WHEN former Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke at last week’s Assembly of Catholic Professionals lunch, he was at pains to point out he intended to talk about the man and his faith, not the politician.
Mr Abbott did that, and in entertaining fashion.
And while he avoided commentary of contemporary Australia politics, he offered insights about his formative years, quoted from the poet Tennyson, and delivered a clarion call to Catholics in public life to be proud of their faith.
Mr Abbott did find room to weigh in with his assessment of a few, key current world events.
“It is extraordinary, is it not, that this wonderful country of 350 million people should have produced two such candidates, and one of them is going to be the leader of the free world … I think that we just have to hope that whoever wins (extended pause) grows in the job,” he said about the upcoming United States election.
On immigration policy towards asylum seekers, Mr Abbott conceded there might be many in the audience who “wouldn’t think too much of the Abbott government’s policy on boat people”.
“But I thought that was essentially a case of choosing the least worst approval – a very difficult problem,” he said.
“Moral theologians do not make good politicians because politicians often have to make choices which no moral theologian would want to make. Even the Prime Minister of Australia has to make difficult choices.
“A country that loses control of its borders ultimately loses control of its future, and while we have a duty to people beyond our shores our first duty is to the people here in Australia.”
Raised and schooled as a Catholic, and having trained as a Catholic seminarian, Mr Abbott cautioned the audience against thinking he was in any way “a poster boy for Catholicism”.
“The Jesuits who taught me often wanted to disown me at different times of my public life,” he said.
“But, for me, faith has always been important … faith does wax and wane. Sometimes it’s stronger. Sometimes it’s weaker.
“So, if your faith waxes and wanes, if your faith is pretty dim – welcome to the club.
“Our faith may be weak, our faith may have been tested but our works reverberate throughout this earth.
“If you look around every Australian city – schools, hospitals, once upon a time orphanages – today an extraordinary range of services … it’s a wonderful testimony to the love of God and the love of man that Catholics have exhibited for the last 2000 years.
“Be proud of our faith. Whatever faults the Church may have from time to time shown … be proud of what we have achieved, be proud of the ethos that has done so much to make this a wonderful world.”
But while celebrating faith and the works of the Church, Mr Abbott warned that Catholics today should not be complacent.
“We all know too many people get divorced … there are up to 100,000 abortions in Australia every year – that to me is our real legacy of unutterable shame. That, to me, testifies more than anything else to the hardness of heart to which all of us are prone,” he said.
“We all know there is a proposal to legislate for same-sex marriage. Who would have thought even ten years ago that which has been taken for granted for millennia would be so questioned.
“Who in particular would have imagined that people like Archbishop (Julian) Porteous of Hobart who published an extraordinarily gentle defence of the traditional position (of marriage) which was always taken for granted would be subject to such official persecution?”
Mr Abbott said persecution was not just confined to that case in Tasmania.
“We have the Human Rights Commission misusing section 18C of the racial discrimination act to persecute people who I think to most Australians have been simply putting forward a point of view, simply exercising their own rights of free speech,” he said.
“There are many things that we should be concerned about. There are many things we should be working to change and improve.
“We must be more active, more vocal, more ready to speak out for what we think is simple common sense.”
Mr Abbott added that in speaking out, “a smile is far more persuasive than a frown”.
“Our Gospels are not a litany of prohibitions. Our Gospels are the most wonderful documents ever written because they are so incredibly full of life, vitality and love,” he said.
“Jesus did not come to skulk. Jesus came that we should have life and have it to the full. And we have actually got to look like we believe that.
“So, be proud, be vocal and be cheerful.”
Mr Abbott quoted the famous line from Ulysses by the Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson: “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”
“If we live our lives that way,” Mr Abbott said, “ we can one day meet our maker and say we did a good job.”