Building the Kingdom of God Together, is the theme of our Diocesan Synod which commenced on Saturday when about 400 people gathered to pray, dialogue, listen, celebrate, and share food, drink and fellowship as well as Eucharist.

Bishop Bill broke open the image of Christ as King beautifully, by describing the undertaking of more ancient kings, with each greeting his subjects, holding the subjects’ two hands and promising to care for them, while the subjects in turn promised their allegiance to him. It was a mutual relationship, a covenant of love, care, loyalty and service. Our covenant with our God is summed up in the following powerful words;

I will be your God and you shall be my people.

That is what it means to be Christ-centred. Lana Turvey-Collins, one of the keynote presenters, told us that many of the 17,457 submissions received by the Plenary Council had as their focus the desire for the Catholic Church to be Christ-centred. This is what we are being called to ponder, explore and discern under the six themes, which have emerged from Phase 1, listening and dialogue, of the Plenary Council process. How can we be a Christ-centred church? Phase 2, the listening and discernment phase will not be simple and I heard someone speak of this phase as “slow, slow, fast”. We need to be very patient and listen attentively to God and each other, through life experiences, scripture, the living tradition, people’s stories, history, anthropology, social sciences, prayer, liturgy, rituals….

Over the weekend I read the following words from Michael Kelly SJ, in an article; What is to become of us? Each of us has our unique pathway to follow on our journey, which appeared in La Croix on Saturday 23 November

“Real assent" is something that takes hold of you, centres you and makes the relationship with Jesus and absorption of his message an ever-growing centre of your life. It can only come at a great cost and is often nurtured in sorrow and suffering.

For me this quote reflects the 400 people who came along to the Diocesan Synod. Their faith was palpable as we gathered, when we prayed at the beginning of the day and even more palpable as we processed and assembled in the Cathedral at the end of the day. I love it when we gather as a diocesan community in the Cathedral. It is as if the walls of the Cathedral breathe in and out with our responses and singing. We are a united breathing body of faith-filled people; this is when we are at our best! On Saturday, we were provided with the opportunity to grow individually and collectively. Fr Richard Lennan spoke of God’s invitation for us to be expanded from smaller to larger as God’s gift to us because we have an eternity to grow into God.

He also spoke of the threefold dynamic of conversion:

  • Unlearning
  • Learning
  • Re-Learning

Key to this ‘learning’ project is listening as reflected in the Post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christus vivit (n.41) of Pope Francis to young people and to the entire people of God:

To be credible to young people, there are times when she (the church) needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the gospel. A church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum. How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people? Even if she possesses the truth of the gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.

God continually is revealing God’s self in our world, and in our relearning we need to trust that God’s spirit is doing a new thing in the here and now, and we are being invited to listen and to respond. God’s revelation is about movement and growth, it is always being realised and we are God’s instruments of hope and growth. I like the image of continually expanding. Lana spoke of us co-creating a better world with God, where the divine and the human connect, and this is what we are called to do, and to be as missionary disciples. This is the ‘stuff’ of our personal and collective conversion of heart.

At the beginning of the new millennium, in paragraph 29 of Novo Millennio Inuente Pope John Paul II imagined a way forward, for expanding our horizons:

I therefore earnestly exhort the Pastors of the particular Churches, with the help of all sectors of God's People, confidently to plan the stages of the journey ahead, harmonizing the choices of each diocesan community with those of neighbouring Churches and of the universal Church.

This harmonization will certainly be facilitated by the collegial work which Bishops now regularly undertake in Episcopal Conferences and Synods. Was this not the point of the continental Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops which prepared for the Jubilee, and which forged important directives for the present-day proclamation of the Gospel in so many different settings and cultures? This rich legacy of reflection must not be allowed to disappear, but must be implemented in practical ways.

What awaits us therefore is an exciting work of pastoral revitalization — a work involving all of us.

So here we are on the cusp of pastoral revitalisation, a revitalisation imagined at the Second Vatican Council and continually sparking our imaginations. At the beginning of our synod day we prayed the opening prayer of the Second Vatican Council:

We stand before you, Holy Spirit, 
conscious of our sinfulness,
but aware that we
gather in your name.

Come to us, remain with us,
and enlighten our hearts.
Give us light and strength
to know your will,
to make it our own,
and to live it in our lives.

Guide us by your wisdom,
support us by your power,
for you are God,
sharing the glory of Father and Son.

You desire justice for all:
enable us to uphold the rights of others;
do not allow us to be misled by ignorance
or corrupted by fear or favour.

Unite us to yourself in the bond of love
and keep us faithful to all that is true.

As we gather in your name
may we temper justice with love,
so that all our decisions may be pleasing to you,
and earn the reward promised to
good and faithful servants.

You live and reign with
the Father and the Son,
One God, forever and ever.

I think much of what was captured on the day was reflected beautifully in the words of the preface – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For you anointed your Only Begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness
as eternal Priest and King of all creation,
so that, by offering himself on the altar of the Cross
as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace,
he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption
and, making all created things subject to his rule,
he might present to the immensity of your majesty
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

Let us move and expand with each other to keep on realising such a Kingdom. That is what keeps me motivated and appreciative of all who came with such great faith. We are all in this together. How exciting and daunting at the same time.

I think there would have been well over 100 people involved in supporting the diocesan synod day. What an amazing gift of talent and commitment. Thank you to this great team of willing workers, and to all who attended and made the day so graced. We had an experience of the words, ‘Thy Kingdom come’.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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