A Plenary call to listen and discern
“How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church?” That is the question for Catholics leading to the 2020 Plenary Council. Archbishop Christopher has encouraged parishes and communities to discuss the six national themes for discernment. Here, Fr Richard Thompson and Fr Trenton van Reesch share how their parishioners are reflecting.
In his magnificent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsutate, Pope Francis spoke about discernment, affirming how “the Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment. Yet we simply cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, to calm our anxieties and to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light.” (GE, 171).
These I think are prophetic words as we prepare for Plenary Council 2020. The Pope concludes, “In this way, we allow the birth of a new synthesis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.”
Now well into the ‘discernment phase’ of immediate preparations for the council, these words of the Pope echoed for me on Tuesday November 19 as the Cathedral parish held its first Listening and Discernment session.
The parish followed the discernment and sharing process outlined by the Plenary Council with an encouraging 30 parishioners gathered for prayer, listening and sharing. I was struck by the diverse perspectives and understandings as we discerned the question: How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is Missionary and Evangelising?
Many people shared perspectives that opened my own mind and heart to how God is working in His church in this time. It was truly heartening to see Catholicism alive – universal and encompassing of all viewpoints yet pervaded by a profound unity.
No process is perfect and I am sure our sessions will evolve as the process unfolds, however beginning to meet together and discuss the often sensitive issues in the Church which we love is a wonderful place to begin. Unity is found in such diversity as this. Mindful of what we have received and yet open to a future of change and hope in the Holy Spirit, the evening was a most encouraging and positive one – but the journey is far from over.
Thanks to all who participated in this first session. I encourage everyone to be a part of the remaining sessions which continue across the Archdiocese in the season of Advent, whatever your experience of Church.
We are now in a valuable and opportune time in the Australian Church. Can we continue to be people who deeply listen to and discern how the Holy Spirit is guiding us at this time in his Church? I believe and hope we can, but only with continued humility, patience, honesty and love.
Fr Trenton van Reesch is Administrator of St Christopher’s Cathedral Parish
As Archbishop Christopher stated in the December issue of ‘Catholic Voice’, “Some parishes are showing leadership in organising small groups to ponder upon the six national themes for discernment” in relation to the Plenary Council. Fr Trenton van Reesch’s article above and Fr Richard Thompson’s columns illustrate such leadership initiatives occurring around the diocese. In the parish of St Matthew and St Vincent de Paul, South Belconnen, similar meetings are occurring. The reporting of these in ‘Catholic Voice’ supports the lead-up to the Plenary Council. Another step would be to cover some of the ideas and suggestions arising from these meetings. Father Trenton wrote that he was “struck by the diverse perspectives and understandings”. Fr Richard added some extra detail in his article speaking of “supporting clergy from overseas, trying to get other cultures to participate more actively in parish life, city parishes supporting rural communities and better quality preaching.” This reporting of specific proposals and reform agendas in ‘Catholic Voice’ is valuable and promotes sharing between parishes. The final theme for discernment is around conversion, renewal and reform and the Catholic Church in Australia can be enriched by winds of change and renewal. ‘There does not appear to be much buzz on the streets concerning the Plenary”, Father Richard writes, but extended reporting by Catholic media can help.