Though the culture war on Australia Day celebrations rages on for another year, Australian Catholics are told by the Catechism of the Catholic Church that patriotism is a virtue.
The Catechism places love for country under the fourth commandment, to honour parents.
Love for mother and father extends to other relationships in society, including the duty of “honour, affection and gratitude towards elders and ancestors … to their country, and to those who administer or govern it” (CCC 2199).
But what does this mean, at a time when Australians are so divided by our interpretations of our history and culture?
Jesuit priest Fr Frank Brennan SJ believes we are focusing on a “misconceived debate.”
He says that there is “good and bad in our history” but that the nation must “hold that together,” finding a way to join in commemoration and celebration.
Fr Brennan sees parallels between Christians’ love for an imperfect world and the faults and hopes associated with Australia Day.
“We Christians hold together both the present reality and the hope of the Kingdom to come,” Fr Brennan said.
“Though that Kingdom will have in it a perfect peace, perfect reconciliation, and perfect love, we know it is not accessible here and now.”
Taking from the commandments, he says Catholics have an active role in bridging the gap between brokenness and longing for perfection.
“We do believe that that Kingdom can break into the here and now, and we are missionaries that ought to help how we can to make that happen,” he said.
Former NSW Liberal Party MP and recently-honoured Knight of St Gregory the Great, Kevin Conolly, believes there is much to celebrate, saying that Australia remains one of the best countries in the world.
Conolly feels many others who witness the Australian way of life agree.
“It’s not just my opinion, that’s the opinion of the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people who try to come here every year and make this their home,” he said.
“The fact that Australia is attractive to so many migrants and refugees is a testament to the quality of life that we enjoy here, and I think most Australians instinctively know that.”
In his years spent attending citizenship ceremonies as a member of parliament, Conolly said the excitement of recipients was akin to winning “the lottery ticket of life.”
It was an example of the spontaneous patriotism and gratitude that shines through on the day.
“For anybody to suggest that Australia doesn’t have a story to celebrate, they are missing the big picture, and the big picture is a very good picture,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean Australia is perfect. We all in our history have things that are less than ideal and are ugly, but that’s not to take away from the main story, which is one of great achievement, of enlightenment and the spread of freedom on a scale that is rare in the world.”
Former vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, Emeritus Professor Greg Craven, is concerned that some critics do not want any form of celebration, but personally remains in favour of there being a national day of recognition.
“I think what we’re celebrating is not history,” he said.
“We’re celebrating the modern Australian state, which is one of the greatest and most successful constitutional democracies in the world.
“As you look at what’s happening in Gaza, you realise just what an achievement Australia is, and that should be something for everyone, including our indigenous brothers and sisters.”
“We have to be quite clear that the achievement is absolutely real,” he said.
As to whether it should be the 26th of January, Craven remains ambivalent, but said, “You should always be wary of changing a tradition.”