As OnePeterFive reported shortly after the death of Cardinal Joachim Meisner – who was one of the four dubia cardinals – this German prelate had many widely recognized saintly characteristics. When I wrote that article at the time, I – and also my little family with whom I shared my findings – were deeply touched by the deep Faith, clear witness, charity, and the courageous positions Cardinal Meisner often took. He defended the Faith and its tenets with love, and he reached out even to his ideological opponents.
At the time, I also reached out to all three of the remaining dubia cardinals, asking them whether they would all like to write up a tribute to their fourth “comrade-in-arms.” Cardinal Burke’s secretary was so kind to give me a response, saying that the cardinal had already made a little tribute for the National Catholic Register. This is what Cardinal Burke then said:
In comments to the Register, Cardinal Burke said in tribute to the German cardinal that it had been “a great gift to me to know Cardinal Joachim Meisner over the past years.
“He has inspired me deeply by his profound love of Christ and of His Mystical Body, the Church,” Cardinal Burke said. “He spared no effort in showing that love clearly and courageously in practice. May he be granted the reward of the good and faithful servant. May he rest in peace.”
I was glad to see now that Cardinal Burke has had some more things to say in a new interview which he has granted to The Wanderer. Let me quote here in its entirety only the portion about Cardinal Meisner (I do not intend to discuss other portions of the interview which might well deserve a fuller response from us):
Q. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in a message read at the funeral Mass of Joachim Cardinal Meisner, expressed his admiration of the Cardinal’s ability “to let go and to live out a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”
The former Vicar of Christ prefaced his remark by referring to Cardinal Meisner as “a passionate shepherd and pastor [who] found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination.”
Your Eminence, as a friend and close collaborator of Cardinal Meisner, how do you understand these touching words of tribute by Benedict? Can you offer any personal reflections on the life and legacy of this great Prince of the Church?
A. There is no question that Cardinal Meisner had a profound sense of the Catholic Faith in its entirety and a deep love for Our Lord and His Church. He was completely dedicated to being a good shepherd. I especially remember an encounter with him in February of 2014 at a consistory when Walter Cardinal Kasper gave his presentation suggesting there was a possibility of changing the Church’s discipline regarding those who live in irregular matrimonial unions receiving the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession.
Cardinal Meisner and I were walking out after one of the sessions and he said to me: “This is not possible. This will lead to schism.” And he was very passionate about it.
All along, Cardinal Meisner followed very carefully, and supported and encouraged those who were defending the Church’s constant teaching and practice. He was a wonderful pastor and was never one to say that those who supported the Church’s teaching were legalists and do not care about people, that they were throwing stones at them. He was a very loving pastor who understood that a good shepherd of the flock must teach the truth to the faithful in its entirety.
I saw him on March 4 of 2017 in Cologne when a former canon-law classmate celebrated his 65th birthday. A number of us wrote essays to honor him that were published in a book. I attended the presentation of the book, and Cardinal Meisner was there. It is absolutely true what Pope Benedict XVI wrote of him: He was serene, but also very ardent.
I vividly recall Cardinal Meisner saying to me that we need to continue fighting for the Church and her teaching. He possessed a wonderful combination of those two qualities, of serenity and ardor. I always had the impression that he was someone who was very close to Our Lord in prayer and that he spoke from a conviction that was not based in himself, but on an intimate knowledge of Our Lord. [my emphasis]
It is an encouragement to see how Cardinal Burke thus honors Cardinal Meisner for his strong stance and charity with regard to the current crisis in the Catholic Church.
Let us also remember here some additional high-ranking voices who made their own tributes to Cardinal Meisner, shortly after his burial in Cologne, on 15 July:
Cardinal [Gerhard] Müller then concluded this short 15 July interview in Cologne with some words about Cardinal Meisner himself – one of the four dubia cardinals: “He is for me a great witness of our Christian Faith in the midst of our world.”
These words echo the words of Archbishop Georg Gänswein who, on that same day, also gave some interviews and said the following words about Cardinal Meisner: “A giant has been given a farewell; or a spiritual giant had to go. I can only hope that he, now from up above, gigantically intercedes for us.”
Gänswein also explained that Cardinal Meisner “has lived out of the spiritual and for the spiritual,” and that he may “already now see some spiritual fruits.” Gänswein stressed that the now-famous message written by Pope emeritus Benedict – as recited by Gänswein publicly – was “a spiritual encouragement for all of those who listened to it; and spiritual encouragements for this our time are very good and very much needed.”
Not long before his death, Cardinal Meisner wrote the following words with regard to the Church’s current situation: “The shepherd is appointed by Christ in order to preserve the herd from error and from confusion.” May Cardinal Meisner’s legacy continue to bear good fruits – in his own spiritually impoverished homeland, as well as in the larger Church. And may he now be able to strengthen the remaining three dubia cardinals to proceed with a needed public fraternal correction of Pope Francis.