Homily – National Anzac Day Mass
St Christopher’s Cathedral, Forrest ACT – 25th April 2017
Rev Monsignor Peter J. O’Keefe AM VG, Catholic Diocese of the Australian Defence Force
Within the collection of images of the Gallipoli Event held by the Australian War Memorial, there is one haunting photo which depicts soldiers from the Australian 1st Divisional Signal Company being towed in a barge towards their landing on Gallipoli at 6.00am on 25th April 1915.
The faces of these men reveal a mix of emotions, everything from excitement, sheer fear, silent expectation and readiness. For many, it is the last image of them as within hours many would be dead. What occurred to these gallant men who lived within this horrifying and evil reality of savage battle, over the next eight months until their evacuation; and indeed for many of them, their transfer to other battle fronts, can never be fully imagined by us.
What we do know is that this horrific and inhuman event would be the anvil, giving rise to examples of the finest of human qualities and a transformational human spirit through adversity. These qualities can be seen in their acts of self giving, a sense of duty, raw courage, valour, caring for one another – mateship. Many soldiers grew in human statute, and for many it became their finest hour! For these young men were simply and plainly giving their best against great odds in the only way they could.
The First Scripture reading this morning describes their service well: “God put them to the test and proved them worthy to be with him; He tested them like gold in a furnace and accepted them as a holocaust”.
This Anzac spirit born at Gallipoli Cove; this character has been vividly emulated by Australians and New Zealanders ever since, throughout all the theatres of war, in humanitarian relief and throughout military service; whether it be on land, at sea or in the air. This Anzac spirit is alive and well in our two nations as demonstrated through the myriad examples of selfless service in the face of natural disasters affecting our citizens and the fabric of our communities, in our responses to international and national tragedies, evil forces in our world; a spirit demonstrated heroically within our various health care, fire, emergency help and social service agencies every day, year in and year out. Indeed this Anzac spirit can be found in every facet of community life.
How do we commemorate the spirit of Anzac on this day?
James Francis Collins, in his article: ‘Anzac Day: A lost battle, self-sacrifice and the Cross’ states that the primary carriers of the meaning of Anzac are rituals and symbols – Dawn services, flames burning unceasingly, periods of silence and remembering, medals and banners, parades, flags and bugles. He states so well that Australians are open to realities that can only be adequately communicated through ritual and symbol. Somehow these are outlets for deep human feelings and reflection which assist us in understanding a reality like Anzac, but more broadly, for life itself. People know what self sacrifice means in their bones!
It is significant that this ANZAC Day falls within days after our Easter event – the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Today we use ritual, symbols and sacrament here at this Eucharist in making present Christ’s sacrifice and his rising to life – Do this in memory of me. Perhaps in the depth of their being, many Australians already understand something of the Gospel; in relation to self-sacrifice as the reality of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the ultimate self sacrifice.
In today’s Gospel, the example of the wheat grain falling to the ground and dying, in order to yield a rich harvest- NEW LIFE – is a beautiful analogy of the human’s journey from selfishness to selflessness, from death to life; the growth in human stature, growth in love.
The Anzac story aptly fleshes our analogy of the wheat grain in today’s Gospel reading. In this day of commemoration we see a very poignant example of self sacrifice in the ANZACS even to the point of death.
Today’s ritual and symbol challenge us to emulate the spirit of Anzac in our daily living; living one’s present life with an attitude that goes beyond mere self preservation at all costs. It points to an attitude of being ready to embrace a self sacrificing spirit – putting others first – in whatever we do; for in giving, and not counting the cost; we yield a rich harvest.
We remember with gratitude today those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war. May their deaths not be in vain.
May their lasting legacy become our legacy as we enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice. May we commit ourselves as citizens to doing our bit in further building our two nations as just, harmonious and compassionate societies.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.