tarting in 2013 and variously thereafter, Pope Francis has called upon Catholics, especially young Catholics, to “make a mess.” In a way, this makes admirable sense. Reform and renewal always involve a kind of creative destruction. Disrupting old patterns of sin and purifying the spirit can be turbulent work. There’s a reason James Joyce described the Catholic faith as “here comes everybody.” The Church is a very big family packed with sinners and eccentric personalities from top to bottom, all in need of conversion.
The key word in that sentence, of course, is “conversion.” Conversion involves separating our appetites, thoughts, and actions from conformity to the world and cleaving instead to the gospel. It’s a word more easily said than done. And the evidence is its utter absence from the current turmoil in the German Church over sex, marriage, and intercommunion—a perverse but logical distortion of synodality, the kind of mess-making that Francis clearly did not intend and did not foresee.
Like any family, the Church has basic rules for inclusion that require certain behaviors. No family can endlessly sustain behavior that compromises its own identity and well-being. Nor is any family borderless. If, as Vatican II insisted, the Eucharist is “the source and summit” of Catholic life, then reverence for the sacrament, its meaning, and its proper reception mark our family’s border. In Germany, the violation of that reverence involves sharing the Eucharist with persons who quite consciously do not accept Catholic belief and thus do not belong to the Catholic community. In the United States, the circumstances may be different, but the substance of the issue—who can and should receive the Eucharist—is essentially the same.
Persons who do not believe in the Real Presence, who ignore or do not accept Church teaching, or who are otherwise objectively in a state of serious sin, should not present themselves for Communion. It’s that simple and that serious. If they do, they not only put their own souls in grave jeopardy, but—just as grievously—they also violate the rights of Catholics who do seek to live their faith authentically.
This Eucharistic discipline, the coherence of Catholic belief and the behavior it requires, is rooted both in Scripture and constant Church practice. It applies to all Catholics, not merely public officials, and it applies all the time and everywhere. There is nothing intentionally “political” about it. Claiming that it weaponizes the Eucharist for political ends is both misleading and, when advanced by anyone in Church leadership, inexcusable. No bishop eagerly seeks to punish or publicly humiliate anyone by denying a person Communion. Such an action is always a last resort for the salvation of the sinner’s soul. Additionally, in today’s thoroughly cynical media environment, any such action invites a storm of faux outrage over the “martyrdom” of the wounded public figure. But the obligation of “eucharistic coherence”—i.e., conforming our private and public lives to what the Church teaches and what we claim to believe as Catholics—remains as a matter of personal integrity. And Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila and San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone have articulated that fact very well.
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