After a change to the program, Plenary Council Members have been reflecting on four parts of the Motions and Amendments document on Thursday, assisted by input from the theological advisors to the Council.
Members are expected to address Parts 5 to 8 today, with a range of votes to happen during the day.
The Members heard reflections from the advisers, also known as periti, on Parts 5 and 6 on Wednesday. They were asked to reflect upon whether the motions considered would help the Church to be “transparent to the grace of God, and the hope that we have in Christ”.
Fr Richard Lennan a priest of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle now working as an academic in the United States, addressed the topic “Communion in Grace: Sacrament to the World”, looking at how, through its liturgical practices, the Church can more fully embrace its reality as a sacrament.
Jesus Christ, he said, “is grace in human form” and the fullness of God’s sacramentality.
Precisely because Christ is the fundamental sacrament, Fr Lennan explained, “The Church exists to be a sacrament of God’s love, to make present that love in our world”.
“As a Church, we’re not perfect,” he conceded. “We’re not here to be self-congratulatory or complacent. Rather, we’re called to mission and conversion.”
The Members were also encouraged by Dr Nigel Zimmermann to see the task of making disciples as belonging “to all of us” through Baptism.
Dr Zimmermann, who has published writings in theology, philosophy and bioethics, spoke on Part 6 of the Motions and Amendments document: “Formation and Leadership for Mission and Ministry”.
Making disciples “is not a task for a privileged few”, he said, “but for all of us. To serve the Lord faithfully, we must be prepared and taught, humbly learning the craft of sharing the Good News.”
Formation for discipleship is both a “right of the baptised” as well as a “responsibility of the Church”, he said. “Finding new paths of catechesis and witness attuned to the needs of the time is urgent and fundamental to our mission.”
Dr Sandie Cornish is the outgoing director of the Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. She addressed Part 8: “Integral Ecology for the Sake of Our Common Home.”
She invited the Members to reflect on the “special responsibility” to care for the Earth.
“Creation is not simply a resource at our disposal,” Dr Cornish said. “The whole universe is infused with God’s love.
“Standing in wonder and awe at the beauty of God’s creation, we are painfully aware of the harm done to our common home through human action and inaction.”
It is important for us to keep our ecology “integral”, too, she said. “So, we defend human life, combat poverty, address injustice and exclusion, and protect our common home.”
Sr Moya Hanlen FDNSC spoke about the crisis of Mass attendance facing the Church today, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Less than 12 per cent of Catholics regularly attend Mass,” she said, and many have “chosen to remain with Mass online” after lockdowns and gathering restrictions were lifted.
Sr Moya, from Sydney, spoke to Part 7: “At the Service of Communion, Participation and Mission: Governance.”
Governance in the Church is different from standard models of governance, she said. In the Church, governance is a “ministry of service” that facilitates communion, participation and mission.
She pointed to the existence of diocesan pastoral councils as a means of enabling this vision, noting that only one-third of dioceses in Australia have one. She said seeing governance as a ministry of service is important because Jesus himself “was mission”.
“In a very real sense, Jesus did not have a mission – he was himself mission: he was the Heart of God on earth.”
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With thanks to the ACBC.