This week the Catholic Church in Australia is in the headlines and already I’ve heard a mixture of people express their opinions about the court’s decision to jail Cardinal Pell. I wonder how many of them are aware that this same church is a third of the way through a process known as Plenary Council 2020. Come to think of it, I wonder how many women and men who identify as catholic know anything about it.
A Plenary Council is a formal gathering of all local churches in a country. Plenary Council 2020 is being held so that clergy and laity can dialogue about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia. The 2020 has a certain ring to it, but Plenary Council is not exactly a catchy title for something so important and widespread.
Such Councils are not new in the Australian catholic world, but they are rare. Since the first one in 1844 there have been five more, the last one in 1937, the year I was born. As far as I can ascertain no lay people were present and definitely no women. Hopefully the 2020 one will reflect today’s society!
Like the Council in 1937, the 2020 Council is looking to the future. Last year, in my book A Gentle Unfolding – Circling and Spiralling into Meaning, I wrote about the way my religious faith, coupled with changes in society, has influenced my life choices. There are things I’d like to say about that, things that I’ve learnt, things I believe. . .
That WE are the Church – not the hierarchy. They’re 1% of it, the other 99% is us.
That the family is the foundational Christian community and the Catholic Church should help parents to educate in faith, not the reverse.
That God is answering all those fervent prayer for vocations to the priesthood. The trouble is, the answer is not the one the leadership want to hear.
If Jesus turned up for Sunday Mass one weekend I’m not sure how much of it he would recognise as “do this in remembrance of me”.
That our Australian way of being Church is a rich mix of European, Celtic, Asian, and Aboriginal cultures. Practices such as religious processions, dragons and statues with little artistic merit but a lot of glitter can help to retain the deep Christian truths each holds, and may suggest new ways of expressing it. Growing and nurturing the church of the future will take time and courage, but out of it will come a uniquely Australian way of celebrating our Catholic faith.
Something the martyred San Salvador Bishop Oscar Romero once said speaks to me of the Church in Australia today. “We plant seeds that will one day grow, we water seeds that are already planted. We are laying foundations that will need development and providing yeast that will produce effects far beyond our present capabilities.”
So I keep colouring outside the lines, and the words I use originate from the centre, but somehow always seem to stray over the edge.