Cardinal Timothy Dolan might have been gearing up for holy battle. In his Sunday homily on May 17, streamed live to thousands but given in an empty, cavernous St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Archbishop of New York gave a powerful call to his flock to be living witnesses of hope and faith, despite opposition.
The theme of Dolan's sermon, taken from the second reading (First letter of St. Peter) was that Christians must "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope ... "
The explanation must be both in words and in deeds, he stressed, in the witness of the faithful. To "a society tempted to believe there is no God, or if there is, He's fine for the superstitious and the illiterate ... we say we believe in the One who revealed 'I am the Lord thy God, you shall not have strange gods before me.' ... To a culture Pope Francis calls 'throwaway' which posits that human life, all human life from the baby in the womb to the immigrant abandoned to grandma dying to a prisoner of death row can be discarded and destroyed ... we say that all human life, from conception to natural death is sacred and inviolable. …To the system out there that believes money, money is all that counts, accumulating and getting ahead is the only goal? They watch us, and we say by our words and by our actions: You know what? When money becomes a god, it becomes the devil."
Perhaps the cardinal's intensity reflected growing frustration with our secular prince, Gov. Andrew Cuomo? Dolan ended his powerful, moving homily with a saying popularly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach! Preach at all times. Use words when necessary."
There has been a lot of preaching from Gov. Cuomo, every day in his press conference, but as I have written in this space, his words often ring hollow. Eloquent words about protecting the elderly are a startling contrast to policies which enabled the deadly spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, resulting in thousands of deaths.
Although Cuomo is Catholic, opening up religious services for the faithful seemed to be at the bottom of his to-do list. Last week, Dennis Poust, communications director of the New York State Catholic Conference, expressed frustration with the lack of response from the governor: "The bishops believe at some point in the near future we can begin to resume public Masses with help from civic and health officials," he said. "We've reached out to the governor's office multiple times, as have our Protestant friends, as have our Jewish friends and no one is getting anywhere."
On Monday, May 18, Gov. Cuomo announced that religious services would be part of Phase 4 of his New York Forward re-opening plan, along with concert halls and sports stadiums. This didn't sit well with church leaders, who are eager to participate in a dialogue about careful, interim steps along the way. Christian leaders insist that churches should be part of Phase 2 of the re-opening plan and open with restrictions, as is happening in many states across the country. Three hundred pastors from New York state, led by the Rev. Jason McGuire, director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, signed a letter to the governor saying: "If it is safe to re-open retail establishments in a given region, it is safe to re-open churches in that region as well."
Well, what do you know: two days after the Phase 4 announcement, at his May 20 press conference, the governor changed course, saying that religious services with 10 or fewer people, as well as drive-in services, would be allowed, starting Thursday, May 21. He said he will be working with the Interfaith Advisory Council. Cardinal Dolan is a member of that council.
Good for the governor for reconsidering. After all, as Cardinal Dolan made clear, the faithful trust in a higher authority.
"Today especially, my friends, when a city, a nation, a planet, finds itself wearied, worried and wiped out by some strange plague of biblical proportion, that defied the omniscience and control that we crave and asks how we can hope any longer ... Listen to the One who called Himself the way, the truth and the life, and who says fear is useless, what is needed is trust. I am with you all days, even to the end of the world, and not even the gates of hell should prevail against you."
Maria McFadden Maffucci is the editor in chief of the Human Life Review (www.humanlifereview.com), a quarterly journal devoted to the defense of human life, founded in 1974 by her father, James P. McFadden, Associate Publisher of National Review. She is President of the Human Life Foundation, based in midtown Manhattan, which publishes the Review and supports pregnancy resource centers. Mrs. Maffucci's articles and editorials have appeared in the Human Life Review, First Things, National Review Online, National Review, Verily. A Holy Cross graduate with a BA in Philosophy, she is married to Robert E. Maffucci, and the mother of three children. Her interests include exploring opportunities for individuals with special needs. Read Maria McFadden Maffucci's Reports — More Here.
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