Today is the 90th birthday of His Eminence, Avery Cardinal Dulles. At Fordham University’s
Chapel about 175 people gathered to thank God for his many blessings and to offer Thanksgiving for the life and work of this great man of the Church: The Sacrifice of the Mass was offered by the Cardinal’s fellow Jesuits and some non-Jesuit priests. Family and friends, the high and the lowly and everyone in between came to celebrate with Cardinal Dulles. His longtime friend and Assistant, Sister Anne-Marie Kirmse, O.P. made today a wonderful event for many friends. No one could want nor hope for a better friend than Sister Anne-Marie!
THE most heart-filled gesture was seeing Edward Cardinal Egan, the Archbishop of New York, pushed Cardinal Dulles in and out of the Chapel. What a perfect example of humanity!!! Later, Cardinal Egan joked at a reception that he doesn’t regularly push Jesuits around much less Jesuit Cardinals, but he said it was his honor to push Dulles because of their longtime friendship and esteem; they are classmates in the College of Cardinals.
O God, You who make the minds of the faithful to be of one will,
grant unto Your people to love that thing which You command,
to desire that which You promise,
so that, amidst the vicissitudes of this world,
our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are.
(trans. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf)
I first met then Father Dulles in September 1997 at a Communio Circle in Easton, CT, hosted by the remarkable Maria Shrady. Never did I imagine what has happened to all of us since then: some that group became better theologians, some pastors of souls, some have met the Lord face-to-face, some have moved to new work and some have reached 90 years of life as a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Another terrific thing happened today: the opportunity to renew friendships with many whom I esteem as people and as theologians. While our Communio group has disbanded for now, we decided in 2009 to reconstitute ourselves to work on theological matters of importance under the inspiration of Dulles and under the inspiration of another venerable cardinal, Hans Urs von Balthasar (a former Jesuit I might add who died 28 June 1988).
“Although I cannot rival the generous dedication of St. Paul and Ignatius of Loyola, I am, like them, content to be employed in the service of Christ and the Gospel, whether in sickness or health, in good repute or ill. I am immesurably grateful for the years in which the Lord has permitted me to serve him in a society that bears as its motto: Ad maiorum Dei gloriam. I trust that his grace will not fail me, and that I will not fail his grace, in the years to come” (A Testimonial of Grace, 50th anniv. edition).
The silent but very present witness of Avery Dulles is powerful and a strikingly stark approach than what we see in many parts of our society where the infirmed are moved to the margins of life. On the contrary, these are the people that most make present the beautiful of Jesus Christ. Personal purification and suffering continues to witness, at least to me, to the value of life and powerful presence of the Infinite. Dulles said of himself in the 39th McGinley Lecture, 21 April 2008:
The good life does not have to be an easy one, as our blessed Lord and the saints have
taught us. Pope John Paul II in his later years used to say, “The Pope must suffer.” Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils, but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence. Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”