The ANZAC legend has become an epic, noble and admirable part of our national identity, yet at the same time it has obscured the brutal reality of the damage of war, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP told around 300 people at the ANZAC Day Eve Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on Saturday evening.
The quintessentially Australian legend’s ‘dreamy vision’ of a thirst for peace and freedom, of fidelity to God and country, of love for family and mates, is a worthy one, he said during a ceremony which saw the nation’s flag and the unknown fallen honoured by both himself and representatives of the state and the armed forces.
“In celebrating the ANZACs we can celebrate what is best in our history, country, selves,” he said. “We commit to seeking to be worthy of their lives and deaths.
Help those who survive
“But we can also honour their legacy by helping those who are still hurting. Above all, we offer the survivors, those who did not survive, and those who grieve them, the hope of Easter. In God’s book of eternal life “Their name liveth for evermore.”
He said that as the forthcoming Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicides would expose “in harrowing detail, war does its damage, and continues to hurt people long after it is over.
“PTSD, depression and the rest, we now appreciate, are very real.
The reality of war’s legacy
Although Australia’s armed services have long offered psychological care as part of their commitment to those who have seen the carnage of war, “evidently it’s not been enough,” he said.
“The tragic suicides of people who have served our country is a blight on our armed services, on government, but also on our whole community. How easy have we made it for returned service personnel to reintegrate? Have we been welcoming and supportive? Or has the ANZAC myth blinded us to what they have suffered and what they need from us?
However, the faithful soldier emulates Jesus the Good Shepherd, he said in reference to the Gospel reading for the Mass.
Those who stay and defend have a noble vocation
When Jesus compared Himself with a Good Shepherd rather than a hired hand in the Gospel reading proclaimed during the service, he was making a comparison between a committed soldier and a mercenary, the Archbishop told worshippers.
“It is not a difference of skill or experience, but of motivation and character. The sheep don’t ‘belong’ to the hireling or he to them; whereas the shepherd knows the sheep so intimately that they respond to his voice.
“When danger comes, the mercenary flees the scene while the Good Shepherd willingly risks His life to protect His own.”
Hope despite death
Meanwhile, “our armed service personnel do indeed risk life and limb – and psychological health – in order to defend life, and liberty, and country. “No one takes my life from me,” they can say with our Lord, “I lay it down of my own accord.”
Archbishop Fisher noted that this year’s celebration of ANZAC Day occurs on the Vigil of the Fourth Sunday of Easter, “and so we hear the consoling promise of St John that all who die in God’s grace will rise to new life and be like Him because they will see Him as He really is.”
“We pray that those who have died for our country are now enjoying the vision of God,” he said.
State, defence and judicial representatives
After the ceremony Archbishop Fisher hosted a reception at Cathedral House for those who had attended.
Among those attending were NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC, representatives of all three branches of Australia’s defence forces, NSW RSL President Ray James and many current serving or past members of the Australia’s defence services.
Among those participating in the evening were Ratu Orisi Raviso, Consul-General of Fiji, Luciano Da Conceicao, Consul-General of Timor-Leste and Adriene Hickey, Deputy Consul-General of Ireland.
Justices Michael Slattery and François Kunc of the Supreme Court of NSW were also present.