VISITING Nudgee Cemetery recently for one of my irregular visits I realised that such a visit was not unlike attending Sunday Mass.
Both require a certain forced motivation, but once there, you realise that getting away is just as difficult. At both you find so much of your history. The similarity struck me of how much both include meeting up with your family and your friends and how much the visits contribute to maintaining those relationships.
Some might joke that comparing Mass attendance with visiting a cemetery is rather appropriate and some might even take the joke further and comment how it is easier to find something meaningful at the cemetery than it is at church.
Nudgee Cemetery is anything but a joke in the living history of the Catholic Church in Brisbane. Geographically it is unique.
A kilometre to the south sits Banyo Seminary on the next ridge. One hundred metres to the east sits St Vincent’s Home, caring now for the elderly, but for so long the Church’s “front-line” response to child welfare.
A few kilometres to the north sits Nudgee Secondary Boys’ College.
All four sites still proudly trumpet the same Catholic triumphalism that gave them their birth back when the suburbs of Banyo and Nudgee were semi-rural outcasts infested with mosquitoes from nearby mud flats.
Its uniqueness extends also to the large number of graves bearing the earthly remains of so many clerics and religious.
As I walked among them in their hundreds I wondered whether they looked upon me and my generation as having failed them. While the graves of ordinary lay folk increase at a noticeable rate, the new graves of clerics and religious will obviously decline markedly in the decades to follow.
As I stood there among them I hesitatingly replied that maybe the Church would live on in other ways without the need for vast numbers of men and women like them.
Confidently I pointed to the grave of my own mother and father and reminded them that my faith was built on their faith.
I hurriedly added that of course such faith was nurtured and buttressed by the formal Church.
I had only to survey the names on the headstones of so many priests, religious men and religious women that had nurtured my faith while they lived to find that such confidence was accompanied by a certain distrust of the present state of affairs.
Yes Nudgee Cemetery reminds its visitors quickly that the lay folk resting on the hillsides sloping down to the lake very much depended on their clerics and religious.
Accommodated as they are on the highest point of the site, accompanied now by a solitary bishop’s grave (the archbishops having been installed in St Stephen’s), there is a clear hierarchy of faith.
However I did not leave the cemetery depressed. As jet planes roared overhead and sophisticated cars sped eagerly past towards the Gateway Arterial, now just down the road, I realised that these souls had given me a faith that could “live” without them.
I realised I was not at Nudgee Cemetery that day because my life had stopped. Surprisingly I realised I was there because I needed to reassure them that they had not lived in vain.
I was not there to argue for their way of doing things. I was there for thanking them that somehow they had given me a vision of a future beyond the grave. A future that was different from theirs but at the same time a future that included them.
Many of the letters in the “Have Your Say” column lament the loss of past practices. Recent articles in the secular press describe the existence of similar things.
Too often there is an undercurrent that one group must emerge victorious. Often the writings fail to realise that there will be no victors if all cannot share in the victory.
All too will have to share some of the loss. I hope that the synod for 2003 in Brisbane archdiocese will reflect the breadth of what is required.
For, at the highest, the most that we can look forward to is a resting place like Nudgee Cemetery.
VINCE HODGE Paddington, Qld