5 July 2020 Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Fr. Bill Edebohls
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Sunday 2020
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 this great south land and traded with its indigenous peoples. But most significantly of all, before any of these overseas boat people 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 and inhabitants 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 western material culture that overtook them. There was no welcome either for the prophets and the holy men and women of the Dreaming and so much of what could have enriched our Christian spirituality was ignored or deliberately smothered.
But hope still prevails. We are an Easter people and today we must stand ready to take up the cross of lost opportunity. Today, as a Christian people, we are obligated to stand ready to work together towards a genuine reconciliation and a truly inclusive Australian Church and a truly inclusive Australian Nation.
Of course we recognize that there have been some achievements. Legal discrimination that was once a soul destroying part of the daily life of Indigenous people has been substantially removed. The haunting evil and tragedy of the stolen generations has been recognized.
Although it still has many hurdles in front of it, and many red neck voices standing out in opposition, Constitutional recognition, treaties and sovereignty are being proposed. All this is some progress even if it is slow and tortuous – and opposed by many in power.
But the good achieved thus far must not be allowed to delude us. Changes to the law, treaties, legal recognition, and fine sounding apologies by politicians, have no jurisdiction over the human heart and no amount of legislative or constitutional reform can, by itself alone, achieve the goal we must seek.
Genuine reconciliation, a truly Australian Church, and a nation that includes rather than excludes and is renowned for tolerance 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 must 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.
It seems to me that it is a part of the original sin of human beings to oppress those whose land we occupy when we arrive as invading boat people - and then having occupied the land ensure that we exclude any who might follow our example in search of refuge, asylum and a new future built on hope. As a nation built on 19th and 20th century European boat people from whom most of us here descend it seems more than tragic that both those who came before us, our indigenous peoples, and those coming after us, our various migrant, refugee and asylum seeker groups, still suffer the same exclusion, intolerance and racism in a nation that prides itself on its democratic freedoms and Christian foundations.
May we come to understand that in welcoming the stranger we welcome Christ and that this same Christ calls us as individuals, Church and Nation to be bigger and better than we are.
To take up the cross of lost opportunity. To stand ready to work together towards a genuine reconciliation between all who seek to call Australia home.