Fr. Roger J. Landry
March 6, 2009
There’s a necessarily prophetic dimension to the proclamation of the faith. While the Gospel is fundamentally, supremely and not merely etymologically “good news” — a jubilant “yes” to the revelation of the love of God for us incarnate in Jesus Christ — it can only be understood in its fullness by contrast to the darkness it illuminates, to the evil it defeats and redeems.
This contrast between the positive and the negative, between the good and bad, was the subject of Jesus’ first homily, which echoes on the lips of priests every Ash Wednesday as they impose ashes on Catholic foreheads. First, Jesus announces the good news: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand.” Then he presents without nuance what response that must provoke in others: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Jesus’ whole ministry shows this balance between the comforting beauty of his words in the Parable of the Prodigal Son and his bitter castigations of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, between the tenderness with which he treated the woman caught in adultery and the ferocity with which he drove the moneychangers from the temple. Jesus’ balance — which, while not being “fifty-fifty,” proportionately involves both blessings and censures —resonates in his body the Church, which was constituted by him to welcome everyone, but call everyone to conversion and the fullness of life.
It’s not surprising that many believers prefer to focus on the more comforting and less challenging aspects of Jesus’ words and deeds, but it’s important to remember that Jesus was not schizophrenic: the same redeeming love he showed in his interactions with Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, and the Good Thief was still at work when he called Pharisees “whitewashed sepulchers,” challenged the Rich Young Man to treasure him more than his possessions, and told each of us that unless we deny ourselves, pick up our Crosses and follow him, we cannot be his disciple.
Similarly, the Church’s maternal nature is shown not just in the compassionate works of the vast network of hospitals and schools and the provision of the nourishment of God’s word and the sacraments. It is also shown when she provides the loving discipline — in words and in deeds — without which we could not be true disciples.
This is the context in which properly to interpret the recent prophetic statements and actions of Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton on the issue of abortion. In the last few years, both have earned the reputation for being two of the boldest and most outspoken prelates in the country in defense of those who have no voice.
In an interview with LifeSiteNews.com last week, Archbishop Chaput described that while the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Life often falls on deaf ears — including some who have been baptized Catholic — he said that the Church must continue to be faithful in calling our culture to repentance and warning of the personal and cultural consequences of continued ignorance of that prophetic call.
“It seems human history has been a series of times of us not taking the warning signs seriously,” Archbishop Chaput stated, and cited the story of Noah and the flood. “They were eating and drinking and carrying on and the flood came. They just weren't willing to take the warnings that God sends us and I think it is true about our time that we are not taking the situation concerning the Church and the world seriously now. … [We need to] be persistent in our preaching and in our continuing to give the warning and that God bring fruit from that if He chooses. We shouldn't give up.”
He said that part of the problem is that it’s harder to change people’s minds than form them correctly in the first place. “I don't know how clearer the bishops, at least as a body, can be speaking about these matters beginning with the Holy Father,” but he acknowledged that this has become a process of reformation rather than formation. “I don't know if it's because we've let it go on for such a long time and haven't challenged it before now, but this attitude of being comfortable with being pro-choice and Catholic at the same time seems to be deeply set in the lives of these folks. …Either someone taught them that or they've arrived at it themselves and weren't challenged on it, …but they seem so firmly set in the course they've taken. … I'm not aware of a single case of a Catholic politician who is pro-choice who has changed his or her mind.”
That points first, he said, to a “very bad period of catechesis” in the last 40 years in our country — not merely with respect to the laity but also the clergy — that is “bearing bad fruit in our time.” This situation requires more decisive action on the part of clergy today to remedy the confusion. “It's very important for clergy to advise political leaders of the great scandal that they might be part of because this can lead not only to the death of the unborn but it can also lead to the spiritual death of the political leaders who vote that way.”
This catechesis ought to begin with the simple truth of what happens in abortion, that an innocent human being is slaughtered in a grotesquely inhuman way. “We need to reinvigorate the Church's understanding of the horror of abortion,” Archbishop Chaput stressed, saying we need to be as horrified by abortion as we are about genocide and slavery. “It seems that we have become deadened to the horror of abortion. If we can reinvigorate our understanding of that, become more sensitive to great evil that abortion is, then we can make a difference.”
Once the Catholic Church achieves that reinvigoration of the evil of abortion, then many of the other scandals associated with the abortion issue would likely take care of themselves, such as the ignominy of Catholic politicians who support abortion, the shame Catholics who support them, and the sacrilege of those who are not in communion with the Church’s teachings on abortion receiving Holy Communion.
Because we don’t yet understand sufficiently the horror of abortion, Archbishop Chaput declares, “we can put up with people who are pro-choice or pro-abortion and not challenge their Catholic identity. … Of course, we hope they will come back to the faith and to the truth, so we don't want to chase them away from the Church but … Communion means not only union with the Lord but also union with His Church which is His body.” That is the reason why the Church has consistently taught that those who are not in communion with the Church’s teaching on abortion should not present themselves for Holy Communion at Mass.
Since various Catholic politicians have ignored that consistent message just as they’ve disregarded the Church’s teachings on life, Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino last week upped the ante, instructing all the ministers of Holy Communion, both clerics and lay, to refuse the Sacrament to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin,” in accordance with the Church’s code of canon law.
The purpose of the decree, he said, is “to prevent sacrilege and to prevent the Catholic in question from committing further grave sin through unworthy reception.” He cited the protocol described in a 2004 letter of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to U.S. bishops that said that when a person consistently campaigns and votes for permissive abortion laws, his pastor should meet with him to instruct him on the Church’s teaching, inform him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he repents, and, that, if he fails to repent and continues to present himself for Communion, he will be denied.
No bishop would ever look forward to such actions, but they are consistent with the balance inherent in the prophetic, sanctifying and shepherding duties of his office. Let us all pray and hope that it brings the offenders to repentance and to embrace the whole Gospel, including the Gospel of Life.