Walk Of Grace

The city of Chicago, indeed the nation, recently paused to pay last respects to a man who had completed the transition from earth to life. That man was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago. Throughout his life, Bernardin was a shining example of how a Christian ought to live and, ultimately, how to die. I first met Cardinal Bernardin in 1972. I had been put in charge of the arrangements for the church service that followed President Nixon's second inaugural ceremony. I invited three people to speak: Rev. Billy Graham, Rabbi Mark Tannenbaum, and Bishop Joseph Bernardin. Although I disagreed with many of Bernardin's political views, I selected him because I was deeply impressed with his ability and integrity. Ironically, 20 years later when I gave the Templeton Address in Chicago, it was Cardinal Bernardin who returned the favor, serving as the presiding officer. But even if I'd never personally known Cardinal Bernardin, I'd still be telling you about this extraordinary man, because it isn't often that someone prompts the kind of testimonials the press has been giving him. Some of the news media's admiration no doubt stems from the cardinal's liberal views on economic and defense issues. But what many observers came to admire most was Bernardin's grace in the face of unbelievably trying circumstances. Three years ago a former seminarian falsely accused the cardinal of sexual abuse. Bernardin maintained his innocence without a hint of bitterness. When the young man later recanted, Bernardin not only forgave him, he became his confessor, pastor, and friend. And until the day the young man died of AIDS, Joseph Bernardin was there to assure him of God's forgiveness and love. Even as he himself lay dying, the cardinal's concern was for the world he was leaving. In the last week of his life, this man of God wrote to the justices of the Supreme Court, urging them to overturn the Ninth Circuit's ruling that found a Constitutional right to assisted suicide. "There can be no such thing as a right to assisted suicide," Bernardin wrote, "because there can be no legal and moral order which tolerates the killing of innocent human life, even if the agent of death is self-administered." Bernardin's last act as a pastor was teaching people not to fear death but rather to treat it as a gift from God. When he stood before the TV cameras to tell the world that he had less than a year to live, Bernardin said, "As a person of faith, I see death as a friend. . . . If we say that we are putting ourselves in the hands of the Lord, then we can't hold back. . . . We have to be willing to let go." National Public Radio ended its commentary on Cardinal Bernardin with a beautiful hymn that captures the essence of a life lived for God. It's by Bianco da Siena and dates from the fifteenth century. The hymn includes the following passage: "Come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine, and visit it with thine own ardor glowing; O comforter draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing." Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Requiescat in Pace--Rest in peace.


Chuck Colson


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