In 1978, when I was preparing for the priesthood in Rome, I had the privilege of being present in St. Peter’s Square when the newly chosen Pope John Paul II came out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and addressed the crowd by quoting Our Lord’s words “Ne Timeas” (Do not be afraid).
I, along with the rest of the throng present, somehow sensed that the world was going to be different under this man who came “from a far country,” as he put it.
And, indeed, it did change. The Holy Spirit outdid himself by sending this epochal holy man of God to lead us through the end of the era of the Evil Empire and help us cross over into the new millennium.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan is such a faith-filled and fearless man. The archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops unexpectedly finds himself leading the fight in defending Catholics (and not only Catholics) from a government and administration that is threatening to take away, as the USCCB put it, “Our first, most cherished liberty.”
In fact, we are under a threat to our religious liberties potentially as great as those suffered by the people ruled by Nazism and communism — and in many cases where Islamic law rules, subjecting Christians to second-class citizenship at best.
Cardinal Dolan has just published a most readable book, True Freedom: On Protecting Human Liberty and Religious Liberty, available in print and as an e-Book. It is brief but important, combining personal-touch anecdotes from his pastoral life with insights into Blessed John Paul’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).
After an anecdote about an aged couple that he ministers to, the cardinal quotes the wife as saying, “Just to live is a gift itself, a gift from God. Every morning when I wake up I am so happy to be alive for another day that I cherish the opportunity I have been given.”
Cardinal Dolan then observes that this statement “summarizes the beauty and dignity of life itself, a beauty and dignity that goes beyond what we are able to do, what we are able to accomplish.”
The cardinal identifies the fundamental thesis of the gospel of life as the sacredness of human life, which merits dignity, and not just because of what a person can accomplish, achieve or produce: Although he expresses this fundamental concept of the dignity of all human life in religious terms suited to his topic and audience, it is rooted in the natural law, a source of ingrained principles accessible to all, not just religious folks.
The cardinal goes on to say, using Evangelium Vitae as his principal text, “When arguments that appeal to objective truth are excluded from the debate over the laws that will govern us, we are caught in a trap of ethical relativism, and the dignity of persons and their right to life is subjected to a majority vote. The danger inherent in this situation is that ‘democracy,’ contradicting its own principles, effectively moves toward a form of totalitarianism” and risks being transformed into a “tyrant state.”
As we have just concluded the Fortnight for Freedom and that struggle must and will continue in the months or years ahead, the cardinal’s book serves as an invaluable help in our fight for religious liberty.
Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey III is a Church historian and
research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington.
On Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Liberty
By Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
37 pages, $.99
To order: RandomHouseDigital.com