Book Reviews

Review: Communal Wisdom: A Way of Discernment for a Pilgrim Church

Communal Wisdom: A Way of Discernment for a Pilgrim ChurchCommunal Wisdom: A Way of Discernment for a Pilgrim Church by Brian Msc Gallagher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There can be very little doubt that the Catholic Church in Australia in late 2019 has a growing understanding of the practice of discernment. In the lead up to the Church’s Plenary Council in 2020, the process of discernment has been central to preparations for this unique opportunity in the life of the Australian Church.

The term ‘discernment’ should also be no stranger to anyone who has followed the unfolding of the pontificate of Pope Francis. It features in many of his writings and, as a Jesuit, has been part of his spiritual, pastoral and theological life for many years. To expect anything else would be fundamentally to misunderstand who Pope Francis is.

In a revised and expanded edition of his work, Communal Wisdom, Brian Gallagher draws on his own studies in the practice of individual discernment and his own extensive experience as a facilitator of group discernment. In doing so, he lays before the reader a process of communal discernment that he has developed in collaboration with Sue Richardson, the name of which gives the book its title.

To be sure, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach to the task of communal discernment and thus communal decision making. It is, however, a guide that would assist any group – parish, religious community, sub-parish group – to take a more deliberate approach to the task of listening to what God is asking of them. The approach outlined in Communal Wisdom would be a good place from which to start the practice of giving more attention to a wise, Spirit-inspired, and communal approach to decision making, particularly in light of the issues now facing the Australian Church and in the lead up to the Plenary Council 2020.

Given the way in which many dioceses, and one assumes parishes within those dioceses, are taking the opportunity of the Plenary Council to undertake similar processes in preparation for the Plenary Council or alongside the Plenary Council, there will be an increasing need for people to prepare themselves for the primary task of listening – to the Spirit, to each other – that lies at the heart of the Plenary Council and associated processes. Starting with an understanding of the practice outlined in Communal Wisdom would be helpful and beneficial to the success of the task that lays before us.

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