I waited until Monday to scribe this week’s message as I wanted to be present at the live streaming of the Opening of the Plenary Council. I hope the Spirit is listening, because that is very much the theme of this Plenary Council. Apart from the Spirit, the 278 Members are being asked to listen to the Spirit and each other in prayer, reflection and spiritual conversations, within this Australian context, the Great South Land of the Holy Spirt. It seems that the Aboriginal People have been attending to this deep listening of nature and the spirit for tens of thousands of years, and the word that Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann uses is Dadirri.
So, I find myself writing this message on the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, the twelfth century friar who found himself in the small and neglected church of San Damiano where he heard the voice of Jesus tell him to “go and rebuild my church which, as you see is falling down”. Of course, Francis’s immediate thoughts were the call to physically repair the churches near Assisi. Over time, he realised that he was being called to a much greater mission on rebuilding the Church of Christ which, at that time was in danger of falling apart. This story reminds me of Pope Francis, the Plenary Council and our own Diocesan Council. The invitation is about becoming a more synodal church committed to journeying together in reciprocal listening to one another, listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, and listening to the Holy Spirit.
I quote from the end of the homily given by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB at the Opening Mass for the Plenary Council, which reflects the themes that emerged from the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Plenary Council:
Pope Saint John Paul II once wrote that our response to all the challenges and opportunities we face in our mission today will be hopelessly inadequate if we have not first contemplated the face of Christ (cf NMI 16). Much of the work ahead will need, therefore, to be done on our knees, metaphorically if not literally. How can we be a missionary and evangelising Church if we are not listening to the Lord Jesus who says to us, as He said to His first disciples, “As the Father has sent me so I send you” (John 20:21)? How can we be an inclusive, participatory and synodal Church if we do not reflect deeply on the hospitality of God made known in Christ, who draws so many people into His mission of preaching, healing and teaching? How can we be a prayerful and Eucharistic Church if we do not journey with Jesus into the hills to pray, or if we forget that when He asks us to celebrate the Eucharist “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), He is also asking us to become the Eucharist, giving ourselves away for others as He did? How can we be a humble, healing and merciful Church if we have not tasted the bitter gall of our failings and sins, and then, purified by the Lord, begin to reflect Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, healing and compassion? How can we be a joyful, hope-filled, servant Church if we do not contemplate Jesus on his knees washing the feet of his disciples? How can we be a Church open to conversion, renewal and reform if we fail to let the cry of Jesus, “Repent and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15), pierce our hearts?
These words and the countless words I have encountered over many years of listening to the people of our diocese in Diocesan and Parish Pastoral Councils, Assemblies, and meetings, along with the conversations preparing for the Plenary Council and our own Diocesan Synod are simply calling us to become missionary disciples in a more Christ-centred church.
While engaging in a webinar on Saturday evening, October 3, The International Day of Nonviolence, I became even more aware that we are being called to take an outward stance and to reduce our focus on looking inwardly. The focus of the webinar was on the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi and his lifelong search for truth, which emerged from his principle of the force of the soul, that faint moral voice from within which guides us. This truth-force or soul-force seeks love, peace, unity, harmony and nonviolence. As his great-great grandson Tushar Gandhi spoke, I could not help but think about the basis of our own faith and the person of Jesus Christ.
It seems that people are really searching for an alternative way of living to that of our dominant secular, capitalistic, economy-driven values-based society. I don’t think people have to look any further than the Gospels and the traditions and teachings of our faith to find ‘enlightenment’. People are searching alternative peace movements in order to combat social violence, climate violence, economic violence and consumeristic violence. The key question which the presenters were struggling with was, “what sort of civilisation do we wish to create?” They invited us to return to the ancient cultures where people lived/live in spiritual harmony with creation. They spoke of listening to the inner still deep voice, both within, and within creation.
I believe our Catholic Christian faith provides a response and haven to those who are seeking. However, if we focus only on the structural questions that people pose, and not the basic human source of searching, we may miss the opportunities provided to us by the Plenary Council and our own Diocesan Synod.
There appears to be a sense of urgency arising in the prophetic voice of those who seek to imagine the world differently. We have the murmurings of these past prophetic leaders in our own tradition and in that of other faith traditions. It seems that the civilisation we presently seek is destructive to the common good and the dignity of the human person. The key question might be, how do we return to the life and teachings of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life?
I invite you to consider your own family and community, to see how you can continue to influence them to comprehend the soul-principle which we have as a treasure in our Church.
I finish my message this week with the Peace Prayer of St Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
And I invite you to return to the words further up in my message from Archbishop Timothy Costelloe about what we are being called to – a real and close encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ. We are being invited to a renewal of being more faithful to God’s mission.
Director Pastoral Ministries
5 October 2021