Church teaching is immutable: which I wrote about in another article, “Living and Communion in the Catholic Church”, specifically, the Apostle Paul’s unequivocal decree
concerning the reception of Holy Communion, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord . . . . For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself”.
Another article in the Catholic Herald in England reported that “Nearly 500 priests in Britain urge synod to stand firm on Communion for the remarried”. The open letter these priests published in the Catholic Herald said: “We wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.” The Herald commented that the first session of the Synod “provoked heated debate on the question of whether remarried Catholics should be permitted to receive Holy Communion – a proposal presented by retired German Cardinal Walter Kasper”.
For these priests and others around the world this concern will apparently remain a dominant issue in the Synod which reconvenes in October. There is clearly a wide, wide gap between the two sides: those who focus on pastoral care and those who care for “the traditional doctrines” of the Church. Why have clergy and laity not been good stewards and disciples in the wide middle between pastoral care and traditional doctrine? Many ordinaries and parish priests administer the sacraments and church teaching by appointments, schedules and programs which have little effect without extended personal contact with parishioners “off campus” where they live and work.
This is not good ‘art imitating life’. In my first assignment as a parish priest, for example, I had the responsibility of registering new parishioners and decided not to meet them in a parish office, exchange pleasantries and hand-off digitized collection envelopes. I was not sure how it would go but decided to meet them in their homes and on their terms. I had no plan what I would do but realized afterwards that my presence alone in their homes was enough to begin the process. Mom or dad would ordinarily begin the conversation sharing many concerns about themselves, why, for instance, which they volunteered to say, they were ‘part-time’ church goers.
I would ask, “Why was that?” Then they would raise other concerns about themselves and the church which we would discuss, and again, I would ask, “Why was that?” I discovered that the answers they gave led them to re-think what they were saying. Later, in a change of heart, they admitted, “Father, we can and should go to mass every Sunday”. I said, “I agree.” More important issues would rise when visiting a co-habiting couple and no immediate resolution was decided, but I was in their conversation holding up traditional Catholic morals, accepting them as they were with the hope they would follow the Christ I follow. They said, they would talk it over and get back to me.
Conversion to Catholic faith and morals should always be part of our offering when we go to or are invited into the homes and lives of a single person, a married, remarried or a cohabiting couple. There are no programmatic parish schemes that can achieve this. Every person we clergy and laity encounter is worthy of the Church’s faith and doctrines, the Church’s virtues and hope, the Church’s sacrificial love and forgiveness; but we must encounter and meet the single person, the married, remarried or co-habiting couple here and who they are, honestly, a theme which dominates the papacy of Pope Francis.
None of this compromises Church teaching and may be the catalyst to conversion. Jesus encountered all kinds of people and situations in his Gospel instructions, “Come follow me” in imitation of me. When Jesus, for example, met the woman at the well in Sychar, Samaria during his conversation he offered her “living water . . . welling up to eternal life.” She asked Jesus, “give me this water so I may not be thirsty”, and Jesus invited her,“call your husband and come back.” (John 4: 7 ff). She then admitted she had no husband and Jesus told her she “told the truth”, that she had had five husbands. Jesus still made her his offer of “water welling up to eternal life.” We may think Jesus had the advantage knowing her marital state, but in any relationship of trust we establish we may ask, Are you married?, and would likely be told what Jesus heard. Jesus continued with his heavenly aspirations, saying, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” This man she recognized as a prophet said to her, God “seeks” someone like her?
“The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah’? They went out of the town and came to him”. The story ends, “Jesus stayed with the townspeople for two days” and “many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world’.” (Ibid.41-42). Jesus did not compromise the Truth, his Church and her teaching nor his aspirations for all people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” With all the talk about the New Evangelization we would think there should be no conflict between the “traditional doctrines” of the Church and her pastoral work. The quality of our faith can “move mountains” and the conversion of hearts. (Matthew 21:21).
Spero News columnist Rev. Tom Bartolomeo is the founder of FamilyAndChild.net