Cardinal Pell’s White Martyrdom

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A cardinal, a Prince of the Church, remains locked up in a small cell, separated from all, locked in, and without access to the sacraments. No, this is not coronavirus, and this is not Italy. In many ways it is a metaphor—we might even be forgiven for thinking it a paragraph from Lord of the World—but for the man concerned, George Cardinal Pell, it is not a metaphor but reality.

We seem to be wallowing in metaphors at the moment. Many of the faithful are deprived of the sacraments by their bishops, some even in the face of death, and many churches are closed. The government rules by edicts and executive order, no longer by Parliament, as if we are on a war footing. Many have lost their jobs, perhaps for longer than any predicted “shut-in” or “lockdown”—further metaphors. Meanwhile, in Spain and Italy older people are dying alone and neglected. “He who has eyes to see…”

In a recent letter to me the Cardinal told me that the move to his new prison has meant that “life is much easier.” He writes every day during his time as a guest of Her Majesty, and “it is good therapy.”

Behold the Catholic way.

Life throws up to us, as faithful Catholics, any number of even daily challenges. The Catholic who keeps his eyes firmly on heaven, always has the means by which to respond to them. This is no metaphor but the reality of the life lived in this world while being of another.

Have you had the apprehension that in this time of pandemic many who call themselves Catholic, perhaps some of them even members of the hierarchy, have displayed so very little faith?

There is only one reasonable fear that should motivate the Catholic: the fear of eternal death. If the coronavirus comes calling, I need not be afraid if I live, as I ought to, in the state of grace. Regrettably, in our times, many a Catholic does not even have a clear understanding of what that means.

I noted to a friend recently that before this pandemic we had sworn ourselves off much of the news and social media because of all the events taking place in Rome, all the bad news, and the mediatic misinformation. The other day at breakfast I asked this same friend, “How many times have you checked media reports since waking this morning?” To his chagrin, he had consulted the media several times already since waking. Why are we not surprised that we are fearful?

We didn’t believe the media before; why should we believe them now, only in order to be further terrified? It is a good time for us to check on the sources of our information and their reliability. Every day that an innocent cardinal remains in jail without protest, while the world goes mad about toilet paper and sanitizer, is a continuing reminder that something is seriously wrong with our Western world, and while we are in it, we are not of it.

During the World Wars, it was the example of many Catholics—including many Catholic priests who ministered to the dying—who were prepared to “go over the top” to stop an artillery position, or bring back the wounded, that motivated many to convert during and after the war. The Catholic with faith concludes, reasonably, that if today is the day that God has determined for him to meet God, provided he is ready and in a state of grace, he may be able to take some risks. Many who went “over the top” in those trenches of war accomplished heroic feats of bravery as a result. Many times, despite the incredible risk, they returned unhurt to their position, having saved the lives of many. That day was not the day for them to die.

Many of us are now closed in, deprived of the sacraments just like Cardinal Pell. I am sure this is no metaphor either. In a time of Lent, almost at the beginning of “the week of weeks,” it comes as a wonderful aide-memoire, one that even the apostles asked themselves: am I ready to die with Him? If I am, perhaps I might be prepared to take some risks, to “go over the top.” As the Lord says through St. John: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

[Photo credit: Getty Images]

Fr. Mark Withoos

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Fr. Mark Withoos writes from Australia.

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