I explain why our lives should revolve around the source and summit of our Catholic Faith, which is the Eucharist
Working on as a deacon at St. Agnes Catholic Parish in Fowlerville, Gary Koenigsknecht would occasionally need to gently correct someone who belonged to St. Mary Catholic Parish a couple of towns west.
“You would have somebody from Williamston say, ‘Hey, I saw you last week!’ ” he said. “And it was like, ‘No, you really did not.’ ”
That’s because the tall, blue-eyed deacon with military-short brown hair and an easy, welcoming smile at St. Mary in Williamston was Gary’s identical twin, Todd.
After eight years of study and preparation, the brothers were ordained as priests Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing.
The Rev. John Linden, director of vocations for the 10-county Diocese of Lansing, said he believes Gary and Todd will make excellent pastors.
“They are just down-to-earth, and they make you feel comfortable in their presence,” he said.
“There is nobody those two boys couldn’t get into a conversation with and make the other feel welcome and heard.”
Todd and Gary, 26, attribute much of that to their upbringing on their parents’ organic dairy farm near Fowler.
Todd is the fourth and Gary the fifth of 10 children born to Agnes and Brian Koenigsknecht. They grew up attending Most Holy Trinity Church in Fowler and attended Catholic schools through eighth grade.
The brothers put in many hours tilling, planting, shoveling manure and milking cows on the farm, where the family cultivates 200 acres and has 100 milk cows.
Sometimes, they would work side by side with their uncle, the Rev. William Koenigsknecht.
Now a senior priest in the Lansing Diocese, he has served at a number of Lansing parishes, including Church of the Resurrection in Lansing.
He would often take Wednesday off from his priestly duties to feed cattle or harvest crops with his brother’s family.
The brothers grew up without a TV and with their parents modeling hard work and prayer. They also encouraged all of their children to become involved at church.
“The farm is a good context for family life,” Todd said.
Read the rest here:
My favorite lines from this article are: “It seems the passage of the Gospel the outrage-addicted recall the most is Jesus flipping tables; yet, we know Our Lord did this only once. Moreover, Jesus did not tell us to imitate Him by flipping tables; He told us to imitate Him in meekness and gentleness.”
Outrage Addiction: Its harm on the spiritual life and on the mission of the Church
Our main goal in this life should be to get to Heaven and take as many souls with us as possible. We not only have to learn our faith and teach it to others (Mt 25:14-30); we have to know how to share the Gospel with others — with words, and without (1 Cor: 13). Each of us puts a face on our Catholic faith, for good or for bad, whether it is in person, or online (anonymous or not). We need to convey the hope we have within; not a sense of anger, bitterness, hopelessness and despair. We must, always and everywhere, strive, by the grace of God, to be blameless amidst adversity and persecution (1 Peter 3:8-17). This is how we imitate Christ. Being in a chronic state of outrage over this or that is not an imitation of Christ; it is a manifestation that we have yielded to a rather stealthy form of concupiscence. At it’s root, is a lack of faith, hope and charity.
The outrage-addicted will be outraged that I dared to say this, thinking I don’t see what is going on around me. They may even think I don’t care. What they don’t know is that I speak about outrage addiction as one who was once afflicted with this anti-virtue, so I am speaking from experience.
Let’s look closer, but first, read the scope I’ve defined for this subject in the context I am using. It’s explained at the bottom of this post 1
What is outrage addiction?
Outrage addiction, which some refer to as outrage porn (a term I prefer not to use2) is where we seem to get our “fix” by getting fired up over something. By it’s nature it is addicting, so the more we get through reading, watching, and discussing, the more we seek. Anyone can suffer it for a period of time. Some eventually pass through and are purified of it, while others seem stuck there for many years.
Those who pass through the first phase of outrage addiction might suffer from a second phase where they become outraged with everyone else who is chronically outraged (think: ex-smoker syndrome). Others skip the first phase and have their only experience with it in the second sphere. In reality, such behavior changes nothing.
In either case, outrage addiction becomes a sport, giving rise to adrenaline. Perhaps that is what makes it so addicting. Often, the outrage addicted yield to imprudence by shooting first and asking questions later. Things are seen in black and white and the subjective becomes objective for them.
Outrage Addiction in Catholics
A Catholic who begins to take his or her faith seriously after a period of lukewarmness, takes interest in learning about the faith, so errors and abuses begin to stand out. Outrage swells at the now visible evil happening around us. Bad theology being pedaled from some pulpits, and liturgical abuses are some of the first things that become apparent (and with newer priests trained better, this is gradually fading). In other cases, it’s not even evil that causes the outrage, but an overly narrow view of what is right and wrong in areas where the Church allows a range of freedom. Make no mistake – this is not a problem with just one group. Some mistakenly believe that only traditionalists can be “rigid,” when there are many examples of non-traditionalists, and progressives, worthy of the description. It’s not uncommon to find priests, or even lay people who went through seminaries in past decades, walking around today still bruised from experiences with rigid types who hindered them from gathering to pray a Rosary. A woman I know left a Catholic choir she sang with for years after the rigid music director forbid her to keep a Rosary wrapped around her hand as she sang – a practice that went back to her childhood. Mind you, she wasn’t praying it during Mass; rather, holding it gave her comfort.
Sometimes, these kinds of experiences give rise to outrage, but we should never remain there, praying instead for such people and handling it as we would any other kind of persecution – with grace and never ceasing to love and pray for those who offend us.
The Spiritual Damage of Persistent Outrage
By the grace of God, some come to see that the anger within is consuming them to the point that this chronic state of outrage is leading to persistent disquiet and is hindering their spiritual growth. The outrage-addicted is stunted spiritually by virtue of the fact that so much energy is spent looking outside of themselves, that there is no time left to look inward. It’s also taking a toll on their relationships with friends and family. Even their relationship with God suffers as the outrage itself becomes an idol unto itself. The outrage-addicted seem to believe that the power of outrage is greater than the power of God to move hearts and souls. One clue is when more time is spent reading and discussing things to be outraged over than being in prayer over those things and for the people involved in them. A cloistered monk or nun does more to move hearts of stone through their sacrifices and intercessions without even having a single thing to be outraged over.
The outrage-addicted can push people far from Christ and the Church, and they won’t even know it. Rather than bring others to Christ as witnesses to the hope that is within, those in this state of disquiet push others away through their bitterness and abrasiveness. Most of the time they have no idea they are causing harm because their outrage is motivated by wanting to see a good outcome. The problem is that the outrage it is not well moderated. This is corrosive on both the soul and on the Church.
It’s true that there are right times to be outraged, but it is not right to be outraged all of the time. In this sense, such souls are stuck in a state of spiritual immaturity. Those filled with the graces of faith, hope, and charity do not have such habitual manifestations of outrage. It seems the passage of the Gospel the outrage-addicted recall the most is Jesus flipping tables; yet, we know Our Lord did this only once. Moreover, Jesus did not tell us to imitate Him by flipping tables; He told us to imitate Him in meekness and gentleness. Incidentally, there is so much more to the table-flipping incident than people realize, and the richness of that discussion is lost in the way it is used and abused. But I digress and that is for another post.
The emergence from outrage-addiction
When one sees the corrosiveness on the self and to the mission of the Church caused by persistent outrage, they are still fully aware of the evils around them, but have begun to moderate their reaction with a more careful approach to discussion. They also spend more time in prayer and in deeper spiritual affairs, the fruit of which is an increase in charity on many fronts.
The realization is there that it is not a battle against men, but one against powers and principalities. For a time people emerging from this chronic state of outrage may feel as if something is wrong with them. They may think they are not fulfilling their duty as a Catholic to get all rile up about something when in reality, the Holy Spirit is leading them in a different direction. They also begin to drift from old relationships with those they once commiserated in outrage with and form new relationships with others who are not outrage-addicted.
At this point, abrasiveness gives way to better forms of communication aimed at winning others. The understanding comes that everyone has a free will and use of reason is how we must proceed. This takes the patience of a farmer who tills the soil, plants the seed, waters it, thins the sprouts, weeds delicately at times, and then waits. Chronic outrage is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit and it opens a door to diabolical influence, making it more difficult to hear that still, small voice of our guardian angel. Satan is a great imitator who knows how to mix 9 parts of something holy to just one part of something evil in order to bring about corruption.
Outrage over the outrage-addicted
There’s nothing worse than an ex-smoker, so the saying goes. When one emerges from a chronic state of outrage, sometimes they can fall into being outraged over the outrage-addicted. For some, it is the only outrage they will ever experience and it is still damaging to their own spiritual life and to the mission of the Church. The most ineffective way to change the outrage-addicted person is to show outrage with them. Even reason will not work in many cases. The good approach is to simply ignore them and allow them feel the burn of their own bile. It helps to pray for them too. They need to have an epiphany. Challenging them publicly only fuels their outrage so it does not pay to give them attention.
Countering the damage on the mission of the Church by outrage-addicted souls, is simply to address issues without discussing the people behind them. Prudent souls will find the dispassionate explanations and the Holy Spirit can influence them. The outrage-addicted want to force change through their outrage and abrasiveness, but this does not respect the fact that God gives to all a free will. We are commanded to spread truth with charity, not to defend Jesus by cutting off the ears of those who offend Him.
Self-help for the outrage addicted.
If you suspect that you suffer from outrage addiction, the best thing you can do is to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in silence. Do this especially when you are angry and bitter over something happening in the world or in the Church. Ask Jesus for help in discerning, mindful that all those problems will still be there whether you discuss them or not.
Pray about those things and people who cause you the most angst. Prayer is powerful. Pray the Rosary and other devotions and remind yourself that you can put your burdens on the shoulders of the Lord, not carry them yourself. Where your words and outrage can change little, God can move hearts with our prayers and fasting.
Read Scripture – not just some of it, but all of it. Read daily. We cannot take one part without the whole. Truth proclaimed without charity is out of harmony with the Gospel.
Read wholesome spiritual material like that of St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, and others. Read daily from something like that even if only for 15 minutes.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is manifest in us to others when we have the peace in Christ within amidst a barrage of artillery coming from every direction
Over the past few weeks I have been keeping busy, but absent from the blogosphere. I trust you understand. Just in recent weeks the Diocese of Wichita celebrated the ordination of two new priests: Fr. Andy Walsh and Fr. Sam Brand. Fr. Walsh discovered his vocation at the St. Paul Newman Center at Wichita State University, so we are particularly proud and rejoice with them both. Also, six new Deacons who will, God-willing, be ordained to the Priesthood next year.
I thought I would share this article I found on The Anchoress Blog:
Suffering Servant: Did Benedict Actually Resign?
This whole piece by John L. Allen is fascinating, but scroll down to the question:
Did Benedict resign?
Yet another point of interest from the recent press conference came when Francis took a question about papal resignation. He didn’t reveal his own plans, saying only that he’ll do “what the Lord tells me,” but did insist that he believes Benedict XVI historic decision to step down is not an “isolated case.”
In that connection, an essay on Tuesday by longtime Vatican watcher Vittorio Messori is intriguing. […]
The way Violi and Messori’s analysis goes, being pope has two basic components: agendo et loquendo — acting and teaching; and orando et patendo — praying and suffering. They believe Benedict laid down the former but never the latter, which explains his continuing residence in the Vatican and his continuing use of papal vestments. In effect, they believe he is continuing in some ways to function as pope, while leaving the work of governance to his successor.
As Violi puts it, Benedict “did not renounce the office, which is irrevocable, but only its concrete execution,” and even then only in part.
Messori argues that Francis may see things the same way, which perhaps helps explain why he prefers the title “Bishop of Rome,” of which he is unquestionably the only one at the moment, to “pope” or “pontiff,” of which there would now be two.
Messori gives all this a happy spin, writing that “it’s a gift [for the Church] that there is, physically shoulder to shoulder, one who leads and teaches and one who prays and suffers, for all, but above all to support his brother in the daily papal office.”
Time will tell if Francis himself will provide the next chance to see how a pontiff who steps down understands his act, and if he does, whether he’ll take the same approach as Benedict or blaze yet another a new trail.
In a way I cannot explain, reading this filled me with joy. I’m sure it is filling others with horror and fear. They run to Revelation all-too-willing to consider verses about imposters and anti-Christs than to consider verses about two witnesses. Or anything else.
In reading Messori’s essay (in my very lame Italian) I like this, part very much. It begins:
Il papa ha inteso rinunciare solo al ministerium , cioè all’esercizio , all’amministrazione concreta di quell’ufficio. Nella formula impiegata da Benedetto, si distingue innanzitutto tra il munus , l’ufficio papale, e la executio, cioè l’esercizio attivodell’ ufficio stesso. Ma l’ executio è duplice…
I get it as:
The pope intended only to give up Ministerium, that is the practical everyday (administrative) work of that office. The formula by Benedict…there is distinguishing a double (or two-fold) way…But also there is a spiritual aspect, of equal importance, which is enacted via suffering and prayer. Benedict said: “I do not return to private life…I do not wear more leadership in the Church, but for the Church’s good and with prayer I rest in the enclosure of St. Peter” but “enclosure” should not be comprehended only as a material place to live but is also a “place” theological.
I always suspected Benedict was a mystic at heart — that after his tireless work in administration for John Paul, and then his papacy he needed to serve in a different sphere. This confirms it for me. Having long appreciated the efficacy of prayer that is offered up through private suffering, this speaks to me. Benedict (whose papacy was not exactly an easy thing, as he was perhaps the most unjustly hated man on the planet for much of it) has chosen to enter into his suffering — not publicly, before the eyes of a world that devalues it, but privately, before God, who allows it and understands its value — not only the suffering that was thrust upon him but what he has actively embraced, for the good of the church.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss him. He is always my dear Papa. But this just makes me appreciate him all the more.
Here is what Benedict said about suffering, to Peter Seewald in the long-form interview that is God and the World, which everyone should read:
Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.
When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.
Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand by it is so important to learn how to suffer — and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another—slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.
Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
This is an excerpt from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Kindle Locations 239-255). Books on the topic of this essay may be found at The Imaginative Conservative Books
Pope Paul VI, who died on August 6, 1978 (the day of his favorite Feast, the Transfiguration) and brought the Second Vatican Council begun by Pope Saint John XXIII to it’s completion. Here is the story of the miracle attributed to him; and it happened right here in the United States!
The canonization of Vatican II continues: Paul VI beatification in October
I read today at Vatican Insider that the Congregation of the Causes of Saints has approved unanimously (what else) a miracle through the intercession of Ven. Paul VI.
I suppose now the only thing left to do is beatify the Pope everyone forgets to remember and the set will be complete… at least until the pool grows by one more.
This morning, cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave their final approval for the late Pope’s healing of an unborn child
Giovanni Battista Montini’s beatification is near: this morning cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously approved the miracle attributed to the intercession of the Italian Pope from Brescia, who died in August 1978. The year which marked the canonization of two Popes – John XXIII and John Paul II – will also be the year of Paul VI’s beatification. In the next few days Pope Francis will be promulgating the decree on the miracle attributed to the late Pope and the date suggested for the actual beatification is 19 October. The beatification is expected to take place in Rome on the occasion of the concluding ceremony of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family: [HEY! This is the canonization of HUMANAE VITAE too!] it was Paul VI himself who established the Synod in September 1965 in response to a request made by the Council fathers. [And what a day’s work that was.] It should be noted that next August will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Paul VI’s first big encyclical, the “Ecclesiam Suam”, which he wrote and edited entirely by himself.
The miracle attributed to the intercession of Paul VI was witnessed in the United States in 2001. It involved the healing of an unborn child, which was found to have serious problems and a high risk of brain damage: the foetus’ bladder was damaged and doctors reported ascites (presence of liquid in the abdomen) and anhydramnios (absence of fluid in the amniotic sac). All attempts to correct the problem proved futile and in the end the doctors said the child would either die in the womb or it would be born with severe renal impairment. Abortion was offered as an option but the mother refused. Instead, she took the advice given to her by a nun who was a friend of the family and had met Montini: she decided to pray for Paul VI’s intercession using a fragment of the Pope’s vestments which the nun had given her.
Ten weeks later the results of the medical tests showed a substantial improvement in the child’s health and it was born by Caesarean section in the 39th week of pregnancy. The case was presented to the former Postulator of the Cause, the Jesuit Paolo Molinari – who passed away last week – in Rome. Faith weekly Credere revealed that the diocesan inquiry was launched in 2003 and all witnesses agree that the case in question cannot be explained scientifically.
The child has made it to thirteen and his health is constantly monitored to ensure that his psychophysical state is normal. [Healing miracles have to be sudden, complete and lasting.] Doctors are especially keeping an eye on the child’s renal function. On 12 December last year the medical consultation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints headed by Professor Patrizio Polisca, confirmed the impossibility of explaining the healing and the dicastery’s theologians gave their approval last 18 February. [Along with the doctors’ and scientists’ statement that the healing can’t be explained, then theologians have to judge whether people were praying to Paul VI, and not, for example, to “Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the saints and holy angels, and St. Rita and St. Jude, and Paul VI, and Fulton Sheen and Pauline Jaricot and….] Benedict XVI promulgated Paul VI’s heroic virtues on 20 December 2012.
Vatican statistics report Church growth remains steady worldwide
By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
- May 5, 2014
VATICAN CITY – The number of Catholics in the world and the number of priests, permanent deacons and religious men all increased in 2012, while the number of women in religious orders continued to decline, according to Vatican statistics.
The number of candidates for the priesthood also showed its first global downturn in recent years.
The statistics come from a recently published Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which reported worldwide Church figures as of Dec. 31, 2012.
By the end of 2012, the worldwide Catholic population had reached 1.228 billion, an increase of 14 million or 1.14 per cent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which, as of 2013, was estimated at 1.09 per cent. Catholics as a percentage of the global population remained essentially unchanged from the previous year at around 17.5 per cent.
However, the latest Vatican statistical yearbook estimated that there were about 4.8 million Catholics that were not included in its survey because they were in countries that could not provide an accurate report to the Vatican, mainly China and North Korea.
According to the yearbook, the percentage of Catholics as part of the general population is highest in the Americas where they make up 63.2 per cent of the continent’s population. Asia has the lowest proportion, with 3.2 per cent.
During the 2012 calendar year, there were 16.4 million baptisms of both infants and adults, according to the statistical yearbook.
It said the number of bishops of the world stayed essentially the same at 5,133.
The total number of priests — diocesan and religious order — around the world grew from 413,418 to 414,313, with a modest increase in Africa, a larger rise in Asia, and slight decreases in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Asia saw a 13.7 per cent growth in the number of priests between 2007 and the end of 2012.
The number of permanent deacons reported — 42,104 — was an increase of more than 1,100 over the previous year and a 17-per-cent increase since 2007. The vast majority — more than 97 per cent — of the world’s permanent deacons live in the Americas or in Europe.
The number of religious brothers showed 0.4 per cent growth worldwide. The number of religious brothers totaled 55,314 at the end of 2012. Slight growth was seen everywhere except the Americas.
The number of women in religious orders continued its downward trend. The total of 702, 529 temporarily and permanently professed sisters and nuns in 2012 was a 1.5-per-cent decrease from the previous year and a 5.9-per-cent decrease since 2007.
The number of candidates for the priesthood — both diocesan seminarians and members of religious orders — who had reached the level of philosophy and theology studies showed its first downturn since 2003. The number of candidates dropped slightly to 120,051 men at the end of 2012 as compared to 120,616 at end of 2011. Increase were reported in the traditionally vocations-rich continents of Africa and Asia, although the increases were modest; Africa reported 245 more candidates than in 2011 and Asia reported 179 more men in their final years of study for ordination.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, Some Thoughts On Communion And Divorced-Remarried
Today is not only the canonization of two Popes, it’s also Divine Mercy Sunday. Prompted by recent news hyperventilation, and Ross Douthat’s column today, I thought it might be a good idea to run a thing I wrote a long time ago. My own thoughts on the issue are a muddle, and so this shouldn’t be read as an argument for a position so much than an argument for the idea that it’s possible to reasonably disagree on this issue and that to do so doesn’t rend the seamless garment of Christ.
In any case…
The question of the divorced-remarried and the sacraments is taking up a lot of our time. How should we look at this?
One of the many confounding things about the Jesus of the Gospels is that he fulfills the law, even strengthens the law, and yet extends mercy to literally anyone who wants it, no matter how deep their transgressions, and adopts a resolutely passionate attitude with sinners. This is encapsulated by his words to the adulterous woman: “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
As with all aspects of our faith, structured with paradox as it is, the temptation is always to strengthen one side of the “equation” too much at the expense of the other. We fail to honor our Lord when we use Biblical verses as cudgels instead of understanding our Lord’s law of mercy. “Judge not lest ye be judged”! “Adulterers will not inherit the kingdom!” Nyah nyah nyah nyah.
This road leads to idolatry, as the evangelical message (the good news!) becomes a tool in our political-partisan disputes, with “progressives” on one side and “conservatives” on another slinging (quasi) anathemas at each other instead of trying to be the Body of Christ. Jesus says “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” One camp will say “He said ‘I do not condemn you’!!!!!” One camp will say “He said ‘Go and sin no more’!!!!!”
The Church is the Body of Christ and must strive always to imitate Him in all things.
It seems to me that the excesses go in these ways. The progressive excess is to use mercy as a (however well-intentioned) pretext to amend the law. The conservative excess is to use the law as a (however well-intentioned pretext) to refuse mercy.
Yes, God lays down the law. But God provides infinite mercy. More importantly, it provides infinite “fellowship.” God walks with us on this Earth.
God’s main vehicle for mercy and fellowship, through His Body which is the Church, are the sacraments.
The reason why many divorced-remarried couples are denied the sacraments is a juridical aporia. To receive communion, one must be in free of mortal sin. To be free of mortal sin if one has committed one, one must either receive the sacrament of penance or effect perfect contrition—both of which must involve a serious resolve not to sin again. For one who lives maritally outside marriage and thus commits the sin of adultery, this resolve will not be granted. And so neither can the absolution nor the other sacraments be granted.
Now it must be said that the Church actually does provide a way out of this for couples in this state, which is to live chastely. Particularly for those divorced-remarried couples who have children, and for whom it would be scandalous to separate, the Church advises to live “like brother and sister.”
This is actually not trivial. And it should be noted that I didn’t actually know this until I read documents on this subject—I never heard of this. It brings to mind the conservative critique of Francis’ words about “obsessing” about sex issues—I’m a churched Catholic and I’d never heard this.
It also brings to mind the way that the Church’s sexual ethic is completely forgotten, even by many in the Church. For the Christian, continence should be the default state. For the world, the default state is sexual activity. If the default state is sexual activity, then the chastity of a particular life looks like sacrifice. If we have this frame of “chastity as the default state” (which is clearly Jesus’ frame, as we see from his teachings on sexuality, nevermind His own life), then it is the state of the divorced-remarried that looks aberrant and scandalous. (Other very “conservative” thought: one reason why the Church’s teaching on homosexual relationships seems so cruel is because it has increasingly winked and nodded at heterosexual unchastity.)
All this is said and well taken.
That being said, whatever happens, I can’t shake off the idea that the Church’s mercy, these o so privileged avenues of mercy, which are confession and the Eucharist, shouldn’t be closed off to sinners, because we are all sinners. No, Jesus would not say “It’s cool” to an adulterer. But would he not embrace him or her? Would he not kiss him or her? And do we not all yearn for that kiss? And what is that kiss, on this Church’s pilgrimage on Earth, if not the sacraments?
One story that often inspires me is the story of St Mark Ji Tianxiang, which Jim Manney, SJ recounts in his post, This Addict Is A Saint. St Mark Ji Tianxiang is a martyr of the faith. But he was also an opium addict who was barred from receiving the sacraments because of his addiction. As Fr Manney writes, today nobody would do that. Nobody would deny the sacraments on grounds of addiction, because we understand how addiction impairs our will. Instead, on the contrary, we would use spiritual direction, and the sacraments, and confession, and the Eucharist, to accompany the addict.
Now of course, the “sin as addiction” frame is one that we should use very gingerly and with much discernment. It is not unproblematic. But are we not all addicts to sin? Are we not “sold under sin”? Is it not the addict who says “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”?
This is a serious and crucial point. The juridical gordian knot here is the necessary “firm resolve” not to commit the sin again. But it is not licentious to note that for all of us this firm resolve will be imperfect. Obviously, we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But if we search our hearts, do we not find that “firm resolve” is drawn in shades of gray, rather than black or white?
Let’s take an example. Let’s suppose that you are discerning with increasing clarity that God wants you to give up your prestigious and highly remunerative job and do something decidedly unprestigious and unremunerative. If not canonically, then spiritually, you will be in a situation similar to that of the divorced-remarried-unchaste person: your state of life is contrary to God’s plan for you.
If you are in that position—and anyone who’s seriously struggled with sin will recognize it—your will will be divided. You will struggle, you will oscillate. You will stumble in the shadows. Part of you wants one thing, and part of you wants another. In the Ignatian phrase, spirits of consolation and desolation will dogfight in your soul. You won’t know what is up and what is down. Is this not a place where the Church should want you to receive the sacraments, which are “surely efficacious” as means of grace? Is this not a place where it would be wisdom and truth to relativize, ever so slightly, a notion such as a “firm resolve” not to sin?
Many saints resist the divine call. We remember Jeremiah. Even Paul went off to the desert to pray for years, in between the event on the road to Damascus and his apostolic ministry, and I think we are naïve if we think this was not a period of soul-wrecking doubt for him.
In my own prayer and spiritual life, I recognize this often. I recognize God’s call to do something, and my first response is “I want to do Your will, Lord”. But if I search myself, I realize that I do notreally want to do it. Part of me wants to, but another—often stronger—part does not. I say I want to do it, but if I am honest with myself, I realize I do not really want it, otherwise I would already have done it.
A grace I often pray for is “God, make me want to do your will, and if not, make me want to want it, and if not, make me want to want to want it.” I often think of the oft-repeated prayer, “Lord, I do not know if my actions please you, but I think the fact that I want to please you pleases you.”
I think this is a grace we often overlook. God’s law is as hard as His mercy is infinite. And none of us are righteous under the law. And none of us, if we are honest, can even be said to want to be righteous under the law, in every single dimension of our life. But, particularly in these delicate and demanding aspects of sexual life and life situations, the grace of wanting to want God’s will is already very precious and important. And is it not in those phases, where we are broken down, and all we can muster the strength to pray for is to want to want, or even to want to want to want, that the Church should be most present with the succor of her sacraments?
In this vale of tears, human will is not a monolithic thing. If I am a divorced-remarried-unchaste person and, during the eucharistic liturgy, I cry out in my heart, “O Lord! I do not understand your law, and I do not have the will to follow it, but I love you, and I beg you for forgiveness of my sins and the grace to want to want to follow in your footsteps and to be able to humbly receive your body”, is this a contrition that is “sufficient” for me to be able to receive the Body of Christ?
I think so.
PS: Again, I go back to this issue of the vital importance of spiritual direction. While for many divorced-remarried-unchaste the desire for the sacraments comes from a sincere and humble yearning to unite with the Body of Christ, it is indubitable that for some (and also within the same person, I’m sure) this demand is really a demand for the Church to affirm their life situation, and/or to get some sort of punched ticket, which is something the Church can’t accept. How do we differentiate? Through spiritual direction.
Peace on Earth, one of soon-to-be Pope Saint John XXIII’s Encyclical Letters