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By Sean O'Leary

"The future starts today, not tomorrow."- Saint Pope John Paul II

Amidst the goodness of Creation, the first human sin and its punishment is recounted in Chapter 3 of Genesis. The text starkly teaches us that sin has profound consequences. But, there is also the encouraging realisation that following sin, our first parents ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze’ (Gen 3:8). 

A series of questions posed by God to our first parents led to various admissions of responsibility and the gradual understanding of their self-inflicted plight. Yet, the harsh transition from the serenity of paradise to the difficult and sometimes fractious world of human culture is partially alleviated by the naming of Eve (meaning ‘life’) and a rather remarkable act of grace. ‘And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them’ (Gen 3:21).

These first clothes, crafted by God, can be seen as the first symbols of salvation for even when humans couldn’t use tools to make their own clothes, God provided. Because beyond the paradise of their close existence with God and Creation, there was neither comfort nor shelter available as Adam and Eve ventured into an uncertain world. As humans developed culture, God repeatedly asks humans to use tools to achieve His purposes. For example, in Exodus, God tells Moses to use a staff as a tool to perform miracles (Exodus 4:2) and in the New Testament, Paul uses his words as a tool to spread the Gospel (Acts 20:26-27).

There is an often-repeated adage that the Catholics of the 20th Century were urged to pray, pay and obey - expectations that diminished the perceived possibilities for evangelisation in today’s culture. It’s almost as if many of us don’t know how to use the various tools at our disposal to share the Gospel more confidently in a pluralistic society where faith is poorly understood, where healing and reconciliation are necessary, and where a deeper awareness of God’s love is sorely needed.

As Christians, we know that it is God who brings about meaningful change in the world and that God’s people seek out and align with God’s purposes. So, we use tools and processes that have been developed in human culture, while understanding deeply that God has a guiding hand in all human creativity that contributes to the common good.

One approach we might take in our time is to better utilise the tools and processes that have been developed to support people and organisations during times of tremendous change. In the field of future planning, many such tools have helped people to engage in a variety of fruitful change projects, such as rural community development, organisational transformation, and the transition of nations from authoritarian regimes to civil societies.

We do not need to limit ourselves to tools that simply attempt to forecast the future. On their own, such predictive approaches often focus too much on the internal aspects of an organisation and can lead to further disengagement and alienation of the people involved. These forecasts, which are often gloomy, do little to elevate human agency and can rob people of a sense of purpose and direction. In Catholicism, agency is about fulfilling one’s duty to God and serving the needs of others. It is the God-given power to think for ourselves and act in ways that shape our experiences and life paths.

The limits of a forecasting approach and their unfortunate impact on human agency can be overcome by using a mix of collaborative planning tools, that include (i) scenario building, (ii) road mapping and (iii) reflexive practices.

Scenario-building helps us to navigate uncertain times by prompting us to tell a unifying story of the future that helps us to focus on what matters most. This is especially helpful where people experience low agency and high uncertainty.

Both road mapping and reflexive approaches help people to attain a greater sense of agency, of being able to do something worthwhile in a changing and often confusing landscape. Where there is a reasonable level of certainty, creating a road map encourages us to develop clear and concrete steps together. Where there is high uncertainty, adopting a reflective approach invites us to walk a path that unfolds before us as we journey together. This approach asks us to discover what we need to learn, know and do as a community while we continue along the path. In a deep sense, this is the goal of synodality.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘God's love calls us to move beyond fear, and it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all. We ask God to give us the strength to work and to struggle for love of the common good and for those suffering the indignities of poverty in our communities, our nation, and our global family.’

All these approaches broaden and deepen conversations, which helps us to overcome fear and increase the engagement and resilience of people willing to share the Gospel. It is noteworthy that the Irish Synodal Pathway has adopted a facilitative leadership training programme in preparation for the first series of Synodal assemblies in the Jubilee Year of 2025. Such collaborative planning approaches and tools open our minds and hearts to our personal and communal need for transformative change to help us keep the flames of faith alive for future generations.

Given the reality of the Creation accounts and our wounded human nature, we often experience disharmony in ourselves, in our relationships with others and with Creation. But, the Good News is that the Son of God came to restore the graceful harmony experienced by our ancestral parents in the original garden of human existence. While the earliest humans lacked the skill to use tools to prepare them for their first fearful steps into rugged terrain, today God asks us to use all the tools and processes at our disposal to walk a path that brings us, the People of God, closer to Him.

We are chosen by God for this journey and His plan is our destiny. Upon this path, strengthened by the sacraments and guided by Sacred Scripture, prayer and God’s illuminative love, we collectively work towards a vision of the human person where the image of God shines brightly; where every person is wanted and loved, and where each one of us expresses purpose and agency. Along the way, we invite everyone to hear God walking in the cool of an evening and confidently share the good news that all are welcome to journey with us.


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