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Plenary Council Reflections

11 August, 2022
Catherine Simmonds with the members of her discussion group,

It is over a month since the Plenary Council has concluded and some of our delegates have kindly given reflections on their experience.  What follows for each is an extract from of our delegates, followed with a link to the full reflection.

Peter Doherty

Within the Gospels there are various accounts of times when Jesus seemed not to meet the human expectations of the disciples.

Whether it was James and John seeking a throne beside that of Jesus (Matt 20:20-28), Peter who is rebuked by Jesus on various occasions (Matt 16:23; Matt 26:34; John 18:10-11), or even Judas (cf. John 12:4-5) who ultimately sells the Lord for 30 pieces of silver (Matt 26:15-16) these Gospel narratives speak into a reality that the divine economy is not the human economy; that the ways that we humans might perceive that which is before us is different than that of the deeper and fuller perception that is beheld by God.

I think this is a good place to commence a reflection on the recently concluded second assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia; that of a humble recognition that our own human expectations will always be exceeded by the divine presence that works within and through us, if only we co-operate and not frustrate the reality of the Holy Spirit who is at work in the lives of us all. Too often the human person is limited by a narrow and, in our Australian experience, increasingly secular horizon; for God there is no horizon, in transcending all limitations and barriers, he continually calls all people into a personal relationship with Truth, Beauty and Goodness wherever they might find themselves and whatever their circumstances in the world.

Peter Doherty Reflection

Catherine Simmonds

My experience of the Plenary Council has been one of authentic communion and community. This form of communal discernment, of men and women, lay and ordained, gathered together and engaging in spiritual conversations, invited the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, ears, heart and mind to the challenges facing the Church in our contemporary world. It is said that the Holy Spirit is both a disrupter and a comforter and during the week of the second assembly I experienced both! I am grateful to have experienced this intentional process of synodality. Spiritual conversations, which were woven into the fabric of the council, invite our trinitarian God who is love, who is community, to guide the Church.

To sit beside others, listening to their stories and those of their communities, and hearing different perspectives and experiences provides a context and perspective that broadens our own understanding of the challenges and also opportunities that exist for the Church at this time. Listening to the Holy Spirit in the voices of others has shown that synodality can be done. That there can be unity in diversity. By its very nature, such a process invites ongoing and shared responsibility for the mission and necessitates a call to action. This experience has generated much energy and commitment from those present. All present entered into the process of synodality with faith in God’s providence and presence, a spirit of hope and goodwill, and love – for God, our Church and most certainly by the end of the week, for each other.

I look forward to the implementation phase which will require the active involvement of all the baptized, generously sharing their gifts, skills and time at the parish or Diocesan level to make this vision of Church a reality across this vast country. May we continue to pray for one another, provide practical support and encouragement to each other through the networks formed or strengthened during the Plenary Council and walk together as the Australian Church, Christ-centred and mission focused.

Fr Peter Tonti

Lighting the Flame

Make sure when you light a really good fire you have with you plenty of gum leaves to throw onto the flames. Then you will see clouds of smoke billowing out everywhere before eventually the sparks come alive and fly out and create new fires all over the place. The cleansing smoke from the fire our First Nations People lit covered all of us as we met together in our Sacred Place for Truth Telling. There is real importance in our Sacred Place. We initially gathered, from all across Australia, in the St Mary of the Cross, Mackillop Chapel in Sydney. Mary MacKillop and our First Nations People knew each other and worked together really well. There was plenty of Truth Telling.

We were called into something special, something new. Mary understood, only too well, the importance of Sacred Place and Story-Telling together. Mary also understood her vocation was the Truth Telling of Jesus Christ by living it as a real witness. The Church will only renew when there is Truth Telling and living the understandings together.

It was in humility we listened to the Truth Telling and we prayed deeply, in the sacredness of our hearts, that we would hear and live the call of the Holy Spirit. Each morning our First Nations People threw a few more gum leaves onto the flames and the cloud of cleansing smoke billowed again before the sparks flew everywhere creating new fires in our hearts and minds.

St John Paul II told us that all our efforts “will be totally inadequate” unless Christ increases in our hearts and minds. And so we listened. We listened to our vocation to be in communion with our God and all the witnesses of Christ who have gone before us. What a Missionary Team!

Pope Francis, the prophet in our time says, “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.” (Evangelii Guadium 2013).

You should have seen the fireworks on Wednesday when the topic was Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men.  Someone threw some extra gum leaves on the fire. Clouds of smoke billowed everywhere. The sparks came alive and the flames grew bigger than ever. It became obvious to everyone that the Holy Spirit wanted a really, lively, fiery experience and not to be treated like some good idea to be placed on a shelf.

There is so much to do. We first of all must pray and commit ourselves to Christ as true witnesses. What is God asking our Church in Australia today? What are our gifts and frailties that the Holy Spirit can set on fire?

Hopefully, over the next few weeks, I can offer my understandings of the eight themes focused on throughout the Plenary Council. These themes can be found on the Plenary Council website: The first theme will be Part 1. Reconciliation: Healing Wounds, Receiving Gifts. Until then:

Come Holy Spirit, Fill the hearts of the Faithful, and kindle in them the Fire of your Love.
Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall Renew the face of the Earth. Amen.

Peter Tonti, Reflection on the Sections of the Plenary Council