The Harvest, the Eucharist, the Laity and the Missing

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Over the past two weeks, The Catholic Weekly has been speaking to Plenary Council members regarding their hopes for the first assembly. This week, we speak to three members who are in the midst of their final preparations for the upcoming Plenary Council.

The last Plenary Council was in 1937. Why do you think it is important we hold a Plenary Council at this time, and what are some things you would like to see the Plenary Council address?

Dominican Sister Cecilia Joseph chats with a participant at the Come Follow Me retreat held at St Mary’s Cathedral on 13 June. More retreats are on offer throughout June and July across Sydney. PHOTO: Patrick J. Lee
Dominican Sister Cecilia Joseph chats with a participant at the Come Follow Me retreat held at St Mary’s Cathedral on 13 June. More retreats are on offer throughout June and July across Sydney. PHOTO: Patrick J. Lee

SISTER CECILIA JOSEPH OP,
DOMINICAN SISTERS OF ST CECILIA

The last Plenary Council seemed to address the needs of the time and set the course for the mission. The Plenary Council comes at a time filled with great opportunity. The past 18 months have provided Australians a unique moment to reflect on the essentials in life: faith and family. The fruit of this enforced cultural retreat will soon come to fruition if given the opportunity to flourish.

The crisis of faith in today’s culture is obvious. At the same time, the desire for Truth, holiness, authentic witness, deep prayer, and a personal encounter with Jesus burns in the heart of the Church, and in the hearts of many lay people, priests, and religious. The harvest is ready! How will we make space for Christ to renew His Church in the coming decades? What will we do to help all Australians encounter Christ and come to know the fullness of life for which they were created? How can we assist the young and not-so-young to respond to Christ’s call to holiness by going out into the deep to make disciples today?

St Catherine of Siena, a 14th century Dominican, wrote “be who you were created to be and you will set the whole world on fire.” May the fruits of the Plenary Council help us individually and as a Church to be and to do just that! Come Holy Spirit in this Great Southland!

Sister Mary Julian Ekman RSM.
Sister Mary Julian Ekman RSM.

SISTER MARY JULIAN EKMAN RSM,
RELIGIOUS SISTERS OF MERCY OF ALMA

The Plenary Council comes at a time when people in Australia are experiencing isolation, loneliness, fear, confusion and frustration due to the challenges brought about by Covid 19 – challenges which exacerbate deeper, more painful wounds of feeling unloved, unwanted or unforgiven.

In this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, the Plenary Council comes as an opportunity to reinvigorate how we spread the Gospel message to our families, parishes, schools and communities, bringing the hope of Christ to a world paralysed by fear. The exhortation of Pope St John Paul II seems so fitting here: “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. . . Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”

What better time than now, and what better occasion than a Plenary Council to welcome Christ and open up to Him the doors of our minds and hearts.

Given that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, I hope for a focus on the reinvigoration of faith education and prayer in our schools and parishes, especially fostering the sacramental life in schools (Mass and Confession) and promoting Eucharistic Adoration.

I also hope for some concentration on ways to support families who are trying to live their faith under challenging circumstances, especially those who have children with special needs. If families are to be schools of love, then we need to help them to be so, for out of them come good marriages as well as vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Chris Lee pictured at Sumner House. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Chris Lee pictured at Sumner House. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

CHRIS LEE,
EXECUTIVE OFFICER FOR THE SECRETARIAT OF THE CLERGY, DIOCESE OF BROKEN BAY

Today, society is obviously a different one from 1937 when the last Plenary Council was held in Australia. If we look at society in 2021, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we have a different society coming to grips with different issues than what we faced in 2019, right before we were getting ready for the Plenary Council in 2020.

The changes in the last two years in our way of life and culture have left an imprint and opened new questions for us as a church in light of the pandemic. When I reflected on this predicament, the motto of the Carthusians came to mind, which translated to “The Cross is steady while the world turns.”

The last two years of the pandemic have been a catalyst for the Church to assess the past and present, and reflect on if we are still ‘on mission’. Google Data showed in the middle of the pandemic in August 2020, searches for ‘prayer’ and ‘God’ increased by 50 per cent.

The pandemic required individuals, the culture and the Church to think about if there was a better way. There are many wounded people searching for hope, truth and goodness which we know as Catholics that only Christ can provide.

As someone who has worked with young men for most of my professional career, I would love for the Plenary Council to be able to discuss the practicing rate of lay men and how we can better reach out to men of all ages to embrace their faith.

The suicide rate for young men is staggering, but I believe truly the consolation that faith brings can lift us out of hopelessness and despair and allow us to be able to understand our strength and identity so as to direct it towards the fruitfulness of service and love.

If the Plenary Council can begin to look at our Church and see who is missing, we might begin to understand how we can be of better service but also how these people might also one day lend their gifts and share in the building up of the kingdom.

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