Characteristic of all of these three movements in the Church is prayer. This was especially the case during the recent first gathering of the Plenary Council. Unsurprisingly, each day the general gathering and the discussion groups began with prayer, speaking and listening. Before we spoke, we allowed God to speak. Several times during the day we would stop and pray. Radical perhaps, necessary always.
In the early stages of the first session of the Plenary Council, for some, it seemed like we were at a shareholders meeting or an AGM of a company. Then imperceptibly and surely the nature of the gathering changed as people became accustomed to each other and the process, and learning to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Gathering as the Body of Christ, where daring to peer through the spiritual lens, rather than simply our own, made the difference and recalled us back to the purpose for which we were gathered. Some of the learnings were, to speak boldly and listen carefully, not as easy as you might think.
Some of this is due to the fact we are out of practice of gathering in this way and have no other model. In short, we are still learning the ancient art of being a Church which ‘journeys together’. While it may take some time to fully absorb and make this process our own, yet the taste we have had of it has been most satisfying and helpful. Growth is possible.
In the process there is joy, a quiet faith that all shall be well, and that a synodal Church – tense, messy, humble, but an open place for all – is what God asks of Catholicism in the third millennium.
In the back of my mind, during all of our discussions, I couldn’t help think of the question ‘how many people look at churches in Australia these days and see the face of Jesus?’ Would that be the first thing that people notice about a Church these days? How might we do better what we do well in being a Light to the Nations?
Thinking about these three events – local, national and international – my heart was turned to the event in John’s Gospel, Chapter 4, where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a powerful story of encounter with God. No wonder it is used during Lent and a preparation of those to be baptised and all of us who are about to renew our baptismal vows. These three events are such a moment. Many reactions to the Diocesan Assembly were just that, a moment to encounter the Risen Lord and allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe upon us.
In that extraordinary encounter of Jesus and the woman at the well, we have this interesting exchange:
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’. (John 4:7, 9,10)
Noticeable among the conversations and interventions in the Diocesan Assembly and the first gathering of the Plenary Council was this deep yearning of people, which echoes the request of Jesus, ‘Will you give me something to drink?’ People clearly and hopefully expressed their thirst for God and that the Church make a difference in responding to that thirst to the people of today.
A second voice that was present in all of our discussions echoed the expression of Jesus, ‘If you knew the gift of God…’ Participants wanted to know how we can speak to the people of our time and announce the Good News so that they might know the gift of God; they wanted to know how we can assist in bringing forth the Kingdom of God, and not get in the way
Thirst. The gift of God. Where these two realities meet is where the synodal process is best at work. Without either it can become just another meeting like any other. With both it can become a powerful tool and organising principle to not only give expression to what it means to be the Body of Christ, and direction to its mission.
The three by-words of the coming 2023 Synod of Bishops, Communion, Participation and Mission, succinctly sum up just what that thirst and the gift of God look like. Is all that we do as the Body of Christ leading people into communion with God, their neighbours, their best self and the whole of creation? Is all that we do as the Body of Christ fostering a full active participation in the life of God and God’s holy Church? Is all that we do as the Body of Christ leading us to be outward focused in sharing the mission of Christ to allow the Kingdom of God to break into the world loved by God?
We, in fact, will never tire, nor ought we tire of asking those questions, for by them our thirst will be quenched and we shall truly know the gift that God is offering to us.
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