SBeginning in 2013 and in various ways thereafter, Pope Francis has called on Catholics, especially young Catholics, to “seize havoc.” In a way, this makes admirable sense. Reform and renewal always involve a kind of creative destruction. Breaking old patterns of sin and purifying the mind can be turbulent work. There’s a reason James Joyce described the Catholic faith as “here’s everyone.” The Church is one very big family filled with sinners and eccentric personalities from top to bottom, all in need of conversion.
The key word in this sentence, of course, is “conversion”. Conversion involves separating our appetites, thoughts, and actions from conformity to the world and cleaving to the gospel. It’s a word easier said than done. And proof of that is his complete absence from the current turmoil in the German Church over sex, marriage and intercommunion – a perverse but logical distortion of synodality, the kind of mess that Francis clearly didn’t have. not intend and had not planned.
Like any family, the Church has ground rules for inclusion that require certain behaviors. No family can sustain behavior that compromises their own identity and well-being indefinitely. Likewise, no family is without borders. If, as Vatican II insisted, the Eucharist is “the source and the summit” of Catholic life, then respect for the sacrament, its meaning and its proper reception mark the boundary of our family. In Germany, violation of this reverence involves sharing the Eucharist with people who in good conscience do not accept Catholic belief and therefore do not belong to the Catholic community. In the United States the circumstances may be different, but the bottom line – who can and should receive the Eucharist – is essentially the same.
Persons who do not believe in the real presence, who are unaware of or do not accept the teaching of the Church, or who are objectively in a state of grave sin, should not present themselves for communion. It’s that simple and that serious. If they do, they not only put their own souls in grave danger, but, just as gravely, they also violate the rights of Catholics who seek to live their faith authentically.
This Eucharistic discipline, the coherence of the Catholic faith and the behavior it demands, are rooted both in Scripture and in the constant practice of the Church. It applies to all Catholics, not just civil servants, and it applies all the time and everywhere. There’s nothing intentionally “political” about it. To claim that he arms the Eucharist for political ends is both misleading and, when advanced by anyone in the leadership of the Church, inexcusable. No bishop greedily seeks to punish or publicly humiliate anyone by denying him communion. Such action is always a last resort for the salvation of the sinner’s soul. Moreover, in today’s deeply cynical media environment, any such action invites a storm of fake outrage at the “martyrdom” of the injured public figure. But the obligation of “Eucharistic coherence”, that is, to conform our private and public life to what the Church teaches and to what we claim to believe as Catholics, remains a question of personal integrity. . And the Denver one Bishop Samuel Aquila and that of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone expressed this very well.
Today’s dust on Communion for the likes of President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the latest revival of a 48-year-old argument that began with Roe vs. Wade. deerIsabelle’s permissive abortion license has created a deeply embarrassing problem for Catholics who describe themselves as “progressive.” There is nothing progressive about allowing the intentional killing of unborn human life. The early Church Fathers rightly characterized abortion as a form of homicide, and while other serious issues like racial equality, immigration, poverty, and health care clearly demand our attention, none of them alone or all of them together can balance or negate the inequity of condoning a regime of systematic killings of innocent human beings. To argue (as some do) that the child in utero is not a full person, and therefore not entitled to the protection of the law, is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested decades ago in his Ethics, a particularly lewd form of self-deception.
The Democratic Party now operates as an abortion industry franchise, with abortion rights as a new kind of sacrament. To say that does not excuse the many examples of insensitivity and hypocrisy – their name is Legion – that can easily be found within the Republican ranks. But what now sets self-proclaimed Catholic public figures like President Biden and Speaker Pelosi apart is not just their surrender to the abortion lobby, but their enthusiastic adherence to its policies. For this, there is no precedent.
Or maybe not quite. Like Randall Smith noted recently, many prominent American Catholics in the 1800s, including clergy and some bishops, defended slavery or owned slaves themselves, despite centuries of vigorous papal attacks on the evil of slavery. It is therefore ironic that the American and Roman roles today seem to be reversed. Most U.S. bishops seek a strong, faithful, and unified conference statement on eucharistic coherence in the face of an entrenched abortion regime. It is the Cardinal of Rome Luis Ladaria who now advises a more patient approach on the question of Communion and politicians, with more dialogue and discussion – as if this strategy had not already been tried and failed, repeatedly, over the past four decades. There’s a reason Nancy Pelosi was “satisfied” (her word) with CDF Prefect Ladaria’s recent letter to USCCB President Archbishop Jose Gomez. This can only provide her with cover, assuming she even cares about such details. The letter also clarifies what Rome can really mean by this ambiguous word “synodality”.
I guess the lesson here is that all of us who call ourselves “Catholics” could do with a lot more of the good kind of mess. We already have too much of the other type.
Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., is Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia and the most recent author of Things Worth Dying for: Reflections on a Life Worth Living.
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