As I write my last weekly message before stepping aside as your Pastor – something of an epilogue to last week’s Farewell Address – I was struck by Jesus’ stark response in last week’s Gospel, when some of his disciples couldn’t accept his teaching on the Eucharist and “returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.” He didn’t send the other disciples after them to bargain with them about those teachings which they couldn’t accept. He even asked the Twelve if they, too, wanted to go. Peter, for once, gave an intelligent response for them all. I’m trying, too, to give such a response to those who defend “Catholic” deniers.
I’m very aware that Jesus’ teachings, as taught through the Teaching Magisterium of the Church, has some of his current self-professed “followers” mulling over the idea whether they can accept the boldness of his words (and actions) or not, especially in relation to the question of worthiness to receive the Holy Eucharist. After all, they had their opposition to his teachings on marriage and divorce. They have their leaders (or spokespersons), too.
In the past few months, individual U.S. Catholic bishops have issued pro and con statements on the very question whether or not to publicly deny pro-abortion politicians the Eucharist. When bishops share according to their conscience and listen to others’ points of view, they foster genuine dialogue—a necessary step on the path to unity. The pro bishops, who have often spoken out on this delicate subject, argue against the suggestion that the Eucharist is being weaponized for political ends. Their concern is not political but pastoral; it is for the salvation of souls. Even though the issue may have certain political ramifications, most bishops (74%) say they’re not motivated by political ends. This puts the minority in a rather awkward situation.
Regarding denial of Holy Communion, Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law clearly states that Catholics who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” The bishops who are con say they’re concerned that excluding pro-abortion politicians from Communion will weaken the unity of the Church. Since Jesus prayed at the First Mass that all might be one (Jn 17:21), surely this unity is an obligation we must all take seriously. True. Yet, He also said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51). Speaking the truth at times appears to create division; but what it often does is simply expose the division that already exists. If Catholics can’t agree on protecting the helpless unborn, then our unity is superficial at best, and illusory at worst.
The con group also argue that those who would deny pro-abortion politicians Holy Communion are applying an “extremely expansive” litmus test that “applies sanctions very selectively and inconsistently.” Is this the case?
Well, Church teaching in the latest Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession” (CIC 916). As abortion is one of the few sins that carries an automatic excommunication (CIC 1398), there is no doubt that a politician who actively protects abortion and strives to make it more accessible also risks his or her salvation. It surely is not “expansive” to put this evil in the category of grave sin.
San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone emphasized that worthiness to receive Holy Communion is a much broader problem among Catholics than just Catholic politicians who contradict Church teaching. “We have a bigger problem, too, in that so many Catholics don’t even understand the concept of worthiness to receive Communion….to be in the state of grace. Before COVID, I often questioned how many people nonchalantly go up to receive Communion when they’re really not supposed to.” The archbishop said that intentionally skipping even one Sunday Mass is an example of a serious sin that requires absolution in the confessional before a Catholic is worthy to receive Communion again.
What about the question whether some are ‘cherry-picking’ when focusing on abortion. Why aren’t we seeking eucharistic sanctions for other evils that are rampant in society? The answer is that while there are many serious sins that diminish our worthiness to receive the Eucharist, only the gravest sins extinguish that worthiness entirely. The U.S. Bishops have always recognized that abortion is the great evil of our culture, and called it out as such for decades.
In 1998, for instance, they named abortion a “preeminent threat,” and in 2019, they reaffirmed that the “threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.” Pro-abortion political leaders have not heeded these calls, so now the bishops seek to apply the last remaining and most severe medicinal option there is: eucharistic sanctions. If the con group should ask, ‘how many Catholic political leaders of either party could pass that test?’
I believe this might be the wrong question to ask. Jesus wasn’t interested in numbers, but in the salvation of souls. Maybe a better question might be, ‘what have they done to try to bring all pro-abortion Catholic politicians back into a state of grace?’ How can there be a sense of unity if we lack the grace of Jesus in trying to justify our position in direct opposition to the very teachings of Jesus’ Church? The truth is, there isn’t. Pray for those who have gone astray from the sheepfold, that the Lord will send out good shepherds to bring them back. Good-bye and God bless you! Msgr. Tom