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The Anzac spirit of service

Nathan Ahearne  |  18 April 2018

Lest we forget wreath-Kelly Hunter-flickr.comAnzac Day this year marks the centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, France.

The Anzac spirit, born from the landings of Gallipoli three years earlier, fuelled the efforts of the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades which enveloped the town and successfully cleared it of the enemy. This ended the German spring offensive that had threatened to win them the war. A century later, young Australians continue to be captivated by this same spirit of endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship. 
In a country that rejects the traditional practices of past generations, particularly those of a religious nature, Anzac Day appears to stand the test of time. For many, public holidays such as Good Friday have become far less about commemorating the sacrifice of Jesus and more about commencing the long weekend. Yet, the Spirit of the Anzac continues to whisper through generations of Australians reminding them to stop, reflect and honour the fallen. 
The Last Supper was more than Jesus’s commission to his disciples to respectfully remember him; Jesus instructs his followers to offer themselves to be blessed, broken and given to others in service. Fr James Kroeger suggests that each baptised Christian is called to become the Eucharist, to be “bread broken and shared” for the life of the world.

Likewise, the Western Australian RSL notes that the Anzac spirit lives on through the active service of ordinary Australians who have stepped into the gap through times of crisis or hardship. During cyclones, floods, and bushfires, Australians come together “to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone”.

It is clear Australians will step up in times of catastrophe, but how effective are we at noticing and responding to the needs of those on the margins of society and welcoming the stranger in our midst? These challenges cannot be overcome through fundraisers, charity drives and conscription. This service requires relationship and Saint John Paul II reminds us that “the Eucharist is not merely an expression of communion in the Church’s life; it is also a project of solidarity for all of humanity”. 

Arthur Bourke OAM has described the Spirit of Anzac as “a powerful driving sensation that can only be felt. It is a feeling that burns in the heart of every Australian and New Zealand countryman. A warm, tender, fiery, even melancholy ideal that nurtures intense patriotism in the innermost soul of every body”. 

How do educators keep that fire burning?
In 2005, the Commonwealth government produced a National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools recognising that “schooling provides a foundation for young Australians’ intellectual, physical, social, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development”. Posters were displayed prominently in schools, listing nine values for Australian schooling: Care and compassion, Doing your best, Fair go, Freedom, Honesty and trustworthiness, Integrity, Respect, Responsibility and understanding, Tolerance and inclusion.

Emblazoned behind these hallmarks of Aussie virtue was an image of Simpson and his donkey. A decade on, how effectively do these values help to retain the eroding values of Australia’s young citizens? Perhaps it doesn’t matter that the truth about the fallible Simpson and his donkey has been mythologised and airbrushed by historians. The Anzac spirit doesn’t condemn even the most flawed characters such as Simpson, who redeemed themselves with compassion for their fellow man. 

Dr Mervyn F. Bendle understands the creation and nurturing of the Anzac spirit “as a grand and heroic ideal that both honoured that sacrifice and defined the cultural context within which Australia, as a fledgling nation, embarked on its journey through history”.

The spirit of Catholic education operates in tandem with the secular ideals inspired by the Anzacs. However, Catholic service is more than facing our foes with grit and courage. Jesus sets forward a greater challenge; to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. This radical love implores us to go against our natural instinct to survive and to place the needs of others ahead of our own.

Nathan Ahearne is Director of Faith Formation at Marist College, Canberra. See also Nathan’s blog

Main image: Wreath at ANZAC Day service, 2015.


Topic tags: heroesandrolemodels, valuesanddecision-making

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