20th Jun 2011

The Today Show Meets the ‘Tenderness of God’s Mercy’
Walking with Matt and Al, Archbishop Dolan shows us how evangelization’s done.

by Kathryn Jean Lopez 

Recently, when I tweeted a link to The Today Show’s trip to Rome, one respondent reflexively assumed it presented a negative view of the Church. I can’t blame the tweeter. But I hope he watched the clips, because it was truly moving TV – an uplifting, demonstrative lesson in communicating Christ in the world.

“It’s pretty good stuff,” Matt Lauer said in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica, ostensibly talking about the holy Roman down time. But there was much more there. Throughout the Vatican segments, Lauer appeared to be a man who was receiving as much, if not much more, as he was giving.

The Today Show’s Vatican City stop coincided with the archbishop being there for the first meeting of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. The show’s set is at 30 Rock in Manhattan, a stone’s throw from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan resides. In a pitch perfect exercise, he shared the treasures of Rome – of “home” – with his NBC neighbors from New York and everyone else within the clicks of Today.

There he was, the orthodox, faithful, dynamic bishop of New York, playing tour guide above the tomb of Saint Peter, being frank about the challenges facing the Church, and enjoying fellowship and a beer with friends on the Borgo Pio. There he was being a shepherd, showing us exactly how to be a Christian in this age of the New Evangelization.

When Pope Benedict met last month with the newly formed Council for Promoting New Evangelization, he laid out a challenge:

 To proclaim Jesus Christ the only Savior of the world seems more complex today than in the past; but our task remains the same as at the dawn of our history. The mission has not changed, just as the enthusiasm and the courage that moved the Apostles and the first disciples must not change.

He continued:

St. Augustine said that one must not think that the grace of evangelization was extended only to the Apostles and with them that source of grace was exhausted, but that “this source manifests itself when it flows, not when it ceases to be poured out. And it was in this way that, through the Apostles, grace also reached others, who were sent to proclaim the Gospel ... ” The grace of the mission is always in need of new evangelizers capable of receiving it, so that the salvific proclamation of the Word of God will never diminish in the changing conditions of history.

On The Today Show, the grace flowed. It was all there, right down to the archbishop making it absolutely clear that none of the Church’s art, beauty, talk or action matters without the Mass, without the Source and Summit of our faith. It was there as he brought the show’s hosts before Michelangelo’s Pietà and helped them become pilgrims, sharing with them “the tenderness of God’s mercy.”

“Everything is built rising up … all the way to the heavens,” Archbishop Dolan said of the basilica.

With the help of the archbishop, Lauer was able to have a moment with Pope Benedict XVI after the Wednesday papal audience on June 1. Afterward, he was openly and humbly grateful for the experience, describing it as “really extraordinary.”

During the encounter, Dolan’s hand was on Lauer’s shoulder, as someone who knows just how important the moment was for him. While walking down the Borgo Pio, his hand was on Al Roker’s shoulder, like one who truly appreciates another’s unique gifts and company.

That hand was a father’s hand.

I couldn’t help but recognize that same, fatherly guidance when Archbishop Dolan spoke out firmly and clearly against the same-sex-marriage bill the Catholic governor of New York was pushing on state lawmakers this past week. It is a contentious issue, wrapped up in so much misinformation and misplaced emotions – and severe threats to the family and religious liberty.

Successfully communicating Catholicism is the same as it ever was: It’s about integrity. As Pope Benedict put it, “It must not be forgotten that believers' style of life needs to be genuinely credible.” Even more eloquent than Archbishop Dolan’s words on The Today Show was the clear witness of his own humanity and faithful authenticity. The power of such a witness was apparent as the trio stood in front of the tomb of the recently beatified John Paul II, and Al Roker asked why the late Holy Father continues to have an effect on people.

“The world watched him smile, embrace, travel, bless, pray, cry, laugh,” Archbishop Dolan said. “He had this magnetic personality. He was just himself. The choreography, almost, between the divine and the human.”

Archbishop Dolan has frequently been compared to the late archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. The comparison tends to drive me crazy. Talk about raising expectations! Sheen was a media trailblazer, an unlikely star at the dawn of television, a communications revolutionary, a household name. There were a lot fewer choices in the media then, a lot less to compete with. Let Archbishop Dolan make his own way, do his own thing, do what he can.

And so he is.

As it turns out, his approach is much older than Archbishop Sheen. It’s as old as Christianity. It’s the call of Christianity: to bring Christ to others through love.

During The Today Show segments, Dolan described the Church as “a family of imperfect people, but that “with the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, we can make some progress here.”

This is how progress is made. This is how converts are won. This is how faith is transmitted. This is how people are inspired.

How do we bring people back to the Church? We love them. Just as our Father does, and just as a father showed us on Today. 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She speaks frequently on faith and public life. 

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)