Strong views from Down Under

Sean Ryan

Anthologies are a great way to be introduced to a writer, as the editor’s job is to highlight the best of the author/columnist/essayist within the pages of a single book.

In this case, it is the sermons of Australian Cardinal George Pell, and he has been well served by his editor, Tess Livingstone, who has collated 80 pieces delivered in places as diverse as Australia, Oxford, Rome, California, Germany, Malta and Ireland.

As she says in her notes, they are “incisive, often unpredictable, sometimes sensitive, occasionally hard-hitting and very engaging. None are dull. While strongly Australian in flavour, they will resonate in all corners of the universal Church and the wider world.”

From the Old Testament prophets, to an examination of the ‘God question’, the sermons move on to explore the historical figure of Christ. Then Christ’s teachings are examined, and some of the extraordinary characters that the Church has produced.

Cardinal Pell challenges his readers to consider some of the “ultimate” questions that confront us all, sooner or later. Why are we here on earth? What is the point of it all, given suffering and death?

He comes to the conclusion that “it is more reasonable to believe in God than to reject the hypothesis of God by appealing to chance. Goodness, truth and beauty call for an explanation, as do the principles of mathematics, physics and the purpose-driven miracles of biology which run through our universe. The human capacities to recognise these qualities of truth, goodness and beauty, to invent and construct, also call for an explanation.”

Among the many characters he brings to our attention is Archdeacon James Murphy, who was responsible for the building of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Cork City.

This 19th Century priest, he writes, “exemplifies the powerful effects of a conversion, a change of direction as he approached midlife. At the age of 14 he was a midshipman for the British East India Company, returning home to leave again for Canada.

He lived for years with a native American tribe and was known as the ‘Black Eagle of the North’. He was only ordained a priest at the age of 42 after a conversion experience in Rome.” The archdeacon sounds like he would have been a good subject for a Radharc documentary.

Cardinal Pell has many insightful pieces, including a piece on ‘Mary – Sign of Contradiction’ and a sermon he gave on the Feast of the Holy Innocents in 2004, in which he outlined how this world was fast becoming depopulated.

Prophetic stuff, all 386 pages of it, and well worth a read.