Saturday, September 25, 2021

Friends in the Best Places

Twice in the past few weeks, different people asked me to name bishops I considered excellent or exemplary.   In each situation, Francis Cardinal George was one I quickly identified.  Archbishop of Chicago from 1996 until shortly before his death in April of 2015, Cardinal George was widely regarded as the greatest intellect among American bishops, but that only begins to describe why he was remarkable. 

In the second of these conversations, I recalled that there had been a documentary prepared about Cardinal George’s life, and I had been invited to a premier screening at CUA.  It had started well and awakened strong feelings in me before I had to leave early for another event; I regretted never having seen the rest of it.  Last night, I had an idea, searched the web, and found it available on FORMED, the Catholic catechetical platform we subscribe to as a parish.  I promptly watched the whole thing, under ninety minutes, and was left with admiration, affection, and gratitude bubbling over.  

You see, I knew Cardinal George.  More astonishingly, he knew me.  Not that we ‘hung out’ together or were ever peers in any way; we met when I was starting my second year of theology as a seminarian, and he was Bishop of Yakima.  But because of his remarkable gifts and generosity, he was able to include me in his life.

It was during the first week of the Synod on Religious Life that had been called by Pope John Paul II, and Bishop George was one of the participants from the US.  My bishop at the time, James Cardinal Hickey, was in Rome for the Synod as well.  I assisted at Cardinal Hickey’s morning Mass in his small private chapel, and Bishop George concelebrated.  That is how we met, and after that he never forgot my name.  We ran into one another several times in following weeks, and I was amazed at how candidly and extensively he shared his observations about the Synod with this mere seminarian.  Before I left Rome, he was created Cardinal, and it was fun to greet him during the celebrations.  

A few years later, I got into the “Cardinal business” and over those four years would cross paths with Cardinal George at various events.  No, he wasn’t there to spend time with me, and I did not expect that; but being involved in those events did help me know him better.  It is hard to explain how he was open and attentive, truly present; but he was.  Over all this time, I was also reading many articles and one of the books he wrote, and hearing talks he gave.  All were frank, honest, brilliant in their insight, humble and charitable in their presentation.  

Which brings me back to the video documentary of his life, which brought all these memories flooding back, because of the consistency and integrity of life, work, and word that it depicted.  Oh yes, I knew this man, and it was a privilege – and a blessing.  

You all have access to FORMED, as parishioners here.   Go to the website, sign in under the parish membership, and explore.  You can find this biographical video (I heartily recommend it) and others about people from every time and place in the Church’s life.  You can find multi-episode treatments of the Faith (Symbolon, or The Search), Scripture studies galore, and expositions of the Holy Trinity, the Eucharist, the Virtues both Theological and Cardinal, and all other points of doctrine.  

You know that in general I am the last person to recommend screen-time, but this has real value that transcends its medium.  If you watch anything, you should be watching FORMED as part of your mix.  It will not leave you aggravated or depressed, which puts it in a small minority of the programming being produced; nor will the joy it conveys dissipate quickly into ennui and appetite, which makes it nearly unique.  You can watch it with your husband or wife, kids or parents; with your buddies over beers or with your study or support group, as a topic for discussion.  It is a small step toward knowing the Faith, and a big help to living it.  Theology and prayer, history and biography; all are genuine helps in these days when we all need help.  With a bit of persistence, you will surely encounter somebody you know, or want to know better; and that encounter will leave you filled with admiration, affection, and gratitude bubbling over.  

Monsignor Smith