I miss Cardinal Francis George, OMI. He was that rare combination of humble shepherd and leading intellectual light, a gentle intellectual who was an unlikely candidate for the prophetic role he filled in his final days.
I had the privilege of sharing a few great conversations with Cardinal George over the years, both on and off camera, and we traded endorsements of each other’s books. He was a bishop with no starchiness to him, possessed of an unflinching realism about the future of the nation and Church he loved. As the archbishop of Chicago he had his scrapes with the media, and I’m sure he made mistakes as a shepherd. I can speak only to the man I encountered in person: someone neither dour nor partisan, a deep thinker liberated in his last years to defend Christian truth in an age when that truth scandalizes.
The last time I saw Cardinal George, while interviewing him for my TV show a few months before he lost his third and final battle with bladder cancer, he spoke candidly about the test of ultimate loyalties he saw looming for American Catholics: that we may not be able to assume the same cozy relationship with the state and dominant culture we have enjoyed here in the past. Painful as that change may prove to be, the cardinal suggested it could be a good thing for the Church, at least in an ultimate sense.
He said all of this without rancor or gloom. He had a light in his eyes during that last conversation that I had not seen before, a luminous joy that seemed to glow brighter as his body weakened.
I was not there, so I cannot say for sure, but my guess is that his was a holy death.