by Fr. Don Greene, MSSD
On Saturday, November 11, Pope Francis sent a video greeting to a meeting of the Italian Bishops' Conference. In the video, he reaffirmed the teachings of the Church, found in the Catechism, which tell us our conscience is where we, as sons and daughters of God, have our closest and most real meetings and experiences with Him. The "primacy" of the conscience, in terms of the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, demonstrates the continued emphasis on a personal relationship with God, not one which is mandated by the Church; or, in his words, priests must inform Catholic consciences "but not replace them."
This is an extremely important point: We are priests are here to help you understand your relationship with God better through the lens of the teachings and traditions of the Church in light of the Holy Scriptures. Certainly, we cannot offer a cookie-cutter image of what catholicism is and expect the people of the world to adhere to it. On the contrary, the Church is vibrant and most-alive when it hears the calls of its people, where they are, and meets them.
For example, a Catholic in San Diego, California is faced with a far different set of challenges than a Catholic in Iraq or Ethiopia or Kenya. Cultures are different, life experiences are different and being a Catholic - though praying to the same God - is different. In some areas of under-developed countries, people, today, are still accused, tried, and killed for committing witchcraft. Albino children are often persecuted and/or killed. These realities pose a very different enviornment. And it is the local priest and bishops who are charged with explaining, nuturing and growing a faith which is rich in tradition, but an irrelevant tradition to some.
Many European bishops are upset with the Pope for suggesting married and divorced people are welcome to receive communion if, after proper consultation with their local priest or bishop, it is found they are in possession of a "well-formed" conscience about the matter. It seems the European bishops would rather dictate our faith to us, rather than discover our faith with us. Pope Francis understands we all must relate and experience God on our own. It is the Church's job to help foster and guide our relationship.