Steve Todd [picture above right at the Cairns Conference Dinner] is a NSW CaSPA Principal from the Broken Bay Diocese north of Sydney. Steve was a recipient of one of the 25 Years Meritiorious Service Awards at the Conference. He has also very kindly recorded his reflections regarding issues raised at Cairns 2018 and has offered to share these with colleagues.
PLENARY COUNCIL CONVERSATION
With the welcomed announcement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference that the Australian Catholic Church will be holding a Plenary Council in 2020, there is a renewed sense of hope that new insights and imaginings are possible for us all to move forward as the 'People of God'.
A time for listening, discerning and implementing will be a most desirable undertaking as we find a new way home as the Australian Catholic Church. For who and how can we all participate in this process will be vitally important as there is the opportunity to share ideas allowing everyone to feel connected to a more inclusive and welcoming Church. This opportunity will define the ways we live out the Gospel as Catholic people. The hope and the desire in seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit will allow for all voices to be heard determining who and how we are to be as an Australian Catholic Church. The calling here as I see it, is to be insightful, appreciative and inclusive of others, so that the person of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is opening his arms to embrace us all. Some of the questions might be 'What will this look like? What important aspects of our Catholic story and tradition need to remain as foundations for our identity? And 'How can the many areas of pastoral mission and ministry be reimagined?'
From our midst will come the voices of wisdom and goodness with a heart that connects to a faith that is reflective and creative in appreciating our history and traditions. This opportunity opens the pathway to a renewed richness of spirit that will welcome the broken, disheartened and lost as we all strive to live as the pilgrim people of God. All easy things to say and imagine but, what does it mean and how do we prepare for that journey?
Having experienced being part of the Church for over 60 years, from my viewpoint, an important process that will allow for the Holy Spirit to work in and through us will be in discovering an appreciation for a theology of the 'praxis of life'. Here word and action belong and live together in everyday life allowing for expressions in words to be matched by the practice for being Catholic people. At times, many of us have taken to the higher moral ground with our judgements and words that have not always been connected to any real actions of hope. The misgivings here have often been in response to so many aspects of our lives with just a superficial layering of our faith. This has been especially noticeable with the difficult areas surrounding relationships leaving many people feeling somewhat abandoned and alienated. It is easy to be angry or outraged in these cases, but it is with a more inclusive response in action where we can offer the reassurance of a future full of hope. As it was once described to me, 'the sisters of hope are anger and action' and it is with this motivation that we look deeply to find hopefulness even if it is with some anger as we begin to discover new ways for being of service. Our focus is now on our collective goodness not on the judgement or fear of the past, nor of the process with our Australian Bishops, as we now challenge our thinking and try to find a communion of wisdom.
If the large mirror we stand in front of now helps us see deeply into these realities then there is hope for an opportunity for being more to one another and therefore becoming a more inclusive and welcoming Australian Catholic Church.
Pope Francis has inspired us all in seeking 'the Joy of the Gospel' and for being a Church that needs to be like a mother with her door open. These images and thoughts are inspiring us to believe in seeking the reality of finding new ways of being and doing as Catholic people.
This pathway may be risky, but, it is as I believe a risk are worth taking, as our failings can be overcome as only good can come when we offer hope, forgiveness, and peace.
As a senior Catholic School educator, I see there has been a pathway that determined a process with educating our students with the essential elements that formed the religious education curriculum. Students sat exams and were allocated grades for their academic profile. They also participated in lively and wonderful school-based liturgical celebrations, retreat programs and social justice initiatives that gave us all great heart. The parents too were grateful for this style of education, but what eventuated was the loss of a sustained connection at the local Parish level. Our Parishes became less engaged with the broader Catholic community even though numerous attempts were made to offer meaningful connections with activities for families and the youth. Lots of wonderful people tried to revitalise this connection. It all waxed and waned until energy levels and some unacceptable behaviours highlighted that the Church was struggling to take its place in the everyday lives of Catholics. All sorts of reasons and excuses have been floated over the years including a blame game on all sides. To proportion blame or just to say that modern life was more complicated than it was in the 1950s and 60s was more a deflection than an appreciation of modern society. Some people would even offer the insight that the Church has been through difficult times before and it will all work out somewhere down the track. Secularism became the catchphrase that was blamed for undermining the Church. Secularism implied that people were no longer religious or spiritual, although the search for meaning and the connection to one's purpose in life found all sorts of replacements. The role of the family and the ingredients for successful relationships did not change nor did the love of the Gospel with an unshakeable respect and love for Jesus. What did not make sense was a Church that judged them on the success of their personal relationships. The sense of loss with not much compassion was not greeted with understanding or inclusion.
Whilst Catholic Schools flourished, the family struggled with the demands of life, work, changes to relationships, along with the hectic pace of a modern world that forced people to reprioritise their lives. They searched for activities and lifestyles where they could find other like-minded and supportive people. The energy and connectedness that surrounds opening ceremonies for events like the Commonwealth and Olympics Games highlight the desire and need that people have with making meaning within communities. Likewise, the Church sponsored youth events such as WYD and ACYF are also successful avenues for young people to celebrate their faith. It is clear that people can travel together as fellow pilgrims. How we harness a connection to the Catholic School and family life are a challenge worthy of investigation. The evangelical churches have shown us a blueprint for how we might shape local events and the Catholic School with a Parish may be able to offer a very different family-style of ministry.
The Catholic School has carried the torch on from the religious who founded many Catholic Schools in Australia and even now the Catholic School is a respectful, but they are now looking more like a distant relative. Some have stated the Catholic School has become the Church, which more or less demeans the place of the Church. In the end, this attitude may well bring both groups down to a level of less importance within our community. Is there a clear reason why parents would send their children to the local Catholic School? If the two are to coexist as partners, what might that look like? The Catholic nature and life of the School might look more realistically at how it operates. The religious educators may well not be frequent Church attendees or even Catholics but they might see themselves as fellow pilgrims with colleagues, the students, their families and the Church. Together they can engage with opportunities and experiences that shape them in offering a spirit and love of neighbour that enhances everyone across the local community. The evangelising nature of the Catholic School may well bare a very different identity to that of today.
The questions around the future of the clergy and their place in the local and broader Church will bring all sorts of visions for a pilgrim Catholic Church. The very big question of the place of women in the Church seems an easy one to embrace, but a very difficult one to honourably articulate. Conceptually, the role of men must also be re-examined and defined. The 'imago dei' scripture theme remains a foundation to a theology for rebuilding the way we see the vocation of a priest. The pieces can be respectfully realigned to honour God's creation and the Church's tradition that still has an enormous influence on our collective identity as the People of God for this time and age.
The opportunity to share with so many people across the broad perspective of the our Church provides a conversation where each and every Australian Catholic person can see they have a place to belong. How this will look and operate needs sensitivity with mindfulness that all is not broken. Sorting the way ahead is the challenge for us all.
With a healthy respect for 'who do you say we are?' we move forward to embrace this experience of the journey to the Plenary Council in 2020. United in prayer and love of God and neighbour our road to Emmaus or even Damascus may well be a road more inclusive of our Australian Aboriginal spirituality for this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.
As a Catholic person with a great affection for Australia's first saint, Mary MacKillop, her encouraging words offer us the possibility to start afresh as she wrote to her mother Flora at 24 years of age, 'I wish we would only remember that we are but travellers here!'
MacKillop Catholic College
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