Plenary – Do we have time to listen?

By Richard McMahon, 14 August 2018
The Plenary Council 2020 Candle in St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


The temptation is to find a quiet corner, coffee in hand, and type in my response to the plenary question on my smart phone, sending it sailing into the iCloud heaven, hoping that my voice will sway the bishops to make some change to something I am not happy about. I finish my coffee, and get on with my life. If things don’t change, well, I tried my best to make a contribution, didn’t I? Isn’t that what plenary is all about?

Yet when I listen more deeply to the plenary invitation, I discover that it is firstly an invitation to listen. Let us “listen to what the Spirit is saying.” (Rev 2:7). What a wonderful invitation we have received from the Bishops of Australia! This scripture passage, sitting as it does, underneath the logo of Plenary Council 2020, is at the heart of our engagement during this period of listening and dialogue for the Church in Australia.

While my current concerns are significant and should be voiced, what else is God speaking into my heart at this time? Am I able to come to a place of stillness and contemplation, and listen with the ear of my heart to what the Spirit is saying in my life. And am I willing to share this experience with others? Plenary is an invitation to listen… and to dialogue. After all, the plenary question is “what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”

We accompany Jesus on this plenary journey, and are invited into Gospel encounters. Who do we meet at the heart of the Gospel? Our family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. The Gospel people are today’s people, experiencing the same hopes and joys, griefs and sorrows as those from centuries earlier. We are invited in these plenary days to sit with a drink in the midday Australian sun, conversing with a woman from outside the religious tradition, and outside her own social circle (John 4). We listen attentively to two travellers, downcast on their way home on a dusty outback track after witnessing everything they believed about their faith being torn away (Luke 24:13-35). We experience the elation of those coming back from mission to the growth areas of our urban centres, fresh with stories of new life (Luke 10:17). We share in the grief of friends heartbroken at the loss of their beloved friend or family member (John 11).

In this time of privileged encounter, our bishops invite us to honour the stories we hold in our hearts and those we hear, by sharing the wisdom gleaned and questions raised. We are encouraged to raise our voices, to become a cloud of witnesses, sharing in the question of “what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” There can be no more important question. And we are a pilgrim people. We recognise that we need one another, and by listening to the truth of one another, we step more deeply into the Divine Truth, connected as we are in the One Spirit. By prayerfully listening to one another, and avoiding the temptation to race to the nearest answer, we may open our eyes and ears to what the Spirit is saying in our midst.

I hope and pray that when it comes time to submit my response to plenary, my mind and heart will have been changed by many fruitful conversations, particularly with those who hold views and beliefs different to my own.

To find out more about Plenary 2020 in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit our website or contact Richard or Tanya on


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