29 October 2014

Cardinal George's homily on Father Tolton and on saints

One month ago today, His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, concluded the final phase of the diocesan investigation into the life and virtues of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton by giving his signature to the final documents and sealing the acts to be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It was an important day in the history of the Archdiocese, the history of Illinois, and in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States of America, and I remain very happy I was able to be present.

I noticed this morning that a video recording of the ceremony, conducted within the context of Midday Prayer, has been posted to the web site of the Cause:

This semester, I have Wednesdays free, so I took the opportunity today to transcribe the homily preached that day by Cardinal George:

In these days, as I look towards retirement, people often ask, “What do you think was most important in what happened, or what you did or what happened to you, in the seventeen years and more that you served the People of God in this Archdiocese as their Archbishop?” And there are many truly important, significant events in the Church and in society that fill these years - sometimes to joy, sometimes with sorrow - but I truly believe that the introduction of the Cause of Father Augustus Tolton whose sanctity, recognized by the Church, is one of the most important – if not the most important – events of these past seventeen years. At least unique events. The sacramental life of the Church is, of course, event by event, always most important in terms that it puts us in contact with the Risen Lord. But in terms of ecclesiastical actions, there are many things that are unique, but few that are as unique as this.
The Church over the centuries has ordained many priests, most of them quite holy, in small ways, some in very great ways, some in martyrs, some who betrayed the priesthood and themselves. And in recent years in this country, we have heard a lot, haven’t we, about priests who have betrayed their priesthood and betrayed young people, and those wounds will be with us for generations to come and remain in the lives of victims whom we talk to and watch the way in which evil, even in forgiven people, has long-ranging consequences. But virtue also has long-ranging consequences, and virtue is stronger than evil, forgiveness is great than sin.
In the case of Father Tolton, it was important that there be a name of a holy priest, from our history, long before the current history in the current development in the Archdiocese, which happened really only after his death in the way in which we experience it now, very important that would recognize that from the beginning this Diocese has been served by priests who have been made holy by the Lord because they have loved his people as ordained priests.
And Father Tolton was such a one, in love with Christ and his Church and suffered much in order to be ordained a priest and dedicated himself entirely to his people, quietly and in his own way. Each saint has his own personality, her own of looking at things, but each of them is a friend of the Lord and to make that friendship public and to do it in a way that assures people that here is an exemplar, assures people that here is an intercessor, assures people that here is someone whom we want to be friends with now and for eternity, that is a very important thing to do.
History is what God remembers; the rest passes.  In the Church, therefore, we have a very different sense of what is important in the history of the human race, for it isn’t a story of individual progress in freedom that is important - although freedom is also a Gospel virtue and we were created free and should use our freedom well – but that’s important only if it also helps us to advance in holiness. The Church’s history is the history of holiness, not the history of conquests of freedoms of various sorts, which is why we celebrate the death of saints, for that is when they are confirmed in holiness; that is when we know that they are with the Lord forever, whereas the civic calendar holidays are not holy days at all. They celebrate the birth of someone who in the course of his lifetime or her lifetime will do something of importance for society. Our calendars are very different because our sense of history is very different. So here we have, we hope, in time, a new date in our calendar of heroes, a new moment to tell all of us that we are here to become saints; everything else is of very, very secondary importance.
It’s often in our society today as we read the papers and contemplate what is going on and try to rearrange the mission of the Church in such a way that she can be a leaven for God’s grace, we recognize that our country can be a very good place in which to be free. That is still true and we should rejoice in that, but it can also be a very difficult place in which to be holy and that is, in the end, the way we will all be judged.
And so it is our responsibility, as members of Christ’s Body, the Church, throughout the world, to act in place after place in such a way that people will realize that sanctity is not only possible, sanctity is our goal. Sanctity is what God wants for us. Sanctity is what gives us the promise that will not only be saved, but that we will be truly saints, that we will be friends with the Lord for all eternity. Father Augustus Tolton’s cause gives us further certitude in that conviction and I thank God that we are able to bring the Diocesan part of the preparation for his sanctity to conclusion today.
Bishop Perry thanked many people, he’s welcomed many people, so perhaps many of those same people I can thank even as they’ve been made welcome. Doctor Ambrosi, the Postulator, is not here but he’s worked hard, he’s very skilled at this, and he’s helped us a lot. But the Vice Postulator, the Diocesan Postulator, in charge here has been from the beginning Bishop Joseph Perry, who has given himself to this task in ways that, as we all know who know Joe, are very thorough, very quiet, very unassuming, and very, very, effective. And so I thank him. I thank the episcopal delegate, the promoter of justice, ecclesiastical notaries, the historical commission members, the theological commission members, all of those who have fulfilled their tasks in accordance with the instruction given us by the Holy See to assemble the acts so that they can be sent now to the Holy See in order to be processed along with all the reports of favors received so that perhaps, if is God’s will, we will at, some point, many of us at least, some of us, be able to talk about Saint Augustus Tolton, priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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