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Discerning the ‘voice of God’ among the people of Brisbane

Listening heart: Robert Falzon (left) prays at the opening of the two-day Brisbane Assembly on October 4 and 5 marking an important step on the historic Plenary Council 2020 journey – the start of the listening and discernment phase. Photo: Mark Bowling

HUNDREDS of Catholics who attended the Brisbane Assembly have returned to their parishes, communities and agencies invigorated with a message to “listen to the voice of God” and “hold your nerve” in discerning what is needed by the Church at this time. 

“I’ve come out very hope-filled – just to hear that we have to listen to everyone,” 21-year-old Thomas Warren, from All Saints Youth Ministry, Albany Creek, said.

The two-day Brisbane Assembly on October 4 and 5 marked an important step on the historic Plenary Council 2020 journey – the start of the Listening and Discernment phase.

“What kind of decisions might we take in Australia at this time? What do we need to let go of – things that might have worked in the past that don’t work now?” Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge told about 400 assembly participants at Edmund Rice Performing Arts Centre, South Brisbane.

“What new, unthought (of) things do we have to say ‘yes’ to? 

“We are engaging in these two days in the extraordinary act of communal discernment – the whole Church of Brisbane discerning together, not individually, what God is saying to us and asking of us.

“And what God is saying to us and asking of us may well be a surprise and it may well be even a shock.”

Plenary council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins described the action needed within the Church as tilling the soil for new fruits.

Leading the way: Plenary Council 2020 facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins addresses the Brisbane Assembly, with Fr Noel Connolly, a member of the council’s facilitation team, looking on.
Leading the way: Plenary Council 2020 facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins addresses the Brisbane Assembly, with Fr Noel Connolly, a member of the council’s facilitation team, looking on.

She said from the 220,000 submissions received by the plenary council across Australia, six themes had emerged.

God is asking us to become: missionary and evangelising; inclusive and participatory; prayerful and Eucharistic; humble, healing and merciful; joyful, hope-filled and a servant community; and open to conversion and reform.

The assembly participants considered each of the themes during “communal discernment” sessions, and to assist with the Listening and Discernment phase were asked to engage their own parishes and communities in communal listening and discernment encounters.

The fruits of those encounters will shape the agenda of the first plenary council session in October 2020.

Explaining the Listening and Dialogue phase of the plenary council, Columban Father Noel Connolly, a member of the plenary council facilitation team, said the Church was not a democracy, but neither should it be a dictatorship. 

He said under the “old model” (pre-Second Vatican Council) “the bishops talked and we listened, and obeyed”.

“Well, the new model, the communal model of the magisterium all people belong to the people of God,” he said.

“The primary faith of the Church is now the liturgy, the daily living, the spiritual lives of laity – of everybody, the people of God.”

Fr Connolly’s message was loud and clear – we are called to greater freedom to hear and to act.

He said it worked best when the magisterium and the people “breathe together” – or, as Pope Francis says, “when we are synodal, when we walk together, all listening to one another”.

Archbishop Coleridge told assembly participants that on the plenary journey “we are opening to the great dislocations of God”.

“We as a Church … in this country cannot put up a sign that says ‘business as usual’,” he said.

“Because God says unless you are made to move, to get out of your comfort zone, you are going to curl up and die in the desert.

“What I have come to see in through the years of my own journeying with the prospect and then the reality of the plenary council is that the council is the great gift given by God to the Church in Australia at this very difficult and complex time.

“God is not silent. God has a word for us … listen Church – Sh’ma.

“Discernment is a sweet word, but it is a slow, messy and at times painful process. 

“This whole journey we are on is a messy journey. It’s a slow journey … and the danger is we will lose either our nerve or patience. Now don’t lose your nerve because if you do you’ll miss the Word.”

Focus on Jesus: Brisbane Assembly was a faith-filled gathering to “listen to the voice of God”.
Focus on Jesus: Brisbane Assembly was a faith-filled gathering to “listen to the voice of God”.

In his final reflection, Archbishop Coleridge said it was easy enough to come up with our own ideas about what the Church should be doing, but our own ideas can end up creating a Church in our own image, “just another human institution that can’t deliver what it promises”.  

“Doing our own thing is what has led us to this moment of crisis,” he said.

“The new thing that God is doing is far bigger than any of our own ideas, any of the strategies, programs or policies we may devise; and it’s the only thing that will lead us beyond the crisis. 

“God is stirring among us to form us in his own image – which is the image of Jesus Christ.”

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