Having worked at a few Catholic nonprofit agencies in Chicago over the years, I’ve had several occasions to meet and talk with Cardinal Francis George. We weren’t good buddies or anything, and I don’t mean to imply that, in spite of the cheeky title of this blog entry.
The fact is, when I’d go somewhere – to a celebratory Mass, or Cardinal George’s tenth anniversary party, or an award presentation – and Cardinal George was going to be in attendance, I’d tell my wife, “Yep, I’ll be hangin’ with The Card today.”
No disrespect intended, of course. I liked him. He was always very kind and gracious to me – and I could tell from his piercing, brown-eyed appraisal of me, that he knew he had seen me before on other occasions, even if he couldn’t quite place me. It was that kind of thing.
Once I found myself eating little cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches at his residence. Big, important Chicago Catholics were there. It was an event to honor a missionary who had won a prize. I was writing a story about the missionary. And Cardinal George stopped over to talk to me.
I had been leaving him alone – letting him hobnob with the folks who seemed so anxious for his time. I like to think that by coming over to talk to me, in my thrift-store suit with my overloaded small plate, it was kind of a break for him. We talked easily. He laughed easily – surprisingly so.
I told him I admired the paintings in the residence, and he agreed that they were remarkable. And then, since it was all going so well, I asked The Card what his favorite painting in the place was. He looked thoughtful for a moment. I quickly wondered whether I had overstepped a boundary, and started to say so, but he shooed that off.
He said that there was a painting that he treasured and was moved by every time he saw it – and he saw it frequently. It was on the landing on the way to his bedroom. It was a painting of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. He mentioned that he had always felt protected by Mary, as She is the Mother of Christ – and therefore our Mother, too.
I did not have the effrontery to ask if I could see the painting – or even who painted it. The personal moment was enough, and it was astonishing. I pictured Cardinal George going off to bed at the end of a long day of ministering, bowing slightly to the Blessed Mother on his way to slumber; feeling the comfort a child must feel who has a picture of the Guardian Angel near their bedside.
And I can picture him now, at the end of his physical pain and in Mary’s comforting embrace at last, returned home.
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