Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Germany, one of the four stalwart cardinals who authored and signed their name to the dubia, has passed on to his eternal reward. He did not live to see the dubia answered. He did not, in fact, even live to see his request for an audience with Pope Francis to discuss the matter dignified with a response.
Cardinal Meisner was singled out early on for criticism by papal ally Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto — criticism that Vatican journalist Edward Pentin reported last December came at the pope’s specific instruction. But he did not respond. He merely remained resolute in his request for answers.
In a profile of Cardinal Meisner last December for OnePeterFive, Maike Hickson drew our attention to the character of the man as expressed in a foreward the cardinal wrote for a book by fellow German theologian Dr. Markus Büning. In it, Meisner wrote:
“I can do everything through Him Who gives me strength” (see Phil. 4:13), says the Apostle Paul – and many courageous Christians have taken and made this same Apostolic word the orientation of their own lives. To be a Christian means at all times, but especially in our time, diligence and commitment. It is here not about learning goals, but about Graces that are here being offered. The Christian only has to make use of them [the Graces offered].
In my episcopal coat of arms, the motto for my own episcopal service comes from the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Spes nostra firma est pro vobis” (2 Cor. 1:7). That means, in translation: “Our Hope for you is firm.” I think that Hope is the heart of the three Theological Virtues. That is why it stands between Faith and Charity. The symbol of Hope is the anchor which saves the boat from sinking even in a strong storm. To each of us, with the Faith, is given such an anchor which very firmly connects us with the reality of the living God and thus renders us also effective in our charity.
Meisner went on to recount the story of his appointment to the episcopacy, the notification of which came by letter from Pope Paul VI when he was living under the oppressive conditions of Communist East Germany. He wrote of his fear and consternation over the appointment — a call which he described as “traumatic” — and his recourse to the scriptures when he could not reach his spiritual director or confessor by telephone to seek counsel:
In my need I took the New Testament into my hand and said: “Holy Ghost, after all, You are the Author of the New Testament. And You are the Spiritual Guide par excellence.” I then closed my eyes and prayed: “Come, Holy Ghost!” I then opened the New Testament and had in my hands the 6th chapter of the Gospel of St. John concerning the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. There I identified with a touching marginal figure – the little boy with [his basket of] the five loaves and the two fishes who was called into the center by Our Lord. That little boy also gave away all that he had so that he may become a starveling just like all the others. But the little he had to offer he gave there at the most important place in the world – that is to say, into the hands of Our Lord. And thus, what was a lack turned into abundance. Everybody had become replete. And there were still twelve baskets filled with the left-over bread pieces. And one of these twelve full baskets I then placed into my episcopal coat of arms and heraldry, with the words of Hope: “Our Hope for you is firm.”
Our Lord fills our emptiness. He relieves our need. He satisfies our hunger. He makes us strong. Without a living Faith, we have no access at all to Hope. And this Hope then becomes efficacious in virtue of Charity. Even five thousand hungry men attained to repletion: “Spes nostra firma est pro vobis.” The center of the Divine Virtues is Hope. It does not die in our lives if the prior Faith is alive and the Charity comes forth afterwards.
Cardinal Meisner was the Archbishop of Cologne for 25 years. He died in his sleep while on holiday at the age of 83. May God grant him eternal rest, and should he attain heaven, the intercessory power to assist the Church in the time of need to which he showed particular attention and devotion.