Skip to comments.The Truth Is Always Pastoral
Posted on 02/05/2014 10:39:39 AM PST by NYer
Canon lawyers are fascinated by the Samaritan woman at the well. The moment we hear about her five husbands, and her consort, we start thinking about how her case might be handled at the marriage tribunal. But the most instructive part of the story is how Jesus relates to her: he is kind to her, and respectful, but he is unabashed about telling her the truth.
Over the past few months, an ecclesial dialogue about pastoral care has been played out in the media as if it were the precursor to a monumental doctrinal split among the Church’s leadership. The question is about the reception of Holy Communion by those divorced and remarried without the benefit of a declaration of nullity, or annulment.
Of course, ecclesiastical leaders know that second, and third, and fourth marriages not preceded by annulment are presumed to be invalid; that a presumably valid first marriage is presumed valid until proven otherwise. This is a basic component of Catholic sacramental theology, and hardly a matter of dispute.
What may be in dispute is how to care for the divorced and remarried: How to invite those living conjugally, but outside the bonds of marriage, to the communion of the Church. The question is a pastoral one. And it needn’t be a source of ambiguity or division.
Like all pastoral questions, the solution is found in the action of Jesus himself. As at the Samaritan well, the pastoral solution for the divorced and remarried involves something very simple: telling the truth.
Jesus Christ desires all of us to receive him at the Eucharistic table. His blood was shed, his body pierced and crucified, as a universal invitation to participate in the Eucharist, and in Christ’s divine life. What’s required is a heroic commitment to virtue and fidelity of Christian life.
May the divorced and remarried be invited to the Eucharist? Yes. But like all of us, to receive the Eucharist with integrity they must live heroically in accord with the truth.
Christ and the Woman of Samaria by George Richmond, 1828
The Church has always taught that living in a sexual relationship outside of a valid marriage is an impediment to Holy Communion. She teaches that still. And when the divorced and remarried present themselves to their pastors, she must teach the truth then. But it is never an adequate pastoral solution to simply tell the divorced and remarried to refrain from Holy Communion, to remain in the pew, and to maintain the status quo.
The pastoral solution is to invite men and women to a heroic kind of conversion. In 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that the divorced and remarried may receive the Eucharist if they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
Under ordinary circumstances, such couples should physically separate. But the Church recognizes that separation may be impossible: that couples may be raising children together, or financially dependent, or caring for one another in ill health. Separation might be ideal, but what is necessary is a commitment to living continently: to living in accord with the truth.
The issue of scandal is a serious one. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that couples living continently must be “respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal.” The Catechism says that scandal is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.” To keep others from scandal, those living continently should take care not to imply that their relationship is inappropriate – if their invalid marriage is unknown, they could remain private. If their invalid marriage is well known, they could be forthcoming about their choice to live in accord with truth. A flood of candor can mitigate the trickle of scandal.
Each of us is invited to the Eucharistic table. We need only repent, and commit to greatness. Too often, the pastoral solution is perceived as the unchallenging solution, the accepting solution. Too often, pastors and tribunal ministers hesitate to call the divorced and remarried to conversion. We’re afraid that continence seems too hard, and too dispassionate. We’re afraid that truth will be inimical to a pastoral relationship.
But the truth is always pastoral. And calling Christians to discomfort, and challenge, is evangelical. Conversations about continence are uncomfortable. But as Pope Benedict XVI has said, none of us were “made for comfort. [We] were made for greatness.”
At the well in Samaria, Jesus Christ was pastoral. He invited the Samaritan woman to repent, and to live heroically. He invited her, from her sinfulness, to greatness. If the Church today will invite men and women to greatness, to virtue, and to communion with Jesus Christ, we will have found the “pastoral solution.”
Our church refused to let my niece join once because she was born out of wedlock. Now is that her fault or something?
I don't think her story is particularly applicable to Catholics who have divorced and remarried.
Jesus did not say she was divorced, even improperly. He said she had had five husbands, and the man she was living with at the time was not married to her. For all we know, her five husbands had all died.
In any case, at the time the Law was still in effect, giving husbands (though not wives) the right of divorce at will, much as with sharia today. If she had been divorced five times according to the Law, it was perfectly legal.
Now Jesus, according to Catholics, established a much higher standard for marriage and divorce than that of the Law. But He himself stated many times that the Law was still in effect while He was on earth.
Under the Law, it was, at least in certain circumstances. The Talmud expanded on those who were excluded based on their birth.
I find it difficult to see how any “Christian” church could try to justify this scripturally.
Particularly since, technically speaking, Jesus himself was conceived out of wedlock.
It is heartening to see that some of the commenters at the site have already noted that pro-abortion politicians are treated as exempt from the Church’s law with respect to Holy Communion and grave sin.
Canon 915 is NOT about marriage. It is not part of the Church’s marriage law.
It is also NOT a penal canon. This is important, because Cardinal Wuerl has repeatedly lied and said that it is. He lies about this so that he can pretend that he has the right to exercise “discretion” about whether to “apply” the “penalty” of denial of Communion. In fact, all he is doing is disobeying a MANDATE in canon law.
When Cardinal of the Church lie and lie and lie, and openly defy Canon Law, and the Pope does nothing—no wonder the Church continues to collapse in chaos, unable to resist Obama’s persecution.
The funny thing is, they probably would have let her father join even though he left her and her mother after she refused to get an abortion.
That’s a very sad story.
Join what, the church? Was this a Catholic parish?
Yes, it’s Catholic. With a little talking they actually changed their minds about it, but then she refused anyway because they still wouldn’t let her mother join. But it’s not like they won’t let her go to church or anything.
How did they not let her ‘join’? How old was she? Was she baptized? Confirmed? Ask to go to RCIA?
I don’t really have all the details, this was quite a few years ago. Of course anyone can attend church services, but there were other services in which you had to be a member of the church. My sister’s first wedding was in fact at that church, but both her and my niece have moved away by now so I don’t know if the situation was resolved or not before they left.
Something doesn’t sound right about the report of not allowing to ‘join’.
I don’t really understand it myself, but so I was told. I think I’m still a member of that church because it’s also a school. They teach children as well as older people through separate study classes at night.
I think somebody told you wrong. Doesn’t pass the smell test.
I’m not exactly sure about my sister’s involvement but I know my niece had some trouble, anyway. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, as I recall. Anyway, I probably shouldn’t have volunteered information that they might not want public, so I might have erred there. But since you don’t know me or them, probably doesn’t matter.
No, I think you’re safe.
I joined the Church very late in life, and a raucous life it was, through RCIA. I was incredibly welcomed. So, I find it hard to believe when I’m told someone was not allowed to join.
Having spent 3 years in a Catholic school, I know they tend to be a little strict and exclusive.
Well, if they didn’t kick you out, they weren’t *that* exclusive.
I think I came very close at times.