Domus Australia, Rome
Our readings today address the trials of Australians today. Amidst great hardship Paul urges us to persevere (Rom 12:9-13) and Isaiah prophesies a time when deserts will become fertile and scrub a thick forest, when the endangered will be secure at last and all dwell in domestic tranquillity (Is 32:15-28). Whatever our trials Christ in our Gospel tells us not to worry so much (Lk 12:22-32).
All of which sounds very “she’ll be right” Aussie in tone and accords with St Mary MacKillop’s regular counsel. But for those in the thick of things, it can sound insensitive or even like victim blaming. Who likes to be told, when in the doldrums about the present or anxious about the future, that ‘chin up, it’ll be okay’. Singing Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy is little comfort when we have every reason to worry and little reason to be jolly. How will it be okay, we might ask, when and for whom? Isaiah’s vision, after all, seems to be of some distant future, not of present comfort. You don’t have to be a cynic to think that for the suffering and displaced a little kingdom of God would be helpful right now, not just at the end of time, a helping hand more welcome than counsel to grin and bear it.
Christianity is an intensely practical religion, and so Isaiah’s dreaming is paired today with Paul’s pragmatism. Reminding us that the Lord’s commanded us to love like He loved, the Apostle warns us that human love can be insincere or grow indifferent. What are the indicia of true Christian love? Showing profound respect for one another, Paul says, or giving everyone a fair go, as Australians put it; ‘working tirelessly’ and ‘not giving up’ Paul says, or in Australian having a go; demonstrating ‘fraternal affection… helping… hospitality’ or what Aussies call mateship – these attitudes, virtues and behaviours, Paul says, not fairy-tales or platitudes, should mark the Christian in times of trial.
It’s precisely crises like Australia’s drought and fires that produce dreams like Isaiah’s dreams of a less harsh land and directions like Paul’s to help those in need. Our recent experience has drawn the world’s attention not just to our extreme weather but also to the ways our people demonstrate solidarity and assist those who are suffering. Christian charities have been in the forefront of those providing shelter, supplies, friendship and intercession – all examples of God sending down the Holy Spirit like the dewfall. I think of local St Vincent de Paul members supporting needy locals even as their own homes burned. Or of the firefighters trying against terrible odds to save what they could – some of whom, including a young father and Sydney Catholic parishioner, giving their lives that others might live. Christian love is not fairy tales about the present or future: it’s practical, compassionate action, here and now, inspired by a vision of a better future.
The fires have welded together firefighters and other responders, from around Australia and overseas, in self-sacrifice even unto death. They’ve brought together those who’ve lost lives or livelihoods, homes or hopes, with the rest of us determined to assist. They’ve united civic leaders and community groups, charities and benefactors, in directing and serving.
The bishops have called for a national campaign of prayer – and since then the weather has been a little kinder! Key Church welfare, health and education agencies are working with local parishes, CatholicCares and Vinnies to ensure a co-ordinated and effective response. While many have already been providing financial and other practical assistance, collections this weekend around Australia will go to the St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal, so we can maintain this momentum and long continue it. Paul’s call in times of trial to assist those most in need and make hospitality our special care has, indeed, been heard.
But what will keep you going, if you’re an exhausted volunteer fire-fighter, a family who’ve lost their home, a charity worker for whom the problem seems too big? Christ tells us in our Gospel today that solidarity, planning and responsiveness will not be enough. Compassion fatigue sets in, anxieties about what we or others are to eat, wear, inhabit. We must, He says, trust in the God whose providence feeds the cockatoos and whose native flora dress the land so splendidly. We must set our hearts on the kingdom of heaven, confident that what we ask for in our big need and little faith will be given us.
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After the deluge comes the sunshine, and with it the joyous rainbow. After the fire comes rain from heaven, making arid land fertile again and burnt out forests sprout anew. Such is the cycle we know well in Australia. Uniquely among the world’s landscapes our eucalypts germinate precisely because of the fire and it’s aftermath, and our deserts, given the tiniest rain can bloom with wild flowers and grasses. So, too, with the human dimension of bushfires: the fires can occasion a renewal of our community and its highest ideals, offering us not only immediate relief but new purpose to carry us forward.
As our nation faces its summer catastrophe with courage and compassion, we hear the wonderful words of Jesus Christ in our hearts: Μὴ φοβοῦ τὸ μικρὸν ποίμνιον ὅτι εὐδόκησεν q ὁ Πατὴρ ὑμῶν δοῦναι ὑμῖν τὴν βασιλείαν (Mē phobou, toh micron poim-nion, hoti eudokēsen ho Patēr hymōn dounai hymin tēn basileian): Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom!
INTRODUCTION TO AUSTRALIA DAY MASS
Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Peter Chanel
Domus Australia, Rome
Welcome to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary and St Peter Chanel here at Domus Australia for our Australia Day Mass. I acknowledge in particular concelebrating priests, other clergy, religious and seminarians working in Rome, Mr Matthew Wise, Chargè d’Affaires at the Australian Embassy to the Holy See, the ambassadors and embassy staff of many nations, and other guests. And I thank Monsignor John Boyle, whose term as Rector of Domus Australia is fast coming to its close, not just for his hospitality but for his sterling service these past few years.
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We gather at a time of apocalyptic weather in Australia. Three years of drought prepared our land for the most intense bushfire season in our history: so far 18.6 million hectares (46m acres) have been burned, 6,000 buildings razed, hundreds of thousands of people evacuated, and at least 33 people lost, along with perhaps a billion livestock and native animals, including whole species. Meanwhile heavy smoke has invaded our cities and some parts of the country have experienced flash floods, hail storms or lightning strikes. The Yarra River has turned red as blood. It is all rather “biblical”.
So many stories of tragedy and courage. Here, at the opposite end of the world, we can feel powerless to assist. Yet we know that by God’s grace prayer is powerful, and the offering of the Mass most powerful of all. And so today we commend our great southern land to its Creator, asking Him to grant us the ‘safe houses and quiet dwellings’ in a fertile land that our first reading promises. But first we repent of our sins…