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Re-Emergence Of The Synod Of Bishops In The Life Of The Church – Michael Whelan SM

Re-Emergence Of The Synod Of Bishops In The Life Of The Church – Michael Whelan SM

On the sixtieth anniversary of the opening
of the Second Vatican Council
we pause to remember!

Historian, Giuseppe Alberigo, offers a good summary of the context within which the Synod of Bishops was re-born in our day:

“Pope John XXIII had decided that the first topic the Council would work on would be the liturgy. This was the aspect of the Church’s life in which renewal had already made the most progress, and the preparatory project for it was the only one that had found a consensus among the bishops, who had already been sensitised by the liturgical movement. So, from October 22 to November 13 (1962), the assembly discussed liturgical reform; votes taken on both the entirety of the schema and each individual chapter always showed a great majority in favour, in spite of the tenacious resistance of a minority stubbornly opposed to any innovation.
“Thus among these people, who had not even known one another before, a convergence of sentiments and viewpoints gradually manifested, giving rise to a completely unexpected and spontaneous majority, a very large number of votes that tended to converge on the major topics of the Council. It was a gradual process, without any planning or management; the Council Fathers were simply becoming aware of their role and of the vast and unforeseen horizons of the Council itself. Their favourable response did not concern the proposed text on liturgical reform alone; it also expressed the conviction that the time of fear, the era of the Church as a secure fortress, were over. The adoption of the vernacular languages, at least for some parts of the liturgical celebrations, was the most evident innovation, if not the most important. It was a way of re-establishing contact with the common people, of proposing the gospel message in a comprehensible way. The discussion brought forth significant elements of theology that had been overlooked until then; that is, the local Church or diocese, gained its centrality as an authentic Christian community in which the profession of the faith transcends the level of the individual to become a communitarian act around the altar of the bishop, who reacquired his dimension of authentic successor of the apostles” (Giuseppe Alberigo, A Brief History of Vatican II, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006, 25-26).


On 1 December 1962 – just one week before the close of the first period on 8 December – the Council Fathers had turned to the schema on the Church:

“It began to seem that the success of the Council would depend strictly upon the Church’s manner of defining itself. This was all the more true in that the liturgical reform had foreshadowed some significant ideas about the Church that corrected the excessively institutional and juridical approach of recent centuries” (Alberigo, op cit, 29).

Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Theological Preparatory Commission that had prepared the schema on the Church, introduced the schema on the floor of the Council.

Despite Ottaviani’s claims concerning the outstanding competence of those who prepared that schema, six of the fourteen Fathers who spoke that morning, “called for revisions so complete as to be tantamount to outright rejection of the text as it stood. One of the speakers, Bishop De Smedt (1), summed up his criticism in three epithets: the schema, he said, was guilty of triumphalism, clericalism, and legalism” (Ralph Wiltgen S.V.D., The Rhine Flows into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II, Rockford, ILL: Tan Books, 1967, 56-57).

A very specific criticism of the schema was offered by the Maronite Bishop Michael Doumith of Sarba, Lebanon, a member of the Theological Commission. Doumith severely criticised the chapter on the bishops:

“He said that, just as a mother gives her child a toy with a thousand warnings not to break it, so, too, ‘they give us, with a thousand cautions, a concept of the episcopacy.’ He could not erase from his mind, he said, the painful impression that bishops, according to the schema, were no more than functionaries of the Pope” (Ibid).

Doumith’s intervention raised one of the most significant issues at the Council: Does the bishop derive his authority from the sacrament conferred at consecration or from the Pope?


When the Council Fathers gathered for the Second Session on 29 September 1963, they quickly moved to continue the debate on the schema on the Church. This debate began on 4 October 1963. It continued until 16 October. A major focus was how authority is to be exercised within the Church. Strong opinions were held and expressed on the floor of the Council.

The debate seemed to have no end in sight. An intervention was needed. On 30 October 1963 the Fathers were asked to take a straw vote on five questions (2):

“The results of the voting on now five questions put to the fathers were dramatic:
1. Should the schema assert that episcopal consecration is the supreme grade of the sacrament of Orders? The Vote: 2,123 affirmative, 34 negative.
2. Should the schema assert that every legitimately consecrated bishop in communion with the other bishops and the Roman Pontiff is a member of the Body of Bishops? The vote: 2,154 affirmative, 104 negative.
3. Should the schema assert that the so-called Body or College of Bishops in its evangelizing, sanctifying, and governing task is successor to the original College of the Apostles and, always in communion with the Roman Pontiff, enjoys full and supreme power over the universal church? The vote: 2,148 affirmative, 336 negative.
4. Should the schema assert that the aforementioned power of the College of Bishops, united with their head, belongs to it by divine ordinance [and therefore not by papal delegation]? The vote: 2,138 affirmative, 408 negative.
5. Should the schema assert that it is opportune to consider the reinstatement of the diaconate as a permanent grade of sacred ministry, according to needs in different parts of the church? The vote: 2,120 affirmative, 525 negative” (John O’Malley S. J., What Happened at Vatican II, Cambridge, MASS: The Belknap Press, 2008, 183-184).


The foregoing is the context within which the debate on the schema concerning bishops began. Cardinal Marella (3) presented the schema in the conciliar assembly on 4 November 1963. From the outset, the schema was attacked – especially the chapter entitled “Relationships Between Bishops and the Roman Curia”.

Wiltgen records a telling moment:

“Following the example of many Council Fathers, I left my seat halfway through the meeting and went to the coffee shop which the Council Fathers had christened ‘Bar Jona.’ (Coffee shops in Rome are known as bars.) This one was set up in a sacristy, and inside I had to elbow my way through noisy groups of bishops and periti drinking coffee and soft drinks. Archbishop D’Souza, of Bhopal (formerly of Nagpur), whom I met that day in the coffee shop, assured me that criticism of the schema would increase as the days went by. ‘No one has anything to fear from giving us bishops more power; we are not children,’ he said.” (Ralph Wiltgen S.V.D., The Inside Story of Vatican II: A Firsthand Account of the Council’s Inner Workings (pp. 158-159). TAN Books. Kindle Edition). (4)

On Wednesday 6 November 1963, there was a memorable intervention from His Beatitude Maximos IV Saigh. He offered a solution to the overly-centralized government of the Church. His solution was based on the doctrine of collegiality:

“The collegial responsibility of the episcopate for the Church, he said, is not adequately exercised when the Roman Curia alone embodies the collaboration of the Catholic episcopate in the central government of the Church. The patriarch therefore offered a new solution: Since all the bishops of the world cannot be continuously gathered in a council, a limited group of them, representing their colleagues, should have the concrete responsibility for assisting the pope in the general government of the Church as an ‘authentic Sacred College of the universal Church’ (Joseph Famerée, “Bishops and Dioceses and the Communications Media (November 5-25, 1963)” in Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph A Komonchak, editors, History of Vatican II – Volume III, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000, 124-125).

John O’Malley notes:

“Maximos had called for an important structural change. His proposal …. was the first effort at the council to create a practical implementation of collegiality. (Emphasis added.) Thus the issue of how to reduce collegiality to concrete reality got put on the table of the commission. How to make collegiality work in practice? This was a crucial moment in the council” (John O’Malley SJ, What Happened at Vatican II, Cambridge, MASS: The Belknap Press, 2008, 191).


On Friday 8 November 1963, the debate became fiery. The seventy-six-year old – and almost blind – Cardinal Frings of Cologne, made his intervention (5). Among other things, he said the Holy Office’s “procedure in many respects is no longer suited to our age, harms the Church and is scandalous to many” (Joseph Famerée, op cit, 127).

Famerée continues:

“Applause broke out in the hall. Frings went on to demand that even in the Holy Office no one be condemned before having been heard and having the opportunity to correct himself. … The number of bishops residing in the Curia should be lessened: The episcopate is not an honorific title. The same for priests: Many curial offices could just as easily be filled with lay people. …  (T)he archbishop had dared to say in plain language, on the platform of the Council, what many of the Fathers (to say nothing of numerous Christians) thought and expressed behind the scenes regarding the procedure of the Holy Office…
“Ottaviani’s intervention was especially awaited, and it was with strong feeling and even a sob in his voice that he gave an improvised response to the accusation made by the Cardinal of Cologne before returning to his prepared remarks. He issued a ‘very indignant protest in answer to the words spoken against the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, whose president is the Supreme Pontiff’. Applause came from the seats of the Italian and curial group” (Ibid). (6)

Ottaviani went on to say that, in his view, the collegiality of the apostles cannot be derived from the Scriptures. Collegiality, he argued, would diminish the primacy of Peter. (7)

O’Malley observes that this clash between Frings and Ottaviani “dramatized the fundamental issue in the council—how the church was to operate in the future: continue its highly centralized mode of operation, with its top-down style of management and apodictic mode of communication, or somehow attenuate them by broader consultation and sharing of responsibility” (John O’Malley, op cit, 193).


Pope Paul VI repeatedly affirmed his intention to establish a synod – for example, in his address to the Curia 21 September 1964; his address to the Council Fathers 29 September 1963, 21 November 1964 at the closing of the third period of the Council. Finally, in his opening address at the fourth and final period of the Council, Pope Paul VI made the announcement that the Synod of Bishops would be established.

The following day, 15 September 1965, Paul VI issued his Motu Proprio, Apostolica Sollicitudo establishing the Synod of Bishops.
The Motu Proprio is a brief document – about 1500 words. The general purposes of the Synod as set out in that Motu Proprio are:
a) to promote a closer union and greater cooperation between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops of the whole world;
b) to see to it that accurate and direct information is supplied on matters and situations that bear upon the internal life of the Church and upon the kind of action that it should be carrying on in today’s world;
c) to facilitate agreement, at least, on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.

The immediate reaction to Apostolica Sollicitudo was positive. However, a closer reading caused some concerns:

“Repeatedly stated in this Motu Proprio was that in every particular the Synod was subject ‘immediately and directly to the power’ of the pope. It was strictly an advisory body with no authority beyond what the pope conceded to it. …
“Whatever the merits of Apostolica Sollicitudo, it was an expression of papal primacy, not of collegiality, a word never mentioned in the text. It was a preemptive strike by the center. No syllable in it could give a sleepless moment to Bishop Carli (8) and his colleagues. The body described in Apostolica Sollicitudo could hardly have been further from what Maximos had proposed the previous year. With one stroke the text cut collegiality off from grounding in the institutional reality of the church” (John O’Malley, op cit, 252-3).


Even though Pope Paul VI does not explicitly mention collegiality in his Motu Proprio, we cannot escape the fact that the Synod of Bishops was – in large measure – re-born out of the overwhelming desire for collegiality expressed by the Fathers of the Council. If the Synod of Bishops does not provide an experience of authentic collegiality, it will be seriously deficient.

Pope Francis has made us aware of the deeper possibilities of the Synod with his emphasis on “synodality”. He sets out the vision and the challenge clearly in his Address at the Commemorative Ceremony for the 50th Anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, October 17, 2015:

“A synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening ‘is more than feeling.’ It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: we are one in listening to others; and all are listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17), to know what the Spirit ‘is saying to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7)”.



1. Bishop De Smedt (1909-1995) was Bishop of Bruges, Belgium. He was a close friend and co-operator with Joseph Cardijn.

2. This straw vote was initially scheduled for 16 October 1963 but was postponed. The postponement pointed to both the procedural complexities of the Council as well as the deep theological divisions, especially in the understandings of the Church. See Alberto Melloni, “The Beginning of the Second Period: The Great Debate on the Church” in Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph A Komonchak, editors, History of Vatican II -Volume III, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 64-105.

3. Cardinal Marella (1895-1984) was born in Rome, ordained priest 1918 and made cardinal by Pope John XXIII in 1959. He work in the Vatican diplomatic corps and the curia. He had been Internuncio in Japan during World War II.

4. Ralph Wiltgens SVD published The Rhine Flows in the Tiber: A History of Vatican II, in 1967. Wiltgen has updated that original book, now published as The Inside Story of Vatican II: A Firsthand Account of the Council’s Inner Workings.

5. Frings was Archbishop of Cologne 1942-1969 and was known as a strong opponent of Nazism. Pope Pius XII made him a cardinal in 1946. Cardinal Frings’ peritus – the 35-year old Joseph Ratzinger – helped write Frings’ speech.

6. It is worth noting that Frings records in his memoirs of the Council that, the next day, Ottaviani embraced him and said, “after all, we both want the same thing!” (Ibid).

7. One of Ottaviani’s strong supporters, curial Cardinal Browne, “warned that the right of the college to ‘co-govern’ the entire Church along with the pope lessens the pontifical power of governing and contradicts the definition of the plenitude of power at Vatican I” (Famerée, op cit, 132).

8. Bishop Luigi Maria Carli (1914-1986). Ordained priest of Comachio, Italy 1937, bishop of Segni, 1957 and archbishop of Gaeta, 1973. Carli was a member of the minority that formed the “International Group of Fathers”. Archbishop Lefebvre was also a member of this group. Their purpose was to lobby passionately for positions held by the minority.

Posted by superadmin in Slider, Vatican II

Suggestion Sheet 3: Aspects of Renewal

A PDF Download of this Suggestion Sheet can be found here


The Church exists because of the initiative of God. It is sustained by the Spirit of Christ and our cooperation. It bears similarities to all other human organisations but is, in the end, unique, essentially different from all other merely human organisations. It exists to bear witness to, and be an instrument of, God’s salvific will. Its work in the world, like its renewal, is ultimately by the grace of God. It may help to think of a primary level (Spirituality), a secondary level (Community) and a tertiary level (Communal expressions and needs) in the Church and the renewal process.



Spirituality is primary because it is essentially about our relationship with God, self, others and world; that fourfold relationship is the heart and soul of humanity; spirituality situates our lives within the Trinity via the Paschal Mystery; it gives ground, energy and direction to everything else; it keeps us focused on the Spirit of Christ and the Kingdom; it helps us to judge everything against the Person and Teaching of Jesus; spirituality will express itself in some sort of communal way – to discover my true self is to discover that I am a relational being, to be me is to be in relationships.



The Church is a community of disciples, gathered by Word and Sacrament; life-giving community grows out of and feeds back into solid spirituality; it lives in and on the Spirit of Christ – it is not just any merely human group; by its very nature Christian community will be a worshipping, serving and evangelising group.



We might think of this tertiary level as manifested in four interdependent types of expressions and needs:


  • Worship
  • Ritual
  • Symbol
  • Music
  • Presiders
  • Sacred space


  • Poor
  • Sick
  • Aged
  • Hospitality
  • Visitation
  • Education


  • Authority
  • Roles
  • Responsibilities
  • Committees
  • Accountability
  • Policies/procedures


  • Finance
  • Management
  • Plant
  • R & M
  • Insurance
  • Legalities


In an ideal renewal process, all three levels of Church life will be fully addressed. Different people and groups have different gifts to bring to the renewal process.

The primary level holds the key to renewal. Advances can be made at the tertiary level – even spectacular advances – but if they are not supported by a well-grounded spirituality it is probably better if they do not happen. On the other hand, if there is a genuine spirituality present – and this will be evident in some form of genuine community life – renewal can proceed, eg, amidst inefficient organisation, bad music and very little money, for example.

The tertiary level, being mostly concrete and immediate, presenting jobs to be done and problems to be solved, easily attracts the most attention in the efforts for renewal. Needs and success can clearly be seen and measured here. There are tangible rewards. Efforts will only bear fruit in the long run, however, if this tertiary level work is well grounded in and expressive of primary level work. Clearly it is preferable if those doing the work for renewal at the tertiary level are also putting in effective effort at the primary level and the secondary level.

In the end, renewal is not a question of jobs to be done – though jobs need to be done – nor is it a question of problems to be solved – though problems need to be solved. A reductionism that reduces renewal to jobs to be done and problems to be solved is ultimately destructive – despite early positive signs to the contrary. Such reductionism is especially destructive when it is done amidst the rhetoric of spirituality and community but without the reality of spirituality and community. If we are serious about renewal, we must live the Paschal Mystery as generously as we possibly can. The reality of the Cross must never be far from our minds – especially when we are assessing successes and failures.

For the most part renewal will proceed in hidden and incremental ways: “the march of the ants”. Successes will sometimes look like failures and failures will sometimes look like successes. The key will be people with dispositions such as constancy and fidelity, generosity and big-mindedness, patience and forgiveness, courage and wisdom, which allow God to do what God will do, in God’s way and God’s time.

Like a tree that sinks its roots before and while it spreads its branches, so those working in renewal must grow deep in the Spirit of Christ, individually and communally, before and while they spread their branches.

In Catalyst for Renewal we believe genuine conversation can serve the work of renewal admirably. It requires – and in turn fosters – respect and care, listening and learning, life-giving relationships and communion in the Spirit of Christ.


(CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEETS are published by Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated, PO Box 139, Gladesville 2111)


Reflect on the following references from Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975):


  1. Anyone who rereads in the New Testament the origins of the Church, follows her history step by step and watches her live and act, sees that she is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being:
    • The Church is born of the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the Twelve. …
    • The Church remains in the world when the Lord of glory returns to the Father. She remains as a sign.
    • The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love; and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love. She is the People of God immersed in the world, and often tempted by idols, and she always needs to hear the proclamation of the “mighty works of God”(41) which converted her to the Lord; she always needs to be called together afresh by Him and reunited.
    • The Church is the depositary of the Good News to be proclaimed.
    • Having been sent and evangelized, the Church herself sends out evangelizers.


  1. What matters is to evangelize human culture and cultures (not in a purely decorative way, as it were, by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their very roots), in the wide and rich sense which these terms have in Gaudium et spes,(n.53) always taking the person as one’s starting – point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God.


  1. Between evangelization and human advancement – development and liberation – there are in fact profound links. These include links of an anthropological order, because the people who are to be evangelized are not abstract beings but are subject to social and economic questions. They also include links in the theological order, since one cannot dissociate the plan of creation from the plan of Redemption. The latter plan touches the very concrete situations of injustice to be combatted and justice to be restored. They include links of the eminently evangelical order, which is that of charity: how in fact can one proclaim the new commandment without promoting in justice and in peace the true, authentic advancement of humanity?


  1. We must not ignore the fact that many, even generous Christians …. in their wish to commit the Church to the liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a human-centred goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But, if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom as in the name of God. This is why we have wished to emphasize … ‘The need to re-state clearly the specifically religious finality of evangelization. This latter would lose its reason for existence if it were to divwerge from the religious axis that guides it: the Kingdom of God, before anything else, in its fully theological meaning”.


  1. Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. …. It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus – the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.


  1. In the long run, is there any other way of handing on the Gospel than by transmitting to another person one’s personal experience of faith?


  1. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. It is he who explains to the faithful the deep meaning of the teaching of Jesus and of his mystery. It is the Holy Spirit who, today just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by him. …. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of man. Without him the most highly developed schemes resting on a sociological or psychological basis are quickly seen to be quite valueless. We live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit.




  1. What good thing has happened in your parish in the last year? Why do you call it “good”?
  2. Where do you think the main energies for renewal ought to be directed? Why?
  3. Would it be possible to change structures in the Church without renewing the Church? Discuss this.
  4. Would it be possible to renew the Church without changing structures in the Church? Discuss this.
  5. Do you think “we live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit”? Discuss this.
  6. What does it mean to say “the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church”?
  7. What does it mean to “evangelize human culture and cultures”?
  8. What does it mean to say “the Church must begin by being evangelized”?
  9. How might the mission of the Church be “reduced to a simply temporal project”?
  10. Get a copy of Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi and read it meditatively. Discuss it with someone.



(CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEETS are published by Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated, PO Box 139, Gladesville 2111)



Suggestion Sheet 2: Thinking

A PDF Download of this Suggestion Sheet can be found here 


The cultural anthropologist, Edward Hall, makes a provocative observation about modern western culture and the type of thinking that tends to characterize us:

The psychoanalyst Laing is convinced that the Western world is mad. …. However, it is not man who is crazy so much as his institutions and those cultural patterns that determine his behavior. We in the West are alienated from ourselves and from nature. We labor under a number of delusions, one of which is that …. we are sane. We persist in this view despite massive evidence to the contrary. We live fragmented, compartmentalized lives in which contradictions are carefully sealed off from each other. We have been taught to think linearly rather than comprehensively …. Given our linear, step-by-step, compartmentalized way of thinking, fostered by the schools and public media, it is impossible for our leaders to consider events comprehensively or to weigh priorities according to a system of common good …. (E. T. Hall, Beyond Culture, Anchor Books, 1977, pp.11-12).

The English philosopher, lawyer and political figure Francis Bacon (1561-1626) proposed the theory that knowledge is, in the end, about gaining power over nature. “We can,” Bacon said, “put nature to the rack”. Bacon proposed that we gain power over the natural order and in this way provide the necessities for comfort and wellbeing. Bacon’s book, The New Atlantis, (1627), envisaged a scientific Utopia. Bacon’s philosophy gave impetus to the natural sciences and a way of thinking and knowing that characterizes our Western way of education and living to this day. We tend to think of knowing as gaining control over facts and information. To describe reality is to “harness the facts” – just “the facts” – and present them with “objectivity”.

The Englishman in Nikos Kazantsakis’ novel Zorba the Greek, reflects on an experience with a butterfly. In his reflection we find something of the limitations of the rationalistic approach to life in general and to the environment in particular. We also find there intimations of more creative possibilities:

I remembered one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as the butterfly was making a hole in the case preparing to come out. I waited a while, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole body to unfold them. Bending over it I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

I sat on a rock to absorb this New Year’s thought. Ah, if only that little butterfly could always flutter before me to show me the way. (N. Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek, Touchstone Books, pp.12-121.)

In the biblical tradition “to know” is to be in some kind of significant relationship with the person or thing known. Thus Jesus says “I know mine and mine know me” (John 10:14). He is not talking about facts or abstract information. He is talking about a certain intimacy of relationship. This intimacy can only be fostered and facilitated, never achieved by conquest. The Jewish philosopher, Abraham Heschel represents this biblical tradition when he notes:

The teaching of our society is that more knowledge means more power, more civilization – more comfort. We should have insisted in the spirit of the prophetic vision that more knowledge should also mean more reverence, that more civilization should also mean less violence. ….Knowing is not due to coming upon something, naming and explaining it. Knowing is due to something forcing itself upon us. Thought is a response to being rather than an invention. The world does not lie prostrate, waiting to be given order and coherence by the human mind. Things are evocative. When conceits are silent and all words stand still, the world speaks. We must burn the cliches to clear the air for hearing. Conceptual cliches are counterfeit; preconceived notions are misfits. Knowledge involves love, care for the things we seek to know, longing, being-drawn-to, being overwhelmed. (Abraham Heschel, Who Is Man?, Stanford University Press, 1965, p.100 & 109.)

Blaise Pascal’s comment is well known to all of us, though not always accurately quoted:

The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing; we feel it in many things (Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Trans, J. Warrington, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1973, n.224).

Give some thought to the way you think. How you think is probably as important as what you think. It will affect your ability to enter into good conversation. Observe other people and try to understand the way they think. Have conversations about this with others.

What difference do you think it might make to the way you approach the issues pertaining to Church renewal?

See the reverse side of this sheet for further stimulating ideas on thinking.

Suggested Reading

  1. Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, Vintage Books, 1971.
  2. Smith, Beyond the Post Modern Mind, Crossroad, 1982.

M Whelan, Without God All Things are Lawful, Society of St Paul, 1995.

(CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEETS are published by Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated, PO Box 139, Gladesville 2111)



(These categories are descriptive rather than definitive. They are given to stimulate thought and conversation.

For good adult conversation – especially in the context of Church renewal – Foundational Thinking is

generally preferable to Ideological Thinking and Issues Thinking – though the latter is

most definitely required in certain concrete situations.)


Foundational ThinkingIdeological ThinkingIssues Thinking
Begins from the standpoint of wanting to search for the truth;Begins from the standpoint of already knowing the truth;Begins from the standpoint of wanting to solve the problem;
Seeks context, recognizing all relevant factors;The ideology is the template for addressing any factor;Context is typically bypassed except where it is useful in solving the problem;
Is subtle, able to make relevant distinctions;Is unsubtle, disinclined to make distinctions, paints with broad brush;Subtlety and distinctions have little or nothing to do with it;
Asks honest questions, probes; in particular asks “what is happening?”Makes definite and clear statements;Maybe asks clarifying questions;
Unveiling the truth is every-thing;“winning” is everything;Solving the problem is everything;
Listening in order to learn is of the essence;Out-maneuvering the other in order to defend your position is of the essence;Functional and practical co-operation is of the essence;
Language is generally unencumbered by extraneous agenda, words chosen to facilitate connection and conversation;Language is generally loaded, words chosen to defend or promote the ideology and or demolish the opposition;Language is generally detached and technical, words chosen to convey necessary information;
Never resorts to mockery or sarcasm, always focuses on the ideas, questions and issues;At home with mockery and sarcasm, prone to ad hominem argument;Mockery and sarcasm may emerge when the problem solving is frustrated, product oriented;
Respect and care for the other as co-searcher, though non-emotive;Anxiety about the other as threat, emotive;Acceptance of other as helper in solving the problem, non-emotive;
Willing to leave the matter incomplete, agree to disagree;Determined to bring the matter to a close with a victory;Keen to find the solution to the problem;
High tolerance for disagreement;Low tolerance for disagreementDisagreement irrelevant so long as the problem is solved;
High tolerance for ambiguity and paradox;All is clear, no tolerance for ambiguity or paradox;Little tolerance for ambiguity or paradox;
High regard for principles and the logic they demand;High regard for the ideology and the logic it demands;High regard for the matters of fact and realpolitik;
Assumes that the truth will set us free;Assumes that the ideology will set us free;Assumes that the solution will set us free;
Able to root a conversation in the depth dimension;Interaction remains essentially superficial;Interaction remains essentially superficial
Presupposes life experience and some wisdom;Presupposes cleverness rather than wisdom and probably lack of life experience;Presupposes skills of one kind or another;
Requires depth of emotional maturity and significant sense of personal security;Generally implies emotional immaturity and lack of significant sense of personal security;Maturity and sense of personal security have little or nothing to do with it;
It probably helps to be humble;It probably helps to be proud;Humility does not matter;
Is self-transcending.Is egocentric.Get it fixed!

Suggestion Sheet 1: Groups Guidelines

A PDF Download of this Suggestion Sheet can be found here


In July 1994 a small group of Catholics gathered in Sydney to discuss their role in the Church and the world.  A variety of factors brought us together.  One seemed to be of particular significance – a strong desire to be part of a Church that is good news for our world.

It seemed to us that many are feeling frustrated in their attempts to participate effectively in the life of the Church.  Many have stopped trying to participate.  None of us particularly wants to leave the Church.  We cherish its tradition.  We also share both a faith in the Incarnation & God’s promise to dwell with us, and a concern that the Catholic Church should play the life-giving role in society which is its privilege and responsibility.  The Catholic Church’s effectiveness as a sign of God’s love and goodness seems to be diminishing at this time – a development we cannot simply blame on a ‘materialistic world’.  With the Second Vatican Council we acknowledge that “believers themselves bear some responsibility (for this situation)” (Gaudium et Spes, n.19).

We share Pope Paul VI’s perception that “we live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n.75).  We want to listen intelligently to the signs of the times, as Pope John XXIII called us to do, and respond generously to the call of the Spirit.  We seek to participate in the life and mission of the Church as Christian faithful, accepting both the rights and responsibilities that come with our baptism.  We see a special and highly significant role for the Second Vatican Council and the work of renewal that was begun there.  Pope John Paul II summed it up nicely in his encyclical, Tertio Millennio Ineunte: “Now that the Jubilee has ended, I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning” (57).

The times in which we find ourselves see us all facing questions and issues that demand the most serious attention.  We must all participate in the best way we can in the processes whereby we will address those issues and questions.  Those processes cannot and must not be left in the hands of a few from whom we will then be expected to silently accept answers, explanations and decisions.  We all must, to the best of our abilities and opportunities, join with the Church in her struggle to find new expressions of the Gospel at this time.

We are mindful of the temptations of perfectionism, of expecting more of the Church and her human representatives and structures than is realistic.  Our desire is to work with and in the institutional Church, freely, honestly and compassionately.  We desire to be part of that growing energy within the Church that is inspired by and subject to the Spirit of Christ.  That Spirit blows where she will, revealing herself through the Sacred Scriptures, through the actual institutional life of the Catholic Church, through the historical, social, political and cultural reality we have inherited, through other religious traditions and through the issues and questions of our own day.

The heart of such an endeavour has to be the Paschal Mystery.  Like her Founder, the Church lives the death and resurrection mystery in every age.  The Church – along with each of the Christian faithful – must submit willingly to the dying that alone can bring life.  If we evade the death we will not know the resurrection.  In Him, with Him, and through Him, we pass over from death to life.  Apart from Him we are nothing (cf. Jn. 15:5).

In this spirit we named our group Catalyst for Renewal.  In accord with our mission statement, we will do what we can to develop forums of conversation.  In those forums we will encourage adults who share our concerns and intentions to engage in lively debate, to listen respectfully and intelligently to each other, to learn from that experience and thus participate more effectively in the renewal of both Church and society.

Our first forum for conversation was Spirituality in the Pub and we are continuing to develop that forum. We have also begun to hold a series of Catalyst Dinners at which conversation is promoted. A series of Reflection Mornings for Friends and Volunteers has also been introduced. In 1997 we invited two Maryknoll priests – Bill Frazier and Larry Lewis – to Australia to conduct a series of adult education courses. Our journal The Mix is now received by more than 1600 people.

Become part of the conversation. We are the decisions we make. The shape of the Church in future generations will be determined as much by our decisions – or lack of them – as it will be determined by the Holy Spirit.

Those choices we make might demand much of us. They might in fact cost us everything. So be it. Our Paschal Lord is the example. Let us make the choices thoughtfully, freely & generously in the spirit of abandonment to the Eternal Mystery.

Like Jesus, our desire is to do the will of the One who sent us (cf Jn. 4:34). We can be at peace then with the outcome. “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business” (T. S. Eliot).

What future do we want? What choices shall we make? What sort of Church shall we pass on to the next generations?


From time to time The Mix will carry a CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEET as an insert. The purpose is to assist our Friends and others to become actively involved in the process of renewal by either initiating a forum for conversation or participating in a forum for conversation that is already established.

On the reverse side of this sheet are some thoughts about groups. You might be able to meet with one or more others and set up a little group. This could be focused on, for example, the Sunday Readings, a chosen book, a bible study program, prayerful time together considering designated subjects and so on. Upcoming Suggestion Sheets will offer creative ways to meet and engage in good conversation.


We would also love to hear from you if you have some good suggestions for conversation. Where are the signs of hope? What good things are being done? Let us know and we will let others know!

(CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEETS are published by Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated, PO Box 139, Gladesville 2110)




To provide a forum within which adults can grow in their faith and learn from:

the Spirit working in “two or three gathered” in His name;

speaking of their own lived experiences and considered reflections;

listening to the experiences and considered reflections of others.

Suggested Group Rules

The success of the group presupposes that all members:

take responsibility for the group’s success;

care for the others in the group;

endeavour to be there consistently  and on time;

prepare material conscientiously;

be willing to listen and speak;

maintain the confidentiality of material discussed.


Generally it is best if leadership of the sessions is shared. If the group is worth having all must contribute something to its life.

It is also generally the case that if there is not one or perhaps two to take responsibility for getting things done, things do not get done. Watch that those one or two do not get overburdened.

Power struggles can be disastrous for the life of the group. These generally hinge around personality clashes or differences of understanding the purpose of the group. Power struggles must be dealt with openly and honestly.

Good group leaders tend to be invisible

Hints For Participating Fruitfully

Consider the group as having a certain “energy” which must be kept moving. The more the group members share that “energy” or pass it around, the better will the group be. Grace builds on nature ‑ the “Energy” of God with our “energy”.

That flow of “energy” can be inhibited or locked up ‑ e.g. by talking excessively, moody silence, failing to listen sensitively, cynical or cutting comments, restless body movement, forming sub‑groups or alliances, depending too much on the facilitator for promptings, arbitrations or answers.

That flow of “energy” can be released and moved ‑ e.g. by thoughtful and honest comment, sensitive listening, paying attention to the one speaking, encouraging remarks, good humour, gently challenging evasions, allowing people to disagree with you or share a contrary opinion, deliberately taking up the “energy” respectfully then letting it go.

Focus on the learning possibilities in the group. Even a “bad” group experience is an opportunity to learn.

If the group’s “energy” or your own seems to be chronically inhibited or locked up, address this issue ‑ reflect on what is happening, discuss it with another member of the group or the facilitator or simply raise your concern publicly in the group. Do something about it!

When you see that another member of the group has been distressed, is angry or otherwise has “unfinished business” when the discussion concludes, don’t leave that person alone. See that they have some opportunity to express their feelings to someone. However, respect their privacy should they choose not to pursue the matter with you.

It is not the end of the world if someone leaves a group, or the group disbands or you find that participation in the group is no longer lifegiving for you so you decide to leave. Do what you must do in faith.

Suggested Reading

Eugene Gendlin, Focusing, Bantam Books, 1986. (Personal listening and awareness)

John Heider, The Tao of Leadership, Bantam Books, 1986. (Developing your skills as facilitator)

 (CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEETS are published by Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated, PO Box 139, Gladesville 2110)

A Forum with Dr Anna Rowlands – not to be missed!

SATURDAY, 25th MAY, 2019

St Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice. Deputy Director the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, United Kingdom.

1st Session: “Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt and Gillian Rose – Prophets for Our Crisis-Ridden 21st Century”. Followed by Q & A.

2nd Session: “The Other – A Realistic Understanding of Catholic Social Teaching” followed by Q & A.

Booking details, times etc will be confirmed nearer the time. SAVE THIS DATE. NOT TO BE MISSED.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Forums

Save the Dates – Coming Up

You are invited to Three Sessions of Q and A in the Crypt:

Weaving our Conversations into Possibilities.

The Crypt, St Patrick’s Church, Grosvenor Street, Sydney
1.30—3.00pm (Doors open 1.00pm)

Sunday, March 31st – Stephanie Lorenzo, Voices of Faith & TBA “Women Dare to Dream – Share Your Dream”

Sunday, 23rd June – “Ongoing Response to Child Sexual Abuse”

Sunday, 22nd September – “Plenary Council 2020 Update”


Posted by Bob Birchall in Forums

Dates for your Diary

Invites you to Three Sessions of Q and A in the Crypt:
Weaving our Conversations into Possibilities.
The Crypt, St Patrick’s Church, Grosvenor Street, Sydney
1.30—3.00pm (Doors open 1.00pm)

Sunday, March 31st – Stephanie Lorenzo, Voices of Faith & TBA “Women Dare to Dream – Share Your Dream”

Sunday, 23rd June – “Ongoing Response to Child Sexual Abuse”

Sunday, 22nd September – “Update on 2020”


Posted by Bob Birchall in Forums