Fr. Wolfgang Seitz of Opus Sanctorum Angelorum (“work of the holy angels”) gave his first of three Advent Mission talks last night to a good crowd in the church. Three takeaways for me were: 1) angels are everywhere, billions of them, at every Mass, at your workstations, at home, on the hiking trails and freeways and grocery stores. We usually can’t see them, but we should think about them and call upon them for help 2) the mission of the angels is to strengthen us, to take away our fears. Fear is the primary weapon of the fallen angels, to cancel human joy and initiative. 3) angels are part of our families, so that if you have five people at home, you actually have ten, because God has given each member of your family a guardian angel. Fr. Wolfgang told the story of the Angel Gabriel from the Book of Tobit, and the story of the Angel of Peace who appeared to the children at Fatima six times in 1915 and 1916. If you are within a half hour or so of the parish, I urge you to take advantage of Fr. Seitz’s two remaining talks on the angels, tonight and tomorrow night, at 7pm in the church.
Even if you live two hours away, however, I urge you not to miss the talk by George Cardinal Pell on Wednesday at 7pm in the church, entitled “A Suffering Church in a Suffering World.” I think this Australian is one of the great prelates of our time because of his serene and faithful navigation of our troubled cultural waters.
In 2010 I was on sabbatical in Rome and somewhat aware of Vatican politics. Word came down that Cardinal Pell had been tapped to be Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, arguably the most powerful and important Vatican department because it selects the world’s bishops. One morning, however, all the talk at breakfast was how Cardinal Pell’s appointment had been contravened, and another man appointed. Clearly, some people in the labyrinth of Vatican politics did not want Cardinal Pell overseeing the selection of the world’s bishops.
In 2014 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Pell as Prefect to the newly-created “Secretariat for the Economy.” The Vatican had been leaking millions of euros every year and Cardinal Pell’s first task was to clean up the mess. Within a year at the Vatican Bank, with the Pope’s support, he instituted “financial management practices in line with international standards,” as he wrote, that “will help all Entities and Administrations of the Holy See and the Vatican City State prepare financial reports in a consistent and transparent manner.” Apparently Cardinal Pell was uncovering some sources of the financial leakage and making enemies. In 2017 he was thanked for his service as one of the Pope’s senior advisors and let go. In 2019 his term as head of Vatican finances was not renewed. In the same month, charges of sexual abuse were made against him from Australia. The actions of which he was accused would have been physically impossible in the time and place in which they were alleged, as his lawyers proved later during his trial. Nevertheless, his accusers continued to make the allegations, with a coordinated media campaign against him. As a citizen of the Vatican City State with diplomatic immunity, Cardinal Pell did not have to respond to litigation that was preposterous and unprovable, but he returned to Australia to clear his name and to defend the honor of the Church. He lost the first court case, and he lost an appeal, and so spent more than a year in prison for a crime he did not commit. Finally Australia’s High Court dismissed the charges on the grounds that conclusive evidence was simply lacking. Through all this, Cardinal Pell did not complain, nor lose his patience and good humor, nor refuse to suffer unjustly.
I’ve read his first of three Prison Journals, and what impresses me most about this man is his serenity, his confidence in the perfect will of God in all circumstances. This faith preserves him from anger against his enemies or discouragement in the face of life’s manifold injustices. I think we can learn a lot from Cardinal Pell, who will speak at Star of the Sea this Wednesday, December 8th at 7pm. No tickets are needed, and he will be signing his books, which will be available from Ignatius Press at the presentation.