Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Friendly But Love-less Conference

It appears public sessions are over at the Fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. From all over the country, the bishops of the Catholic Church gathered, and one of the items on the agenda was the treatment of pro-abortion public figures who present themselves to receive Communion, the body of Our Lord. It is wrong to receive the Eucharist while in the state of mortal sin, and the Catechism leaves no doubt that participation in abortion is a grave matter. “The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life,” (Par. 2272). Further, the Catechism holds that “the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation,” (Par. 2273). In other words, the burden of protecting the embryo is placed directly upon us and on the shoulders of government – and who, or what, is government? It’s our elected and appointed officials, as I’ve pointed out before.

In recent months, there has been scandal in the Catholic Church as public officials who have participated in abortion by voting against measures that would restrict it have publicly denied this responsibility. These same figures then present themselves for Communion in a state of mortal sin. The dilemma that the Bishops were to address at this Fall conference was whether or not Communion should be withheld from these officials until and unless they repent and convert. There appears to be a great deal of disagreement among the Bishops. Some think it should be withheld from them. Some think it is the Bishop’s duty to provide more education about the Eucharist, and still others will not deny the Eucharist to anyone under any circumstances. There are good arguments for each of these positions. I wish I had had the opportunity to hear the Bishops’ debate.

Unfortunately, this morning they decided to table the discussion. The decision was unanimous, with no dissenters. Speculation has it that they found out in private meetings just how divided they were, and they had no desire to air more dirty laundry in the public sessions by opening up the floor to debate. This is the saddest decision I’ve heard in a very long time. Apparently they are aware that the lay faithful, in large numbers, want this question decided, but it has no impetus on this esteemed body of men.

As I listened to them joke about finally adopting Spanish language text for Blessings, Baptisms, and Matrimony, I was still in shock, not sure I had heard correctly. Had they just approved a motion to forego oral discussion of the matter? Did they have weightier things to consider for which they needed to make time? Then those who were meeting moved on to voting on rules of meeting for future meetings. Well, what meeting wouldn’t be complete without deciding whether next year the chairs should be in semi-circles or classroom style? Here they were in a public forum, for a very short time, turning a blind eye to what has been one of this country’s and this Church’s most divisive issues in the last few months.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
The Gospel of St. Matthew 23:23-24

It saddens me to learn that they have ignored justice and mercy and faith. They ignored justice when they failed to protect the lives of the unborn and the souls of those who will participate in their deaths. They ignored mercy when they fell back on their pride, and decided to keep secrets again. And they ignored faith when they failed to defend the very Body and Blood of our Lord.

Did they ever stop to think that their failure even to discuss this matter gives implicit approval for Catholics to be pro-abortion? A few did speak clearly prior to the election about the sin of voting for pro-abortion candidates, but too few. It seems they don’t think abortion is a priority, which is what this discussion is really about. Some might say it’s only about our free will to sin, but if they do, they forget they have been called to lead, not to follow the sheep over the cliff. Withholding the Eucharist sends a very clear message that the one who cannot receive is committing grievous sin.

During this Fall Conference, they spent quite a bit of time discussing the issue of homosexual marriage. It seems they are highly motivated to work for the preservation of marriage between a man and a woman. Yet from what does this motivation stem? They can hardly be considered family-friendly when they fail to publicly denounce those who support the killing of its tiniest and most fundamental components: the infants, those who would otherwise, with the grace of God, grow into more of His faithful people but for the abortionist and the silence, this vast silence that surrounds their deaths. What kind of shepherd allows the wolves to devour the youngest in his flock without even saying a word of protest?

Do they act from fear? I have read that some priests have been treated harshly for speaking out against abortion. But what can these men of faith have to fear? And are they not faithless if it is a lack of courage that holds them back? Jesus told us to have no fear of persecution, “and do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” (Matthew 10:28). But if they are to fear, it should be more for their eternal souls if they do nothing to intercede, to warn those who are in danger of hell for eternity, or have they forgotten Matthew 18:5: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” The shepherd must guide his flock, and that means by hook and by crook when necessary.

They have neglected mercy. They have forgotten to forgive themselves for the scandal of sexual abuse. They have forgotten to forgive those who caused the scandal. It is only obvious that this is the case, because otherwise, they would not fear more scandal. But they do. Bishop after Bishop, Eminence after Eminence, they stood up while they were discussing the annual compilation of sex abuse data and said they were worried about stirring this issue up again and again for the media to play with. Before they remanded the Marriage protection project back to the task force, many of them stood up to express their concerns that they would be sending the wrong message to the media.

We only worry about what others think of us, or say about us, when we are full of pride. It was pride that caused our troubles to begin with – not just in the Garden of Eden. When Church officials hid criminal behavior from the authorities and failed to act to protect children from abuse, they did so because they thought they were the final authority themselves. They were full of pride. And they are still full of pride, not wanting to continue to air their dirty laundry in public, tired of the humiliation, and failing to see that they have some spiritual healing to do. They need to forgive themselves, and become humble, so that, as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, they can become teachable, which is to become wise. We need wisdom to guide us in our Church. We need to see the Bishops forgive themselves, and show mercy to each other, so we can all become more merciful as a result. They should discuss these issues, in and out of public, so we can all learn.

Finally, they neglected faith. In this Year of the Eucharist, as it has been proclaimed by the Holy Father, they are neglecting to protect Him from abuse. Is it that they no longer believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist? I wonder sometimes. Archbishop Sheen told a heart-wrenching story about a little Chinese girl who gave her life to protect the Blessed Sacrament. Many of the saints did the same. Yet the Bishops do not honor Him enough even to discuss the possibility that He might be profaned when they place Him in the hand or mouth of someone who avers that abortion is a “constitutional right,” and while he respects what his Church teaches about embryos, what Christ’s Church teaches, he opts out.

The Catholic Church does not allow non-Catholics to participate in the Eucharist because they cannot be sure they believe that He is the bread and wine. Once they convert, they are taught, and then it is appropriate for them to approach Him in this form. They do this to protect our Lord. So they must be certain that He requires protection. But they did not act to protect Him this morning, and they have not acted in a way that encourages the laity to have faith in Him, either. There wasn’t even enough respect for the Eucharist to motivate them to talk about a defense plan.

The Bishop’s Conference was so “friendly,” as a matter of fact, that I’m still not sure what was accomplished, beyond their bizarre appointment of Bishop Trautman as Chair of the Committee for the Liturgy – a man who supports the use of gender-neutral language. “Our Parent, who art in heaven….” No, it doesn’t ring true.

There’s too much emphasis on being friendly. Jesus was not friendly. He wasn’t a nice guy. When the Canaanite woman came to him because her daughter was possessed, he ignored her pleas at first. Then He told her, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” (Matthew 15:26). That’s not very friendly, is it? But it was purposeful, and the woman was of course rewarded for her faith, as He rewards each of us for ours. When Peter rebuked Him for telling them He was about to die, He called him Satan. That isn’t a nice thing to say.

Jesus wasn’t nice or friendly, but He was loving. He loves His people, and those whom He loves, He chastises. We have to do that to the ones we love sometimes, in order to make them better people. We do it precisely because we love them. When will our Bishops love us enough to do the same?


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