On this penultimate day of the first Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council in Australia, we have now completed six days of sitting in front of a computer. This Mass was recorded a few weeks ago, so I do not know how our days have progressed so far. But I can hazard a guess that we are all probably quite ‘over’ being irradiated by the pixels coming from our screens, and we might even be tempted to play a rhyming game that leads us to the word ‘scream’! There is another rhyming word, however, that I hope has also occurred to us, and that is ‘gleam.’ While we have not been able to reveal ourselves face-to-face, nonetheless, each of our digitalised appearances have occupied our collective vision for these past several days.
Despite the challenges that this has probably posed, I hope that our faces have, as St Paul put it in the first reading, “…reflect[ed] like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow[ing] brighter and brighter as we [have] turned into the image that we reflect.” I hope that we have been, and are gleaming in the unveiled presence of the Lord, and reflecting that presence among ourselves and beyond.
What we might hope to be the case, nonetheless remains our task to do; that is, to reveal, as St Paul said, “…the work of the Lord who is Spirit.” Indeed, our work throughout this Assembly has meant to be the work of unveiling the Spirit of the Lord, whose light is to shine into the shadows of our minds and hearts, to reveal for all of the faithful the face of Christ in the local Church in Australia today.
I am sure that there has been invigorating conversation and productive engagement over the past days, leading to (we all hope) the propositions which will form the basis of the final stages of the Plenary Council. But let us not lose sight of our primary task here: that is, to reveal through our deliberations the face of Christ among us, so that He might be reflected in the face of his Body, the Church in Australia, at this time and in our places.
This face of Christ is particular to our time and place. It is a face with very ancient and indigenous lines etched into it; lines of great dignity but also immense pain. We might ask ourselves: How have we sought to reveal these lines as also lines of hope as well? The particular face of Christ we are to unveil is also one marked with the lines of a great mixture of ethnicities, languages, cultures and histories; still significantly Anglo-European in heritage, but becoming ever more Asian and sub-Continental in appearance. How have we unveiled the face of the Church in this emerging orientation, and arranged her household accordingly?
Christ’s face – the face we have assembled here to reveal – is always incarnational. The Gospel will always reveal itself embodied in a people; at the same time, this people – Christ’s Body – is to find ourselves embodied in the Gospel. We are the people Christ now calls to go out into the depths of missionary endeavour, there to find a catch, but also to be caught ourselves. So, as Jesus said to us, do not be afraid. As we go into this penultimate day, let us be renewed by the invitation of Christ to leave behind what hinders us and to follow in his Way.
Fiona Basile14 October 2021
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC)11 October 2021