Saturday, April 18, 2015
I thank Rick for his kind invitation to offer personal thoughts about Francis Cardinal George, OMI. In my almost five years in Chicago, I would see the cardinal from time to time on business matters—mostly regarding the Church in public life, Catholic education, and religious freedom subjects—at his residence or at his office, which was across the street from mine. These meetings were filled with his intelligence. Like Thomas More, the cardinal knew that God created the human person to engage God in the tangle of His mind.
But there was another aspect of the cardinal’s life that few people would have seen. He and I both received our cancer treatment and evaluation at the Loyola University Medical Center. On several occasions, our encounters were simple passings-by in the halls of the Bernardin Cancer Center of the Loyola medical center. On those junctures, there would be from him the friendly “how’s it going?” However, on one Thanksgiving week, we met in the same radiology imaging lab. I was waiting for an MRI when the cardinal entered. He was going to have a CAT scan. We spoke not about business matters addressing public life or religious freedom but about being Christians and priests. The ultimate issue of what is it all about came up.
His Eminence offered a simple and yet brilliant response. His answer to the question focused on salvation. As priests, our responsibility was and remains to help others on their paths to the salvation offered by Christ. But, as mere pilgrims, he mentioned that we, too, were on that same general path and not to forget it. I am confident he found his path without much difficulty and is now in the warm embrace of God. The cardinal mentioned that our suffering, especially from the same general disease we shared, was a gift to help us understand better what our human existence is about and the goal that is our destiny. He found the road that took him home to God. Aware of my own sinfulness, I still struggle to do the same.