Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Who we are: relationships and choices

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Behind many of the conflicts in public life and even in the church in our day lies a difference in the understanding of who we are as human beings. This is an issue deeper than the particular battle lines over sexual morality, the nature of marriage, the history of the sacrament of Holy Orders and the exercise of authority in both the home and the church.

Without always saying so explicitly, even to themselves, some people believe that we truly are only the result of our individual free choices. If relationships get in the way of who we choose to be, then they are oppressive. Relationships given before we come to consciousness of ourselves, relationships to God, to nature, to family, to the church, must be sacrificed so that we can be truly who we choose to be.

Others in our culture realize that we are related before we begin to make choices and that choices that destroy basic relationships leave us isolated and without the connections that are part of human life. We are related naturally to God as creator and supernaturally to him as Father. We are related naturally to our mother and our father, along with brothers and sisters and other “blood relations.” We are related to nature itself as members of the human race, created “male and female.” We are related to the church in which we have been reborn in baptism, permanently marked to the roots of our very existence with the sign of Christ our Savior.

Within this network of relationships given to us apart from personal choice, people construct their character through making choices. If the choices strengthen relationships, people find their way together in the church and in society. If the choices break relationships, especially relationships to God, family, nature and church, people find themselves isolated or left only with increasingly fragile relationships to chosen friends and business associates. Eventually, the government steps in so that public order can be maintained among unconnected individuals, people who feel little responsibility toward others because they must remain faithful only to their own choices.

We spend a lifetime growing into essential relationships, especially our relationship to God, whom Christians believe to be one God in three divine Persons, a Being of subsistent relations. People do sometimes discover that some relationships are destructive, particularly family relationships that can enslave. The goal then is to become free, to recognize and manage relationships that have become oppressive, but without imagining that they can be ignored or dissolved. They are given to us as the context in which we work out our freedom and our salvation. Usually, they are the greatest source of our joy.

Obviously, the church’s understanding of who we are as human beings underscores the basic importance of major relationships and the need to guide our choices in order to respect them. Consequently, the church is seen by some as a source of oppression, as is the family and even nature and God. Sometimes arguments over particular topics, in the church and in society, can never be resolved because people’s presuppositions about who we are differ profoundly. It is at this profound level that conversion takes place. People change not because of an argument but because they are loved, because they are in a relationship that means more to them than life itself. An examination of conscience therefore doesn’t limit itself to examining our actions or our attitudes. It should include also an inventory of our relationships.

A relationship that has been part of my life since I was 20 years old is to my religious congregation, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In the history of the Order, founded in 1816, I’m only the fourth Oblate of Mary Immaculate to be created a cardinal of the church because Oblates usually serve in places where there are no cardinals. Pope Francis has said repeatedly that the church should go to the frontiers, and he has now named as cardinal an Oblate who is the archbishop of Cotabato in the southern Philippines.

Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI, is someone whom I’ve known and respected since we were both seminarians. He has served in important positions among the Asian bishops and at Roman Synods. He is archbishop of a city on the “frontier,” a place often marked by the civil strife and violence that is part of life on the large island of Mindanao, which is, historically, Muslim territory, although part of the Philippines and now settled by descendants from the island of Luzon, in the north. He is intelligent, courageous, prudent and a bishop who will bring great gifts and a lifetime of loving pastoral experience to those now to be related to him in the College of Cardinals. The pope could not have made a better choice, a choice obvious once made but not one that many would have thought possible.

Please pray for our Holy Father and for those whom he has recently named cardinals of the Roman Church (see story on Page 2), especially Orlando Quevedo, OMI, archbishop of Cotabato, and my brother Oblate of Mary Immaculate. God bless you all.


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