Catholics should offer spirit of hope and joy, he says
By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
DUBUQUE — As Cardinal Timothy Dolan entered the room at Loras College in which he was to speak on the afternoon of April 20, he slowly made his way through the rows of students and other members of the campus community who had gathered to hear him — pausing at each person to introduce himself and to offer a warm smile and a strong handshake in his route to the podium.
During the hour that followed, Cardinal Dolan — the archbishop of New York and one of the most prominent figures in the Catholic Church in America today — spoke to a select audience that included seminarians in the St. Pius X Seminary program, a cohort of Loras students known as the John Paul II scholars, members of the “Philosophy of God” religion course, and the college’s FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries.
Introducing Cardinal Dolan was John Saeman, a 1958 Loras graduate and former regent of the college who is also a personal friend of the cardinal’s.
In his presentation, Cardinal Dolan spoke about one of his predecessors, Cardinal John O’Connor, who was the archbishop of New York from 1984-2000. He said Cardinal O’Connor had believed that his role as archbishop was to help Christ save souls.
Cardinal Dolan said that Catholic colleges and universities have a similar function.
“Really what we’re about here on a Catholic campus like Loras is salvation,” he said, “the salvation of souls.” And that, the cardinal added, “is not a narrow goal at all.”
Cardinal Dolan said there was wisdom in the perspective of St. John Paul II who believed “that the pursuit of salvation was the most liberating, ennobling, intriguing, fascinating adventure that we could go about, that a life of faith was the most daring proposition around.”
The cardinal said John Paul II had placed a great emphasis on scholarship and had believed the pursuit of learning was a “tremendous affirmation of the human project.”
“You think about what goes on on this campus — literature, science, history, philosophy, theology, business, music, athletics, psychology, you name it, all the disciplines — everything that goes on on this campus is all part of the glory of God and the human person fully alive,” reflected the cardinal.
There is a caricature, he said, of the Catholic Church in the world today, that it’s oppressive, anti-intellectual, that it wants to curtail freedom, but he argued that just the opposite is the case, that the church actually encourages humanity to seek truth.
“The pursuit of truth never takes you away from God,” he said, “it takes you closer to him.” Faith and reason are not in conflict, but rather, together, form a “brilliant symphony in our Catholic tradition.”
Cardinal Dolan also spent a significant amount of his presentation speaking about a term Pope Francis often uses — “accompaniment.”
“One of the best ways we can get the truth of the Gospel across to people is to accompany them, to walk with them, to be with them,” the cardinal said. “Sometimes more than saying things, it’s just being with people.”
He said it also is important for Catholics today to offer others a spirit of hope and joy.
“If people see us as people of hope and joy,” the cardinal said, “their natural inclination is to say, ‘I wonder what he’s up to. I wonder what she’s up to. I have to find out why he or she seems to be filled with hope and joy.’”
He said “screaming and yelling” at people rarely works to draw them to the truth of Christ and the church, and “ignoring and walking away” doesn’t either, “but a very hopeful, joyful engagement usually does.”
Cardinal Dolan said in the past, faith was something that was frequently passed down by family and by culture or ethnic identity, but he said that is happening less today, so a “new evangelization” is needed, an effort to help others encounter Christ. And he said that effort should be made, not by using “sledgehammers,” but by fostering a climate where there is a “hint of the divine, an invitation to the transcendent, a sense of the beyond.”
At the end of his presentation, Cardinal Dolan fielded several questions from the audience. One student asked what he missed most about being a parish priest and what he liked best about being a cardinal.
“There are things I love about being a cardinal. I get to dress up like this,” Cardinal Dolan said with a good-natured laugh, as he pointed to his scarlet and black clerical attire.
He said being a cardinal also gives him a chance to accept invitations to speak at colleges and seminaries and other places outside of his diocese, which he enjoys.
“But I was a parish priest, which I miss very much,” he continued. “I’ve been a priest 41 years, only seven of those years as a parish priest, but those were some of my happiest.”
Cardinal Dolan, a Missouri native, was named the archbishop of New York by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and was appointed to the College of Cardinals in 2012.
But, “even as archbishop of New York, with 2.8 million Catholics, I consider myself a pastor of a big parish,” he said. “We happen to have 300 parishes, happen to have 800 priests helping me, but I kind of consider myself a pastor, because you don’t want to become just a bureaucrat or just a desk jockey.”
Jen Andrysczyk, a senior theology and philosophy major at Loras, had the opportunity to sit in on Cardinal Dolan’s presentation and said she enjoyed hearing what he had to say.
“I think I was really touched by his explanation of theology of invitation, of accompaniment, because I think he’s right, we’re not going to be able to convert people by argumentation but rather through loving them as fellow people who hold the image of the divine in them,” she said. “I think it’s very important, especially as young people, to be able to reach out to others.”
Freshman Jacob Francois, a seminarian whose home parish is St. Patrick’s in Cedar Rapids, said Cardinal Dolan’s visit to Loras was the second time he’s gotten the chance to see the cardinal in person, but he was no less impressed by the experience.
“I saw him in Krakow, Poland, at the Tauron Center for a huge Mass that he did there (at World Youth Day). It was really cool,” Francois said. “He’s an awesome man, and it was good to hear him again here today. He’s a great promoter of the new evangelization that John Paul II handed on to us. He’s doing good things for the church, especially here in America.”
Earlier in the day, Cardinal Dolan had lunch with a group of Loras faculty, and following his afternoon presentation, celebrated Mass at Christ the King Chapel, and later spoke at a campus dinner where he addressed the impact of Bishop Mathias Loras, the college’s namesake and the first bishop of Dubuque, on the 19th-century American Catholic Church.
Cardinal Dolan (standing) meets with students and others at Loras College April 20. (Photo by Jill Kruse/ The Witness)