Sunday, September 11, 2005

Things My Mentor Taught Me

At this hour, a special event is taking place in our little corner of the world as Justin Cardinal Rigali dedicates the newly-renovated Ryan Library as The Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua Theological Research Center at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook.

I think I can speak from experience in saying that there is no more fitting tribute to the Seventh Archbishop of Philadelphia than to name an eminent and cherished resource of service-learning in his honor. From the prize for general excellence at his eighth grade graduation to the accolades of the Pontifical Gregorian University, the halls of the Ivy League and beyond, Anthony Joseph Bevilacqua, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Doctor of Canon Law, Juris Doctor, Master of Arts has always been, by head-and-shoulders, the first in his class -- the best-prepared, the keenest intellect, invariably the most well-read of the bunch, all accomplishments done in the service of the pastoral charism of scholarship, the munus docendi which has been, in a particular way, the heart of his ministry in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and in the many places he has traveled in the service of the church, our mother.

Long past his days in the academy, Cardinal Bevilacqua's qualities of diligent mind and compassionate heart were called upon often, when the Holy See and the church at large would frequently seek his aid in solving difficult questions of great import for the welfare of souls, the good of the church and the advancement of a just society. I can recall vividly that one of the happiest days of his quarter-century as a bishop came in November, 2001, when his brother bishops elected His Eminence as Chair of the USCCB's Committee for Pro-Life Activities. It was for him a joy among joys, a capstone to an active ministry which was uniquely, entirely and unabashedly pro-life.

Cardinal Bevilacqua's 56 years of priesthood have been a consistent testament to the necessity of the continuing theological and academic formation of priests, and the life-giving value of the priest who remains impeccably well-briefed on the currents of the world and the church for the effectiveness of his life and ministry. The laity are far from exempt in this mission. He has served the poor, the sick, the brokenhearted and especially his beloved itinerant peoples through great amounts of time, effort and energy, but particularly through his God-given gift of intellect used completely in the service of others, in the service of the good.

Even now, relieved of the active ministry he loved so much, he remains ever the teacher, ever a man of great thought and discourse, and even greater prayer, still reading voraciously and always eager to talk over what he finds with those around him and those at a distance in the hand-written notes he still churns out. For my part, His Eminence was my first teacher in the ways of the church and, for all the words we read and heard, his example never failed to remind that, above all things, love is the heart of the church. This work is the fruit of that love.

The favorite theologian we share once wrote that, "Through the faith of the priest, doors open up all around for the people; it is really possible to believe, even today. All human believing is a believing-with, and for this reason the one who believes is so important."

My first reader has believed with me and, in turn, helped me believe through the years, and his witness and example have been important beyond words and a catalyst in my own life. May those who come to the hall of learning which will bear his name be encouraged to learn as he has learned, to love God's people as he has loved them, and to serve them as he has served, with brilliance, the greatest of joy and an undivided heart.

Lord, make me to know Thy ways.....



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