Today is Australia's National Day, and so a day to relax and celebrate our achievements as a nation.
But also, I would suggest a day to reflect on where we are headed.
Some of our bishops have (inevitably) used the occasion (yet again) to call on the political parties to work once again to develop a sensible refugee policy. Spectacularly bad timing unfortunately, as no sooner had their press release come out then the Liberal-Coalition walked out on the joint talks that had been underway amidst recriminations about the cost of reopening Nauru processing and sharp words came forth from Indonesia causing Opposition Leader Mr Abbott to entrench himself even further on the Coalition's 'tow back the boats' lunacy.
Couldn't we have a positive message for once? Australia is one of the great countries in the world to live in, and does so much to try and make the world a better place, and just now and then it would be nice for someone to say so.
But if we do have to focus on the challenges ahead, really, despite the high profile of the issue, how we treat refugees is surely a marginal one given the small number of people actually involved.
We have far bigger problems.
Where for example is the call for Australia to recognise the most important right of all, to life?
Or why not take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of defending the traditional family in order to safeguard the future of our society?
Or perhaps to support the case at least in principle for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution, in line with the recently released report? Small beer and purely symbolic at one level, but also an important recognition that the situation of our Indigenous population remains a far greater national shame, in my view at least, than our treatment of refugees.
Symptoms not the causes
In reality, I think it can be argued that virtually all of the social and economic problems Australia faces are in the end symptoms of a bigger problem, namely a self-indulgent, materialistic culture that puts the individual ahead of the good of society as a whole and rejects the reality of God.
The solution then, is not just nice words and lobbying on particular topics - we the laity do need to take charge and do that of course, consistent with our vocations - but also the adoption of a more strategic approach, viz converting Australia.
And on that front, it is nice to see that the Archdiocese of Sydney's new Lenten resource is directed exactly at that end, namely the promotion of the New Evangelization.
Make Disciples of all nations - the New Evangelization
Make Disciples of all Nations is based around the readings for Year B (in the Novus Ordo calendar).
Cardinal Pell's introduction to the resource talks about the establishment of the new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation, of which he is a member, and goes on to say that:
"In undertaking such a significant step His Holiness has provided us with a timely reminder that it is the duty of the Church “always and everywhere” to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Church is missionary “by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (Ad Gentes, Vatican II, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, 2).
In providing us with this reminder Pope Benedict is aware of the many challenges facing us in evangelising those people who have not heard the Gospel. Furthermore, there are many who have heard the Gospel, and indeed have been baptised, but no longer practise the Christian Faith. [Of course there is one more important group noticeably missing Cardinal Pell's summation that we shouldn't skip over, namely those who are practising Christians, but lack the fullness of unity with Peter!] In some cases, they have abandoned it altogether. As a way of meeting this challenge, in his address to the new Council in early 2011 the Pope asserted that Christians must ensure that their style of life is “genuinely credible”. He adopted as his own the words of Pope Paul VI, who stated “It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelise the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of the world, in short, the witness of sanctity” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)...
The general introduction to the resource by the (seemingly anonymous) author of the resource goes on:
“The present generation of Christians is called and sent now to accomplish a new evangelisation among the peoples of Oceania”, so wrote Blessed John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Church in Oceania” (13). Whilst the call posed and still poses great challenges, the Holy Father noted that, “it also opens new horizons, full of hope and even a sense of adventure.” It is an exciting time to be Catholic. Many Australians, in the realisation that materialism has failed to satisfy their deepest desires, are searching for fullness of life encapsulated in truth, goodness and beauty. As Catholics, we know that these are found in the person of Jesus Christ. We therefore have a wonderful opportunity to invite others into communion with him and each other. [Good! Christianity unity, viz bringing all into the Catholic Church in its fullness is acknowledged!] This is the mission we have been given (Mt 28:19-20)!
Yet we are mindful that sharing our faith in Jesus with our friends, associates, family and society is difficult. At times, we are all too aware of our deficiencies, we feel embarrassed to “go against the crowd” and take the risk of standing out from those around us. Perhaps we do not know what to say or are afraid that people will ask questions of us that we cannot answer....
During this time of Lent, let us acknowledge our deficiencies and failings and draw closer to Jesus reflecting upon his infinite love and mercy and drawing upon his strength. Let us resolve to become more like him. Let us reflect upon his boundless love for us and all of mankind in dying for us thereby reconciling us to himself and each other. In so doing, let us seize “the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness and word, to all people and nations” (Blessed John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 92).
What a good resource looks like...
Like the Canberra-Goulburn production I reviewed recently, this is a multi-media production.
But unlike the Canberra one, this resource does not wallow in a warm fuzzy cloud of pseudo-ecumenical niceness. It certainly encourages non-Catholics to be involved in Lenten groups. But it doesn't compromise on the message in order to achieve that.
It does include personal testimonies, but also solid contextual material on the readings themselves, as well as extracts from relevant Magisterial documents. It includes traditional hymns, such as Be Thou my Vision and solid set prayers.
And it has some very practical, concrete suggestions on how to put what has been learnt into action. Those practical suggestions aren't warm fuzzy either - the week one suggestions are:
"Begin each day with prayer, offering up all the activities of the day to God.
• Choose an act of self-denial and endeavour to live it every day during Lent.
• Set aside 15 minutes each day for personal prayer, to talk with God in your own words and listen to him.
• Pray for a family member, friend or colleague that they may encounter Christ during this Lenten period.
• Invite a friend to join your Lenten group next week."
It is not perfect. As I noted above, the Cardinal too seems to want to avoid talking about the need to actually convert non-Catholic Christians to the faith. The resource also includes allowance for the seemingly standard reductionist version of lectio divina, which bears no relationship whatsover to the lectio divina methodology set out by Pope Benedict XVI in Verbum Domini.
Still, nice to see at least one diocese in this country putting out resources that head us firmly in the right direction!