This Sunday evening as I scribe this message, I am still in the space of being at the Cathedral where many people were present to remember those whose funerals were held at the Cathedral during the year and whose remains are in the columbarium at the rear of the Cathedral. I had the honour of reading the names of almost 200 people who we remembered. Before the beginning of Mass, a very elderly man took a bunch of roses up to Mary’s altar, placed them in a vase and just stood looking up to Mary. It was deeply moving and reminded me of how important our faith is to us, and the hope we hold that those whom we have loved continue to love us and we them. Life has changed not ended, which is captured in the liturgy of the church:
In him, the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come. Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.
I am also conscious that by this time next week, the first session of our three-part diocesan synod will have concluded. We have over 350 people who have registered, so that is a hopeful sign of people wishing to listen, to be engaged and to give voice.
I think it a blessing that the following people are coming to facilitate our workshop sessions – Fr Richard Lennan, Dr Ursula Stephens, Sr Lauretta Baker RSJ, Bishop Greg Homeming O.C.D., Mary Ringstad and Lana Turvey-Collins. For those who wish to experience a creative expression of what we are being asked by Bishop Bill, Rose McAllister will be running the creative expressions workshops.
We are being asked by Bishop Bill to ponder the following question:
As disciples of Christ, what needs to happen in our hearts and in our minds and in our community to be a Christ-centered 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
I remind you of the theme for our diocesan synod:
Building the Kingdom of God together
Sr Patricia Egan has written a paper on this theme for us to read and discern before we gather on Saturday. In it she writes:
If we are truly seeking to be a more Christ-centered Church and to address the challenging Plenary Council 2020 themes, then our focus needs to be on Jesus and on the Good News he came to bring. That Good News was presented in terms of ‘the kingdom’ throughout the gospels – in well over 100 verses.
She then goes on to break open how Jesus invites us to understand the Kingdom of God in the scriptures and what that means for our daily lives.
In the book, Getting Back on Mission – Reforming Our Church Together by Catholics for Renewal the following paragraph spoke to me:
The Kingdom is bigger than the Church, which Jesus calls to carry on the mission he received from his Father. The Church is not identical to the Kingdom, but is meant to be the ‘sign’, ‘sacrament’ and ‘servant’ of the Kingdom of God and it cannot be separated from it. Its task is to ‘proclaim the Kingdom’ and work for its completion: a just and reconciled world. It has to uncover the Kingdom in the world, and encourage and build on the work of the Spirit in the world.
I believe it to be spirit-led that we are gathering on the last weekend of the liturgical year, the Feast of Christ the King, to gather, listen, dialogue and celebrate Eucharist; even if it happens to be the Supercars weekend!!!
On Friday, I attended a workshop for diocesan coordinators for the Plenary Council process. These times spent with other coordinators from across Australia are inspiring and provide each of us gathered with an opportunity to share ideas and to find out the emerging processes for the 2020 Plenary Council.
What is utterly amazing is the emergent model that has been chosen for such a major ‘event’ in the Catholic Church. I am totally convinced that the Holy Spirit is at work and we are just instruments on a journey with each other, being led by our chief shepherd, Pope Francis. It is a process of trust and hope and is not for the faint-hearted. The following words came to me, in no certain order, while I sat and listened to the other coordinators and to Lana (part of the Plenary Council facilitations team):
Messy, co-creating, emergent model of change, listening, formation, stillness, dialogue, discernment, invitational, inspirational, ongoing, communal, respectful, hopeful, honest, truthful, trusting, yearning, struggle, slow, engaging, consensus, cautious, connecting, complex, faith, silence, gentle, building, starting, stopping, prayerful, diversity, responses, create, reflection, culture, synodality, gathering, sharing, yarning, …
I hope that I am leaving you with a sense that this is not purely a head exercise but it involves our head, our heart, our mind and our spirit. It involves the whole of us. I hope that those of us who are able to attend the diocesan synod will come with the whole of them. This will make us vulnerable and possibly emotional because we are coming out of love, and because we love being on God’s mission and being followers of Jesus Christ. And we know what happens when we dare to love.
We finished the day in two groups exploring what we might do, as an Australian church during 2020 in the lead up to the October Plenary Council so as not to lose the momentum gained thus far in the listening and dialogue and the listening and discernment phases. The common phrase shared by both groups was;
We are all in this together
I finish this message with a quote from the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities, written by Charles Dickens in 1859:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
And, I remind you to continue to pray the Plenary Council Prayer:
Come, Holy Spirit of Pentecost.
Come, Holy Spirit of the great South Land.
O God, bless and unite all your people in Australia
and guide us on the pilgrim way of the Plenary Council.
Give us the grace to see your face in one another and to recognise Jesus, our companion on the road.
Give us the courage to tell our stories and to speak boldly of your truth.
Give us ears to listen humbly to each other
and a discerning heart to hear what you are saying.
Lead your Church into a hope-filled future, that we may live the joy of the Gospel.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
bread for the journey from age to age.
Our Lady Help of Christians, pray for us. St Mary MacKillop, pray for us.