Cardinal O'Connor's Funeral in New York

Author: Cardinals Angelo Sodano and Bernard Law


Introductory remarks

Cardinal Angelo Sodano

Church must be unambiguously pro-life

A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial was held at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York, USA, on Monday afternoon, 8 May, for the late Cardinal John J. O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, who died on 3 May (see L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 10 May, p. 3). Principal celebrant of the solemn liturgy was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, the Holy Father's personal representative. Joining him were Cardinal Bernard F. Law, Archbishop of Boston, who preached the homily, 13 other Cardinals, over 100 Bishops, President William Clinton, former President George Bush, many other dignitaries of Church and State, ecumenical representatives and a standing-room-only congregation of priests, religious and faithful.

At the start of the liturgy Cardinal Sodano briefly addressed those assembled. In his homily, Cardinal Law spoke of Cardinal O'Connor's zealous proclamation of the "Gospel of Life". When the homilist said that the late prelate had reminded us that "the Church must always be unambiguously pro-life", he received a two minute standing ovation. At the end of the Mass, the Cardinal's body was entombed beneath the cathedral's main altar.

Here is the text of Cardinal Angelo Sodano's remarks at the beginning of the funeral Mass.

Mr President and Distinguished Guests,
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
We begin this Eucharistic sacrifice which we offer for our beloved Cardinal O'Connor who has left us.

It is a sacrifice of praise to almighty God, who has given us in the person of the Archbishop of New York such a generous and faithful pastor. It is a hymn of gratitude to the Father in heaven for the gift of this great churchman who has done so much both for the Catholic community and for so many men and women of good will. His name will be forever etched on the annals of the history of the Church.

Our hearts are heavy with sorrow at his passing, but today we want to remember the prayer of the saints: "Lord, we do not complain because you have taken him from us, but rather we will thank you for having given him to us".

This sacrifice of praise is also our prayer for the Cardinal's eternal rest. The Church teaches us that every human being is imperfect and needs the mercy of God. Therefore, we wish to entrust to God, our loving Father of Mercies, this good and faithful servant, as we ask him to welcome him into the kingdom of the saints and angels.

As a sign of his profound esteem for the late Cardinal O'Connor and to demonstrate concretely his spiritual union with the Church in New York, the Holy Father sent me to represent him personally at this solemn liturgy. I wish to reiterate the expression of his condolences along with my own to the entire archdiocesan family, to his brother, sisters and relatives, and to all those of good will who mourn his passing. Together in prayer, we beg the Lord to welcome him into paradise.


Cardinal Bernard F. Law

Your Eminence, Cardinal Sodano, your presence as our principal celebrant is a deeply appreciated sign of our Holy Father's pastoral solicitude for this great Archdiocese of New York and a sign also of the Holy Father's and your own friendship and esteem for Cardinal O'Connor. Thank you for your presence. Cardinal O'Connor's family has asked me, Your Eminence, to acknowledge with their heartfelt gratitude the pastoral solicitude which Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo manifested towards Cardinal O'Connor particularly during his illness. The Bishops of the United States join me in thanking this splendid representative of the Holy Father in this country.

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 St 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 fulfilment 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 fulfils 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 Cardinal John 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 St Peter. The words of St Paul found resonance in his life: "I became a minister of this Church through the commission God gave me to preach among you his words 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 humour, 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 defence 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 unambiguously pro-life.

A former Navy chaplain, Bishop John McNamara, retailed for me his first meeting with Cardinal O'Connor. Let me quote from his reminiscence: "Fr O'Connor, the division chaplain of the Marines, came up from Viet Nam 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 and personify the John O'Connor I have known for 35 years".

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 St Paul to the Colossians found expression in the life of Cardinal O'Connor: "Even now", wrote St 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 Mons. 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, 3 May 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".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17 May 2000, page 4

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