The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles, Rest in Peace

Like many Christians, for much of my life I have plodded along doing what I believed, often mistakenly, to be God's will for me. Too often I discovered well after the fact that what I believed God wanted for me was instead what I wanted and nothing more. And so, each time, buoyed by one of these little revelations, I would try to make a "mid-course correction" to redirect my life along the narrow path. This, I think, is how life unfolds for most of us as we make our way to the hoped-for eternal life promised by Jesus Christ.

Among those little revelations I received was the realization that most of our activity as human beings is really not all that important. This, of course, contradicts everything that the world tells us. For example, companies go to extremes to convince employees that the work they do is not only critical to the continuance of the human race, but may also be their only true source of happiness. A few years ago, in a Saturday morning management meeting, the vice president I then worked for expressed his dismay that we did not all share his unbridled passion for our work and our company. He believed that nothing was more important and if we truly loved our work it would be the primary focus of our lives, worth investing 12 hours a day, six days a week...or more! Perhaps the only true response to such thinking is, "Get a life! Get an eternal life!" It's not our work that's important; it's God work. And it's God's work that we should be doing. Our work pays the bills. God's work paves the road to eternal life.

One person who devoted his life to doing God's work was Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., who returned to the Father last Friday, December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He was 90 years old.

In the course of a life, if one is fortunate, he may have the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people, people whom God has chosen to do extraordinary things. For me, one of those people was Cardinal Dulles. For years I had encountered him through his writings, and he probably influenced my thinking on things theological more than other man with the possible exceptions of Pope Benedict XVI and Jean Cardinal Danielou. Not only did I learn from Avery Dulles but I also truly enjoyed reading him.

And then, two years ago, I actually met him. Cardinal Dulles had come to our diocese to speak at a diocesan synod gathering, and before he spoke I had the opportunity to chat with him for about 15 minutes. As you can see by the accompanying photo, I was probably a bit more enthusiastic about the meeting than was the cardinal.

Actually, he was very kind. We chatted about our common experience as naval officers, about my time at Georgetown University, and about a recent article he had written for First Things. He proved to be everything I expected him to be: warm, pleasant, unassuming, and truly interested in the inane comments I made.

I will miss this remarkable man. I will miss his remarkable spiritual and theological insights. And the world too will miss Avery Cardinal Dulles, a man who devoted his life to doing God's work in complete loyalty to His Holy Church. What a blessing he was. May he rest in peace in the loving embrace of the Father.

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