As you know, for some years now we have had a “theological circle” in the parish. Recently we worked
our way through Pope Francis’ Exhortation, The Joy of Love. I wrote up an account of how our Theological Circle works and of our reflections on The Joy of Love. The Tablet, an international Catholic publication published my account and I am pleased to share this with the parish. Because of its length, it will run for 2 weeks.
PARISH PRACTICE – Published in the Tablet – 4 November 2017
GRASSROOTS THEOLOGY – SEAN WALES
THE PARISH is not an outdated institution. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (n.28), Pope Francis says that “because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of pastor and community”.
Pope Francis was still a largely unknown Jesuit archbishop in Argentina when a group of us in the Redemptorist parish in Bergvliet, Cape Town, decided to form a study group to explore aspects of our faith together. The idea was to provide a space for those parishioners who wished to deepen their knowledge – faith seeking understanding, if you like. By the time Francis had become Pope, we were used to the rhythm of circulating a text on which to reflect for our monthly meetings. Members of the circle decided that his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) would be an ideal challenge as most members of the circle shared the vocation to marriage and family life.
From the very beginning, we were jolted into a new awareness of our role as responsible Catholics. Instead of waiting for Rome to answer all our questions, we read in n.3: “…not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. “This gave the group an insight into the fact that the day-to-day experience of living the vocation of marriage and family life is a source of theology, contributing to the Church’s overall vision of “the joy of love”. We decided to study Amoris Laetitia one chapter a month.
A common response by people to the Pope’s humble description of his exhortation as “an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice” (n.4) was that they’d never read this kind of thing in a Vatican document before. As time went on, several members of the group drew our attention to the fact that the “new language” used in the document was intended to have an effect on our own language, too.
As one member put it “No more living-in-sin talk about people who in fact are more likely to be living in grace despite their situation”. Another person spoke of her hurt at remarks about her relationships after her divorce. She said that parish gossip is much worse than skewed theology. The three pillars of Pope Francis’ exhortation emerged clearly: accompaniment, discernment and integration. It was striking how the group quickly applied these principles to other morally challenging situations. For example, they said they surely apply to those with a homosexual orientation. Because we were dealing with what is primarily a pastoral exhortation, it was encouraging to witness this mindset of mercy pervading many different areas of moral and pastoral life. The tone of mercy pervading the exhortation became the tone of the group.
The treatment of conscience provoked lively interest as it is everyone’s doorway to moral decisions. Schooled in a more formal, colder and more legalistic Church, many of us found it hard to welcome personal discernment in moral matters. Careful distinctions between the objective and subjective realms pale in comparison to Pope Francis’ very practical examples of how to examine one’s conscience in the context of being divorced and remarried.
The six questions he poses in n.300 found immediate traction with those already hurt by broken relationships. It was interesting that everyone in the group had someone in their family circle affected by marriage problems. Any reflection on personal conscience always runs into the difficulty that while conscience is sovereign, it can also be mistaken. And lurking around the question of conscience is the issue of relativism. One participant observed that, in moral terms, it used to be all or nothing; now it’s “all and the best we can manage”.
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 towards what differences the reflections might lead to in the parish.