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Jewish World Review May 5, 2000 / 1 Iyar, 5760

Cal Thomas

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Cardinal John O'Connor --
I FIRST MET John O'Connor rather late in his life journey. It was 1984, and he had just been named a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II. The new Bishop of New York and I were at a television studio in New York City, preparing to tape separate "Firing Line'' programs with the grand inquirer, William F. Buckley Jr.

"Congratulations on your appointment,'' I said to him after introductions. He did not say "thank you.'' He answered, "Please pray for me.'' Months later, he sent me a note commenting (favorably) on one of my columns in the New York Daily News, saying he had added me, a non-Catholic, to his personal prayer list. I took that as a high compliment.

In an age when moral conviction is out of fashion, Cardinal O'Connor stood above the crowd. Believing that his church based its position on Scripture and the wisdom revealed through its earthly leaders, who were chosen by G-d, he didn't consult opinion polls and he did not seek ways to make church doctrine more popular in order to attract the masses. He knew that the crowd was fickle, as they were with Jesus, and that they could praise you one moment and then turn on you with vengeance. So he stuck to his and his church's principles. He wonderfully embodied a sentiment expressed some years ago by columnist Joseph Sobran: "I would rather belong to a church that is 500 years behind the times and sublimely indifferent to change, than I would to a church that is five minutes behind the times, huffing and puffing to catch up.''

In its obituary, the New York Times -- which is always huffing and puffing to catch up with culture -- supported few of his moral convictions, especially on abortion and homosexuality. It saw his views on these things as arcane, even harmful. While praising his charitable work with AIDS patients and the poor, it said that his pronouncements on personal morality "stirred controversy among many New Yorkers and even some of his own parishioners.'' So did the Ten Commandments which G-d sent down from Mt. Sinai by Moses to a people who didn't particularly want to hear them. But G-d didn't revise the Commandments into suggestions, because they were about G-d's nature and His requirements. O'Connor knew that the authority behind "thus saith the L-rd'' was more formidable than any opinion held by man.

O'Connor was bold enough to state what ought to be true of any church or organization whose members refuse to live up to its precepts. He said people, including Catholic politicians, who cannot abide by certain fundamental teachings of the church should not be members of it. He stirred tremendous controversy when he suggested that then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and one-time vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro put themselves in danger of excommunication for their liberal positions on abortion and gay rights.

In an article last September for Catholic New York, written from his hospital bed, O'Connor reflected on humanity's priorities and how one is forced to focus on what truly matters when good health is taken away. "The world goes on but makes little impact,'' he said. He gave thanks to medical professionals for their commitment to caring for people. And then he said that while he hoped for "good and vigorous health for many years to come,'' he also realized that "G-d writes straight with crooked lines and only He knows what the next moment will bring. This I do know, however, with passionate certitude, that in His unlimited love He created me, as He created each of us who tries to live and die in that love, for the breathless joy of an eternal springtime.''

Cardinal John O'Connor has now passed from one spring to another, from one with storms to the other of eternal bliss.

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