TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Listening with the ear of the heart

November is upon us and the month of the Holy Souls, in which we remember those who have died, and we pray for them, in order to move them more fully into the presence of God.

I have a sense that we remember them and that they in turn care for us, a mutuality of love and trust. We have also been asked by the Catholic Church of Australia to dedicate this month as a time to pray for those affected by crippling drought conditions and to pray for the gift of rain.

It takes a while for me some weeks, to determine what I might write about in this message and so I thought I might share with you something of the process of discernment. Fr James Odoh spoke about discernment to the young people at Saturday’s Thread afternoon. These Thread Days are a time of formation and reflection for anyone involved in ministry to and with young people. It was good to be with the young people as they grew in their understanding of discerning God’s will for their lives.

In our diocesan Plenary Council’s Let’s Listen and Discern Tool, there is a section on discernment written by Sr Lauretta Baker – Discernment – Listening with the ear of the heart.

Since the launch of the Plenary Council process at Pentecost 2017, the people of the Catholic Church of Australia are being asked to participate in a Listening and Dialogue process, and now, a Listening and Discernment process. We have been invited to Listen to what the Spirit is saying. This requires us to listen deeply, in prayer, through the Scriptures, with patience, courage, humility and perseverance and with each other, in order to come to a decision, which is according to the mind of God.

While most of our discernment in life takes place individually, we are being asked to communally discern what the Spirit is saying to us in this time and place.

As part of the 1992/93 Diocesan Synod, ten theological principles were developed and the eighth principle is Decision-making by Discernment.

In keeping with what it means to be and to build Church, we seek to arrive at decisions which all can accept gracefully and support wholeheartedly (even if some wish the decision had been different) because they know the group honestly searched together for the Spirit of God in and for the life of the community.

Discernment of the Spirit ... listens to others so as to learn, is sensitive to all approaches, encourages collaboration rather than competition and aims not at majority vote but consensus.  It recognises that each participant has a part of the truth and a share of the wisdom by reason of each one's unique experience of God in life, union with Christ and gifts of the Spirit.  The process also recognises the right of each person to contribute his or her part without which the whole picture will not be presented and the whole wisdom of the spirit will not be available. (Archbishop F Carroll, Canberra-Goulburn Synod, 1989)

It is my hope, especially for those who plan on attending the Diocesan Synod on Saturday 23 November, that you will have read, understood and practised what discernment looks like. We are inviting you to engage earnestly with others, who come along in the process of discernment, particularly around the six themes which have emerged from the Plenary Council’s Listening and Dialogue process. 

How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is:

  • Missionary and Evangelising
  • Inclusive, Participative and Synodal
  • Prayerful and Eucharistic
  • Humble, Healing and Merciful
  • A Joyful, Hope-filled and Servant Community
  • Open to Conversion, Renewal and Reform

Sr Lauretta Baker writes the following about discernment in our diocesan Plenary Council tool:

As we try to live this discipleship, we find ourselves engaged in making choices, both in the circumstances of every day and at crucial turning points of life. These choices give shape and direction to our lives. Discernment offers us one way of making choices - in a context of prayer and a life orientation towards God. This means consciously tuning into the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth who lives within each one of us. It means using our best human abilities to think and reflect; to analyse and critique; to look at the ‘big picture’ of one’s life, one’s family, one’s commitments, one’s health, etc. all the while listening to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit within one’s heart. Discernment takes time, energy and stamina. It is not for the faint hearted!

This is what we are trying to do communally. We are at a time of renewal and reform in order to build the Kingdom of God together (the theme of our diocesan synod).

We are being asked by the bishops of Australia to:

Engage in an open and inclusive experience of listening, dialogue and discernment about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia…… to get together with friends, family or colleagers….to spend time thinking and talking about your experiences of faith, life and the Church…. And to respond to the question: What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?

And once again from Lauretta’s words:

In all our discernment what matters is hearing and heeding the voice of God’s Holy Spirit. When we listen, we hear that distinctive voice that Jesus promised us, the Spirit of Truth, to be with us always. The Holy Spirit is the Reign of God in our hearts. All is sheer grace!

One of the words used on Saturday was desire. God plants the seed of desire in our hearts and then we discern if that desire is truly from God. I like the thought that if one discerns according to the mind of God, there will arise in us an inner peace, contentment and inner knowing, in response to the desire that was initially planted within us.

The following statement from Sr Clare Condon SGS, former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, former President Catholic Religious Australia, and former Co-Chair of the National Committee for Professional Standards, can be found in the book, Getting Back on Mission, Reforming Our Church Together by Catholics for Renewal:

The Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church urgently called all Catholics into dialogue with the changing world. It summoned us to listen, discern and respond to the signs of the times. Such a societal change of epoch proportion had demanded responsibility from every one of us. In Australia, some 50 years on, we are challenged to act now, so that the mission of God can live afresh. The church community, through rigorous analysis, needs to keep identifying and responding to the scientific, societal, cultural and spiritual realities evolving in our time. We are to bring discerning, faith-filled and prayerful hearts and minds to this reality. The mission of God calls for no less. 

Please keep praying for this time of discernment in our Catholic Church. Please listen to God’s voice within you and around you. Please participate in deep and meaningful conversations. Please join us at the Diocesan Synod. 


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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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