the painful but enlightening video, where the man, woman, and kid on the American street struggle to answer questions like what state Kentucky Fried Chicken comes from, or what language they speak in Latin America:
On top of that, scores of people have grown up in the chaos of broken, or blended, or non-existent families. Is it really such a stretch to believe that they’re easy fodder for the manipulators, and that they’re more sinned against than sinning? It’s not as if many of us grew up learning about the sanctity of human life and the procreation and education of children within the marriage covenant--and then chose to reject that knowledge. Rather, plenty were cheated out of it in the first place.
Is this a Pollyanna position? Maybe.
I’m not blindly optimistic:I'm not claiming invincible ignorance for everyone who supports the pro-death platform. I'm not saying that even if they all saw clearly they would rise up against it.
In fact, I’m regretfully convinced that, however November 6th turns out, the coming years will give us all more than enough opportunity to find out how ready we really are to rise up against injustice.