Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spirituality: A Cardinal's Field of Dreams

(From a homily at the priests' vigil service for Cardinal Bernardin, November 18, 1996.)

Sixteen months ago, when his body began to fail him, Joseph's stride became shorter. However, he continued the race with four broken ribs, four cracked vertebrae, and losing four inches of height. And still, he stood head and shoulders above us all.... the light still burning brightly.

At times, Joseph Bernardine eased the pace to nourish his body, mind, and spirit. As he so often reminded us, his first hour of the day was given to God in quiet prayer. Daily Eucharist, the Rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours were the mainstays of his life.

Joseph loved good food and drink, lightheartedness, and laughter. We all know how much he loved his family and delighted in vacationing in the Dolomite mountains of his Italian ancestry.

And he loved us, his priests. He saw in us his "field of dreams." He continually called us to be men of prayer. At each convocation, he encouraged us to unite our efforts and to support one another. He challenged us to reconcile and to put aside our differences. He was so very proud of us.

Will you ever forget venerating that huge wooden cross with Joseph, desiring and ready to shoulder his suffering, as he more intimately embraced the Passion of Our Lord?

Less than a week before he died, our cardinal completed a manuscript of his reflections concerning his last three years, entitled The Gift of Peace. In it, he wrote about the Cross:

Above my bed for the last 24 years has hung a beautiful, carved, ivory crucifix mounted on a wooden background. It has been a constant reminder of Jesus' death and resurrection. But when I first wake in the morning, I usually do not see the crucifix. It is above the head of the bed, so I have t make a deliberate effort to look up at it.

The shadow of Christ falls upon each of our lives, although we are not usually aware of it each day. This is how it was for me untile late August of this year. Since then, the Cross has become my constant companion, a reminder of my upcoming encounter with my new friend, death, who will lead me home to God.

We did our best to understand and make room for his newfound friend. But it was never easy! Death is never easy.

The cardinal kept a note at his bedside. It was written by one of our brother priests. It captures what each of us hold in our heart this night.

"Your Emincence," it begins, "if love and respect were sufficient, you would be healed and with us forever. Instead, you will look on the face of your God and walk in the land of the living. For one brief, shining moment, there was Joseph. I am blessed to have lived in that moment. Thank you. We thank God for you, and we love you.

He fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith.

L. Scott Donahue