Priesthood and Cardinal Francis George: A Gift to the People

by on April 27, 2015

“No priest is ordained without a title, without a flock that is his to care for; but there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God.  Diversity there may be, but it is to contribute to the unity of our common life in Christ Jesus.  Ordained priests are custodians of that unity.” On May 22, 2010, Cardinal Francis George preached those very words in his ordination Mass homily, emphasizing that priests are a sign of unity and stability. Cardinal George cared very much about uniting the people of God into the one Body of Christ. He demonstrated this by his presence, service, and compassion to all, but especially to the poor. Similarly, Archbishop Blase Cupich reminded priests to “Let [Jesus] draw near … penetrating more than skin deep, giving you a feel of intimate friendship.  This will be your point of reference for authenticity and faithfulness in your relationships with others.  It will also remind you to serve the people entrusted to your pastoral care with a closeness, remaining with and accompanying them, giving an experience of God’s nearness to them and especially to those who are alienated by life’s demands and burdens, and to those who are pushed aside by prejudice, economic injustice, neglect or attitudes that treat them as disposable.”  And so the priest gives himself as a gift to the people, for he is called to unite them, govern them out of charity, and to walk with them, enabling especially the poor and downtrodden to encounter God’s love and mercy. Our beloved Cardinal Francis George exemplified this by his life as a priest.  He has truly given himself in many ways to support and strengthen the people’s faith in God.  And his fruit or legacy, if you will, was being an extraordinary priest and bishop.  When Cardinal George celebrated his last Mass as Archbishop of Chicago at Holy Name Cathedral, he spoke these moving words in his homily: “In short, you are my legacy. The people of the Archdiocese are what I will point to when the Lord asks me, ‘what have you done with my gift to you?’” The Cardinal went on to express his gratitude for the witness of the faithful: “I thank God for all of you, for your cooperation in the mission of the Church, for your generosity toward others, especially the poor, for the way in which God has helped me to help you to develop God’s gift to you throughout the years of my ministry here. You are my legacy!”

In the days since Cardinal George’s passing, I have thought about his legacy; I have thought about the great gift he has been to the people of God. Recently, Fr. Robert Barron shared with the community a powerful reflection on the Cardinal’s life. Fr. Barron said, “I’ve never seen in my entire life anyone as dedicated and devoted as Cardinal George.” Fr. Barron added that, though the Cardinal had an incredibly busy schedule, he never once heard him complain about his obligations or commitments. Rather, the Cardinal dutifully carried them out. At the Cardinal’s funeral Mass, the homilist, The Most Reverend J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle, expressed how moved he was by what Cardinal George once said: “The only thing we take with us when we die is what we have given away. The only things that endure are our relationships with God and with each other.” This is the Gospel message that the Cardinal had unceasingly preached in words, but even more so by the way in which he lived his life. Without a doubt, Cardinal George has given much away, and the fruits of his life and ministry can be seen in the lives of those he served. Under the Cardinal’s pastoral care, the faithful have been empowered to spread the Good News and to share what they have received with others.

I admire Cardinal George, and though my encounters with him were usually brief, there was a personal connection: his presence was one of warmth and love. I will always remember the times when Cardinal George came to visit us at the Seminary – when I would have another opportunity to meet and greet him. Cardinal Francis George is my hero, and I pray that, by God’s grace, I may honor his life by living the priesthood with that same love, understanding, and remarkable generosity which he so radiated.

To close, I think it would be fitting to end with these words from Cardinal George, for I believe he would want you to hear and be reminded of this: “Know that I will remain very pleased all the days of my life; you are my legacy and I thank you with all my heart. God Bless you!”