When I think of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, I picture him smiling. Of course, Cardinal Dolan can be as serious as any priest, bishop, or cardinal can be, but it’s his smile that most people remember.
Why does he smile so much? Obviously he is a happy person and he loves people. But there’s more to it than that.
My encounters with the new cardinal date back to his time in Milwaukee. I met him soon after he started his ministry as archbishop there at a meeting of the staffs of the three Catholic Herald diocesan newspapers. I noticed right away that the new archbishop’s smile lit up the room.
He impressed me as friendly, interested in our work in communication, and strong in his faith. That impression continued as he took up the challenges of dealing with Church issues on diocesan and state levels.
Importance of civility
I remember his address to the state Legislature in 2003. He called upon our legislators to practice civility, which he contended “is the cement that keeps a respectful, trusting, productive society and community focused and fruitful.”
He concluded in his speech that if we lose civility — and we’re in danger of doing so, he said prophetically — “we’ll lose our noble battles on all the other challenges. Sometimes we can’t do much about all those other issues, but we can always do something about courtesy and civility. Sometimes more important than what we do is how we do it.”
It is unfortunate that more people in the state of Wisconsin in the past two years didn’t remember and follow his words. We desperately need civility today.
Cardinal Dolan demonstrated time after time that he practices what he preaches. He is unfailingly courteous and respectful of others, even those with whom he disagrees.
Why he smiles
But back to the smiles. Cardinal Dolan explained one reason for his smiling demeanor when he was asked to give the main address at a meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with the cardinals and cardinals-designate, who were to be inducted into the College of Cardinals on February 18 at the Vatican.
Cardinal-designate Dolan told the College of Cardinals that when he was a seminarian, he was told to smile because a missionary or evangelist had to be a person of joy. He said he still believes Christians must show the world that faith is saying yes “to everything decent, good, true, beautiful, and noble.”
Personal relationship with Christ
I also think that Cardinal Dolan’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ shines through his smile. In his brother Bob Dolan’s biography on his brother (Life Lessons from My Life with My Brother, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan), Bob asked him, “Many of us are struggling. We are confused. Sometimes we’re even lost. . . . Give us a compass, a road map if you will. You seem to have it all figured out.”
Cardinal Dolan responded, “Make no mistake. I struggle, too. Life can be difficult, indeed. I don’t have all the answers. What I do have, though, is a personal and deep and meaningful love for God and His Son, Jesus. That’s all I need.”
Cardinal Dolan said an effective blueprint might be this: “God comes first. His ways, His laws have dominion. No exceptions, no compromises.”
Bob Dolan asked his brother to repeat his Easter message, which rings true every day of the year: “In all of our lives we experience some Good Fridays, and in all of our lives we experience some Easter Sundays. In the end, we must recognize that joy conquers sorrow, hope conquers despair, good trumps evil, love conquers hate, faith conquers doubt, mercy conquers revenge, and that everlasting life conquers death.”
That explains why Cardinal Dolan smiles!
Let’s join in praying for him and all the leaders of our Church that they radiate the love of Christ and share it with others. And let’s strive to follow their example in our own lives, especially during the seasons of Lent and Easter.