Friday, December 19, 2008

The Last Goodbye

Always an experience to behold, St Patrick's Cathedral outdid itself yesterday as a small but formidable slice of Avery Dulles' world -- six cardinals, 20-odd bishops, over 125 priests and a horde of his family, friends and fans -- converged under John McCloskey's hanging galero for a final salute to the most unlikely of the 46 Americans to follow in the founder-prince's footsteps.

Drawing heavily from Faure's Requiem with a touch of Mozart, the morning papers deemed the Mass "majestic" -- and, no question, it was. But as cardinals' sendoffs go, much like the man himself, there was likewise something refreshingly, uniquely different to this one... the words to describe it still getting kicked around in your narrator's head, that they might come out right.

In the meantime, the nuts-and-bolts coverage well abounds: reports from America, the Times and the Westchester Journal-News -- the latter both in print and on Gary Stern's blog. Beyond those, Fordham's got on-demand video of its cardinal's 2001 creation and subsequent lectures up and streaming; an obit and personal tribute written by Dulles' sometime Roman secretary and good friend, Fr Raymond deSouza, have been posted for the National Catholic Register, and the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen runs a previously-unpublished "state of the church" interview with the cardinal in his Friday column.

Yet for all these, with the dean of American theologians now returned to the earth and this last week's global outpouring of tributes winding down, the last word rightly belongs elsewhere.

At an event for the New England Jesuits shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Dulles -- the first American cardinal to defend this land in uniform -- offered a brief reflection on "Hope in Things Unseen."

With thanks to the province for unearthing it and America for running it, here's his text, one just as relevant in these days:
It was suggested to me that I should use this occasion to say a few words about hope, since this virtue seems in short supply in these dark days.

Our hopes tend to fade whenever we cease to be in control. For the moment we Americans seem to have lost control of our destiny. We are afraid because our future does not rest in our own hands. On September 11 two great symbols of our security collapsed, or at least suffered grave damage. The World Trade Center towers looked very solid, as did the walls of the Pentagon, but both proved to be paper thin. The growing likelihood of biological warfare raises our anxiety yet further. Not only our wealth and military power, but also our health is at risk.

It will be for others to address the economic, military, and medical problems. As a theologian, I have to recognize that Christian hope never rests on material things. As individuals we try to follow the teaching of Jesus, who reminds us that rust corrodes, moths consume, and thieves break in and steal. Jesus instructs us to build treasure in heaven, the one bank that can never fail. The only thing that counts in the end is whether or not we hear the greeting of the Lord, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”

Jesus Christ is not only the personal hope for each one of us. He is also the hope of the world. If the world turns away from Him, it goes terribly astray. The pursuit of riches produces massive poverty; the pursuit of freedom begets slavery; and the pursuit of peace ends in destructive violence. But with the strength and generosity that comes from the Lord we can take part in building here on earth what the liturgy calls “a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love, and peace.”

As I reflect on the past half century and more, I am immensely grateful for my vocation to share in the apostolate of the Society of Jesus. As Jesuits, we are dedicated to the gospel of hope. We seek to place our own hope in God alone and to help others to focus their hopes on Him. This apostolate of hope is immensely relevant today, when many people are on the brink of discouragement and despair. But you, at least, are not. Seeing so many of you, I am reminded that we Jesuits could achieve nothing without friends such as yourselves, who support our work and do it with us. You are as important to our work as any Jesuit is. Whatever the future holds, we can only be assured of this: that nothing we do together in the service of the Lord will be done in vain.
PHOTO: Damon Winter/The New York Times