Denial of Communion

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Our Coadjutant Bishop recently came out with a statement that all politicians who claim to be Catholic and who support abortion ought to be denied communion. I see very good purpose in making such a statement. The Bishops are charged with teaching the true faith. While the Catholic faith can tolerate a diversity of opinion on issues such as liturgy, language, just war, and all manner of other issues; there is no "wiggle-room" on the issue of abortion. To hold one opinion is to be in line with Catholic teaching to hold the other is a sign of faulty understanding. To act upon this fault understanding is to break communion--you have left even the wide bounds of Catholicism. When a bishop issues such a statement, he is giving notice as to the truth of Catholic teaching.

Now, I don't right know if our Bishop intends to act upon the statement or is speaking in solidarity with brother Bishops who may already be doing what he has supported. It is one thing to say that this is what should happen. Oddly, I find myself torn apart as to whether it ought to happen or not. In one sense, such Catholics ought to voluntarily absent themselves from communion so as to not create scandal. They know the teaching and this is one of those places that no matter what their personal conscience, there is no chance that Catholic practice and doctrine will change to accommodate them. For example one could reasonably hope that the practice of celibacy might go by the wayside. (I don't particularly care one way or the other on this one--there are very strong arguments both ways.) However, to hope that doctrine might bend to allow for procured abortion under any circumstances is just to be ignorant of the reality of the Catholic faith.

But should they be denied communion? Certainly it sets an example. Certainly it is within the rights of a bishop to regulate this. But something about it disturbs me. It strikes me a bit like debtors prison. You throw a person in jail because they can't pay their bills. How does one ever get out of prison, as one will never earn anything to pay them. If people are forced to stay away from communion because of their stand on abortion is there some way in which we might be depriving them of what would be necessary in order to change? By that I don't mean communion itself, but the entire Mass. A person who will not receive communion might not come to Mass (and this responsibility falls on no one except the person who chooses not to.) Isn't it possible that continued attendance at Mass is the only thing ever likely to help form/change an opinion?

That said, how likely is the eventuality I suggest? How often would a person attending Mass and not receiving communion change their opinion on abortion? I don't really know. And abortion is a crime of such great hideousness, of such horrible offense to the Lord that one can reasonably argue that the only thing to do is to follow to the letter Church law on the matter.

I'm not really all that conflicted about it in one sense, but there is a deep sympathy for people who have been confused by the world and its values that makes me not want to encourage this. I wonder how often I would consider taking communion if I were to look intensely at all the things I believe and weigh them in the balances of Church teaching. Look how often I have found myself on the opposite side of the fence as Tom at Disputations--and how incorrect I have been on essential matters. If I were to hold myself responsible for each of those opinions, I might never receive communion. If I were to wait until the illusions of the world cleared away from my vision before I were to come to communion, I might never make it.

So as I say, I don't fault the Bishops. The real fault is in the people who support abortion and expect the church to support them. However, I do strongly sympathize, not with the opinion, but with the position they find themselves in. We are all sinners, and I know that I find a myriad of justifications for what I want to do. The world is all too supportive of whatever foulness I want to commit. There is room for every manner of deviance in the heart of the world. So I do empathize with the predicament these people find themselves in--they are told by the world one thing and they listen with one ear--by the Church another and they listen less intensely. Perhaps these bold pronouncements do the bracing good of a faceful of cold water. I don't know. But I guess my solution shall be to continue to pray for those ignorant lost ones to face-to-face with the reality of God's love and realize their lostness. What I cannot and will not do is criticize the pastors who simply reiterate church teaching. (But then, I suppose that comes as little surprise to those who have spent any time here.)

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Now, I am a convert, which already means I look at things a bit different than many Catholics, and I went to daily mass for two years before I was confirmed, which gave me a deep respect for the Eucharist, so perhaps I am prejudiced.

But I sort of feel good when I hear the Bishops telling people that eucharistic communion isn't a right, but a privilege - perhaps because I know that from personal experience!

Will this change hearts? I don't think it in itself will. What will change hearts is good teaching, good example, and the willingness of a person to reach out of their mindset and really hear what God is telling them.

What it will do is say, Hey Guys! This is special! This is Jesus for real here on earth, Emmanuel, God With us, Lord of Life! It's not just a piece of bread. It's the most sacred thing we have, and it deserves all the respect we can give it.

It should make all of us look inside and examine our walk with Jesus more closely - and that cannot be a bad thing.

Dear Sue,

I'm a convert too and come at it from a slightly different place. I think back on all the years I lacked communion and how empty and wasted life was (relatively speaking) and I look at the same outcome for others and see what a terrible thing it is. Then I turn around and indict myself of crimes that should equally well deprive me, so far as conscience dictates. I guess it's a case of "there but for the grace of God go I," hence my sympathy. But you will note that I am ambivalent because I think these actions do have a positive effect among the faithful. They reinforce home truths and force us to consider Church teaching as an important aspect of life rather than as an add-on.



you know i love you, mr. riddle, but do i need to come over n'smack you upside the head?

Instead of "smacking you up upside the head" I'll just (gently) say this: I don't understand why you would give up going to Communion because you discovered that you'd held an erroneous opinion. The true test is: what did you do when you DISCOVERED that you held something that was not consistent with the teaching of the Church? Kerry and the other "pro-choice" politicians are well past the "discovering-that-they-support-something-in-opposition-to-Church-teaching." They've been TOLD. They've been told PUBLICLY. If you really regret some opinion you held, mention that you're sorry for it in Confession next time. Your situation is not comparable to Kerry et al. in any way.

Dear Ruthann and Smockmomma,

You are both very kind (I especially appreciate the offer of a smack upside the head--occasionally necessary to clear the faculties). But, and I say this very respectfully, you stand in no position to judge my conscience or my acts. You cannot know if what I have done is not every bit as heinous as what John Kerry has done. I am the only one who stands in that position. And I could hold every orthodox position the church has and still be a terrible (or great depending on how you look at these things) sinner.

My point is not that the bishops are wrong, not that they should not do what they are doing, not that it is not in some ways perfectly correct do do so. I acknowledge all of that. But the way I feel about myself and my state of sinfulness, I have a great deal of empathy for the position of those who find themselves defending the indefensible. There is an ignorance there grounded in enormous pride. The Church tries to correct over and over again, and reaches the end of her resources with excommunication.

I don't argue that it isn't well deserved, it may well be. All I say is that I could see myself easily in the same position and so I am made uncomfortable by this. It is a salutary discomfort. Good because it provokes deep thought and careful consideration.

But very respectfully, and I do mean this, the blackness of my sins is visible to Him alone (praise God), but I carry the weight of them always in my heart and know intimately how deeply and how often I fail. Every week the same litany and every week a new penance, and this stubborn flesh does not seem to learn too well.



Dear Steven,

I consider denying communion to a public sinner an act of mercy. In 1st Corinthians St. Paul has this to say:

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. "

Receiving the Eucharist when you are in manifest grave sin adds the additional sin of sacrilege. Receiving communion in a state of sin can also harden the sinner. St. Paul does not mince words when he says that those doing so eat and drink judgment onto themselves.

If you saw someone eat or drink something that you knew would be harmful physically for them, wouldn't it be mercy to stop them? If someone were to receive the Eucharist in a state of sin isn't it mercifully to deny them?

Additionally there is also the matter of scandal. Giving communion to those who deny some of the very bedrocks of the faith is a public scandal. If someone can flaunt Church teaching with no reprimand then others will also fall by this example.

If as a whole the Church takes seriously the issues about those who receive Communion unworthily then I hate to use the phrase but it can be truly a "teachable moment." Will others examine their consciences also if this example is given? Will some then see the Eucharist as more than just a sign but realize the truth about our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?

The opposite will happen if we just ignore the problem.

Dear Jeff,

I only respond to ask, where have I suggested otherwise? I don't know from the note whether you think I disagree, but I do not. However, it does not stop me from feeling very uncomfortable. Mercy or otherwise, it makes me feel uncomfortable, for all the reasons you point out and more.

I stop and think about whether I'd particularly like my sins singled out and made a point of. Now this is a public figure and as a public figure deserves a public reprimand when what he says in the name of being Catholic goes against Church teaching. But I squirm to think of my own sins uncovered.

Does this mean I say it should not happen--not at all. I hope the Church never bases a single thing--liturgy, prayer, doctrine, or practice on my comfort or discomfort. The Church isn't about feeling comfortable, it is about being right. My discomfort, as I point out, is a personal issue. It is the sinner in me that sees the solidarity of us all--yes even John Kerry, who despite his stand on abortion may not even be as bad a sinner as me. Since I am not called to judge, I cannot say.

But please don't take my discomfort as a measure of truth or of anything whatsoever of importance. I think it's important to record it. These actions make me squirm--and they should. Perhaps it will focus enough attention on my own constant recidvism that I will cease.

Again, I respond not to say that you are wrong, but to try to make clear what I'm saying. As Kierkegaard is paraphrased as saying,"Those who are comfortable with Christ do not know Him."



See! By making us examine ourselves, our relationship to God, our sins, the Bishops' comments are already working! We are looking at who we are in our relationship with Christ.

The greatest comfort I have is to know that even though I can never be worthy of receiving the gift Jesus gives us, he calls us and invites us.

I was away from the sacraments for awhile while taking care of my mother in her last three years. (she was dying, and was very anti-catholic, and I copped out and did the easy way and didn't tell her of my conversion and went to her church - not the right thing to do, but it's what happened.) I made a solemn promise to myself to take as much advantage of the sacraments after that as possible and to never get myself in that situation again.

Communion is the wonderful moment where Jesus feeds us with himself, but the most wonderful of all the sacraments is confession. Through confession, I turn to God in all humility and say, O Lord, I am sooo sorry for all the griefs I have piled on you with my faults. I love you so much, help me to love you more, give me the grace to follow ever close to you, and he takes me in his arms and says, Yes child, I know. And he dries my tears and touches me with a grace that truly wouldn't be there without it. And I know that even though I have flaws, that I have failed more than I would like to admit, he loves me in spite of that...and is taking the time and effort to slowly, painfully mold me into the person he would like me to be.

What is wonderful is that God calls us, that he loves all of us in spite of ourselves, and gives the Church the tools where he can mold us with his grace. The bishops with their pronouncements are yet another tool for our loving lord to call us home, and shape us into the Bride the church should be.

I feel for those who intentionally turn their back because it doesn't fit their other desires...but even there, by making sure we know how special the Eucharist is, it will touch even more lives, I think, by taking away the taint some have given it of being just a metaphor of a man-god relationship and holding it up for what it is - the real thing!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 13, 2004 6:49 AM.

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