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Popular Cardinal Burke Has Seen Himself As A Servant

September 8, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By DEXTER DUGGAN

PHOENIX —- The outpouring of Mass intentions, prayerful wishes, good will, and concern for the recovery of Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke from COVID-19 might at least partly be due to the way he conducted himself with ordinary people during his rise to the cardinalate. They recognized a friend.
Sohrab Ahmari, a New York Post opinion journalist and convert to Catholicism, said this in an appreciation of Burke by admirers posted August 20 at the Crisis Magazine site:
“. . . it’s his fundamental gentility and decency that most touches the heart. So far from the caricature painted by the claque of philistines who cover Rome for the secular and Catholic press, this prince of the Church and son of Wisconsin doesn’t fail to put friends and even strangers at ease, notwithstanding his high ecclesiastical station, and, in this way, to radiate the sweet odor of Christ.”
In my very limited personal contact with Burke, I found that to be quite true. I already was aware of his reputation as an orthodox prelate serving as bishop of La Crosse, Wis., who had come through post-Vatican II turbulence, stoked by liberal media and clerics, without losing his focus on the Living Christ.
He had been elevated to archbishop of St. Louis earlier in 2004, the first time I met him at a faith and family conference in Tucson held a few days before that year’s national election, with bad Catholic Democrat John Kerry facing off against incumbent Republican President George W. Bush.
Burke, a son of the Upper Midwest, recalled for a general morning session of that conference what “Sunday best” had meant in earlier decades, and its implications for a family’s spiritual growth. The whole family took Sunday seriously and went off to Mass in their best clothes.
Later Burke went outside the conference hall with another religion journalist and me for an interview. I don’t recall why we were seated under the open autumn sky, with mountains in the semi-distance. Maybe just looking for somewhere quiet. Anyway, here was the famous now-archbishop speaking in a hospitable and matter-of-fact manner.
Had he given a thousand interviews in his career by then? He certainly didn’t need the two of us to spread his fame. He could have said he wanted to rest in his room after his trip, but instead sat down to answer our questions.
The next time I spoke with Burke was when the cardinal came to Phoenix in autumn 2019 to give the keynote address to the dinner he headlined after the annual White Mass that he concelebrated for the Catholic Medical Association’s guild here.
After his tenure in St. Louis, he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the prestigious post of prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s Supreme Court, where he served for six years. He had, that is, been at the upper reaches of the entire Church’s administration.
I chatted with him for The Wanderer in the Phoenix hallway before dinner and asked if I could get a text of his upcoming speech. I thought he would ask an assistant to go get the pages for me. However, the cardinal himself went to a copy machine to print them out. Talk about personal service.
He also talked with others who walked up to him in the hallway instead of closeting himself away somewhere. This was a few months before the coronavirus pandemic struck, changing the ways we might want to associate publicly for quite a while.
Burke had preached the homily in the packed chapel at Phoenix diocesan headquarters on October 19, and later delivered a 48-minute address following dinner in which he recalled teaching by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The cardinal obviously saw his role as a moral educator, not someone tossing off a few comments after eating.
Speaking on “Call to Holiness and Mission in Christ of Health-Care Professionals,” Burke cited Benedict XVI on the following point. If the moral order is to be restored, the cardinal said, “we must address with clarity and steadfastness the error of moral relativism, proportionalism and consequentialism, which permeates our culture and has also entered, as the Holy Father reminds us, into the Church.”
(See the hardcopy Wanderer dated for October 31, 2019, p. 1, “Cardinal Burke’s Keynote Talk: Faithful Catholic Health Workers Should Never Doubt Their Influence.”)
After the evening’s events, Burke remained in the dining room to chat and have photos taken with anyone who walked up. Indeed, a line had formed. On the spur of the moment, I decided to ask for a photo with him myself — thus providing only the second photo I’ve ever had published in this newspaper since I began writing for it in 1978.
A clear impression I received from these two Arizona encounters 15 years apart was that Cardinal Burke sees himself in that humble Gospel role of being a servant of the servants of the Lord. May he prosper.

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