Hell and Remarriage: Whose Business?

Lots of internet damage control today on a piece of gossip: did Pope Francis tell a woman who “shouldn’t” be receiving the Eucharist that she could? The usual suspects weigh in. Plus lots of Catholic chicken littles thinking the sky is falling.

One, what a priest tells a person in confidence is none of our business. None. Approaching to receive Communion is a matter, like it or not, of choice. It is beyond the control of watchers, cluckers, cuckoos, and others.

Two, bloggers of canon law and coffee mugs can pontificate all they want. Commentariats can cry foul. It matters not. None of this is within their control. On the other hand, their own divorces, remarriages, and such–they might be experts on those events.

Three, the reports from or about the person in question may or may not be accurate. Journalists, pajama or suited, and their fans were not a party to any conversation. And even the listener may well have heard what she wanted to hear. Damian Thompson, for example, offers up a disclaimer:

(G)iven the complexity of this subject, we need much more clarity on what Francis reportedly said.

The lack of clarity certainly hasn’t stopped the punditry from speculating.

Four, it is never about someone else’s worthiness to receive a sacrament. It is about my worthiness. That’s as far as it goes.

Remarriage after a divorce is an unforgiveable sin. Unless a Catholic married outside the Church in which case it’s not. And if a non-Catholic married outside the Church, too bad: it counts. And if a person who wants to be Catholic is married to a divorced person, too bad: you can’t become a Catholic. Not without forsaking your marriage.

Of course this is all complicated. Human-made rules and a flinty interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11.

Likewise all this fuss about some movie based on some book that supposedly posits that heaven is for everybody. Or almost everybody. And that, somehow, is all wrong.

Again, who makes it to heaven or hell, or how many, is none of our business. Jesus says this pretty plainly in the Gospels. He also suggests that people who think they have a bead on particulars are going to end up surprised. Sinners, prostitutes, divorced-and-remarried, tax collectors, and such: I think we can count on more than expected from those categories. The religiously self-assured: perhaps under 100%.

Shocking, I tell you. Simply shocking.

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Saints To Be Made

haloMoDo, certainly not a saint for internet Catholic true believers, is bound to raise blood pressures and temperatures with her NYT smackdown of one blessed here. And this, particularly, will be hard for many to swallow:

The Vatican had a hard time drumming up the requisite two miracles when Pope Benedict XVI, known as John Paul’s Rasputin and enforcer of the orthodoxy, waived the traditional five-year waiting period and rushed to canonize his mentor. But the real miracle is that it will happen at all. John Paul was a charmer, and a great man in many ways. But given that he presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque cover-up, he ain’t no saint.

Like or loathe the woman, she raises some important points, and would seem to share some common ground with her detractors.

Common ground? Am I serious? Absolutely.

Was John Paul II perfect? No. Does a saint have to be perfect? Be careful how you answer that. The perception I read out there is that sanctity goes hand-in-hand with perfection. Clean morals, clean dishes, and probably spotless underwear.

We rather gloss over Peter, don’t we? We tout one-man-one-woman marriage, but we forget patriarchs and kings who married early and often in the first half of the Old Testament. We accept David had a lot to sing about. But we overlook his polygamy. We certainly cut him more slack than the divorced-and-remarried.

We’ve so tied up the notion of sainthood with behavioral perfection, that the scrutiny to find some screw-up–something well-worn in the public sphere these days–is put into action. Ms  Dowd is just employing the same tactic I’ve seen elsewhere in the blogosphere countless times. Only difference is she’s attacking the hero of the culturewar. Not a target of it.

With making two pope-saints, can we ask if we are witnessing a political compromise? Between these two popes, almost every Catholic can get happy. And if people prefer to dwell on the sacrament of subtraction, then by a similar token, everybody has a reason to reach for the antacid. Pope Francis seems to be suggesting we put aside our frowny faces. Let’s rally around our favorite, and let’s not lob flying objects at the other camp. At least not on this merciful Sunday.

Forming a Child for QuietThe rush to canonize has already exacted a certain toll, no matter how one shapes the news. Are popes good saint material? Do they inspire little girls and boys to be saints, or to admire from afar? Do they inspire adults to read their words and declare allegiance to one other than Christ? Is it good to dwell on the weaknesses of saints? Sure as shootin’, they all have them.

Maybe it is good to mention these weaknesses. If it inspires others to sanctity despite their flaws, more power to these new saints. And let’s face it: JP2 will never be the patron of church administration any more than John XXIII will be consorted with Jenny Craig.

The most important thing is making saints among the living, not the dead. As Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

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Dies Domini 30: An Indispensable Day

John Paul II suggests protection. Such a defense of Sunday must involve an actively-lived and celebrated tradition. We’re not just defending tradition because of previous generations. They’re now dead–the ones who observed blue laws, and declined to work for their masters and lords, and who fanned themselves under shade trees. The servants, of course, not so much.

But the Holy Father is right. Sunday is indeed “an indispensable day!”

30. It is clear then why, even in our own difficult times, the identity of this day must be protected and above all must be lived in all its depth. An Eastern writer of the beginning of the third century recounts that as early as then the faithful in every region were keeping Sunday holy on a regular basis.(Cf. Bardesanes, Dialogue on Destiny, 46: PS 2, 606-607) What began as a spontaneous practice later became a juridically sanctioned norm.

I think the inspiration behind Sunday was part spontaneity, but also part grace.

The Lord’s Day has structured the history of the Church through two thousand years: how could we think that it will not continue to shape her future?

There are modern pressures. Some of them have always been with us.

The pressures of today can make it harder to fulfil the Sunday obligation; and, with a mother’s sensitivity, the Church looks to the circumstances of each of her children. In particular, she feels herself called to a new catechetical and pastoral commitment, in order to ensure that, in the normal course of life, none of her children are deprived of the rich outpouring of grace which the celebration of the Lord’s Day brings.

Catechesis and pastoral outreach are needed. But keeping Sunday holy is not just about teaching ignorant Christians. It is also a matter of creativity: how to reach out to people burdened by work, by personal obligations, and such. And of course, those who see Sunday as a day of busy leisure, rather than a more leisurely relaxation mindful of Christ.

A reminder that the idea of a perpetual calendar is acceptable within limits:

It was in this spirit that the Second Vatican Council, making a pronouncement on the possibility of reforming the Church calendar to match different civil calendars, declared that the Church “is prepared to accept only those arrangements which preserve a week of seven days with a Sunday”.(Sacrosanctum Concilium, Appendix: Declaration on the Reform of the Calendar) Given its many meanings and aspects, and its link to the very foundations of the faith, the celebration of the Christian Sunday remains, on the threshold of the Third Millennium, an indispensable element of our Christian identity.

The Vatican site has Dies Domini in its entirety.

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Prelates Pressured

The Catholic Press, at least its independent wing, continues to pressure bishops.

Grant Gallicho continues the Commonweal hounding of American bishops of questionable administrative conduct.

bloodhoundsMy sense if that Jeff Anderson is doing what any tenacious lawyer does to earn his dime. Sniff out every scent and poke until something comes out. I don’t fault him for that. If I had to hire the man, that’s what I’d expect him to do. You can bet that any decent lawyer hired by the institutional church is doing the very same thing on behalf of the bishops. And if an occasional victim is bruised by it, so be it.

By the grace of God, John Nienstedt is a bishop. Does he come off as tenacious when it comes to managing his flock? My sense is that like him or not, Mr Anderson is a better lawyer than Archbishop Nienstedt is a pastor. Should that be a matter of discernment for those who are responsible for making bishops?

Elsewhere, the La Repubblica piece on Cardinal Bertone gets passed around a few organs, landing stateside at NCRep. Tom Gallagher asks:

Bertone needs three nuns to live in his residence? The nuns can’t find a more appropriate living arrangement outside of Bertone’s apartment?

Does the long “tradition” of religious women living with ordained men still get a pass, as it once might? There are realty two issues here. One is the man-woman thing. The other is the master-servant bit.

Cardinal Bertone has led a most un-Bergoglio existence in his long years as a cleric and later, as an ecclesiastical prince. How long is an appropriate transition? Is everyone expected to suddenly cook their own breakfasts and do their own laundry in the same way that some clergy tripped up sanctuary steps to erect six candles on altars?

These bishops may be less good at their “jobs” than some lay people at theirs. That such folks occasionally find themselves at odds is part of our contentious culture. Bishops give as good as they get: that’s my sense of the big picture here. At different times, people seem to take turns on one end or the other of the dogpack. What are people asking for? A free pass? A little understanding? Then give it.

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EG 147: Meaning Beyond The Details

Vasnetsov_Maria_MagdaleneIn today’s section of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis affirms modern Biblical scholarship, but urges a search for what the original author was attempting to communicate. It’s about something more than owrd meaning:

147. First of all, we need to be sure that we understand the meaning of the words we read. I want to insist here on something which may seem obvious, but which is not always taken into account: the biblical text which we study is two or three thousand years old; its language is very different from that which we speak today. Even if we think we understand the words translated into our own language, this does not mean that we correctly understand what the sacred author wished to say. The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth.

There are good tools, but by themselves, not enough:

But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others.

This is a good description of what I’ve heard by the exclusive use of scholarly tools: disjointed ideas that fail to inspire.

The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce. If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; if it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.

Literary criticism seems to rise to the top among the Holy Father’s various tools.

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Dies Domini 29: The Day of Faith

Sunday is a “day of faith,” according to John Paul II. Note the distinctive qualities of Sunday Mass above liturgy celebrated on the other six days, he advises.

29. Given these different dimensions which set it apart, Sunday appears as the supreme day of faith. It is the day when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the Church’s living “memory” (cf. Jn 14:26), the first appearance of the Risen Lord becomes an event renewed in the “today” of each of Christ’s disciples. Gathered in his presence in the Sunday assembly, believers sense themselves called like the Apostle Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands. Put out your hand, and place it in my side. Doubt no longer, but believe” (Jn 20:27). Yes, Sunday is the day of faith. This is stressed by the fact that the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy, like the liturgy of other solemnities, includes the Profession of Faith. Recited or sung, the Creed declares the baptismal and Paschal character of Sunday, making it the day on which in a special way the baptized renew their adherence to Christ and his Gospel in a rekindled awareness of their baptismal promises. Listening to the word and receiving the Body of the Lord, the baptized contemplate the Risen Jesus present in the “holy signs” and confess with the Apostle Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The Creed, recited or sung, yes–this is important. Does faith sink deeper for us? Does Sunday inspire a heartfelt acclamation from within, as the apostle uttered. The encounter cited here actually isn’t so much about faith as it is about a movement. Thomas lacked belief on Easter Sunday: this is true. But he was willing to change, to reform, and to be converted. When presented with the signs, he uttered one of the most basic formulas of belief in Christ: My Lord and my God.

The Vatican site has Dies Domini in its entirety.

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Jubilation and Pink Slips

About two months ago I began keeping an eye on the Championship (a heck of a term for a league that is essentially minor, AAA, and supposedly inclusive of only the 21st through 44th-best football teams in England) and its top teams vying for promotion.

Jubilation now for Burnley and its supporters. I’m amazed that a city of just 90,000 will soon be supporting a top-flight English team. What American city has that many people plus a major league team? Besides Green Bay, I mean. The university city in which  I live has almost as many people and a stadium that seats more than twice as many as the newest Premier  League’s home turf. Two different worlds, I suppose.

The other question is how long will it last for Burnley. They had just one previous season in the Premier League. A 1-0 judgment against the team whose coach didn’t get fired, and then back down to toil in the Championship. (Still love that name.)

Maybe if Cardiff get relegated, I’ll have to root for Burnley as my number two next season.

The young miss was dismayed Sunday. She texted me from home while I was at Easter morning Mass she didn’t know for whom to root as her two favorites were squaring off. I suggested she stick with Everton, as they were (and are) still in the running for UEFA Champions League. And Man U is not. Why not, she asked, during the homily. Because 7th place gets you nothing, I said. In American football, you miss the playoffs in your conference. But in real football, nothing.

Well, in real football, there are consequences for some, if 7th place is deemed underperforming.

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