Thursday, May 13, 2004
There is a saying that has its roots in the 10th
chapter of St. John's Gospel. It reminds us that we should not look for
the love of the world, but strive only to find God's will and do it with
all our hearts. There is a good chance that if we are never criticized by
others, we have missed the mark of being faithful to the teachings of the
Gospel. If the world loves you, you are probably always saying what the
world wants to hear.
In light of that simple but very profound truth, I hope you were not
upset at the criticism of your archbishop in an advertisement that has
appeared in some places lately. I appreciate the zeal of those folks who
are critical, but I do not agree with them, and during my recent Ad
Limina visit to Rome, it was clear that so many of the highest
authorities in the Church are in agreement with my position.
As you probably know, I have had a consistent position on the
obligations of every member of our Catholic family to follow the teaching
of the Church on the gravely important issues of our time. Certainly, the
defense of life from the moment of conception to the moment that God calls
us home is the primary of these issues, since without life no other human
rights are possible. I have also been consistent in teaching, as our Holy
Father does, that the care of the poor, the weak and the stranger, as well
as the protection of peace and justice must be an essential part of our
commitment as Catholics.
The disagreement that I have with the folks who are annoyed at me is
that I disagree that in this instance we should use denial of the
Eucharist as a public sanction. As a priest and bishop, I do not favor a
confrontation at the altar rail with the Sacred Body of the Lord Jesus in
my hand. There are apparently those who would welcome such a conflict, for
good reasons, I am sure, or for political ones, but I would not.
At the same time, I feel it is important for each of us to understand
our own personal responsibility when it comes to receiving the Eucharist.
I realize that in modern times, perhaps even more since the '60's, some
Catholics have fallen into a new and false understanding of the Blessed
Sacrament, one that does not recognize the awesome nature of the Eucharist
and our need for great respect in the way we approach it. In the days when
we had to fast from all food and drink from the previous midnight in order
to receive Holy Communion, our sense of the wonder of the Eucharist was
enhanced. When the Church, in order to encourage us to partake of the
sacrament, relaxed those rules, some people may have incorrectly concluded
that the rule about being in the state of grace was relaxed as well. Maybe
the presence of this controversy is itself a special grace to give us a
chance to clarify what our personal dispositions must be in order to
receive the Eucharist worthily.
In this light it may be good to recall Pope John Paul II's words to the
bishops of the United States during his second visit to our country in
1987. The Holy Father spoke very clearly as follows: "It is sometimes
reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the
teaching of the Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and
conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not
accepting the Church's clear position on abortion. It is sometimes claimed
that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a 'good
Catholic' and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This
is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the bishops of the
United States and elsewhere. I wish to encourage you in the love of Christ
to address this situation courageously in your pastoral ministry."
I am asking the Catholic Standard to reprint the statement about the
worthy reception of the Eucharist which appears in the missalettes and
which was authorized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Basically, it places on the individual Catholic the need to make a
judgment as to whether he or she can properly come to receive Communion.
One must not be conscious of any serious sin that has not been absolved in
the sacrament of Penance. One must be striving to live as a good Catholic,
keeping the commandments of God and of the Church, especially those two
great commandments to love God and neighbor. This would exclude from
Communion anyone who would hate his neighbor or harm his neighbor, in
particular when that neighbor is a little unborn baby in its mother's
womb. This doctrine by which the Church places a particular personal
responsibility concerning the decision to approach the altar on each
individual, protects the holiness of the Eucharist and challenges its
children to holiness as well. It places the decision to approach the altar
on the informed conscience of the individual Catholic — informed by the
truth of our teachings — and, therefore, each one of us must not presume
to approach Holy Communion if we are not, in our informed conscience,
already with the Lord and in communion with the teachings of His Church.
This is what the Church teaches and, as your bishop and your servant
and your friend, this is what I teach, too. Thinking of you, as I come
back home to Washington, I pray that each one of us will never approach
this most holy sacrament of the Eucharist without the necessary
disposition to receive its awesome grace.
Reprinted with permission of the Catholic Standard