Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Dolan’s prayer rocks the Democratic convention"

What is wrong with this headline?

Video: Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life, pro-family prayer rocks the Democratic convention

Of course, one problem is it's not really true.  The video shows the prayer being treated politely, not like a performance at a rock concert, if that was the headline's intended meaning; nor did it seem to disturb the equilibrium of those present, if that was the intended meaning.

There is a much more serious problem, though.  The headline strongly implies that what is really important is that the prayer was heard by the Democratic Convention, not that it was heard by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Unfortunately, there is at least some evidence of the same attitude in the Cardinal's prayer.  For a few examples: "Help us to see that a society’s greatness is found above all in the respect it shows for the weakest and neediest among us....  Grant us the courage to defend it, life, without which no other rights are secure.... Renew in all our people a profound respect for religious liberty.... Make us ever-grateful for those who, for over two centuries, have given their lives in freedom’s defense...."  What do you think, is the Cardinal placing himself among those who 
  • do not see that a society's greatness is found in the respect it shows the weakest and neediest?
  • lacks the courage to defend life?
  • lacks respect for religious liberty?
  • is not grateful to those who have given their lives in freedom's defense?
Or is he saying this because he believes (correctly) that many of the people overhearing his prayer fall into those categories?  If so, how does his prayer differ from this well-known prayer?

The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.
Notice how uncomfortably similar Cardinal Dolan's prayer is to this.  It also has the same self-congratulatory tone -- there is no very significant difference between what the Pharisee said and, "O God, I give Thee thanks that this country is not as the rest of nations," which is a fair approximation of such phrases as, "We beseech you, almighty God to shed your grace on this noble experiment in ordered liberty...."

Does the Cardinal pray like that in his private prayers -- the ones heard only by him and God Almighty?  Of course not.  He no doubt prays for the conversion of sinners, and he no doubt remembers that he himself is a sinner.  I respect him enough to believe that in private his prayer is more like that of the Publican:  "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  

The problem is not with what Cardinal Dolan was saying to the Democratic Convention, nor with what he had earlier said to the Republican Convention; the problem is that what he was saying, he was saying to the Republican and Democratic Conventions, when he should have been speaking to God, with them and on their behalf.  Yet even the Cardinal's supporters agree that he was speaking to the crowds, not God -- for example,
It has often been said that to effectively communicate the truth to others, it is helpful to affirm the ways in which they already acknowledge and live out the truth.... Above all, though, Dolan’s prayers were calls to unity and ultimately conversion for leaders and members of both parties.
God clearly is not among the "others" for whom "it is helpful to affirm the ways in which they already acknowledge and live out the truth."  

As for the "calls to unity", the decisions for unity are subject to the free wills of "leaders and members of both parties", who, through a shocking coincidence, happened to be in the same room as the Cardinal.  It is natural for a man to pray that his girlfriend will marry him, but if he does so as part of saying grace at dinner with her parents, that's not a prayer, it's a proposal.  For the same reason, the Cardinal's "calls to unity" were not prayers, they were political proposals.

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