On this cold Sunday night, I consider the question we were given at our Masses this weekend: Who is my neighbour? I am considering this in light of my having written an essay this weekend for the Scripture unit I am studying in the Graduate Certificate of Mission and Culture, at the end of the week of the Plenary Council, on this Seafarers Sunday during the rain and floods, and at the end of NAIDOC week. No doubt, a lot can happen in a week.
This past week, the Second General Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia (July 3-9, 2022) was held, and I am conscious that on Day 3 the deliberative vote on some of the motions for Part 4 – Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men, failed to pass. Women, some men, and clergy stood silently, a move which disrupted the proceedings.
One of the rejected motions mentioned “ensuring that women are appropriately represented in decision-making structures of Church governance at the parish, diocese or eparchy, and national level, and in Church agencies” and “ensuring, through formal policies and intentional practice, that the experiences and perspectives of women are heard, considered and valued”.
This sense of pain, discontent and hurt was followed by the re-drafting of five motions supporting equal dignity of women and men in the Church, which on Friday, passed both the consultative and deliberative votes at the Plenary Council. It was noted that the Holy Spirit was both a comforter and a disrupter.
There were eight parts which the members of the Plenary Council considered during the week:
Part 1 – Reconciliation: Healing Wounds, Receiving Gifts
Part 2 – Choosing Repentance – Seeking Healing
Part 3 – Called by Christ – Sent Forth as Missionary Disciples
Part 4 – Witnessing the Equal Dignity of Women and Men
Part 5 – Communion in Grace: Sacrament to the World
Part 6 – Formation and Leadership for Mission and Ministry
Part 7 – At the Service of Communion, Participation, and Mission: Governance
Part 8 – Integral Ecology and Conversion for the Sake of our Common Home
The agenda and motions of the second assembly drew together the fruits of four years of prayer, listening, dialogue and discernment, which have been the marks of this long Plenary journey.
This process has been an expression of the synodality that Pope Francis has identified as a key dimension of the Church’s life in the third millennium. Synodality is the way of being a pilgrim Church, a Church that journeys together and listens together, so that we might more faithfully act together in responding to our God-given vocation and mission. This journey of synodality will re-shape our engagement with the world, our evangelising mission and our works of service in a rapidly changing environment.
The seeds have been sown and now we wait and participate in their flourishing. The outcomes of the Plenary Council will continue to inform our own diocesan synodal journey.
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes reminds us.
Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served… To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. (3-4)
Fr Richard Lennan, provided input on Day 4 (6 July) on Communion in Grace: Sacrament to the World. He spoke about our liturgical sacramental life, portraying it as a way in which we grow as communion and grace. I share some of his talk:
- Grace is the self-expression of God, the gift of God’s own life and therefore gives life. Grace is abundant and we live and move and have our being in grace. This invites us to an ongoing permanent relationship with God.
- Grace is God’s initiative and mediates what is not of God to mediate God – that is the notion of sacramentality. This has a history which begins in the covenants of Israel. So, the land, the law and the prophets become genuine encounters with God and are therefore sacramental. This reaches its fullness in Jesus Christ. Jesus is grace in human form and the healing grace of God is present in us as one like us; to comfort, to encourage, to feed, and to forgive. And through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we as human beings and a human community in the whole of human history are reconciled to God and given the promise of a future fulfillment in God. What God accomplishes in Jesus continues through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the fullness of the trinitarian revelation of God. What the Spirit does is gather together a community of faith and witness in Jesus Christ, that’s us, that’s the church. The Church exists to be sacrament of God’s love, to make present that love of God in our world. As church we are not perfect, rather we are continually called to mission and conversion.
- If we are to be a community that manifests grace, we need to be nurtured in grace, and that gets us to the sacramental and liturgical life of the church. We need to be people nurtured by the Word of God, by our sacraments, by our communal life, by our personal prayer, by our being together and sharing faith, and through that we can grow as a community that makes manifest God’s justice in our world.
- The Church which exists to manifest this grace, has to be a community open to its own conversion, so that we are constantly seeking how might we make this love of God present more fruitfully. So how might our liturgies better reflect this life-giving love of God. How will the motions help us to grow as a community transparent to the grace of God, a community more able to witness to the hope that we have in Christ.
We are called to mediate God’s grace to our world in this time and place. I wonder how we are going at doing this. Over to all of us to make this real!!!!
Thank you to the 277 members of the Plenary Council, to the facilitation team, to all the organisers and many others for all the work of last week. We have witnessed a moment in history.