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Christian Brother Damien Price writes a plenary spirit is open to conversion, renewal, reform

Open hearts: “The humble heart holds truth lightly – almost as one would a butterfly, for you are holding and caressing something sacred.”

THE Plenary Council 2020 has delivered six national themes for discernment for discussion. Br Damien Price has written a reflection on each of the six themes

A FRIEND of mine is married to a South African – the son of one of the architects of the apartheid system. 

My friend’s husband is one of the leaders in the reconciliation movement in South Africa.

At some point in Wilhelm’s journey some sort of conversion took place. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that one of the great gifts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa was the opportunity victims had to share their story of violence, terror and fear, and how so often that sharing led to profound forgiveness, reconciliation and conversion for both victim and perpetrator.

Australia’s Plenary Council 2020 journey invites us as a faith community to be “open” to conversion. This is so difficult. 

How many of us, cling to our truth, world view and stance with iron grip and clenched teeth. 

Openness can only come from a truly humble heart. 

The humble heart holds truth lightly – almost as one would a butterfly for you are holding and caressing something sacred. 

Openness comes from the trusting heart and knows that ultimately it is God’s Church and we merely instruments in it. 

When you are humble and trusting you are disarmed and able to deeply listen and be present to the other.

You don’t need to win. It is not a competition.

You are able to deeply listen to the person and to their sacred story woven in the fabric of their telling. 

Your open, respect-filled listening may not change hearts but it will “disarm” in so far as the other will feel heard and respected.

I love that moment when the younger son – in the parable of the prodigal – comes to his knees and to his senses and begins the long journey home to the waiting arms of his Father.

That conversion moment is a moment of profound humility and trust. 

I don’t have all the answers. I am incomplete.

My world view is not the only world view.

To be in touch with your own truth but to be so in such a way that that very truth can be caressed and moulded and shaped and re-shaped by the whispering of God’s Holy Spirit; that is openness and the gift that our world so desperately needs.

For we live in a world of iron-fisted certainty of nation against nation, religion against religion, class against class, world view against world view – in a world of grey.

That black-white, in-out, us-them mindset only leaves the world blind and its children living in fear.

The openness that the plenary council calls us to will bear fruit in renewal and reform. 

Because of our sinful condition, because of our feet of clay, we as Church will always be in need of conversion. 

Every age of the Church has also had its communal brokenness; once we as Church sided with the aristocracy against the peasants of France, we blessed slave ships entering the Americas, we abused Negro religious sisters and prevented them from entering Catholic universities, we rewarded industrialists who made their millions through pillaged rainforests and exploiting workers paid slave wages, and more.

Each and every one of these and other occasions of sin called our faith community to reform and renewal.

Unpopular “prophets” named the unpleasant truth for us first – and almost always we took eons to hear them but then canonised them after we had killed them.

But change we did and our faith community has a proud history of reform and renewal – even if sadly we are dragged to it.

As we journey toward the plenary council if life has taught us one thing – it is that all of the above – conversion, reform and renewal – begins with myself.

Can we, in humility and trust, pray each day to be open, to change our hearts, to change our mindset and heart sets – then we will reform and renew and as the people of God we are called to be; speak truth to the needs of a broken world.

Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace; St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe; and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.

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