April 17, 2015
This afternoon we received the sad but expected news that the recently retired Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Francis George, died this morning after a long battle with cancer. He had submitted his letter of retirement to then-Pope Benedict XVI on his 75th birthday, January 16, 2012 (75 being the "standard" retirement age for Bishops according to Canon Law.) Pope Francis named his replacement in September of 2014.
I have linked here the full bio on the website of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and you should read it. Cardinal George was a fascinating man with a most impressive curriculum vitae, including nine years as a philosophy professor at various seminaries and universities, a twelve-year stint in Rome as vicar general of his priestly order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, several advanced degrees in philosophy and theology, and service as Bishop of Yakima, WA, Archbishop of Portland, OR, and for 17 years as Archbishop of Chicago. He was also Vice President for three years and President for another three years of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. There's lots more in that bio; I say again, you really ought to read it. The bio page also has links to numerous writings, speeches and homilies Cardinal George produced during his tenure in Chicago. You could do a lot worse than browsing through those items as well, and reading as many as you can. I promise you will learn some things, maybe a lot of things.
In my humble opinion, Francis Cardinal George was one of the giants of the Catholic Church, the value of whose service to Christ and his Church, not to mention the Archdiocese of Chicago, would be difficult, if not impossible, to overstate. He was a powerful and tireless advocate for the Word of God and God's people, and a strong teacher and defender of the orthodox doctrines of the Church in matters of faith and morals. For just one example, he rejected the disingenuous "seamless garment" argument of his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who among other "Spirit of Vatican II" silliness sought to justify Catholics supporting pro-abortion politicians by equating the issue of abortion with so-called social justice issues. (Hence, the "seamless garment" metaphor--all Church teaching is one piece, all threads equal to one another.) Cardinal George correctly, in my view, pointed out on numerous occasions that the ultimate social justice issue is the right of a baby to be born. Without that right, all the rest of the Church's social teaching becomes moot. Jesus clearly instructs us to care for the defenseless, the rejected, and the marginalized members of our society, and it's hard to imagine anyone more defenseless, rejected and marginalized than an unborn child being killed in the womb.
But Cardinal George was far more than a pro-life advocate. In addition to being a philosopher and theologian of the first rank, he knew how to bring to the people in a highly accessible way an understanding of the beauty, goodness and truth of Christianity from Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the writings of the Church Fathers and Saints, and the wisdom of ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. By all accounts he ran the ship of his Archdiocese with firm integrity and great compassion. He even had a direct and visible impact on all Mass-going Catholics in the United States, through the yeoman's work he did in his leadership posts at the USCCB to bring the beautifully updated translation of the Roman Missal to our parishes in November of 2011.
Time will tell whether Cardinal George's leadership of the Archdiocese of Chicago will prove to be just an interlude of orthodox wisdom or something more lasting. I pray it will be the latter.
And so we say farewell to this giant figure, in the traditional words of the Church:
REQUIEM aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.
(Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.)
Laudator Jesus Christus.