Either he doesn’t know the background noise in this video makes it almost impossible to understand what he is saying, or he is too lazy to redo the video or there is something else going on. 

Those are thoughts that may cross your mind after watching the video that accompanies this article.  If you guessed that there is something else going on, you would be right.

The video is introduced with the words, “The Catholic Church’s pastoral response to separation and divorce is under construction.”  Anyone who has been to a construction site will know that quite often construction is accompanied by deafening noise. In the case of the noise surrounding the initiatives which are inviting a renewal in the pastoral life of the church, there are a host of sources.  Some of the noise is connected to the cultural wars, some of it is the result of the ever-multiplying distractions in our own lives, and in the last year, some of the noise is a consequence of the challenges brought on by the pandemic.  No matter how we look at it, the noise distracts from our efforts to introducing new pastoral approaches such as those found in Amoris Laetitia.

An important concept that is being lost in the noise is that of gradualism. Gradualism illudes simple definition. Indeed, the whole of Amoris Laetitia enfleshes the meaning of the word.

The reintroduction of the notion of gradualism in Amoris Laetitia responds to a contemporary tendency, an impulse that leans toward issuing doctrinal solutions when faced with human difficulties such as separation and divorce.  Gradualism does not reject the ideals of Catholic moral teaching, but rather, it provides a starting point for conversion that recognizes the complex set of challenges for individuals who are trying to integrate their faith with the many uncertainties and demands experienced in everyday life.

We can also turn to accounts in the life of Christ to understand the term.  Helpful in this regard, is the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus following the crucifixion of Jesus.  Luke, humorously, depicts the disciples telling the, apparently not so bright risen Christ, “some women among us left us bewildered.  When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. ‘(Lk. 24: 22 – 23).  Of significance to our understanding of gradualism is the reality that the risen Christ accompanies these disciples as they walk away from the accounts of resurrection, but as He journeys with them in their walking away, He reawakens their faith.

It is also helpful to meditate on the story of the prodigal father.

How strange a story it is!  The wayward son returns to the father after callously disrespecting him and flagrantly squandering the inheritance he prematurely acquired.  And the father does not even acknowledge the son’s contrite admission of sinfulness.  Instead, he moves immediately to slaughter the fatted calf and hold an extravagant celebration.  Acts such as these defy our understanding, but it is this kind of pastoral disposition that gradualism invites us to embrace.

The more we explore the pastoral approach of Jesus and the vision of pastoral care set before us in Amoris Laetitia the more we realize just how rich is the meaning of gradualism. This video offers a visceral experience of the noise we are encountering, and a little metaphor that contributes to an understanding of gradualism.  My hope is that it will help to reawaken an interest in gradualism as we accompany people in their journey toward greater faithfulness to the Lord.

By Peter Oliver – Olive Branch – Marriage and Family Ministry