Mass for Australia Day 2023
Readings: Isaiah 32:15-18; Psalm 84(85):9-14; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Matthew 5:1-12
Dear sisters and brothers,
Today, we celebrate Australia Day. Indeed, we have much to celebrate and give thanks to God. Australia earned the title, “Southland of the Holy Spirit” long before Captain Cook sailed the East Coast. It was a title given in 1606 by Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros of Portugal. No other nation has received this title. This is not to say that this land belongs to Christian settlers. Rather, it should serve as a reminder to us Christians to live up to its call to be a beacon of integrity, justice and life-flourishing for us.
This is what the prophet Isaiah speaks about in the first reading. In a time of exile and hopelessness, he assures God’s people that God would pour out the spirit from above and enable them to live in peace, justice and prosperity. These words follow God’s judgement upon those who have lived self-absorbed lives. Isaiah condemns those who have exploited the poor and failed to free the oppressed. The prophet’s message is relevant to us today as we are challenged to bring peace, justice and security to those unjustly deprived of it.
The Gospel presents us with a similar if not more decisive challenge. Jesus puts to his disciples an alternative vision of life, which is polar opposite to what the dominant imperial system has to offer. His mission was aligned with God’s compassion for the vulnerable, including the blind, the deaf, the captive and the downtrodden. He was sent to bring outsiders inside God’s circle of love. Jesus’ subversive message and style would continue to be characterised by radical embrace of the poor and equally radical challenge to the privileged.
God’s Word today causes us to reflect on our role in bringing about a more just society, especially for our First Nations people for whom Australia Day is mostly an occasion for grief. Today, therefore, should bring us together in the spirit of humility and reconciliation. As Christian Australians, we can both celebrate the good things we love about our nation, as well as recognize the wounds that need to be healed in the land and its people.
European settlement changed Australia. But we realise too that the descendants of the early settlers are all the richer and stronger with our first and our new Australians together. It is time for us to grieve with our indigenous brothers and sisters who are often left disadvantaged in so many ways. In the time of ecological crisis, we should also acknowledge the ancient wisdom of their culture that values its relationship with the natural world, a culture that is tied to the care of the land and its flora and fauna. The Western culture with its emphasis on technology, profit and consumption may not serve us well going forward without the ancient indigenous wisdom.
Of the many issues discussed, debated and voted upon, the Plenary Council showed strong support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Catholics have largely been ahead of the general community on First Nations concerns. We have long learned to honour indigenous languages, culture, wisdom, sovereignty and way of life. Calling for a First Nations Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in Australia’s constitution is indeed a momentous step.
We are called to restore what was lost and gather what was scattered. May the celebration of Australia Day move us to heal the wounds of our past, to bring justice to our present and prosper our future. May we follow the footsteps of Jesus who proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and enact the new paradigm of relational empowerment. May our missionary discipleship help bring about the transformation of our country and our world.
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