Question: If you were suffering from some type of cancer and someone you knew was in possession of the cure but didn’t tell you about it, how would you feel? How would you feel if they just sat back and watched you be sick and suffer, and never once offered you what you needed to live?
My guess is most, if not all people in a situation like this would be pretty upset. They would consider it cruel to withhold a cure. They and their loved ones could have been spared so much suffering had their friend simply offered them the life-saving medicine.
I ask this question because I’d like to point out a similarity between that scenario and the recent directive made by Archbishop Charles Chaput regarding how divorced and civilly remarried Catholic and other Catholics in irregular relationships should approach the sacraments. Archbishop Chaput stated these Catholics who seek to receive the sacraments should be refraining from sexual intimacy and live as brother and sister with their partners.
Why did he do this? Because if a couple marries, then civilly divorces, and the spouses remarry without going through the annulment process and receiving a decree of nullity stating they are free to marry, then they are still considered married to their previous spouse, and the new marriage would constitute adultery. Adultery is considered a grave sin and would prohibit one from receiving the sacraments.
The Archbishop gave this directive to help Catholics in those situations have a way to receive communion, which many civilly remarried Catholics actively seek.
But, as I read the different articles written by journalists from various news outlets regarding this directive, I was struck with a great sadness at the thinly veiled mocking of Archbishop Chaput and the Catholic Church, and the outraged and oftentimes vile comments from readers, because not only is the Archbishop simply reinforcing what the Church has always taught, he is offering us a cure for our cancer and people don’t recognize it.
There are many different types of cancer, but not all of them are a physical illness. Some “cancers” are emotional and cause tremendous pain and suffering, even though they cannot be detected by an MRI or other medical instrument. Some cancers are psychosomatic and can leave an otherwise healthy human being’s life in ruins. But there is one cancer that touches each and every one of us without regard for sex, color, or creed; the spiritual cancer called sin.
The Catholic Church’s mission–whether people choose to believe it or not–is to cure our spiritual cancer. The Church is not controlling anyone or dictating anything, just dispensing the truth which we are all free to accept and embrace, or ignore. Archbishop Chaput is like the guy who possesses the cure for cancer, only he is telling you about it. This is his purpose, his mission in life. His directive is offered as a means to help people live happier lives and achieve the ultimate goal in life, getting to heaven.
The Truth About This “Human Rights” Struggle
Many people believe the Church’s standards regarding the reception of the Eucharist by divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment and other Catholics who are in irregular situations are harshly discriminatory. Members of the media have whipped this discussion into a frenzy of confusion, provoking the anger of people everywhere.
In their efforts to cause everyone to doubt the teachings of the Church and misconstrue their true meanings, they’ve succeeded in making this a sort of “human rights” issue, leading one to believe he or she is being treated as a second-class citizen. But, nothing could be further from the truth.
So, what is the truth about this issue?
The truth is simple: Anyone – married, never-married, widowed, divorced, religious – who is not in the state of grace due to grave sin is prohibited from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1385). Which means, if I, as a married woman have committed a grave sin and am not in a state of grace, I cannot approach the sacraments without ceasing to commit the sin, just like anyone else. This is not a mandate relegating civilly remarried Catholics into the back corner, it is a standard set forth for us all.
So, this mandate is not intended to ostracize Catholics who has been divorced and remarried without a decree of nullity, nor anyone else. It’s about helping people heal from the cancer of sin, and encouraging them to resolve their circumstances so they may receive the Eucharist worthily, just as it would be for anyone else in any other situation.
A Shepherd For Our Time
At Philadelphia’s 2012 Catholic Life Congress, the Archbishop stated quite aptly in his keynote speech:
We live in challenging times. These days, the pagan way of life is the norm and living a Christian life seems almost heroic, despite the fact that it’s nothing more than doing what we are supposed to do…
Potent words for our time. He further remarked:
The only thing that matters is to be a saint. That’s what we need to be. That’s what we need to become.
As a practicing Catholic, I am grateful for the parameters the Church puts in place. I’ve roamed free and far beyond the borders of her teachings in the past, and only wound up with more heartache. It was only within those parameters, and certainly with the grace from the sacraments, that I experienced true freedom and true peace. If you find Archbishop Chaput’s words difficult to accept, I encourage you to be open to what he is offering and in turn, experience that peace and freedom I did that came with embracing my faith.