: Social Justice Sunday 2005
2005 Social Justice Sunday Statement
of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
by Lyn Constable Maxwell
Jesus, Light for the World
Living the Gospel Today
Response by Patty Fawkner SGS*
14 September 2005
As I begin I acknowledge the Cameraigal people, the traditional
custodians of this land and also acknowledge that this is a sacred
site for the Sisters of St. Joseph.
This is a fine document. The first thing you notice is that it
breaks the mould of previous statements where the starting point
has been a specific justice issue per se. The starting point of
this statement is a person, one Jesus of Nazareth. It says that
light streams from what Jesus says and does, enlightening whatever
issue we’re confronted with, and enlightening our response
to that issue.
It also breaks the mould of many church documents with their eye-glazing,
sleep-enducing style and language. Not so this one. It’s user-friendly,
written in a style that’s lively and accessible. It’s
a good read.
It’s also women-friendly. In language, image, content and
example this would be the most inclusive [of women] Church document
I’ve ever read – I have a natural radar for such things!
We’re given examples of wonderful Gospel women who recognise
the light in Jesus and he in them. It presents Jesus as he aches
over Jerusalem, using the feminine image of himself as a mother
hen wanting to gather her brood.
It offers us Mary MacKillop and Teresa of Calcutta as women who
offer light and hope to the poor. And just before you think how
predictable to highlight two would-be, possibly soon-to-be, saints,
it gives a refreshing example of women who are “no less witnesses
to the light of Christ”. In a moving account (for my money,
it’s the best part of the document) an Australian bishop tells
of his admiration for the women he sees when his visits gaol, the
wives and girlfriends of prisoners who line up week in, week out
to visit their partners. The bishop recognises the light of Christ
in these women whom he says on the surface appear to be a pretty
rough lot. He appreciates them for their fidelity, their non-judgmental
attitude, their loving devotion.
This is no document of mere pious exhortation. It’s not all
theory and no action. It addresses global issues but suggests practical,
personal responses. It says the world is not out there. It’s
within a few feet of us at any given time.
And this world is out of balance. It’s infected with two
toxic diseases – a culture of waste and a culture of busyness,
both borne of what Clive Hamilton calls “affluenza”,
a disease that blinds our capacity to see with just eyes.
The statement tracks the consumerist cycle. We build, we buy, we
use and discard. And the waste cycle. We build, we buy, we don’t
use and still we discard. Last year Australians threw away $5.3
billion in unused food, 13 times the amount we donated to overseas
I couldn’t help but notice that this is the antithesis of
that movement of the Eucharist where, instead of building, buying,
using and discarding, we take, we bless, we break and give the Body
of Christ, and are called to take and bless and break and give our
own lives as Christ’s disciples. The Statement has a wonderful
understanding of the social justice dimension of the Eucharist.
It quotes John Chrysostom, whose feast as we know, was yesterday:
“Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him
when he is naked”. This statement is saying what Pedro Arrupe,
the former Father General of the Jesuits said, that love of Christ
without a commitment to justice is a contradiction in kind.
I reckon I do o.k. – of course I could do better –
in combating a culture of waste. I thank my penny-careful mother
for that! I don’t do so well with the culture of busyness.
Thomas Merton pulls no punches about the ravages of too much busyness:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence. To allow
oneself to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone
in everything, is to succumb to violence…The frenzy of the
activist destroys our own inner capacity for peace.
This statement is richly peopled. One of the lovely examples it
gives is of the monks and nuns living in the desert monasteries.
Pilgrims and the poor would come to the monastery door where they
were invariably met with warm hospitality. To the visitor the doorkeeper
was Christ. Yet to the monks and nuns, the visitor was Christ.
I am a Good Samaritan Sister and just like the monks and nuns of
old, we follow the ancient Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict spends
a lot of time in his little Rule saying how guests are to be treated.
One chapter begins:
At the door of the monastery place a wise old monk who knows
how to listen to people and also how to speak to them; his age
should keep him from roaming about. [Benedict is invariably practical!]
As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor person calls out, the porter
replies, “Thanks be to God!”
I love this: As soon as anyone knocks, as soon as anyone interrupts
me, as soon as the poor make a claim on me, I’m to reply “Thanks
be to God!” What a challenge! When Asylum Seekers knocked
on the doors of our borders with a legitimate right to seek asylum,
did we say “Thanks be to God”? When we have a noticeable
increase in the Muslim population in our community, is our response,
“Thanks be to God”? When gays and remarried divorcees
knock on the sacramental doors of our Church, is it “Thanks
be to God” or do they receive another message?
The hospitality offered by the ancient monasteries, was about making
room for the other. This Statement endorses a hospitality which
says. “Come right in and disturb our perfect lives. You –
whoever you may be – are the Christ for us today.”
Any Statement worth it’s salt is going to pull us up and prompt
us to ask questions of ourselves and also to ask questions of it.
There are a number of sections of this statement that make me say,
“Yes, but” or “Yes, and”.
For example. The Statement acknowledges the fortieth anniversary
of the landmark document, Gaudium et Spes. It commends
the bishops of Vatican II for raising a number of issues that needed
urgent action – three in particular: the appeal of the hungry
to the wealthy, the cry of workers, and the claims of women to equality.
I say, yes but, aren’t these three issues as acute today
as they were forty years ago?
Yes, we’re engaged in the Make Poverty History campaign,
but are we really any closer to realising that goal? The UN World
Summit begins in New York today. This summit will sorely test the
resolve of wealthy nations to meet the Millennium goal of halving
the number of people who survive on less than $1 a day. It seems
that politicking and bickering between wealthy nations will scuttle
this goal. Didn’t Hurricane Katrina expose the shame of America’s
hidden poor and show us that it is the poor who suffer most and
are left behind when tragedy strikes?
Yes, and it was good to hear Prime Minister Howard promising to
almost double Australia’s aid in the Asia/Pacific region.
But stay tuned for Uniya’s research into the mutual obligation
of Pacific aid and the attached strings of Australia’s vested
Yes, and what are we to make of the cry of workers today in regard
to Industrial Relations Reform? Are we to agree when the Prime Minister
says that there is no such thing as a Catholic view on such matters,
only the view of individuals? This statement categorically disagrees.
It says that Christianity can never be banished to some private
world, as if it had only to do with the individual. And it strongly
claims the right for Christianity, indeed for any religion, to have
a place in the public domain and the right to speak on issues of
Equality of women. Yes, but a big but. If we were to shine the
light of Christ as the Statement urges us, but onto the Church’s
own practice in regard to women, what would we find? I’m on
the Commission for Australian Catholic Women whose role is to promote
the participation of women in the Church. The Commission has done
some good things but my personal experience is that you inevitably
come up against seemingly impenetrable walls of church structures
and systems which militate against the meaningful participation
of women in decision-making in the life and mission of the church.
Believe me when I say I am not talking about women's ordination.
We certainly need more statements of this ilk, but statements backed
up by systemic change, so that the talk is walked.
This is a hope-filled statement which stretches us, and this is
a beautiful word and image that recurs. “Doesn’t God’s
love stretch to embrace the world?” the statement asks. The
Australian Catholic Bishops in their 2005 Social Justice Sunday
Statement invite us to stretch our love to embrace the hungry, to
stretch our compassion to encompass what is unjust and bring it
to light. This Statement stretches me. May it do the same for you.
And the next time each of us gets interrupted, may our response
be a robust, “Thanks be to God”.
* Patty Fawkner is a Good Samaritan Sister and the Director
of Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre
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