What He Received, He Gave Away
Editorial: Homily from the funeral Mass of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago
Editor’s note: Following are excerpts from Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle’s homily for the funeral Mass of Cardinal Francis George, on April 23, 2015. (Read the full text here.)
“The only thing we take with us when we die is what we have given away.”
I pondered those words [from Cardinal George at a Mass many years ago] for a long time, and over the past few weeks, as he neared death, I became aware of similar remarks he put to paper through the years.
He was fond of reminding us that our relationships with the Lord and with each other are all that endure — all else goes to the grave. He concludes the foreword of his forthcoming book, A Godly Humanism: Clarifying the Hope That Lies Within, with familiar thoughts:
“Pope Francis often contrasts our planning with God’s providence. God is a God of surprises, Pope Francis explains, and the final horizon is God’s infinite love. It can never be completely responded to; but as the years here go shorter, it fills in with the realization that, just as we pray to see God face to face, so God wants to see us face to face. We give him our time, which is all that we have, and he takes the gift and calls us when he is ready to do so.”
“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 others. … We give him all that we have, and he takes the gift and calls us when he is ready to do so.”
Spontaneously, from the fullness of his heart, Cardinal George gave to the Lord and to us, and both his written words and his unedited afterthoughts brought to light a profound interior life motivated by hope, hope in the Lord.
Doesn’t it make sense that an Oblate of Mary Immaculate would ever strive to make an oblation — an offering, a sacrifice, a gift — of his life? And that his oblation would be grounded deeply within, grounded in hope in the One by whose sacrifice alone we are saved?
Yes, perfect sense. But what did Francis George offer to God, and through God, to us? What did he give away?
He offered a life joined to the cross of Christ. When the polio virus attacked him at age 13, he learned early and quickly that suffering is not hypothetical but real, that pain is palpable and can have lasting implications.
Francis George’s own lifelong wrestling in a body struck by polio gave him lasting insight into the mystery of the cross, through a wound that was somehow not just his, but also Christ’s.
He offered a life of faith, conviction and courage. In the end, all of us need a rock foundation. Otherwise, as the Lord said, when the rains and winds come and buffet our house, we cannot stand.
With heart and soul and both legs firmly planted in the Lord, Francis George lived a faith-filled life grounded in the conviction that, quite simply, God is everything.
He was convinced, as St. Paul was, that God is for us in a complete and uncompromising way, and that nothing — nothing at all — will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus convinced, how could he not give witness to Christ everywhere, from the pulpit to the public square?
He offered a soul devoted to prayer. For Cardinal George, prayer was the integrating factor of the Christian life, through which his relationship with God was nourished, sustained and bore fruit both in love and in intellectual pursuit of the truth.
Make no mistake, the homilies he preached, the classes he taught and the pastoral care he gave flowed gently and compellingly from a life devoted to prayer. That is to say: All these things flowed from God through the friend and minister of God, Francis George, to us.
He offered a brilliant mind in love with God. No one could ever dispute the extraordinary intellectual gifts God gave Francis George, nor could one ever dispute the enthusiasm with which he put those gifts to work for the good of the Church and the world.
When the pursuit of truth is fueled by a life of prayer, it is undertaken in communion with Christ, the Wisdom of God. And when one is joined to Christ, the Savior of the world, then the beauty and mystery of the world become the object of one’s love. For whom and what Christ loves, the mind given to Christ loves.
He offered a vision of the New Jerusalem. As an Oblate, Francis George yearned for a life of mission, yearned to be sent wherever and to whomever the Lord would have him go. With an acute sense of God’s infinite love for the human person and humanity as a whole, he saw in human culture the traces of God’s handiwork and thus a doorway to God himself. The connection between faith and culture would fascinate him his entire life.
As Cardinal George preached one Easter Sunday:
“We see only the results of faith and hope and love, but we live in our deepest reality when we are in their grasp. Sts. Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, when they were coming to believe but still not fully understanding, ran to the place where they learned to believe, to the Person in whom they placed their hope, to the beloved Lord, who shows us that revealed truth and self-sacrificing love are more real, more trustworthy, than anything else.
“If the earth is our mother, then the grave is our home, and the world is a closed system turned in on itself. [But] if Christ is risen from the grave and the Church is our mother, then our destiny reaches beyond space and time, beyond what can be measured and controlled. And therein lies our hope.”
What Francis George received, he handed on to us.
So has it ever been in the Church, and so shall it ever be, now through you and me.