A Visit with Avery Dulles
Yesterday I had the privilege of spending some time with Cardinal Avery Dulles in the Jesuit community infirmary at Fordham. A privilege, not in the first instance, because he is a Cardinal of the Church, nor even because he is a renowned theologian, but because he is an inspiring witness of faith.
As many know, Cardinal Dulles is afflicted by the remnants of the polio he contracted while a naval officer during the Second World War. He can no longer speak, and the muscles of his arms are also impaired. Yet his mind is lucid, he continues to read and work, and communicates slowly by touching the letters of his computer keyboard. In our “conversation” he was always one step ahead of me. He typed “DH,” and it took a little time before it dawned on me that he was referring to Vatican II’s document “Dignitatis humanae.”
Those who have read his “Farewell Lecture” as Fordham’s McGinley Professor, remember his moving conclusion:
I often feel that there is no one on earth with whom I would want to exchange places. It has been a special privilege to serve in the Society of Jesus, a religious community specially dedicated to the Savior of the world.
The good life does not have to be an easy one, as our Blessed Lord and the saints have taught us. Pope John Paul II in his later years used to say, “The Pope must suffer.” Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be expected as elements of a full human existence.
Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
These days, when I pray in the “Preface” to the Eucharistic Prayer that we might “always and everywhere give thanks,” the witness of Avery Dulles is in my heart. I try to articulate the words prayerfully on his behalf.