Australia Day Mass

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Australia Day Mass
26 January 2013

Every year when we come to the celebration of Australia Day, there are some issues which are more to the fore. It may be a natural disaster that has occurred in recent times, and in our own state, we are still very conscious of the manner in which the bushfires impacted on the lives of many people, both on the day when it all happened, and in the aftermath, when people are coming to terms with the consequences of being without a home or without a future.

It so happened, as we know that we are moving through a particular period which we are calling the “Year of Grace.” It is an invitation to contemplate the face of Jesus and to “start afresh” from Christ.  Much of the purpose and background to the Year of Grace is expressed in the special prayer which was composed to give a spiritual background to the initiative.

In the prayer, as you recall, we express our gratitude for the many gifts which have come to us, and to this ancient land. But it is clearly time to pray for a new wave of grace, so that the light of Christ may burn more brightly. By being better attuned to the Holy Spirit, there is the hope that our Church may be transformed, our relationships healed, and our nation grow in compassion and justice.

There is no doubt that we have for some time been at something of a spiritual crossroads. With the greater mobility of people, the improvement in communications, the arrival of more people from different cultures to our own, there is a change, particularly in the larger cities. For us in the traditional and so called main-line churches, this all presents something of a serious challenge.

There is a debate which goes on about the difference between spirituality and religion, and that many people would claim that they are spiritual, but not religious. Identifying with a traditional church is not as popular as it used to be, and what those churches have to offer, is not seen as being the answer to the search that is going on.

That is where, it seems the concept of the Year of Grace is very important, because it suggests a direction that we need to take, namely to ensure that God, the living God, is there in our lives at all times. The presence of that God is reflected in the gospel reading. The providence of God has as a basis the theme that God is the one who sees.

Crucial in the call to start afresh in Christ must be the belief in a living God, and in the person and message of Jesus. The experience of the Living God may begin when we are struck with the awareness of the preciousness of life and what it means just to be alive.

It also begins when we become aware of the beauty and majesty of creation, one of the many gifts for which we are thankful. All of us in Tasmania are aware of the struggle it is to find the right balance between using the gifts we have received, but using them in a way which is respectful of their origins and also that they must be there for those who come after us.

In recent weeks that has been a television programme which covers the influence of mining on the history of Australia, and how many of the serious issues which our country has faced over the past 200 years, have origins within the mining industry – how the resources are managed, the place of those who work in the industry, how the locations are rehabilitated when the work is over. Some of the crucial moments in recent history such as the coal-miners’ strike in 1949, and the resources tax of recent times, have determined the futures of governments in their wake.

Crucial also is the belief that we have to look outward and beyond ourselves in the service of others. One of the challenges we have as Christians have, is that of convincing the community that we are guided by the principles of love and grace, of justice and forgiveness, equality and the value of every individual person. At times like this, there can be no doubt about we are guided in these ways by the incredible contributions of such Church agencies as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army.

The advances in technology have brought an explosion in the availability of knowledge and the transformation of public opinion. Through the facility of Facebook these days, people can be mobilised almost instantaneously. I noticed that there is concern about the way it could be so used as to influence the impartiality of the jury system. It looks as if the same facility will have an enormous impact soon in the forming of public opinion at the time of elections.

A Jewish Rabbi wrote back in 1951 that “Mankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to wonder.”

As an Australian writer, Jim Quillinan wrote recently, “perhaps that may be the starting point for renewal – a deeper appreciation of what we have today, not in financial terms, but rather what this vast country offers us.”

It is a good thought at any time, more particularly on Australia Day, and especially during the current Year of Grace.