I am one of the signatories to the petition, “The filial appeal to Pope Francis on the future of the family” which has recently been circulating around many Catholic websites and blogs. I am an orthodox Catholic priest which on its own weight does not make me better than others. Following Christ as he would have us live our vocations will decide our merit, please God, not what we claim but who God would have us be.
I would, however, caution many in their zeal not rush to judgement about the news coming out of the “Synod on the Family” which was convened last October and will be concluded next October. Many individuals were shaken by the Synod’s early discussions just as Peter and the Apostles were dismayed when they heard Jesus say:
     ....it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’; 
     but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee. Peter said to him in reply,
     ‘Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Amen,
     I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to
     him, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all the disciples spoke likewise.
     (Matthew 26:31-35).
Jesus’ Apostles were then not ready for what Jesus revealed, that among other things he would welcome into paradise a thief on a cross besides him who repented after the Apostles had abandoned Jesus and later repented themselves after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps, they did not realize then that Jesus was dying for their sins as well as the thief’s sins. At the request of Speroforum.com my personal letter to Pope Francis was posted on the web where I stated, “I personally, in faith and charity, believe as I know you do” that the discussions of the Synod do “not change Church teaching.” [1].
I have no basis for an opinion about the final document of the Synod contrary to others as one critic surmised that the “Kasper proposal represents a one-blow strike ‘against the very pillars of the faith: the Eucharist and the priesthood’.” [2]. Pope Francis’ homily on the appointment of new Cardinals on February 15, 2015 also had many commentators draw similar ‘alarming’ conclusions about the Synod before it has concluded or been approved by Pope Francis. [3]. At the end of the process Pope Francis will decide, conclude or change its findings much as Pope Paul VI decided the question of “human life” in his Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which no few churchmen initially disapproved of. They did not speak for the Church. The Holy Father, alone, has the final authority.
None of this is new to Church history from the confrontations Jesus had with the religious rulers of Israel, the seventy member Sanhedrin and chief priests, who except for Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramethea opposed Jesus’ new covenant with God’s people. Jesus frequently upset the harsh "traditions of the Pharisees" but not their legitimate teaching of the law which is where we are in this debate. (cf. Matthew 23). The incident where Jesus is asked by the Pharisees to condemn a woman "caught in adultery" is relevant.
Jesus does not accuse her, spares her live and tells her, "Sin no more." (John 8:3-11). Jesus did not excuse her sin and required that she repent. Jesus came to save all sinners excluding no one, and who among us is not "without sin”? I see no argument here that Pope Francis would condone admitting this woman to Holy Communion without first repenting. Pope Francis' discourses often relate to the work I am doing as well -- meeting with married or remarried Catholics and children who are out of Communion with the Church.[4] My purpose is to get them back in Communion with the Church while abiding by Saint Paul's clear instructions about 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. A person should examine himself, and so eat the
     bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the
     body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and
     infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would
     not be under judgment; but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being
     disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32) (italics mine).
Let me share then this personal story about discerning “ourselves, [so] we would not be under judgement”. (Ibid.) Many years ago I was a guest of priest friends at Our Lady of Victory Church in Cromwell, California. Cromwell was then and probably still is a “no entry zone” where many street gangs live, a community made infamous by Rodney King’s assault on camera by some policemen.
During the day the city was nearly deserted. At night helicopters patrolled the streets with search lights. One day I was at a funeral mass for a young gang member who was shot to death. Many members of a rival gang were standing in the back of the church. Before mass began the pastor spoke to the gang members from the sanctuary saying, they could come up and reverence the coffin of the deceased at Communion time and receive a blessing from him which defused the tense situation. They did as the priest instructed and understood that they should not receive Holy Communion were they not properly disposed for the sacrament. There are parishioners whom I respect, without making any judgement, who also come up for a blessing, only, and without receiving Holy Communion. They properly understand Saint Paul’s instruction “not to eat the bread of the Lord unworthily” (ibid.).
We should understand that Communion in the Church and Holy Communion are one and the2 same. Holy Communion for Catholics, only, who have professed their allegiance to the Catholic Church in their Baptism and Confirmation -- in the visible body of Christ and his Church – commune with Jesus in his life and grace in Holy Communion when they are free of mortal sin. Why no honest Catholic who had seriously offended God and had not yet confessed his sins would receive Holy Communion as Jesus had empowered his Apostle priests to reconcile, “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven”. (John 20:23).
Would any of us who had seriously offended a relative or friend not first seek reconciliation and say, “I’m sorry”, and reinstate their friendship? How could we relate honestly to an injured friend without similar repentance? What an unnecessary burden for both of them without reconciliation. It is true in ordinary human relations, and how is it not in our relationship with God? All he asks for is hearing, “I’m sorry” in the sacrament he gave us for our reconciliation with him. There is no greater communion of forgiveness we can receive from God than his Sacrament of Reconciliation. There is no greater communion of grace and the life of God we can receive than his Sacrament of Holy Communion.
Spero columnist Rev. Tom Bartolomeo is a Catholic priest who serves the people of Illinois and is the founder of FamilyAndChild.net
1. http://www.speroforum.com/a/MANFIHQJNY22/75582-An-open-letter-to-PopeFrancis-on-the-Family-Synod#.VOiVPfnF9TQ
2. http://www.newsmax.com/Newswidget/Cardinal-Walter-Kasper-Megaera-Erinyes-Po
3. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2015/documents/papa-francesco_
4. FamilyandChild.net “Associations Families for Families”.



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