Saturday, August 5, 2017
Why does it seem that every human analysis of the current situation in the Church produces a long list of problems with multiple causes but no apparent overriding remedy? There is a mystery here, which in our habitual human way, we are not tuned into. Could it be that the obvious cause and the obvious solution is right before us?
We know that Jesus is the One Who redeems us, heals us, restores us, and recreates us. And this happens especially at the celebration of the Mass, the highest form of prayer given us. It happens according to the degree of our receptivity and cooperation with the infinite graces Jesus holds for us from His sacrifice on Calvary, the sacrifice that is re-presented every time Mass is celebrated.
But why is it that we don’t seem to see miracles anymore. And why is it that the Church seems to be in serious decline? If Jesus desires so deeply to heal us, what could be blocking Him?
Let’s consider one possible cause by looking at our own participation in the Sacred Liturgy.
On any given Sunday, in Catholic Churches across this country and probably throughout the world, hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people get up to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, participating in what, for many, has become merely a social ritual. Of those who receive, one wonders how many do so worthily. How many are not in a state of grace and how many actually believe Jesus is really present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the sacred species?
For the most part there is no malice or ill-intention involved. Yet, there are very real and serious consequences which come down upon the whole household of God for every unworthy Communion committed by God's people.
Here's what St. Paul says:
"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after He had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number of you are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."
1 Cor 11: 23-34
Many of you are sick and some of you are even dying because you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily?
Does that mean that everyone who is sick or suffering has made sacrilegious communions? No, of course not. But every Sunday we enter the House of God to worship as a family, the family of God our Father. And the deeds of one member, whether good or bad, always affect the whole family.
"God has willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness." CCC 781. We are saved as a people. We prosper and flourish together, or we diminish and decay together. It is all dependent on our collective choices.
The Old Testament shows us Daniel who was a righteous and holy man before the Lord, even though his own people were not. They continually broke the covenant with God and ended up in exile as a consequence. Daniel ended up in exile with them though he did nothing to deserve it except that he belonged to them as his people.
In the likeness of all the great prophets, Daniel prayed for his people, asked forgiveness and the Lord's mercy, and made reparation to the Lord by his own heroically faithful behavior and witness. This helped to bring the Lord's favor, restoration, protection and blessing back upon His people.
We also, as the People of God today, have not been faithful to the Blood of the new and everlasting Covenant poured out for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. In fact we easily profane the Sacrament every time we unworthily or mindlessly go up to receive Him.
There is a real confusion today about what exactly we are doing when we receive Holy Communion. The confusion is about the meal itself. We think it is for everyone. Jesus ate with sinners. This is the same. Well, no it isn’t.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger clarified the proper understanding of the Eucharistic Banquet. (from his Collected Works, Vol 11, Ignatius Press pp 273-274:)
Nowadays [some] New Testament scholars … say that the Eucharist … is the continuation of the meals with sinners that Jesus had held … a notion with far-reaching consequences. It would mean that the Eucharist is the sinners’ banquet, where Jesus sits at the table; [that] the Eucharist is the public gesture by which we invite everyone without exception. The logic of this is expressed in a far-reaching criticism of the Church’s Eucharist, since it implies that the Eucharist cannot be conditional on anything, not depending on denomination or even on baptism. It is necessarily an open table to which all may come to encounter the universal God …
However tempting the idea may be, it contradicts what we find in the Bible. Jesus’ Last Supper was not one of those meals he held with “publicans and sinners”. He made it subject to the basic form of the Passover, which implies that the meal was held in a family setting. Thus he kept it with his new family, with the Twelve; with those whose feet he washed, whom he had prepared by his Word and by this cleansing of absolution (John 13:10) to receive a blood relationship with him, to become one body with him.
The Eucharist is not itself the sacrament of reconciliation, but in fact it presupposes that sacrament. It is the sacrament of the reconciled, to which the Lord invites all those who have become one with him; who certainly still remain weak sinners, but yet have given their hand to him and have become part of his family.
That is why, from the beginning, the Eucharist has been preceded by a discernment … (I Corinthians 11:27 ff). The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles [the Didache] is one of the oldest writings outside the New Testament, from the beginning of the Second Century, it takes up this apostolic tradition and has the priest, just before distributing the sacrament saying: “Whoever is holy, let him approach, whoever is not, let him do penance” (Didache 10)."
No one can judge the state of another’s soul. We have no real way of knowing whether anyone is in a state of grace. But given the intensity of temptation in the world today, it seems safe to say that it’s difficult to stay in a state of grace without living a sacramental life which includes regular Confession. From that vantage point, it is hard to believe that everyone going up to receive Jesus in Holy Communion is doing so worthily when the lines for Confession are so consistently small. And when we know that Catholics sin in all the same areas as non-Catholics, and at the same rates.
Our stats for abortion, contraception, pornography, addiction, divorce, etc., keep pace with the rest of the world. And in the realm of what we believe as Catholics, we have become just as relativized. Most people certainly no longer consider missing Mass a mortal sin. And many don't even believe Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist, nor that hell is real. The sensitivity to sin is gone, a rotten fruit of the moral relativism that has also penetrated the thinking of ordinary Catholics everywhere. We've become like the rest of the world instead of the sign of contradiction Jesus spoke of. The salt has lost its savor and is not good for much except to be thrown away.
So many, (not maliciously but just mindlessly), receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, without discernment. The Eucharist, the source and summit of our life, the new and everlasting covenant between God and man in Christ’s own blood, the sacrifice of supreme worth and upon which our salvation depends, is not received in humble reverence or awe. It is generally not recognized for the intimate communion of persons it effects.
The "trouble" we see in the Church is really about a relationship, a relationship between Jesus and His Bride, actually, Jesus and us. If you need help understanding how offensive our insensitivity and unworthiness is in approaching this Sacrament, think of it this way. Imagine you have an honorable job that is at the same time one of the "dirty jobs", pig farming for instance. You would not work all day in the pens and then come into the presence of your spouse desiring intimacy, without cleaning up first. Your spouse would be repulsed.
This is the way it is with Jesus. Holy Communion is a moment of intimacy with Jesus in which He gives Himself completely and receives us in return. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says: "In the Eucharist a communion takes place that corresponds to the union of man and woman in marriage. Just as they become "one flesh", so in Communion we all become "one spirit", one person, with Christ." This is an incomprehensible expression of God's magnificent, humble love for us which descends from the heavens, from the heights of Divinity to be one with us whom He so inexplicably loves. We must begin to recognize this with unending gratitude and humble reverence in return. We want to see Jesus actually offering us an intense and delicately personal gift of Self, made in complete vulnerability and trust.
When we fail to do this, His Heart is stepped upon and the life of intimacy with Him begins to fade and then fail altogether. And all other realities begin to suffer and disintegrate, to fall apart, to fail to produce the good fruits authentic love always sows and reaps in abundance. Life becomes dull, disappointing, frustrating at every turn, without hope for a future filled with the joy that makes everything exciting and mystically wonderful.
This is not just a matter of failing to keep a few laws, or of a minority of members scandalizing everyone else. It is a matter of our own personal survival and the survival of our local communities and churches. I would suggest that this is what is really going on today. We have become estranged in our relationship with the Lord and are simply going through the motions. But unless we correct this quickly, we too shall perish in the desert like the generation of Israelites of old who failed to keep faith with the God Who had done such wonders in their midst. They never did see the Promised Land. They died in the interior desert of their own making.
Yet, if we address this one thing first, it can lift all of us to deeper holiness and health and clear the way for phenomenal miracles! At every Mass there should be, and will be, miracles, miracles of grace, miracles of healing, miracles of renewal and heroic witness. In essence, the new Springtime of Christianity Pope St. John Paul II spoke about will begin to manifest, an explosion of charismatic gifts and conversions, a new Pentecost.
In 1970, there were 175 active Priests in the diocese I live and serve in, 35 of them teaching full-time in high schools. Today there are only 55 serving and within 8 years there will only be 35. Why isn't God answering our prayers? We pray fervently for priestly vocations and nothing seems to happen. But we must ask: Why would God continue to give us Priests to confect the Eucharist when we turn around, and in massive numbers, make unworthy Communions? In actuality, withholding Priests may be a mercy of God. Were He to give us what we ask without change on our part, we would only bring greater judgment and condemnation down on our own heads.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that
"For St. Paul, receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord in a state of mortal sin can be an act of sacrilege and self-condemnation. To sin against the Body and Blood of the Lord in this way is to be liable for the Lord’s violent death. The offenders in Corinth incurred this guilt by overeating and drinking and discrimination against the poor. Such carelessness before the Sacrament triggered divine judgments and even death.
What St. Paul indicates in Scripture is that self-examination should always precede reception of the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore a close connection between Reconciliation and Eucharist is implied.
Divine discipline is a loving call to repentance and spiritual growth. The purpose of these consequences is to avert final condemnation with the sinners of the world."
If we address this one reality Mass will become again an occasion of great miracles just as it was in the early Church. And God will give us many Priests. He will give us many vocations. But this is going to take a joint effort, out of love for Jesus and out of love for the whole People of God, because it is not possible to come to healing and forgiveness, growth and flourishing of our faith communities if we are at the same time spurning the Lord, eating and drinking of His Body and Blood unworthily and mindlessly.
So what can we do? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Eliminate the direct source of harm first. Stop doing the bad thing: in this case, making unworthy Communions. And begin to help other people to know how to receive Jesus worthily. This includes beginning with family members. It is not always easy, but if we love our families, they have the first right to be told the truth and to benefit from the extraordinary graces present in the sacrament.
2. Ask our Bishops and Priests and Deacons, and in fact, all those with responsibility to instruct the People of God, for teachings, homilies, catechesis, etc., on receiving the sacrament worthily. Much of this is ignorance. But the effects come nonetheless. Scripture never says ignorance suspends the laws of cause and effect. In fact, there are warnings: "My people perish for lack of knowledge." Hosea 4:6
3. Regular confession (once a month). This sensitizes the conscience and makes us far less likely to approach the Lord and His tremendous love for us indifferently.
4. Pray and make acts of reparation for the ways in which Jesus has been offended in this sacrament. This is an act of charity for our brothers and sisters and a special form of intercession for them which consoles Jesus for the many ways in which He is so deeply hurt in this Sacrament.
5. Ask Mary to help prepare us and to receive Jesus with us. This is very pleasing to Jesus and one of the best ways to approach Jesus in this sacrament of His love.
6. Cultivate a sacramental vision of the world. Help others to see the invisible and to embrace the truth. All of creation operates this way. Everything visible reveals deeper spiritual realities. The Eucharist does this in a singular way. Even though we cannot see Him, we know and believe Jesus is there under the appearance of Bread and Wine. This is the truth and it does not change based on your personal belief. So the choice is to live in reality or to live in the unreal, life-destroying world of the present culture.
7. Always be grateful for the incomparable gift Jesus makes to us of Himself in this Sacrament. Teach others to appreciate this gift!
“Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g., excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (Ratzinger Memo to Cardinal McCarrick, # 1).
Let us help each other! Let's love our Family back to health and blessing in the Lord’s goodness and great patience with us. Let us all one day be able to say wholeheartedly: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 May we live to see the day of a great flourishing of the Church and the transformation of our world into a civilization of life and love. And may we all have played our part in bringing it about.
Sr.. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT. 8/3/2017