The feast of Easter, much more than Christmas, forces us to confront the reality of suffering and indeed innocent suffering.
A succession of natural disasters close to home and further afield pressed upon us. Huge floods up and down the Eastern coast of Australia (while the south west corner of West Australia is still in drought), repeated earthquakes in Christchurch and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threats in Japan have resulted in the deaths of many innocent people, continuing suffering for many survivors and the widespread destruction of property.
Our humanity is defined by how we grapple intellectually with the challenge of suffering and evil or refuse to do so; but even more by what we do in response to these catastrophes when they touch us or come close.
The dignity and good order of the Japanese survivors struggling on in discomfort and piercing cold were remarkable. Their strength and stoicism were commended around the globe.
In a different way the heroism of individual Australians during the floods as they helped one another and the thousands of volunteers who turned up afterwards to clean up were equally wonderful, although most of the participants didn’t feel heroic, but only that they were doing what they should.
The common sense and the reflexes which dominate Australian life are the product of two thousand years of Christian teaching, enriched and specified by our own English-speaking and democratic traditions.
We don’t leave people alone in their misery, but rally around to help, whatever their colour or creed or situation. We admire sacrifice in a good cause, especially sacrifice at heroic personal cost. We admire those who battle on and try to make the best out of grim situations. We don’t encourage enduring bitterness and a culture of complaining.
Christianity has built on the ancient stoic teachings of the Greeks and most of those who cannot believe Christ rose from the dead still admire his moral teachings and his dignity as he suffered and died for his principles.
Christians however go further than this and claim that suffering and evil can become the fuel for new love and new life.
We believe that through his suffering and death Christ earned the capacity to set things right eventually, so that even the worst personal sins and crimes can be forgiven and the scales of justice balanced in eternity; so that all those who suffered more than their share will have this put right.
The risen Christ is still calling all those who are burdened or captive to come to Him for liberation.
May all of you, everyone, know peace at this Easter.
Cardinal George Pell