I have now watched the video of Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s sermon at his Installation Mass on Wednesday. What to say? Rarely have words and the moment met so perfectly. Not since Sean O’Malley took the pulpit at Holy Cross Cathedral at his installation in 2003 has the American Church experienced such a moment when the new guard disarms everyone and points the way forward to a more hopeful future.
"Everybody is somebody," said Dolan in the pithiest summation of Catholic teaching on the dignity and worth of the human person. I wish his audience had been quick to its feet when he mentioned serving the poor or helping the immigrant, but there was something moving about the way the congregation interrupted Dolan when he mentioned defending the unborn, the clapping grew, a few people stood and finally the entire congregation stood and applauded. In this culture, sadly, opposition to abortion has become seen as an almost uniquely Catholic issue. That fact speaks better of the Church than it does of the culture.
Dolan spoke with feeling to his new priests and immediately began the task of improving clerical morale which has still not recovered from the sex abuse crisis of 2002 and various other challenges. It is not only that Dolan said the right words, although he did. It is that he so clearly loves being a priest himself. Sometimes you will hear it said of a prelate that had he not been a bishop he would have made a great CEO or a fine politician. Whatever his administrative or political skills, it is impossible to think of Dolan as anything but a priest.
He mentioned both Father Michael Judge and Father Richard John Neuhaus, a linkage that might not make either of these deceased priests entirely comfortable but one entirely appropriate for the man who would have been bishop to them both. His reference to Dorothy Day and Pierre Toussaint, both on their way to the dignity of the altar, was oddly linked with Al Smith, whose cause for canonization is not likely to be introduced anytime soon. Yet, with the current Governor of New York sitting in the front pew, and issues of Church and State still reverberating, perhaps it was good of Dolan to remind us of the Happy Warrior’s devoted Catholicism.
Great though the sermon was, my favorite part of the day was before the Mass as the bishops filed into St. Patrick’s. Dolan left the procession and crossed the street to shake hands with some of New York’s finest and to wave to the crowds gathered along Fifth Avenue. It was if he can’t help himself. He can’t help reaching out to people. At a time when Catholics confront calls to re-ghettoize the Church and the category "former Catholics" ranks as the second largest religious designation in the country, we need this exuberant man who is so determined to reach out and so evidently in love with the Church. Archbishop Dolan is, you might say, really somebody.