The Personalist Project

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.

Still, what I think I saw gives me hope.

What do you think?

Comments (7)

Marilyn Prever

#1, Sep 8, 2012 9:01am

It does look like a movement of the Holy Spirit, right in the middle of politics as usual. And it was just because he didn't take the usual niceness at all costs route, but spoke the truth in true charity, that this could happen. I don't think any amount of cleverness could produce those tears. 

Marilyn Prever

#2, Sep 8, 2012 10:21am

The reason I felt the Holy Spirit at work is that Cdl. Dolan was in a situation where everyone is polarized and demonizes the opposition, and usually in that situation the speaker, especially if he's a religious personage, takes the irenic route--skirts around the real conflict and uses fuzzy language. By the usual rules, his words should have stirred up nasty feelings, not tears. He even used the words "the unborn," ordinarily guaranteed to cause conflict.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Sep 8, 2012 10:56am

Beautiful, beautiful faces!  Thank you, Devra!

Makes me so mad at the liars and manipulators—at the Father of Lies and the Master Manipulator.  

Devra Torres

#4, Sep 8, 2012 3:52pm

Oops, it looks like my comment (after Katie's) disappeared.  Did anyone see it?

Jules van Schaijik

#5, Sep 8, 2012 6:54pm

I didn't see it Devra. Also not on the "back end" where I looked to see if I could retrieve it.

Once again a great post. I can even agree with Anne Frank, as long as she is not taken to exclude the seeming opposite truth that most people (not you of course!) are also partly bad at heart.  

Devra Torres

#6, Sep 8, 2012 8:13pm

Oh, of course not me!

The prayer made me think, Now there's a seamless garment, rightly understood!  

It's true, Janice: I think lots of people understand the Democratic party to be the friend of the workers, the poor, the immigrants, the sick--I just hope maybe they saw how naturally "the unborn" fit in there.  

As someone who came into the Church at the end of the Seventies, I hear bishops and priests like Cardinal Dolan and I think, Oh, so this is what it's like to have shepherds!

Devra Torres

#7, Sep 9, 2012 9:52am

Yes--I've seen lots of articles about the content of the speech, but what was even more striking was the response of the audience--a graphic illustration of how the human heart really is made, "wired," to respond to truth.

Of course I don't want to read too much into it: I don't take it as evidence that these people are going to switch parties, or switch convictions--but I don't assume it's meaningless sentimentalism either.

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