TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Remaining students of history

As part of this week’s message, I will break open with you the sixth of the Plenary Council themes:

How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church in Australia that is open to Conversion, Renewal and Reform?

While holding that theme through the past week, I was struck by two headlines on the front pages of the Newcastle Herald;

One giant leap for mankind

One fateful step in Vietnam

The first headline has been in the news all week as we remember and celebrate Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepping out of the lunar capsule and walking on the surface of the moon. As I have watched footage of the takeoff and landing, I am still in awe that it was achieved successfully. The scientists and astronauts working as a collective team managed something inconceivable. I think the words of Neil Armstrong ring true in so many ways:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

And yet the other headline tells a very different story that was occurring at the same time, that of Lieutenant Hines from Wangi Wangi, who tragically stepped on a mine in Vietnam.

Until this week, I had not connected these two events in history, that of the Vietnam War and the landing on the moon. Human genius can conquer and achieve so much by the use of science and technology and yet we are still unable to live in peace and harmony. It is also not lost on me that the place where Apollo 11 landed bears the name, ‘The Sea of Tranquility’.

I am convinced that we need to remain students of history, a history that not only reminds us of the ‘triumphs’ but also of the destructive side of humanity. This honest holding of the tension may lead us to ‘Conversion, Renewal and Reform’ as stated in the sixth theme of the Plenary Council Listening and Dialogue.

The following scripture quote is supplied on the Plenary Council website to break-open this theme:

After John the Baptist had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News of God. He said, “The time has come; the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:14-15)

How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church in Australia that is open to Conversion, renewal and reform?

As we move into this second stage of the Plenary Council journey, we continue to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Beginning in July 2019, we are called to reflect on Scripture, Church teaching and our contemporary situation, in order to discern the answer to this question. The fruits of what is discerned during this time will help shape the agenda of the first session of Plenary Council in October 2020.

This National Theme for Discernment is inspired by the voices of the People of God, who expressed a desire to do things differently in response to Christ and the experience of our people, accepting that faithfulness to tradition requires change that is both personal and communal. Respondents also affirmed the important role of the clergy, expressing their appreciation for their vocation and recognising the need for support and ongoing formation and accompaniment. Some asked for a consideration of alternative approaches to ordained ministry, some for a greater inclusion of laity and different groups in the Church’s life, some for new models of governance and leadership, and some for a renewed fidelity to the Church’s teachings. There was also a call for a renewed life of prayer and communion with one another, including understanding the many different ways in which we encounter God and experience a conversion of heart.

Below are some of the topics that informed this particular theme, which was created through a combination of analysis, discernment and prayer.

  • Better communication of what the Church does
  • Better formation for liturgical ministries and sacramental programs
  • Better implementation of Royal Commission recommendations
  • Better Plenary Council process
  • Better selection and formation of candidates to priesthood
  • Better teachers in Catholic schools
  • Better use of finances
  • Charismatic spirituality
  • Communion for all
  • Concerns for diminishing parish communities
  • Contemplative spirituality
  • Creation of small communities/groups within parishes
  • Diocesan Pastoral Council
  • End celibacy, allow priests to be married
  • End clericalism
  • End discrimination of LGBTQ
  • Fight for human rights issues
  • Focus on the new evangelisation
  • Greater focus on Jesus Christ
  • Greater focus on permanent deacons
  • Greater focus on the Word of God
  • Greater inclusion of all people
  • Greater involvement of the laity
  • Greater leadership from bishops
  • Greater leadership from priests
  • Greater trust, faith and hope in God
  • Heal and move beyond the clergy sexual abuse scandal
  • Healing liturgies and public signs or acts of reparation for clergy sexual abuse
  • Hierarchy to listen to the Laity
  • Inclusion of the divorced and remarried
  • Laity supporting priests
  • Lay-led parishes
  • Lay-led liturgies and Masses
  • Listen to one another more
  • Listen to the Holy Spirit
  • Mass to be appealing to youth and children
  • Modernise Church teachings
  • New leadership and governance model
  • New model of Church, diocese, parish
  • New translation of the Mass (inclusive language)
  • Ordaining married men to be priests
  • Ordination of women
  • Overseas priests
  • Parish pastoral council
  • Parishes involved in planning for the future
  • Radical change, a new order, inverted pyramid
  • Reduce margins between rich and poor
  • Renewed call to holiness
  • Restore the Third Rite of Reconciliation
  • Servant leadership
  • Support same-sex marriage
  • Transparency in governance and decision-making
  • Use social media to engage people
  • Welcome back priests who have left to marry
  • Women deacons

The other connection for this week’s message was from the Sunday readings, which spoke to us of hospitality and relationships as the path to renewal and reform.

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him in her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching. Martha was upset over all the work she had to do, so she came and said, “Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10: 38-42

The reading about Mary and Martha is never lost on me. My mum was born on 29 July, 1919, the feast of St Martha, the worker, as she continually reminded us. Mum would have turned 100 this year and so our family honour her memory.

I don’t remember her expressing this working lot of her life with joy or acceptance. She was expected to work hard as a girl, particularly during the depression and then as a wife and mum, caring for me and my eleven siblings. Life was tough and so the message of Jesus about the need to combine good works with the contemplative attitude was lost on her. And yet mum’s name was Thelma Mary. She bore the contemplative name but sadly the nature of that name seemed to escape her.

During the week, I came across these following words by Rev Anne Hewitt in the South Australian Ecumenical News, which spoke to me and I hope to you:

Hospitality is a very significant part of Christian welcome and peace making. (Matt 25:35) Martha was, on one hand, doing all that was expected and more. She welcomed strangers, Jesus and his followers, into her home – immediately valuing them with the respect she held for family. In her generosity of care, she was hospitable even when no one else assisted her. She was definitely offering “even a cup of cold water” (Matt 10:42) to all those who have visited her household. On the other hand, she is “upset” “worried” and “troubled” that no one else is assisting in this service. She is not wrong in her ministry of service. Far from it!

What it reveals is the whole-hearted, over-focus on her ministry practice of hospitality, welcome and service. With that over concentration often comes distress and worry, and loss of focus on being present to Wisdom in our midst. In this story, she is so focused on the doing, that she has not been able to be still, listen and learn. Jesus redirects her to set aside time from ministry practice, to hear the deeper, prayerful revelations, because she, too, has a place ‘at the feet of the Lord,’ where she can ‘listen to his teaching’.


Jesus, our Teacher and Friend,
It is hard to hear you at times
When we are out of balance.
We too often focus just on our doing,
Rather than being in the covenant of love,
so that we may do.
‘Leadership’ rather than leading.
Ministry rather than ministering.
Church rather than the people of God.
We are sorry when we do not hear your voice.
We are sorry we do not take time
to see you in the face of each other.
Hospitable and caring friend,
Who never shied away from the truth,
Re-focus our being in ministry
So that our doing reflects our covenanting with you,
And keeps it in the healthy balance
Of Being and Doing
In the Way of Christ. Amen

The Plenary Council process is inviting us to listen, to contemplate and to discern. It is inviting us to listen to the voices of each other and the Spirit so that we might experience conversion, renewal and reform, not just in our church but in all of humanity.

I pray and hope that, for my mum, her hard work is done and that the mystery of the divine is being revealed to her. May she continue to rest in peace.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.