I think I am the only Jesuit who was privileged to be taught English at Melbourne University by the Jesuit Peter Steele. Peter, as many know, was a remarkable Jesuit, teacher, priest and poet. He spent most of his life teaching and writing at the University of Melbourne.
His Sunday homilies were always carefully shaped, never too long but linking the readings of the day with something historical, cultural or literary. He had an enormous influence on our Province and Newman College, where he was based for many years.
Until his final days he kept exploring what it meant to be human, made in the likeness and image of God, and how we might explore the depth of that mystery and be captured by it, allowing for the limitation of our human words.
When Peter would lecture, most of us would struggle to capture on paper what he was saying. His presentations were more than skilful lectures. They were often quite moving experiences.
He had this great skill in taking us deeply into a book, play, poem or an idea. We would sit enchanted by his words and leave the lecture with nothing much written but with a desire to return to his topic with ears and hearts more open. His lectures would often end with spontaneous applause.
I have been thinking of Peter because the coming Plenary Council is now looking for some skilled wordsmiths for their six Discernment and Writing Groups. People who are prepared to dig deeply into the themes that have been identified, wrestle with them and discern them within contemporary Australian life, and in a scriptural and theological context.
Much listening and careful discernment will be needed to draw us more fully into that life and mystery of living faith today.
In his poem, ‘The Song of Pentecost’, Peter wrote: ‘The words are nothing till they match desire: / I cannot hear you with the ear alone: / The way to mean it is to speak in fire.’
Peter is no longer with us but I believe he would be hoping that our Plenary Council can find those words of fire that evoke and name the deepest desires of our Australian Catholic community.
The Plenary Council needs the best wordsmiths we can offer; people who can listen and shape our deepest desires into words, taking our Australian and Catholic life into a new and contemporary imagination of heart and belief.
We need to tap such people on the shoulder and either nominate them or ask them to volunteer for this important task as we search that mystery of human words that deepen our faith in Jesus, the eternal Word. We need a new Pentecostal fire.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial
As we move into the Listening and Discernment stage of our preparation for the Plenary Council 2020, the Bishops’ Commission for the Plenary Council is seeking people who are willing to be leaders and partners in the process of discernment.
Opportunities are available to apply to be the Chair, or a member, of one of six Discernment and Writing Groups. For more information, visit the Office for Employment Relations website or contact Olivia Lee on (02) 9919 7822 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications close 22 July 2019.