Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago was buried last week after a long and dedicated ministry. A member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, George had visited Oblate missions throughout the world in his official capacity as part of the Oblates central administration in Rome, all of this, of course, before he began his episcopal ministry.
One thing about his preaching and admonishing (He was known by some as “Francis the Corrector.”) has remained with me: his powerful prophetic voice. Preaching to a packed church at the one hundredth anniversary of a landmark Chicago parish, he began by congratulating the parishioners and asking God’s blessings on their wonderful ministry. It was nearing Christmas so he continued with his sermon by reminding everyone that the birth of the Savior was immanent. Then, it happened, like I have heard it happen in other talks and sermons by the Cardinal. He looked around the enormous, beautiful church with its glorious art and without changing his tone or cadence, said, “Of course this will all come down in the coming conflagration.” Then, he picked up his Christmas theme and beautifully concluded the centennial sermon.
Another time, he was speaking about economic matters to about eight hundred pastors and their associates. He encouraged simplicity and responsibility in paying off ecclesial debt. Then, again without changing his demeanor or lifting his voice, he predicted the collapse of the Church’s economy along with the American dollar. He continued on with a very nice talk on fiscal responsibility.
He threw a similar grenade into most of his public speaking. Most people, I think, were disconcerted by these prophetic digressions. At first, the grenades confused me, too.
In one of his talks he put his outlook this way (I’m paraphrasing.): “I expect to die in bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will die in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of society and begin the rebuilding process as the Church has done many times in the past.”
Cardinal George left us the promise, not of peace but of end-time conflict . The battle is with secularism in society and in the Church. He was a fighter for the gospel of Jesus Christ against a militant secularism. He did die in bed. I wonder what Archbishop Supich is thinking about these days.