Friday 29 January 2016

The Kinds of Boat People

Sunday Mass with rowers in the “parish” of Lake Burley Griffin.

Riverview is a sort of city that never sleeps.  So the expression “holiday time” can be something of a fiction.  This summer was crammed with its usual camps, immersions, conferences and tours, both on-campus and off-campus.  The weekend before our staff returned for the year, I joined the senior rowing crews in Canberra.  On Sunday night we celebrated Mass on Lake Burley Griffin.  One of God’s many cathedrals.  If God is to be found in all things, then why not on these waters on which the crews have taken much delight?  Through which they have struggled and given their best.  Where they have forged friendships.

We took time to reflect on gratitude.  Our boys appreciate they are so richly blessed and their gifts are many in this school community.  But not for the sake of mere indulgence.  No.  These opportunities to develop talents, to shape the whole person, to realise potentialities are for one purpose only.  As the Gospels charge us: “from those who have been given more, much more is expected.”  God willing, these young men’s time, talents and treasures will be for others.  Our earliest Jesuit schools took as their motto a line from Cicero, non nobis solum nati sumus (“We do not exist for ourselves alone.”)  That ought still be our spur and inspiration.

As it so happened, that Sunday on the lake was Refugee Sunday.  And whilst we bobbed serenely in the golden glow of a summer sunset, we remembered those in other boats, on other waters.  Half a world away.  Especially those in a Mediterranean winter.  So utterly different from our experience: unsafe boats, unfed crews, unfriendly seas, unfamiliar shores.

In the face of this unparalleled time of migration and asylum-seeking, Pope Francis said, “Today, more than in the past, the Gospel of mercy troubles our consciences.”  Then his words grew stronger: “Indifference and silence lead to complicity whenever we stand by as people are dying of suffocation, starvation, violence and shipwreck.”  Complicity.  That could be our nation to whom he is speaking.  It could be you or I.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has just released For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas: justice for refugees and asylum seekers. A document which brings the issue disconcertingly close to our door.  Yes, “we have stopped the boats”, as that smug mantra of self-interest boasts.  But at what cost?  We have broken international treaties and conventions to which we are subscribed.  Successive governments are teaching this generation that “the end justifies the means”.  We have lost any notion of the dignity of the human person.  We use people in cruel circumstances as objects and pawns to deter others.  We threaten medical personnel and social workers with fines and prison if they disclose abuses to detainees (while child protection legislation elsewhere in our nation will fine and imprison us if we do not!).  How did we come to be the only nation that detains child asylum seekers as a matter of course?  These considerations, and more, should move our hearts. And they should sting our consciences.  Especially those who share our Ignatian spirituality, who embrace our vision, who subscribe to the mission statement of the Society of Jesus which is “a faith that does justice”.  Ours is always and everywhere a ‘doing’ creed.  Active in the cause of others.  Finding the Christ in the other.

A few Sundays ago, thirty or so boys and their coaches shared a Eucharist on a lake.  They passed the Body and Blood of their Lord to each other from boat to boat, reaching out, ministering.  But that same Lord was then in other boats – on the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Timor Sea.  In other bodies, in other blood.  Present in those fleeing death, in those seeking life.  In this new year, how will we reach out to them?  How might we minister to those who have such a claim on us?

Fr Ross Jones, SJ