A Call to Prayer and Joyful Witness

A letter of thanks and an invitation to prayer and renewal from Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan to the Faithful of the Archdiocese of New York.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus!

I will be leaving in a few days for Rome. Accompanied by a good number of pilgrims from New York, mom and my family, and friends from Missouri and Wisconsin, I will be made a cardinal in the consistory on February 18th. It’s a significant moment for me and for the Church in New York. Why?

Yes, becoming a cardinal is an honor, and many of you have been so kind in extending your good wishes and congratulations to me upon receiving it. Thanks! But it is not meant to be an honor without responsibility. To the contrary, cardinals are specifically asked to serve Jesus and His Church with renewed courage. When the Holy Father presents the “red hat” to the new cardinals, he will ask us to accept it as a sign of our readiness to shed our blood for the strengthening of the faith, the peace and tranquillity of the people of God, and the liberty and growth of the Church. Get it? Blood! Red!

Would you pray for me that I might do as I am asked, that I will be a courageous preacher of the Gospel, and defender of human dignity, the Church and our cherished religious freedom? I need more than your prayers though. I need your joyful witness, your solidarity. Just as the whole community shares in this honor, so too do we all share in the responsibility. If all this only means that I now dress up in a red cassock and red hat, we will have missed the whole point.

Are you ready to shed your blood? Every Christian disciple should aspire to be brave enough to do so. Please God, the day of shedding one’s blood for the faith will not come to New York, but the cardinalatial red should invite everyone to ask some questions and examine our consciences. As Blessed John Paul II observed, “If something is not worth dying for, it’s not worth living for.” God, family, faith, freedom, one’s country, friends, honor, virtue, life itself, the Church—all worth dying for . . . all worth living for!

For my part, I have to ask myself: Where do I show steadfastness now? If I can’t be courageous now in small things, how might I be ready to answer the summons to shed my blood in grave matters? Do I speak of the Gospel full and entire, with joy and conviction, even to those who appear to be indifferent or hostile? Do I defend the Church when she is maligned or attacked, or when her proper liberties are threatened? Do I stand fast with those around the world persecuted and even martyred for their faith, raising my voice in solidarity with them? Do I do my utmost, with the help of God’s grace, to live the virtues, especially those of humility and charity? Do I fight the daily battle to make room for God, in time set aside for prayer, the sacraments and works of service to others, especially those in need?

Might I invite you to ask those same questions? I hope that these days of the consistory in Rome be an occasion of renewed zeal throughout the whole Archdiocese of New York, inaugurating an increasingly confident, joyful, courageous Catholic witness.

Cardinals are linked by a special bond to Rome and her bishop, the Vicar of Christ, the successor of St. Peter, our Holy Father the Pope. In life, we are called to assist him as he governs the Church universal. In death, we are solemnly charged with electing his successor. This link with Rome is emphasized by the assignment of each cardinal to a “titular”, honorary, church in Rome—I will become, in name at least, a parish priest in the Diocese of Rome. Which parish mine will be I don’t yet know. As a new parish priest, so to speak, of Rome, what should I learn?

Soon after the ceremony on February 18, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien—a proud son of New York!—and I will greet visitors at the North American College, where he served as Rector before I did. The roof of the college offers a magnificent view of both St. Peter’s and the glories of Rome. There, at the highest point of the college, is inscribed in large letters the explanation in Latin of why Rome is holy, why Rome is essential, why we Roman Catholics so treasure our bond to Rome and her bishop, the Holy Father:

O Roma felix, quae duorum Principum es consecrata glorioso sanguine! (O happy Rome, which was consecrated by the glorious blood of the two Princes!)

Rome is not holy because of the magnificent monuments, or splendid squares, or celebrated churches. Rome is holy because of the martyrs’ blood that was shed there, beginning with the princes of the apostles, Peter and Paul.

Pope Benedict XVI chose February 18 for the consistory because of its proximity to February 22, normally the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. (This year the feast will not be observed, as it is Ash Wednesday.) Peter’s final “chair” in Rome was the cross upside down, on a hill called “the Vatican,” and his martyr’s grave lies below the very spot where we new cardinals will receive the red biretta. The shedding of blood is not a metaphor; it is a reality.

There will be joy in Rome, but a sober joy. We are grateful to be Roman, to be Catholic, to be heirs to the promises of Christ and the blood of the martyrs. We renew our love for Christ, His Church, His Vicar on earth. We strengthen our courage to be witnesses of that love for the entire Church, and for the world that so urgently needs her witness.

That’s the significance of the consistory for new cardinals, for Rome and for New York.

I ask you to accompany me with your prayers, and I promise you a daily remembrance in mine.

My love and gratitude!

✝ Timothy Michael Dolan

Archbishop of New York

9 February 2012