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Anthony Cleary: Anniversaries matter, so let’s celebrate!

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Couples were recognised for significant marriage milestones on Life, Marriage and Family Sunday. Photo: G Portelli
Couples were recognised for significant marriage milestones on Life, Marriage and Family Sunday. Photo: G Portelli

Recently, there was great fanfare to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

Sunday 20 October 1973 was a significant day, and the gathering of royalty, political dignitaries and thousands of ordinary Australians ensured that the occasion made newspaper headlines across the nation.

I remember, that as an eight-year-old, it dominated our “news of the week” class discussion the very next day.

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While not given quite the same prominence and attention, the day also saw the ordination to priesthood of Mons Brian Rayner, Fr Phil Zadro and Bishop Bob McGuckin, who have just celebrated their 50th anniversary of their priestly ministry.

Sadly, their Sydney classmate, Fr Chris Sheehy didn’t reach this milestone, having died in 2011.

Anniversaries are a wonderful thing and a cause for great celebration. They represent dedication and commitment and a service to others.

Rightfully, we celebrate them for years of marriage, vocation, and our commitment to a particular place or form of work. Longevity deepens our admiration of those involved and enhances the status given to the occasion.

When I was the Director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD), I was always in awe when catechists were honoured for their longstanding service, many teaching weekly classes in state schools for 30, 40, 50 years or more.

They did so humbly and were characteristically embarrassed when they received public recognition for their work.

By their very nature, Australians are generous. They have a commitment to social outreach and to helping those who are less fortunate. They see value in charitable works and seek to make our country more just, tolerant and socially cohesive.

While their commitment to others is not a passing phase, it is rarely lifelong or enduring.

Life has competing priorities which pull us in different directions and make a focused commitment more difficult.

Add to this, the social milieu in which change is seen as a good thing. People are encouraged to change life circumstances and change them often, especially if challenges are experienced.

An underlying narrative of our society is that if we are not changing, life is mundane. In a very real way, this social messaging can weaken our understanding and practice of commitment and the nature of the vocations we choose.

To choose a vocation and persevere with it is not as common as we might think.
Sadly, many friends my own age don’t have wedding anniversaries to look forward to. Their marriages have broken down. Some, more than once.

They represent a growing number of Australians who experience marriage breakdown.
Mostly, they are regretful and they are aware of what they have lost and what they will miss out on.

This insight has generally come from the modelling of their own parents, who continue to enjoy long happy marriages, acknowledged and celebrated through anniversaries.

We have much to be grateful for in the example of our older generations. They model for us a strong commitment to married and religious life, and volunteerism at the service of others. They inspire others to follow their lead.

The story of the Sydney Opera House didn’t begin on a blustery day in 1973. Rather, this iconic landmark was envisioned, designed and constructed over a period that spanned almost two decades.

In the very same way, the foundations of marriage begin before each wedding day and for priesthood before ordination. These times of discernment and preparation are critical to the success of the chosen vocation.

All of us mark anniversaries of one form or another. Naturally, some are solemn occasions when we remember lives that have been lost or tragedies that have occurred.

Others are a source of joy, and we celebrate them proudly. They are a time when we give thanks to others, for their example and the sacrifices that they have made.

Anniversaries are important markers in our own lives. So let’s value what we do.

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