The real pur­pose of the Al Smith dinner

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Kathryn Lopez Colum­nist

Some­one on Twit­ter the other night com­mented that New York Car­di­nal Ti­mothy Dolan, sit­ting be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump at the an­nual Al Smith Dinner in New York, must have some kind of “magic.” He, af­ter all, man­aged to get the two of them to talk to one an­other -- and laugh with one an­other -- dur­ing the course of dinner, a ma­jor event in the po­lit­i­cal cal­en­dar that em­pha­sizes po­lit­i­cal bi­par­ti­san­ship for a char­i­ta­ble cause.

But it wasn’t magic that was in the room, but as the car­di­nal put it, the pres­ence of God. And dur­ing her re­marks, Clin­ton touched on this. It’s not magic that we ought to be aim­ing for, but magis -- a Je­suit con­cept of work­ing ever harder for the glory of God -“the more, the bet­ter,” as she put it. Clin­ton said that she had dis­cussed magis with her Je­suit-ed­u­cated run­ning mate, Tim Kaine, and was tak­ing it “to heart ... as best as one can in the daily heat, the back and forth, of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.”

Clin­ton also cited Pope Fran­cis in her re­marks, say­ing she was in­spired by his “hu­mil­ity and heart.” As it happens, the pope talked about magis ear­lier this year, while lead­ing a re­treat for priests. He loves ap­proach­ing mercy as a verb -- “mer­cy­ing” -- making it trans­for­ma­tional way of life. He told the priests that to show and re­ceive mercy “spurs us to ac­tion in this world.” The mercy is magis, he said -- “ever greater” -it “grows and ex­pands, pass­ing from good to bet­ter and from less to more.”

See, magis isn’t an ide­ol­ogy; it’s not a piece of fun­gi­ble po­lit­i­cal rhetoric -- it’s a chal­lenge for ev­ery liv­ing be­ing.

As Pope Fran­cis put it: “The model that Je­sus sets be­fore us is that of the Fa­ther, who is ever greater ... whose in­fi­nite mercy in some sense con­stantly grows. His mercy has no roof or walls, be­cause it is born of his sovereign free­dom.”

Here on Earth, magis re­quires free­dom in or­der to work. It re­quires that life be pro­tected and nour­ished -- a fun­da­men­tal miss of the Clin­ton cam­paign. It re­quires ac­knowl­edg­ment of a cre­ator, the hu­mil­ity of know­ing that we are cre­ated be­ings and the grate­ful­ness that comes from that knowl­edge.

As it happens, even though I’ve of­ten at­tended in the press sec­tion, I sat out the Al Smith Dinner this year pre­cisely be­cause of our need to know and re­cover unadul­ter­ated magis. I’m in an im­mer­sion pro­gram at the Ce­na­cle of Di­vine Prov­i­dence, a spir­i­tual-di­rec­tion school as­so­ci­ated with the Fran­cis­can University of Steubenville.

In a col­umn pub­lished around the time of the dinner, Car­di­nal Dolan wrote that “the dig­nity of the hu­man per­son, to be de­fended and pro­moted as a first pri­or­ity, a dig­nity not de­pen­dent upon race, green card, stock port­fo­lio, age, or health; the sa­cred­ness of hu­man life, from the in­stant of con­nec­tion to the holy mo­ment of nat­u­ral pass­ing, to be de­fended vig­or­ously rather than di­luted and then dis­carded -- these are es­sen­tial to civ­i­liza­tion. How grate­ful we are as Amer­i­cans that these two prin­ci­ples are at the foun­da­tion of our Repub­lic; yet how vig­i­lant we are that they are un­der threat; and how com­mit­ted we are as pa­tri­otic Catholic cit­i­zens to pro­mote and de­fend them.”

Are we grate­ful? Are we vig­i­lant? There’s rea­son for doubt. But we can be­gin again where we are, mov­ing for­ward to some­thing ever greater.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, edi­tor-at­large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@ na­tion­al­re­view.com.

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