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Still Struggling with Accompaniment

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Catholics in irregular unions have been encouraged to receive spiritual communion at Mass despite their marital status. How is this even possible should they be absolutely ill-disposed to grace?  Cardinal Kasper argues if they should be urged to receive the one then why not the other— the actual reception of Holy Communion. Should they be excluded from the Eucharist? He acknowledges that the reception of the Eucharist does not mean that they can contract a new “sacramental” marriage while the prior spouse is alive.  This has not changed.

Regarding charges of a doctrinal shift, Cardinal Donald Wuerl stated in a letter, “No, the Church’s teaching has not changed; objective truth remains unaffected.” Similarly, Cardinal Müller has said in regard to the permanency of marriage that “This is a matter of a consolidated magisterial teaching, supported by scripture and founded on a doctrinal reason.” This embattled issue is the praxis by which we might seek to assist couples in irregular unions at moving toward a “new integration” into the Church that would respect both the dignity of marriage and make possible a restoration to the sacramental life. I would concur with Cardinal Gerhard Müller that efforts by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Cardinal Walter Kasper to reconcile a changed pastoral practice with traditional dogma in Amoris Laetitia (chapter 8) are not convincing.  Cardinal Müller states, “Thus, a paradigm shift, by which the Church takes on the criteria of modern society to be assimilated by it, constitutes not a development, but a corruption.”

Cardinal Kasper cites five criteria for the proper disposition to receive Holy Communion:

  • Genuine sorrow or contrition over the failed bond;
  • Views the restoration of the prior bond as utterly impossible;
  • Appreciates that abandoning the second bond would incur new guilt;
  • Attempts to live the second marriage in the “context of faith”; and
  • Yearns for the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist.

These are not wholly the traditional requirements, which are:  (1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour, and 3) appropriate devotion and/or attention.  Pastorally I can sympathize with what he is trying to do; however, I cannot give my support to what must still be regarded as an adulterous union.  Indeed, while there is tremendous sympathy for those who have entered into an irregular union, nothing is said about the abandoned and proper spouse.  Where is the concern that the spousal support and affection that should come to him or her is instead given to an another, an interloper?  Despite the context of feelings or emotions, there is an objective order that is not changed by sentiment or even by expressed sorrow.  True contrition should lead to an amendment of life.  It seems to me that this revisionist stance is a denial of personal heroism and a betrayal of the Church’s support, either for the abandoned spouse or should they both be culpable, for the valid marital union that is wounded.

Certain proponents contend that secular divorce should be weighed in the equation, a determination that is often required before annulment proceedings.  The Church seems to give certain deference to secular authority over marriage and divorce even though that same authority does not acknowledge the Church’s jurisdiction.  For instance, the courts have no reservation at rendering divorces, not merely for those married before civil magistrates, but for those whose marriages were witnessed before priests and deacons, as well.  If there were mutual respect, then the state would abide by the Church’s rules and withhold divorces to Catholic couples until or if annulments were granted by ecclesial authority.  But it is not going to happen.  Indeed, the secular and religious definition of marriage daily becomes more divergent; we see this most clearly in the emergence of same-sex unions given the same legal gravity as bonds between men and women.  Cardinal Kasper wants to give something of the importance rendered to valid unions to feigned marriages.  His criteria are sufficiently vague; so much so that unqualified they would equally attempt to justify homosexual as well as heerosexual bonds.  Applying the Cardinal’s categories: the gay person might be sorry about prior failed attempts at heterosexual union; view as impossible either celibacy or “living the lie” of a conventional bond; understand that abandoning the same-sex union would be painful and usher forth unbearable guilt and betrayal; seek to live the new bond with fidelity as they worship regularly as Catholics; and long to receive the sacraments and find acceptance.  Would the Cardinal want his arguments stretched this far? The orthodox believer would argue that sex outside of a valid marriage is a sin.  Further, our Lord tells us that marriage lasts until the death of a spouse.  The Church defines marriage as an exclusive bond of unity and fidelity between a man and woman that is open to the generation of new human life.

Apologists for a change in discipline insist that we should redefine what is meant by adultery.  I am doubtful that this is possible.  The fact that those in irregular unions share tenderness for each other and display responsibility for children is indeed often quite true.  But sin does not have to be utterly malicious.  It can be subtle or even gentle.  No one questions their capacity for love and compassion.  However, does the good that one does for one eradicate the bad or the damage done to another?

As a bit of an aside, the movie and book SILENCE has a priest betray his faith so that the children and parishioners he loves might be spared torture and death.  We understand as weak human beings what he does.  However, we are also called to be saints.  While we try to make a positive difference in this world, we set our sights on the coming kingdom.  We are not promised perfect happiness in this world.  There is no road to holiness that sidesteps the Cross.  The priest in the story saved a few lives and his own, but did he cost them the faith and himself, his immortal soul?  The Church would tell us that God sets the terms for salvation.  Might the Church be on the precipice of betraying marriage just as a reputed change in Vatican policy to the Communists in China might betray the underground church?  Do we really want this pontificate and time in the Church’s history to go down as the age when we surrendered to secular modernity?  Returning to the subject of marriage and broken vows, are we not proposing that weakness and cowardice should be rewarded where we should be supporting courage and even martyrdom?  I cannot mentally escape the story of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher.  We allowed an entire empire and earthly kingdom to separate from the Church over the matter of a divorce.  As one Anglican critic recently said, if this discipline should change, then the Church of England finally wins.

Seeking to be a good priest, I would never do anything to deliberately hurt parishioners or to precipitate scandal.  Pastors of souls must keep professional secrecy and the seal of confession.  We might urge people in private to refrain from Holy Communion because of unresolved sins, but we would not seek to publicly embarrass and/or to berate them should they reject our guidance.  Behind the scenes, many priests quietly work with couples in irregular unions so that they might apply for annulments and hopefully have their unions con-validated by the Church.  There are also couples, often older, who live as brother and sister.  They need to be together but they also respect the teaching of Christ and the demands of the Church.  All this is wholly different from the attitude that couples in irregular unions might be publicly invited by their pastors to full participation in the sacramental life while remaining in a second or third civil marriage.  Does the need for penance and the Eucharist trump the sacrament of matrimony?  How can this be when the sacrament of marriage is intimately associated with the covenant of Christ and his relationship with the Church, his bride?

I have struggled to appreciate Cardinal Kasper’s reasoning.  Nevertheless, it still befuddles me.  He asserts that nothing has changed because even if we allow those in irregular unions to receive absolution in confession and to take Holy Communion, they still cannot contract a new “sacramental” marriage while the prior spouse is alive.  It perplexes me to no end as to why he does not see the inner contradiction.  The logic he employs utterly escapes me.  He seems to be making a distinction between a one-time sacrament and those sacraments which are regularly received again and again. But marriage is a sacred covenant with one’s spouse in Christ that is renewed regularly with the marital act whereby the two become one flesh.  Sexual intercourse with anyone other than the spouse signifies not the renewal or consummation of the covenant bond, but rather, its betrayal.  How can one betray the covenant of Christ in bed and then receive the Eucharist which is the new covenant in Christ’s flesh and blood?  How can one be absolved from sins when the mortal sin of adultery remains undisturbed at the very center of life?

It should also be added that while the focus is often necessarily upon the sexual dynamic of marriage and fidelity; sexual or genital expression does not exhaust all the intimacies and duties that come along with marriage.  Divorce and remarriage (or cohabitation) signifies a violation of the whole package of the bond.  They are called to share a common life, to give daily comfort and companionship, and to be helpmates in finding their salvation in the Lord.  Married couples are called to be best friends.  No matter what comes, they are supposed to stand together.  All these elements are violated with infidelity and divorce.  As the Church struggles to delineate the boundaries of accompaniment; I plead that we do not forget the true spouse.  In many cases, he or she might have been innocent and desiring to fight to make the marriage work.  But it takes two and what is one to do when the other walks away.  Often they suffer alone in silence, praying and loving a spouse that seems to have forgotten them— who now takes comfort and pleasure in another’s arms.  As a priest I have counseled many such people.  Faithful to the Church and to their conscience that the bond was true (meaning forever) they one-sidedly keep their shredded promises and do not date.  Offspring are also part of the larger picture.  Children from an abandoned family are made aware that their father has started a new family.  They wonder within their sorrow and tears, why does he love them more than us?

My pressing personal concern is beyond the temporal or pastoral and admittedly, is somewhat selfish.  If I should invite those in irregular unions to take the Eucharist and/or to be absolved in the confessional; would I be compromising my own soul by enabling or condoning mortal sin?  I can appreciate “accompaniment” but like the men on the road to Emmaus, I would like to see them turn around.  I do not want to walk unashamedly with adulterers, even very cordial and pious ones, into the flames of perdition.  Of course, it is possible that they might be saved by their ignorance of the truth; just as I might be condemned for my certainty about it.  Wouldn’t that take the cake!

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The Heat & Controversy Continues…

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The three bishops essentially cite Pope John Paul II. The argument seems more and more with the historical Magisterium itself and settled doctrine. Here is one instance:

“The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34).

When it comes to the “ordinary magisterium” and opinions that conflict with settled doctrine, filial correction is an act of loyalty. Indeed, silence would be the act of betrayal.

While annulments are now free (they used to cost a thousand dollars or more) this is the first year in the Archdiocese of Washington (so I am told) that we have not had a backlog of cases. Many couples in irregular unions now feel that annulments are unnecessary and that they can freely return to the sacraments. I have had several people in my parish drop writing their cases while citing news about the Pope and “changes that are coming.” Misunderstandings abound… but there is also legitimate confusion where there should be clarity.

There are a number of voices that interpret any criticism or request for clarification as disloyalty to the Pope and as dissent.  However, one cannot be a dissenter when he or she stands with the long-standing and immutable doctrines of the Catholic faith.  One critic said that we should immediately discount the remarks of these “no name” bishops.  But note that they quote the saintly Pope John Paul II of living memory!  Further, Bishop Athanasius Schneider is not a “no name” bishop. He is a man dedicated to Catholic truth and one who has paid his dues in terms of faith witness. Although he is German, his family was sent to a gulag by Stalin. His mother was imprisoned and martyred in 1963 for helping and sheltering other Christians and a Ukrainian priest. He grew up in the outlawed underground Catholic Church and took his early sacraments in secret. He is the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan and titular bishop of Celerina. He has added his voice to many others in regard to the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. While whole conferences of bishops have offered correctives, as in Poland, there are notable names daily added to the list as having serious concerns. The names (to name a few) include Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Sample, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, and two respected Catholic philosophers, John Finnis and Germain Grisez.

Popes can interpret but they cannot reverse or make up new Church teachings. The case must be made, as Cardinal Wuerl suggests, that Church praxis and discipline can change without altering Church doctrine. However, it has not yet been made and many of us cannot imagine how it might be done. One cannot legitimately silence a debate or discussion with ecclesial authority when the overwhelming gravity seems entirely with traditional and perpetual teaching. Those who claim to be following the Holy Father are suggesting that we can invite those in adulterous unions to receive the sacraments, including both the Eucharist and confessional absolution. A number of priests feel, as I do, that this would make us accomplices in the mortal sin of others (who are neither contrite nor who have a firm purpose of amendment).

Marco Tosatti’s sensational blog, in my estimation goes too far. He writes:

“La mia fonte in Vaticano mi ha confidato che ieri sera Bergoglio si è trattenuto a Santa Marta con diversi ‘addetti stampa’ vaticani e ‘consiglieri’ vari per una riunione sul come affrontare questo nuovo ‘imprevisto’ della Correzione dei Vescovi di Astana. La fonte mi ha detto che Omissis era furibondo. E’ andato su tutte le furie. Perchè non sopporta nessuna opposizione. Lo hanno sentito urlare: ‘Se ne pentiranno! Se ne pentiranno amaramente!’. Riferito ovviamente ai coraggiosi Vescovi che hanno ‘osato’ contraddire il neovangelo della neochiesa: l’Amoris Laetitia.”

This is really more gossip and possible calumny than information that furthers the discussion. I just cannot imagine the vindictiveness that the blogger suggests. Absent is the charity exhibited by the many bishops and priests wanting clarification while rightly professing fidelity and respect to the Holy See.

The best posture is to pray for the Holy Father and for faithful and loyal clergy who are trying to safeguard the truth while showing real compassion to sinners. Pray for the couples and families as well… many of us want to bring them spiritual medicine, not placebos.

Not the Clarification for Which Many Were Waiting

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CLICK THE PICTURE ABOVE FOR LINK

Last year the Buenos Aires bishops interpreted the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia so as to permit those sexually active in invalid unions to receive Holy Communion (in certain cases). The Holy Father praised their interpretation in a private letter (September 5, 2016) to Bishop Sergio Alfredo Fenoy, the Delegate of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina. He wrote, “El escrito es muy bueno y explicita cabalmente el sentido del capitulo VIII de Amoris laetitia. No hay otras interpretaciones.” (Translation: The document is very good and clearly explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations). On June 5, 2017 by order of a papal rescript, both the Criteria or Interpretation of the Buenos Aires bishops and the papal letter were published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, purportedly making this the position of the Church’s “authentic Magisterium.” This seems to conflict with the teaching of Pope John Paul II and with the current Code of Canon Law (canon 752). It would affect our discipline about Holy Communion and even Confessional Absolution. Cardinal Wuerl insists that the doctrine has not changed, just the pastoral discipline. I think I will go back to praying on my knees for awhile on this one.

Cardinal Müller Gives Needed Clarification

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This was probably the most important interview that Arroyo ever presented on World Over. CARDINAL MÜLLER says that the “moral” is the “pastoral”… there can be no conflict… no polygamy… no sacramental spouse and another civil law spouse… the Holy Father’s document must be interpreted within the Catholic tradition. Anything else is heresy! He spells out that any accommodation that would permit the restoration of the sacramental life (without an annulment) would be a “brother” to “sister” relationship. He also said that women deacons are impossible. The biblical title was not a reference to Holy Orders. The ongoing commission is being misinterpreted. Nevertheless, he did say that we may find new non-sacramental charges for women.

The Penitential Rite & Forgiveness at Mass

MARK:

I’m having a difficult time understanding the Penitential Rite at Mass.

If we have gone to confession and confessed our sins, why are we supposed to call them to mind at Mass?

Aren’t we forgiven and isn’t that an invitation from the Evil One for us to continue to dwell upon our sins?

Didn’t the Psalmist say that our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103)?

FATHER JOE:

Catholics do not believe in the notion of “once saved, always saved.” We return to Confession again and again to have sins forgiven. Similarly, the Mass forgives sins, although we are generally asked to refrain from taking Holy Communion if we are in a state of mortal sin. The Penitential Rite does indeed have a type of absolution and we often speak of it as forgiving small slights or venial sins. The movement of the liturgy parallels the outreach of John the Baptist and later Christ and his apostles. The pattern established is a simple but important one: REPENT and BELIEVE.

At the beginning of Mass we want to spiritually prepare ourselves. Unlike Confession, where we acknowledge particular acts of personal sin; at the beginning of Mass, we reflect upon our general sinfulness and continuing need for conversion. Sins may be forgiven, but sometimes the bad habits, selfishness and weakness of the flesh causes us to sin again. In any case, we are not yet the Christians we are supposed to be. The Mass is a powerful instrument in our transformation ever more and more into the likeness of Christ. Further, while the absolution of Confession forgives sins, we still owe God penance to appease for the temporal punishment due to sin. The Mass possesses infinite graces to assist in this regard.

It is the true that the devil would have us deny the Lord’s mercy. We should not doubt the power of the priest’s absolution and the truth that sins are forgiven in Christ. However, we could also sin by presumption, supposing that we no longer needed divine mercy and grace. We are called to be counted among the saints. But the truth be told, most who walk the earth are still sinners who struggle daily with the world, the flesh and the devil.

As for the psalms, remember that they were written long before the coming of Christ and his redemptive work. They could offer a limited foreshadowing or anticipation of what was to come, but that is all.

Psalm 106:4-5: “Remember me, LORD, as you favor your people; come to me with your saving help, That I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, rejoice in the joy of your people, and glory with your heritage.”

The forgiveness and salvation often beseeched by the Hebrews was more connected to the nation than individuals. If God looked with favor upon you, it was interpreted through prosperity, land and children. Jesus brings a different kind of mercy. He is the Messiah who conquers the devil, sin and death— not the Romans. He tells us to pursue the imperishable treasure of heaven. The New Jerusalem or New Zion is not the political state of Israel, but the kingdom of God— a kingdom that breaks into the world first through the person of Jesus and later through the Church.

A Few Thoughts about the Synod Relatio & Debates

My head is spinning about some of the things that are being seriously argued at the Vatican’s Synod on the Family. I am already concerned that a Commission was established to look at streamlining the process for annulments even prior to the start of the Synod. It seems to me that if such were a concern then the bishops would then request the Holy See to do so. Will the documents which will be formulated reflect the majority view and Catholic tradition or will there be attempts to steal the show for the minority progressives?

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What is it about this new Synod document that has critics saying it signals a revolutionary shift in favor of same-sex couples? It is acknowledged that this “relatio” urges clergy to make “fraternal space” for homosexuals. But what does it say? We read:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Are we reading the same document? All I see are questions. Hopefully they are not rhetorical. Do we eject gay brothers and sisters from our churches? No we do not. Can we invite them forward for Holy Communion? Yes, provided that they maintain chaste and celibate lives. Can we affirm or value their sexual orientation? No, we cannot do so. Such would devalue the true meaning of marriage and human sexuality. We cannot move away from the assessment of disorientation or that same-sex carnality is mortal sin.

As a so-called case-in-point of past intolerance, the news contrasted this development with the story of Barb Webb who was fired from a Catholic school when she and her partner announced her pregnancy. Similarly, her partner, Kristen Moore was asked to resign from her post as a music director at a Catholic parish. The secular media glossed entirely over the moral issues that extend beyond same sex unions, like the freezing of embryos, donated semen and IVF technologies. All these elements are reckoned as moral evils and sinful.

This relatio is being interpreted precisely as Cardinal Kasper would suggest. The doctrinal truth is eclipsed, if it remains, for the sake of a pastoral provision or slackening of discipline. The same reasoning he uses for divorced and remarried couples is being applied to active homosexuals. I find this reckoning very disturbing. Discipline can be distinguished from doctrine but discipline is always at the service of doctrine. There are doctrinal elements that cannot be ignored. It is contradictory to say that gay acts are sinful and then to value, in any way, homosexuality. It is contradictory to say that marriage is a lifelong institution and that divorce is a sin, while inviting couples to receive Holy Communion who are living in adultery. The truths of Scripture are clear and we must always be at the service of the truth on every level: doctrinally, canonically and pastorally.

The document recognizes that same-sex couples live lives where they render “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” Critics are saying that this is a crack in the door that may one day lead to full acceptance. I would say that this is not the case. The statement is one that reflects the immediate horizontal human condition but says nothing about the vertical supernatural dimension. It is a mere statement of fact that these couples support each other in their day-to-day lives. However, this does not mean that they are in right standing before God. Mortal sin is still mortal sin. I suspect that there are many “nice and pleasant” people who make good neighbors and yet will suffer damnation and hellfire. We are not saved by simply being nice but by being faithful and obedient to God. The Church can relax certain disciplines but she cannot change divine positive law. My fear is that tolerant language might enable or encourage more sinners to remain within their sins. The Church must be a place for saving truth and grace. She should never be an enabler for sinful lifestyles or blasphemous acts like receiving the Eucharist while ill-disposed or in mortal sin. This document does NOT acknowledge the “holiness” of such couples as was suggested in the Huffington Post article by Antonia Blumberg (1/13/14). It simply asks if we might tolerate with passivity and silence the situation of people living in sin.

I cannot buy this application of any “law of graduality.” No matter how slow might be the movement to holiness; the Church should never compromise on the fullness of truth. Confessors can exhibit great understanding and compassion for married couples who use artificial contraception, with the hope that they will eventually come around to the Church’s understanding of human dignity and the full value of the marital act. It is here that I can well appreciate “graduality.” However, this is not the same as cohabitating, adulterous and same-sex couples. They have no right to a shared bed.  In their regard, where there is neither contrition nor amendment of life, absolution must be withheld. Similarly, while they should attend weekly Sunday Mass, they should abstain from taking Holy Communion. The priest will not usually embarrass people in public but he fails his sacerdotal charge if he does not challenge such couples in private.

This law or better yet, theory of graduality was very much the rationale for the “open table” of Anglicanism. It was hoped that this welcoming to receive the Eucharist would draw others into greater unity. Contrastingly, the “closed table” of Catholicism sees Holy Communion as an expression of an ecclesial unity that is already realized. This is representative of the ancient tradition wherein heretics and grievous sinners were denied the sacrament or even excommunicated. The Church’s censure of interdict would also illustrate this posture. One had to be properly disposed and graced to receive the sacrament. Anything less was judged as blasphemous and scandalous. One should not pretend there is a union that is not truly there. This resonates with the current debate about divorced and remarried couples as well as with active homosexuals. We cannot allow a false compassion to tolerate normalization for the sake of public acceptance while the pastoral accommodation is deceptive to the doctrinal truth and the spiritual state of souls before God. We can move away from using pejorative biblical terms like “sodomites” and “adulterers,” but the underlying reality will remain the same. Does this really serve the summons to repent and believe?

If we change the discipline for those in serious sin and the intrinsically disordered, would we not logically have to open up Holy Communion to others (particularly Christians) who might be in ignorance of the full ecclesial reality but who live moral lives? It is a real can of worms and I would prefer to leave it closed. But that is my opinion.

Can a Priest Deny Sacraments to a Gay Man in the Hospital?

The news was on fire this morning about a DC priest who purportedly refused to give Last Rights to a gay heart-attack patient at the Washington Hospital Center.

Oh boy, here we go again! This man condemns the priest but we only have his side of the story.

I suspect there is a lot more to the story than what we are hearing.  A priest was requested and Father Brian Coelho came to the bedside of the patient, Ronald Plishka.  The priest followed the ritual by offering the Sacrament of Penance prior to the Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion.  If a patient is unconscious, the priest will often presume contrition and a desire for the sacraments, giving absolution even without auricular confession.  In this case, the patient was alert and responsive.  The patient seemed to want to make small talk and remarked about how as a homosexual person he was so happy that the Pope was accepting of gay people.  But he next asked if this admission bothered the priest, almost as if he were baiting him.  The priest said it did not but offered to pray with him.  Nothing more was said about Extreme Unction and Viaticum.  While left unsaid in the article, this intimates that this dialogue took place as part of a Confession.

Because the disagreement probably happened during Confession, the priest is silenced by the seal and cannot share his side of the story. Indeed, he would face automatic excommunication if he says anything… something I hope that Church authorities appreciate. Even they cannot question the priest.

Instead of a civil conversation, the patient rejects the offer of prayer and tells the priest “to get the [deleted] out of here!”  That in itself probably demonstrates an improper disposition for God’s mercy.  Then the doctors came in to calm him down.

We should pray for all the parties involved.