Authentic Spiritual Fatherhood: A Testimony
The hospital room was filled with elderly priests, one in a wheelchair, colleagues of Fr. Helfrich, his family, and loved ones: priests who had not spent much time in the presence of a bishop. They made way for the cardinal to approach the bedside. Lowering his head and speaking distinctly so as to be heard by Fr. Helfrich, the prelate spoke in calm, measured, and powerfully edifying tones.
“George, the Lord Jesus Christ loves you,” he said in a voice that gave a kind of thrilling affirmation of the fact. “Moreover, all the suffering you are enduring now and have endured is being put up for you as a treasure for your eternal reward. And let there be no mistake: All of us must, one day, face the same trial you do today — and God grant that we will do so with the courage you are exhibiting today which is such an inspiration to us all. You are indeed a champion and we are proud of you and love you.”
It was not just the exquisite words but the tender solicitude of a loving father that Cardinal George displayed; the gentle stroking of the dying priest’s brow, the brushing back of his unkempt, disheveled hair (incredibly for this always preoccupied elderly priest who never primped and had to be reminded to go to a barber, not a gray strand among it), the prelate’s soft patting of the patient’s sagging, stubble-filled cheeks with the skill of a medical nurse — all done with such care that the medical personnel, standing around, waiting to react in case of emergency, were stunned.
This was a cardinal who knew how to soothe, who could easily become, with the delicacy and grace he showed, an expert caregiver himself. The soft words, barely audible, reflected the cardinal’s praise for the life of Fr. Helfrich that was so humble. Cardinal George stirred Fr. Helfrich, himself an intellectual, to see that the nature of the priest was to repudiate the egotistic pleasure employed since Adam to find fulfillment beyond and above himself. It was the cardinal’s greatest sermon, delivered to an audience of one.Cardinal George is much more than simply an intellectual. He is more than just an orthodox bishop. Rather, he also has the heart of Christ; one who puts into practice the faith he professes and the vocation to which he has been called. I am sure that he would be the first to say that he is no saint; though, I would add, he certainly appears to be one in the making. Let us pray for his continued fidelity to his calling.