Missionary and evangelising
Inclusive, participatory and synodal
Prayerful and Eucharistic
Humble, healing and merciful
A joyful, hope-filled and servant community
Open to conversion, renewal and reform
It is a significant feat to have found 6 themes, especially since the earlier iterations of the website expected 20 themes.
Of themselves the themes seem innocuous enough. The trouble starts when you look at the quotations grouped on the sub-pages of the website. Many, many of those quotations show how poorly the ancient deposit of faith has been presented to our current generations.
While I can understand the argument that what people actually said has to be acknowledged, it does give the false impression that these things will be discussed. I doubt that those preparing the Plenary Council want it reduced to a lengthy session of catechesis.
I am just as sure that many of these quotations answered the questions, 'What do you think? 'Where do you think the church in Australia needs to change?' and 'What do you want to tell your bishops and those in leadership?' and not the actual question: viz, 'What is the Holy Spirit calling the church in Australia to do?'.
I know that the preparation session I attended was a travesty of what it was designed to be. We were supposed to independently write down our answers to that fundamental question, and then share them. Similar answers were then supposed to be grouped together, and the biggest group (consensus) was to be discussed in depth. The leader of my session didn't do that at all; the leader rattled off a long list of controversial themes and encouraged people to make personal submissions on those themes. Several attendees didn't get a chance to say anything. We were supposed to be listening to the Holy Spirit and to each other, but we really only got to listen to the leader of the session.
I have heard that some places did it properly, and for that I am very grateful.
But I have also read the results from one parish's feedback, around 200 individual responses, and none of them began 'I think the Holy Spirit is calling us to……'; they were all comments on what mattered to them. Of those responses, the biggest consensus was a profound concern for effectively handing on the faith to the young.
That this overriding concern was not a theme of its own is a worry.
It is the very first thing Jesus asked Peter to do if he loved Him, 'Feed my lambs'.
I find that correlation of the sensum fidei rather consoling.
Before I go any further, let us put some matters to rest
•Women priests. If Jesus did not ordain His mother and Mary Magdalene, then He didn't want women ordained as priests. If Jesus didn't do it, then we have no mandate to do it.
•Married priests. This is not a solution to the vocations crisis, nor a solution to the child abuse crisis. It might make the married priest less lonely than the celibate priest, but it places enormous burdens on the wife and children. What happens if he dies? What happens to them, then? What happens if they divorce or one of them is accused of adultery? Your wife is ill and you get a call to visit a dying parishioner – who do you put first? – and how to do live with the consequences?
•Support same sex marriage. It isn't going to happen! God made them male and female and said be fruitful and multiply, He designed our bodies, He created family and marriage.
•Restore the 3rd Rite of Reconciliation. After all the abuses that happened while it was permitted…it isn't going to happen. The 3rd Rite was designed for emergency life and death situations faced by a group of people eg. going into battle, going into a rescue situation where your own life is at risk, sudden situations where there just isn't time to hear the confessions of everyone, with the expectation that if they survived they would make a proper personal confession afterwards. Did you see any of the multitudes coming together prior to Christmas and Easter for the 3rd Rite going to a personal confession in the weeks afterwards? Me neither.
Another worry is this refrain, 'We want more …..', 'We want better……', 'We need to do better at ……..'. It is a worry because at no point did I ever see a 'and I am willing to do the hard work to make it happen'. There's this strange expectation that all I have to do is ask, and someone else will dedicate themselves to making it happen. Call it a consumerist mentality if you will. Perhaps we may have received more quality responses if the question was, 'What is God calling me to do?' rather than 'What is God calling us to do?'
But then what God is calling us to do is already clear: to be missionary disciples of the Gospel. The real question is: how is He calling us to do this effectively in our lives as Australians and as His church in Australia? What we need is to seek His strategies that will engage our Australian culture and bring Australians into a life giving encounter with Jesus. That is the true work of the Plenary Council.
Yet it isn't enough to seek God's will and His strategies, because if we don't also ardently seek His power to accomplish it we are doomed to failure.
To see a theme about growing in responsiveness to the Holy Spirit and about ways of accessing and releasing His charisms for ministry, and learning how to use those precious and powerful charisms in teamwork would have excited me. It is the only thing that really matters. If a gift of preaching gets released multitudes get saved, not just a few hundred. If a gift of discernment of spirits gets released, spiritual battles get won and the rubble is cleared away for many conversions to take place. Without His charisms, without His power, we can achieve nothing. With His charisms, with His power, the whole nation can be converted.
May the Holy Spirit mercifully take control of this whole Plenary Council process. Amen.
Only with Him in charge do we have any hope of avoiding the numerous pitfalls along the way.