Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB says that without a profound engagement with the Church’s tradition of discernment there is a risk Australian Catholics may presume in the lead up to the Plenary Council “that what we want and what God wants are the same thing”.
The archbishop, who was elected council president in 2018, has invited all Australian Catholics to practice the spirituality of Ignatian discernment – individually and in parish communities – now and long after the final assembly set for April 2022.
In a paper A Journey of Discernment: The Plenary Council published on the council website, its president said the 12-month postponement of the two assemblies due to pandemic restrictions was a “precious opportunity” to allow for a much deeper reflection and respectful discussion on the council’s central question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”.
“There should be no doubt that God speaks to each of us in the depths of our hearts and is revealed to us in the midst of our own life experience,” Archbishop Costelloe wrote.
“Equally it is true that what you or I might want for the Church could well be exactly what God wants for the Church.
“A problem arises, however, when we simply presume that what we want and what God wants are the same thing, without really engaging in a profound process of discernment to determine whether the many voices to which we are all attentively listening are revealing or obscuring the voice of the Spirit.
“This is why discernment has been, and must continue to be, the fundamental principle which guides us all in our engagement with the Plenary Council.”
The archbishop said that his judge of success will be whether “a more faithful Church” emerges from the council and that the Church in Australia may consider itself in the midst of a “San Damiano moment”.
Like St Francis of Assisi, who heard God asking him to rebuild his church while praying in San Damiano, Australians are being invited to rebuild the Church, “to restore it so that its true nature and identity, and its beauty, can be seen again”, said the archbishop.
“Francis was not asked to tear down the Church, imperfect and unfaithful though it was in many ways, and start again.
“Francis was asked to rebuild the Church, to renew the Church, so that it could walk the path of fidelity more surely.”
Archbishop Costelloe said preparations for the formal assemblies to date have relied “heavily” upon the method of discernment taught by St Ignatius and are best guided by a “three-fold fidelity” to Jesus, to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit over 2000 years and also in interpreting the signs of the times today.
Read A Journey of Discernment at plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au