Cardinal Confusion: on the reception of Holy Communion

REMAIN IN MY LOVE

If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.
 Jn. 15:9-19

How simple the whole Kasper controversy seems in the light of this passage from St. John’s gospel.  If you keep the Lord’s commandments, then you remain in His love, which has to mean His grace, that is, union with Him.  It can’t simply mean His love, because Jesus never ceases to love those who break His Commandments.  But to remain “in” His love is something else.  To remain in the love of Christ in this passage clearly means to remain in communion with Christ, that is, what Catholics have always referred to as the state of grace.

So one who does not keep His commandments — notice it’s not the single commandment to love others as he has loved us, but the commandments that spell out how we are to love God and our neighbor — no longer lives “in” His love or the state of grace.  Some contemporary theologians are uncomfortable with this notion of an ontological communion that we call the state of grace.  They prefer always simply to talk about the psychological communion of love properly speaking.  I fear that Kasper falls into this category.

Now those who divorce and civilly remarried are clearly not obeying the commandment that one must not commit adultery.  That is still a commandment of the Lord.  Now adultery can refer to a single act or to a state or condition of adultery.  To be married to one person and live with another as if one were married is clear the state of adultery, and ongoing sin of adultery.  It makes no difference that one goes through a divorce in the civil law.  A civil decree of divorce changes nothing in the real order of things.

The person who gets a divorce from a valid marriage remains in that original marriage regardless of what the state decrees.  No human civil institution can dissolve what is indissoluble by its very nature.  So persons who are validly married in the first instance, remain validly married even after the divorce.  Their entry into a second civil union means they are living with someone who is not their spouse, and that constitutes the sin of adultery as a state the person is living in; that is, the person who attempts a second marriage is living in adultery, and thus cannot be living in Christ.

Evelyn Waugh, in his Brideshead Revisited, brilliantly captures the difference between a single sin and living in sin, committing a sin of adultery and living in adultery.  Lady Julia Flyte is an adulteress living in sin with an adulterer, Charles. At one point she is shocked into the recognition of her situation by the blundering accusation of her brother Bridey. She runs out of the house into the gardens, and we hear this from her explanation to Charles who follows her and has no clue as to why she should be so upset. Julia tries to explain the situation for a Catholic, that she is  “Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it’s fretful.”

To suggest that such a person, living in adultery, could receive the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist without committing a further sin would have been absurd to anyone like  Julia who knows the  difference between committing a sin and living in sin.  This absurdity is condemned in Scripture, in St. Paul, I Cor. 11:27 —  “Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord” — and in the church’s constant sacramental tradition.  One must be in the state of grace to receive Holy Communion, since one must already be in union with Christ ontologically, through grace, in order to fruitfully receive His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist.  To do so outside the state of grace is to commit yet another sin, the greater sin of sacrilege.

This teaching has been reaffirmed many times in our own day, and Cardinal Kasper’s suggestion that this ontologically and theologically grounded moral norm can be overthrown is simply unintelligible from a Catholic perspective. Thus, Cardinal Kasper would seem to have to be suggesting one of two things or both.  He is either suggesting that one can receive the Blessed Sacrament in a state of mortal sin, which seems very unlikely, or he is claiming that a person can determine the validity, or invalidity, of his or her own marriage, which seems much more likely to be his position.

There are probably many roots to this intellectual confusion on display in the thought of this Cardinal of the Church. Perhaps there is a root in the philosophical foundation of his theology, a German intellectual tendency toward idealism, the notion that reality is ultimately what the mind determines it to be. Or it may be that other German philosophical notion of historicism at work, that reality is constantly in flux, changing with the changes in historical evolution. Or perhaps he is simply reacting to the explosion of annulments in the English speaking nations that may suggest to him that most marriages are probably null anyway, so why bother with this tedious, formal process. He did seem to be of the opinion that most – was it 50%? – Catholic marriages are invalid, which opinion he also attributes to the present Pope. An honest examination of the rather subjective, psychological grounds for all these annulments might lead to that conclusion.

But the saner position might be to assume, as Canon Law does, that most ordinary people, with the exception of the relatively rare instance of those who are suffering from extreme forms of mental illness, are fully capable of sufficient understanding of and freely embracing of the essential meaning and obligations of marriage, and that the process may be in need of revision in those countries. At any rate, the Church does not allow purely subjective judgments in such matters to determine the true reality.  St. Paul established this principle in  I Corinthians 4, when he states; “It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord.

The Church reserved such judgments of the internal spiritual condition of the soul to the Lord, but reserved to the pastoral office judgments n the external matters like the validity of marriages. In both cases, the thing to be avoided is the ravages of subjectivism in the life of the Church. People are not the best judges of their own spiritual condition, nor are they the best judges of things like the validity of their unhappy marriage. Even the State does not allow a subjective invalidation of civil contracts that people want to escape. Neither does the Church.

The Synod will not change the doctrine of the Church, nor will it substantially alter the constant discipline related to reception of the Holy Eucharist. What it will try to do is help people to better remain in His love. It’s really just that simple.

 

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