We plant and water

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. harmonyday

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. seed“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.

Judith Scully

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Colouring outside the lines

Have you ever watched a pre-schooler learning to master the art of colouring in? So much concentration goes into it, fuelled by the possibility of adult praise for the resultingchildrens-work-colouring neat edges. While I’m sure that keeping the colours between the lines must have some deep psychological implications for future development, I’m aware that these days I have a lot of trouble keeping my religious colours in between acceptable edges.

I learnt to colour my life the Catholic way. There were rules laid down to deal with any issues that might arise, and a recognised line of authority to respect. Theology was the province of the clergy and contemplative prayer belonged in monasteries and convents. These were my boundaries and it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I began to question them, to give myself permission not only to colour outside the lines, but to lay aside the pastel shades in favour of brights. I wanted to be seen and heard as a Catholic woman.

The years following Vatican 2 were exciting for women like me who had been feeling cramped. Over the centuries the institutional Church had squeezed out the laity, and women in particular, from inclusive involvement in the way their faith was lived out. The window Pope John opened in 1962 blew many of us out of religious life and into ministries that better suited our talents and personalities. Instead of being confined to flower arranging and cake stalls, Catholic women were reading at Mass, taking Communion to the sick, working alongside priests as Pastoral Associates and getting theology degrees.

Vatican 2 was more than fifty years ago now, and over those years I’ve gradually moved beyond what I now see as the boundaries of my Catholic religion. Early in those faith-growing years I had to take a deep breath as I realized that God is not a catholic, that God cannot be fenced in and is found outside our Church as well as inside it. As that became part of my everyday experience I realized that I was slowly moving away from the security and authority of the institutional centre.

At the place where their maps stopped, early mapmakers wrote these words: Beyond this place there be dragons.. Even if it is exciting it can also be frightening and challenging to move towards a boundary, even edge over it. There are always St Georges around who want to subdue and eliminate all dragons. They do it openly through the written word, in Church documents and homilies, in restrictions on who can speak in parish halls, and they do it subtly by well-placed, non-verbal putdowns.

Because I’m a blogger sometimes what I write gets a mixture of positive responses and occasional insults – like being labelled a ‘cafeteria catholic’. I know what they mean – that there are Catholics who question or challenge certain beliefs or practices held dear by other Catholics. As if I wandered through 2,000 years of Catholic tradition, papal declarations and hearsay, declaring I’ll believe this, and this, and this – don’t agree with that, that’s ok, can’t believe that, this is way out of date, and so on.

Colouring bookWhat they forgot to say, or maybe don’t understand, is that any religious colouring I do that strays over the line emerges from lots of reading, pondering and prayerful reflection. It doesn’t mean that I’m leaving the Church of my Baptism.

Out on the edges, away from the centre, it’s uncharted territory and there’s no GPS. But it’s also quiet enough to catch glimpses of what might be. It can be a bit lonely out there, but in the silence I believe that the Spirit of God frees me up to hear the core message of my faith in new, relevant and creative ways- and the colors are great.

Judith Lynch