Monday, 24 March 2014

Give me a drink...

We are family...

In recent months, following the announcement of an Extraordinary Consistory on the Family, Cardinal Kasper has suggested that the Church might consider permitting second marriages and the admission of individuals in a second marriage to Holy Communion [1]. The Cardinal's comments were born of a genuine crisis in the pastoral mission of the Church as the family, the bedrock of society and image of the Trinity, experiences an identity crisis provoked by the incredible pressures placed upon it by modern life. It was this recognition that prompted Pope Francis to call the consistory and to take a "pastoral census" on issues related to family life. Indeed, the crisis and the fundamental importance of the family was recognised by Cardinal Sodano as he opened the the consistory:

"The family nowadays is regarded with disdain and maltreated, and what we ask for is recognition of how beautiful, true and good it is to form a family, to be a family today; how indispensable this is for the life of the world, for the future of humanity." [2]

Holding back the tide

It appears that many within the Church want to submit to the onslaught against the family, recognising its denudation as a fait accompli, establishing in the process a new moral and pastoral basis from which to proceed.

Take for example, Bishop Terence Drainey of Middlesborough who has suggested that the consistory should consider a "radical re-examination of human sexuality that could lead to a development in church teaching in areas such as contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage and cohabitation". [3] Such comments appear patently contrary to Scripture, Tradition and the teaching of the Church but that need not be an insurmountable obstacle if you write for the Tablet which laments the inadequacy of God's plan for the human condition, incredulously suggesting that "the Church has based its teaching about sex, marriage and family life on biblical revelation and natural law... that approach has manifestly failed". [4]
Catholic teaching on marriage and divorce is made clear in the Catechism [5] which bases its understanding on Jesus' own words: "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder" [6] and "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." [7]

On the issue of Communion for remarried divorcees, the comments of Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood usefully summarise the dissenting position where he suggests "provisions could be made for those Catholics [remarried divorcees] to receive the Eucharist in the same way that non-Catholic Christians are permitted to share Communion." [3]

Again, the Catechism rules out this possibility as the civilly remarried "find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law... they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists". [4] As Pope Francis has alluded to, this teaching is not meant as some form of punishment - it is based on the reality of Eucharist itself - the body and blood of Christ. St Paul warns us, "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord". Those who must refrain from the Eucharist for whatever reason are actually paying testament to the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ, a sacrifice which may obtain for them the graces they require to overcome that which necessitates their abstention.

Wishing Well

Cardinal Kasper's comments are not wholly without merit. He gets to the crux of the issue when he juxtaposes the Church's teaching on marriage with its understanding of hope and mercy: “The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage while the other partner is still alive is part of the binding tradition of the faith of the church and cannot be abandoned or dissolved by appealing to a superficial understanding of mercy at a discount price” at the same time, "there is no human situation absolutely without hope or solution” [3]. How are we to achieve a balance between the two?

As always, the answer lies in the person and attitude of our Lord, conveniently put forward in the Gospel of today where He meets the women at Jacob's Well. [8] Jesus begins the encounter by asking the woman for a drink, and uses it as a pretext to reveal himself as the Living Water. The exchange between Jesus and the woman is extraordinary because it reveals the depths of his mercy - he recognises that the woman is a sinner and elicits in her a desire for salvation; when it is she who should be asking him for a drink, Christ's request is an invitation to serve Him. As Jesus gradually allows the women to see who He is and to understand that He is the source of salvation, He also encourages her to confess those things which are obstacle to her, namely the fact that the man she is with is not her husband. Indeed, it is Jesus' knowledge of this that partly convinces the woman of his authenticity - where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

The Church has a clear duty to the pastoral needs of those who, like the woman at the well, find themselves in situations which offer a potentially significant impediment to their salvation. This cannot however be at the expense of truths which are at the very heart of the Faith and the wellspring of that salvation. Jesus did not spurn the woman - he was willing to spend time with her and to help her with her doubts and difficulties. Like Christ, we have to be patient and do whatever we can can to encourage others to respond to his invitation, recognising always that we too are sinners, subject to the same reliance on grace and mercy.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1650
[6] Mark 10:9
[7] Matthew 19:9
[8] 1 Corinthians 11:27
[9] John 4:5-42

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