Australia Day Homily

Tuesday 17th December 2019

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2020 - Homily by Fr. Paul Castley

During these devastating times of bushfire and drought I sometimes experience a strange and eerie feeling. All of these horrendous events and all of that loss, suffering and grief is not that very far away from me but it’s as if I am far away from it. Many, many years ago when I was a young boy in Townsville – and that is a long time ago – a flood did rip through our backyard. Fortunately our house was on the proverbial Queensland stilts and it passed underneath us.

Some of our and neighbours, living in cottages built for railway workers, weren’t so lucky. Their homes were flooded and they crowded into our home. For my father one disturbing feature was his bottles of beer floating out from under our house and heading for the Pacific Ocean. A cousin of mime was staying with us at the time and my father pressganged this very unwilling fellow into joining in the rescue of his precious booty. Fortunately today we have insurance to cover our losses though I am sure that hardly alleviates all the distress people are going through.

In Jesus’ day people didn’t have insurance to cover their losses. Their extended family provided for all their welfare needs. If one cut oneself off from one’s family one became a marginalized person in one’s society. Jesus did just that. He left his home and his family and became an itinerant teacher going around preaching the Good News that the reign of God, the Kingdom of God, was close at hand and he cured all kinds of diseases and sickness. Later in the gospel members of his own family thought he was mad and came to drag him back home. It was at this time that he looked around at the crowd around him and said to his family members, ‘Here are my mother, my brothers and sisters.’ The vast majority of those who followed Jesus and hungered for his words and healing were the marginalized and rejected people of society. By leaving his family and its protection he aligned himself with them. These were people who, like those described in the first reading, had a yoke weighing on them, a bar across their shoulders and were plagued by the rod of their oppressors.

But now these people, who had walked in darkness, had seen a great light. It was dawning on them. They believed that the centuries old expectation that God would rescue them and their nation would soon be fulfilled. God would reign and God’s empire, God’s Kingdom, would replace all the oppressive empires to which they had been subjected.

Jesus went out and called his disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John. He must have been an inspiring character and an electrifying personality for these men left their jobs and their families and went with him to all the marginalized and rejected in Israel. They, too, cut themselves off from their family security. As Jesus said later, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.[1]

As we approach Australia Day and reflect that we are one of the most multi- cultural societies in the world what do today’s readings say to us. In the second reading Paul urges the Corinthian community to stop arguing and squabbling among themselves. How willing are we to embrace everyone that comes to the shores of this wide brown land. ‘Our Land abounds with nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare… For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.’

We cannot solve all the refugee problems of the world but, as followers of Jesus Christ, as the community gathered around the Eucharist to celebrate our God seeking out the lost and laying down his life for us, are we open to be inspired by his compassion and generosity and welcome the broken and the lost and the persecuted of other lands. Our ancestors came here to seek a better way of life. Do we meet with compassion and understanding those who, today, seek what our ancestors did?

Are we able, too, to stand in the shoes of the original inhabitants of this land? We recognize their prior presence in so many of our ceremonies and celebrations. We recognise they have been here for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s extraordinary, it’s amazing to realise they are the oldest surviving culture in the world. Many experts are starting to realise how well they managed the land and were able to minimize the effects of bushfires that have so devastated us recently and are still doing so. I had the good fortune to teach many aboriginal boys at Monivae College in Hamilton in the sixties. Among them was Senator Patrick Dodson, the father of reconciliation and a truly outstanding person. He became the school captain and captain of the first eighteen. His brother, Michael, was there also. He has become a professor of Law.

We are all now truly Australian. I love the song, ‘I am, you are, we are Australian.’ It mentions all of us. Are we able on this Australia day to put into practice the Gospel Imperative of understanding the first Australians? Over the centuries multitudinous tribes and nations have swept into and invaded other nations and lands. How horrific and devastating that has been. Are we able to understand how our indigenous sisters and brothers can look on this as invasion day? Are we able to reach out and embrace, as Jesus and his disciples did, all the marginalized and deprived in our society?

If we can reach out to and be understanding of and empathetic with all the diverse elements of our society then we are contributing to make this great and wonderful land of ours what its original European name was, ‘The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.’ What a great name! We can rejoice in that.‘Australians all let us rejoice’ that, as at the beginning of creation, in chapter one of the book of Genesis, through our response to Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can create out of all this diversity a nation that is truly Eucharistic, a nation that welcomes the marginalized, a nation that is truly united in its commitment to all the fibres in the fabric of our society.

We acknowledge and thank Fr. Paul Castley for allowing us to reprint the homily he gave at Holy Spirit Parish on Sunday 26th January 2020

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