Homily for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, 6 July 2014, as The Reconciliation Church, La Perouse, Sydney (readings: Zechariah 9:9-10, Mt 11:25-30)
Jesus blesses his Father for hiding things that matter from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. During the week our Prime Minister, a Rhodes scholar, was addressing some very learned and clever people at the Economic and Social Outlook Conference. He was reflecting on the fact that Australia was unimaginable without foreign investment.
He went on to say, 'I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um scarcely settled, Great South Land.' Perhaps it was the disbelieving look on some of the learned and clever faces in the room that made him change course mid-sentence. Maybe it was his own internal radar which sent out the warning message.
You could make a party political point about this, but that is not our purpose here in church on Aboriginal Sunday. That which was not self-evident to our learned and clever prime minister is the clear lived reality for every Aboriginal person here in this Church today, and for most Aboriginal children who live in this Great South Land. They have not needed to attend university to gain this learning and this insight, though happily there are now some at university earning their PhDs deepening this learning for themselves and for the nation.
They live the reality that this land was settled for tens of thousands of years before the British arrived and that much of this land was taken forcibly from their ancestors producing adverse consequences to this day. Pope Francis says he wants 'a Church which is poor and for the poor'. It’s in our poverty and in our childlike humility in the face of unalterable realities of our lives that we come to understand the deepest mysteries of life, handing them on from generation to generation.
Warren Mundine, who has joined us for mass here in this Church in times past, was prompt in his defence and understanding of our prime minister.
He said, 'We could all do with a bit more education on this but I know his heart is in the right place.'
With hearts in the right place, we can all forgive and be forgiven. Those of us who labour and are overburdened can come to the table of the Lord’s banquet being assured that we will find rest for our souls with the One who is gentle and humble in heart. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
During this NAIDOC Week at the first centenary of the commencement of World War I, we recall those who carried the yoke of war and the burden of service so that we might enjoy freedom and prosperity. With the theme, Serving Country: Centenary and Beyond, we recall that descendants of the true first settlers as well as descendants of the later British settlers joined arms and joined forces to defend the land which is now home to us all, while always being the traditional country of indigenous Australians.
On this Aboriginal Sunday at the commencement of NAIDOC Week, NATSICC has chosen the theme, 'Praise to the Lord of Heaven and Earth'. This year we gather in this Reconciliation Church surrounded by Richard Campbell’s stations of the cross which are now complemented by Richard’s wonderful Reconciliation Cross. We are privileged to have Kay Mundine join us. We all remember Kay escorting Pope John Paul II down the Dreaming Track in Alice Springs in 1986.
Just as Gloria adorned me with the Aboriginal stole at the beginning of this mass, Kay and Aboriginal representatives placed the stole and knitted beanie on the Pope in the distinctive colours of red, black and gold. He then told us that 'the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.'
We remember also the beloved Fr Frank Fletcher MSC who has now taken his place at the eternal banquet since our last mass for Aboriginal Sunday in this place. Frank worked in close solidarity with Elsie Heiss to ensure that this Reconciliation Church could be established as a home for the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry of the Sydney Archdiocese. Frank always appeared slightly gangly and sounded slightly diffident even though he was always focused, straight directed and purposeful.
His memory evinces that image of Zechariah. The learned and the clever who exercise power in our society are those who ride on chariots from Ephraim and on horses from Jerusalem. None of that for Frank Fletcher. Proclaiming peace for the nations and justice for the Great South Land, he was more like the king who came humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
We pray for peace in our hearts, in our families and in our land for the year ahead. We pray that together we might be able to share the yoke, the labour and the burdens. We pray that we might know the consolation that the Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden light, while still committing ourselves to justice, love, peace and reconciliation with all, including those who are learned and clever and don’t yet see a need to be attentive to the revelations held by those who are poor, those who are mere children, and those whose ancestors have walked this land for millennia. Let’s give 'praise to the Lord of Heaven and Earth'.
Frank Brennan SJ AO is professor of law at the Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University.
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07 July 2014
Yesterday, after an absence of two months, I sat (and stood) next to my 86 year old friend during our church's Sunday service. It was a good feeling to be back. I'm proud of our king, riding on a donkey, what a man!
08 July 2014
Good morning Fr Frank. Maybe we have to slow down a bit and accept that while the English language is the most expressive in the world it is also the most confusing in so much as many words change meaning and interpretation depending on context. We all know what "bastard " means but there is a world of difference between a "poor bastard" and a "poor pathetic bastard". The word "settled " has many meanings and there is no doubt that "our country " in the current context is very different from that "invaded" by the English 200 odd years ago and does indeed owe much to foreign investment as do the present day Aboriginal people. We have to get over accepting our particular interpretations of words as the only interpretation and being constantly offended by our multi-meaning language. Life is too short to spend being upset when we might be happier by looking at all possible uses of our wonderful language - another unwanted and intrusive gift from the English, perhaps?
08 July 2014
Hearts in the right place: such a complicated concept. Yet none of us has the right to judge. Why don't we all ponder whether our hearts are in the right place before we condemn?
08 July 2014
Frank, I love the gentleness and warmth of this piece - the reassurance of the heart sits beautifully alongside the reassurance of the mind that your more rigorously argued pieces give. A complete armoury.
08 July 2014
Abbott's 'slip' wasn't a slip; it was an unguarded expression of his world view. The 'slip' may not warrant condemnation, but his world view does.
08 July 2014
Many thanks Frank for a thought provoking Homily - what a JOY it would be if our learned prime minister would take time to read these words of wisdom. Thank you Frank.
08 July 2014
Thank you Eureka Street for adding the photos from the Aboriginal Sunday Eucharist celebrated last Sunday.
Thank you so much
10 July 2014
"Warren Mundine . . . was prompt in his defence and understanding of our prime minister. He said, . . . I know his heart is in the right place.' "
Let’s cut the waffle and get straight to the point. Ginger has put his finger right on it – well, almost: Abbott’s ‘slip’ ought to be condemned because it indicates more than just his world-view. Abbott fails to understand that the circumstances in which Aborigines find themselves is the result of more than 200 years of injustice, theft and double dealing. Rather, he sees them as a ‘disadvantaged’ group deserving of charity but nothing more. Neither he nor his government is capable of that empathy necessary to get to the heart of this question any more than they are capable of the empathy necessary to deal with the asylum seeker question. Just as those workers who supported the Howard government, partly because it its ‘strong stand’ against refugees, came to realise after work choices that that government would deal with them no differently so also Warren Mundine will discover that the Abbott government is no more able to deal justly with Aborigines than they are with Sri Lankan refugees. When he begins to shed bitter tears let’s hope Father Frank is nearby with a supporting shoulder.