14 November 2015

When Catholicism is "Unrealistic"

At this point, this news from the Synod has been discussed hundreds of times. Go me for being late to the game (or: not paying as close attention as I should have in the moment). I was prompted to think of the Synod again this week when I saw an article about a priest's parents who lived as brother and sister (that is, they did not have sexual relations). Why would a couple choose to do such a thing? The father of the priest (...the Father's father...get it??) had previously been married, divorced the first wife, and married the mother of the priest. Their son came home from school one day concerned that his parents were sinning by not going to Mass. The family went to Mass the next Sunday and continued to do so. They desired to receive Holy Communion but could not, as they were committing the mortal sin of adultery. Their parish priest said that they could petition the Church to see if the first marriage could be annulled or they could abstain from sexual relations, confess their sins, and return to the Sacrament. So they took the priest's second option and remained in such a relationship for the rest of their lives.

While I find this story to be a beautiful testament to the Faith, others would find it preposterous. It is too harsh, some say, to tell people that they cannot participate in receiving the Body of Christ. As if the Blessed Sacrament is a participation trophy. The Blessed Sacrament is not free merchandise distributed at an event. The Blessed Sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. When we treat the Blessed Sacrament a car that Oprah gives away ("You all get one!"), we have truly disgraced Our Lord. Receiving the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, while living in a state of unrepentant mortal sin is a poor way to thank Christ for His most generous and incomparable gift.*

At the Synod last month, the topic of admitting the divorced and remarried (that is, people committing adultery, a mortal sin) to Communion was discussed. Cardinal Marx said, "The advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship not only appears unrealistic to many. It is also questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context." [Note: Let's be straight up. Marx is not the only person suggesting the Church deviate on various positions She has held for years, even since Her institution, even positions from which it is impossible to deviate. Pray for the Church, for those who oppose Her, and for those who need guidance.]

I will address the second sentence first. "It is questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context." I wonder what kind of context is required. Do we need to know that two people really care about each other? Do we need to know that the new couple has had children? Do we need to know that these people adopt stray animals? While all of these things may be the case, they do not change the fact that sin is being committed. I would like to see someone explain to Christ what the appropriate context is, when Christ Himself has said, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery." (Luke 16:18) What does Christ tell the woman caught in adultery? "Go, and now sin no more." (John 8:11)

This reaction is seen again and again when Christ meets sinners. He confronts the sin. He and the sinner both know it. Then He forgives and tells the sinner to go and sin no more. Our God operates under perfect justice and mercy. Our God IS perfect justice and mercy. For this reason, I cannot understand it when people deliberately go against what Our Lord has commanded us. It is not reasonable. Speaking of unreasonable, let's talk about unrealistic.

"The advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship not only appears unrealistic to many." Unrealistic is what I am told it is when I suggest that people practice abstinence or NFP. It is unrealistic to expect that people should refrain from acting on the passions (what low esteem we hold each other in!). It is unrealistic to expect people to act based upon reason. It is unrealistic to live as an all good God has commanded us to do. In a way, it is unrealistic: it is unrealistic to expect that we shall, all on our own, be perfect as Our Father in Heaven is perfect. Sin can seep into our lives. What a good reason to have Confession! We can go to the priest who acts in the person of Christ to absolve us of our sins and help us to be holy.

What about the unrealistic things we cling to as part of the Catholic faith? Is it unrealistic to profess a man to be the Son of God and born of a Virgin? Is it unrealistic to say that the Son of God established His Church among sinners? Is it unrealistic to say that He gave us His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the beauty of a most glorious sacrament? Is it unrealistic to profess that He died and was resurrected? Is it unrealistic to say that He ascended to Heaven? Is it unrealistic?

All these things are unrealistic to the skeptic. Christians have endured persecution for professing a number of unrealistic things. I wonder: if it is unrealistic to believe that men and women cannot rise above their passions, how realistic is it to believe the tenants of the Faith? If we deny the words of Christ, how can we profess to belong to His Church?

I purport that it is unrealistic to allow sin to reign in our lives and at the same time claim we adhere to the Church's teaching. How can we speak of God's loving kindness and ask for His grace when we turn from Him? It is a slap in the face. We are told to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength. We are told to put God before all else. We cannot say, "Yes, Lord, I give you everything. But not this. Not this sin that I want to hold on to." When Jesus told the rich young man to give away his possessions and follow Him, the man went away sad (Matthew 19:16-22). He could not serve both Christ and the world. Neither can we serve both Christ and the popular opinion of the world. We cannot submit to sinful lives. Jesus is not in the sinful lives business. Jesus is in the salvation business. Jesus is in the follow me business.Jesus is in the calling it as it is business. Jesus is in the making sinners into saints business.

I could perhaps go into quite a discussion about problematic Church leadership, but I'll keep it brief and affirmative. What kind of leaders do we need in the Church? What kind of role models do we need in the Church? Who are the people who are willing to live out the life God plans for us? Who are the people who love Him fully, who put Him before all else? Look to the saints. Look especially to the martyrs. These are the people who, no matter their situation, said, "Yes. I will give everything to You. Even my very life. Because You are the Truth. You are Good. You are Justice and Mercy and Perfection." The saints are the people who didn't settle. The saints are the people who turned from sin and toward God. The saints are the people who stood at the foot of the cross, who battled dark nights of the soul, who led nations, who raised holy children, who sacrificed themselves for the love they had for their brothers, who served the poorest of the poor, who gave everything to God. The saints are the people who hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

So when Catholicism is "unrealistic," when it seems to ask too much of you, when it tells you to abandon sin, listen up! Respond to Christ's call. Return to the God of your fathers. Recall the doctrine of the Church. "Do this in remembrance of me." Remember the saints. The saints before you have followed Christ. They have kept the faith and run the race. Be a saint in our time.

*I couldn't help but include a Harry Potter reference. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin discovers that Harry has been wandering around the school at night and says, "[James] and your mother gave their lives to save yours. And gambling their sacrifice by wandering around the castle, unprotected, with a killer on the loose seems to me to be a pretty poor way to repay them." Christ gave His life for us. Wandering around spiritually, letting ourselves believe that sin is okay, playing right into Satan's hands is a poor way to repay Christ and His sacrifice. It is a poor way to repay God's love for us.

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