Prelates set out key principles, questions for Plenary deliberations

In separate masses, Archbishops Anthony Fisher OP and Timothy Costelloe SDB have set out vital issues and principles for this week's Plenary

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP gestures during the Mass celebrated in Sydney to mark the opening of the Fifth Plenary Council. The official mass to open the Plenary was celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB of Perth and livestreamed around Australia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Raising the Church in Australia to address the crisis of vocations – whether to marriage, religious life or priesthood – is a vital task facing the Plenary, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said on Sunday.

The Archbishop’s comment came in his homily at Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney marking the opening of Australia’s Fifth Plenary Council.

The official opening Mass of the Plenary was celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB of Perth – also the Plenary’s President – and livestreamed across the nation.

If the Plenary can address the many challenges and inspires a renewed sense of the baptismal vocation and mission, this should play out not just in good spouses and parents, priests and religious, but also in good politicians and journalists, teachers and academics, scientists and artists, lay leaders and workers within Church institutions but especially beyond, says Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP. Photo: 123rf

Renewing the whole Church

But while behind the vocations crisis currently affecting the Church in Australia there are wider challenges to faith, authority and morals, Archbishop Fisher said he was confident all these could be addressed.

“The Church in Australia has many strengths: the faith and generosity of her faithful, religious and clergy; her many institutions serving so many Australians; above all that One who is Lord of that ‘Great South Land of the Holy Spirit’ that is Australia,” he said.

“If our Council addresses the many challenges and inspires a renewed sense of the baptismal vocation and mission, this should play out not just in good spouses and parents, priests and religious, but also in good politicians and journalists, teachers and academics, scientists and artists, lay leaders and workers within Church institutions but especially beyond.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB addresses the official Opening Mass of the Fifth Plenary, celebrated in Perth last Sunday and livestreamed across the nation. Photo: Jamie O’Brien

Contemporary questions

“Finding ways to inspire, form and support these hearers, carriers and doers of the Word will be crucial going forward”

Archbishop Fisher said the Plenary needed to address “some very contemporary questions.”

These included how to deepen the spiritual lives of the faithful amidst the noise and busyness of modernity, how to spread the Word in a society of declining faith, affiliation and practice, how to we ensure the church’s institutions are committed to its central mission, healing the wounds of colonisation and abuse, advocating for the unborn, dying and others ‘at the peripheries’ of what Pope Francis has described as a ‘throwaway society.’

However behind these questions, he said, “is the perennial challenge to receive the Word who is God and in turn be voices for that Word.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB of Perth distributes Communion during the Mass to officially open the Fifth Plenary, which was celebrated in Perth and livestreamed across the nation. Photo: Jamie O’Brien

“So we ask: How might we better identify, form and support leaders for mission—young or old, married or single, cleric or religious or lay person—to be the missionary disciples Australia needs, each according to their particular state of life?”

In his homily officially opening the Plenary, Archbishop Costelloe said Catholics “must become, even more than we are already, a community of true disciples”.

In an impassioned appeal to Catholics across the nation, Archbishop Costelloe said much of the work ahead in renewing the Church in Australia “will need, therefore, to be done on our knees, metaphorically if not literally.”

much of the work ahead in renewing the Church in Australia “will need, therefore, to be done on our knees, metaphorically if not literally.”

“Perhaps the most important thing God is asking of us at this time is to return the Church to Christ and return Christ to the Church,” he said.

“What has always been true in theory and in principle urgently needs to become true in the day-to-day experience of everyone who encounters us. We must become, even more than we are already, a community of true disciples.

“We must become a living icon of Christ who humbled himself, taking the form of a servant. We must learn from the One who is meek and humble of heart. We are being sent by Him as He was sent by his Father.

“If we remain in Him, as branches remain part of the vine, we will bear much fruit.”

The centrality of Christ

Christ is central to everything, he reminded Plenary participants.

“How can we be a missionary and evangelising Church if we are not listening to the Lord Jesus who says to us, as He said to His first disciples, “As the Father has sent me so I send you” (John 20:21)? How can we be an inclusive, participatory and synodal Church if we do not reflect deeply on the hospitality of God made known in Christ, who draws so many people into His mission of preaching, healing and teaching?

“How can we be a prayerful and Eucharistic Church if we do not journey with Jesus into the hills to pray, or if we forget that when He asks us to celebrate the Eucharist “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), He is also asking us to become the Eucharist, giving ourselves away for others as He did?

“How can we be a humble, healing and merciful Church if we have not tasted the bitter gall of our failings and sins, and then, purified by the Lord, begin to reflect Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, healing and compassion?

“How can we be a joyful, hope-filled, servant Church if we do not contemplate Jesus on his knees washing the feet of his disciples? How can we be a Church open to conversion, renewal and reform if we fail to let the cry of Jesus, “Repent and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15), pierce our hearts?”

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