Homily for Anzac Day Mass
Statement Released: Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Your Excellency Governor Quentin Bryce, Mr Bryce, past and present members of the Defence Services, distinguished guests, Chaplains of the Defence Services, my brothers and sisters in Christ. On the Monday after Easter I journeyed to Stanthorpe, my home town. It was one of those clear magnificent days found only in Stanthorpe and I took the opportunity to drive to the top of Mt Marly overlooking the town that sits in a depression split by Quartpot Creek. Descending the mountain I stopped at the old soldiers Memorial perched on top of a rocky outcrop above the town, a favourite playground for young Stanthorpe-ites like myself 60 years ago. Much older now than I was then, and perhaps a little wiser, I realised almost for the first time the dignity, heroism, and sadness of that Memorial. For the first time I counted the names on the plaques and realised that 250 young men from Stanthorpe had died in the First World War 1914-1918, an incredible loss for a small town like Stanthorpe, 50 in the Second World War, and one only in the Korea and Vietnam conflicts. The names belonged to many Stanthorpe families I came to know over the years and for the first time the tragedy of those young lives lost overwhelmed me and brought tears to my eyes as I reflected on young lives full of promise cut tragically short, and the grief of families devastated by their deaths. At the same time I was comforted by the nobility of young people prepared to lay down their lives for others, encouraged enormously by the realization that such nobility lives on in those young Australians who still continue to step forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Solomons despite the manifest dangers.
Today in our own imperfect way we try to remember all those men and women who in various conflicts over the years have fought and died for Australia as well as those who have fought for Australia and thank God are still with us, many of whom are present here today. In our inadequate and imperfect way we try to remember you with gratitude and prayer, comforted by our faith and the realisation that God remembers and rewards people for their generosity, sacrifice and love, better than we ever will.
As I grow older I become ever more conscious that we live in the midst of mystery, a mystery understood completely now by those service men and women gone before us, met God face to face, and now understand the mystery of existence with a wisdom about which we can only dream. Shortly before Easter we were privileged in the Archdiocese to listen to a brilliant Anglican Bishop and Theologian Thomas Wright who described life on earth and eternal life, as intermingled, as heaven and earth coexisting, understood only occasionally when one world breaks into the other and makes us aware of the fullness of existence to which we are called. On such occasions we realise we are not alone, but rather that those who have gone to God surround us, no more powerfully than when we come together for worship as we are doing today. Moreover, that as we praise and worship our God of love who has conquered sin and death we are united with all those who stand before the throne of the Lamb in Heaven worshipping God as we do today. Moreover, that if only we could open our eyes as Christ challenged us to, then we would see this world in the fullness of its reality as God wants us to. Today on Anzac Day we are appropriately surrounded by the joy and hope of Easter. The Book of Wisdom reassures us that “the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God,” also that “those who are faithful will live with him in love.” Dying for the sake of others past, present and still to come, seems like foolishness to the world as the second scripture suggests. Nevertheless as St Paul assures us, that despite the fact that it may look foolish, it is the foolishness of God manifest in the life of Jesus Christ. Such foolishness, as we well and truly know, is rewarded with eternal life as Christ indicates in the Gospel, when he says “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone: but if it dies it bears much fruit.”
Those men and women of the defence services who died or were prepared to die for the freedoms that we enjoy today have indeed borne much fruit which all Australians are truly grateful. Let us therefore ask God to bless and reward them alive or dead for what they have done and for the witness that they have given and still give to the world of what is possible when we live with faith, hope and love. Christ died in order to shape a world in which justice, peace and freedom might reign for all. Those men and women who consciously or unconsciously walked in the footsteps of Christ deserve our very deepest gratitude and our prayerful support whether alive or dead. Let us therefore thank them as we proceed with this great act of worship and let us join ourselves to them as they enjoy a fullness of life which we all seek, may God continue to bless Australia with men and women of the calibre of those who have gone before, and may we to continue to be inspired each Anzac day by their courage, commitment and generosity.