I have been meaning for some time now to write about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s new book, Thinking of You: The Weekly Columns from the ‘Catholic Standard’ (Ave Maria Press, 2011). To be fair, I have never read McCarrick’s columns when they were originally published in the Archdiocesan newspaper in Washington, DC. So for that reason, I was interested to check them out in collected form. What strikes me is the variety and depth of thought contained in the multi-year series of columns. Many diocesan newspapers run weekly or monthly columns written by their local bishop, however many bishops — good men though they may be — are not necessarily good writers or thinkers. McCarrick’s writing is exceptional for this reason alone: it’s readable and well-developed.
The themes vary from week to week and year to year, inspired as they are by whatever was pressing or of concern at the time. One of his earliest columns after becoming Archbishop of Washington in 2001 is about human trafficking.
Sometimes when I write to you, it is on light subjects or even on the funny things that happen in my life. Other times I need to tell you about problems that I encounter in my work or on my travels that I want to share with you to raise you own conscience or to enlist your help in solving a problem that faces our society. Today I am writing about one of those more serious themes.
I have always been trouble by the trafficking in human lives that goes on in some parts of the world… (July 26, 2001).
Some of his columns share his experiences of traveling the country and the world, at times invited to speak or address groups, other times on business meetings relating to the life and responsibilities of a Ecclesiastical leader in the United States.
Other times, McCarrick’s columns reflect insight from key moments in the Church’s life these past few years, including the passage of the Dallas Charter after the news of the clergy abuse coverup crisis was made known.
The bishops, including me, went to the meeting with many concerns and a lot of uncertainties. First of all, we were determined to protect children from sexual abuse. This was the most important priority connected with our meeting. Secondly, we wanted to assure victims of past sexual abuse that we have heard their cries of pain and anguish, the terrible trauma they suffered at the hands of priests. We needed to let them know that this would never be tolerated in the future and that those who had done this in the past would not be allowed ever to hurt someone else. This was the commitment we owed to them and to the Church… (June 20, 2002)
Another such key historical moment was the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to succeed the late Pope John Paul II.
What a special time that was! I’ll never forget the moment when the 114 cardinals had just elected the new successor of Saint Peter. At that unforgettable point in time, it seemed that everyone in the chapel held his breath as the question was asked of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger if he would accept election as Supreme Pontiff of the Church. When he said, “I accept,” suddenly he was no longer just a cardinal with the rest of us, but the shepherd of the universal Church… (April 28, 2005)
Other times the columns do not necessarily bear the gravity of the sexual abuse crisis or the historical weight of the election of a pope, but instead reveals the levity and simplicity of everyday encounters with faith. Such is the case in a column the Cardinal wrote after returning from a family reunion.
It was a family gathering and there were some people there who I really didn’t know. They were distant cousins or cousins of cousins from another branch of the family tree. One youngster was in front of me in the hot dog line — a boy of eight or nine whom I couldn’t place at all. I asked him the susual questions that we ungrammatical adults would phrase: “Who do you belong to?” He turned and looked at me quizzically as if he didn’t understand the question. So I repeated it, as adults are wont to do. “Who do you belong to?” I asked again, no conscious of the awkwardness of the English usage. He shrugged, looked blank for a moment, and then brightened up as if with a fresh insight and answered me: “I belong to God!” (August 15, 2002)
McCarrick goes on to explain that, although it’s possible his little relative might have known McCarrick was a priest, the Cardinal was dressed in regular summer clothes like everyone else gathered for the reunion (it wasn’t like some guy in a clerical shirt or a cardinal’s cassock was asking the question of the kid). What a cute story.
Cardinal McCarrick holds a very special place in the collective heart of my own Franciscan province of Holy Name, based in New York. He has ordained many of our friars in recent years and was affiliated to the Order of Friars Minor — which entitles the Cardinal to wear a Franciscan habit, which he does from time to time. I have had the privilege of meeting him several times and must say that for someone of his stature and position, he is a humble, approachable and pleasant man. I believe that his comes through well in this book too.