EG 47: Facilitators of Grace, Not Arbiters

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdalenePope Francis continues on his theme of Luke 15. He sets forth an attitude to the sacraments wholly within our theological and Scriptural tradition, but with a somewhat different tone:

47. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.* These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.

Current impressions of sacramental practice have, I’d say, strayed somewhat into the “prize” category. The discussion of a sense of sin or unworthiness always seems to extend to other people, not to the speakers. Discussion of personal sin can be limited to a ritual sense, which keeps it safe, in a way.

The Church as a place for people with problems: this is certainly in keeping with what we’ve read from Pope Francis these past several months.

* Cf. SAINT AMBROSE, De Sacramentis, IV, 6, 28: PL 16, 464: “I must receive it always, so that it may always forgive my sins. If I sin continually, I must always have a remedy”; ID., op. cit., IV, 5, 24: PL 16, 463: “Those who ate manna died; those who eat this body will obtain the forgiveness of their sins”; SAINT CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, In Joh. Evang., IV, 2: PG 73, 584-585: “I examined myself and I found myself unworthy. To those who speak thus I say: when will you be worthy? When at last you present yourself before Christ? And if your sins prevent you from drawing nigh, and you never cease to fall – for, as the Psalm says, ‘what man knows his faults?’ – will you remain without partaking of the sanctification that gives life for eternity?”

Review all of Evangelii Gaudium here.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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