Anzac Day and the gift of sacrifice

We hear the word sacrifice mentioned many times around Anzac Day. In the light of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday, it is something worth further consideration, writes Fr Brian McCoy SJ.

Much continues to be said about Anzac Day, our own particular Australian public holiday, looking back to that ill-fated beach landing at Gallipoli in 1915.

It is a day that comes with many meanings, holding tensions around honouring those who died, their courage and sacrifice, along with reflections on the folly of war and the great suffering it causes.

We try to honour and pay respect to those who have served and continue to serve in our armed services. We also pledge ourselves to the journey of peace.

While far too many died in that First World War, the defeat we experienced seemed to forge something in our Australian identity.

Each year, and in the days leading up to 25 April, many small, local ceremonies are carefully prepared and well attended. Both young and old are involved, as if this one moment in our year unites generations in ways that other events and rituals do not.

At Gallipoli we lost more than the lives and unfulfilled futures of thousands of young men; we entered into that mystery of sacrifice. And, in so doing, we seemed to have learned and gained something as well.

We hear the word sacrifice mentioned many times around Anzac Day, sometimes in the context of the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ that many paid. Perhaps, in the light of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday, which we have recently celebrated, it is something worth further consideration.

We know sacrifice as loss, but how can it also be gift, not just for others but also for ourselves?

Pope Francis, in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad), uses the word sacrifice several times. He encourages us to seek the fullness of life in ordinary things, living in love and bearing witness to that love.

‘This entails a readiness to make sacrifices, even to sacrificing everything’, he writes. ‘For happiness is a paradox. We experience it most when we accept the mysterious logic that is not of this world.’

The logic he is referring to is the cross. We see in Jesus the shepherd who lays down his life for us, his friends. And, in his cross, we see a mysterious logic that causes us to pause as we make important decisions in our lives.

The choices we are each called to discern and make are about our entering into that depth of life and the sacrifices that love asks of us.

Perhaps, in this time of Anzac Day, we should allow the gift of those who have died, their sacrifice, to encourage us to be less fearful and more courageous in how we are prepared to live, decide and share our lives.

Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ