Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday
Every primary school child knows that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia in 1770. But such a simple statement masks the fact that, in the centuries before Captain Cook, seafarers from several countries had visited our region and a made a number of landings on the coast of this country. But most significantly of all, before any of these newcomers came our way, the country had already been discovered and inhabited for some 60,000 years.
In that almost unimaginable length of time the original discoverers of this land developed and sustained a radically non-material culture that was supported by a profoundly spiritual understanding of the world around them. Part of the enduring tragedy for modern Australia is that when European Christians eventually began to occupy this country they had neither the eyes to see nor the ears to hear the richness of what they were encountering. The people who lived the ancient spirituality of this land found no welcome in the material culture that overtook them. There was no welcome either for the prophets and the holy men of the Dreaming and so much of what could have enriched our Christian spirituality was ignored.
Today, as a Christian people, we stand ready to work together towards a genuine reconciliation and a truly inclusive Australian Church.
Much has already been achieved. Legal discrimination that was once a soul destroying part of the daily life of Indigenous people has been substantially removed. Constitutional recognition, treaties and sovereignty are being proposed. All this is good. But the law has no jurisdiction over the heart and no amount of legislative or constitutional reform can, by itself alone, achieve the goal we seek.
Genuine reconciliation and a truly Australian Church depend upon what we hold in our hearts and the personal relationships we can each build between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of our country.
Offering a cup of cold water may be a beginning but we long for the day when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and Australians of other backgrounds can all take their place together around the same table to partake of the banquet that could be ours to enjoy (Fr. Robert Greenup, see http://www.natsicc.org.au/liturgical-resources.html).
Postscript: Jesus issues us the challenge – anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. We are all called to leave everything behind, so we may strive for a future together. First, we all belong to God and second, to each other in Christ. Indeed, we are alive for God in Jesus Christ as we come together to celebrate this Eucharist. May this be ever more evident in the way we work towards reconciliation in this great Southern Land. Amen.