Thursday, 26 January 2012

Happy Australia Day: now let's get serious about converting Australia!

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!


Leonard said...

Did you see this, um, boots-and-all defence (by, as it happens, a Canberra-based co-religionist) of Tony Abbott's proclamations apropos the boats?

A Canberra Observer said...

I know that this is a problem but this piece is cold, as in callous cold.

Kate said...

Yes, reminds me of the suggestion made during the Tampa affair to just allow asylum seekers to be dropped off on Ashmore Island and other such isolated spots...and if they died of dehydration or starved to death, well not our problem is it?

Mind you he is on the money on Indonesia's complicity and motivations I suspect. Still, the appropriate response is surely to act against that Government, not to wage war on the desperate victims...

Al said...

That is exactly what asylum seekers are - victims. I am sure the majority would not attempt a dangerous sea voyage on questionably seaworthy boats unless they were desperate. People don't jump up and down in the same way about people overstaying their visas - and there are apparently about 50,000 of them. The people arriving by boat are only a small proportion.
I don't know what the solution is, but there has to be a better way than just turning them back.

Anonymous said...

Whenever somebody draws attention to [issue no. 1], it’s always possible to object that they should instead have mentioned/are distracting attention from [issue no. 2].

In this case, I think the objection is not terribly well-founded. Far from being spectacularly badly timed, the collapse of the government/opposition talks shows that the call for co-operation is well-timed; co-operation is indeed needed, and those who must co-operate are not doing so. What better time to point this out?

On a more general note, while Australia faces a number of challenges and Kate rightly points to them, on Australia day it is I think apt to reflect on the challenges that emerge particularly from our notions of Australianness and Australian identity. As Al points out, asylum-seekers are vilified and demonized in a way that visa-overstayers are not. And I think we all know that this is partly because asylum seekers mostly have black hair and brown eyes, and visa-overstayers mostly don’t, and the interaction between this reality and many people’s notion of what it is to be Australian is problematic.

Kate rightly points to other challenges that we face as a community, but many of them stem from materialism or individualism problems that we share with many other nations. On Australia day, it’s appropriate to focus on the challenges which are particularly linked to our concept of Australianness (Australianity?). And our attitude to asylum-seekers is undoubtedly one of them.


Kate said...

That's an interestingly twisted logic Peregrinus. Personally I'd prefer our bishops focused on the most important issues facing our country from a moral perspective, not just the 'distinctly Australian' ones!

And personally I think that killing people because they have the bad luck to interfere with someone's lifestyle choices hits pretty high on the radar on unfairness and unAustralianness.

But on boat arrivals vs overstayers, I think part of the problem is that most who arrive by boat are only technically fleeting persecution. They transit after all through Indonesia who morally have exactly the same obligation to protect them as we do.

The only reason they can claim refugee status here is Indonesia's refusal to sign the Refugee Convention and thus accept that moral obligation.

Moreover, Indonesia - unlike other countries like Singapore - let them come into the country knowing their intention is to transit on, and positively encouraging it.

The reasons refugees move on from Indonesia are mostly social and economic; they are not being persecuted in that country. And indeed Indonesia clearly encourages the traffic onwards by its internal restrictins on them for a whole host of reasons, including, one suspects, the desirability from their point of view in increasing the Muslim population of Australia.

So while I'm sympathetic to the cause of refugees, and think we treat them badly, there are some legitimate reasons in my view for the general disquiet on the issue.