Since February I have had the privilege of leading a group of parishioners through a study of Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae – the Gospel of Life.
I believe that a parish group wishing to witness to life in thought, word or deed needs to have not only a grounding in the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person but also a foundation that can be shared by all in order to work together as a group. With that in mind, I decided on a detailed study and discussion of the Gospel of Life because it is a modern document that covered the ranges of assaults against life in contemporary society; at the same time it is ancient and eternal as it lays out the Catholic Church’s constant and steady understanding of life in all its ages and stages.
The group that came together was a mix of men and women; medical professionals and business owners and stay-at-home moms; converts, reverts and cradle Catholics. At our first meeting each person was asked to explain why he or she had come to the study. Inevitably, nearly every answer was a variation of “I see what’s happening in the world around us and I want to be able to speak up and say something about the choices and lifestyles that so many are embracing are not good. But I don’t know how to explain it well enough to get my point across.”
So, for 2 hours every week we met to discuss and dissect the text of the encyclical: examining phrases, bringing personal questions and stories to the table, and working hard to understand the heart of the truth contained in EV as well as the man who wrote it and the world he was trying to reach. Delving into the Church’s understanding, the group was able to leave behind it’s own misconceptions and misunderstandings on the many topics covered, and see the purpose of man’s creation and eternal destiny.
The ‘leaving behind’ part was not always easy. Everyone came to the table with questions and the need to understand, sometimes on a deeply personal level. Honesty and a willingness to learn, coupled with an atmosphere of acceptance, enabled us to press forward as we accepted the truth presented, and (hopefully) bent our will by the formation of our intellect.
Needless to say, it was not infrequent for our parley to be, well, shall we say, high-voltage. Delightful, nonetheless!!!
Often times our discussions crossed paths with current events: the topic of the death penalty, in light of the culture and conditions of the era of the Old Testament peoples in the desert and advancement in modern societies, was rigorous – what does “rare, if not practically non-existent” mean? Three days later, Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Everyone in the group took notice of the timing!
Weeks after we had moved on from the topic of abortion this group showed up, and many were able to apply the fruit of our learning to those they encountered at work and in other situations.
We were able to look at modern scientific techniques (stem cell therapy, IVF treatments) in light of the truth and dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God and his/her own personal integrity as the crowning glory of creation destined to live eternally.
To close out our discussion we met for dinner in a member’s home and were able to reflect back on how much we had learned and grown in our understanding and appreciation for the great gift of life and the Church’s undying adherence to Truth. The sentiments shared were moving.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to be get to know more deeply this group of the Lord’s faithful people – it is truly a great pleasure to be with them!