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Hi!

Tod Worner is a husband, father, Catholic convert & practicing internal medicine physician. He regularly blogs for Aleteia ("Catholic Thinking") & Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire. He has written for Patheos, the National Catholic Register, The Catholic Thing & the St. Austin Review. When he is not teaching medical students/residents and lecturing on Winston Churchill, he is expertly making a fool out of himself with his children.

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“What Have You Done With My People?” – The High Calling of the Church & Cardinal George

“What Have You Done With My People?” – The High Calling of the Church & Cardinal George

Late last year on a blustery Sunday in November, Francis Cardinal George offered his last homily at his last Mass as presiding Archbishop of Chicago. And though weakened by cancer and seated for the duration of his message, he spoke with that sure baritone voice and looked around with that Georgian steel in his eyes. His message? Responsibility. Accountability. Legacy. Namely, his own.

“Every priest and bishop is given the gift of the people that he is called to care for and to love in Christ’s name. At some point, Christ will question me: What have you done with my people? Are they holier because of your ministry? Are they more generous, more loving toward others? In short, you are my legacy.”

What have you done with my people?

Just imagine standing before the throne of Christ and answering that question.

It makes me think about the vital nature of what our Pope, our Archbishops, our priests, our men and women religious are passing on to us. And what we as parents are passing on to our kids. Generation has succeeded generation since those first words were spoken from a risen Christ to a dumbstruck, contrite disciple, “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep”. And the man who betrayed what he originally deemed unbetrayable, went from town to town, crowd to crowd to feed and tend his Lord’s flock. To make others more holy, more generous, more loving. Crucified upside down, yet faithfully commending himself to God’s care, St. Peter surely knew the question that awaited him.

“What have you done with my people?”

This question is as vital today as ever. For we live in times where dignity is scoffed at, calling is ignored, suffering is uncomforted and grace is rejected. Forever we are being convinced that free will means that we are free to choose what the truth is as opposed to being free to choose whether to follow that which is eternally true. We find fleeting, counterfeit comfort in autonomy over community, knowledge over wisdom, appetite over restraint and rights over duties. In the midst of this sea of degrading deception, we not only fail to rise to the heights to which God calls us, but are instead shriveled to incomplete, grotesque “stumps of men”.

“What have you done with my people?”

That is the question Cardinal George knows is coming. It is coming to him. And to the Church. And to all of us entrusted with the influence on even one life. What have you done with my people?

So what must be done with God’s people?

We must know Christ. 

For years, a friend of mine named Rube has read the Gospel of Mark. Every day he honestly and intently sinks his teeth into it. Recently, I asked him how many times he thinks he has read it. Sheepishly, he answered, “At the risk of sounding immodest, probably a thousand.” Why does reading Mark again and again matter so much? Because it shows us the face of Christ.

The face of Christ, the active living fully human, fully divine Son of God, must be constantly re-introduced to us. For only in him can we tangibly witness the embodiment of perfection. He has so much to teach. And we so much to learn. We need to learn how to trust in the midst of uncertainty and hope in the face of suffering. We need lessons in patience and humility and to let go of vengeance and selfishness. We must understand how to pray and, especially, how to heed. We need to rediscover our hunger for wisdom and act on our passion for righteousness. We must repent and forgive – both ourselves and others. And by constantly contemplating on and engaging with the person of Christ, we are drawn into an incomparable, ever-deeper Communion with him.

We must know Tradition.

G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic convert, marveled at people’s misapprehension of the Tradition preserved by the Church. Rooted in Scripture and prayer, the Church Tradition is the embodiment of the teachings of Christ and with a special emphasis on their application in the world. The Creed, the Canon, the Sacraments, the Liturgy have come to be understood through the Church’s prayerful reflection as well as its robust internal (and external) debate through hundreds and hundreds of years. Why does this matter? As Chesterton answered,

“There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. [The Catholic Church’s] experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked…By this means, it does prevent men from wasting their time or losing their lives upon paths that have been found futile or disastrous again and again in the past, but which might otherwise entrap travelers again and again in the future.”

“Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves.”

—————

We must know one another.

C.S. Lewis once considered, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Humility is the first step in opening ourselves to others. We must risk emerging from our self-absorbed, well-protected selves and commune with our neighbor. We must risk loving and caring even to the point of rejection. We need to partake in the Sacraments, but especially as a community of Faith (the Body of Christ) that can grow together, support each other and hold one another accountable.

“What have you done with my people?”

Essentially, the Church has tried its steadfast best to teach us how to love (and know) God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind and to love (and know) our neighbor as ourselves. Is that a difficult charge to carry? Put simply, is that so hard?

Yes.

Because the inexorably secularizing world will have none of it. And the forces of evil will have none of it. And so the efforts to bring man closer to God and his fellow man will be repeatedly and brazenly thwarted, sidelined and devalued until the end of time. Cardinal George made this stark observation when he told a gathering of young priests that,

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

But God’s calling for the Church (and its members) to know and reveal the face of Christ, to faithfully preserve a Spirit-led Tradition, and to draw the people together into the Body of Christ, is stronger than any opposition human or spiritual. And while many are familiar with Cardinal George’s aforementioned foreboding quote, they are less acquainted with the quote’s second half.

“[The successor of the martyred Bishop] will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

Ah, yes.

And I think Cardinal George would have approved of Whitaker Chambers’ poignant observation,

“It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the [embers], and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.”

And so we return to Cardinal George’s homily. To the question.

“What have you done with my people?”

For the Church and Cardinal George, I would reason, quite a lot.

Yes. Indeed.

Quite a lot.

Francis Cardinal George, Requiescat in Pace

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