John Cardinal O’Connor ~ Give God Permission


“It is my very sincere prayer that if I live for a week, if I live for 20 years, my last breath will be in support of the sacredness of every human life.” –John Cardinal O’Connor

As we anticipate our Father and Founder, John Cardinal O’Connor’s, 10th anniversary into eternal life on May 3rd, naturally our hearts and minds move toward remembering who this man was, and recalling the legacy of courageous love that he left.  On March 27th we had a Family Life Conference sponsored by the Respect Life Office.  The theme this year was to honor the legacy of John Cardinal O’Connor, and all that he did to defend and promote the dignity of every human life.  It was a wonderful day, with great speakers — Archbishop Dolan, Helen Alvare, Fr. Charles Connor, and Mother Agnes.  The large crowd was filled with fond memories of the Cardinal, as we watched clips of his homilies, and footage of speeches he gave.  We all felt his presence amongst us again, and knew he was interceding for us during this challenging time in our country and the Church.

In this brief meditation, what part of his life can I share with you that has shaped and formed our lives as Sisters of Life?  Every morning he would pray for the grace not to deny the Holy Spirit anything that day.  Then every evening, when examining his conscience, he would ask for forgiveness for any times he denied the Holy Spirit permission to work through him that day.  This daily surrender and active obedience to the will of God kept him attentive to all the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  What a way to live!  To be totally available to the Holy Spirit, so, as Mother Teresa says, “God can use you without consulting you.”  Obedience.  A word we’re not used to in our day, and completely shunned by the culture as being anathema.  What is obedience?  All Consecrated Religious vow to live this evangelical counsel, and to live it with joy, freedom and love.  In the Vatican II document Perfectae caritatis (n. 14) it states, “far from lowering the dignity of the human person, religious obedience leads it to maturity by extending the freedom of the sons of God.”  Rev. Elio Gambari, in his book Religious Life writes, “Obedience frees us from egoism, self-seeking, weaknesses and illusions; from love of power and from being dominated by our own passions.  One committed to obey uses his own freedom in the best and most noble way to achieve the highest good- total adhesion to the will of God.”  Don’t we all want to use our freedom in the best and most noble way to achieve the highest good?  To be completely conformed to the will of God?  Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, Ontario often says, “To be a feather on the Breath of God.”  When the Holy Spirit blows, I move.  But how?  Sometimes we can feel like a ball of lead, or better yet, like a plant with already intricate root systems.  Aren’t we all in some way ‘rooted’ in our own way of doing things, our plans, our goals and dreams?  Is there room in your life for the mystery of God?  To have plans, dreams and goals, are all good things, but are they God’s plans, dreams, goals for you?  All of this can only be navigated in the context of a life steeped in prayer and nourished by the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession.  In this way, our hearts become one with His Sacred Heart.  His will becomes our will, and God again finds a dwelling place here on earth, as He did when Mary responded with “Be it done unto me according to Your Word.”

A word from Our Founder, Cardinal O’Connor:

“What is the essence of the consecrated vow of obedience?  I’ve told most of the Sisters of Life before that the day I became a bishop in Rome some 18 years ago or more, Our Holy Father had just put his hands on my head, and I came down from the high altar of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome.  And out of the corner of my eye, I caught this woman pressed practically into the wall, almost trying to conceal herself, and I recognized her as Mother Teresa.  I had never met her; she wouldn’t know me at all.  But I broke from the line from this very solemn, formal ceremony and went over to see her.  And all she did was look at me and say, “Give God permission.”  That, my dear ladies, is the essence of obedience:  Give God permission.

I guess that struck me in a special way because I spent 27 years of my life with the Navy and the Marine Corps, and it always intrigued me that whenever you go aboard a Navy vessel, regardless of who the so-called Officer of the Deck is – he could be a very high-ranking officer or he could be a simple sailor.  And no matter what your rank is – you could be the Secretary of the Navy – and before you set foot aboard the ship, you ask, “Request permission to come aboard, sir.”  And it is not until this very senior officer or this very simple sailor says, “Permission granted,” that even the Secretary of the Navy sets foot aboard a Navy ship.

It’s as though Our Lord says to us, I need your permission to come into you, to function through you, to use your hands to reach out to others, to use your lips to speak to others, to let others look into your eyes and see me.  I need your permission for this.  This to me is the real meaning of obedience.”  (given on July 5th, 1997 by Cardinal O’Connor)