Plenary voices: Bishop Richard Umbers

This is the text of an intervention made by Bishop Richard Umbers at the Plenary on Tuesday 5 October.

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Bishop Richard Umbers concelebrates Mass for the intentions of the Plenary Council with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Bishop Terry Brady in St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

To live and operate in the boring 20’s a certain amount of bureaucratic procedure is inevitable. And perhaps it has ever been so. David Graeber in his book on the secret joys of bureaucracy makes the point that even the unstoppable Mongol army had to depend upon the Han for the administration of taxes. But the quality of our interventions at meetings depends upon what we bring to them from our time in prayer and discernment.

Nobody expects our elders to be Harvey Spectres of canon law. Even so, it is reasonable to presume that we know the rules of the game in our regulatory environment and should seek compliance with the ‘supreme law’ of the Church – the salvation of souls.

Perhaps we have had too light a hand on the tiller and this reflection on our mission and values is an opportunity to test our appetite for risk in the eschatological realm. I would hope our tolerance for deliberate or purposeful violations of the spiritual work, health and safety requirements of our people is zero. That was the prophetable lesson Samuel had for Saul upon hearing the mooing and bleating of Agag’s stock.

Culture starts from the top. We cannot hope to lead other people to Christ if we are not following Him ourselves. We have begun to incorporate time for silent prayer and reflection into our gatherings. This is the way. In order to facilitate time with The Lord we should be monitoring caps on the number of meetings that we schedule in a day. I propose that we raise bureaucratic barriers to requests for meetings. Fill out a lengthy form to justify them. Convince a committee.

Unless the Lord builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127