He was born Joseph Bernardin, a sweet soul direct from God. No doubt he suffered the usual illnesses and trials of childhood ... as well as the frustrations of adolescence and adulthood. But, since he projected it so well in his own life, it is obvious that he never forgot the pure love of God that he came to convey to the world.
The spirit of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin returned to God in the early morning hours of November 14, 1996, at the tender earthly age of 68. He was a 100-percent human being (that is, a divinely created soul housed in a physical body) and he was indeed a holy person, if there ever was one.
Who was Joe Bernardin? I never had the pleasure of meeting him but I knew of him ... he was mentioned (not by name) in the last issue of Feed My Sheep (Vol.I, No.5) as the "priest in Chicago" who had been falsely charged of molesting a young boy several years ago. He touched lives of people that he never knew and did not know him. I was one of those people. I admired his devotion, his compassion and his sanctity from afar. I would have loved to have had his blessing before his journey home.
Accolades for him poured out into the media immediately. On Thursday evening, November 14th, the News Hour with Jim Lehrer (PBS) had an extensive program on the Cardinal. I went to their Online NewsHour and downloaded the transcript of Elizabeth Farnsworth's interesting interviews with and about Cardinal Bernardin. The transcript starts with the note:
The beloved Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernardin passed away Thursday morning following a public fight with cancer. The Cardinal was an influential and moderate force in the Church, and in secular circles as well....
Elizabeth gave a short background of the Cardinal:
The head of Chicago's Catholic Archdiocese died last night from pancreatic cancer. He was 68. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was the nation's senior Roman Catholic leader. He was born in South Carolina, the son of Italian immigrants. His father was a stonecutter, his mother a seamstress. At age 38, he became the youngest bishop in the nation. He also served as head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pope John Paul II elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 1983....
Quotes from individuals being interviewed were inspiring:
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (shortly before his death): "Many people have asked me why I'm at peace, or how I can be at peace, and first of all, you have to put yourself totally in the hands of the Lord. Secondly, you have to begin seeing death not so much as an enemy but as a friend. And thirdly, you have to begin letting go. And if you can do those three things, then you experience peace."
(On why he chose to share news of his terminal cancer with the world instead of his family.) "You are my family, and the people who are listening to this or watching this, they are my family. I've given my whole life to this family. And I'm referring not only to the Catholic members of the archdiocese, but I'm referring to -- to everyone. And so why shouldn't I share it? And then to be more practical, if I didn't, you'd find out anyway."
Rabbi Herman Schaalman: "I think the impact on the city was probably the most important, immediate motivating factor (on the Cardinal's efforts to bring leaders of all faiths together for dialog), but I think it was also an enormous side effect, and maybe that's not even the right word, in bringing us together. The very fact that the heads of the judicatories would know each other, would talk to each other, would meet with each other, would go and address common problems, just simply hadn't happened before."
Eugene Kennedy, Professor Emeritus at Loyola University in Chicago and biographer of Cardinal Bernardin (1992): "I believe Cardinal Bernardin had the great gift of being himself throughout his life. He never used artifice. He did not manipulate people, and a culture grown accustomed to an almost acceptant of public figures who depend upon public relations firms, image-making, and spin doctors to communicate their message. Cardinal Bernardin had that wonderful simplicity of a thoroughly good man, a man confident in himself, who needed none of those props, nor any of those intermediaries between himself and his people."
"He was the least self-conscious of men. He was simple in the Gospel meaning of that word, that his heart was pure, and his eye was single in its intention to serve human beings. He didn't categorize them as Catholics or Protestants or Jews. He responded very much in the name of the Gospel and Christ's message to all people in all situations. He was also an intuitive leader and mediator and became, I believe, because of that perhaps the most significant Church man in the latter half of this century."
(On the Cardinal's statement that he had always been afraid of three things in his life: false accusation, cancer, and death. And the fact that, in the past few years, he had to face all three.) "He did that. He was given a very unusual calling for a man who had risen to be the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago. I believe his calling was to face the things that frighten all Americans, false accusation and death and illness, and to show in that way that he was in favor of life because he faced these by living directly, being honest, not dissembling, not sparing himself any of these experiences. I believe that he is, in fact, in himself far more than any lawsuits or court material the counter-cultural figure of Dr. Kevorkian. Cardinal Bernardin understood that suffering could be made, then put to the service of greater gains and redemption. This is part of what made him such a great and influential man. He reintroduced the notion of mature spirituality into the dialogue of American life."
(On the Cardinal's openness about his pain and fears.) "Yes. I think that in many ways Cardinal Bernardin had that wonderful human character that we saw in Pope John XXIII. He did not try to tell us that nothing hurt. He was a true man, but not in the macho ethic of pretending that there were no emotions that were manifest when such things as life and death were in the scale, nor did he think that people of faith were less people of faith because, in the face of death, they might find that doubts or questions crept into their minds. He understood that to be a Christian or any believer of any kind, you had to embrace anything that was fully human as Jesus did."
The Ann Landers column in the Dallas Morning News (on November 20th) was a special and inspiring tribute to Joe. She shared with us some personal remembrances and the last evening at the Cardinal's home and praying for him at his bedside. She told us about the times when Joe "visited his mother in her nursing home near his residence every day without fail until he became bedridden. She would always ask him, `What are you doing now, Joseph?' and he would reply, `I'm working for the church, Mother.' She would say, `That is lovely. Keep it up.' He never told her he was a cardinal. She had no idea."
Columnist Deborah Mathis (distributed by Tribune Media Services and published in the Dallas Morning News.) "...Cardinal Bernardin displayed his faithfulness not only as the cancer chewed away at his innards but before that, when an apparently confused and distraught former parishioner tried to consume the cardinal's reputation. The man had accused Cardinal Bernardin of sexual abuse many years prior .... Cardinal Bernardin neither hid out nor reacted stormily but denied the charges with utmost dignity and kept moving on the engine of his impeccable faith. Which, by the way, delivered. The accuser later recanted and apologized, with none other than the wronged Cardinal Bernardin at bedside ministering to the man as he lay dying of AIDS...." (Ms Mathis goes on to tell a moving story about her grandmother and parents) "A stroke, a son's premature death and the kind of tribulations undereducated, poor, country, black women know didn't keep Grandmother from smiling, singing and shouting hallelujah so constantly that she was a marvel to her grandchildren, who thought her downright incapable of complaint." (She ends her column with a delightful quip:) "It is my new, great wish that, if the things we need to navigate in life were presented as a bill of fare, more of us would point to Cardinal Bernardin and say, `I will have what he is having'."
Jeffery L. Sheler (in U.S.News & World Report, November 25, 1996) "'Grace,' wrote the Apostle Paul, is a `gift of God,' unmerited and inimitable (cannot be imitated), that enables frail humanity to reach beyond itself and find salvation. Grace, in another sense, also describes those rare qualities of character that Jesus pronounced "blessed' in the Sermon on the Mount -- gentleness, meekness, humility, purity, mercy. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin ... was a man of rare grace. ,,,,,Yet Bernardin's display of grace was never more poignant than when he stepped before the TV cameras in Chicago on that perfect late-summer day last August and serenely told the world that the pancreatic cancer he thought he had licked a year earlier had spread to his liver and that he had less than a year to live. `I consider this as God's special gift,' Bernardin said then. `As a person of faith, I see death as a friend ... If we say we are putting ourselves in the hands of the Lord, then we can't hold back ... We have to be willing to let go'."
And, finally, excerpts from something I received by e-mail: (Comments from a couple who went to "Cardinal Bernardin's wake in Holy Name Cathedral.") "At ten o'clock we made our way through a throng of thousands of people into Holy Name Cathedral. The Windy City Gay Chorus was on the right side of the altar just behind and to the right of the Cardinal's body. A sign in the middle of the cathedral said `Windy City Gay Chorus.' The chorus did three selections then they sat down for about fifteen to twenty minutes then did three more selections. Literally thousands of people had to pass the `Gay Chorus' sign. It is clear that their participation was done at the request of Bernardin or with his approval. They were asked more than three weeks ago if they would participate in his wake service and neither (of us) can imagine an underling of the cardinal just sneaking them in. This is a significant event. The inclusion of a gay chorus sends a message not only to the Church but to this city in general. The cardinal did in death what he would have had a hard time doing in life -- welcoming a gay chorus into his cathedral. Not only did gay people come and pay our respects to the cardinal, he paid his respect to us."
You met and conquered your fears, dear brother, with commendable faith, courage and beauty. Now you can confidently say, with Jesus, "It is finished." Remember us as you dwell in the beautiful mansion prepared for you.
When they had broken their fast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these things? He said to him, Yes, my Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, Feed my lambs. He said to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me? He said to him, Yes my Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, Feed my sheep. He said to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me? It grieved Peter because he said to him the third time, Do you love me? So he said to him My Lord, you understand well everything, you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, Feed my ewes. (John 21:15-17 Lamsa Translation)
A NOTE FROM RICHARD
This is a special issue that I felt a need to publish. The spirit expressed in the life and ministry of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin is an inspiration to all and it speaks so much to the matters I long to discuss with you in this little publication. A simple faith that provides peace within and a holding to the basic truths as taught by Jesus, the Christ, during his sojourn on earth ... and through those like Cardinal Bernardin who follow carefully in his footsteps. No need to develop something different and new ... Jesus said it all. If it was not made an issue by Jesus, then it was not an issue! God's Word and God's Love is for ALL people in ALL circumstances and conditions.