I received word last January from some friends in Milwaukee, who also happen to be friends of Cardinal Dolan, the former Archbishop of Milwaukee (and my former boss), concerning the Al Smith Dinner and inviting me to attend as their guest. Time, of course, passed swiftly and before I knew it they needed an answer to their invitation.
The Al Smith Dinner is an annual gathering of “glitterati” who raise an enormous amount of money for children’s charities in the Archdiocese of New York. Hosted by the Cardinal Archbishop, it is an evening of lighthearted, self-deprecating humor, poked at some folks of means who have the resources to raise millions of dollars, and who are of such stature in the community that their self-inflicted humorous anecdotes are found particularly funny.
The dinner was established by His Eminence, Francis Cardinal Spellman, in honor of Al Smith, a former governor of New York State, who was the first Catholic to run for President of the United States. The dinner, therefore, has always had a distinctive social-political curve to it while it brings together some great citizens (mostly from NYC) who have the wherewithal to raise the kind of money needed for these charities.
So, last Thursday, yours truly joined a group of Wisconsinites from all over the State – and beyond – to witness history.
You see, every presidential election, the sitting president and the candidate from the opposing party are invited to share the dais, put aside politics, and embrace the civility and honor that makes this a truly noble and exceptional republic.
This year, however, there was great controversy concerning Cardinal Dolan’s invitation to President Obama. The president is not necessarily favorable to us Catholics and we are currently in litigation against his forced HHS mandate involving Health and Human Services and Catholic institutions – schools, hospitals, and charities. The president is pro-abortion and against the Defense of Marriage Act. So, there was plenty of “push-back” by the Catholic community against the Cardinal’s invitation. In all fairness, I must add, people were not necessarily jumping up and down in joy to invite Governor Romney, either. I think many folks would have just considered passing over the tradition of having the candidates for dinner and go with a less provocative guest(s).
It is sometimes necessary, however, to have your bravest, strongest soldier go forth against a formidable adversary. I believe that the Cardinal is now in a position of leadership for the Church in the United States to meet the challenge. His invitation was meted out according to the practical and spiritual attributes of the Gospel – in a profound spirit of charity. I paraphrase his own words: if he only ate with saints, he’d eat alone an awful lot of times.
I’d like to think we all want to be heralds of hope and instruments of peace in difficult situations, especially in some of the troubling times that are now set before us. I believe our best efforts must be to fight the fight that must be fought – and this we are doing in our lawsuits and with our expectations of justice in favor of the First Amendment. We must always remember, however, that charity still carries the day for us as Christians. Even in persecution it should be said: “See how they love one another.”
In this Year of Faith, I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!