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In Communion with the Church

I read this post on Mirror of Justice a couple of days ago and have been mulling a response ever since. Steve Shiffrin addresses a statement from the recent meeting of the US Conference of Catholic bishops, Happy Are Those who are Called to His Supper. This document states those who receive communion must be in communion with the Church. Mr. Shiffrin then asks what does it mean to be “in communion” with the Church. He cites a litany of statistics to illustrate how many American Catholics and priests disagree with Church teaching on morals. He then writes:

What would happen if the Conference made a statement with no wiggle room, maintaining that if you did not agree with the Vatican on all of the issues above and many others, you should not receive the Eucharist (or say mass if you are a priest)? I am uncertain about what the relevant priests would do. But regarding the lay population I suspect a small percentage would stay in the Church and not partake in the Eucharist. Many would leave the Church. And most would simply ignore the Bishops.

I am curious what people think. Assuming their attempts to change minds about morals are for the most part futile, should the Bishops try for a smaller American church filled with people who agree with what they take to be the truth? Could they achieve a church that was homogeneous in belief even if they tried? Why are they not trying for a smaller church? The Vatican won't let them? They don't want it? Alternatively, is the Holy Spirit using the People of God to tell the Bishops something that they do not yet get? Or have the Bishops struck the exact right note?

First of all, statistics about who agrees with Church teachings and who doesn’t agree with Church teachings should serve merely to direct our efforts at catechesis. Molding doctrine and moral teachings to poll results is in the style of the Episcopalians and we can see how this is faring for them.

Secondly, the Church doesn’t ask for agreement but for humble obedience. Therefore, these various statistics are misleading. For example, let’s say a woman cannot quite get her head wrapped around the Church’s teaching on contraception. She is still praying and reflecting on it, but if asked if she personally agreed with it she might say no. However, if in spite of her misgivings she still humbly submits to the Church’s authority and does not use artificial contraception she is still very much in communion with the Church.

The bishops and clergy have a job to present the Truth. They do not adjust the message to manipulate membership numbers or to make the teaching more palatable. Christ himself when declaring that his followers must eat His Body did not back down from the Truth when disciples left saying, “This is too hard.”

These are only my meager thoughts. Robert Araujo, also at Mirror of Justice, has given a much more eloquent response. Please read his entire post but here is a sample:

God has called His people to holiness and to fidelity. What pollsters, interest groups, lobbyists, or individual theologians suggest and argue is nice to know. But, what God asks of us is pretty clear. When we need help to determine what that is, our Holy Mother the Church is there to help. Each person through his or her baptism has a role in evangelizing—going forth to bring the Good News to those who have not heard it. But, ultimately it is up to each of us to accept it or not. That is the free will God has given everyone; it is up to us to exercise it with fidelity. But if we chose not to on any particular occasion through our own insistence that my conscience, right or wrong, is the voice I follow, God will still be there to welcome us home if our sincere intention is ultimately to seek His forgiveness, understanding, and mercy.


Suzanne said…
Thank you very much for this post.
God bless...Suzanne at SincerelyMyThoughts
This is a great post.

I'll tell you what. Back in my liberal days, nothing was going to convince me that abortion was wrong; it was a political issue for me, not a moral one. UNTIL I heard a priest bring speak TRUTH about abortion during a homily. No soft-pedaling it; no watering down the message so as not to offend the pro-aborts. But neither was he vile and in-your-face about the matter. He spoke plainly and genuinely. I respected that. No, I didn't change my stance that very morning, but it's what got the wheels turning in my brain.

Similar story regarding contraception. I lived 20+ years of my life not knowing exactly what the Church taught about contraception. I thought that using NFP was just kind of a nice bonus thing to do, like going to weekday Mass. Not obligatory, but a "better" thing to do than using contraception. It was reading the Couple to Couple League literature that taught me Church teachings. Coming across an honest assessment of Church teachings was a surprise for me. "Oh, so that's what the Pope has been talking about and this is WHY he says it."

I guess I worry to some extent about asking people to withhold from partaking in the Eucharist for this reason: if I had NOT been receiving the sacrament (albeit unworthily) all those years, would I still have been open to the grace to hear/embrace the Truth? Without a doubt, if I was in conflict NOW, I would withhold until I was in agreement with the Church. But, back then, I went up for Communion with everyone else.

Don't get me wrong. I strongly oppose the way some use the Eucharist to make a point: politicians who do it for the media, just to show that they can be both Catholic and pro-abortion. Or those who wear the rainbow sash and defiantly march forward to receive Communion.

But what about all those wayward souls who just don't know enough about Church teaching to make an educated decision? In my waffling years, I don't know that I could have distinguished between "agreement vs. humble obedience." TODAY, I know it would have been better if I was not going through the motions of being in communion with a Church I was not in communion with. BUT, it scares me to think that my pride would have driven me away from my Home if there were those "no wiggle room" statements, rather having the humility to stick around and learn what the Church was all about. (That's a bad sentence, I hope you know what I mean.)

Now I've highjacked your blog and I do not have any definitive answers. :-)
Catholic Mom said…
Perhaps that is why the bishops seem to speak ambiguously sometimes. They hope to coax the sheep into an understanding of what it means to be in communion with the Church. So the very delicate task of our shepherds is to speak the unadulterated Truth in a loving and compassionate way, hoping that small incremental conversions will steadily occur. I call this pizza dough spirituality.Truth be told, the most holy among us are still growing in faith. It is a lifelong process. We just need to give keep giving others (and ourselves) the impetus to grow rather than soft-pedaling the Truth settling into complacency.
Michelle said…
Amen. Obedience first, agreement later, maybe never. When my kids complain and say they don't "want" to go to Church on Sunday, I tell them it doesn't matter what you "want", it's what you "do" - and you WILL go! If we all agreed with the Church all the time, being a good Catholic would be so easy.

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