The Plenary Council is not what the Bishops will do in October 2020 and beyond. It is about what we, the people, have been doing and will continue to do through communal listening, dialogue and discernment.
I would hazard a guess that already there is change happening at the grassroots level. This change is most likely to be personal and individual, though it is being mediated through conversation and encounter with others. There has been an awakening to the possibilities of the future and a growing awareness of our own responsibility for this future.
American Catholic business leader, Chris Lowney, who will be speaking to members of Catholic Social Services Victoria next month, and who has recently published a book entitled Everyone Leads, writes presciently of the need for everyone in the church to step up and play their part. He says, “We need to foster a culture within the Church that embraces change and which truly values and enables co-responsibility.”
Not everyone wants change, of course, including many of the bishops. However, we are now starting the discernment phase of the Plenary Council process. If you study the resources provided on the website and think about what is being asked of us now, it is simply this: to be willing to be changed by the other. It is an extraordinarily challenging call, and I wonder how many of us are up to it?
We are being asked to go deep into our hearts and be open to the voice of the Spirit there, and then to be brave enough to speak our word and open-hearted enough to listen and respect the word of others. This will then be the basis for communally discerning concrete action on both a national and a local level.
Archbishop of Perth, Tim Costelloe, writes of the challenge this way:
Discernment requires patience, deep faith, genuine openness and, perhaps above all else, a profound humility…Who knows how much we might be called to let go of in order to allow God’s plan for the church in Australia to prevail?
If you have been resistant to the Plenary Council up until now, cynical or disillusioned, I urge you to reconsider. This is not just about bishops making decisions. The process is well under way and so far it has been about the laity finding their voice. It is about our own renewal, without which no renewal of the church is possible. It is about finding new and life-giving ways of living the gospel in our time and place.
Author: Patricia Gemmell
Patricia recently graduated with a Masters in Theology, is a member of the Australian Grail National Leadership Team and has been a parishioner of St Leonard’s, Naremburn, for 34 years.