Cardinal Pell's latest book, Test Everything: Hold Fast to What is Good, a collection drawn from writings and talks covering a 25 year period, was launched at several Australian centres during May. One of these was Nazareth House, Ballarat, where on 18 May 2010 the book was launched by Bishop Peter Connors of Ballarat and AD2000 Editor Michael Gilchrist, the edited text of whose talk is published here.
In his excellent Introduction to Test Everything, Cardinal Francis Stafford, former Archbishop of Denver, Colorado, and one of America's outstanding bishops of the past few decades, provides a clear overview of one the book's central messages, that Christianity involves tough love, and that there is no such thing as cheap grace.
In addition the book's title and subtitle represent a challenge and an antidote to today's relativistic Western world.
One of the book's 80 readings (which are divided into eight broad religious themes) comes from 2006, when Cardinal Pell spoke to graduating students at Christendom College in Virginia, renowned for its solid Catholicism. The Cardinal warned of "the great culture wars convulsing our societies — that struggle for the survival of Christian values in the public life of Western society".
The position is very similar in both the United States and Australia.
In other readings, Cardinal Pell defends the right of Christians to express their values in public life and to argue for them. Here he has always practised what he preaches with clarity and directness.
The book's title and contents are particularly relevant for today's Catholics and Christians — especially the young — who need to practise discernment, to distinguish truth from falsehood, good from evil, given the amount of relativistic nonsense emanating from such sources of influence as the mass media, entertainment industries, advertising and Internet. This is especially evident in the areas of human life, marriage, family and sexuality. And here Cardinal Pell provides clear and positive affirmations of Christian values.
In such a potentially corrupting climate, the challenges to parents and teachers are formidable if young Catholics are to be pointed in the right direction and empowered to "test everything and hold fast to what is good".
Cardinal Pell understands what is needed if we are to have a sound, authentic Catholic education. In another reading, from 2006, he reminded participants at the Australian National Catholic Education Conference:
"Christ's is a tough love, not sentimentality, not the soft tolerance of anything goes without any principles ... We are stuck with Christ's warning that if we love him we shall keep his commandments ... It is a tragedy that so many young Catholics feel they are free to pick and choose their beliefs, that so many of them believe all morality is relative to time and place ... At the very least our students should know what the Catholic Church claims."
Over twenty years earlier, the then Father Pell told graduating student teachers at Aquinas College, Ballarat, in 1984:
"Teachers must not take refuge in the platitude, the false and misleading platitude, that schools can do nothing for the religious development of children from irreligious homes ... Every student should meet teachers who care passionately about Christ and his Church."
Test Everything reminds those of us who know Cardinal Pell and have followed his long and distinguished career, that besides being a man of God, a solid pillar of the universal Church and its Papacy, that he is an impressive communicator and educator, able to connect easily with all manner of audiences, young and not so young, Catholic and non-Catholic.
He has that enviable ability to draw upon his wide and deep learning in the Scriptures, history and literature to illustrate and enrich his message, and in a way that is intelligible and interesting.
Throughout the present book Cardinal Pell quotes to good effect from the writings of poets, theologians, philosophers, saints and popes, from St Gregory the Great to Cardinal Avery Dulles and from Nietzsche to CS Lewis and James McAuley.
Given his extensive background in teacher education, and involvement with students of all age levels, Cardinal Pell has the skills of a good teacher, namely the ability to arouse interest, retain attention and increase understanding. At all times he is concise, to the point, often humorous, and always leaving us wanting more.
He is very much at home in the contemporary world and ever ready to meet its challenges, never taking a backward step, but able to communicate in the language of today's culture, as in his presentation on God's existence given during the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House in 2009.
Cardinal Pell's concluding words in Test Everything are a timely reminder for all Christians: "Following Christ is not cost free, not always easy, because it requires struggling against what St Paul calls 'the flesh', our fat relentless egos, old fashioned selfishness. It is always a battle, even for old people like me.
"Happiness comes from meeting obligations, doing our duty, especially in small matters and regularly, so we can rise to meet the harder challenges."
Test Everything needs to be widely read and its message taken to heart by both believers and non-believers.
Test Everything: Hold Fast to What is Good (ConnorCourt, 2010, $34.95). Available from Freedom Publishing.