My computer and I have what could be called a nodding acquaintance, far from anything approaching intimacy, but close enough for my purposes. So a couple of days ago I felt confident enough to tap my website graphic which promised me statistics. Among the array of statistical information that crowded my screen was a list of country by country hits on the Tarella Spirituality website. There were 16 from Italy! Were those fellows in the Vatican checking up on me?
On census forms and the like my religion is abbreviated to RC – Roman Catholic. It’s a recognisable description, but it’s not how I see my religion. I am first and foremost an Australian, a follower of Jesus, baptized in the Catholic tradition and I prefer to describe myself as an Australian Catholic.
Australia is a young country, built on the faith traditions of an Irish / English way of being Catholic. The first Australian Mass was celebrated in 1803, not in a church but in the front room of a tiny cottage owned by the Davis family. It seems that Australian Catholics have a history of both “house churches” and purpose built churches, as it wasn’t till 1821 that the foundation stone of St Mary’s in Sydney was laid.
Since the end of World War Two those early beginnings have been enriched, and sometimes overtaken, by Catholic traditions and practices from around the world. Those of us with Irish/English backgrounds don’t seem to wear our Catholicism as openly and joyously as other cultures. I cringe at the thought of carrying a large religious image in a noisy, colourful procession through suburban streets. Alternatively, I marvel at the religious faith that leads Australian Muslims to celebrate Ramadan so openly and joyfully.
Maybe something that holds us back from becoming a more vibrant Australian church is a lack of appreciation and understanding of the gift that is Baptism. Years of involvement with the faith journeys of adults through the Rite of Christian Initation of Adults have led me to question my initial, easily-held beliefs about baptism, and infant baptism in particular.
A year ago Harry, my youngest grandson, became an Australian Catholic, but he will have no memory of it, only have the video story and a certificate to link him to that momentous occasion. The word baptism is derived from the Greek process for dyeing cloth – dip, and dip, and dip again. Keep dipping until the cloth has the required strength of colour. If Harry had been baptised in the early days of Christianity it would not have been as a baby, water gently trickled over his forehead, but as an adult, freely choosing to be plunged, naked and trusting, into a pool of water.
At that Baptism, as the priest swirled the water in the clear glass bowl and poured a scoop of it over Harry’s head, I was aware that, one way or another, the waters of Baptism would ripple through his life. I wondered if that gently churning water was a visible sign of the shake-up we adult Catholics need if we are to find new and creative ways to assist the Harrys in our lives to live out their Baptismal relationship with God in a twenty first century world, as Church that is identifiably Australian.
We may be seen as a multi-cultural Church, but hopefully through that mix we are evolving into a Church that is distinctly Australian, at home with Australian images as well as inherited practices that are theologically sound, comfortable with gathering spaces and liturgies that are appreciative of the gift that is the Aboriginal Dreaming.