Get over yourself: the only way to prepare for the Plenary Council
SHANE DWYER is the Director of the National Centre for Evangelisation and the Catholic Enquiry Centre.
If by now you haven’t heard that the Church in this country is preparing for its first Plenary Council since the 1930’s you may not have been paying attention.
It has been on the radar for some years now, even prior to the Royal Commission into the institutional response to child sexual abuse that many mistakenly believe has prompted the call for the Council.
You might recall the ‘Year of Grace’ in 2013, which was held as a way for us to begin to prepare for this event. So, we have been on the road for at least five years now. In the last year it is has gone up a notch, with the formal launch of the preparation and dialogue phase occurring at Pentecost this year.
Since the formation of the Plenary Council Planning Committee I have acted as a consultant, in theory providing assistance on any theological matters that arise. I say ‘in theory’ because I’ve seen that the committee members themselves have this area pretty well covered.
I continue to attend the meetings not so much because I believe I am needed, but because I find myself inspired as I listen to the way those attending to this important work talk about their hopes and desires for the Church in this country.
All Catholic voices welcomed
A guiding conviction that has emerged from this committee is that all people, no matter their degree of affiliation with the Church, be welcomed to the discussion and have a voice on who we are as Church into the future.
This is not an easy road to take. Having sat with a number of groups throughout Australia as they seek to prepare their submission to the Plenary Council, I have come across a recurrent snag. It relates to how groups instinctively go about the listening and dialogue process.
From what I have seen it comes down to the basic predisposition of the more forthright members of the group.
For those where the dominant figures are comfortable with prayer and open dialogue, the group functions more or less as the planning committee has intended. The discussion begins with prayer and silence, where each person present attempts to get in touch with what they believe God is asking of us today.
Because the discussion is grounded in prayer, people then more easily share their stories and insights, knowing that while not everyone might connect with what they are saying, they will be heard and respected. This allows them to be non-defensive and, therefore, open to modifying their views when they listen to what others have to say.
Avoiding adversarial approach
It becomes another matter altogether if the dominant figures either foreshorten the prayer and silence, or dispense with it altogether. In those circumstances I notice a more adversarial approach.
Instead of focusing on what each of us believes God is asking of us, the question much more quickly becomes what do I think is wrong with the Church? Or, what are my personal opinions about what ‘the Church’ should be doing?
In these circumstances I notice two inevitable outcomes. The dialogue either curtails very quickly or it becomes argumentative. Instead of the inspirational sort of encounter that I referenced above, people feel shut down and confirmed in their view that the Church is not a place where their experiences and insights are welcomed. Hope begins to fade, and those who are already disillusioned with the Church remain so.
So I end with a plea. The journey to the Plenary Council began in 2013 with the Year of Grace: a year in which we were invited to ‘Contemplate the Face of Christ’.
We were invited to do this, not as a ‘one off ’ but as the beginning of a deep conversion process. We are being invited to reflect again on what it truly means to be the disciples of Jesus Christ.
When we take our eyes of him we experience the very thing that happened to St Peter when he got out of the boat and began to walk towards Jesus (Matthew 14: 22).
Peter was fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. The moment he ceased to contemplate the face of Christ he began to drown. Which will we be: the Church of Jesus Christ with our eyes on him, or a self-focused group of people in danger of going under?
A back to basics renewal is needed in our catechisms and liturgy
Following fully and faithfully the full teachings of the Church magisteriam will keep our focus on Christ not on the world
A Parish which teaches that Christ didn’t actually say what the Gospels say he did or that the Nativity is only a contrived story solely to connect the Messiah to Bethlehem is doomed
Having a young women play the part or Christ during the stations of the Cross on Good Friday when there are young men available is taking our focus off the Messiah
Think if we had a young bearded man play the part of Mary and see how compromised we have become in trying to conform to the world
I do not wish to condemn for I also stand and plead guilty of many sins
My point is clear and we all need to search for the fullness of truth which only the Holy Catholic Church has had God reveal it too
The roads to sin are many and broad, the path to life is narrow and few travel this way
Let us pray to our Lord, pray to our Holy Mother for help and keep the faith
Dear John, I am sorry to observe how you make a number of conclusive statements that are not founded, particularly re Scripture. Please read more widely on the subject as to what scholars mean by ‘the words that are quoted as Jesus speaking is not exactly what he said’. There is nothing to fear. And what Shane has described has little to do with sin. So, do not be so anxious about sinning here. We are simply in a time of our history as Catholics where dialogue is being asked for, preceded by genuine silence and prayer; to listen to what the Spirit is saying….a reality that you are very much a part of as one who has the Spirit residing within. But to hear the Spirit means backing off all this gloom and doom, and listening DEEPLY. Please take more time to reflect rather than judge and make such conclusive remarks.
How correct you are, Johnny (Pisciotta)! Our society is living a sort of diluted Christianity. Children stop coming to church after their First Communion because the parents are Christians only by name. Many don’t even know the 10 Commandments and the 7 Sacraments. Every-thing-Christian is only an opinion today. The Muslims extremist kill the people who insult Prophet Mohammed. The Christians promote the freedom of expression and let our Divine Christ to be insulted, buffled, ridiculed.
Yes, we need to rediscover our Christianity.
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church
I totally agree with Bruno. When I attend a school Mass I am battling to recognize hardly any of the children present. It seems that their fortnightly school mass replaces any need to attend on a Sunday, and once they go to our Catholic secondary schools that’s the end of it.
It is quite heart-breaking to witness the loss of these young people who have so much to offer us oldies and the church at large if only we ever see them.
Where is the church of the future when most of our Mass attendance is from the 60 plus age group? What are we as Catholics doing wrong? The Pentecostal churches we are told are bursting at the seams while are congregations go down and down.
Hi Johnny I agree that a back to basics renewal is needed. But this must come from the teachings of Jesus. The Church has for centuries been a large and complex organisation. But the more institutionalised the Church has become, the further we have move away from the teachings of Jesus. What God is asking of us in Australia (and around the world) at this time is to be a more Christ-like Church.
We must remember that the Church’s magisterium is a man-made construct. For over 1,800 years the leadership of our Church regarded slavery as ordained by God. Many such moral issues are open for reinterpretation and rethinking.
Dramatic changes have occurred in some aspects of Papal social teachings in the last two centuries. Pope Gregory XVI in an 1832 encyclical condemned freedom of conscience in society as an “absurd and erroneous teaching or rather madness”. Pope Leo XIII, also in the 1800s condemned “the modern liberties” and opposed the equality and participation of citizens in civic and political life. The people, he wrote, are “the untutored multitude” that must “be controlled by the authority of law”.
I remember almost being expelled from my Catholic high school because I stated that I could not believe that God would send good Aboriginal Australians who lived 400 years ago to hell. We were being taught about ‘extra Ecclesiam nulla salus’ – “There is no salvation outside the Church” and I was told that anyone, including good Aboriginal Australians who lived 400 years ago, could not entre heaven.
Fortunately, we have a more enlightened view today. I have no doubt that in time, the Church’s current stance that we have no authority to ordain women priests will be see as yet another Galileo moment in the history of our evolving Church – that the apostles were men was not a divine instruction but simply as social practice of the day.
Excellent comment. We will go nowhere if we ignore bssic underlying truths of gospel – no matter how unpalatable they may seem.
Human nature is fixed immutably in many ways by our biology and we can only build on it not contravene it.
Thank you for remaining faithful to Jesus Shane, We must all remain faithful to Christ and his word. We are living in the darkest of days. We do not need a Plenary Council, we need the fullness of truth which the church has taught for 2000 years. Clearly over the past 60 years many within the church have lost their faith and have handed down that loss to many sheep. If it not be for the comforting words of our lord, the gates of Hell would not prevail, then the church would have turned into a house built on sand. Whatever happened to Matthew 7:14
But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.
WHY ALL THIS GLOOM AND DOOM, Pat? Shane is not addressing any of this. He is talking of the invitation that our community of Church needs right now. I think you are overlooking something if you think a Plenary Council is not necessary. Dialogue does bear out the fullness of truth which resides in each member of the Body of Christ which includes YOU. Be a part of it, Pat.
Both Johnny and Pat have made some valid points. The church needs to return to the basics and stop bowing to the modernists and leftists that are seeking to conform the church into something Christ never intended it to be. The direction the church has taken post Vatican II has led to dwindling congregations and a loss of faith among many. This has had an impact on the society we are now living as those of us who have been alive since the 1960’s would realize. Your criticisms of both comments Leonard have contributed nothing of substance to this discussion. “Why all this gloom and doom”? Take your rose coloured glasses off that you may see things as they really are.
It seems that the replies so far miss the point of the Plenary 2020. So sad that Gloom and Doom are the order of the day instead of seeing the bigger picture of the Body of Christ being engaged in what the Spirit is saying. I hope Pat and Johnny Please can at least claim for themselves the power of the Spirit embodied in them, and that God is wanting to speak through them if only they would let it happen.
You make mention Leonard of “the Spirit” in your comments however I would hope by this you mean the Holy Spirit not something else. We read in 1 Timothy 4:1, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons”. With many of today’s Catholic wanting female priests, gay marriages and an increase in secularization within the church, one has to wonder what “spirit” many are being led by. I would hope our church leaders are led by the Holy Spirit however once we have departed from the truths found in the Scriptures then we are simply left with heresy and vulnerable to the deceiving spirits Timothy warned of. The salvation of souls should always take precedence over social justice issues and political agendas.
Hi Shane, As always your observations are so relevant – you promote the positive & observe the negative : ( lack of
prayer & silence; then the possibility & reality of a vocal self- serving element ). A good shot of LSD is always
to be present: Listening,
( Mt. 6:33-34) is relevant to the overall process for progress in the ‘hic et nunc’…..here and now. GRATIAS.
The Holy Ghost over this bent world broods with
warm breast and with Ah! Bright wings!
The poet Hopkins reminds us of the Holy Spirit
ever guiding and teaching us in this ever evolving
Love of God. How important it is to listen to that
Voice and to seek newness within our Church.
Thanks Lynn. The world is indeed “charged with the grandeur of God.” and it will “shook out like flamed foil” – I hope my memory has not failed me as I to reflect on Hopkins’ poetry. Yes we need to have faith in the Spirit of God as we move further into the 21st century. Pope Francis is continuing to implement the reforms of Vatican 2 which are too often derided yet was clearly the work of the Spirit guiding the Church. I look forward in faith and hope and love.
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will breathe in and through us when we first take time to listen. We need to listen to God and to each other in a prayer-filled and respectful way.
It is only through regular prayer and meditation that we can really find and be aware of Christ who is deep within us. Then we will also be more aware of him in others. The Holy Spirit will help us recognise Him.
We are the Church and we can only work from within.
Thank you Shane Dwyer for your helpful article today.
I am hoping that the Plenary Council does not just lead to a conduit for political or social activism because we already have opportunities for those issues in other forums and organisations. We are Christian, but we cannot have a cross without horizontal and vertical axes. We certainly need to reach out to others, but we also need to reach up to God through prayer and liturgy, so that we can praise and thank God as well as repenting and forgiving as necessary. I hope the Plenary Council is not merely an opportunity for some to increase their power. Let’s hope that it is not just the ‘squeaky door’ who is heard.
Thank you Shane for your commentary .
Throughout the history of the Church, including the Great Schism , the Reformation and counter Reformation and countless crises inbetween and sice then the Church has had to take account of the “Spirit of the Times” . To hark back to so called better times ( Ie Pre Vatican 11) is to put one’s head in the sand. I grew up in the pre Vatican 11 years. It was an “pay, pray and obey existence ! Any questioning or thinking outside the box was heresy. It was a stifling church. Sure today there are many signs of turmoil in the Church, as there are in our wider society. It is nothing new and nothing to be concerned about if you trust in the working of the Holy Spirit. . I spent three decades teaching secondary school including Religious Education as part of my work. I also completed a Masters in Theology to help me in my teaching and lay ministry for the past four decades as Acolyte. The scriptures are the response of the early church to the mission of Jesus of Nazareth .They are not literal reporting of his life and ministry and should not be interpreted as being so.
Please do not repeat that tired, worn-out mantra about “back to basics”. Think deeply about the emotional, nostalgic baggage that this denotes. We want CHANGE. Why? Open your eyes. The world you remember is no longer the world we are in. Take note: OBSERVE, JUDGE and then ACT. Do not just rely on rusty memory of an era which is gone, is yesterday. The Church would not be calling for a Plenary Council if things were going swimmingly. Do not say that the Post Vatican II era is what Vatican II called for.
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