This is a marvelous article by Patricia Snow in First Things about her journey from a nominal Episcopalian upbringing, through a loss of faith and experiencing the consequences of being trapped in sin, to finding help in various charismatic ministries, and finally to the deeper conversion that led her to the Catholic Church.
It’s an amazing story and one that resonates so much with my personal journey.
In it she talks about the Pope’s image of the Church as a field hospital, and how she encountered field hospitals in Christian settings outside the Catholic Church. She stresses the Church can’t reduce itself to being only a field hospital, as necessary as they are to meet the needs of those injured in the battle.
As an aside, we have people more at risk these days from equivalents of obesity, diabetes, chronic debilitating spiritual diseases where the field hospital metaphor may not work.
The first point I am trying to make is that Christendom has field hospitals. There is a whole world of places like the place the pope describes in the interview: flexible and missionary, short on theology and long on healing. For people too ecclesially challenged even to set foot in a church building, there are ministries that set up shop in hotel ballrooms and private homes, sports venues and high school auditoriums. Many of these ministries trade in physical healing, but all of them treat wounds of rejection and marginalization, misconceptions about God (angry, punitive) and about his Son, Jesus Christ (nice but weak), the kinds of wounds that especially concern Pope Francis. As in the history of the Church, so in an individual life, healing often comes first, because it establishes a basis for trust, a foundation on which subsequent development can build.
Christendom may be one, but navigating its divisions is nevertheless daunting. When I finally found the courage to knock on the doors of the Church—because in a premature reception of the Eucharist I recognized the Christ I first encountered through Grace—I was immediately confronted by a scowling priest who took no prisoners, whose class for would-be converts began by unpacking the moral law, and who told me in our very first conversation that my premature reception of the Eucharist had been a sacrilege.
Coming from a world of half-truths, reassuring generalizations (“we’re all sinners”), and endlessly reiterated affirmations, I was entirely unprepared for the bitter medicine of a personal rebuke.
Go on and read the whole thing. It may be one of the best things you read this week.
Her experience of conversion, likening it to something like the loneliness of coming out of the birth canal, is so similar to what I experienced and those of us who entered the Catholic Church through the Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican Patrimony, had to come to the same deep conversion and grasp the teachings on the Eucharist and how important it is to believe all that the Church says before one partakes.
First Things also has an article by the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Muller entitled: Who May Receive Communion.
According to Reinhard Cardinal Marx, the German bishops recently prepared guidelines that contemplate the possible admission to Holy Communion of Protestants who are married to a Catholic spouse. The only absolute prerequisite would be that these Protestants affirm the faith of the Catholic Church. (More recent reports indicate that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the pope’s backing, has rejected the German bishops’ proposal. The German bishops, however, deny that this is the case.)
At the moment of instituting the Eucharist, Jesus did not give detailed answers to all the individual questions that would arise in later reflection. But all the Church’s dogmatic declarations are based on the nature of this sacrament as Jesus has instituted it. Whoever wants to receive the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ must already be integrated into the body of Christ, which is the Church, through the confession of faith and sacramental baptism. Thus, there is no mystical, individualistic, and emotional communion with Christ that can be thought of apart from baptism and Church membership. After all, Christ is always the Head of his body, and his body is the Church. There does not exist any mystical and individualistic communion with Christ based on emotion, prescinding from membership in the ecclesial body of Christ.
It has always been clear to every Catholic that to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist in a lawful and fruitful manner, one needs to be in full communion with the ecclesial body of Christ in the profession of the Creed, in the sacraments, and in the hierarchical constitution of the visible Church. In addition, believers must be in the state of sanctifying grace—that is, they need to have repented sincerely of any mortal sin and confessed it, firmly resolving not to sin again. Ordinarily it is in sacramental absolution that the faithful are freed from grave guilt that radically separates them from God and the Church.
When the popes and councils excommunicated heretics and schismatics, they excluded these baptized believers from Eucharistic communion until the day they converted and were reconciled with God and the Church.
When it comes to the competence of the bishops’ conferences in doctrinal matters, one must not limit the question to their legal, canonical competences. It is of utmost importance to remember that neither the bishops nor the pope have any competence to intervene in the substance of the sacraments (Council of Trent, Decree on Communion under Both Species, DH 1728) or tacitly to initiate processes that establish errors and confusion in sacramental practice, thus endangering the salvation of souls.
Excellent reading. Read, mark and inwardly digest!