I recall the twice daily blog Archbishop Coleridge wrote during his experience of part 2 of a synod in Rome. Most of what had been provided by part 1 was completely re-written. That’s not unusual, because part 1 is feeling out the scope of the discussion and making public what the stakes are. Once the stakes are known, minds become focused, and the discussions go deeper. It felt like up until the last 2 days of part 2 that things were still messy and unresolved, but by the time it ended the participants were happy with the outcome, and recognised that God had brought it about.
Will we see something similar here with the Plenary Council?
At least with the publication of the motions that will be voted on at the Plenary Council (released 1 Jun 2022) the stakes are now known at a broad-brush level. Whether there is enough time to get to grips with the pros and cons for each motion is a matter for concern.
To a pew-dweller like me many of the motions read like motherhood statements - and can be interpreted in vastly different ways. For an example, some motions talk about formation. Does this refer to any type of adult faith education? Does it refer to catechesis prior to sacraments? Does it refer to the training provided in seminaries and novitiates? What is meant by ‘formation’ matters.
The battlelines are largely between the values held in scripture and the values of the world. Whatever happens at the second assembly, those battles will continue. Among the values of the world we have inclusive language, third rite of reconciliation, lay preaching during Mass, women deacons etc.
Inclusive language, which removes gender and replaces it with non-gender, eg ‘O praise Him, alleluia’ becomes ‘O praise God, alleluia’ also makes the possibility of a personal relationship with God more distant. We read in Genesis, God made them male and female. This ongoing movement towards androgyny is the direct opposite of appreciating and celebrating the maleness and femaleness created by God.
A good outcome would be nay for the inclusive language motions. That is, if pleasing God and not man matters.
The push for women deacons and for lay preaching at the homily at Mass come under the banner of the push for women priests. Why this push doesn’t die, since the Church pronounced that it did not have the authority to do so, is beyond understanding. Unless you accept that rebellion began with Lucifer and his implacable hatred hasn’t ceased.
Now I will make this caveat, in outback areas that have Mass once a month or less, and there are people serving in the ministry of deacon (preaching outside of Mass, providing pastoral care, co-ordinating efforts to assist the poor and vulnerable) without the grace of ordination to assist them, it seems a matter of justice that something needs to be done. Maybe we need to come up with a new title, and a new sub-diaconal installation rite? In such outback areas we want to give our people a faith alternative to seeking a secular civil celebrant for christenings, weddings and funerals in the absence of a priest.
The push for lay preaching etc isn’t going to address the underlying problem of unhealed wounds due to the various forms of clericalism. Those wounds form whenever someone’s voice is muzzled because that voice isn’t ordained or doesn’t belong to someone in the curia. There are untold wounds of the following variety: someone has been serving diligently with the altar flower arrangements for umpteen years, new parish priest arrives, shortly afterwards that someone is ignored, or ostracized for a while, before being told his/her services are no longer required with zero explanation, and zero appreciation of past service, not even a thank you in the parish bulletin. Who can that someone take his/her case for unfair dismissal to?
Where is the person who can do something about it, and not consider it trivial? It is far from trivial to that someone. And that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the high-handedness that clericalism permits, the kind that changes daily Mass times without consulting the congregants, the kind that cuts down mature trees without consultation nor explanation. The hurts are real, the anger is real, the high-handedness doesn’t get curbed, and the only hope left is that God sees and will devise something suitable in purgatory for the offenders.
Are there any motions to address this regular kind of pain and anger? No.
Although some think that adding an extra layer of governance will fix it.
This isn’t something that any kind of committee can solve. This is something that requires admission of guilt, request for forgiveness, and real tokens of contrition. This is something that requires forgiveness from those who have been hurt, and progress towards healing and reconciliation.
The abuse crisis was enabled because these lower forms of clericalism were given a free pass.
The outlook is bleak because there are so many forces and special interest organisations that want to secularise the church. God’s ways require complete commitment and the narrow path that so many misunderstand as intolerance. His ways are unpopular, choosing life rather than abortion, choosing life rather than euthanasia, choosing marriage as a lifelong, faithful, fruitful commitment between one woman and one man.
But God is God. He is always in control. Nothing escapes His notice. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him.
Our hope is that God will raise up champions at the second assembly to challenge any motion that is displeasing to Him.
Our hope is that these champions will give others courage to resist the values of the world.
Our hope is that God will not leave us in the worst punishment of all, of being in error and not knowing that we are in error, leaving us to the consequences of our worldly thinking and our lack of seeking His will as our only good.
May the Lord God look upon those who have prayed in season and out of season for God’s outcomes from the plenary council process. May He look with compassion upon those who stopped praying because they lost faith in His omnipotence. May He hear the prayers of His people, and see all of the work done in good faith over the years, and bring His holy outcomes to birth. May we look back one day soon and clearly see His fingerprints in the outcomes.
Human solutions cannot prevail.
Godly solutions can.
In You alone, Lord God we place our hopes for the second assembly of the 5th plenary council of Australia and its outcomes short term and long term.
Only in You, Lord God, is there any hope.