Cardinal Pell's 2010 Pentecost
During the last year or so God has received a lot of negative
publicity in the media of the English-speaking world. It is difficult to
attack an absence, something which does not exist, but the followers of
God, especially Christians, have also been subjected to extreme abuse. I
am not sure the anti-theists object to Christianity more than they
object to Islam, but it is safer to criticise Christians.
The two most notorious atheists, Richard Dawkins and Christopher
Hitchens, never fail to paint God and the various communities of
believers in the worst possible colours. But their visits have given God
a boost, provoking thought and discussion....
All is not well in young Australia. Today more parents and
grandparents worry about the pressures on young people than 50 years
ago. The blight of young suicides in Australia, especially of young
males, one of the highest rates in the world, is a warning.
Young people need to be told about the love of the one true God for
all of us, because God's love brings meaning to our lives. Often the
young are confused about religion, pulled in different directions. Some
genuinely find it hard to believe, while others fear hostile judgements
from their workmates.
World Youth Day in Sydney was a great help on this front. Believers
were not alone and did not need to be silent. For once the discussion of
religion was a normal every-day occurrence and non-Catholic Australia
was amazed at the goodness, happiness and life-giving energy of more
than 110,000 young Catholics from overseas. The World Youth Day crowds
and celebrations were a sign from God. These days have gone. Are more
people once again afraid to acknowledge their faith in God?
Jesus, the Word of God
Faith and goodness are infectious. They cannot be taught like
mathematics, although reason is more important than ever, when
traditional sources of authority such as parents, teachers and clergy
are so weakened. We always need reasons.
Catholics, and indeed all Christians, are not vaguely religious, who
believe in a bit of this and a bit of that. We believe in the God
revealed to us by Christ
Our Lord; the God who entered into a special relationship or Covenant
with the Jewish people, first of all through Abraham, our father in
faith, (around 1900 B.C.) and then with Moses....
As New Testament Christians, we know from Christ Our Lord's special
teaching or revelation that the one true God is Trinitarian. So all
Christians are baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit" and most prayers begin with the same formula, when we
make the sign of the cross.
We acknowledge God as the father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a unique
relationship because "no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone
to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11:27). So Jesus is the Word
of God (Jn 1:1) and the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15),
consubstantial with the Father. God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and Jesus
redeemed us by his death and Resurrection.
He also announced that He would send the Paraclete or Advocate, the
Holy Spirit, to teach and guide the disciples "into all the truth" (Jn
16:13). So the Church teaches that "with the Father and the Son, (the
Spirit) is worshipped and glorified" (Nicene Creed).
All this is the faith of the Church and
we are proud to profess it.
What is God like?
On every occasion I speak to school
students, primary or secondary, I talk about God. Sometimes I ask them
to tell me what they know.
They quickly tell me God is kind,
loving, merciful and forgiving. They have mixed opinions on whether God
lived on earth with us, or whether Jesus was God's only Son. So too they
are rarely clear that God is not a man, but they quickly explain God is
spiritual, or a spirit. And then the fun starts when I ask them to
In grappling with this mystery, I
encourage the youngsters to start from their parents' love for them,
which is real, powerful and quite invisible; like their love for their
parents. God is even a tiny bit like the force of gravity, real,
powerful and necessary, but quite invisible.
We call God "father", not because He is
a man, but because "father" was Jesus' preferred name for God. It is
more than just a way of speaking, but reveals something essential about
God's divine nature. Good fathers love their children and as God's
children we are not slaves or servants, but sisters and brothers of
I always conclude by asking the students
never to forget the most important teaching that Christ taught: God
loves each one of us, always and in every circumstance. A belief that is
easily affirmed when the going is good, but requires faith in times of
Does the Catholic Church have anything to teach on these matters?
Modern universities began in medieval
Catholic Europe and our scientific culture arose in the Christian West.
It was sensible for thinkers to search for laws and patterns in nature
because God the Creator was reasonable as well as good. The Catholic
Church in particular has a long and distinguished intellectual tradition
in many areas of learning.
The Church also teaches that it is
reasonable to believe in God; certainly more reasonable than to reject
God and so accept that the universe has no purpose or meaning, and more
reasonable than lapsing into agnosticism by radical doubt or refusing to
consider the God question.
Most agree that science alone cannot
prove or disprove the existence of God, because science only deals with
the physical world. God is transcendent and spiritual, outside the
physical universe. When we ask why the universe exists, we move beyond
physics, into metaphysics and so into the realm of possible God-talk....
God's revelation of Himself to Abraham
and Moses and through His Son Jesus Christ complements rather than
contradicts what we can know from creation by our intelligence.
The immensity of the universe, 13.6
billion years since the Big Bang, is beyond our wildest imagining. In a
sense it is frightening. At the same time Christ has reassured us that
God, our Creator, is good and loving. We have no reason to be afraid.
1,600 years ago St Augustine reminded us that God is a Mystery beyond
words. "If you understood him, it would not be God" (Sermon 52, 6, 16).