The Final Word

The Final Word

May 2016

Recent attacks like the ones in Brussels and Lahore can increase a climate of suspicion in our society. They can create fear, resentment and alienation, which in turn make us more protective of ourselves and less open to outsiders, particularly those who seek safety and protection at our doors. 

This has been true of our nation’s response to threats of terrorism. While Australia prides itself on being a diverse, multicultural, inclusive and generous nation, it has increasingly displayed symptoms of what Pope Francis calls a ‘throwaway culture’ in respect of those who come to seek shelter from harm. These symptoms are attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalisation. They are also shown in punitive and harsh policies and conditions to which people seeking asylum are being subjected. As disciples of Jesus, we are committed to building a better, a more humane, welcoming and inclusive society, not by giving in to fear and suspicion, but by fostering a culture of encounter, respect and acceptance.

Pope Francis, in his 2016 Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, acknowledges that refugees and people fleeing their homes challenge individuals and communities, and their traditional ways of life; at times they upset the cultural and social horizons which they encounter. We need to see them, however, as our brothers and sisters who, like us, are in search of justice, freedom, dignity and opportunity for development. Affirming our Christian duty of care for them in the face of rising intolerance, the Pope writes: ‘Today, more than in the past, the gospel of mercy troubles our consciences, prevents us from taking the suffering of others for granted, and points out ways of responding which, grounded in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, find practical expression in works of spiritual and corporal mercy. 

As Christians, our attitude towards those in need is formed by our own experience of God’s love and mercy. We can show them the love and mercy of God precisely because we ourselves are the recipients of the same love and mercy. Our encounter and acceptance of others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself. Welcoming others means welcoming God in person! Pope Francis admonishes us: ‘Do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope and joy of life born of your experience of God’s mercy, as manifested in the people you meet on your journey.’

This month, we celebrate Pentecost which is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit descended on them like tongues of fire and transformed them utterly. Everything about them—their outlook on life, attitudes, behaviour—changed fundamentally. They came to understand who Jesus truly was and what it meant to be his disciple. From then on, they were driven by the passion for the kingdom that Jesus had inaugurated by his life, death and resurrection.

Paul understands the radical Christian vision of humanity: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28). In Christ, we recognise the inherent human dignity of every person. With him and through his Spirit we seek to bring order out of chaos, harmony out of discord, love out of hatred. At the Tower of Babel, the language of selfishness, ambition and pride derailed all human endeavours. At Pentecost, however, the Holy Spirit enabled the followers of Jesus to speak and understand the new language of love, understanding and harmony that was characteristic of the kingdom of Jesus.

Pentecost commits us to speaking this new language that the disciples of Jesus were given to speak. More importantly, it commissions us to build a new society and a new world according to the kingdom vision of Jesus. With the men and women of goodwill, let us build a better Australia and a better world with the values of the Gospel. May our endeavour to replace the culture of fear and indifference with that of encounter and acceptance be brought to fulfillment in accordance with God’s vision of the fullness of life for all humanity.

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