CathBlog - The shallow quest for gold


Gold for Australia! How often did we hear that phrase in the lead-up to the Olympics?

And as the young Australian athletes continued to win a string of silver medals, their response was: “I’ve let my country down" and even "I’ve let my family down.” 

Tragically, the local media continued to reinforce this sentiment with little coverage or excitement of “only silver”, and constant analysis about why we failed.  

This is a far cry from the nervous anticipation of the youngsters who felt great honour to even make it to the squad and were so proud to represent their country as Olympians.  Now that “we” haven’t bagged as many gold medals as we expected we are somewhat reassured because the coaches are promising to review ‘what went wrong’ so that it won’t happen next time.  

Maybe rather than focus on the athletes the review should focus on ourselves as a nation.  Why do we Australians always have to be the best in the world?  Why is being second or even third best never good enough?

The answer might partially lie in a comment I heard recently on a TV breakfast program.  The presenters were anticipating a speech to be given by the treasurer where he was expected to challenge the big mining magnates to share their wealth in a more equitable way. 

One of the young reporters remarked that this would never be “a vote winner” because Australia is no longer striving to be a classless society but rather a society that can be called “aspirational”.  

I understood this to mean that in this country if we’ve successfully made it to the top by our own efforts we’ve earned our right to our riches and have no need to share them with others.  I hope I misheard, but then the events of the past days have only confirmed that sense. We are only successful if we win gold.  We are only successful if we make it to the top, and too bad about anyone else.  

I am remembering another way of being Australian. In the week that I recently spent at Warmun in the Kimberley I would visit each day with the local resident artists. They sat quietly in the sun painting with the ochre that had been prepared by others who painstakingly took each piece of the white or yellow rock to scrape away the dirt. Each took their time and painted in the silence.  

They willingly shared with me the story of their art. Lena painted spears that represented her father’s country and barramundi to represent her mother’s.  

Their completed art is available for sale in the nearby gallery, all of it way beyond my price range, and can also be found in various important buildings throughout the world. Lena is currently working on a commission for a museum in Paris, and Shirley is the former winner of a Blake Prize. Yet no-one mentioned any of this to me.  

They were happy just to sit and paint.  And the more famous painters sat beside their ‘less famous’ companions without any sense of difference.  Their art is sold through a co-op and they receive their share but no where was their ‘wealth’ visible, except perhaps in their serenity and contentment as they worked.

Why such a contrast?  Where would Christ feel more at home in our nation right now?  Would it be with our successful mining magnates, our self made millionaires, our "aspiring" professionals on the way to financial success, or with the Warmun artists?  

Gold and lavish vestments are even creeping into our churches.  In our thirst for gold we are losing sight of the real wealth that is to be found in the value and dignity of all people.  In this Year of Grace, where do we find graciousness?  

Where do we find the face of Christ?  It should be with our Olympians who try again after they fail, who achieve their personal best even though they don’t win a medal.  

I’m reminded of the words of John Chrysostom.  “What is the good of adorning Christ’s table with golden vessels if he himself is left to perish in hunger?  First fill him when he is hungry, and then you can adorn his table with what remains.”  

We can talk about a Year of Grace but until that translates into tangible action on behalf of the refugee and asylum seeker and others who are oppressed by and in our society our words will simply be empty “aspirations.”

Carmel PilcherCarmel Pilcher is a Sydney-based Josephite who works as a liturgical consultant.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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