The Plenary Council Facilitation Team recently released the six National Themes for Discernment – themes which recurred throughout the 17,500 submissions from over 222,000 people during the listening and dialogue process. One of the themes is particularly close to my heart since it underpinned my Masters thesis: How is God calling the People of God to be a Christ-centred Church in Australia that is Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal? This theme is particularly relevant to Luke’s Gospel account today: the sending out of seventy people by Jesus to every town and place where he himself intended to go to prepare the way before him (cf. Lk 1:76).
If there’s one thing we can be certain of with the person of Jesus, he was a strategic thinker. Whilst he initially chose twelve disciples in whom he invested his time and energy, he invested a disproportionate amount time and energy in just three of them: Peter, James and John. Jesus knew that in order for his mission to succeed, he had to be prudent with his greatest resources: his time and his followers, and in this sense, his influence grew in concentric circles. We may also assume that the seventy were members of Jesus’ next concentric circle of friends – after the three and the twelve; those people whom he knew and trusted with the propagation of his mission of evangelisation.
Today, thousands of faithful women and men dedicate their lives to the propagation of Jesus’ mission. These people are employed by the Church in various roles, they volunteer their time in various roles, or they simply live out their Christianity in various ways. These people all appear within Jesus’ concentric circles of influence at various distances from the centre. The Gospel offers a terrific opportunity for us to not only situate ourselves in one of the Jesus’ concentric circles of influence but to examine what the Church in Australia would look like if we were more Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal.
Unlike Jesus choosing who and the extent to which he invested in people, we’re constantly invited by Jesus into the centre circle to be his closest friends – no matter where we’re at. We may choose to keep our distance, situating ourselves outside even the third circle of the seventy. I suspect, however that for many of us – lay, religious and ordained – the extent to which we become a more Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal Church will depend upon our individual willingness to progress toward the centre of our faith lives wherein lies the heart of Christ.
It’s only once we’ve realised how precious it is – the treasure that we’ve been given (cf. Mt 13:44-45), that we discover that our faith is never fully realised until we share it with others. While the purpose of the seventy was to prepare the way for the Lord in the hearts of listeners, one of the ways we participate in Jesus’ mission is when we draw others in and include them in the life of the Church; we do this so that they too can participate in the life of Christ and thus listen (synodal) to what the Lord is saying to them in their hears. This is evangelisation and it’s something that lies at and forms our deepest identity as Catholics. It is, in fact, the Church’s very reason for existence (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14).
Fr Josh Whitehead