But read them I sadly must.
Before I do that, I wish to outline the lens from which I am approaching these documents.
From the start I thought that the process was flawed, because we know what God wants us to do – it has been outlined in Novo Millennio Ineunte and in Evangelii Gaudium. The question is how to do it authentically in an Australian context.
While the phases of the Plenary Council up till now have had paperwork reminding us to ‘Listen to what the Spirit is saying’ and ‘What do you think God is calling us to do’, in practice people have been answering very different questions, viz ‘What do you think the Church ought to be doing?’, ‘What would you like to see change in the Church?’, ‘What could we actually, concretely do, towards these themes at diocesan, deanery and parish level?’. Notably absent has been any question about what God wants me to do to contribute, and likewise absent any consideration about where all these mythical people and unlimited resources who are going to make it happen are going to come from (and how to motivate them). In practice people have been told, ‘This Plenary Council is your chance to change things, speak up for what you want, the more vocal you are, the more likely something will happen’.
In such a climate, consensus is not a reliable indicator of the will of the Holy Spirit.
Further absent, and most disturbing, is how often God’s action is left out of the deliberations: it’s a kind of, ‘He can join in if He wants to’ mentality, instead of seeking His input, guidance and power first and foremost. How strange it is when we say we are guided by the Holy Spirit, and then act as though only more committees and layers of hierarchy are needed to achieve anything.
God’s will and purposes have not changed. Always He calls us back to the original blueprint. Even before the Bible existed, family was the foundation of God’s plan. The Bible is the story of the family of Abraham, and it contains the accumulated wisdom about how God wants that family to live in fulness of life. As the family goes, so goes the Church. Where do we get the power to live as members of the family of God? From the Holy Spirit. A new evangelisation is not possible unless there is a new Pentecost, and there is no Pentecost without the Holy Spirit.
Thus for me, Scripture, Family and the Holy Spirit are the non-negotiable essential keys for discovering what God wants us to do in this Great Southern Land of the Holy Spirit. However none of them were referenced in the titles of the 6 Themes of the Plenary Council, and this continues to disturb me greatly.
So as I read (plough through) the 6 Reports, I am going to tally up any references to Scripture, Family and the Holy Spirit, and if I come across any ideas worth pursuing, I will list them.
Obviously it was not an easy task for the Writing and Discernment Groups because they had so many answers to the wrong questions to sift through.
Scripture references are counted when they occur in the body of the text (not in the footnotes) and are recognisable quotations (not cf.’s). Family has to be specifically referenced, references to parts of families eg women, children, elderly etc do not count. All too often we do not view families holistically, which is strange if we believe that each family is a domestic church, and when there is plenty of evidence in the Scripture for God entrusting specific ministries to specific families in perpetuity. Recently during the pandemic lockdown without the usual institutional church structures, we had to live church as domestic churches and began to rediscover this ancient reality. Both ‘Spirit’ and ‘Holy Spirit’ are counted.
Please take these as ‘about right’ numbers and not as exact tallies. Your own tally is likely to be different to mine, but definitely similar.
Theme 1: Missionary and Evangelising
Scripture references: 23
Family references: 6.5
Holy Spirit references: 10
(from page 6) The renewal of our world begins with personal renewal of our lives lived according to the Gospel which invites us to a personal encounter with Jesus, who offers us the gift of God’s love.
(from page 12) For our sacramental initiation to bear fruit, our journey will be one of growing in our relationship with Jesus, the community of His followers and our wider society. This growth is facilitated through the family, the school and the parish community.
(Prioritised Question 6) Given the importance of the family for the missionary and evangelising activity of the Church, how can we best promote a Catholic vision of marriage and family?
Theme 2: Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal
Scripture references: 16
Family references: 4
Holy Spirit references: 7
(from pages 6 & 10 ) Inclusion recognises that every person is a doorway into the mystery that is the Body of Christ.
(from page 9) Our society has become increasingly indifferent, sometimes even hostile, to family life in all its stages, and to those who make family a priority. At each stage of the growth of their children, families experience unique joys but also struggles which, if left unattended, can lead to disengagement and rift, both with each other but also the Church.
(from page 16) Catholics must tirelessly and fearlessly affirm the unique dignity of each and every child, and the inestimable value of the labours of every parent.
Theme 3: Prayerful and Eucharistic
Scripture references: 15
Family references: 6.5
Holy Spirit references: 11
(from page 7) The family is the usual birthplace of faith and the Church recognises that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children (Gravissimus Educationis
(from page 12) When we are formed in the Gospel, God’s people recognise Jesus in daily life.
(from Proposals for Change 1b) Equip each of our Church communities and organisations to support the creation of small communities of faith and life, centred on prayer with Scripture and sharing heart to heart. Encourage these small communities to gather regularly for the development of faith, the sharing of life over a meal and for spiritual nourishment.
(Are not families also small communities?)
Theme 4: Humble, Healing and Merciful
Scripture references: 13
Family references: 1.5
Holy Spirit references: 5
(from page 11) We are invited to witness the wounds of Jesus in those who have been wounded by the Church.
(from page 12) God is asking us to recognise it is restoration to the family of God that brings true wholeness, and that all the faithful have a role to play in the healing of the wounded.
(from page 12) We cannot separate Christ from the wounded: “just as you did it to one of the least of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
Theme 5: Joyful, Hope-filled Servant Community
Scripture references: 3
Family references: 5.5
Holy Spirit references: 1
(from page 5) Australia is a land that prizes freedom, equality and egalitarianism, a ‘fair go’ and mateship. However, mental illness, sickness, loneliness, family or financial pressures afflict many Australians.
(from page 8) “the joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” (Amoris Laetitia)
(from Challenge 1, page 11) Particular attention should be given to the reasons why so many young people and their families are absent from our parishes, and how schools and parishes might address this concern.
Theme 6: Open to Conversion, Renewal and Reform
Scripture references: 5
Family references: 3.5
Holy Spirit references: 3
(from page 5) “...if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.’” (Evangelii Gaudium 28)
(from page 11) The consultation highlights the importance of a personal encounter with Christ as the basis of the life of faith, and the need for a supportive and faith-enriching Church community in which to deepen and live out our Catholic identity. Catholics sense a call for greater integration of faith and life, for discerning ways of discipleship — at home and at work, online and in local communities.
(from Question 2a on page 15) How can the structures and ministries of the local churches reach out and be more connected to today’s Catholics in their family life, communities, workplaces, culture and leisure?
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If we believe that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, and the goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit (St Seraphim of Sarov), then is it not exceedingly strange that the charisms of the Holy Spirit were not referenced in any of the Theme Reports? How can we possibly do the work of the Kingdom of God without prophecy, healing, intercession, discernment of spirits, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, miracles, deliverance, signs & wonders, and those with anointings from the Holy Spirit to preach, teach and evangelise? Working out how to make room for them in normal parish life, and normal family life, is what we need. Because without God all of our efforts will be fruitless, and utter wastes of time.
It is said that where you have been under the greatest attack from the evil one is the very place to expect the greatest victories. All aspects of family life, from conception to the grave, have been under extreme attack. Is not this where we should no longer be on the defensive, but positively placing our resources to assist the growth of families as domestic churches and households of grace?
And neither can happen without returning to the Scriptures and sincerely studying how God relates to families, and how to co-operate with the Holy Spirit.
To focus on family, on the Holy Spirit, and about what God has to say about them in the Plenary Council deliberations, with those two aforementioned papal documents for guidance, now that would be truly worthwhile.