Last week at our daily Eucharist we heard the gospel story of Jesus healing ‘the demoniac who was dumb’. There were many times when Jesus healed someone who was ‘possessed’ by an evil spirit. In this case, the person’s ‘possession’ is linked to their being mute. They have no voice.
We know almost nothing about the person involved: their family, history, story, or even their gender. We don’t know how they came to be ‘possessed’ and mute, or how they responded after Jesus healed them. We simply know that after being healed they began to speak, much to the great surprise of everyone.
This story of someone finding their voice leads me to think about the Plenary Council that is being proposed for our Australian Church.
The first session of the Plenary Council will be held in Adelaide in 2020 and the final Plenary Council in May 2021. A year of listening will be followed by a year of discerning and then a final year of proposing.
The first stage will continue until Ash Wednesday 2019. At the final Council session the bishops present will vote on legislation affecting the whole Australian Church.
At this Plenary Council, the fifth in the Australian Church’s history, there will be up to 300 Catholic men and women attending. Many will be bishops, but other clergy, lay and religious will also be present.
Since becoming Pope in 2013, Francis has constantly called for synodality, a listening Church, a process that includes and listens to the life of the Spirit acting in all.
The question being asked in preparation for this Plenary Council is: ‘What is God asking of us in Australia at this time?’ People are asked to reflect on this question and share their reflections with others, and to allow what they hear and share with others to influence them, all in a respectful and prayerful context.
There are good reasons why some might question how a clear, strong voice can or will be heard in the Australian Church in the coming years. This is only the fifth such Australian Plenary Council. We clearly have much to learn about listening to the voice of the laity, about developing structures of governance that are inclusive, and about being more open and transparent.
Can sensitive points be raised and put on the table for further discussion? Can we be people who deeply listen and discern how the Holy Spirit is guiding us at this time? I believe and hope we can.
Here we have a valuable and timely opportunity for the Australian Church. It is up to all of us in our various ministries to encourage that ‘listening’ that allows the depth of people’s hearts to be heard. We might even find ourselves, like the witnesses to the healing of the mute demoniac, being amazed.
Whatever the final outcomes of the Plenary Council, the process invites discernment and change, and that affects us all.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial
Take part in the Plenary Council’s listening and dialogue process at plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au