Cardinal Wuerl Brings Profound Message of Support to Fr. Greg
Early last week, Cardinal Donald Wuerl called Fr. Greg to announce his full support in the Newman Center’s efforts at The George Washington University. Two days later, the Cardinal’s secretary called and sent along the Cardinal’s intention to celebrate Mass with the GW Catholics on Sunday. Preparations were put into place, and word spread that the Cardinal would attend mass to show solidarity with Fr. Greg.
And so on Sunday night, students and local parishioners joined together to support Fr. Greg. Hundreds of students were there in what many considered the largest student mass in our time at GW. Fr. Greg’s family was in attendance, as were half of a dozen priests who wanted to show their support for our chaplain.
And after a week that featured dozens of media outlets, nearly 40 blog posts, thousands of web site views, countless arguments, Bill O’Reilly, and many other crazy twists and turns, we all gathered to listen to the Cardinal. There was a sense that this was the end to the whole ordeal, that somehow the Cardinal’s presence was the exclamation point to finish off what had been a trying, tiring time for those of us in the faith.
Personally, I wondered what he would say. In some ways, I worried that he would incidentally flare the whole controversy up again. I took comfort in knowing that the Cardinal is about 100 times smarter than I am, but I was still uneasy about how his homily would be received. Part of me even wondered if he would say anything about the controversy at all. Indeed, his presence itself was enough to send the requisite message around the Archdiocese and the university, and words were almost unnecessary at that point.
But the Cardinal chose to spoke. Oh did he speak.
Wuerl’s homily touched upon all of the necessary themes, with a clear yet uncontroversial message.
He started by saying, “We are here in solidarity with your chaplain”, and from there he used the day’s Gospel as a starting point for his homily. He spoke of the message that all disciples must “feed My sheep”. He commended Father Greg for the successes of the New Evangelization at GWU, and thanked him for feeding us, his sheep, with the Gospel and Sacraments.
He continued by talking about religious liberty. “We do not impose the Gospel on anyone,” he said. “We propose eternal life with Christ and the truth of the Gospel, and invite people to join us…The Church respects everyone and must be respected.”
He continued by stating that we must not engage our opposition in an earthly manner, but with love. As Christians, he said, we are all called to love everyone.
Toward the end of his homily, Cardinal Wuerl used heavy language to explain the dire necessity to protect religious freedom. To do this, he referenced the Acts of the Apostles passage in which the Apostles were told to stop preaching Christ’s word. This story, he said, was especially relevant in society today
“We must remember,” he said, “that what follows ‘you can’t say that’ and ‘you can’t do that’ is ‘you don’t belong here.’” As I looked around, it was clear that the entire congregation felt the weight of this statement.
In closing, Cardinal Wuerl told the full congregation to never, ever be afraid to live out your faith. It will not be easy, he said, but it is necessary. We are made for more than Earth. We are to obey a power higher than man.
Everything that the Cardinal said was perfectly on point. He hit each theme delicately, yet with a profound clarity that resonated with all who could hear. His soft voice danced lightly, barely audible, through the Church as though it was the Holy Spirit itself speaking directly through him, tired from the journey from Heaven to Earth, softly releasing itself to the faithful who were listening. It became apparent that among all of the screaming, shouting, and disagreement of the past two weeks, this was the last word. The shepherd was delivering his message to the flock, and his soft voice would have the loudest impact.
As the joyful Cardinal finished his homily, tears filled the eyes of many people in the Church. Many of those who didn’t tear up during the homily did so during Communion. A certain spirit filled the room. It was not quite a feeling of triumph, or a feeling of outward joy. No, it was more subdued than that. It was a measured feeling of peace. It was as if the strengthened bonds that were forged at The Newman Center over the past few weeks could now be tangibly felt among the crowd, and that there was something larger at play than anything that our mortal minds and bodies could properly feel.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Father Greg approached the podium and thanked Cardinal Wuerl for coming. “Let there be no mistake,” he said, “You, Cardinal, are the shepherd to feeds this flock.” The crowd, which was already on hits feet, erupted in applause.
When the applause died down, the Cardinal approached his own microphone and thanked Fr. Greg one more time. The crowd once more erupted, this time in raucous applause that echoed off the walls of the church. Some people whistled and hooted and hollered, and the cheering continued for well over a minute.
It was the standing ovation that Fr. Greg has deserved consistently during his time as our shepherd at GWU. We took a weird path to get there, but it was a moving display for the “flock” to finally show their support in the way that we should have all along. Once again, people were tearing up in the pews. And if you ask me, the chaplain looked like he may have been a little choked up, too.
Indeed, the past two weeks have not been easy for GW Catholics. But they brought the local Catholic community together in ways that were never expected. They made us stronger. It was as though we were forging a lasting peace for ourselves through each other. For years, Fr. Greg has been laying the cornerstone for that peace through his impact on our lives. Together, we have attempted to build that peace together. Last night, the joyful Cardinal made a lasting contribution toward that peace.