A pastoral experience
Rule vs My style of doing
I visited one of the churches (let the details be hidden under anonymity) with a friend, who may not be called a traditional catholic. Though the person is a catholic, I won’t give a label called “regular or church-going” catholic. These labels are not for any separations, but to give a certain form of clarity regarding the person and the beliefs. My friend received holy communion in hand during the mass, which we attended together. One of the “traditions” after receiving communion is that you move a little to the side, consume the body of Christ and walk back to your seat. My friend didn’t consume the host immediately, but started walking and consumed it on the way. I saw the priest looking at the person with a certain suspicion. Once he realized that it is consumed, he was at peace.
On the next day, when we were going to the mass, I told my friend about this incident. I told about the “custom” in the church, and the purpose of that “custom”. The person told me that receiving Jesus was a super-special moment, and normal “custom” doesn’t seem the best according to the sensibility of the person. I wanted to share with the person regarding the rule, with an invitation to think, and to see how the intuition or the sensibility of my friend can enter into a dialogue with the custom of the church. Anyway, my manner of speaking didn’t convey all I wanted to say in the way, I wanted; and the person who already had some not “so-positive” experiences with the church officials, connected my dialogue to the same. At the start of the mass, I realized that I could have said it in a better way, and I should have respected the aspect that “the intention of the person” was good. The same person didn’t receive communion on the second day.
And when I was on the line to receive the communion, the second day, a young man before me on the line did almost the same gesture as my friend, and the priest immediately told him to have the communion there only, before walking. I don’t know what impact that action had on that young man, but it would have a negative impact on my friend. I won’t blame the priest fully too, as he is in a pilgrimage center, and he too has some good intentions and justifications for his actions.
Maybe, it is good to reflect for yourself, before you read my further reflections.
Since it was my friend, I did have an opportunity to apologize and to explain things in a manner that is acceptable (or that my friend understands my intention). Or my intention was never to convert the person, but to invite the person to think from another perspective, probably the perspective of the church. I definitely got an opportunity to think also from the perspective of my friend or any such individual who thinks differently. This luxury of dialogue may not be available on many other occasions; and if it is a person on the frontiers of the church, it can really be a tripping point or the final straw before saying a Good Bye to the Church.
Don’t think I have a solution? And surely I am not the first one, who struggles with such and such difficulty? But I think, a certain way can be thought about in such situations. If the individual is disrespecting the communion or if the collective (represented by the priest here) is too ideologically motivated to some strange rules, the solution already exists there.
But if both persons are sincere and right (from their own perspectives), which I thought was the case in the previous scenario of the reception of communion by my friend, we are dealing with two “rights”. That is the first realization that can be helpful for both parties. Again this is not easy. Who has the greater responsibility? The individual or the collective. At least from a Christian point of way, I would say that the collective has a greater responsibility to be slow in judging and to probably enter into dialogue with an individual (who thinks or acts a little differently) without an act of condemnation. Dialogue is not for converting the individual, but for understanding the sensibilities to arrive at some common understanding and consensus (if possible).
An ideal situation in the dialogue will be — the collective trying to accompany the difference in style of that individual person with gentleness and compassion, and the individual trying to understand the reason of the rule followed by the collective.
Maybe a question from many persons in the collective would be — this openness or willingness to accept certain differences or openness to dialogue than condemnation can create a scandal to the already existing believers. I might say Jesus would have been the biggest scandal to them if he lived today. Or as believers and all the more as people in responsible positions of the church, there is a great responsibility of compassion, dialogue than anything else. This experience was a learning way for me, without creating damage for the relationship of a person with Jesus or the Church.
NB: This article is not a critique on that priest, but I think things can be done differently.