We prayed in the opening prayer of this Mass that “Christ will bring light to our nation”.
Australia is a country with an ancient indigenous culture. Its culture today, however, is largely fashioned by the British settlement beginning on this date, January 26th, in 1788. We acknowledge that the clash of cultures effected when European settlement commenced has caused great suffering to the aboriginal people. Today as we celebrate Australia Day we carry in our hearts the pain of the aboriginal people.
Our Australian culture today is Western European, with its roots in Christianity. While the nation experiences multi-ethnic migration, its character is still grounded in the Anglo-Celtic heritage which began with British settlement. Our national language is English. Our democratic form of government is modelled on the Westminster system. Christianity is the dominant religion, with 61% of the population identifying as Christian. The Catholic Church is now the largest Christian denomination, being around 25% of the population.
While English in origin, time has shaped some distinctive characteristics and we claim a unique character as Australians. The last two centuries with a variety of national experiences coupled with the special features of the Australian landscape and climate have shaped the Australian spirit. Successive waves of immigrants have also had an influence in flavoring the nature of our culture. We like to describe ourselves as being multi-cultural country, and rejoice in our cultural diversity.
Christianity has had an enduring impact on Australia. At the time of Federation in 1901, 97% of Australians professed to be Christians. The Anglican Church (formerly Church of England) remained the largest denomination until 1986, when it was surpassed by the Catholic Church. Australian Catholics were predominantly of Irish origin until post-World War II immigration brought more than a million Catholics from elsewhere in Europe and later from other parts of the world. Our Catholic experience today is one of a rich diversity of cultures united in one common faith.
The Christian feasts of Christmas and Easter are national public holidays in Australia. While Christmas has been commercialised it continues to be celebrated by Australians as one of the most important days of the year.
Christian charitable organisations, hospitals and schools have played a prominent role in welfare and education since colonial times. Over 20% of all school students in Australia attend Catholic schools. Christian organisations such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Salvation Army and Anglicare provide social services throughout Australia. The social services of the country are largely in the hands of Christian faith based organisations.
Australia can claim that Christianity is the dominant moral and spiritual influence in our history. Many of the aspects to our quality of life in Australia are due to Christian influence. We benefit from stable government, the rule of law, respect for individual freedom, and an egalitarianism that rejects cast. Our nation is a nation of freedom and opportunity.
In all this we are a very blessed country. Coupled with rich resources and natural beauty, we are able to enjoy a high quality of life.
It is important that we recognise the debt our nation owes to Christianity in enabling us to enjoy the quality of life available to us. This cannot be taken for granted.
However, it is evident that we are moving into a new era in Australia. An array of cultural forces are removing the Christian underpinnings of our society. There are constant attacks on various aspects of our Christian heritage. Our nation is changing from being deeply grounded in Christianity to one where a rising secularism is shaping the national psyche. Our moral underpinnings are unravelling. God-centred life is being replaced by an individual-centred life.
We are being set on a new course, and its eventual shape is not clear. Our nation is being spiritually and morally impoverished as it abandons belief in a Supreme Being. Pope St John Paul II said that the eclipse of God will lead to an eclipse of man. We in danger of losing our true humanity.
Today, as our nation celebrates Australia Day, we pray for our nation. We pray as the opening prayer of the Mass proposed that “Christ will bring light to our nation”. Christianity has been a light in the formation of our present culture. This light is being dimmed. As Christians we pray that the light of Christ may rise again in our country to be a source of truth and wisdom, to be an inspiration to spiritual and moral ideals.
We pray for the nation we love, that Christianity will be able to play a role in its future direction. We pray that Christian truth about the nature of the human person and the nature of human life may guide those who are shaping the culture.
The Catholic Church, as the largest religious denomination, has a key role in spiritual and moral leadership. The Church cannot become invisible or silent. It needs to be engaged in the national conversation. It needs to raise its voice on vital matters that effect the nature of our life together.
The Church needs to be a leaven in the midst of our society. Christian witness and Christian service need to be maintained as a way in which our society is able to retain a deep humanity and be directed along paths that lead to life and human flourishing.
So today we pray for our nation. We pray that the Christian faith which has shaped its character will be able to offer future guidance and inspiration. We pray that the Gospel call to discipleship will be heard by more and more Australians.
We pray for our leaders as they make decisions that will shape the future of our nation, that they will be guided by divine wisdom.
May Christ bring light to our nation.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, January 26, 2017