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Assessing the Plenary: A work in progress

  • 15 November 2021
How do I assess our Plenary Council thus far? Or make sense of its related word-of-the-moment, synodality? With apologies to Churchill, dare I hope it is the ‘end of the beginning’? But of what precisely? A priest-friend distilled the challenge rather well last week to me: what would success look like?

Humbly I say that is a work-in-progress but no apologies for that. For me, it offers the chance to review identities within the Church, to re-consider self-description or roles played over decades. The prize could be enabling some thriving to emerge out of the demoralisation of the last decade. Wouldn’t that be a blessing?

Who would facilitate such a significant process? No one group will manage alone. Catholic lay-people will need to discern (the other in-word)  how to reconfigure their rights and responsibilities as believers. Their consecrated sisters and brothers will also need to commit themselves willingly to that same process, to different relationships. It may well be the journey of their lives for both groups, a graced moment.

Words like rights and responsibilities reek of political language and worry people. But no, I don’t imagine the Plenary as some sort of ersatz Parliament, which is more the Anglican way and which alienates some Catholics. Above all, rights and responsibilities surely reek of citizenship, a much more inviting notion, more in keeping with being a pilgrim. It prompts new expectations, new liberation yet asks in return, a commitment to duty, a break from passivity.

Of course the modern world doesn’t like the word ‘duty’ much, too reminiscent of authoritarianism, of docility, or paternalism. However, a need to imagine the  appropriate duties that would be required of a fully engaged and admitted laity lies at the core of where we stand right now, perusing the Plenary.

'I don’t know what happened when the 11am live streaming stopped. But the clear sense was, people didn’t check themselves and their thoughts, but threw themselves into the structure provided, all together, confident they were trying their best, determined not to waste a good crisis.'  

How will lay-people step up? How will consecrated brothers and sisters learn to reset their relationships, still heavily governed by the honour of service, a source of pride already for many?

As Churchill knew back in 1940 when he challenged demoralised Britons under threat from Hitler, the task beyond mere words was herculean, with uncertain outcomes. But the words mattered then and do now.

Yes, I do