We joined some of the Cardinal's friends for a lovely memorial mass at the Bishops' mausoleum. It was a small group who have gathered every year on this day. Everyone was very gracious in welcoming our group of Bernardin Scholars to the celebration. After I selected my seat, I realized that I was seated right next to the crypt where the Cardinal's remains are awaiting the resurrection. Very powerful.
In the last weeks of his life, which ended far too early, the Cardinal launched his Catholic Common Ground initiative. Looking around the Church these days, it seems to me as if we would do well to reflect upon his insights and visions. So on this day, I give you a few excerpts from a talk he gave on October 24, 1996, less than one month before he died.
In the Cardinal's words:
Two and a half months ago, I announced an initiative called the Catholic Common Ground Project. My aim was to help Catholics address, creatively and faithfully, questions that are vital if the Church in the United States is to flourish as we enter the next millennium At every level, we needed, I felt, to move beyond the distrust, the polarization, and the entrenched positions that have hampered our responses. ...
Common ground, in this sense, is not a new set of conclusions. It is a way of exploring our differences. It is a common spirit and ethic of dialogue. It is a space of trust set within boundaries. It is a place of respect where we can explore our differences, assured in the understanding that neither is everything 'cut-and-dried' nor is everything 'up for grabs.' ...
In the Church's history, differences have often been the seedbeds of our most profound understanding of God and salvation. Differences and satisfaction have spurred extraordinary institutional creativity. And differences too often have provoked unnecessary, wasteful, and sometimes terrible division. ...
Are the differences among U.S. Catholics generating reflection, exchange, debate, ideas, initiative, decisiveness? Or are they producing distrust, polemics, weariness, withdrawal, inertia, deadlock?
No one can answer these questions definitively. But I and many others representing a range of theological outlooks feel that, in far too many cases, the brave new sparks and steady flame of vitality in the Church are being smothered by the camps and distractions of our quarrels.
... [T]he Catholic Common Ground Project offers the promise of our rising above hardened party lines and finding renewal in the splendor of truth revealed in the person of Jesus who is our Lord and our savior.
This evening, I assure you that, having entered the final phase of my life's journey, I am even more committed than before to this central conviction. A dying person does not have time for the peripheral or the accidental. He or she is drawn to the essential, the important--yes, the eternal. And what is important my friends, is that we find that unity with the Lord and within the community of faith for which Jesus prayed so fervently on the night before he died. To say it quite boldly, it is wrong to waste the precious gift of the time given to us, as God's chosen servants, on acrimony and division.
And so, in that spirit I hand on to you the gift that was given to me-- a vision of the Church that trusts in the power of the Spirit so much that it can risk authentic dialogue. I hand that gift on to you without fear or trepidation. I say this because I know that it is a gift you already prize and cherish. I ask you, without waiting and on your own, to strengthen the common ground, to examine our situation with fresh eyes, open minds, and changed hearts, and to confront our challenges with honesty and imagination. Guided by the Holy Spirit, together, we can more effectively respond to the challenges of our times as we carry forward the mission that the Lord Jesus gave to us, his disciples. It is to promote that mission that the constructive dialogue we seek is so important.
Amen. Pray for us Cardinal Bernardin.
You can read the entire text of "Faithful and Hopeful: The Catholic Common Ground Project" online via the Archdiocese of Chicago Archives. You can also learn more about the project that is now housed at the Bernardin Center at CTU.