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Christian Brother writes there are no spectators in an inclusive, participatory and synodal Church

Leave your seat: “There are no spectators in an inclusive, participatory and synodal Church.”

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

AS a teacher I always reflected that my role was to walk with and mentor young people so that they discovered their key to unlock their full potential – as St Irenaeus of Lyons says, “the Glory of God is the human fully alive!”

My greatest joy was to see students “come alive” – claiming their own voice and story. 

One of the dictums I attempted to work from was four simple words – spectator, invite, involve, ownership.

I believed that often people were spectators to their own lives, observing from a distance, not getting involved, not risking and quite often sitting on the fence throwing criticism and mud.

In schools I found myself constantly inviting and involving students to contribute to every facet of school life and by doing so – be their best self and hopefully by doing so – discover their key to becoming their best self.

When this occurred they began to walk on that privileged ground of “ownership” of their own destiny. 

Captain of my soul

As William Ernest Henley says, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”.

In the weeks after Easter, the Church shares with us much of the Acts of the Apostles. 

There is a real missionary feel to Acts and the descriptions of the early Churches paint a wonderful picture of a faith community that was inclusive, participatory and of deep listening to the Spirit. 

I don’t know what they put in the water at St Ursula’s College in Armidale in the 1930s, but my mother Zena graduated from the care of the Ursuline Sisters with a profound sense of Church. 

Zena felt at home with the Second Vatican Council as it deeply reflected the Church she learned about in Armidale. 

Actively involved with the Grail Movement, organiser of letter-writing campaigns to support missionary priests on isolated Pacific islands, one of the first lay teachers at Santa Sabina in Sydney, on the council of St Raphael’s University College in Townsville, actively involved in the Catholic Women’s League, hospitality hostess for Monsignor English at Clayfield and armed with a personal reference from Archbishop Duhig, Zena profoundly knew it was her Church and that her baptism missioned her to make a difference in the world. 

In our small rural parish of Proserpine, Mum knew that the parish was our Church and that the priests who came to the community came to “serve” the community already present there. 

Men like Fr Tom Gard deeply knew this and, like a good coach, saw their role as simply to harness the gifts already present within the team.

Auntie Lilla Watson is an Aboriginal woman, a Gangulu woman who grew up on the Dawson River in Central Queensland. 

An artist, activist and academic, Watson is credited with the often quoted words: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Watson possibly first used this quote in a speech at the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi. 

Watson herself often reflected that she was “uncomfortable being credited for something (the quotation) that had been born of a collective process”.

We have nothing to fear from an inclusive, participatory and synodal Church other than the adventure of being “fully alive”. 

Pope Francis beautifully described a synodal Church when he wrote: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realises that listening is more than simply hearing.

“It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn.

“The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (John 14:17), in order to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Revelation 2:7).”

Towards a synodal Church

There are no spectators in an inclusive, participatory and synodal Church.

When He got up from table and took a basin and a towel to wash their feet Jesus modelled a faith community that our world, more than ever, so desperately needs.

The Spirit is inviting, we must choose to be involved and it will truly be, like it was for Zena, our Church – a Church that deeply listens to the signs of the times – and, with deep ownership of mission, responds and is liberated.

Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Josephís, Gregory Terrace; St Patrickís College, Shorncliffe; and St Laurenceís College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.

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