Without God There is Nothing
Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
Cardinal Pell's 2010 Pentecost message
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 explain "spiritual".
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 Jesus.
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 deep trouble....
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).
Weekly Edition in English
26 May 2010, page 8
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