Its been a tough couple months to be Catholic. In the software world, there is a slur that against big corporations – that they beat up on the little guy using FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. As a result, the little guy never gets a chance because the bigger corporation has money and influence to overpower the little guy.
I don’t think I’m alone among Catholics as feeling like that little guy. Chief Justice Roberts’ recent ruling, the HHS mandate’s continuing steamrolling of our freedoms and the general apparent disregard for morality in both the Legislative and Executive offices are extraordinarily disenheartening for us all.
Worse, there is an undercurrent of bitterness in our own congregations. From the beginning of the HHS mandate (August 2011, if you recall), there’s a new favorite sin in the confessional: wrath.
It is a wrath born out of a particularly vicious pain – that of betrayal. We know the sorrow of the psalmist who laments “Even my trusted friend, who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me.” We know this through Catholics in all branches and levels of government as they proclaim love for their faith while consciously acting against it. We know this through the disobedience of priests and religious throughout the country. We know this in our own parishes through the anti-Catholic bumper stickers on the cars next to us before Mass.
In our hurt, we are angry. In our anger we begin to hate. Apparently Yoda had that right after all. Who knew?
What comes next, however, is beyond troublesome (as if hatred weren’t enough). The person who has betrayed us – a fellow Catholic who has gone terribly astray – is now villified in the worst way we know: “they’re not just bad Catholics – they’re not Catholic at all!”, “they’re Catholics with a small ‘c’” and so on.
Now I’m a fan of Canon 915 as much as the next guy. If I became aware of a Catholic who was the source of grave, manifest, obstinate and persevering sin coming to receive communion at a Mass I was celebrating, I would most certainly remind them of their state and refuse them communion. I do not say this lightly, especially knowing the many conditions that come into play before this can be justly carried out. (And you can bet my superiors would be brought in at the earliest possible moment!)
Who do I think might (nota bene: might) merit this consideration you ask? Frankly, who might merit the application of the law isn’t really the main issue here. The question that needs to be asked and answered is this: are these people – in light of their terrible actions – still Catholic?
Yes, they’re Catholic despite being cafeteria Catholics. Yes, they’re Catholic despite publicly endorsing sin or participating in it themselves. Yes, they are Catholic despite using their attachment to the Body of Christ to try to tear it down. Yes, they are still Catholic.
Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. [emphasis added]
Our problem then is not that they are no longer Catholic – because the Church clearly believes and teaches that they are and will be always. Our problem is that they are joined to us. We are attached through our common membership in the Body of Christ to sinners. And we do not like it.
How antithetical to our faith this attitude is! How terrifically hypocritical we risk becoming! Christ bore the weight of sins, becoming human and dying on the cross so that we might be joined to Him. Knowing that we would receive that gift and abuse it anyway, He instituted the sacrament of confession so that we might be reconciled after we’ve fallen. Would we dare to do less while claiming the name of Christian?
If sins reverse the gift of baptism, there would not be a Catholic in all the world in any time since Christ! Saint Paul wrote that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God”. It has been said and is true that the Church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.
What a great gift it is to be Catholic! Through laws not made by man, but given to us by God we are entrusted with the sacraments that permanently join us to Christ. We dare not try to tear these down – if not for the sake of those who have sinned against us, then for our own.
If the deadly sin of wrath has touched your heart, then by all means: go to confession! And then pray for those Catholics who have sinned, including yourself.
Especially now, especially in this time of fear, uncertainty and doubt, we need to cling to our faith in its entirety. Let us respond to insult, betrayal and persecution with charity. Reconciliation is crucial in following Christ. May we take part in the receiving and the offering of this gift.