26 January 2011 - Australia Day

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Australia Day,
26 January 2011

For a number of years now, since becoming a bishop, I have taken the opportunity for some leave from Christmas until around the third week of January. I have also chosen to spend some of that time with my sister and her family in Brisbane, and I did so again this year as well. I left Hobart on 29 December for a two week stay in Queensland.

When I arrived there, the flood situation was already a matter of concern, particularly in the Rockhampton area. Over the first days of my stay, rain, really heavy rain, fell constantly and it was clear that other areas would soon become affected as well. First it was Toowoomba, and then later Brisbane itself. None of my family members live in the flood-prone areas, but it was certainly a matter of public concern as people living in the low-lying areas of the city, and those living close to the river itself, were seriously challenged by the rising flood levels.

The phenomenon of floods, droughts and fires has been very much to the fore in the history of our country. In the preface of this special Australia Day Mass, the images of drought and flooding rain are incorporated through the words:  “The fierce flood of your grace sweep away all barriers, soaks deep into our being, so that the desert blooms with life that lies in wait.” At the conclusion of this Mass, we will pray that God might grant us always to live in this land, united in purpose and freed in the Spirit.

In response so far to the floods in Queensland, we have seen many instances of people united in the same purpose. In recent days, many volunteers, armed with brooms, spades and buckets, have made themselves available to assist in the huge clean-up operation that is now under way. Donations to the various flood appeals continue to receive generous support. The task of rebuilding the lives of people and the places they lived in, will be huge.

We can all pray today in the same way outlined by the prophet Isaiah: “Integrity will bring peace, justice will give lasting security.” The end result will be that “my people will live in a peaceful home in safe houses, in quiet dwellings.”

From these recent events there will be some lessons to learn. After years of prolonged drought, the building of a new dam in the Brisbane hinterland seemed to be the answer to any future water crises. The idea however that the dam could one day be full to overflowing was almost impossible to imagine. Perhaps there was a false sense of security which gave encouragement to the construction of new buildings, often very close to the banks of the river in the city of Brisbane.

In the times of Jesus, people lived under the domination of the Romans, and they were in desperate need of hearing some Good News. It was the common experience of these people to be “poor in spirit” to be those who mourn, of being meek and having a hunger and thirst for justice.  These were not moral attitudes but more an accurate description of the life-experience of the people who lived in the Galilean country-side – people whose very spirits had been crushed by the might of Rome and the constant experience of oppressive taxation and the endless struggle to survive.

These people wanted something to change, but so often that has meant an inversion of power and roles, rather than a true conversion. For things to be different, according to the teachings of Jesus, there are some non-negotiable elements that have to be given high priority – elements of mercy, purity of heart and peace-making, or as we might also say these days, community-building, reconciliation and a genuine change of heart.

“Taken together, these principles summarise wonderfully the unsettling newness of Jesus insight into life in society and expose the futility of the endemic drives of desire, rivalry and competitiveness, and the violence to which they give rise.”1

For us, and for the people in the time of Jesus, the kind of approach that Jesus suggests, was never going to be easy. In the last of the Beatitudes, it is made clear that the pursuit of mercy and peace-making would require a definite choice on the part of everyone – a choice for love, and with it, the vulnerability and almost inevitable victimisation that comes with it.  Genuine disciples of the crucified Christ could expect criticism and persecution.  There was nothing new in that – the prophets in Old Testament knew all about that in earlier times.

What is astonishing is the invitation of Jesus to “rejoice and be glad” in the face of such difficulties – something that is only possible for people who have learned how not to re-act just out of self-interest or to the provocations of others. We are called to live confidently the message of Jesus. It is not an easy role these days, when there may be an acknowledgement that Jesus of a very special person and that he had a very special message. But what is not well accepted is that Jesus is risen, that he is alive, and that, as St. Paul says, “The mystery is that, Christ is among us, our hope of glory.”2

So we take up the opportunity of being involved in yet another year of the history of our country. As Pope Benedict says in his Message for the World Day of Peace this year, “peace is a gift of God and at the same time a task which is never fully completed.”3

May the wonderful spirit that has emerged during the time of the floods, not be lost, but may it continue to give inspiration to our efforts to make this nation of ours a place of true justice and peace, and where we are able to live, not just relying on our own resources, but on an awareness of  “God’s shaping hand at work in all the gifts to our country with which God’s providence frames our lives.”4


1 The Second Conversion”  John McKinnon, Compass 4/2008, p39

2 Colossians, 1, 27

3 Par. 15

4 Opening Prayer, Australia Day Mass.