The following homily was given by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at the Mass for the Repose of the Soul of His Eminence George Cardinal Pell AC, seventh Archbishop of Melbourne, on Friday 3 February at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
In the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills, in Sydney, there was an unassuming, ramshackle house of welcome, called David’s Place. (It’s now relocated to Rushcutters Bay.) In its former location, it was a community centre where the poor and struggling of the city could find a place to clean up and get a change of clothing, where a hot meal was provided in the evenings, and where a bed could be arranged for the night. David’s Place is not one of the more well-known drop-in centres that receive substantial government funding. It is an unassuming community for the spiritual and social needs of homeless and disadvantaged people, run by a handful of Christian volunteers, and it survives on donations.
When Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Sydney, he used to visit David’s Place on roughly a monthly basis, celebrating a simple Mass in the loungeroom, and sharing a meal with those who had gathered. This was a regularly set event in his diary, not to be easily missed or arbitrarily cancelled. On a few occasions when he had to be in Rome for ‘Cardinal things’, he’d get me to fill in for him. He was generally known as ‘George’ by those who came to David’s Place, and most of them wouldn’t have had a clue that he was a Cardinal Archbishop of some international renown. They knew him simply as a kind-hearted priest who came from time to time to be with them in Christian friendship.
I suspect that there were very few people who knew of this quiet commitment of Christian charity undertaken by Cardinal Pell. He didn’t advertise his visits or make a fuss about going there. It didn’t appear on any list of public engagements. It was those who volunteered there who shared with me what he quietly did. I have also come to suspect that the Cardinal probably did something similar here, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne, and possibly also during his time in Rome.
The ‘blessed’, so named by Jesus as the sons and daughters of God and the inheritors of the heavenly kingdom, were not individually named by him, as he spoke to the disciples from the hill overlooking the sea of Galilee. The blessed were not, in Jesus’ eyes, those who would want to be putting up their hand for recognition. Rather, the blessed were—and are—the ‘get-on-with-it’ people of the Good News. They are among us now, here in this gathering. Wherever and whenever the poor and grieving are present, or peace and tenderness are needed, or justice and mercy call out, there will be found the blessed of God.
Life in God’s kingdom, and eternal life upon death, is not dependent on the role or status one might have within the Church. It depends, rather, on living one’s life as founded in Christ. As St Paul puts it, ‘When God acquits, … nothing can come between us and the love of Christ.’ It is not by being a bishop that someone is made an inheritor of God’s kingdom, and counted among the blessed. (Some might say that’s precisely the exception which proves the rule!) It is our service in the Gospel, no matter what our state or status, that matters. As we pray for the dying, we say, ‘Go forth, Christian soul;’ and when we committed the Cardinal’s remains to their resting place, we prayed, ‘We commend to Almighty God, our brother George.’ Discipleship, not designation; friendship in the Lord, not titles in his Church: that is the basis of our sure and certain hope in the resurrection.
Each of us is invited into friendship with Christ and towards one another. And it is this that is the measure of blessedness that might be ours. As we heard from the Book of Wisdom,
They who trust in [God] will understand the truth,
those who are faithful will live with him in love;
for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.
Might this form the real list in our recognition of the legacy of George Pell. Bishop, Cardinal, a man of considerable power and authority, and a staunch defender of the faith—yes, to all of these things. But most particularly, let our list identify a son humble and contrite before God, a faithful servant of Christ’s people, and a true friend of the Lord’s.