Thursday 4 December 2014

Emmanuel – “God is with us”

A favourite New Testament text of mine is by Paul in a letter penned to the Philippians.  Paul speaks of a God who steps out of a heavenly realm of glory, detaches himself from infinity and from timelessness, who clings to nothing, who gives away all — to be incarnated.  To take on the limitations of flesh.  To join common old creation and to become human.  To be a helpless child in cold poverty.  But to gift us with love and with new life:

His state was divine,
yet he did not cling to his equality with God
but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as we are.  [Phil 2:6-7]

‘As we are.’  This is what we call incarnational theology and I think it is true to say that Jesuits embrace incarnational theology enthusiastically – God is one of us, like us in all things but sin, sharing all our human experience, knowing ‘the human condition’.

But if Jesus came to usher in a new kingdom, we have only to look about us to see it is a realm still taking shape.  At Speech Day on Wednesday, we heard from Guest of Honour, Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission.  She spoke tellingly and confrontingly of the present condition of asylum-seekers and children in detention in Australia’s ‘care’.  She contrasted the road signs on Christmas Island, urging care for the coconut crabs as they cross the roads, with the treatment of the more vulnerable children.  She urged our young men to “retain the ethics and values of Saint Ignatius’ College to reach evidence-based opinions, to speak truth to power and to exercise constant vigilance in protecting the rule of law in Australia”.

As a number of parents have indicated in subsequent emails to us, Prof Triggs’ message and her challenge were so consistent with the great themes of conscience and compassionate commitment we constantly put before the boys entrusted to us.  If we handed out prizes on Wednesday, we also handed out a challenge.  If we acknowledged academic excellence, we also pointed to the heart.  If awarded a number of boys, we have a great expectation of them all.

In the Christmas season and Bethlehem scene, the warm simplicity of the shepherds’ company, the gifts and grand expectations of the Magi, soon give way to a life on the road and in exile.  The Holy Family becomes a Homeless Family.  Refugees from threat and tyranny.

Louis Kahan was an Austrian-born artist and a post World War II migrant to Australia. In 1952 he submitted a work for the Blake Prize for religious art, reaching the finals.  The work was entitled The Flight into Egypt.  It is now part of the collection at Newman College, the Jesuit university college in Melbourne.

In the work, the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph becomes the archetype of the refugee.  In exile. In fear. In hope. They bring with them their gifts – their family life, their energy to contribute to a new start, their unique talents (in this case, the tools of trade in the utility).

If you look closely, there is a fine detail to observe.  In the glow of one headlamp you can make out an image.  The sketch of a destination.  It is a land which boasts in its anthem, “For those who’ve come across the sea, we’ve boundless plains to share”.  A lyric of welcome.  A chorus sung by those of bold and compassionate hearts.  But, sadly, words that stick uncomfortably in the throats of others.

Such an irony that the majority of detainees are in a place called Christmas Island.  Yet maybe for our nation, that is where Christ most needs to be reborn.

God bless and keep you these holy days and holidays.

Fr Ross Jones SJ