Update 2:44 PM 4/29/13: I have added in the complete video of Cardinal Dolan's speech below: I was stunned. This was not the stoic "defense" of life and liberty principles I was expecting. It was something brilliantly different. Cardinal Timothy Dolan was about as "defensive" as an explosive locomotive with blinding light is to the onrushing darkness of a tunnel.
Like many, I was at the Wilberforce Award ceremony expecting this heroic defender of freedom of conscience in the HHS affair to show us how he was leading the nation's bishops in a magnificent "stand" against the U.S. government, even to the point of civil disobedience, if necessary. The U.S. bishops have been superlative in the fight against the recent HHS mandate efforts to force institutions and small businesses to pay for abortifacients for their employees, arguing that the owners or directors would feel they would become ministers of death in complying. We were waiting with bated breath to see what the cardinal was going to say.
He started off the evening not by saying, but by DOING.
I hadn't noticed the famously affable cleric approaching my table area until I looked up to an explosion of joyful banter and laughter as Dolan raised the infant daughter of one of my coworkers into the air and proclaimed with pure joy how beautiful and wonderful the little child was. I had previously seen him slapping backs and joking in the foyer as he approached the banquet hall, but this was an entirely different magnitude of joy. His face was radiant as he held the baby. He treated the occasion like it was a celebration of the song of life and he was the lead singer.
Not many minutes later he was on the podium, accepting the award. As he got into the main part of his speech, he told about a young couple (Dolan's own nephew and his wife) whose lives had been radically changed from what he termed "self-referential" to something far better by the arrival of a child. He pointed out that they were no longer living for themselves, but for the baby.
"My friends, that's precisely how it should be. That's how God intended it to be. That's what we call a culture of life. The human project is about babies. A man and a woman are made for babies. Culture is about babies. Our lives are at their best when centered not on ourselves, but upon -- [pause] -- babies. . . . Culture is simply humanity's best effort to protect the baby . . ."
As he continued to speak it suddenly dawned on me. Rather than standing and defending traditional doctrines concerning the sanctity of life, Christian teachings of the one-man-one-woman nature of marriage and the freedom to teach and protect the same in public life, Dolan had already moved past that to celebration of the genius of God in creating marriage and new life. His was no behind-the-walls siege mentality like that which we have seen many religious conservatives adopt. This was more of a "Glory-to-God-look-how-MAGNIFICENT-this-is" outburst. It was not a stodgy stand on centuries-old dogma or historical studies. It was, rather, a testimony full of smiles and laughter, and totally in the moment. I looked around the room. Even the young people were mesmerized.
This is what has been missing in the debate. Not so much what marriage isn't, but what it is. Not so much what a beating heart in the womb isn't, but exuberant celebration of what it is. Not so much a defiant "You can't force me to violate my conscience" as a "How could I do anything but shout to the world the WONDER of what it IS!"
I left the room shaking my head and smiling to myself. What I had witnessed was about as much a "defense" as sending in RG III with his best receivers against a high school team would be. To the cardinal, it is not about winning an argument, even winsomely. The argument is won. It is time to shout it to the world with joy -- and celebrate!
Update 2:44 PM 4/29/13: I have added in the complete video of Cardinal Dolan's speech below: (Complete) Cardinal Dolan's Acceptance Speech [17:40]