HOMILY AT FUNERAL OF HIS EMINENCE, JOHN CARDINAL O'CONNOR
MONDAY, MAY 8, 2000
SAINT PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL
Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston
My intent and your expectation is not that I deliver a eulogy. Cardinal
O'Connor's often repeated request was that we gather at this time to pray for
him. That we do, in the context of the Eucharistic sacrifice which is the source
and summit of the Church's life, and was so clearly the source and summit of the
life of the brother, the uncle, the friend, the priest, the bishop whom we bury
this day. We turn to the Scripture passages just read, and we look to the book
of Cardinal O'Connor's life for consolation in our sadness and for inspiration
in our lives.
Last Wednesday evening, when it became evident that death would come very soon,
his family, his closest collaborators and friends began the Church's prayers for
the dying. In the midst of those prayers, there was a moment of profound grief
as each of us realized with a sudden clarity what was happening. Just as
suddenly, we realized our tears were not for him, but for ourselves. Our hearts
were consoled by "that mystery hidden from ages and generations past but now
revealed to his holy ones," that mystery which Saint Paul explained to the
Colossians as the "'mystery of Christ in you, your hope of glory."
The inspired insight of the author of Wisdom spoke of "the hope full of
immortality" in the souls of the just. He consoles us as we ponder his words in
the light of their fulfillment in the Risen Christ: "The souls of the just are
in the hand of God... they are in peace."
Jesus, who suffered, died and rose from the dead, is our peace. Our hope, as
was the hope of Cardinal O'Connor, is to drink of the fruit of the vine again in
the reign of God. The wondrous Passover meal which Jesus shared with the
apostles the night before he died fulfills the deepest longings of every human
heart for freedom. "This is my body," he said over the bread. And over the wine
he said, "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on
behalf of many." He instructed us to do this in memory of him. And so we do, in
this and in every Mass. The meal is forever linked to the sacrifice in which
Christ offered Himself for us, taking upon himself the burden of our sins and
our death so that we might have forgiveness and everlasting life.
To have known John Cardinal O'Connor is to have known that what we do at this
altar was at the heart of his life each day. Just a few weeks ago in a visit to
his home we concelebrated Mass. It was so clearly for him the highlight of that
day. The course of his illness had made it impossible for him to read. Already
his ability to carry on a sustained conversation was impaired. With strength and
conviction he was nonetheless able to recite from memory the Eucharistic Prayer.
So much was the Mass a part of his life that when some things began to fade, the
Eucharist did not.
He was a man of profound and uncomplicated faith in a good and gracious God
who has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus. He believed in the Holy Catholic
Church. He was unswerving in his loyalty to the Holy Father as the successor of
Saint Peter. The words of Saint Paul found resonance in his life: "I became a
minister of this Church through the commission God gave me to preach among you
His word in all its fullness."
Certainly he did not shy away from the task of preaching. He made this pulpit
unique in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. God gifted
him with a keen and subtle intellect, an uncommon rhetorical skill, a knack for
the dramatic gesture, a sharp wit, and an outrageous sense of humor, all of
which he used in the service of preaching.
No one proclaimed what Pope John Paul II has called the Gospel of Life
with greater effectiveness than Cardinal O'Connor. It was in proclaiming that
Gospel of Life that he became a national and international public figure.
Inevitably there is an effort to categorize public figures as conservative or
liberal. Cardinal O'Connor, like the Church herself, defies such categorization.
He was eloquent and unremitting in his defense of the life of the unborn as well
as his support of the value of human life to the moment of natural death.
Perhaps his most lasting testament in support of life will be the work of the
Sisters of Life, a religious community he founded and loved so dearly.
As he was dying last Wednesday, as a result of a disease with terrible
consequences, he bore witness one last time to the moral evil of euthanasia and
physician assisted suicide. He denounced capital punishment. He championed the
rights of workers. He worked for a just peace in the Middle East and Northern
Ireland. Were he in this pulpit today, he would applaud the hope for peace in
the IRA's announcement on decommissioning. He preached by his example the
necessity of seeing in every human being, particularly the poor, the sick, the
forgotten, the image of a God to be loved and to be served. What a great legacy
he has left us in his consistent reminder that the Church must always be
A former Navy chaplain, Bishop John McNamara, recalled for me his first meeting
with Cardinal O'Connor. Let me quote from his reminiscence: "Father O'Connor,
the division Chaplain of the Marines, came up from Vietnam to interview the new
clergy. I remember his first words to me. `I'm John O'Connor, what can I do for
you?' I often thought of this meeting because those words, `What can I do for
you?' so characterize arid personify the John O'Connor I have known for 35
So many of us have heard him say, "What can I do for you?" There was no
burden too heavy, no problem too complex for his genuine compassion and desire
to help. To understand this in him is to understand that he was, to the core of
his being, a priest. He ministered in the person of Christ. His life was
configured to that of Christ as priest and as victim. Again, the words of Saint
Paul to the Colossians found expression in the life of Cardinal O'Connor: "Even
now," wrote Saint Paul, "I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my
own flesh I will fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the
sake of his body, the Church."
John O'Connor lived these words. He entered into the lives of
countless thousands by identifying with their sufferings in union with Christ.
It was thus that he viewed his final illness. He saw himself in solidarity with
other cancer patients, and he offered up the sufferings of his illness with the
sufferings of Christ. In all of this, he knew an incredible peace.
What a grace it was for his sister, Mary Ward and other members of the
Cardinal's family, for Monsignor Gregory Mustaciuolo, who could not have been a
more loyal friend and attentive son in the Lord to the Cardinal, for Eileen
White his Special Counsel, for his colleagues and friends to be gathered around
his bedside when he breathed his last at 8:05 in the evening of last Wednesday,
May 3, 2000. We prayed then, and we pray now: "Saints of God, come to his aid!
Come to meet him, angels of the Lord! Receive his soul and present him to God
the Most High."
In Memory of Cardinal O'Connor
Cardinal's Legacy Felt at
Memories of the Cardinal