This week, the Islamic season of Ramadan concluded.
I am consciously aware of the Islamic festivals because I live in Auburn, the western Sydney suburb with, according to the 2011 Census, the highest proportion of Muslims in Australia. Auburn also features in the top 10 for the highest proportion of Hindus and Buddhists.
During Ramadan, my local community is noticeably different because the way the Islamic community structure their work and their lives revolves around their periods of prayer and fasting.
Many local businesses have amended trading hours. Many of the cafes and restaurants do not open during lunchtime and instead open later in the evening and earlier in the morning, and pretty much all of them offer iftar meal promotions. The supermarkets are stocked fresh dates (traditionally eaten to break the fast), and traffic peaks around prayer times.
Comprising only 25.5 per cent of the population in Auburn, the Muslim community is by no means a majority there, yet their religious observance during this month especially has a visible impact on the entire suburb. It is easier, even for Catholics like me, to adapt somewhat to the Ramadan schedule.
Some people might find this problematic but I must say, I think it is deeply impressive. This past month, I have seen with my own eyes how a quarter of the population actively living out their faith can have a transformative effect on its local community. Even if I don’t share their faith, I have to admire their commitment.
However, I also find it deeply challenging. The proportion of Muslims in Auburn is about equal to the proportion of Catholics in Australia (Catholics comprise 25.29 per cent of the Australian population according to the same 2011 Census.) This means that we could have the same transformative effect on our communities.
If Australian Catholics were practising our faith with the same zeal as our Islamic brothers and sisters, Sundays would be noticeably different. People would expect increased traffic around Mass times, and stores may even be closed.
Additionally, marriage and family life would be more resistant to prevailing social trends, there would be much more respect and safety for human life in its most vulnerable stages and we would have the capacity to change the conversation around, and the care offered to, refugees and asylum seekers, the poor and the isolated.
Someone reminded me last weekend that there’s only one reason why this isn’t happening. The only thing that limits the power of an omnipotent God is our “no”.
This is an incredibly confronting idea, but it is also incredibly true.
The only thing that is stopping the Catholic population in Australia from having a dramatic influence on our culture is the Catholic population in Australia.
This is not a reason for dismay, but a reason for great hope. It means that the changes we seek in the world around us rest firmly within our hand (well, our hand placed inside the hand of the Lord).
We can so often get weighed down by the increasing secularisation of our culture. We can think that we are powerless against the evil or the indifference of our world. We can be tempted to despair.
But what I have seen in Auburn is evidence that you don’t need more than 50 per cent of the population to dramatically affect the culture.
We Catholics know this better than anyone. Our Church spread through the efforts of 12 very ordinary men.
And the great history of Catholicism shows us the transformative effect Catholics have on our communities. In the time since Christ, hospitals have abounded, large and small schools have been built and staffed, and churches have long been places of refuge for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The great saints have shown us that one person relying on the Holy Spirit constitutes a majority.
At this present moment, our culture is desperately in need of transformation by Catholic saints. I can’t remember a time in my life where I have felt we needed them more.
This is a good thing because God is faithful. At this very moment, He is calling and equipping people to transform the world. And I don’t want to alarm you, but if you’re reading a weekly Catholic newspaper, I’m pretty sure that you’re one of those He is calling and equipping. God speed to you.