On 5 August, 45 leaders of religious congregations were formally commissioned as members of the Plenary Council in a virtual ritual prepared by Catholic Religious Australia. As the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, I am a member participating in the formal sessions of the Plenary Council.
I am looking forward to this time, with a hopeful heart that the Spirit will be guiding us in our deliberations. I have already seen the Spirit moving in and among us in the preparation sessions and in the thematic papers that underpin the agenda of the Council. I appreciated that the agenda has come to us in the form of questions which, for me, invites openness to what is yet to come.
On 15 September, the formal preparation document calling the whole church into a synodal process in preparation for the Synod on Synodality in 2023 was released. As I read this document, I was able to recognise that the church in Australia has been involved in such a process over these past three years.
Recently I have been re-reading the thematic papers of this journey, along with other material to prepare my heart and mind for this important moment in the story of the church in Australia. It has and will continue to be a journey enshrined within the Paschal Narrative.
Since June the member participants in the first formal session of the Plenary Council have been involved in preparation days and Tuesday evening coffee invitations as a way of greeting and coming to know some of the other participants. On 11 September, I facilitated two preparation sessions for the members of the Archdiocese of Sydney on Synodality and Listening.
On the feast of St Mary MacKillop in 2017, Archbishop Mary Coleridge entrusted the journey of the Plenary Council and beyond to the intercession of St Mary MacKillop, saying, “Mary MacKillop must surely be interested in where we are now and where we need to go in the future.” I have reflected upon the wisdom and insight that Mary MacKillop offers the church in Australia at this time. These are five gifts that I believe her life offers the members of the Plenary Council:
- To serve as a member of the Plenary Council is a response to a call rooted in the gift of the Spirit. Like Mary MacKillop the members will be called to listen deeply to the movement of the Spirit in their lives
- To step out with courage, willing to speak our truth and to let no obstacle deter us from acting with courage, willing to take risks for the common good as we navigate uncharted waters
- To pioneer new ways of living the Gospel and being church in this unique and ancient land in these changing times
- To be a heart-centred church going out to where the people are and creating a church of the heart in their midst
- To keep before us that in the end it is all about God’s mission, keeping an outward focus as together we seek ways of relieving suffering and bringing hope
The Plenary Council calls us to walk together in a mutually respectful way, always attentive to the emergence of the new. Like St Mary MacKillop we move forward, calm and full of hope, believing that under the guidance of the Spirit, new life will emerge.
Your continued prayers for the Plenary Council will be deeply appreciated.
Monica Cavanagh rsj