Richard Cardinal Cushing, Vatican II: A Church Called to be Missionary
October 11, 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first day of the Vatican II Council that commenced with an address delivered by Pope John XXIII in St. Peter's Basilica. Many scholars and journalists throughout the Universal Church will study and reinterpret the documents that were issued during the ensuing four years of the Council. I suggest that there is another anniversary, one with deep Boston roots, that needs to be recalled, celebrated, and acted upon.
October 11, 2012 also marks the 50th anniversary of Richard James Cushing's request to resign as Cardinal Archbishop of Boston to devote his remaining years to missionary work in Latin America. The cardinal asked to be relieved so he could devote all his time to the Missionary Society of St. James, a diocesan priest organization which he founded on May 25, 1958. The anniversary of the Cardinal Cushing's request, which was "diplomatically" turned down, affords Catholics to rediscover the gift and the call to be missionary. One does need to be a prelate to be a missionary. By virtue of our Baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, all Catholics are called to be ministers and missionaries to all humankind.
Cushing was born on August 24, 1895 and ordained a priest on May 26, 1921, by Cardinal William Henry O'Connell at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Barely a year after ordination, Father Cushing approached the cardinal with a request to become a missionary. O'Connell's reply was to name him assistant director of the archdiocesan office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He served in that position from 1922 to 1929 when he was appointed the director, a position he retained even after his nomination as auxiliary bishop.
Cushing served as Archbishop of Boston from 1944 to 1970, and was elevated a cardinal in 1958. He died on November 2, 1970.
Commenting on the Vatican II document, Decree on the Nature of the Missionary Activity of the Church, Cardinal Cushing stated, "For years, many of us thought of mission work in a narrow sense; the presence of the Christians giving their example of justice and charity, the Christian life, in the midst of pagan groups and thus converting them. As a matter of fact, the concept of missionary activity has been given a renewed dimension. The missionary activity of the Church is not only the bringing of Christ to people who do not know Him. But is also the strengthening of the Christian community where it is not fully developed, and the rebuilding of the Christian community where it has fallen into a state of disarray."
Those among us, who walked with Cardinal Cushing, heard his impassioned homilies and read his writings possess powerful memories of charity. Many remember him as a maverick among his brother bishops; others recall him as a down-to-earth visionary who was courageous and simple. But unanimously he is remembered as unconditionally generous, a prayerful bishop who took Gospel risks rooted in complete trust of the Holy Spirit to guide and provide. Those who loved him were moved to action by his faith.
On this 50th anniversary of the Vatican Council, let us be challenged by Cardinal Cushing request to seek contentment as an ordinary priest, religious or laic missionary within the Universal Church, the living Mystical Body of Christ on earth.