Tom McMahon continues his impressions of Australia and the people he met on his journey. Today he shares some of his observations of similarities and differences between the United States and Australia.
Refreshed of mind…
I was refreshed of mind as I met Australians and Australian Catholics; the two have a unique way of blending together, giving me a sense that there is a genuine healthy spirit that pervades the country. As I traveled from Cairns on the Tilt Train my curiosity was satisfied as I received information on the tropical climate of the region from a retired railroad man who on holiday wore the classical cuts offs (half pants) and shared with me in typical quiet and friendly Australian fashion. Deep inside the Australian fabric is a humanness that is simple, good, and obvious. The motel keepers in Cairns were genuine and most helpful. I never asked about their faith. I enjoyed talking with Australians.
I am too observant not to have seen the young adult male who boarded the train with me, he initiating conversation and then abruptly breaking off to get a smoke. I watched at 1 am as he was greeted at the depot by two women (mother and aunt?), they in their pajamas and joyfully rushing toward him as he brushed by them on his way to the exit. No place on the earth is exempt from the drug culture. I wondered what service the Catholic faith is able to offer in the world wide drug war? As I sat on a bench at Sydney Harbour's Circular Quay hundreds of Catholic school students passed before me, all uni-formed externally … and I wondered what was in their minds as cultures clash and adult decisions are but a few months distant … or already made.
There seemed to me to be a ruggedness in the Australia body. My studies in bioenergetics came in handy.
The Catholic Education system in Australia...
There is a unique inheritance from old Australia and the days of the education at the hands of the Mercy nuns and Christian Brothers; the inheritance comes in the form of money ploughed into the Catholic school system by the Australian Government.
I do not know the package deal, it so vastly differing from our American system. I suspect it is a nuclear time bomb and I linked it to the dissension I picked up between liberal Catholics and old guard bishops; the split I saw surrounding Bishop Geoffrey Robinson concerning his book became more clear to me. I shall watch and hope for more reports on this ongoing condition down under. I can't see room for any fence straddling; professionally it is called the Double Bind. To get free of the bind there will be pain and someone is going to be hurt. The influx of immigrants from nearby Asia will definitely complicate the mix. At a time when the teachers of old are being put in a glaring accusatory light I see opportunity to dialogue and use the charitable forgiving ways of Jesus. Trouble looms on the horizon. Australian Catholics you have the opportunity to be a beacon light to the world. I enjoyed your sense of human equality with no artificial sophistication. I sensed a unique difference between people and the institutional system. This is where the struggle begins over archetypes. You Australians call a spade a spade and I love you.
I wandered up Macquarie Street in Sydney lined with old English style buildings and modern architecture, old Europe and modern Australia. Sydney is a town on the rush, cars and trucks rushing the streets and people on crowded sidewalks. The nation is in change. I brought a sandwich, having language difficulty with the young Korean woman who spoke so softly; I ate watching through the wide open glass front of the restaurant as the multi cultures of the world hurried by, beautiful young people busy making a living in a now crisis orientated world. I wondered how many of them are touched by the message of Jesus; have they ever heard of Jesus?
I toured a beautiful glass walled church at Augusta — Lumen Christi Church — Where Two Oceans meet at the SW-most point of Oz) that overlooked the ocean and I wished I could take part in the community of faith that gathers there… and then I wondered about the priest, especially the one who cooperated in the church design. It was Vatican Two!
In old Europe the formation of the European Union is GOOD NEWS, a possible gospel way of life, putting an end to the old feudal system yet Europe boils with the Moslem question; the boundary lines of the world are breaking down and re-forming. We are truly becoming a global village. In the Far East new life and new systems of thinking are struggling to amalgamate with the old ways. In Ireland the Ryan Report has highlighted the hand in glove old alignment of church and state. (I am working on a psychological paper, sparked by the Ryan Report that will be sent to Catholica.) Perhaps foolishly, as if I am some expert I told people I saw Australia about thirty years behind America. This statement needs explanation.
Explaining 30 years behind...
I sense a core goodness has already been lost in America as materialism saps our goodness. In Australia I noticed a closeness of people to priest a number of times, as well as the indignation of people toward high-powered hierarchs. Catholics had a sense that they are the church, a people of God and that human values still count. As the influx of foreign priests increases in Australia the 30 year gap will lessen and I fear that Australian Catholics will feel the sting of roman might and the burden of ignorance of having to do it Rome's way. Rome is a heavy handed task master who refuses to let go its power and authority over people. I could hear the struggle as good bishops and priests stay close to the people and the people mourn the disappearance of Vatican Two men. Australia, you are 10, 20, 30 years behind your American counterparts as imposed celibacy and a power-corrupted clergy continue their damage here in the USA. (Tom, staring at his computer screen, pauses and wonders if the vibrant goodness of the Australian people can survive and make worthwhile their continued involvement in institutional church. Someone has to break and please God you good people will triumph. You have the goodness and sincerity that Jesus needs.) The whole of a sound thinking Australia has its roots deep in Christian thinking.
When I was in Australia, talking to ordinary people I felt much at home. We are dying here in America, slipping away from the institutional church of our youth and ending up in indifference. We are becoming a mechanical people while losing our soul (good heartedness). We fear our neighbor. Dialogue is silent and episcopal leadership is weak and impotent. So many of my friends of old just don't care anymore. In ways I am ok with this as I too have walked away from so much … yet there is much we have gained as followers of Jesus and his path is always there for us to share. I had a good healthy dose of Jesus involvement when I was in Australia, as usual finding the Nazarene wearing his usual disguises. I enjoyed his presence in small communities and individuals of all walks of life. I have said it numberless times that I find Jesus alive in San Jose and San Francisco … and I surely found her/him very much alive in Australia. You have a gem in the communication system of Catholica … protect it, support it, and encourage its editor to good health. Catholica is and can continue as a vital link in church reform.
So ends my mini journal of 16 days down under; I'll save many notes for a book I hope to leave behind. Hopefully some day my sons may appreciate why their 80-year-old father wanted and needed to go down under.
Thanks Australia for a great time. You're a great people.
See ya next week with a possible return to sacraments in the age of technology and maybe a paper on when the seeds of clerical sexual abuse were sewn.
Tom McMahon, aka Hawkshaw the spiritual detective, San Jose, Ca. (18/06/09)
What are your thoughts on this commentary?