Holy lives (and deaths) still happen, even in New York City - a tribute to John Cardinal O'Connor

by Sue Joan

John Cardinal O'Connor, who served his last years as the ArchBishop of New York, died Wednesday (May 3, 2000) at the age of 80, after a long bout with cancer (latest was brain cancer).

Cardinal O'Connor laughs as people sing Happy Birthday to himAccording to the media, O'Connor (pictured on his 80th birthday when his congregation sang "Happy Birthday" to him), was honored by  the secular world (even Clinton sent a regret upon his death and stated that the Cardinal had inspired him greatly) and he was given the Congressional Medal of honor.

Yet, in the church, his service was even more impressive.  He often appeared at abortion clinics praying the Rosary for the end to the holocaust, he wrote extensively about the sanctity of life.  He openly reminded his flock including Geradine Ferrare and others, that pro choice Catholics were in danger of 'excommunication' from the church and he held tightly to strict Catholic teachings about moral issues in the face of those who would water down these issues.

After the Catholic Catechism came out, he taught from it for a year from the pulpit so that the people would learn about their church. And behind the scenes he did even more impressive things including regularly, visiting AIDS patients, bathing their sores and giving them consolation as well as working to increase religious vocations. (How does one say "NO" to a Bishop who suggests they should be a priest?)

John Cardinal O'Connor had a special devotion to the Eucharist - as he told a congregation that filled the middle of Fifth Avenue after he conducted Benediction on the front steps of the Cathedral:

"For me, evangelization is the transmission of the Good News of the Living Lord, Jesus Christ, who is present in the Eucharist, that He is present in the Eucharist is the Good News that we want to take to the world.  Because it is HE ALONE who can change New York, the United States and the whole world."
And the cardinal often stated that he loved being a priest.  He told new priests one year:
"Every ordination is a new sign of hope; it is a new sign of resurrection in the Church.  If you are good priests, I can promise...the greatest joy that any human being can experience in this world."
Rejecting the idea that celibacy was the cause of sexual misconduct among priests, he informed the new priests that:
"Your celibacy doesn't restrict you, doesn't bind you.  Your celibacy is not a heavy yoke to be borne begrudgingly, reluctantly.  It's a path to freedom.  It reminds you that the priesthood is not a profession, it's a vocation, a total giving, a complete response to the call of that Lord who said, 'You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you'. "
But as inspirational as his life was, his holy death was even more so.  After his operation for a cancerous brain tumor last August, he confided that:
"I lay all alone at night [in his hospital bed] but not all alone.  I had the greatest peace I ever experienced because I turned myself totally over to God...That peace hasn't left me.  I know I'm completely in God's Hands."
He later told physically handicapped people in New York:
"I don't know what the future will be.  I am confined to my house.  All of you experience that.  You don't know how dependent you are on God.  It demands such trust and faith."

According to the news services, the holy man of God lost most of his strength after the cancer operation (and chemo) in August 1999 and became progressively weaker yet still ministered to his flock as his strength allowed even to the point of being seen, stumbling down the steps of St Patrick's Cathedral after celebrating Mass there infrequently.

But the Cardinal clung to life with a zest for living. He wrote in an article in September 1999 that:

"As I write these words, uncertain of the outcome of tests I will be undergoing early tomorrow morning, I find myself in unutterable peace, a peace born of the Grace of God and of the goodness of God's people.  Life is such a gift, and after almost 80 years of living it, I have no sentiment so strong as gratitude.  But faith is an equal gift, most particularly the faith to believe unconditionally that one's life, everyone's life, is ultimately in the Hands of a loving God.  It is my natural, human hope that this period of hospitalization will result in good and vigorous health, and that I will be privileged to serve God's people of New York and elsewhere in whatever capacity God and our holy Church should design for me for many years to come.  But God writes straight with crooked lines and only He knows what the next moment will bring.  This I do know, however, with passionate certitude, that in His Unlimited Love He created me, as He created each of us who tries to live and die in that love, for the breathless joy of an eternal Springtime."

On May 3, 2000, in the company of a few family members, God choose to bring the holy man into that 'eternal Springtime' he wrote about.  We can only imagine what a happy re-union that was.

Research material for article:  Reuters News Services, "CRISIS MAGAZINE", June 2000 (call 800-852-9962 for subscription info)

Article by Sue Joan co 2014

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