Address by the Most Revd Geoffrey Jarrett, Bishop of Lismore
25th April, 2004
Community leaders, and citizens of Lismore: I am honoured, as the Catholic Bishop of this city, to have the opportunity to speak at this commemoration of Anzac. All over the nation today, people like ourselves are gathering to celebrate once again this ‘one day of the year’ which is stamped so indelibly into our national life. We gather at early dawn at cenotaphs and shrines, in street parades and in churches; later in the day the morning solemnity will give way to the conviviality of reunions and social functions. The same pattern, year after year, of commemoration, of remembering, of celebration.
Anzac Day has its own unique effect on every Australian – its power to recall memories – from the returned service men and women for whom the grim reality of war is a lived experience, to the youngsters proudly wearing their father’s Vietnam medals. I was too young in December 1941 to remember the drama of my own family’s evacuation, and a few hours’ notice, from a Port Moresby under thread of invasion, but grew older to recall the censored letters from my father who stayed behind to fight on the Kokoda Track, and his occasional appearances on leave. Most vivid of all are the boyhood memories of the Bomana War Cemetery when all those headstones were fresh and new, and when we returned to live at Milne Bay and Goodenough Island, of living on the plantations surrounded by vast quantities of the relics and the debris of war. You have your memories reserved for this day as I have mine. What we have in common, and the more so in these days of fear created by the global appearance of new spectres of hatred and revenge, is the hope and the prayer that our country will be for ever free from the assault or war or terror.
We recall with undying gratitude on this day that so many have fought and so many have died to keep us secure from enemies who have, from the outside – as in the Second World War in the Pacific – threatened our nations with hostile arms. It must be reasonable to suppose that those men and women who were prepared to make that sort of sacrifice, even to the point of death, for their country, would be the first to be concerned that equal care and determined will should be devoted to defend our country from other sorts of enemies as well – those enemies of the spirit and of social order more dangerous than people with guns and bombs, who strike at a nation’s heart from within its shores. Great sacrifices have rendered us safe in the past from menacing infections from without. What value do we attach today to all that heroism if we do not make every effort in our power to recognise and deal with forces of destruction which threaten us from within?
One of the most moving aspects of war is its obvious connection with family life. Bundles of letters from theatres of war, lovingly preserved as precious mementoes and even seeing the light of day in printed collections and memoirs, reveal what it was like for a marriage and a family to suffer the separation of war. The dearest wish was to be united again with wife and children, for life to continue in that intimate sanctuary of life and love which is the family. What must be in their minds as they look on a modern Australia at peace, two and three generations on, when there are more fatherless families than in the worst times of war.
We have seen astonishing changes in our national and social life since 1918; much more since 1945, and even more amazingly within the last 25 years. Through it all, if war reminds us of the things that go right to the heart, has Australia really become a better country to live in, a country worthy of every hardship endured in time of war, every drop of blood shed, every life laid down?
Did all those men and women die to bequeath us an Australia in which we could use that hard-won freedom simply to do what we like, to indulge our selfishness, to pamper our greed for more and better material things, to settle for the good-enough and the second-rate, to expect more and more for less and less cost to self?
Did they die to hand on to us an Australia we could use as a playground in which to indulge all the common human weaknesses which demean human life and human communities? Those names remembered and inscribed in their thousands on memorials and cenotaphs the length and breadth of Australia: did they die to give us an Australia in which the number of their own deaths would one day look small against the numbers of the deaths of their own unborn and nameless great-grand-children? Did they die, these Australians we honour today, so that the laws and commandments, human and divine, which they in their generations respected, could be set aside in the name of a modern and liberated life-style?
This day recalls us to high and noble ideals, to heroism and sacrifice, to the claims of the truth. It calls to mind an Australia of the past when the house could be safely left unlocked, of strong family relationships which extended to veneration of grandparents and close bonds with uncles and aunts and cousins. An Australia in which our basic code of ethics and fundamental faith came from Mum and Dad and church and school, and across whatever social and denominational barriers gave us an extraordinary cohesion and unity and basic happiness and security. It bred new generations for which “Service above Self” became an unwritten motto.
Anzac Day challenges us to ask what we are to do in an Australia where the consumer society, like a new god in the pantheon, demands our frenzied devotion to the bigger, the better and the latest. Can it be surprising that our children should see nothing wrong with a “Me-first” way of thinking, and adopt that as a new motto for life?
Anzac Day each year is an encouragement to every one who today continues to be inspired by the ideal of “Service above Self”, and who works in that spirit in all the ways that bring benefit to many lives in our community. It is of course a deeply Christian ideal. Our destiny as a nation must continue to be shaped by it. The Cross on our flag is indeed a cross of stars, of stars high in the glory of the heavens, but it still remains a Cross, and the Cross is the ultimate sign of the gift of self for others.
Grace and peace be with you, and my blessing in Christ.
+ Geoffrey Jarrett
Bishop of Lismore.