Saturday, November 27, 2010

“Michael, row your boat ashore ...”

I watch Michael Voris' production of "The Vortex" on RealCatholicTV periodically. Overall, I find it to be an excellent work, but occasionally it misses the mark ever so slightly. Michael takes exception to remarks made by New York Archbishop (and new President of the USCCB) Timothy Dolan, during a TV interview. Dolan referred to Thanksgiving as a time when people give thanks to God, who “... some call him or her, whatever you want, somebody beyond us ...”

Voris is outraged by Dolan's remarks on national television. He seems to find them inexplicable. That's okay, I'll explain.

Dolan was not referring solely to Catholics, or even solely to Christians, he was referring to everyone, not all of whom would be thanking God the Father or Jesus Christ for much of anything. They should, of course, but they don't. Was it carelessly spoken? Yes, it missed an opportunity to be authentic, refusing to apologize for oneself. Was Archbishop Dolan pandering? Maybe, maybe not. But it's more likely that he just did what a lot of people do when a camera's running, which is to say the first stupid thing that comes to their heads. (Hey, this is New York City. We've got an archbishop down the street. Let's go ask him what he thinks.)

It even happens to me when an answering machine or voicemail kicks in, which is why I rarely leave messages. But hey, that's just me.

Dolan was not a great choice for President of the bishops' conference, but he was a significant improvement over who almost won. And the fact that the bishops actually put some thought into the election, and broke with convention, indicates that they were awake for most of it. Always a good sign. But we got what we prayed for, and little more than that. It is up to the faithful to help a bishop be a better bishop. It is up to a bishop to listen. If he ever stops talking his fool head off, here's hoping the faithful know what to say.

UPDATE: By the way, a rabbi would make no reference to YHWH, as the name of God (or, as they write it, "G-d") is considered by Jews to be too holy even to pronounce.

1 comment:

Steven said...

FWIW, while I think you're right that the archbishop is clearly speaking off the cuff, and while I agree that it's possible to criticize his choice of words, I think it's worth noting that there is a structure to his comments that suggests a deliberate strategy that is worth noting. Here are Dolan's words as excerpted by Voris:

"[Thanksgiving is] a time of the year when people are open to the Lord, and we don't think about ourselves. We're grateful to God. We're conscious that Somebody -- some call him or her or whatever you want -- Somebody beyond us is in charge, and we are immensely grateful, and it's not about ..." [cut off]

Note the structure of these brief lines. In the first sentence, he says "the Lord" -- a term with clear Judeo-Christian resonances, denoting the God of Israel revealed in Jesus Christ. In the second sentence, he uses the general term "God," a word shared with theists, deists and others. Finally, he goes on to include awareness of a vague "Somebody beyond us."

He's clearly winging it (the parenthesis is somewhat ungrammatical), and if you want to object to the words he chose in that moment, fine. But it seems clear to me that the terminological shift over these three sentences is connected to a progression of thought:

1. He begins by expressing himself in language that is overtly Christian: People are open to the Lord. This is language with roots in the Old and New Testaments, in the liturgy of the Church, in the idiomatic language of "Christian America."

2. He then expands the scope of his language to include also those who stand more or less at a distance from the Christian faith: Even people who do not know the Lord can still be touched at this time of the year by gratitude to God.

3. Finally, he suggests that the meaning of Thanksgiving can even reach those who may not recognize God as such, but may still be aware of our dependence on a higher power. They may not even be comfortable speaking of "him" -- they may say "him" or "her", or whatever they want -- but nevertheless even for them there can be a meaningful awareness of the reality of divine sovereignty and providence, and a corresponding gratitude to Somebody beyond us.

FWIW, similar strategies can be seen in the Good Friday petitions and in the Vatican II decree Lumen Gentium 14ff, i.e., starting with those closest to us and then gradually expanding the scope outward until we reach even those who do not believe in God.

Again, not to say that the archbishop's comments here are above criticism. But I'm disturbed and grieved by Voris's readiness to judge Dolan's heart and motivations as well as giving the worst possible construction to his actions: "knee-jerk pandering" to a "politically correct understanding of the faith," of being unable to "simply and sweetly" affirm the faith (as if Dolan were giving a homily or holding forth of the truth of the Faith, of "shuffling God off" amid "relativistic politically correct diversity," etc.