Andy Hamilton SJ

Last summer changed our lives forever. The bushfires and the arrival of COVID-19 challenged our easy assumptions that we had the world under control. We had thought we needed only to tweak the controls of the economic engine to keep travelling smoothly.

The bushfires across Australia reminded us that our land was not under control and that global warming would make catastrophic fires normal. COVID-19, a single-celled newcomer to our human world, infected our people, baffled our scientists, disarmed our weaponry against it and dismantled our economy. Its simplicity, mindlessness and singleness of purpose outplayed the intelligence, complexity and ideologies of our society.

If the bushfires and the pandemic called into question our thoughtless view that life could continue as normal, our national response to the threat of COVID confirmed older wisdom on which Jesuit Social Services is built. In calling for social distancing and the closure of workplaces, restaurants and clubs in order to prevent the spread of the disease, it recognised that each human being is precious. Each human life is unique and to be protected. The closing of businesses said that the economy served people and not vice versa. Our work with vulnerable young people at Jesuit Social Services is based on the same conviction that each of them is precious, each of them deserves the chance to live a full life.

When the government imposed the social distancing that has threatened people’s housing, income and freedom, it recognised that in society we are all in it together. We depend on other people for our lives and wellbeing. That is why we must keep in mind the good of all people, especially the most vulnerable. The business of government, too, is to serve the common good.

During the time of isolation many Australians were able to feel proud that their own sacrifice served the whole community. They took pride, too, in seeing the generosity and faithfulness of so many people who risked their own health for others’ good.

This experience shows that we are much happier and purposeful when we accept our responsibility for the common good. Underlying Jesuit Social Services advocacy for people who are disadvantaged is the conviction that the Government’s responsibility extends beyond encouraging economic activity. It extends to ensuring that this activity looks to the common good.

As our society moves out of isolation it will face the even greater challenge of responding to climate change. In doing so we must look first to the persons, especially the most vulnerable, who will be affected by it.