The Catholic Commentator  

Preserving the unity of Christ and his church in an increasing secularized society is the most significant challenge priests are facing today.  

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Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York shares a joke with his fellow clergy members during his keynote address at the Louisiana Priests Convention, held Sept. 19-21 in New Orleans.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator


That was the cornerstone of the message Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York delivered to his fellow clergy members during his keynote address at the Louisiana Priests Convention, held Sept. 19-21 in New Orleans.  

In his own idiomatic style that consisted of healthy doses of humor, spirituality and thought-provoking ideas, Cardinal Dolan told more than 400 priests that they are on the front line tussling with modern sentiments and opinions that range from the church is too old fashioned to she is forgetting its roots to comply with progressive standards set by modern society.  

The cardinal also senses a growing disconnect between Christ and the church.  

“The sentiment we face today is ‘we want Christ, we want nothing to do with that stupid church,’ ” Cardinal Dolan said. “Such is the popular and successful (ruse) now to annul the spousal bond between Christ and his bride, the church.”  

“We hear this all the time: ‘I want the Lord as my shepherd as long as I’m the only one there. I want Christ as my king in a kingdom of one. God is my father, I’m the only child,’ ” he added. “They want Christ without his church.”  

“We believe that’s impossible, that’s contrary to what Jesus wants. As priests we know because we signify, we image it. Jesus and his church are one.”  

Cardinal Dolan, in one of his more reflective moments, posed the question as how do priests unite with the church and how do they initiate renewing the equation of Christ with his church? He said the world today considers belief in God a private hobby, at best, a dangerous ideology at worst.  

“So what do we do my fellow museum pieces?” Cardinal Dolan said, emitting laughter from his fellow clergy members.  

He said the church must be portrayed as God’s family, and the Holy Spirit is the bond of love holding “us as a spiritual family together. Mary is our mother, the saints are our ancestors, in the household of the faith. Other Catholics are brothers and sisters, the Eucharist our family meal.”  

He noted that Jesus “chooses us as belonging to him and his church, we don’t choose him.”  

“We are Catholic, it’s in our DNA, we breathe it,” the cardinal added. “Profound as it is to be Catholic, it’s like a birthmark. We’re baptized into it, born into it, the church is our family.”  

He expounded on that thought, saying that individuals do not choose what earthly family they are born into. He admitted “we are stuck with that, we can’t leave if even at (some) time we get fed up with it. We do drift for a while. We end up back.”  

In the same way, some Catholics might fall away from the faith, but they continue to self-identify as Catholics.  

“We’re all just one chest pain away from going back,” the cardinal joked.  

He stressed the urgency of reclaiming the image of church as family, adding that Pope Francis is working hard to portray that image, and to restore the heart of the church to rekindle a sense of tenderness, belonging and welcoming.  

Cardinal Dolan said sensitivity to those who feel excluded is imperative and added that priests must acknowledge the  “flaws, the failings, the mistakes, the dysfunction in our personal family. I sure don’t have any problem admitting that at times it can be tough to love the church because of her imperfections. The mystical body of Christ has lots of warts.” 

But by admitting and not shying away from those warts, Cardinal Dolan said the world, which is ever ready to headline those faults, would be willing to take a second look.  

“Yet, this is where as priests we are called to show our fidelity,” he said. “She (remains) our holy mother, our family. Like our earthly family can irritate and hurt us, so can our heavenly family, yet we love her and cling to her all the more.”  

Cardinal Dolan admitted to a chasm between those who reject the church for being “old and wrinkled and irrevelant, in need of radical surgery that could change her stale tradition of faith and morals,” and others who complain the church is becoming way too “brash, wavering on the wisdom of ages, way too accommodating to fads of the times.”  

“I suppose all of you agree with me that we’ve got a monumental challenge today,.” Cardinal Dolan said. “So look, whether you agree with my strategy that the possible way to renew the luster of the church is to speak of her as a spiritual family, I don’t know. I’m still mulling it over myself.  

“I do know that people today who leave the church tell us one reason is because of her dark side. So if the world sees us who are literally close to Jesus, you and I as priests, that we share in this mutual love for the church, if they see us as humble and honest and readily aware of the flaws of the church, contrite and eager to form them, well maybe with the grace of the Lord the church can be revived. If we are not afraid as priests to show our wounds, the wounds of the church, the wounds of our family, maybe the other wounded will come back.”  

“In the end, our spiritual family, the church is all we got,” he added. “She’s worth dying for, she’s worth living for, this love for Jesus and his church is the passion of our lives. Our priesthood, our love for Jesus and his church must be the passion of our priesthood.”  

The convention, which is held every four years, drew a record 439 priests. Clergy members attended various workshops and included an afternoon Mass at St. Louis Cathedral.