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Courageous Cardinal George Challenges Us to Use Lent as a Time to Take Stock of Our Lives

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 11th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Lent 2014 brings the death and resurrection of the Lord more insistently into the horizon of our lives. Before the Lord, we are all weak and needy, poor in who we are, rich in him. Grateful for our various callings and rejoicing in that poverty that opens us to God's grace, let us observe Lent together in prayer, penance and almsgiving. God bless you.- Francis Cardinal George


CHICAGO, ILL (Catholic Online) - Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., is one of my heroes. I have written often about his service to the Lord and His Church.Like many others, I was saddened to read and hear the recent news of a turn of events in his heroic struggle against cancer. The official release is on the Archdiocesan website. Here is an excerpt: 

Cardinal George has met with his medical team who has recommended a new regime of chemotherapy to address current signs of activity of cancer cells surrounding his right kidney.  The Cardinal was diagnosed with urothelial cancer in August 2012 and underwent chemotherapy at that time. The cancer, dormant for well over a year, is still confined to the area of his right kidney.

After extensive testing, scans, biopsies and diagnosis, it was agreed that the best course of action is for the Cardinal to enter into a regimen of chemotherapy, with drugs more aggressive than those used in the first round but for a more limited duration initially. Cardinal George intends to maintain his administrative and public schedule during this current round of chemotherapy, although it may occasionally be reduced because of lowered immunity.


I was not surprised by this response by Cardinal George. It reflects what my dear departed mother use to call moxie. It also gives us a window to see into the holiness of this good Archbishop of Chicago.He is not alone in offering this kind of witness in this hour. We have many holy, courageous Bishops. Frankly, we do not hear or read enough about them. Not just in the secular media but in too many of our own religious media sources. 

My readers know I have a 'pet peeve', to use another expression which my dear deceased mother used to use quite frequently. It is the continued haranguing of Catholic Bishops found on some cranky corners of the Catholic blogosphere and in some Catholic media circles. I refer to it collectively as the Catholic circular firing squad.

I think it impedes our mission and can lead to sins against charity. It is often used by those who have little respect for our Church or our Lord to add fuel to their nefarious attacks. Further, it fails to recognize our obligation in solidarity to one another and duty to respect those vested with authority in the Lord.

One of my antidotes to the malady is to call attention to the courageous Bishops who are standing firm in this ancient but ever new Catholic Church as often as I can. They are carrying forward the Good News of Jesus, offering true freedom to a world waiting to be reborn, and staying faithful in an age of infidelity.

These men are unafraid of engaging the collapsing culture in which we live with the liberating Good News of the Gospel. They have found the joy which comes from living in, with and for Jesus, in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world.

In my ecumenical work at the intersection of faith and culture, I am increasingly reminded by Christian friends in other faith communities of the impact of many of our Catholic Bishops on them.

I wish some half empty Catholic commentators could hear what I hear from these other Christians. Sadly, some of them are just too consumed with being cranky, critical and some even border on sinning against hope. (See, CCC #2091-1093)

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, is one of the great churchmen of our age. His courage has been demonstrated throughout his service to the Church and the world in which she carries forward in time the redemptive mission of the Lord. He is a holy man, in love with the Lord and well aware of the challenges we face in this new missionary age.

The Cardinal's mettle has been repeatedly demonstrated in his heroic struggle against cancer. His response to cancer moves me deeply. Never a complaint on his lips, just a witness of hope in the midst of a culture of despair.

He is committed to proclaiming and defending truth in an age of relativism, militant secularism, nihilism and hostility toward the Church, her message and mission. Yet, he does so with compassion and love.

He has long been a defender of the fundamental human right to life of our first neighbors in the first home of the womb. He is a friend of the poor - and a man of mercy.  This brave man has stood firm against one of the greatest assaults against truth in our time, the assault on marriage and the family and society founded upon it. 

He knows the implications of the struggle - and the ferocity of the opposition. Yet, he continues, like St. George, to do battle with the father of lies and slay the dragon who is their very source.

In 2010, at the end of his last message to his brother Bishops as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he received a well deserved standing ovation. This wide reaching address concluded with a moving story of the terrorist attacks against Iraqi Catholics at Mass whose death he referred to as a martyrdom.

Here are a select few quotes:

Once political leaders and health care experts decided to use government subsidized insurance as the vehicle for providing more universal health care, it was our moral obligation as teachers of the faith to judge whether the means passed moral muster, whether or not the proposed legislation used public funds to kill those living in their mother's womb.

Consistently, and ever more insistently since the sin and crime of abortion was legalized in the United States, our voice has been that of the bishops of the Catholic Church ever since the first Christians condemned the abortion practices of the ancient Romans. The act is immoral; and the laws that have permitted now fifty million children of our country to be killed in their mother's womb are also immoral and unjust; they are destroying our society.

Who speaks for the Catholic Church? We speak for the apostolic faith, and those who hold it gather round. The bishops in apostolic communion and in union with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, speak for the Church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them. All the rest is opinion.

"For too many, politics is the ultimate horizon of their thinking and acting. As we know, fidelity to Christ in his body the Church calls for two responses on the part of those who would call themselves his disciples: orthodoxy in belief and obedience in practice..

Orthodoxy is necessary but not enough; the devil is orthodox. He knows the Catechism better than anybody in this room; but he will not serve, he will not obey. There can be mistakes in our thinking, but there can be no self-righteousness in our will, for this is the sin against the Holy Spirit. We should not fear political isolation; the Church has often been isolated in politics and in diplomacy.

The voice of Christ speaks always from a consistent concern for the gift of human life, a concern that judges the full continuum of technological manipulation of life, from the use of artificial contraception to the destruction of human embryos to the artificial conception of human beings in a Petri dish to genetic profiling to the killing of unwanted children through abortion.

If the poor are allowed to be born, then the voice of Christ continues to speak to the homeless and the jobless, the hungry and the naked, the uneducated, the migrant, the imprisoned, the sick and the dying.

He concluded his final speech to his brother bishops with a tribute to those who suffer for their faith and particularly for those he called martyrs, "our Catholic brothers and sisters in Iraq." Catholic News Agency Reported:
 
On Oct. 31, gunmen linked to al-Qaida took over 120 faithful hostage at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad during Mass, demanding that the Coptic Church of Egypt release the wife of one of its priests, whom the extremists claimed voluntarily converted to Islam and was subsequently locked up in a convent. When the Iraqi military raided the cathedral to free the hostages, over 50 people, including 2 priests, were killed in a firefight and the explosion of suicide vests by the terrorists.

As he spoke about the attack, Cardinal George paused with emotion as he recalled the story of an American Dominican sister currently in Iraq. The religious sister told a friend of Cardinal George that witnesses saw a three-year-old boy named Adam follow the terrorists after the murder of his parents, admonishing them by repeating the words "enough, enough," until he himself was killed.

"Dear brothers and sisters," Cardinal George said, "we have all experienced challenges and even tragedies that tempt us to say 'enough.'"

"Yet all of our efforts, our work, our failures and our sense of responsibility pale before the martyrdom of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and the persecution of Catholics in other parts of the Middle East, in India and Pakistan, in China and Vietnam, in Sudan and African countries rent by civil conflict."

"With their faces before us, we stand before the Lord, collectively responsible for all those whom Christ died to save," he said. "May the Lord during these days give us vision enough to see what he sees and strength enough to act as he would have us act."

"That will be enough."


Now, after receiving the news of a turn of events in his struggle with cancer, Cardinal George just keeps moving forward and toward the Lord, like the EverReady bunny! He recently wrote a column in the Catholic New World. Here is an excerpt:

*****
Lent: Taking stock of our lives
Cardinal Francis George,O.M.I.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Pope Francis, in his Lenten Message for 2014, writes about Gospel poverty. Poverty, he explains is a way of being one with Christ, who "became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich." Poverty, the pope writes, is Christ's "way of loving us, his way of being our neighbor, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbor to the man left half dead by the side of the road. What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of his love."

The pope's message distinguishes Gospel poverty from material, moral and spiritual destitution. The antidote to each of these evils is found in living within the embrace of the merciful love of God. Lent is a time to open our lives to that embrace, to become deliberately poor and self-sacrificing in order to create space for God to transform our lives. Lent is a time for us to enter a season of renewal by taking stock of our lives, preparing for the Sacrament of Penance, and professing our faith at the Easter Vigil.

If I may speak personally, this Lent finds me once again in poor health. My cancer, which was dormant for well over a year, is still confined to the area of the right kidney, but it is beginning to show signs of new activity. After many tests, scans, biopsies and other inconveniences, the settled judgment is that the best course of action is to enter into a regimen of chemotherapy, with drugs more aggressive than those that were used in the first round of chemo. This treatment will take place over the next two months, when my reaction to the chemo will be evaluated.

I was able to maintain my administrative schedule well during that first round, although my public schedule was sometimes curtailed because of lowered immunity. As I prepare for this next round of chemo, I ask for your prayers, which have always sustained me, and for your understanding if I cannot always fulfill the schedule already set for the next several months. While I am not experiencing symptoms of cancer at this time, this is a difficult form of the disease, and it will most probably eventually be the cause of my death. Chemo is designed to shrink the tumor, prevent symptoms and prolong life.

I imagine this news will increase speculation about my retirement. The only certainty is that no one knows when that will be, except perhaps the Holy Father, and he hasn't told me. As required by the Code of Canon Law, I submitted my resignation two years ago and was told to wait until I heard from the pope. The consultation the pope makes through the Apostolic Nuncio takes a good number of months, and it hasn't formally started yet.

In the meantime, Lent gives me a chance to evaluate not only my life of union with the Lord but also my life and actions here as Archbishop of Chicago. Every life is more tactics than strategy, i.e., each day is filled with activities that meet the needs of the hour and that respond to people in front of you. But behind the daily activities, leadership demands a sense of strategy: What are the overall goals of the varied activities that fill our lives?...

Lent 2014 brings the death and resurrection of the Lord more insistently into the horizon of our lives. Before the Lord, we are all weak and needy, poor in who we are, rich in him. Grateful for our various callings and rejoicing in that poverty that opens us to God's grace, let us observe Lent together in prayer, penance and almsgiving. God bless you.


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God bless you Cardinal George, and thank you for showing us how to live and love, with, in and for Lord Jesus. May we all take stock of our lives this Lent. 

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