Death and ruin are everywhere;
And all that is left of the last year’s flood
Is a sickly stream on the grey-black mud;
The salt-springs bubble and the quagmires quiver,
And this is the dirge of the Darling River.’
We can relate to these words of Henry Lawson written in 1891, can’t we? Last week when I was doing Mass at Menindee I saw the green toxic liquid filling the Darling River, which has caused devastation to the fish. The extent of the disaster has triggered some fresh discussions and analyses. Among the voices contributing to the discussion on the condition and the future of the Darling River, which is the third largest river in Australia, there is the voice of the Barkindji people who have lived on the Darling for millennia. They have called the Darling Barka which in their language means simply River. The anthropologists call them the ‘Darling River folk’ while they call themselves simply ‘people of the river.’ During a community march in Wilcannia to draw attention to the situation the aboriginal children sang: ‘Oh, the Darling River. We are the people of the river. The Barkindji people of the river. The river is our home.’ One of the elders said: ‘We don’t want the government’s billions of dollars poured into our community. We want our water flowing because that gives people hope and it brings people together.’
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! I hope and pray that this voice is not ignored. It is a different insight. It is not based on economy or politics but it reveals the profound connection of the Barkindji people to the Darling. The river makes them who they are. However I hope and pray also that we, Catholics, can listen to this insight as a prophetic message for us. This Sunday, which concludes the much loved Christmastide, the Church takes us to the Jordan River where Christ allowed John the Baptist to immerse him. His Baptism was not to clean him of his sins. His Baptism was like the rains in Queensland which send the water down the Darling River.
St Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of St John the Apostle, meditating on Jesus’ Baptism wrote: ‘For our God, Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.’ That’s why the Eastern Church Fathers saw the water of our baptism as a miniature of the Jordan.
St Paul wrote in the Letter to Titus that out of ‘his own compassion God saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our Saviour.’ We who have been baptised are the people of the Baptism River.
St Paulinus of Nola asked for the following words to be written on the baptismal font in his cathedral: ‘From this font, which gives life to souls in need of salvation, flows a living river of divine light. The Holy Spirit comes down from heaven upon this river and joins the sacred waters with the heavenly source; the stream teems with God and from the eternal seed gives birth to holy offspring by its fruitful waters.’
My Dear Fellow believers! The Baptism River is not on the maps like the Darling River, though even the Darling may soon be erased from the maps as it becomes a story of the past. The Baptism River can be detected by the presence of Christian communities. It is determined not by geography but by the power of the Risen Lord. If there is a Christian community striving to live by the Gospel it means that they live on the banks of the Baptism River. Like you here. Even if the maps don’t show any river flowing through your town remember that there is the River here made of the sacraments we receive, the Word of God we listen to, acts of charity, forgiveness and unity, all these are filled with the power of our God.
We can apply to ourselves the words of the Barkindji people: ‘The Baptism River is our home… It gives people hope and it brings people together.’ This River doesn’t dry up; only people can cease drawing from it.