In print and prayer, a Voice for truth

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

You may not know his name, but you may well have heard his voice.

Cardinal John Patrick Foley
1935-2011

For some 26 years, he provided broadcast commentary for the pope's midnight Mass — the world's most watched religious broadcast — and earned the nickname "the voice of Christmas."

Cardinal John Patrick Foley will be buried in the crypt of Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral here in Philadelphia on Friday. Today his many friends and admirers begin their farewell as he lies in state at the local seminary. I will be among them, as one for whom the late cardinal was a kind influence at a critical time.

John Patrick Foley was a Philadelphia priest who went to the Columbia Journalism School after ordination, presaging a career as both a priest and journalist. He reported from Rome on the Vatican as a young priest and, upon his return home, was the editor of Philadelphia's Catholic newspaper from 1970 to 1984. That year, he was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications — the media department, in Vatican parlance.

When I went to Rome in 1998, Archbishop Foley, as he was then, was one of the first to offer his support for my writing, and his guidance on how to balance that with my priestly training. Over the subsequent five years he became an advisor, an advocate, and eventually, a friend. His support when I was starting out made what I was trying to do easier, perhaps even possible.

He was kind enough to come to a dinner my family gave on the night of my ordination as a deacon, and offered a toast — but a dry one, as he was a lifelong teetotaller, perhaps the only thing about him that wasn't 100% Catholic. That night he wished for me what he thanked God for giving him, namely that he had never had an unhappy day in the priesthood. Difficult days to be sure, but never an unhappy one. Cardinal Foley was skilled at many things, but his greatest gift may have been his talent for happiness.

During the dark days of the sexual abuse crisis, he was often asked for advice. His advice for avoiding scandal was straightforward: "In the first place, virtue; and in the absence of virtue, candour." It was a corollary to his basic rule of all media work: "Never tell a lie." Simple, but Cardinal Foley never believed that the Gospel was complicated.

Combining the priestly and journalistic missions can be complicated though, and he loved to tell a story about balancing the two. During a 1975 trip to Egypt with the archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal John Krol, Father Foley advised the cardinal not to attempt a camel ride. Feeling adventurous, His Eminence clambered aboard and, bedecked in Arab headgear, held on for dear life. Foley got a photograph and the cardinal was chagrined to see it in various newspapers. Foley explained: "As your priest, I gave you my best advice. As a journalist, I took your picture."

Cardinal Foley was content to be only a voice, for his life was dedicated entirely to the Word. He was more than content, to be sure — he was a committed, confident and cheerful voice.

Cardinal Foley died in this Advent season, the preparatory season for Christmas. In Advent, John the Baptist is highlighted as the Voice crying in the wilderness. In the early Church, the relationship between the "voice," John the Baptist, and the "Word," Jesus, was the subject of profound reflection. The Voice exists for the Word, and while the Voice soon fades away, the Word remains in the mind and hearts of the listeners. The Voice comes first, but the Word endures.

It is an apt image for Cardinal Foley's long work, both as a priest and a journalist. Both deal in words, storytellers in service of the story. But neither the preacher nor the reporter is the story, and those who put themselves before the story are not good storytellers — they betray the story. The priest's mission is to tell the world the story of its deepest truths — the truths of creation and vocation and mission and salvation. As a journalist, the late cardinal believed that all stories could show forth something of those deeper truths. He had a lofty view of the mission of the journalist, and often encouraged to journalists to see in their work a higher purpose than most usually did.

Cardinal Foley was content to be only a voice, for his life was dedicated entirely to the Word. He was more than content, to be sure — he was a committed, confident and cheerful voice. The Voice is now still, but the Word remains, whom he served in life so well, and in whose presence we now pray he dwells for eternity.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "In print and prayer, a Voice for truth." National Post, (Canada) December 15, 2011.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2011 National Post




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