I often disagreed with him. I often said so.
I believed, and still believe, that such is my responsibility as a baptized person. Indeed, it is an article of faith with me that every baptized person–not just the clergy, or bishops, or pope–must exercise the ministries of “solicitude for the church,” and “the confirming of the brethren.”
And so I said what I had to say. I could say it with a razor-edged tongue, as I did here.
But that was not all there was to what I said. Nor was that all there was to him as a person. For as I further noted, in the same place:
In 1999, I was news editor for the paper at my Catholic high school, and Cardinal George presided at our all-school Mass. I asked our principal if the cardinal would let me interview him. She didn’t see why not.
After Mass, George toured the school and ended up in the library, where I waited with a mini-tape recorder. I shook his hand and asked if we could talk. He said of course. We sat down, and the cardinal waited with seemingly infinite patience while I tried to get the recorder to work (I’d never used one before).
I finally got it going. By now, George had acquired a plate of refreshments. We talked through his impressions of the school, the vocation crisis, and the upcoming Jubilee Year 2000 as he ate crab salad and bruschetta and drank diet Coke from a plastic cup.
The cardinal nodded sagely at every question and gave long, thoughtful answers, apparently in no hurry. He didn’t look over my head to see who else he should be talking to, even though by now the library was filling up with VIPs. They had to wait their turn, because I mattered.
When we finished, he nodded again and said he liked my questions. This was not disingenuousness or mere politeness. One of our exchanges, about whether society has a crisis of religion or a crisis of love, appeared in his column in the Catholic New World about a week later.
I was a student who had sprung upon George from nowhere in the middle of a public reception. But he treated me as though I had called in advance from CBS or NBC.
Even as I became a very different kind of Catholic, who winced when the Cardinal sputtered and fumed–something that seemed to increase as he got older–I remembered that day. It told me something true about him, about who he really was. I never forgot it. Because I never forgot it, I never disliked him; because I never forgot it, I will miss him.
The first man with his job who lived long enough to retire from it, he wanted a long retirement in which to hear confessions, write books, and counsel seminarians. He didn’t get it. I am very sad that he did not.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Anima ejus, et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace.