Cardinal Pell Showed Us What Interior Freedom Really Looks Like

Cardinal Pell knew the secret to remaining sane in a culture gone mad.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, Prefect Emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy, speaks during an interview with EWTN in Rome, Dec. 9, 2020.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, Prefect Emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy, speaks during an interview with EWTN in Rome, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo: EWTN News / EWTN)

What is it like to have hope in the worst of circumstances, to keep the peace of Christ under what seem like seemingly insurmountable odds in a near totally socially dysfunctional scenario? That is having the spirit of the late Cardinal George Pell — a man who was imprisoned unjustly for 13 months on such horrible charges, but who chose to live in a spirit of inner joy with our Lord.

Years ago I read the spiritual classic Interior Freedom by Father Jacques Phillippe for the first time. I was so inspired by his description of detachment in living a knowledge of the love of God for each person and in choosing to love others despite a terrible surrounding situation. The book is phenomenal and one I have read many times. And yet, other than examples in the lives of past saints and Christ himself, I have found it hard to find an individual today profoundly living this much-needed perspective of trust in God and love of all. More than suffering the wartime scenario of World War II, as my own father had, who was there who understood what it is like to be like Christ amid the nonsense and the hatred of the years post-2015? Such a man is Cardinal Pell.

Much has been written about Cardinal Pell’s prison journal volumes, but I would like to discuss some specifics that make this man someone so many can identify with now, and who exemplifies the freedom so many are searching for. Each entry in the journal is ended with a brief prayer, a petition from an incarcerated person who is not anguished but who is one with Christ. From reading how the cardinal swept his cell or prayed for other prisoners he overheard crying out in despair, one experiences a soul who is truly living abandonment in the arms of Jesus.

While many yearn for such freedom, they often give up trying and instead live in a pseudo-freedom in which they denigrate themselves or other persons. And yet the late cardinal shows us that abandonment is as simple as choosing to find enjoyment in one’s food served as an inmate or praying extra prayers when the person designated to bring you Holy Communion on Sunday doesn’t arrive for one reason or another. Cardinal Pell also describes his trustful surrender as picking up the Bible and deciding to read the Book of Job while always being aware that it is Jesus Christ who has now given us the capability to be co-redeemers in his suffering and who opened up the hope of eternal life for all. These are just a few of the daily activities outlined in the journal of a man who loved to read but was confined to a cell with no chair — only a bed and an open toilet.

As I watch the situation in our country deteriorate daily and wonder about the possibility of a larger multinational war, do I want to retreat inwardly or instead find ways to make life better for future generations by living out the virtues of faith, hope and love in my daily routine? What is most impressive is the lack of bitterness or resentment displayed by the late cardinal toward anyone inside or outside the Church. He shares the disappointing aspects of human hatred shown to him with forgiveness and prayer.

Cardinal Pell is a man who remained sane despite the insanity of being imprisoned on false, horrific charges. He is a model for our times and a man to remember always in our prayers.

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