instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, April 16, 2004

The key to the Cardinal

Occasionally, the clucking in the St. Blog's henhouse turns to the subject of my own bishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, when he commits some new outrage that offends the henhouse sensibilities. This week it's his failure to follow henhouse interpretation of canon law, but whatever the offense, there will be those who cluck, "Well of course! What else would you expect from a bishop like that?"

The meaning of "like that" varies from clucker to clucker; some mean "friendly to labor" or "politically liberal" or even "suspected of having voted for a Democrat," one of the henhouse's great sins. Others mean merely "spineless," or the ever popular "hapless." Some will hint darkly at simony and formal heresy.

As someone who tried to keep track of what Cardinal McCarrick says and does, though, rather than just the outrages he commits, I think the key to understanding him lies in his own words:
Most of all, I think I have always wanted to be a kind priest, and I would be grateful to God Who has been so kind to me if at least through His grace I have tried to be a kind bishop to those I served.
He wrote that in July 2002, a few weeks after his silver anniversary of episcopal consecration. Almost a year later, after his 45th anniversary of ordination, he went into more depth on what he sees as the three-fold challenge facing a priest:
In my own life, and in my pleas to those on whose heads I have imposed my hands at ordination, it has always been a three-fold challenge - work and pray and be kind to the people. If a priest can realize those three goals, he will be a good shepherd and a good man of God.

Of course, there is more to the priestly life than those three essential elements. The priest must study; he must recreate; he must take time for family, for friends; he must find time for exercise. These are natural virtues that every human being must cultivate - and I guess so are prayer and work and kindness, but in a priest they must be so much a part of his vocation. If we do not pray without ceasing, as the apostle urges, we become sterile. I know this because there are times when it has happened to me. If we do not work to the full extent of our capacity and if we are not kind, then we end up having lost the big picture and the great challenge of holiness and service.

As I look ahead to however many more years of service that God may give me, and I look back on the 45 exciting years that I have lived as a priest, I ask your prayers that I may finally start to pray more and better, to work "while the light lasts" and always to be kind.
See? Nothing about politics, or Mass in the vernacular, or being on television. Simply "always to be kind."

Of course, the henhouse is brimming with modern-day prophets who would spit on the idea of a bishop trying to be kind. It is not kind, they would say, in fact it is positively unkind to fail to correct people in their sins. That is true enough; charity, not kindness, is the greatest virtue, and the kindness of charity is not always felt as kindness.

But charity toward others is the desire for their salvation, not the desire for the satisfaction of telling them you doubt their salvation. I am not very perceptive spiritually, but I do not discern much desire for the salvation of others in the henhouse, compared to the desire for the satisfaction of seeing someone else get it in the chops from a stud bishop.

If, however, the "that" that Cardinal McCarrick is like is "kind," then those who think the times call for him to be more like something else would do well to pray that his kindness grow to encompass that something else, rather than that he stop being kind and start being their puppet.

(By the way, I'm inclined to think that how much and how earnestly people pray for something -- and I mean full-bore prayer, with vigils and fasts and candles and Rosaries and kneeling and maybe even some tears -- is a much better indicator of whether they truly desire it and whether the desire comes from God than how much and how earnestly they complain about it on the Internet. And that includes, naturally, complaining about complaining.)