Let prayer and compassion arise in your hearts
By Archbishop Philip Freier
February 7 2016We are fortunate to live in a country that enjoys relative security and safety. The terrorist attacks in Paris have thrust much of Europe into a sustained period of anxiety and high alert. Heavily armed guards are evident, and even Assisi a city dedicated to peace, has a military cordon controlling access to its holy sites. Such is the nature of the cruel imaginations of those who carry out such attacks that such places are now considered to be ‘soft targets’. It is an awful distortion that pilgrims to places of peace and contemplation become targets for such hate-filled plans. Boasting claims from Daesh assert that such places will be attacked so as to inflict maximum civilian damage. International intelligence agencies presumably have credible information that leads them to give credence to such claims and thus to decisions to ‘harden’ such places by the presence of soldiers and police.
Despite terrorist activity on our own soil we are still mostly and happily able to go about our lives in the usual routines of the days and seasons. Perhaps it is a case of us being alert but not alarmed as the saying goes.
2016 will see Australia implement the resettlement of most of the 12,000 refugees that was announced in 2015. These people and many more besides have known no peace for years on end. All of them will come to our shores with the pain of significant personal loss. The uncertainties of how the security situation in Syria will develop throughout the year makes the likelihood of further suffering seem not just likely but inevitable. I hope that we can build on our country’s compassionate response to such need by further decisions to respond to this tragedy with further compassion and open hearts. It is my earnest hope that the reality that 2016 is a federal election year does nothing to weaken our response or to politicise this decision.
Both things I have mentioned, our state of anxiety and our capacity for compassion arise out of the interplay between external realities and our personal perceptions. The external realities are always likely to be ones that we feel little personal control over, that is the nature of events that are bigger than ourselves. It is the area of our personal response that we have the greatest capacity to influence. Undoubtedly group thinking and public opinion play their part in influencing us but our own interior reality is the one most immediately susceptible to the spiritual disciplines that Jesus commands us to embrace and commends to us by his example.
Prayer, fasting, alms giving, compassion and other-centredness are just the beginning of the things we can reasonably attribute to our Lord’s will for us. Perhaps we underestimate their impact and fail to see how such disciplines are not just about us and our state of peace but effective in influencing for the good the external situations that cause such distress. At the very time that those who seek to throw our lives into terror and confusion look to attack the sites of Christian pilgrimage why don’t we renew our parish churches as places of intentional prayer and holy gathering for our communities, particularly during Lent? Wouldn’t it be a powerful statement of our confidence in Christ if in addition to Sunday worship there were people amongst us who came alone or gathered in groups in all of these places to pray for the peace and good of the world and its people?