An alert for the unwary: The Journey to Peace ought not be confused with The Gift of Peace (Loyola Press, 1997), though both are authored by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and were occasioned by the sufferings of his final years (Bernardin died Nov. 11, 1996).
The Gift of Peace is Bernardin’s best-selling auobiographical narrative on the three crises marking his last years: the false accusation of sexual misconduct in November 1993 and his eventual reconciliation with his accuser, the diagnosis and operation for pancreatic cancer in June 1995 and its 15-month remission, and the return of cancer and his refusal of further treatment in late August 1996. Bernadin’s handwritten introduction to his book is dated Nov. 1, 1996. This poignant confession should be read by all Christians striving to reconcile personal suffering and Christian faith. My recent reading of this text was as moving as my first, as I again watched a man being transformed by accepting and embracing his crosses, a man who for many of us was the most respected and loved leader of our American Catholic Church.
The Journey to Peace is not a personal narrative. It is a compilation of excerpts from previously unpublished Bernardin homilies reflecting on Jesus’ suffering and death. The selections, set by the editors within the context of the 14 Stations of the Cross, give further insight into Bernardin’s understanding of the paschal mystery. Bernardin himself had used the Stations to enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. He believed that the Stations help us all to walk with Jesus and recognize that Jesus walks with us though this life and into the next.
The editors know their man. Alphonse Spilly was Bernardin’s special assistant from 1982 to 1996, subsequently assisting with The Gift of Peace and editing the two-volume work Selected Works of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. He is currently director of the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Jeremy Langford was the primary editor of The Gift of Peace and subsequently edited two biographical photo-books by John White, This Man Bernardin and The Final Journey of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. He is currently editor in chief of Sheed & Ward.
Spilly and Langford preface their book and each chapter with reflections on Bernardin’s life, especially his struggles. Not surprisingly Bernardin’s final sufferings are their most frequently used examples, though there are others. The editors have the daunting task of taking brief homily reflections from their original contexts, finding some connection to one of the 14 Stations of the Cross and then relating these reflections to Bernardin’s final yearsthe years most interesting to the reader. To help make these connections, the editors intersperse personally composed prayers among the texts.
I am grateful for The Journey to Peace; the editors culled through some 1,500 homilies making accessible important reflections on Bernardin’s theology of the cross. Unfortunately, the impact of the homilies is reduced by the sometimes artificial connections made between them, the Stations of the Cross and Bernardin’s life.
The Journey to Peace ought not be compared with The Gift of Peace. It is not an autobiographical reminiscence but rather a collection of reflections. These reflections are valuable as meditation-starters not only for Bernardin’s admirers, but also for all desiring deeper entrance into the passion and resurrection of Jesus and its relevance for discipleship today.