A publication of Sacred Heart University. All opinions are solely those of the authors.
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The Luminosity of Gray

Since mid-November, it seems that our part of North America has been overwhelmingly cloudy. The sun’s appearance has become an astronomical oddity. Grayness seems to permeate our moods as well as our landscape. Yet, not all gray needs to be as depressing as the weather. The gray of life invites us into a deeper appreciation of lived experience, a fuller understanding of what it means to be human.

Gray is not fog. Gray is an admission that there really are few clear black-and-whites in human experience. We spend most of our lives in the complicated area between brilliance and darkness. It is that human experience, yours and mine, that we as Church need to address. A few weeks ago in this series, Paul Lakeland remarked on Francis’ November 1 motu proprio in which he called on theology to “be a fundamentally contextual theology, capable of reading and interpreting the Gospel in the conditions in which men and women daily live.” The first blog of the new year from Catherine Mulroney spoke of the Vatican’s more pastoral approach allowing for “keeping ashes reverently at home,” thus acknowledging a reality already being practiced by many faithful Catholics. The pastoral approach of Fiducia supplicans is a preeminent example of this “contextual” approach, calling upon bishops and pastors to bring the grace of the Gospel to all, thus inviting spiritual growth in a pastorally positive context. It does not provide a recipe; rather, it provides a fundamental stance in the grayness of life: the offer of blessing. It is pastoral; it is Christ-like; it lives the Gospel.

Just over 58 years after the promulgation of Gaudium et spes, which opened with a clear statement that the Church’s mission is to bring “the radiance of the Gospel message” (92) to the world in which humanity exists, it is mystifying that somehow this approach is regarded by many as “new” or even “revolutionary.” The Church has a concrete mission in which theology, doctrine, etc. are tools for the fulfillment of that mission. Yet, somehow in the first years of this papacy, Francis’ declarations were heard as simply “pastoral” not theological. More recently his “pastoral” approach is regarded somehow as less valuable than “clear doctrine.” Have we forgotten that all doctrine, all theology, all witness must be pastoral? As Church, we are called to communicate one simple message: Christ’s victory over sin and death in the Resurrection! All truths flow from this Truth—all actions should. We should bring the joy and blessings of the Gospel to those who may not yet have experienced that Truth, not because we are the proprietors of the Truth, but because we, as they, struggle to live that Truth. In solidarity we accompany them on their journey. That assistance cannot be in the abstract if it is to address the real needs of human persons. Perhaps that is the key to understanding our current dilemma as disciples of Christ: do we give priority to bringing the Gospel to the specific circumstances of those to whom it needs to be addressed, or do we prioritize an absolutization of certain principles?

History, I suggest, teaches us that the Spirit has consistently led the Church to find ever more effective ways to live the Gospel Truth: strict monotheism or a Trinitarian God, circumcision or no circumcision, Latin or the vernacular, no cremation or the blessing of ashes, no talking to non-Catholics or an ecumenical commissioning of bishops and many more examples. However, in each circumstance the challenge has been immense, the fears real, the call to trust the Holy Spirit clear. The past is not to be repeated, rather it gives us the courage to hold firm to the Spirit’s guidance in the Body of Christ and know that gray most certainly has the luminescence of the Gospel that shines everywhere and for everyone so that the Good News is alive for the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed (Lk. 1:18).

Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.


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