Today, we are very happy to welcome our latest CatholicMom.com contributor Maureen O’Shea, who will share her columns with us monthly. I love this wonderful inaugural column of Maureen’s for both its subject (the fabulous Archbishop Timothy Dolan) and the voice with which Maureen shares this special experience. Welcome, Maureen, to our CatholicMom.com family!
The calendar says two weeks before Christmas, so last night we set out to see a big, jolly man with a smiling face, pink cheeks and a colorful outfit. No, I’m not talking about Santa. My husband and I were privileged to attend a church service to welcome the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Michael Dolan. He’s been visiting the entire vicariate and last night arrived in the Northern Westchester/Putnam Diocese, where I live. What a beautiful, happy man. He is truly the epitome of joy. On a bitter cold, winter night St. Patrick’s church in Yorktown Heights, NY was packed to the gills. I was told there were 800 people there last night and so many smiling faces. It is a tough time for people here now, as it is for those across the entire country and we all need some good news and in he came with all the pomp and circumstance, we as Catholics so seldom get to see. The Knights of Columbus were there with their swords and big feathery hats, as was just about every priest in the diocese. We were running a bit late and as we came into the vestibule of the church, there he was in all his glory dressed in the purple Advent colors with the large miter sitting atop his head, waiting for all the priests to enter the church. Like a child trying to catch a glimpse of Santa, I craned my neck and twisted to get a better view. He was smiling from ear to ear and really enjoying himself. When my daughter was two years old, I once described her as a little ball of love, well this man is a giant ball of love. After some beautiful hymns that we all sang together along with the choir and a few readings, he stepped to the altar. The mood was festive and this lovely man got up and as he took the microphone, he thanked us for coming out on such a cold night, then he began to sing, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but St. Patrick’s is so delightful.” He related how he entered the church, having never met 99% of the people there, but he felt “he belonged, because as Catholics, we’re all family.” Then he said something most men would never say on a first date, “I love you”. How beautiful and heartwarming, how courageous. This man emanates love and joy and he sparked that joy in the entire crowd.
The service was short and we all went downstairs to greet him and have refreshments. One would have thought we were waiting for a ride at Disney World with the ropes and people standing in line, but while at Disney World you often see impatience and tears, here there were only smiles. The mood was infectious, everyone we spoke to was smiling and saying how wonderful it was, how wonderful he was. Now you should know, I live in Westchester County, NY, one of the wealthiest areas in the country. Many in this area are very well off and tend to be a bit jaded. It takes a lot to impress us here, we are New Yorkers through and through. Yet here comes this striking, merry man of God. A religious shepherd no less, complete with gold staff. There were a lot of us who came out last night to feel the warmth and love that this man came to offer. He greeted us with open arms and a genuine delight, as if he’d been waiting for us. The fact that he has a terrific sense of humor only adds to his charm. At a time when we’re all wondering about our futures, our 401K’s, what’s happening in the world and how we’ll survive. Worries about money, job security, our children, keeping our homes, ad nauseum, here is a man that is the personification of Christ. He speaks of love, he uses his eyes, his words, his whole body to give a giant virtual hug, yet he’s not afraid to take on the tough jobs either. Recently he directly addressed the New York Times in an Op Ed piece with regard to abortion. Here is a man of truth and honesty, passionate about his beliefs. A down to earth guy who says he’d love to have a beer and a sandwich with each of his 2.5 million parishioners. He has assumed the mantle of New York, a cold and often scary place that has little time for God and yet is already making a huge impact. His first visit as Archbishop in the Diocese was to the Bedford Women’s Correctional Facility where he said Mass and met with the inmates. His very opening act was to reach out to the downtrodden, the forgotten and he touched them, hugged them and spent a few moments. Even last night as we lined up to greet him, this very busy man made it clear that he was not in a hurry, that he had all night and he wasn’t going anywhere until all of us had gotten to shake his hand and say a few words. He appeared especially gentle and loving to the nuns, particularly the older ones. He is in a very real way a shepherd to each one of us. He spoke last night about how the baby Jesus comes at Christmas every year just as he did over 2000 years ago and that each of us are living in our very own Bethlehem. This giant of a man points the way to a people in desperate need of direction and reminds us what is truly most important, our Savoir, Jesus Christ. We would do well to listen. He appears childlike in the sense that he is sure in the knowledge that God loves him and he is exactly where he is supposed to be. I think that is why he is so happy. If only we could remember that every day of our lives.
Archbishop Dolan is reaching out and doing his part with the confidence that Almighty God has everything else in hand. As his flock, that’s all we need to do: reach out to others with love, show up every day to do our best and trust that God is taking care of the rest. This man’s treasures seem much greater and more durable than any presents Santa could put under my tree. In New York this year, this teddy bear of a man from Missouri may just give Santa a run for his money.
Copyright 2009 Maureen O’Shea