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In the air and on the ground


In his message this month, Archbishop Patrick O'Regan shares two experiences from his recent trip to Darwin to celebrate the 60th anniversary of St Mary's Star of the Sea Cathedral.

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Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, let me recount two experiences concerning the Northern Territory.

In the air

“You’re lucky,” says the person next to me. “You don’t see that every day. You’re lucky you’ve come both on a clear day and now!”

Luck? Blest I’d say. It took me a little while to understand to that which he was referring. We were on a plane travelling to Darwin. I was heading to celebrate with Bishop Charles Gauci and Emeritus Bishop Eugene Hurley, and the Church of Darwin, the 60th anniversary of the opening of St Mary’s Star of the Sea Cathedral.

Our view out the window was of an unimpeded landscape of what the psalmist refers to as ‘a dry weary land without water’. Yet snaking serpentine like through this ‘dry weary land was a river’, were rivers of brown coloured water. I had no idea where I was, yet it was a sight to behold.

“Hard place to live, there in the centre. But given the right conditions, heaven. Those creeks and rivers just wait, and bring life.”

Thinking of all the experiences of the Plenary Council, and other recent experiences, I have to agree with my intrepid traveller’s welcome commentary. It is a hard place to live, in the centre. Like those creeks and rivers sometimes we just lie there waiting and longing to be filled by God’s grace. Passive yet receptive. ‘To God belongs the sea, for he made it and the dry land shaped by his hands.’

Sometimes in the Church it seems that we take forever to get anywhere. Looking over this part of the outback you see the meandering rivers and creek beds. Snaking back on themselves seemingly going nowhere, yet they are inexorably flowing, carrying life, moving forward, as we say these days.

The goal of all our endeavours, our yearnings and hopes is to be in communion with God, our neighbour, our best self and the whole of creation. If you have seen even one of the recently released photos of the James Webb Space Telescope, you understand the vastness of creation. The cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula speak of the sheer beauty and grandeur of God. Flying 30,000 feet above the Territory reminds us to seek a perspective for life and to see things through God’s eyes.

The experience of the second session of the Plenary Council provided that same kind of perspective. Listening and Dialogue provided the necessary tools to see and hear the gentle coaxing of the Holy Spirit. Yes sometimes it seemed like we were meandering around, wandering seemingly lost. Yet we were reminded that our status is as pilgrims, often being moved forward by currents that are not alien, but sometimes like the swollen outback rivers. Muddy, yet rivers that bring life.

On the ground

It is 150 years since a brandy bottle was smashed against a thin pole in celebration of an historic event. On August 22 1872 the Overland Telegraph Line was connected, covering the width of the continent. It allowed fast communication between Australia and the rest of the world for the first time. It was also significant as a driver for the development of the Northern Territory. This sesquicentenary was recently commemorated in Darwin.

Reading some accounts of that day it is said that instead of brandy, black tea gushed out of the bottle, marking the end of a two-year operation stringing wire
3200 kilometres across the continent – from Darwin to Adelaide.

It was a feat that took place through our unsympathetic and unrelenting centre of Australia with no machines, no vehicles and no paths. Just people on their horses with whatever food they could carry.

This project is often cited as one of Australia’s greatest engineering and logistical triumphs, allowing fast communication over long distances for the first time. One ABC website quoted Darwin historian Jarad Archibald in saying:

‘It connected us to the world communication-wise. Instead of two to three month letters one way to London it meant we could get information in seven hours…that changed everything.’

Such planning and the desire to be connected, literally to be in communion, maybe does not seem such a big deal in our world of instantaneous communications. Yet it rightly does need to be celebrated as a marvellous achievement. It was practical, daring and day-in and day-out a hard slog.

As we begin this implementation stage of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia; as we prepare for the coming Diocesan Assembly; as we start to find the structures that will assist us in this, we need to combine the ‘in the air’ and ‘on the ground’ aspects that the Northern Territory reveals. Our goal is simple, as was the Overland Telegraph Line. To connect, to bring all into to communion with the Living God and to be instruments of that communion at the service of our world.

If each of us allows ourselves to be converted to God’s vision, and not simply our own; if each of us rejoices in the grace of God abounding amongst us, and if each of us recognise that while it might seem at times that we are not getting anywhere, like the dry creek and river beds of the Australian outback we stand ready to be filled with the life-giving grace of God, which is ever faithful. Come Lord Jesus.

God is good, good indeed.


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