I love the concept of graduality. As a Catechist, it appeals to me to meet people where they are in the journey and help them move towards full communion with the teachings of the Catholic Church. A pastoral approach can encourage and help form the consciences of those we encounter.
We see this play out with our PreCana couples. Many couples these days cohabit prior to marriage. With guidance, love and proper catechesis, they move towards a better understanding of the sacrament of matrimony. The hope is that they will amend their situation prior to marriage and enter into the sacrament with not only a clearer vision, but an openness in embracing the Catholic teaching about all the sacraments which will help them secure a valid union. If they are only told their situation is unacceptable, we may alienate them rather than using the opportunity to help them grow in faith.
This idea of the “Law of Gradualism” can be misused if we view it separate from the clear teachings of the Church. “The pastoral “law of gradualness”, not to be confused with the “gradualness of the law” which would tend to diminish the demands it places on us, consists of requiring a decisive break with sin together with a progressive path towards total union with the will of God and with his loving demands.” [Vademecum for Confessors 3:9].
This means that there must be not just a future intent to break from sin (eventually), but a true conversion by movement away from sin.
With this in mind, there is a concern with the way we approach bringing someone along in Faith if they are in a situation opposed to Catholic teaching. We need to first educate a person in what the Church teaches and then see some evidence of conversion, before we allow them to fully participate in Catholic life. If this is not carried out consistently we create an environment of inequality for those in our parishes.
If a person enters the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program, but is currently in an irregular marriage, they are not permitted to become Catholic until their situation is resolved. This can take from months to years, depending on the circumstances. This individual is encouraged to look at this time as a time of sacrifice, preparation and increased desire of the sacraments (much like a bride looks forward to her wedding day). However, if we allow a couple living together without the benefit of marriage (and no plans to marry) to enter full communion with the Church, because we are trying to ‘meet them where they are’ are we creating an unequal and unjust situation? Are not both people living outside the teachings of the Church? What about a person actively supporting abortion or promoting homosexual marriage or any other lifestyle that goes against Church teaching? These are grave sins, but do the people in the pews understand that? Should they not show evidence of true conversion on these issues before full participation (Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation) in the Church?
We should always meet people where they are, much like Christ met the woman at the well (who had been married five time and was living with a man who was not her husband), but then we should show them the “living water” (Jesus Christ) and invite them to walk with us toward him.
For more information of graduality
For more information on Divorced Catholics
The Three Things Divorced Catholics Need to Know
By Mary Lou Rosien