Page 4, 26th March 1982

26th March 1982
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Page 4, 26th March 1982 — The physicianly task of listening and healing
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The physicianly task of listening and healing

MY DEVOTED respect for Pope John Paul II derives principally from his great sensitivity as a physician in respect of the whole range of human sickness. As a physician he knows that he cannot proceed until he has listened to his patient, individual or corporate.

The disunity of the Church, for instance, is incompatible with its Catholic health. The churches into which it is fragmented have, until recently added to their disease of disunity the chronic disability of being deliberately deaf to each other's positive witness to Christ.

If there is to be any remedy, it requires, of those who set about the healing, that they be, first of all, listeners. John Paul II expressed this unequivocally in his address to the Secretariat for the Union of Christians, led by Cardinal Johannes Willebrands.

Unity calls for a fidelity that is constantly deepened through listening to one another. With brotherly freedom partners in a true dialogue challenge one another to a more and more exacting faithfulness to God's plan in its entirety.

The papacy of John XXIII did just this. He had been listening to the transformation which was taking-place in moral theology, in the inner life of Christians who were moving out of the endemic sickness of an ailing legalism into the healthful dynamics of the grace and love of Christ, abundantly flowing through the renewed Eucharist.

He put his shoulder to the wheel of the moral theological coach, to enable the wheels to turn again, so that it could be a vehicle in which Christians could ride, drawn along by four eager horses. These God-given horses had been unharnessed and put out to grass by the drivers of the casuistical canonical, punctitiously-codified moral coach which for three hundred years dominated France and Europe.

Its rigid wheels had tended too often to crush offenders as if ironshod tyres were dragged over them, with the brakes hard on. St Alphonsus Liguori tempered this with gentleness, still within the same system.

The reformation of moral heology which came to fruition 'n John XXIII and the Fathers of Vatican II is associated with the recognition and harnessing of the four great dynamic sources of the life of godliness in Christians.

First, the theological resource of God's freely given grace, which says: 'Live out the grace you have received. Let God's grace flow in you and do its own transforming work. Move beyond the boundaries of exacting casuistry and the corrective morality of minimal requirements fortified by penances. The law of grace is a law of growth.

Today's Christian equipment is not a superior brake-pedal to prevent collisions with codified ecclesiastical prohibitions; it is an accelerator with lots of good power in the engine. (I remind myself that this was to be a horsedrawn vehicle).

The second horse to be put into the shafts in those years was love, caritas, the agape of God given to-rnan, to be, in him, 'the

intrinsic source and end of all moral activity'. I remember the thrill of poring over Gerard Gilleman's great restatement of Catholic moral theology in 1960, The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology.

The sin-centredness and guarded fearsomeness of nineteenth-century casuistry had orbited round canon law, as if ignorant of the wide theology of grace and the generous Spirit of God's loving-kindness.

This fresh horse put a new liveliness into the laity. They were empowered to live for the Kingdom of God, not just to save their individual souls from the ■ Nrath of a God whose image was that of magisterial confessor writ large.

God's liberating, non-blaming love set within Catholic Christians a freedom to plan, to hope and to live for the transformation not merely of individuals, but of communities, first of Christ's Church and congregation and then in Christ's world. The third horse was also a renovation of moral theology, now to be rooted in the liturgy, life resourced through the sacraments. No longer was Mass attendance a stipulated duty and obligation to be complied with on pain of priestly displeasure. The liturgical movement pushed the sacred mysteries back into the centre of the Christian form of existence.'

Pius X. and particularly Pius XII in his Mediator Dei in 1947, saw the gathered Church as a sacramental communion. The Introduction to the Second Vatican Council fully endorsed this liturgical reformation, setting forth the Eucharist as the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church'.

So far from being one more duty the compliant Catholic owed to the ecclesiastical hierarchy, a meritorious means to the inore important end of continuing to live a fairly sin-free existence, the sacrament, to my Catholic friends as to me, became the place where we participated in the very life of Christ. We made there a personal claim on his broken body and shed blood, to cleanse and empower us, to fill us with his holiness, to reach down into our weakness, and raise us up to newness of life.

The fourth horse, newly harnessed to the moral theological coach, was a new centredness in Christ. It was realized afresh that the life our heavenly Father desires to foster in us is the life of his Son, indwelling us.

In place of punctilious ethical self-scrutiny, eagerly encouraged in my youth by Anglo-Catholic confessors in imitation of the Roman model, the basic concept of following Christ came to be a matter of keeping Christ in the centre of one's gaze.

The vision and virtue of the good life followed on the transformation effected by looking. not into a mirror, but into his face. The patient saw into the face of the wounded physician, beholding in its anguish every familiar agony of his or her own soul.

Whenever Catholic

theologians wrote about these changes in the very grounding of moral theology, they celebrated the dawn of a new era. For me, it was the reading of Emile Mersch's The Mystical Body of Christ that announced the new insight. It was as if the Church had decided to sack the schoolmaster with the thin cane and transfer the care of penitents to Christ as a physician, and to the Holy Spirit as the unfailing source of grace, love and sacra

mental abundance.

It was during these years that Bishop Wojtyla, on the foundation of a person-centred phenomenal approach to the Christian's experience of Christ and of his own life in Christ, was encouraging the same centredness in grace, in love, in the sacraments and above all, in Christ himself. His provision of catechetical

and teaching ministries was balanced by the setting up of a counselling service — where the physicianly task of listening was embedded in a caring love, a

gracious empathy and a Christlike respect of sufferers and sinners alike. • Frank Lake's book, With Respect, is to be published by Dorton Longman and Todd on April 1 at £6.95.




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