The importance of the need to be an evangelising Church in Australia was emphasised at a recent free Plenary Council seminar, titled “Towards the Plenary Council 2020: Understanding a Missionary and Evangelising Church.”
Hosted by the Centre for Faith Enrichment (CFE) at the Newman Siena Centre on Thursday, 27 August, some 30 lay people gathered to hear from Archdiocese of Perth’s Episcopal Vicar for Education and Faith Formation Fr Vincent Glynn, who addressed the question ‘How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church in Australia, that is missionary and evangelising?’
In his opening comments, Centre for Faith Enrichment Director Dr Marco Ceccarelli said that with the extension of the discernment phase, due to COVID-19, the Centre for Faith Enrichment (CFE) have been focused on highlighting and addressing the six chosen themes for discernment.
“CFE has hosted several events, including listening and dialogue, listening and discernment sessions,” he said.
“We were not anticipating extending the discernment phase this long, as we were in the midst of preparing for the plenary council event, however because of COVID-19, we now have an extra year to ponder and discern on this important process of the Plenary Council (PC),” he added.
Fr Glynn began his talk by stating that the delay of the Plenary Council is a blessing in disguise, as it allows the faithful of Australia to spend more time reflecting and gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a missionary and evangelising church.
“When we talk about evangelisation, proclaiming the Gospel or becoming a part of the Church, is it is easy to forget that the proclamation of the Gospel is about leading people to experience the knowledge of God’s love.”
Fr Glynn, whose involvement in the Plenary Council includes being a part of the writing team for the missionary and evangelisation theme, explained that the group spent much time in preparation for the role.
“We made a commitment as a group to pray each day at the same time for each other and to pray that we would be open to the work of the Spirit given in the responses of the people of Australia in the listening and dialogue phase of the Plenary Council.” Fr Glynn stated.
“In the responses received in the first phase, there was a distinct expression that the Church needed to reach out to others to proclaim the Gospel to all.
“That it is about the importance of sharing our faith with others, the need for evangelisation to be focused on family (there is a great sadness by parents and grandparents of children and grandchildren who have no concept or experience of faith), the need to focus on outreach to other Christian communities, evangelisation with specific groups, the call for Church to be missionary, encouraging people to become missionary disciples of Christ, to be courageous and to preach the Gospel.” he added.
Speaking about the pastoral reality of today, Fr Glynn highlighted some of the challenges faced by the Church in the country today.
“Although a quarter of the nation identify as Catholics according to the latest census, there has been a particular decline in those identifying as Christians and also young people leaving the Church,” Fr Glynn.
“There is also been a decline in a Christian influence in government policy making, social and cultural awareness.”
In contrast, Fr Glynn explained that there has been an increase in enrolment in Catholic education (in most areas), greater use of Catholic Welfare and Health Agencies. An increase in smaller Christian communities and Movements, the emergence of lay Ministries, and the impact of technology on our lives. These are all positives.
Fr Glynn went on to articulate that the meaning of evangelisation, goes deeper than a ‘message’, but rather it is an ‘important message that impacts, challenges and transforms us.’
“For the Church, this evangelisation, this Good News, is the proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God,” he said.
“Jesus is the Good News of God – God sends the son into the world as a message, to transform us. Fr Glynn stated that Jesus was the first evangeliser.
“If Jesus was an evangeliser, if we are called to be a Church, community, parish, or a person who is an evangeliser, our model has to be Jesus Christ,” he added.
Fr Glynn acknowledged that reading and reflecting on the Gospels is an essential part of understanding the person of Jesus, who preached the Good News and who changed and transformed people by what He said and what He did.
“Jesus expressed forgiveness and compassion. He challenged the sinner. He healed people to wholeness. Jesus challenged people to change their lives in some way. He challenged the Hebrew people that faith was not just about rules, but it was about a relationship and encounter with God.”
After some reflection on Scriptural passages and Church documents, Fr Glynn closed the session with a reference to the article written by Plenary Council President, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, encouraging all people and in particular Plenary Council delegates to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit through a process of discernment.
“As we move further into the journey of the Plenary Council, it is becoming clearer that simply listening to each other, essential though this is, does not exhaust or complete the task and challenge of discernment. The very listening itself must be an act of discernment.
In the First Letter of St John reminds us of this when the author exhorts us to remember that: ‘it is not every Spirit, my dear people, that you can trust; test them to see if they come from God (1 John 4:1)’. This testing is essential, if we are in fact, going to succeed in listening to what the Spirit is saying, in order to come to a deeper understanding of what… God is asking of us in Australia at this time.”