It occurred to me that lately I haven’t been doing as many posts as I should about issues in society and how it relates to the Church. And the issue of denying Communion to people who claim to be Catholic but denounce Her teachings on certain subjects such as abortion came back into the news late last year when presidential candidate Joe Biden was denied the Blessed Sacrament because of his publicly proclaimed pro-choice views on abortion. As I’m sure we all know, the Church teaches that abortion is always morally wrong, regardless of the circumstances, since it is the intentional act of taking the life of another human being (yes, a baby in the womb is a human being; it’s been scientifically proven). Furthermore, those who are baptized and confirmed into the Faith agree by virtue of the promises they made to adhere to ALL things that that Faith teaches. And really, that goes for any religion. It sounds kind of silly to say something like “I’m a devout Buddhist, but I don’t really believe xyz that Buddha taught.”
As Catholics, we hold that Jesus Christ and His teachings are the source of all Truth. These teachings are the way to get to heaven and our goal of spending eternity with Christ. The Church Herself, which was started by Christ, naturally holds all of these teachings and the faithful are called to cling to Her because as they cling to Her, they are clinging to Christ. And if a member of the Church breaks from clinging to this safe haven, his or her Catholic peers are obliged to point out the error and if the person still does not listen, it is reasonable to conclude that that person is in error by choice and should be treated as an outsider. In fact, Jesus said so Himself (Matthew 18:17).
But why? Isn’t refusing to give Communion to a person who says they’re Catholic defeating the purpose of the love and pastoral care that Catholics are supposed to show one another? Where’s the mercy in refusing? And what about “Who am I to judge?”?
First of all, just because someone says they’re Catholic doesn’t make it so. They have to fulfill the requirements of the Church. I could say I’m a Mensa member but I have no documentation to prove it and I do not fulfill their requirements nor do I know their values and so I cannot uphold them.
Secondly, the idea of “mercy and compassion” has been horribly distorted in today’s society. These qualities have taken on the meaning of “telling someone what they want to hear and not offending them at any cost,” when in fact that is not mercy and compassion at all. There is no such thing as “your truth” or “my truth.” There is only the truth, and that is Christ and the teachings of His Church. And if there is only that truth, then that means that encouraging anything else is supporting and reinforcing a lie. To connect this with Holy Communion, as Catholics we believe that when the priest speaks the words of consecration, the bread and wine offered for the sacrifice of the Mass truly becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. That also means that the communicant is uniting themselves with Jesus Christ every time they receive Him and by so doing is claiming to be in accord with Him and His teachings. Someone who publicly gives scandal (see CCC paragraphs 2284-2287) by denouncing a teaching of the Church and yet still claiming to be Catholic is therefore lying when they present themselves to be united with Christ by reception of the Blessed Sacrament.
Let’s consider the consequences of this happening. The person is pushing themselves away from Christ with this false testimony and, what’s worse, people who claim to be acting with mercy and compassion are encouraging this (and are therefore also guilty of scandal) and will be held responsible as well when they face judgment after death. This life is not our final destination. We are destined to be home in heaven with our God and to get there, we have to abide by His teachings and we also have a duty to help others get to Heaven by teaching them to do the same. That is true mercy and compassion because we are acknowledging that we are not the ones with the authority to say what is and isn’t true. Only God has that authority because He made us and established truth from the very beginning of the world. Teaching others to live a lie is the exact opposite of mercy and compassion because we are leading them away from their true destination, which is Heaven, and instead dragging them down toward the grasp of the devil.
As for judgment, very simply we are only forbidden to judge what we cannot see inside of a person’s heart and soul and whether they will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. That is only for God to decide. But when there is something that we can see, such as someone going against the teachings of Christ and His Church, it doesn’t matter what their reasons are. The fact still remains that they are going against something that they claim by their Baptism and Confirmation to uphold and there is no valid excuse for this. And so, no matter what, what is inside their heart and soul cannot possibly be in line with the Church. We are not only allowed to judge these situations, but it is our duty. We must point these things out to the offender and steer them toward reconciliation with the Church.
Acting with mercy and compassion is indeed necessary, but we must take care to do it properly. This means going beyond the surface and making sure that we abide by what Christ, and not society, says is merciful and compassionate. More often than not, they are two very different things.