Salus Animarum

Are We Not about Salvation?

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. It is also the Second Sunday of Easter where every year we read the resurrection story and St. Thomas' encounter with the resurrected Christ. An essential passage in today's Gospel needs to be highlighted:

Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."

It is with this passage in mind that I remind myself we are currently living in a culture that no longer values Christianity and certainly has little respect for religious freedom. Even worse is we live in a culture in which Sin has no place in any conversation. From Her earliest days, this passage serves as the mandate given to bishops, and by extension, to priests. Bringing God's Mercy to His people is at the heart of the ministerial priesthood, which means also that there must be a recognition of Sin. Two examples have risen in which a priest abided by Church Teaching, was trying to help by giving Catholic advice, and has subsequently been chastised publicly for it.

The first story is a campus minister in Washington DC who apparently advised gay persons who approached him to do their best to live celibately. Without having any further details, it appears the priest was following Church Teaching in the advice he gave and, for doing so, is being persecuted. Ironically, I am sure that this priest has given similar advice to the heterosexuals who approach him and express a desire to engage in unchaste activities. The difference is the latter does not make headlines in the secular news media.

The other is in New York where the pastor of a local parish had to ask an openly gay person to step down from various public ministries, which included being a catechist, after the individual "married" his partner. I would find it hard to believe that this individual did not know the Church's position in this regard and so far the local media has played it as a case of personal persecution. I must admit, this particular case is more difficult to deal with because it opens pandora's box on many other questions, such as the status of those divorced and remarried outside the Church or those in civil unions all of whom are involved in similar ministries in their parishes. As noted below, there needs to be consistency in such matters.

These stories bring about the need for several observations. The first observation is that the Church and Her magisterium exist for the salvation of souls. There is a task given to the hierarchy in which they are to proclaim the Truth revealed by God, particularly with regard to sins and that which impedes the salvation of the soul. The Teaching and proclamation, especially during the Easter Season, is that heaven is real and open to those who live a life of Grace. Christ died for our sins and that death is ordered to Resurrection. So too for us, we must order our lives for resurrection, which is why it is an essential statement in our Creed. The same Creed also makes clear that Christ will judge the living and the dead. This means that the resurrection hoped for does come with some conditions attached. Among those conditions is doing the Good and avoiding evil.

The second observation has to do with the notion of repentance. Those in the Church who are sinners, basically everyone, are called to repent, to turn away from their sins. This call was the message of Jesus throughout His time on earth. "Reform, repent, and change your life. The Kingdom of God is at hand." Yes, there are sinners sitting in the pews every weekend and even sinners sitting in the sanctuary. No one will ever tell a sinner to not come to church. But the presumption is that each sinner is aware of his or her sin and is working to overcome it. Every sinner must measure his or her life against the Gospel and not against worldly desires. A sin cannot be absolved in confession if the person shows no contrition or desire to repent. It does not mean a person will never sin again but just that he or she, at the point of confessing the sin, recognizes the sin for what it is and is making a firm purpose of amendment. Hopefully by his or her repentance in that moment he or she will not commit the sin again. This aspect of the sacrament is a forgotten fact by so many today.

The third observation is the lack of consistency by many today. For the record, the Church is not on some crusade to condemn any particular group of sinners. Her mission remains the same to them all. "Repent and reform your lives." No bishop or priest should preach any other message or ever give the impression that it is OK to continue sinning. Those who enter the Church today must do so with contrition in their hearts for the sins that offend God. God did not establish a Church of subjectivism and relativism. We do not get to pick and choose which sins we will repent of and which ones we can continue to do. Avoiding all acts of grave matter must be part of every catholic individual's repentance. The acts of grave matter are found in the objective order and it is from this treasury that the Teaching Authority in the Church draws Her specific Teachings. This is where the consistency is needed -- we must consider all sins with the same characteristic and need of repentance.

The fourth observation has to do with public and obstinate sins as opposed to the private sins that are best dealt with in confession or with a spiritual director. Those whose sin is known by all in the community should not minister publicly in the church until it is clear that a true repentance has occurred. Yes, there are individuals who minister in parishes on a regular basis and are not in a state of grace. But in many of those cases the sin has remained a private matter and it is presumed there is contrition in the heart. The priest in Washington DC was giving private advice to someone who approached him. He did not make a public spectacle of the sin. He merely offered salvific advice. The individual must take that under consideration as he or she works out his or her spiritual game plan. Under the Seal, this entire process is a private and closed matter for the priest. It was the individuals who made the sin public and are obstinate in their sin. There seems to be no desire to repent and reform. In the case in New York, the sin was made public and, thus taken as obstinate, through the celebration of public nuptials.

The fifth observation follows from the two previous ones. There has been an inconsistency by the hierarchy when it comes to dealing with Catholics whose sin is public and obstinate. Take for instance, all the Catholic politicians whose policies or life situations express grave public and obstinate attachment to sin. How many of them are divorced and remarried outside the Church? How many are living with someone to whom they are not married? How many of them openly support a redefinition of Marriage? How many of them have voted favorably for abortion on demand laws? The list goes on and yet there has not been any voice of authority who has made a public statement about their ability to participate in any public way in the Church or participate in the sacraments.

There must be greater consistency here. No one can ever be told not to attend Mass. No one can ever be told not to enter a church and say prayers. But it must be said that there are those who should not make a pubic spectacle of the Holy Eucharist, especially with regard to manifest sin. Unless an official decree of excommunication is made, which does not apply to many of these cases, one must ask where is the statement that says these individuals should be actively self-abstaining from reception of Holy Communion until they publicly repent of the sin made public by themselves? To say one is personally opposed but not take the opportunity to change the laws when in a position to do so does not change the sin committed through formal and material cooperation in grave sins such as abortion.

The sixth observation is that as Church, we must always be able to proclaim the salvation of souls. This proclamation is ordered to the Truth and is never relative to individual whim. This is why free speech in our country was assured by the founders. This is why freedom of religion was assured as well. And this is why the attack on religious liberty has become so important. How long will it be before the state begins to tell the Church what She can preach or not preach? For the record, the Church is not against homosexual persons but proclaims the truth about homosexual acts. If a priest publicly speaks against the Teaching or betrays the Seal of Confession, then he should be taken to task for not being faithful to his vocation and the Church he claims to love. But if he is operating within the Church and stays within the bounds of Church Teaching, then does the state have the authority to silence him? And where are the articles that laud him for remaining faithful to the person he professes to be?

The last observation is that catechetical illiteracy continues to plague the members of our Faith and has made the task of proclaiming the Truth much harder. So many Catholics do not know the origin of our Teachings and will attach to the voices they hear. Thus far, the only voices speaking have been the secular voices of the media. Because of the rupture from the foundation of the Truth in the minds of many of our own, it seems that we will be facing a much smaller congregation in the future. Until bishops, priests, religious, catechists, teachers, and others responsible for handing on the Faith begin to consistently impart the rich Teaching and Tradition of our Faith, the salvation of souls will remain endangered for many in the world today.