Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Back In the Saddle

As the clock hits one year 'til his acclamation as the US hierarchy's elected head, Cardinal Francis George OMI of Chicago let fly the zingers in a homily last Sunday-week at the Windy City's Catholic Theological Union.

While saying that America "has often been an instrument, I believe, of God's providence, to help others live more freely, to conquer tyranny, and many wonderful things," the onetime philosophy prof observed that "The world distrusts us."

"The world distrusts us not because we are rich and free. Many of us are not rich and some of us aren't especially free," George said in his first major address since his late-summer bladder cancer surgery. "They distrust us because we are deaf and blind, because too often we don't understand and make no effort to understand; because we know what is best.

"We have this cultural proclivity that says, 'We know what is best. And if we truly want to do something, whether in church or in society, no one has the right to tell us no.' That cultural proclivity, which defines us in many ways, has to be surrendered, or we will never be part of God's kingdom."

The cardinal, who turns 70 in January, is widely viewed as the intellectual leader of the US bishops and the closest of its senior hierarchs to Pope Benedict.

More snips from the fulltext:
"Theology is always a conversation, a dialogue between faith and reason within a particular culture in which the conversation takes place . . . There is, then, in that missionary impulse as a goal a unity, a wholeness that does not replace any diversity but sees the good wherever it is to be found and incorporates it into God's vision.

"Jeremiah the prophet foresees the return of the chosen people from exile . . . to their own land so that their unity could be restored. It was impossible to imagine a people existing in their own identity but also living in a land that had been given them as part of the covenant and he rejoices in that, the fulfilled promise. He makes it whole by proclaiming it, he makes it present.

"And St. Paul, in the second reading, speaking to the Ephesians, can celebrate the unity of all those who have been called to Christ Jesus, whether Greek or Jew or any other of the nations in the Mediterranean basin of his day, so that they could find in that unity -- which was pure gift from Christ -- a unity that superceded the division that often had them at one another, both in the church and outside the church.

"To celebrate them as a dwelling place of God in the spirit -- that unity, that wholeness is always a gift. It is not an achievement. It's a gift from Christ that follows upon conversion to him that takes place when we encounter him on the way....

"Nonetheless, in the end we have only what we surrender, we have only what we have given to the Lord. We have only the relationships that are established in that surrender.

"I went through a very serious illness, as you know because so many of you have prayed for me, and I want to take this occasion in gratitude to God not only for this new moment of grace for CTU, but also to thank all of you who prayed for me.

"I had the sense in the midst of pain that often isolates that I was not alone. Because there is that relationship of faith and love that is far more profound than we think of as we go through the demands of ordinary life, with all the distractions that are a part of our lives -- mine as well as yours -- we can forget that the church exists in this network of relationships, this communion, we call it . . . .

"That is there. That is there and we can always count on it, even when we forget about it. It is always there and it is a pure gift. And for having discovered that again, I am grateful to God, and for your having been a part of it, I am very grateful to you.

"But there is more than that experience of relationships. There [is] also, when faced with death, the question: What have I not yet surrendered? What have I not yet given up? Because if I haven't surrendered it, I cannot receive it as a gift. It is simply gone.

"And there we enter into a kind of cultural dynamic as well as a personal. We are in the United States of America and most of us are United States citizens. And that is something that is truly good. I believe our country has often been an instrument, I believe, of God's providence, to help others live more freely, to conquer tyranny, and many wonderful things.

"But there is another side also to our reality that came home to me precisely as a member of a missionary congregation. For 12 years when I was the vicar general of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who have been part of CTU now for many years and I hope will continue in some fashion, I visited the world's poor in many, many countries where the Oblates are present in rather low-profile because they are with those who would otherwise be overlooked and neglected.

"And I was blessed with the ability to talk to poor people, with people whom they trusted and whose language they spoke. These are missionaries and the people they served that you won't find on FoxNews or CNN, not the kind of people who speak enough English to appear on our television and who are not particularly important.

"That experience transformed me, certainly, and I think that experience is made concrete at CTU in many ways.

"I found as I went around that no matter where I went, even in Marxist lands, people knew who I was as a Catholic priest. Sometimes they trusted that and sometimes they did not, and they knew who I was, and I could find my way -- sometimes clandestinely, sometimes openly --some very difficult circumstances in dictatorships of all sorts, in countries struggling to be free.

"This was in the '60s and '70s, long before 9/11, long before the Iraqi war. And people, everywhere that I went, although I found myself part of a global society as a Catholic priest, I found myself suspect as an American citizen. There aren't many places where I can say that, there aren't many places where I would want that to be said for me, and I wouldn't want to be quoted outside of this context.

"[The] conversion of an entire culture is far more difficult than the personal conversion that is our challenge each time we pick up the gospel. But we know it is necessary -- not only for us, but for every single culture and every single society, poor or rich, in the world today. ... There is always a need for something more, not only more, but for something radically different. And it won't come unless we ask for it as a gift. We cannot achieve it ourselves....

"For the gift of faith, for the desire to see as Christ sees us, I give thanks to Almighty God. Amen."

Via dotCom.