The Real Purpose of the Al Smith Dinner
The 'magis' Hillary Clinton mentioned isn't an ideology; it's not a piece of fungible political rhetoric — it's a challenge for every living being.
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.
The Al Smith Dinner is a blessing, not because of the tradition of self-deprecating jokes told by politicians in attendance, but because it points us to people who do the work of more, ever-greater freedom and flourishing. Not the people in the room, necessarily, but the good works that the pricey tickets support. It’s the mission of love that moves us to ever-greater love and service. It’s not lip service but gratuitous love — self-giving, more and more — the kind that demonstrates real faith and keeps moving us forward beyond ourselves.
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-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].
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