Continued from last week – Published in The Tablet (an international Catholic publication)
GRASSROOTS THEOLOGY – SEAN WALES
One difficulty we encountered was one-off appearances at some meetings of people with one agenda. One parishioner only came to one of the meetings and focused solely on natural family planning. Talk of mitigating circumstances sat uneasily with them, though most of us could cite instances where circumstances influenced our moral behaviour.
When we came to the core issue in chapter 8, the possibility of admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, we were well prepared for Pope Francis’ logic of pastoral ministry. Our own experience confirmed the view that “general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations” (n.304). Parents with young adult children whose attendance at Mass is as best spasmodic could give plenty of examples of that principle.
The idea that one could be caught – or trapped – in a situation that is objectively imperfect and yet still pray and experience God’s grace resonated with many people’s experience. The famous footnote (351) on the help of the sacraments raised a question of interpretation: was such help limited to Reconciliation and Eucharist? What about the other sacraments such as Matrimony?
Pope Francis’ had said that married couples would be more concerned with chapters 4 (on “Love in Marriage”) and 5 (“Love Made Fruitful”); but, because of the attention the media gave to chapter 8 (“Accompanying, Discerning and Intergrating Weakness”), that chapter proved to be the highlight of the group’s whole experience. Our dubia were simpler and more down to earth than other highly publicized doubts. We were more concerned about the reception of the exhortation by individual priests. Pope Francis had famously said that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but we wondered if all our local priests would be of one mind about interpreting the exhortation. The Pope insisted that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect; but we asked if fellow parishioners would continue to look askance when certain people received Holy Communion.
What our theological circle has shown to me is that there is a genuine hunger among many parishioners to go deeper into our Catholic tradition. Furthermore, even a small attempt to address that hunger reveals a graced response and a surprising enthusiasm for a Vatican document. Our group is now engaged in a lively series of meetings on the theme of Faith and Reason. Our theological circle is drawing in even larger numbers, which suggests that the need for shared study and reflection is widespread.
CONSIDER having a theological circle in your parish to discuss Scripture and important papal documents.
MAKE SURE each member has access to a text to be studied in preparation for the meetings – and time to prepare.
TOWARDS the end of a series/theme steer the group toward what differences the reflections might lead to in the parish.