Friday, December 12, 2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., 1918-2008.

After a long and remarkable life that included over fifty years in the Roman Catholic priesthood, a distinguished career as an academic theologian and the honor of being named to the College of Cardinals, Avery Robert Dulles died this morning at the age of 90. I cannot claim to have known Cardinal Dulles well, but I'm grateful to have been a student in the final class that he offered here at Fordham and to have had various social interactions with him in Jesuit contexts. Though he was a famous man, Cardinal Dulles always displayed an impressive degree of humility. The first time I met him was at dinner at Spellman Hall on Fordham's campus; as we waited in line to get our food, the Cardinal introduced himself to me simply as "Avery," though I never dared to call him anything other than "Cardinal Dulles." During this and other meals that I shared with him, I found Cardinal Dulles to be a gentle and unassuming dining companion who listened attentively and respectfully to what others had to say even if he could speak more knowledgably about a given subject than anyone else at the table.

In the last few months of his life, Cardinal Dulles suffered from a post-polio syndrome that slowly robbed him of his ability to move and to communicate. Though he remained as sharp as ever, Cardinal Dulles found it increasingly difficult to share his thoughts with others. When he was no longer able to speak, he had to communicate through the medium of written notes or typed comments. When he could no longer hold a pencil or type, he had to rely on more complex methods of dictation that required the patient help of others. The spiritual strength with which Cardinal Dulles met these challenges is suggested by the words that he chose to conclude his final lecture as Fordham's McGinley Professor of Religion and Society. I believe that these words offer a fitting end to this post:

I often feel that there is no one on earth with whom I would want to exchange places. It has been a special privilege to serve in the Society of Jesus, a religious community specially dedicated to the Savior of the world.

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 expected 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!”

Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.


At 12/13/2008 11:33 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

I was at work when I heard the news of the Cardinal's death and as I prayed for him I also thought of you knowing what his passage would mean for you and your brother Jesuits. Know that you are in my prayers especially during these days of ritual and remembrance.


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