Friday, September 7, 2012

Cardinal Dolan’s Prayers for America

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, is emerging as a respected voice and moral conscience on behalf of foundational Christian truths that are under attack in the secular American culture.  Most recently, Cardinal Dolan was invited to conclude both the Republican and Democratic conventions in prayer.  Links to the full texts of each of the prayers are provided below.

As I listened to both prayers, it was difficult for me to “pray along with” Cardinal Dolan.  Rather, I focused on points that would either affirm or contradict the platform and policies of the respective parties.   After all, how can a "man of the cloth" pray at a political convention without sending a message that is politically charged?   On that point, it should be noted that there had already been a lively discussion over which party should have the most “right” to His Eminence’s presence and blessing.  Perhaps the better question is, “With which party “planks” would the Cardinal agree?”

Since hearing Cardinal Dolan’s prayers, I have taken time to read the texts of each and to consider more carefully what is in them for me as a registered Republican, but more importantly, as a Christian and as an American citizen.  Let me offer a few pairings of “platform planks” with “points in the prayer” of Cardinal Dolan.   I do not claim to know Cardinal Dolan’s heart or intent in forming his prayers.

The Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa emphasized the theme, “We Believe in America.”  Their platform states (emphasis mine):

This platform affirms that America has always been a place of grand dreams and even grander realities; and so it will be again, if we return government to its proper role, making it smaller and smarter.  If we restructure government’s most important domestic programs to avoid their fiscal collapse. If we keep taxation, litigation, and regulation to a minimum.  If we celebrate success, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

In sharp contrast to the GOP’s emphasis on liberty, rugged individualism, entrepreneurship, and success, the Democratic platform drafted in Charlotte, NC, emphasizes collectivism through government establishment of “rules of the road” (emphasis mine):

We know that the free market only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest.  Mitt Romney and the Republicans would roll back financial reform and let Wall Street write its own rules again.   And two paragraphs later, adding:   Mitt Romney's opposition to commonsense campaign finance is nothing less than support for corporate and special-interest takeovers in our elections.  We believe America prospers when everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street, does their fair share and plays by the same rules.

To the Republicans with their vision of “freedom, rugged individualism, and entrepreneurship” for America, Cardinal Dolan offered this request to God:

Make us truly free by tethering freedom to truth and ordering freedom to goodness. Help us live our freedom in faith, hope and love, prudently and with justice, courageously and in a spirit of moderation.  And later:  We pray for all those who seek honest labor, as we thank you for the spirit of generosity to those in need with which you so richly blessed this nation.

From the heart of the cardinal in prayer comes a challenge to Americans, Republicans in particular, who want freedom to pursue their dreams with less government control—your freedom must be tethered to truth and justice expressed through the virtues of goodness, moderation, and generosity.  Only then, will the “free market” be free to operate in such a way that all have an opportunity to pursue happiness.

On the other hand, Democrats place their hopes in a collectivist approach in which government will enforce rules by which the ‘free market’ should operate so that all who enter will have their ‘fair share’ and those who achieve greater power and wealth will ‘pay their fair share’ out of their accountability to the ‘rules of the road.’   To the Democrats who place this kind of faith in humanity to produce ‘fairness’ Cardinal Dolan prays as he did for Republicans:

May our liberty be in harmony with truth; freedom ordered in goodness and justice.  Help us live our freedom in faith, hope, and love.   And later, he prays,  Help [our leaders to] remember that the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself.

With regard to the issue of abortion and the sanctity of human life, the Republican platform states (emphasis mine):

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare.  We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life.  Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

In sharp contrast,

The Democratic party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.

With the Republicans, Cardinal Donan prays:   We ask your benediction upon those yet to be born, and on those who are about to see you at the end of this life.

And, with Democrats whose platform allows for “abortion as healthcare,” the cardinal prays:

Thus do we praise you for the gift of life.  Grant us the courage to defend it, life, without which no other rights are secure.  We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected

The Republican platform strongly states,

we believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage.  We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity.  [See Republican platform (link below) for detailed rationale for their support of traditional marriage.]

The Democratic platform states:

We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples.  And later, the platform adds, The Administration has said that the word ‘family' in immigration includes LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) relationships…

With the Republicans, Cardinal Donan prays from the perspectives of both natural law ethics and the Judeo-Christian Scriptures (See Romans 1: 16-25)  (emphasis mine),

May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.  Give us the good sense not to cast aside the boundaries of righteous living you first inscribed on our hearts even before inscribing them on tablets of stone.

Similarly, with Democrats, Donan prays,

Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God.  Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.

In conclusion, I have presented excerpts from Cardinal Dolan’s prayers at both Republican and Democratic conventions, and then related the prayers to the stated positions of each party in regard to three major moral issues.  First, should the future of America be characterized by promotion of individual freedom or by promotion of a collectivist approach to distribute wealth.  Second, which is the best way to protect the well being of women, by maintaining their right to an abortion (including late-term); or by protection of the life of the unborn while encouraging acceptable alternatives for the well being of both mother and child?   Third, should marriage be defined as between one man and one woman, or more broadly defined to include same-sex relationships?

One can read in detail on Cardinal Dolan’s blog his positions on the three topics and thus, gain insight into why he prayed as he did at the conventions.   I conclude this entry with an excerpt from his August 1, 2012 entry entitled “Fighting the Good Fight for Religious Freedom” followed by his prayer for the candidates and for us as we choose wisely.

… the Secretary of Health and Human Services[has decreed ] that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employer health care plans to include contraceptive services for women, including drugs called abortifacients.  Although, in America’s finest tradition, the bill allows an exemption for religious reasons, it presumes to define just what a church’s ministry must be to qualify, a dramatic and unprecedented intrusion into the integrity of all faiths.  My brother bishops and I – in welcome collaboration with other religious leaders – think that this mandate is wrong and misguided and have tried to work with the Administration to correct it.

Over the course of the coming year, the effort to protect religious liberty and the freedom of conscience will continue.  In the end, this is not about bishops, it is not about Catholics, it is not about contraceptives.  It is about the ideals our nation was founded upon: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  You can’t do much better than the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The founding fathers got it right.  The HHS mandate gets it wrong.  We are fighting to correct that wrong, in order to make sure that religious freedom continues for the generations to come after us.

Prayer (Cardinal Dolan, DNC, Sept. 6, 2012):
Oh God of wisdom, justice, and might, we ask your guidance for those who govern us:  President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Congress, the Supreme Court, and all those, including Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan, who seek to serve the common good by seeking public office.  Make them all worthy to serve you by serving our country.  Help them remember that the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself. With your grace, may all Americans choose wisely as we consider the future course of public policy.

Democratic Party Platform 2012 --
Republican Party Platform 2012 --
Cardinal Dolan’s Prayer at GOP Convention:
Oikonomia: Stewardship of Creation and “Natural Law June 10, 2011) --
Oikonomia: Is Romney's Rhetoric Backed by Character?   September 5, 2012 --

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