This week I attended a meeting of the Executive Committee for the Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia to be held in 2020. The meeting was over two days in Brisbane at the beautiful grounds of Santa Teresa. The scripture verse that has been chosen for the logo for the Plenary is “Listen to what the Spirit is saying…” (Rev 2:7).
From the moment I walked through the doors of Santa Teresa I was reminded why I had been given my name. My mother, a devout Maronite woman, had entered a Carmelite convent, believing she wanted to be a Sister. After a short time, she discerned it was not her calling. However, she was grateful for what the convent had given her and resolved that if she married, her first daughter would be named Teresa after that amazing Carmelite, St Teresa of Lisieux. I was her first-born and I was born on 30 September. That is the date that St Teresa died and the eve of her feast which falls on 1 October. My mother always believed and never ceased reminding me that her resolve in naming me had been destined.
St John Chrysostom tells us “let the name of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our children.” As I looked around me over the two days, I was constantly reminded of the saint who my mother had been inspired to name me after and the one whose example she wanted me to live up to.
St Teresa believed that holiness consisted of simply doing God’s will and “being just what God wants us to be.” So many times, I have wondered why God has bought me to work on the Plenary Council and what I could offer. Like so many things in my life this role came to me, I did not seek it. The Executive Committee is an extraordinary group of people and as we spoke, prayed and shared, the question what God wants from us in this Plenary kept arising. That is a question I have asked many times in my own life and it was starting to emerge as the question for the Plenary.
Since I can remember, my mother had placed in my room the familiar icon of St Teresa holding her roses. On the second morning of the meeting, I decided to visit the Carmelite Convent next door. A cloistered community dressed in the same familiar colours of the icon – brown, white and black. I entered the church and was met with the chanting of the Sisters in morning prayer. I remained for Mass. To my right was a stain glass window. It had the southern cross on top and beneath it was the image of Holy Spirit. Below were the words “Come Holy Spirit”. As the words of the Consecration were being prayed by the priest during the Mass, the sun beamed through the glass, reminding me that the Holy Spirit was indeed there with us and amongst us in the here and now.
The Catholic Church in Australia is no doubt facing challenges and has been for some time. We remain wounded by what we have had to face in the Royal Commission. The numbers in the pews have declined and many do not seek or know Christ. There are many reasons I could be pessimistic about the Plenary Council and almost everything else in the Church. I am one inclined to be pessimistic, my profession as a lawyer has trained me to look for the dangers and the worst in things. But the beaming Spirit reminded me of another thing St Teresa had said:
‘The good God does not need years to accomplish his work of love in a soul; one ray from his heart can, in an instant, make his flower bloom for eternity.’
Weighing heavily on my mind had been how the Plenary Council will hear and give voice to people. St Teresa and the surrounds over the two days reminded me constantly this is the work of the Spirit. It is God who touches people. This will be a journey led by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is speaking to all of us in Australia about what God wants us to be. We will all need to be open to that ray from God’s heart and we too will bloom.
To learn more about the Plenary Council and how to get involved go to the webpage at http://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au.
Little Flower, intercede for us.