Friday, April 17, 2015

We Lost a Good Priest Today...

Cardinal George with Seminarians here at Saint John's Seminary 2013.
We lost a good priest today.  He has returned to the Lord who gave him to us and I am very sad.

I was privileged to call Cardinal George my priest and my friend for the past twenty years, since first we met at his birthday party the first year he arrived in Portland and I arrived at the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy.  During all the years I directed the Liturgy Secretariat he served on the BCL, chaired it for three years, and represented the USCCB to the International Committee on English in the Liturgy.  For the entire life of the Vox Clara Committee we served together and he was an indispensible source of wisdom.

It is true that Cardinal George was a brilliant intellect, perhaps the brightest mind I have ever encountered.  I remember how I would present him a briefing paper on a topic which I had explored for months and after a three minute speed-read he would come up with questions I had never entertained and conclusions I had never imagined.  

He had an unwavering love for the Truth, because he was unwaveringly and passionately in love with him who is the Truth.  He never seemed to give a thought to the reaction he would get from his listener, only to the necessity of speaking the truth, in season and out.  As he would stare at you, you had the impression he was looking right into your soul and that he loved you so much that all he wanted was to get you to heaven.  

I remember when he addressed the National Meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in 2002.  He chose not to speak of translation or any other current liturgical issues, but about authority and the liturgy.  Recalling that the Liturgy is the action of Christ and the treasure of the whole Church, he asked the gathered liturgists, advisors and co-workers with the Bishops in this great work, to seek after humility:

“Your point of reference as diocesan liturgists, then, is not simply the professional or the academic.  Your first point of reference, even though you are aware of the academic discussions, is the Bishop and the liturgical books themselves.  The diocesan liturgist is called upon to do his or her work with great discernment, particularly pastoral discernment.   In two thousand years, everything has been done once.  You can always find a precedent.  But precedent alone is not sufficient reason for change.  Only a true sensitivity to pastoral realities as discerned by the Bishop can serve as a guide in the implementation of the liturgical renewal. This requires a certain humility before the mysteries of our faith, which become real for us in the celebration of the liturgy, and a similar humility before the pastoral realities of our people, who are sanctified by these mysteries.  You, as part of diocesan liturgical teams, are called to participate in the Bishop’s charism of uniting people, and that takes a certain amount not just of discernment, but also of humility.”

Francis George could speak of humility because he himself knew what it was.  During the years he served as chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy I had the privilege of flying to Chicago to meet with him for an hour or so every month to discuss current liturgical questions.  One day, in the course of our meeting his private line rang.  He looked at his watch and excused himself, saying this would probably take a while.  He then greeted someone on the phone, telling his caller how glad he was to hear from her.  The next twenty minutes consisted of questions about how she was doing, quiet listening to her stories and strong interjections reminding her to “take her meds.”

When he returned, Cardinal George explained that his caller was a woman he had met at random after a confirmation years before.  She has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and had so enjoyed his gentle and patient listening to her that she asked for his private number, which he gave to her, with the agreement that she would call him only once a month on a given day.  And once a month the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago sat there like the good priest he was and listened to her struggles, encouraging and shepherding her in the model of Christ the Priest and Shepherd into whose image he had been molded.  

In the coming days praise will be heaped upon Cardinal George for his mighty accomplishments for the Church.  Each of them will be well deserved.  But all I can think of tonight is that priest, humbly and patiently listening to the travails of a troubled soul whom he loved so much that he just wanted to get her to heaven.

So tonight I will pray that prayer from the Order of Christian Funerals for the repose of his soul, that God might forgive whatever sins he might have committed and lead this good priest to heaven.

Lord God,
you chose our brother Francis to serve your people as a priest
and to share the joys and burdens of their lives.

Look with mercy on him
and give him the reward of his labors,
the fullness of life promised to those who preach your holy Gospel.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.