On Tuesday 5 October, the second Plenary of the First Assembly of the Council was livestreamed. If you weren’t able to tune in, here are a couple of highlights you missed.

Opening Prayer

Before commencing with some opening formalities (such as voting on the minutes of the previous day’s sessions), there was a time dedicated to prayerful reflection on the day’s Gospel. This Gospel reading was from Luke 10:38-42.

He came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’”

Even though the Council’s sessions are being held via Zoom, taking the time to adopt a prayerful and reverent approach to the day’s proceedings is an appropriate way to begin, since the entire purpose of the Council is to adopt the same position as Mary: to listen to Him speaking. In a typically Ignatian way, the reflective presentation highlighted some key, resonant phrases from the passage that were worthy of ongoing contemplation. Learning how to listen to the Holy Spirit, even via Zoom, is central to this event.

Small Group Reports

For the Council’s agenda, there are 16 questions under consideration. Each day these 16 questions are being discussed by small groups of Plenary Members in rotation. The second half of the morning’s plenary session was dedicated to allowing representatives from the small groups to report back to the larger group with highlights from their conversations. It was fascinating to hear from each group to get a sense of where the conversations were going.

Plenary Member Sister Cecilia Joseph, reporting on behalf of the group that is discussing the question of Catholic education, said this:

There is also a broad consensus of gratitude and hope that we have much to build upon when we look at making our institutions even better . . . the culture presents many obstacles to our families and young people in practicing the faith, such as atheism, secularism, and the influence of social media . . . We discussed that the relationship between school and parish remains critical. We also discussed that the role of the school is to support families, but it does not replace the family, and that we must strengthen the sacramental practice of our students and our families.’

Plenary Member Hugo Ditroia, from the diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes, represented those discussing the question of governance and synodality in the Church, and whether or how lay and ordained members of the Church can do this together. Of their discussion he said:

We reflected that in reality not everyone can govern in the Church due to the fact that there must still be a distinction between those who govern and those who do not, otherwise the entire Church becomes a governing body . . . We all reflected and agreed that each one of us as a people of God, and as baptised members of the Body of Christ, share in a prophetic tradition, and rather than going forward fast and alone, we must go slow and steady together in a communion on this journey of synodality, always remembering that Jesus Christ is the centre of all that we say and all that we do.’

This was also something highlighted by Archbishop Anthony Fisher in a recent article for the ABC Religion & Ethics page.

Plenary Member Selina Hasham, from Sydney, reported on her group’s topic of personal and communal conversion:

We talked about vulnerability in ourselves and in those who have been wounded by the Church. We were helped by Pope Francis’ metaphor of a caravan of solidarity, moving slowly and moving together in order that the weak and the vulnerable are never left behind. Vulnerability links us to the Paschal Mystery, to the suffering, dying and resurrection reality that we can witness to in our own woundedness.’

Emerging directions

As we continue to hear back from the small group’s representatives throughout the week, a sense of direction for each of the Plenary agenda items is sure to emerge. Already, the discussions are shaping up to be thoughtful, nuanced, and passionate considerations of important questions the Church in Australia needs to address today.

You can watch this morning’s Plenary session at www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au. The morning plenary will be broadcast live each day as well as morning Mass.

Feature image courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Townsville