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Eucharistic Catechesis, Not Politics

The recent statement and document being prepared by the USCCB on the Eucharist is part of a three year program to emphasize the meaning of the great sacrament for Catholics. The whole business of politicians and their reception is entirely a side-note on the periphery of this initiative. We should all be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion. What must be a major concern is that the sacrament that feeds and heals the soul of one in a state of grace can literally sicken and bring judgment to the soul of another in mortal sin or lacking supernatural faith.

I will state something that is at the heart of the current debate about Eucharistic reception:  You cannot say AMEN to the invisible but REAL presence of Christ in the host while saying NO to the invisible but REAL presence of one made in his image and likeness hidden in the womb. This is a truth that I will repeat again and again.  This teaching is intimately connected within the proclamation of the Good News or what Pope John Paul II called the Gospel of Life.

Manipulation of the Church

One prominent elected official argued that if the Church were to tell any politician (but especially the president) that he could not take Holy Communion then legal punishment should follow, including the stripping of the Church’s tax exemption.  All this shows is how much some politicians think they own us. Whatever the bishops decide to do, it is within their authority given by God. As a matter of religious liberty, the Church has the right to teach what she believes and to sanction adherents for heresy, immorality and scandal. The president, himself, should repudiate such interference in a matter that involves the Lord, the Church’s shepherds, him and other of the faithful.

What is Really at Stake?

Clergy and laity alike must be a voice for the voiceless— signs of contradiction— sentinels for Christ. There can be no compromise with evil. Like the saints before us, our hearts should be moved by this staunch conviction.  But as with the Eucharistic Christians and martyrs of old, a price will be paid.  The Eucharist is the ultimate expression of the paschal mystery from the depths of the passion to the heights of the resurrection.  We must be disposed so as to be transformed and to become what we receive.  We must die with Christ if we hope to live with him.  While we have endured much noise about a weaponization of the Eucharist, in truth it is the pacification of the sacrament that most distorts what it signifies and goes hand-in-hand with surrender to the challenges of secular modernity.  We must not allow this. 

The Archbishop Has Spoken

Anything I say will land me in trouble. Pray for our Church and our country.

A Needed Document, Regardless of Biden

The media and others would politicize what is intended as a teaching document about the meaning of the Eucharist. It is true that public witness (good and bad) is a necessary element of the larger discussion.  However, we must be wary not to be sidetracked from needed consideration of the general disposition of believers for Eucharistic reception to an exclusive focus on the worthiness of one person or group. While we can and should make our voices heard, bishops and their ministering clergy are the proper stewards of the sacraments and we should humbly and obediently leave to them any particular determinations, even if it should regard some of the most famous Catholics in the nation. (As a priest I have made my views known to past ordinaries; however, when all is said and done, I know that my respect and obedience must give room to my superiors to make what I might regard as serious errors in judgment.) Those who would threaten the bishops or attempt to manipulate the Church over whether President Biden or Congresswoman Pelosi receives Holy Communion understand neither the situation nor their place in the larger discussion.  The USCCB as of 2021 is seeking to jump-start a three year national campaign to restore a true Catholic sense or understanding of our faith in the Eucharistic Lord.

Do Not Weaponize the Eucharist?

We are hearing a cry of timidity today, even from church shepherds, not to weaponize the Eucharist. But did we not once regard the pilgrim church as the Church Militant, campaigning not only against men but powers and principalities? The Eucharist has always been regarded as the most effective weapon in our arsenal. Indeed, it may be all that really stands between us and the legions that oppose the sanctity of life and devalue the dignity of persons. The fuse is lit when as people of faith we courageously proclaim and commit ourselves to the Gospel of Life.  The battle with modernity is real but we opt for the path of nonviolence even if it should demand that we mix our blood with Christ’s.  The Eucharist signifies unity with the Lord and one another in the great peace of Christ.  “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  It is this Lord that comes to us in Holy Communion.  It is this Lord that cannot be reconciled with those who would promote or enable the killing of children in the womb— those who would steal the gift of life; slaughter the innocent; and destroy or usurp what God has made. 

So Much for LEADERSHIP on Eucharistic Disposition

Are We Collaborators with the Thieves of Life?

Is it a sin to vote for a pro-abortion politician? Is one excommunicated for voting for a pro-abortion politician?  Is the pro-abortion politician excommunicated?  Is it a sin for such a politician to step forward in receiving the Eucharist?  Is it a sin for the priest or minister to give Holy Communion to a person who enables and promotes the murder of unborn children?  At least for the present, particular politicians are off the hook as the bishops have thrown away this hot potato. 

Any directed address to politicians and the sacrament was dropped from the USCCB June 2021 conference.  As I said before, the focus would be a general document for all believers.  Of course, while any of us might get off easy before men, it may be a far different case when we stand before almighty God.

Before being concerned about censures, we should be cognizant of the danger of mortal sin. The subjective element of sin requires many considerations and I would hesitate to tell voters that they have committed a sin at the election box— although it is sometimes very hard for me to close my mouth. This does not mean that such is not the case, especially if one votes for a candidate precisely because of his or her advocacy of abortion or other objective evils. Although tyrants often take power rather than having it given, would it be wrong or sinful to vote for a person filled with poisonous hate and violence like Hitler or Stalin? If a white supremacist candidate stated that if elected he would seek the restoration of segregation laws and the forced expulsion of blacks to Africa, would it be a sin to vote for him?  I would think so.  I might also hope that such a nut would be locked up as crazy.

The code of canon law really does not discuss elections and politicians who are pro-abortion.  I would suspect that their participation in the killing of children is not immediate or specific enough to merit the censure of excommunication.  My one caveat is that they might be excommunicated for teaching heresy.  I am reminded of when Pelosi distorted Catholic history and teaching in trying to legitimize her radical pro-abortion stance.  Given current church laws, the defense against heresy is the tact I would recommend.        

Who is in Control?  Are Policies Just?

The current argument about the dynamics of withholding Holy Communion from public dissenters like politicians and celebrities has expanded to include well-meaning Catholics. A number of priests have been in the news for taking hard lines in their preaching.  Many chancery offices and legal departments have been quick to reprimand priests for such actions, arguing that decisions of this sort rest solely with the local bishop whom they are to respect and obey. Many dioceses have policies that demand that the minister uniformly extends the sacrament.  Priests are also told that while they can preach on issues, they cannot identify politicians as either pro-abortion or pro-life.  Especially outside of election time, I am hard pressed to see how clergy can be ethically silenced.  Maybe it is due to the fact that campaigning is now all that candidates really do throughout their entire terms?  My Ordinary and many others took public exception with President Trump in reference to racial unrest and illegal immigrants. While all bishops would likely object to President Biden’s stance on abortion, it is often remarked that there is a delicate partisan divide in the difference paid the office of one elected official over another. While they may not always be tactful, there are increasing numbers of clergy raising questions about the legal counsel retained by dioceses given that they dictate policy and even tell pastors what they should and should NOT preach. Are these lawyers Catholic?  What are their political alliances?  Are they fully committed to the Gospel of Life and all the Church’s interests?    

It is frequently brought up that pro-abortion politicians and even tyrants have received the Eucharist from popes like the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  This is true and we must wonder how much concern was given matters by handlers.  Note that Pope Francis gives Holy Communion to a few and leaves the task largely to others.  I suspect that it is about more than his bad back.  The Holy Father, while often saying things that perplex and which cause headlines, is acutely aware of the affirmative sign value when a pope is photographed with anyone.  The Pope has been critical of legislators seeking to legalize abortion in Mexico. He even seemed to defend the right of bishops in Uruguay in regard to excommunications.  

The Matter of Culpability

There is an irony with this issue that is often missed.  If one should through ignorance promote or permit abortion, failing somehow not to understand the gravity of this evil, then he or she would be less culpable than one who knows full well the wrong.  Indeed, even the so-called pro-choice advocate should find repugnant and dangerous the candidate who says that he accepts the Church’s teaching about abortion as murder and nonetheless enables and supports this evil.  We should all be wary of those who seek power, influence and wealth by selling their integrity to the loudest voice or highest buyer. Reflecting upon canon law, I am presumptuous enough to suggest an injustice in church sanctions. A distressed woman might seek out one abortion and face excommunication.  However, a politician might enable and even provide funding for millions of abortions, and he will likely escape any sanction. At this point should I confess than I am sometimes a selfish man?  How will God judge me as a priest for silence upon this issue?  How will God judge me for my friendship with pro-abortion advocates?  How will God judge me for giving communion when that public figure or politician who widely advocates child murder stands before me?  Will it be enough to say I followed the advice of archdiocesan lawyers?  Will it be enough to save me if I should point at the bishop and tell the Lord that the one you placed over me told me to do it?  I have this nightmare that Jesus will show me the faces of all the unwanted children that we sped to their deaths without even the dignity of graves. The Divine Mercy will speak with a gentle voice, “I love you. . . I love all my children.” Then there will be a frightful transmutation in the great Pantokrator or Divine Justice.  Raising his voice as the God of Judgment and stressing each syllable, he stares at me and says, “Now, for your failure to love— go to hell!” 

The USCCB Vote & Charges of Partisanship

Beware of Outside Influences 

As the American bishops gathered through intermittent ZOOM meetings that were hard to watch with all the drop outs and failures to unmute, we were told that 21,000 people had signed a petition protesting the U.S. Catholic bishops vote on Biden, abortion and the reception of Holy Communion.  Of course, while there were many votes, the one they feared failed to materialize.  What they discussed would not apply to any one politician but to all Catholics, both those in public office and those who support them.  The petition was more than a little disingenuous because behind the effort led by FAITHFUL AMERICA was an Episcopalian priest and the many signatures on the petition were not publicly named or confirmed.  Indeed, given that many or most were likely not even Catholic, it was audacious for them to dictate to the Church what was an internal matter regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist. They might drop the name of Pope Francis and Cardinal Gregory, but I doubt either of them would want to be affiliated with the many leftist positions this organization has taken and its own blatant partisanship. 

The Closed Communion Table of Catholicism

One should not misconstrue any such vote as an effort to “weaponize” the sacrament. Unlike many Protestant churches and the “open table” of Anglicanism, Catholicism has always safeguarded what some call the “closed table.”  The Eucharist is less a means toward instituting ecclesial communion or unity as it is a realization and furtherance of a bond that already exists.  That is why the missalettes ask that non-Catholics and those Catholics not in a state-of-grace (spiritually prepared) refrain from taking the Eucharist. 

Similarly, churches of the west and east traditionally dismissed catechumens prior to the great secret of the Eucharist reserved to full believers.  Today, confrontations at the altar are rare because few priests can read souls and even those who are aware of sins through the sacrament of penance can do nothing to compromise the seal.  We leave it to the communicant to make an examination of conscience as to whether he or she is worthy to come forward or not.  The problem with politicians and other public celebrities is that their views and sins are often paraded before the world and this intensifies the possibility of scandal.  Further, politicians can enact legislation and/or enforce laws that either promote or inhibit moral evils in our society. Indeed, certain theologians contend that the pressing issue for pro-abortion politicians may not be how they live their own day-to-day personal lives; but rather, their defense and support for an agenda judged as offensive by the Church. The latter constitutes a form of heresy that immediately disconnects them from full Church unity.

A Father Should Speak to His Sons & Daughters  

Pope Francis’ admonition for pastors to be sensitive in extending welcome and forgiveness is not new.  It has long been urged that bishops (and priests) sit privately with sons and daughters of the Church who are at odds with elements of moral teaching. The sacrament of penance is particularly valuable in this regard. If potential penitents will not change from their course then the shepherds are to ask them to continue their Mass attendance but to refrain from coming forward for Holy Communion.  Of course, all one can do is ask.  Further, no conference of bishops can dictate to any one bishop as to how he should proceed in his jurisdiction.  Thus, even if most bishops opt to withhold communion when such persons come forward, bishops like our own Cardinal Gregory is still free to do as he pleases.  He has made it clear that he will continue the policy received from Cardinal Wuerl.  It is here that the Holy Father did acknowledge a concern— the sign value of a unified front is always preferable to that of having bishops going in contradictory directions. 

The Intrusion of Politics

Rather than seeing exclusion from Holy Communion as an effort by the U.S. bishops to undermine the president, it should function as a trumpet sounding an alarm for all Catholics to return to fidelity and for all Americans to take more seriously the sanctity of human life and the dignity of persons.  The sanctity of life is a constitutive element of the Gospel.  While one might juridically belong to the Church; spiritually there is really no such thing as a pro-abortion Christian.  It makes one’s faith counterfeit.  As for those who can only see as far as the political atmosphere, how can all this be an effort to prop up Trump now that he has left office?  It seems to me that we have to get over this hysteria that surrounds the ghostly presence of the previous chief executive.  Call an exorcist if this still troubles people, but let us move forward.

Catholics in the last election found themselves in a quandary.  While Trump had fulfilled many of his promises in safeguarding human life against abortion, many were deeply troubled by his attitude toward illegal immigrants, capital punishment, the protection of the environment and the “apparent” hesitance to disavow associations with white supremacists.  In truth, I think the pressing issue was often his personality and tendency to inflate his own importance and to demonize those who opposed him.  (Note that those who supported him felt they had been abandoned, not merely by the Democrats but by “business as usual” Republicans. He became the champion of the deplorables and they loved him.) By contrast, Biden seemed to move further to the left to appease the more radical elements of his base. Many on the political right did not like his opposition to fossil fuels or his support for same-sex unions, what most troubled them in conscience was that he was hailed as a practicing Catholic in good standing, a man with Jesuit priests as friends, and yet he had utterly embraced what Planned Parenthood labeled as “abortion rights.”

If a Catholic has a properly informed conscience, and the two largest parties offer the only viable candidates, then for whom does one vote?  Differing opinions upon matters of policy is one thing; addressing an objective norm of truth and an intrinsic evil is something else. The current atmosphere makes all this difficult to discuss as we have lost a sense of one another as fellow Americans. We make each other the enemy here at home at a time when we have too many enemies in the world. The Church seems to reflect this mentality. Catholic writers are fired from one newspaper or magazine and hired by another. The other side is made up of right-wing fanatics. The left is composed of liberal heretics. The common denominator between them is HATE.

Now that he is elected, the question moves to whether a pro-abortion politician (regardless of other issues and even virtuous stands for justice) can be reconciled or endorsed by the Catholic community and by the bishops.  The reception of Holy Communion is readily understood as a normalization of one’s standing in the Church.  Is it enough that a politician might say that he or she “personally” opposes abortion while at the same time seeking to expand availability for such terminations in the United States and around the world?  I am not sure how one could make this argument without being more than a little duplicitous.

I am well aware that it is far easier to bend on the question of capital punishment than upon abortion.  The many abortion lobbyists are motived not only by the clout of the lucrative abortion industry but also by the hysteria that imbues the movement of radical feminism. By comparison there are few who would fall on their swords for the juridical death sentence. One might imagine that the millions aborted would make the dozen or so executed seem inconsequential; but for all practical purposes, abortion supporters allow the lesser to morally cancel out the greater. 

Until recently, the death sentence while discouraged was permitted in Church teaching as a power of civic leaders to preserve justice and security in society. Pope Francis might categorize it as an intrinsic evil; but, many previous popes, doctors of the Church and traditional thinkers would argue otherwise. While I would equate the destruction of “innocent” human life as of a higher magnitude of iniquity; it may be that a legitimate evolution of thought upon this matter has brought us to this new or enhanced assessment of all human life having “incommensurate” value.  In any case, reflected in the writings of St. Pope John Paul II is that a society corrupted by a culture of death (taking the lives of the innocent in abortion) has arguably relinquished the moral standing to take the human life of the guilty in capital punishment.  Whatever the argumentation, the summation is basically the same.

While there must be immediacy to complicity in abortion so as to be censured with automatic excommunication, like driving a person to the clinic or paying for the abortion, we would still do well to ponder as to whether we are accomplices in the sin of others.  Have voters and then the politicians who are elected fall within that dire sphere of accountability?  There was a priest who recently made a sensation of himself by preaching that Catholics could not vote for the Democratic candidate without committing grievous sin.  A few bishops applauded him.  Most rebuked him or distanced themselves from him.  If even the bishops are divided then how can we expect our good people to know how to proceed?  Most clergy are told that they can speak upon issues but that they must not engage in partisan politics.  How does one do this when the parties are increasingly polarized behind differing issues?  When my parish and local Knights of Columbus Council established a cemetery of the innocents on church grounds (the crosses representing the number of deaths from abortion on an average work day), a lady called and complained, “How dare you put up that Republican display on church grounds in our neighborhood!”  I was not sure what she meant a first.  When I realized it was the symbolic cemetery I returned, “I am sorry you are distressed but the Church is pro-life and as far as I know, every person who worked on the cemetery was a registered Democrat.”  She hanged up.  I live in an area with a number of mega-churches.  One of them is very clearly pro-life and has annually hosted the Students for Life prior to the January march in Washington.  It is a minority county and the black church has great clout here.  There are so many Democrats that the elections are essentially over with the primaries.  And yet, when it comes to abortion, there is a great disconnect with the state and national party.         

It is All About SAVING Souls!

It seems to me that we live in a time when the whole notion of conscience is made capricious and subjective.  We cannot give merit to every notion, especially if some ideas should be groundless or delusional.  We cannot force objective truth and reality to morph or suffer a quantum jump at will.  This does not work.  Despite disorientations, the sexual faculty belongs solely to bonds between men and women.  Despite any form of dysphoria, gender is fixed.  Despite an alarm about consequences, a life in the womb is a child deserving of life and not a non-person or cancer for extraction.  Ours is a juridical society that seeks to replace the providence of God and the dictates of nature with the fiction that we can transform creation through legislation, new laws and sympathetic court appointees.  The casualty is not only the harm rendered to persons; we also commit egregious wounds upon the truth and against those who would be its heralds.  

Notice the political debates that preceded the last election.  When truth becomes relative, it is hard to rationally argue facts.  All that is left are opinions, groundless or not.  I had to turn them off because they became shouting matches where past sins were disclosed and all forms of calumny were laid against opponents.  It is amazing that such should denote our political and communal life precisely at a time in the course of mankind when science and technology is making leap after leap in our understanding of things.  However, when it comes to us as corporeal beings, neither the dictates of God nor the laws of nature are deemed as relevant or binding.  The conscience of a good Catholic must be formed according to Christian values and the truths manifest in the created order.  We are called to render rational or reasoned judgments about the acts that we would pursue.  Faith and morals must always be grounded upon truth.

What is the Essential Question?

When it comes to many of us the essential question is whether the embryo or fetus or child in the womb is a human being?  The right or the wrong of the matter does not rest with our judgment but with the truth.  Objectively speaking, even apart from religious argumentation, the answer is YES.  As to how we will be judged by God and by right-thinking people in history, it will come down to whether we understood this truth.  Admittedly, I find it difficult to understand how one might not know this.  When it comes to Catholics, this truth is spelled out.  Dissent on the question of human life and the commandment against killing will not spare one from being convicted before God if one has committed or enabled the taking of human life. This is a matter far more important than whether such a person might take Holy Communion.  The deeper issue is whether a person who subscribes to the killing of children can have a share in heaven and the kingdom of Christ.  One cannot be aligned to the murderous elder Herod slaughtering the Holy Innocents while seeking the life of the Christ Child and still expect to be in good standing before almighty God. Sanctions like withholding the sacrament or even excommunication are not to punish people but to awaken them to the clear and present danger into which they have placed their immortal souls.  We want to show reverence to the things of God but ultimately God can take care of himself.  The whole point of the controversy in the Church is that we are trying to create a more just society, preserve the life of the innocent and save souls.

Catholics Supporting Abortion & the Loss of Integrity

The universal catechism teaches a truth about which we should all be mindful as Christians [CCC 1868-69]:

“Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; and by protecting evil-doers. Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.’”

The Catholic politicians liberalizing abortion are essentially either in immediate dissent about what abortion is really about or there is a heinous hypocrisy.  Thus if a politician says that he believes that abortion is murder, and instead of inhibiting it makes possible or enables its execution, there is little left of personal integrity.  Semantics are employed because such a lack of consistency would unnerve the most radical advocates.  You will never hear this:  “Well, yes I believe that it is wrong to kill children but I would never stop you from killing children, indeed I will fight for your right to kill children.”

What Questions Flow from the Essential Question?

The conditions about cooperation touch not only the elected official but those who vote for him or her.  They should ask themselves a series of questions.  Most will not.

“Have I ever argued for the general right to abortion and/or have I ever counseled anyone to have an abortion due to the injustice of rape, the scandal attached to having relations, the need to finish school, the lack of economic resources or to preserve a standard and manner of living?”

“Have I ever catered to the false pro-life position of making exceptions to an abortion-prohibition when there were nebulous health cases or assault issues brought forward?”

“Have I ever ordered someone to get an abortion or done anything to make it hard for a woman to keep her baby as with job demands or expectations?”

(I recall a mother telling her fifteen year old daughter, pregnant by a boyfriend, “You either get rid of it or you will get the hell out of my house!”  After hiding out at friends for a few months she begged her mother to come home.  Her mother picked her up with a quick stop at the abortion clinic.  Not only was her love defective for her daughter but absent for her grandchild.)

“Have I supported politicians who promoted policies that hampered working mothers and their caring for children?”

“Have I ever given consent to abortion by withholding judgment upon such actions or by telling people that they had to do what was right for them even if it meant termination?”

(I suspect many have collaborated with this wrong by passivity and a misplaced toleration of evil.)

“Have I ever ignored or dismissed a politician’s pro-abortion stance for the sake of party solidarity or other issues?”

“Have I enticed others to abort a child through prodding or inciting them? ‘Don’t let that pack of child molesters tell you what to do!’  ‘What do those old men in the Vatican know about a woman’s needs and the trial of unwanted pregnancies?’  ‘Go for it girl and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!’”

“Have I ever threatened or was party to the manipulation of politicians, telling them, ‘Support a woman’s right to choose or we will choose someone else?’”

“Have I ever noted a woman’s abortion as a courageous thing to do or announced that those who go forward with such actions are trailblazers for others? Have I ever defended or praised elected officials for maintaining a woman’s so-called ‘right to choose’?”

“Have I ever been a ‘good friend’ in giving a woman the money to procure an abortion?” 

(I even knew a clergyman who committed the mortal sin of driving a girl to an abortion clinic and waiting to take her home. While it is in the area of secondary agency it is an immediate participation in the crime of destroying a human being.)     

“Have I responded with SILENCE to the policy of legalized abortion and to actual terminations carried out by family and friends?” 

(Too many are quiet.  True Christians must be a voice for the voiceless!  Just because the Supreme Court says it is right does not make it so.  Not that long ago this same court ordered that runaway slaves had to be returned to their ruthless slave masters! Bad laws or the erroneous interpretation of laws must not set a precedent for men and overturn a genuine conviction for the sanctity of human life and justice.)

“Have I ever defended a right to abortion for purposes of population control, for women’s liberation from male domination and the biological bondage of motherhood— leveling the playing field between the sexes?”

Speaking to my fellow priests and to the bishops, have you ever gotten the blood of this matter on your hands through obscuration and secrecy?  This too is a sin.  I do not mean concealing that which falls under the seal of confession, but rather the public rendering of approval to a Catholic that has publicly voted for and promoted practices that violate the Gospel of Life like abortion, infanticide, embryonic stem-cell research, etc.  Well known and outspoken figures must have their wrongful acts and alliances addressed in the public forum.  This includes politicians and celebrities from movies, music, television, sports and whatever else.  There is no underestimating the dangerous scandal and negative teaching value of someone who is pro-abortion and yet hailed as “a good Catholic.”