TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Listen to what the Spirit is saying

What a glorious weekend, even for staying at home. Mass at home, at least provides some connection with the universal worshipping community, who are celebrating with us for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. I must admit that I am missing gathering around the ‘Table’, in the flesh and receiving Holy Communion, much more so this year than last year.

This week, I invite you to go onto the Plenary Council website: www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au and click on the Resources page which will link you to the Fan the Flame resources, preparing us, for the October 2 – 10 First Assembly of the Plenary Council, which is less than 40 days away.

Since Pentecost Sunday, we have been invited to be Prayer Partners to accompany the Members of the Plenary Council and to invoke the Holy Spirit on this historic gathering for the Church in Australia. We particularly pray for our Members – Bishop Bill, Fr Andrew Doohan, Helen Belcher and Bernadette Gibson. They will now be attending the Assembly virtually, because of COVID, along with the other 280 members.

On this site, you will find Weekly Reflections, based on the Sunday Gospels, the Instrumentum Laboris and the Plenary Council thematic papers. Some of you may now have time to connect into these, and maybe even invite others into a virtual small group, to reflect on the documents that have been prepared for the Plenary Council. You may wish to pray or to sit with what the Spirit is inviting you, your family, your parish, our diocese or the Australian Church to at this time. These reflections are a great resource, which I hope you have discovered since Pentecost.

I think you will find that the work thus far for our own Diocesan Synod mirrors the words of the Instumentum Laboris and the papers for each of the Plenary Council themes. I share with you some of this week’s Reflection:

A key challenge for the Church in Australia today is to deepen our shared understanding of how the Church’s three-fold responsibility of proclaiming the Word of God, celebrating the Sacraments and exercising the ministry of charity are inter-related, lest we become a Church where various groups emphasise one aspect of the mission to the exclusion of others. (p.13 of Prayerful and Eucharistic Discernment Paper)

The Universal Prayer Petition was:

For the Plenary Council: that we might be given more profound faith, greater courage, deeper spirituality and the ability to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us, as faith communities come together to respond and prepare for the First Assembly in October this year.

And these are the words for the final reflection for this week:

Through appropriate faith formation, God can shape us into deepening our spirituality within the life of the Church, engaging with scripture, encountering God in worship and prayerfully developing our living relationship with Jesus Christ.

During this week and following five weeks, you are being invited to join our diocesan virtual Plenary Council conversations with Fr Andrew, Helen and Bernadette, on Thursdays between 7pm and 8.30pm based on the Fifth Plenary Council Agenda:

  1. Conversion
  2. Prayer
  3. Formation
  4. Structures
  5. Governance
  6. Institutions

The following statement is critical to the Agenda, to us, and to the Plenary Council members:

As children of God, disciples of Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia are called to develop concrete proposals to create a more missionary, Christ-centred Church in Australia at this time.

‘I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.’

(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 27)

I hope by now you have also seen our proposed ongoing diocesan synodal journey, in which everyone will be provided with opportunities to continue our listening, dialogue and discernment. Unfortunately, we need to delay Session Three of Synod due to the COVID situation as well as Bishop Bill’s continuing ill-health. Please keep Bishop Bill in your prayers. Both the Synod Working Party and Pastoral Ministries staff will be seeking ways to keep you engaged on the path of synodality.

During the past week, I attended a webinar, Lay People and Synodality, given by Sr Nathalie Becquart. She was appointed by Pope Francis as one of the two Under-Secretaries to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission to be held in Rome in October 2023. About 150 joined this webinar which was organised by the Australian Cardijn Institute. Nathalie indicated that synodality was challenging to put into practice and that you discover how to do it by doing it. It is a listening task of journeying with each other as pilgrims, guided by the Holy Spirit.

She spoke of synodality as the ongoing reception of Vatican II and its ecclesiology of the People of God. This is a relational theology in which all are called to a mutuality of service. As missionary disciples, we are called to walk together in listening to the Spirit, building and serving the community. Words such as co-responsibility, communio, conversion, co-operation, reciprocity, relationships, listening, encounter, trust, discernment and transformation were central to her presentation.

In response, Bishop Shane Mackinlay changed the word ecclesiology into a verb by saying that the journey of synodality, ‘ecclesialises’ us, that is, it forms us in the journeying. He noted there would be obstacles because that is the normal part of undergoing a process of change. He also pointed out that the outcome of the Plenary Council has not been determined, contrary to those who think otherwise. The deep listening to each other and the Spirit is the path of synodality, and this must be done in relationships. These relationships must mirror our belief in a Trinitarian God.

Over these next 40 days, I invite you to really engage with the Spirit and the Plenary Council as we collectively prepare for this historic and momentous gathering of the Church of Australia. Let’s make time, especially while in lockdown, to ponder what God is asking of us in Australia at this time – Listen to what the Spirit is saying……


Teresa Brierley
Director Pastoral Ministries
24 August 2021

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Teresa Brierley

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