Friday, October 19, 2012

Dinner at the Waldorf

The Cardinal Archbishop of New York took a break from the Synod of Bishops last night to host the annual Al Smith Dinner, New York's premier (and prestigious) fundraiser for Catholic Charites. Sharing the dais with him were the two candidates for President of the United States, each of whom acquitted himself well in the Al Smith Dinner's tradition of self-deprecating funniness. If, just a few nights earlier, the two had at times overly resembled two overgrown boys, two rivals strutting in the school yard, playground, or streetcorner, last night their presence and demeanor recalled a more civil, more humane style of politics - a style rooted in the recognition (articulated by each of the candidates) that there really are much more important things than politics. Each candidate acknowledged the other's primary identity as a husband and father - something far more important even than being a president.

The star speaker of the night, however, was the Cardinal himself, who suggested that the Al Smith Dinner shows both the country and the Church at their best and spoke of how faith "affects everything we do, and dare, and dream." In keeping with the customary expectation that speakers should also act like stand-up comedians, he dutifully poked fun at his weight, suggesting he'd have looked better on the dais if Chris Christie had been the Republican nominee and would be in better shape today if Michelle Obama had been 1st Lady when he was growing up. Powerfully evoking the memory of Al Smith himself, however, His Eminence identified the Church squarely in the side of those he called the "un-"s - "the unemployed, the uninsured, the unwanted, the unwed mother, the innocent fragile unborn baby in her womb, the undocumented, the unhoused,  the unhealthy, the unfed, the under-educated." Then he added "Government, Al Smith believed, should be on the side of these 'un-'s, but a government, he also believed, partnering - partnering with family, church, parish, neighborhood, organizations, and community, never intruding or opposing, since, when all is said and done, it's in God we trust, not ultimately in government or politics." 

(For video of the Cardinal's complete remarks, one can go to

The tradition of the two candidates appearing together at the Al Smith Dinner goes back to Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. It's a valuable tradition, which modifies the unedifying brutality of the electoral process. It also highlights, as did the Cardinal in concluding remarks, both the value of a vibrant network of religious and social institutions and community organizations and the indispensable benefit of Government.

No comments:

Post a Comment