18 April 2015

Cardinal George, friend of Jesus

Over the past fifteen years, I had many opportunities to be with His Eminence Francis Cardinal George throughout his ministry as Archbishop of Chicago. As a Master of Ceremonies at Mundelein Seminary, I worked closely with him in a number of liturgical celebrations. Likewise, other opportunities arose through my ministry as Priest Secretary and Master of Ceremonies to His Excellency Bishop Paprocki. So it was that I had the privilege to pray, dine, and visit with Cardinal George at a great many different occasions from Chicago to Madrid.

From the moment I first met Cardinal George in the sacristy of the main chapel at Mundelein Seminary, I have held him in the highest esteem and with the deepest respect. We were not close friends, but I am glad to have known him enough that he knew me, and would take a few moments to visit with me whenever we saw each other.

He was always very kind to me, for which I am grateful, but there is one moment above all for which I am indebted to His Eminence, the very same moment that he called “one of the most important – if not the most important – events” of his time as the Archbishop of Chicago: the introduction of the Cause of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton. Cardinal George opened Father Gus’ Cause on February 24, 2011 and closed the Diocesan phase of the investigation into his life and virtues on September 29, 2014. By God’s good grace, I was able to be present at both moments.

After the opening of Father Tolton's Cause
In fact, I last saw Cardinal George at this later event, for which I flew to Chicago from Rome for a brief visit solely for the purpose of attending the accompanying prayers and simple ritual. I was happy then that I did so, and I all the more happy I did so now.

During his homily that day, Cardinal George said:
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.

He intended these words to refer to Father Gus, to say that Father Tolton was a friend of Jesus and encouraged others to be friends of Jesus, as well. It seem to me, though, that these same words might also be applied to Cardinal George.

He was certainly a man with his own personality. Those who knew him knew he was often blunt and direct, a bit rough around the edges sometimes, if you will (but he was a Chicagoan). Yet he was also a man of tremendous kindness and brilliant humor, and possessed an insatiable intellect. A man without pretense and of true humility, he was one of the most sincere men I have ever known.

At the same time, though, and most importantly, he was a friend of Jesus. He lived his friendship with Jesus publicly, especially in these last several months and I think he did so in a manner that gave us an example to follow.

The way of Cardinal George was a tenacious search for the truth. He once said to John L. Allen, Jr.:

For us, the category that matters is true/false. I just reject that whole liberal/conservative deformation of the character of our lives. If you’re limited to that, as the press has to be because it can’t talk about the faith in its own terms, then somehow or other you’ve betrayed your vocation as a bishop and a priest.

As we know, the Truth is a person. Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus, “What is truth” (John 18:38)? He should have asked instead, “Who is truth?” He would have known then that the one who stood before him was the one who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

At the same, though, Cardinal George encountered many forms of adversity and suffering throughout his life, from his difficulties with polio, to misunderstandings of one form or another, to his sufferings from cancer. He faced all of these sufferings with courage and with trust in the Lord Jesus, the Truth whom he came to know as a friend.

Let us, then, pray the Lord Jesus to welcome him into his Father’s house, that he who sought to bring to glory to Christ in the Church may now share in the glory of his Lord and friend in heaven.

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