One use of political partisanship is to stand apart from history and to judge it, as one intellectually and morally superior to the mistakes of others. This I call the practice of identity maintenance, and it often leads to no good purpose and to the social pursuit of political illusion.
But one’s own life can change, and sometimes the world can change, when one is compromised by love and engaged by humility to accept the fact of one’s predicament, to cease standing apart, and to remain standing in. While standing in, one can try to shape apparent madness into some form of sanity, to turn despair into joy, even for the briefest of moments.
Jesus called us to carry our cross daily. This force of this call is echoed in the writings of Shakespeare, of Tolstoy, of Dostoyevsky, of Undset, of Pasternak, and of Faulkner.
We live, and love, and die at a particular place, at a particular time. We can accept this particular place and time, and try to do something with it, or else live in illusion.
Love and humility are not so much about being right, but about being alive and sharing life’s burden and predicament for the benefit of others.
Jesus Christ transformed the family by making the marital relationship permanent in Matthew 19: 3-12, and by drawing all to spiritual kinship by calling all, including families, to hear and to keep the Word of God in Mark 3:31-35 and in Luke 11:27-28.
A family joins Christ’s family, becoming His brothers and sisters, when they do the will of God. A family may be a wonderful family, but they might not be joined to Christ’s family unless they hear His Word and keep it.
Christian families are therefore called not only to be family to each other, but to be members of Christ’s family.
The 20th century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), best known in the English-speaking world for his writings on human intimacy and personality, aesthetics, ethics, and the liturgy, was also an active and determined opponent of the National Socialist or Nazi movement from its early days in the 1920s.
When Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, von Hildebrand, who had a decade earlier been condemned to death by the first Nazi thugs, left the country, and eventually settled in Vienna, where he led, through his journal Der Christliche Ständestaat (the Christian Corporative State, a concept that drew its inspiration from Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno) and his partnership the soon-to-be-assassinated Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, an intellectual resistance to Nazism and especially to anti-Semitism, until von Hildebrand was again forced to flee Austria as Hitler’s Anschluss absorbed that country in 1938.
While reviews of My Battle Against Hitler have focused on von Hildebrand’s adventurous fight with and narrow escapes from Nazism, I urge readers to study his 1930s essays collected as a group in this memoir. While it is fun to learn how von Hildebrand and his friends tricked the Nazis into allowing his furniture to be shipped from Munich to Vienna after his flight from Germany, and sobering to read how many were taken in by the Nazis, it is better to read the focused, insightful, and passionate words of von Hildebrand written at the time against the steady advance of anti-Semitism and Nazism.
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), once the teenage student paramour of philosopher and later sometime Nazi Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), achieved fame in 1963 with her coining of the phrase “banality of evil” in her Eichmann in Jerusalem. Yet von Hildebrand’s November 10, 1935 Der Christliche Ständestaat essay, translated as “The Danger of Becoming Morally Blunted,” contemporaneously described this blunting process as it was happening decades before Arendt. This essay alone is worth the price of My Battle Against Hitler, since it describes how moral compromise can weaken us all. The power of anti-Semitism as a moral anesthetic that deadens resistance to violent extremism is very much still at work today, whether in the Middle East, in Russia, or in First World cultural elites.
My compliments to John Henry Crosby, Alice von Hildebrand, John F. Crosby, and all those from the Hildebrand Project who spent the decade necessary to bring this book to English-language readers.
I understand that the Hildebrand Project intends to eventually post all the writings of Dietrich von Hildebrand online. I especially look forward to more Der Christliche Ständestaat essays, and especially to an English translation of his Metaphysik der Gemeinschaft: Untersuchungen über Wesen und Wert der Gemeinschaft, or The Metaphysics of Community.
Christians who remove the corpus, or body of Christ, from the crucifix, leaving only the cross, commit the same offence that Peter did when denying the sufferings of Christ in Matthew 16:21-23, for which Christ said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Some non-Catholic Christians who prefer the cross without the body are like Muslims in this respect, in that they deny the reality of the sufferings of Christ.
Some Christians who are scandalized by the wealth and misconduct of the Church leave it after they see Rome or the residence of a wealthy clergyman. But few who carry the Cross following the suffering Christ, and stand at the foot of his Cross, walk away from Christ and His Church.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, co-authored by Vice President Joe Biden when a senator, contains language mandating the reporting of local police “excessive force” to the federal government. According to reports, local police departments stonewall, and do not adequately report police “use of excessive force” as required under this Act.
It is shameful that local police departments are out of compliance with federal law on reporting police use of excessive force. Had both local and federal government officials taken this reporting obligation more seriously, we might not be seeing as many deaths and the consequent social disturbances from police shootings. Perhaps there is something this present administration and Congress can do about getting better compliance to a law so closely connected with the Vice President. Certainly, a bi-partisan issue. . .
With the 11/18/14 ceremony marking the beginning of the ministry of Most Rev. Blase Cupich as archbishop of Chicago, this is a time of thanks for the ministry of his predecessor Francis Cardinal George, OMI.
My first unknowing encounter with Francis George was hearing not his voice but his music in my 1950s childhood when he served briefly as a substitute organist in my parish, St. Priscilla. My second encounter with Archbishop Francis George was at the January 17, 1998 Chicago gathering of the National Center for the Laity, on whose board I then served, when he gave his noted “exhausted project” comments during a homily at Old St. Patrick’s Church.
The late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin benefitted throughout most of his tenure in Chicago and beyond from a cheering section both in the secular and in Catholic media, as I hope Archbishop Cupich will have as well. But Cardinal George did not and probably won’t ever have a cheering section to the same extent. This is unfortunate, since few spiritual heads in the Church evidence the depth of religious and cultural insight as does Cardinal George. While Cardinal Bernardin, borrowing a line from St. John XXIII, introduced himself as our brother, Cardinal George introduced himself as our neighbor, an equally rich scriptural reference.
While Cardinal George has grown stronger in administration and in the communicative side of being the Archbishop of Chicago, it did not come easy to him. Although a gentle person, he evidences from time to time vinegar and quick wit that can either help or hurt his efforts, but he also reveals self-effacing if not humorous humility. He has this bad habit of speaking the truth as he sees it. He sometimes made mistakes in appointments, as almost all administrators do. But one of his most carefully considered and successful appointments, of the Rev. Robert Barron of the Word on Fire media ministry as rector and President of the University of St. Mary of the Lake and its Mundelein Seminary, is of far reaching significance for the Church. As did Cardinal Mundelein when he appointed Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand to the same rectorship in the 1930s, Cardinal George has appointed “a man with imagination.” May Fr. Barron stay right where he’s at as rector / president of USML as long as the Lord wills it.
An equally significant appointment by Cardinal George was that of Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, OP, as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In my opinion, Sr. Mary Paul is the best Chicago Catholic schools superintendent in living memory. May the Lord give her more strength and energy before He grants her a well-deserved rest! And may support come to the Catholic primary and secondary schools to continue this our shared Catholic mission.
In the temporal sense, three human progeny generally outlive a person: children, writings, and institutions. Cardinal George protected the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese so many of their children could have a Catholic education. He stabilized the Chicago seminaries after a period of decline and scandal. He established the Liturgical Institute at USML to enrich the life of the Church. He defended the Catholic hospitals against radical interference, and defended religious liberty on both the health care and the marriage questions. He dialogued with Catholic university presidents both locally and internationally, keeping some in the fold, and under his support the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago has grown to an international reach. He also firmed up a structure to protect children from abusers, and to deal promptly with the perpetrators, and established a Healing Garden at one of Chicago’s oldest parishes, Holy Family. Cardinal George reached out to Muslims and those of other faiths. He dealt very patiently with Fr. Michael Pfleger, and he shepherded the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius to ecclesiastical approval. He defended the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, joined anti-violence and affordable housing efforts, and supported countless charitable works of the Church.
Cardinal George presided on the hot seat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the USCCB, during one of several recent rounds of the “bad priest” scandal. He was openly disrespected by a number of politicians, several Catholic. At the same time, Cardinal George served on numerous Vatican Congregations, and St. John Paul II asked Cardinal George to preach a retreat in the Vatican. In the celebrated words of Bill Murray’s assistant greens keeper character in the film Caddyshack, at least “He’s got that going for him.”
Cardinal George’s fun side was seen early in his tenure, when he visited the TV booth at Wrigley Field, and was asked for an invocation as Sammy Sosa came to bat. When Sosa promptly hit a home run, the city got to hear the Cardinal’s laughter. Whether the home run was due to divine intervention or to some other more worldly force will remain, as we Catholics say, a mystery.
The writings of Francis Cardinal George are of a similar stature. They will inform the choices that Catholic Christians will make for generations about faith and life, about religion and culture, and about church and state whether Cardinal George’s role is ever acknowledged. I’m sure that Cardinal George would be quite happy if he were forgotten and if the greater glory went to the Lord. That is why he stays to the very end of every parish event he attends, greeting and meeting parishioners down to the last person in line. Cardinal George has the charismatic gift of soldiering on, despite illness, be it polio, flu, cancer, a cold, or fatigue, long beyond his 50 plus years of priesthood. Perhaps I should say, the Gift of Carrying the Cross.
Beyond the temporal legacy of Cardinal George, there is the eternal. He learned from an early age the priestly role, an eternal role shared with the Lord. As a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, an OMI, Cardinal George gained a special appreciation for mission and religious life. I rejoice to continue sharing the Faith with Cardinal George as we look forward to joining the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews, 12:1).
On the above point I merely reply, that after the recent death of Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Lyne, Cardinal George could have moved from the mansion into the Holy Name Cathedral rectory at any time as was considered early in his tenure as Chicago archbishop. But I have a theory that the Cardinal elected to stay in the mansion so that his successor could elect to have the nice headline. Sometimes humility means that one look like a rich man so one’s successor does not have to. A lesser man would have kept the nice headline for himself. Archbishop Blase Cupich’s tenure will be all the better because he was preceded by Francis Cardinal George, OMI.