Be wary of the Fashions of the Age – Archbishop Fisher’s message to Plenary Council Members

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and fellow clergy concelebrate Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday 10 October for the intentions of the Plenary Council. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has urged the Members of the 5th Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia to bring the patrimony of the Church across time and space to their discussions, be wary of the fashions of the age and read the signs of the times through the spectacles of faith and reason, otherwise this Plenary Council and any other is for nought.

Archbishop Fisher was speaking at a Closing Mass for Sydney Members to mark the end of the week-long First Assembly of the Plenary Council at St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday.

The closing Mass for the First Assembly was held in Brisbane. The Second Assembly will take part, COVID-permitting, in Sydney from 4-9 July 2022.

278 Plenary Council members have participated in the First Assembly largely online, with a small number of dioceses able to bring members together if COVID-19 restrictions allowed.

Small numbers of local bishops, vicars and two lay members were able to attend the Closing Mass in Sydney under public health restrictions.

Sister Susanna Edmunds OP, reads during the special Mass to mark the end of the First Assembly of the Plenary Council. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Fisher emphasised that previous Plenary Councils in Australia, the most recent having taken place in 1937, were conscious that theirs was one in a long procession of church synods, all charged with proclaiming the apostolic faith that first came to this land a century and a half before them.

“They were part of something that stretched not just across time, but also space: the universal Church represented by the presiding papal legate, by the newish Code of Canon Law they were applying locally, and by the fact Rome had to approve the Council’s 655 decrees”, Archbishop Fisher said.

“They invoked the help of the Holy Spirit, declaring their reliance upon Him alone, as they shaped pastoral responses to the issues of the day”.

Archbishop Fisher emphasised that while Plenary Councils are a means to help renew the Church, Members must respond with holy rather than worldly wisdom to the important responsibilities entrusted to them.

“It’s not a parliament making decrees at will, as if everything were ‘on the table’ or ‘up for grabs’. It’s a very pastoral strategy of gathering Church leaders and some others, for prayer and discernment, to increase faith, revitalise morals, promote discipline and plan common pastoral action”.

St Mary’s Cathedral Dean Fr Don Richardson censes the Gospel during the Mass for the Plenary. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Sydney Archbishop urged Members of the Plenary Council to be guided by the Scriptures, depending on divine wisdom, not merely human thinking as they continue their discussions over coming months in the lead up to the Second Assembly in Sydney next year.

“Use your mind, of course, have a good look at what’s going on around you, the challenges and opportunities. Reflect on your experience. Reason things out. But bring the patrimony of the Church across time and space to that task. Read the signs of the times through the spectacles of faith and reason. Respond with holy rather than worldly wisdom, with perennial truth, not the fashions of the age”, Archbishop Fisher said.

Reflect on your experience. Reason things out. But bring the patrimony of the Church across time and space to that task. Read the signs of the times through the spectacles of faith and reason.

“Even more importantly, those Scriptures tell us, Christ the Word must be at the centre of all prayer and discernment, of every intervention and small group discussion, of any proposal and vote. Otherwise this Council and any other is for nought”.

“All sorts of things came up this week past: some imaginative and wise, some unhelpful even impossible. In the Parallel Plenary Council conducted in some parts of the media over recent months and days, God has rarely been mentioned, or prayer, sacraments, vocation, holiness, saints, communion with the Church. But if Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the Good Teacher to whom we bring all our questions, including the sixteen on the Plenary Council agenda; if His is the wisdom we seek to discern and apply, as the Bishops and their colleagues seek to discern among the many voices, then all will be well”.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP preaches during the Mass to mark the end of the Plenary. photo: Giovanni Portelli

“If as a Church in Australia we can keep the commandments and repent when we fail, if we can let go of every possession or privilege, ideology or attachment, structure or aspiration that gets in the way of the adventure of the Gospel, then the hearts of the faithful and the Church may truly be renewed”, Archbishop Fisher said.

“Follow Christ the Good Teacher and all will be well. Guided by divine rather than wordly wisdom, the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia must now continue its work of prayerful and careful discernment towards the Second Assembly next year. God bless the Council Members and organisers in the meantime!”

On the final working day of the First Assembly on Saturday, a series of proposals were presented for consideration over the nine months leading up to the Second Assembly in Sydney.

This included moves to better embrace the rich liturgical traditions of the Catholic Church in Australia, especially its Eastern Rite churches, a renewed focus on vocations and on strengthening partnerships between Catholic schools and parishes.

The President of the Plenary Council, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said the Council’s steering committee will now determine the work to be undertaken in preparation for the Second Assembly.

“This period of celebration of the Plenary Council is also a journey which will last for nine months. Although we will all now need to take some well-deserved rest in whatever ways that might be possible for us in the midst of the realities of our daily lives, we do not stand still”, Archbishop Costelloe said.

“The journey continues and will call for our engagement in many different ways. Certainly after whatever time we can take for rest and renewal, we will need to remain open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who will lead us more deeply into all that we have shared together this week. The bonds we have forged and the trust we have established will serve us well as these months unfold”.

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