1049: Part 2:the church-home does not have doors that close, but a perimeter that continually widens
Day 1049: Sunday, January 29, 2023
The church-home does not have doors that close, but a perimeter that continually widens.
Part 2 of Cardinal McElroy's reflection on the importance and hope of the Synod process.
The report of the synodal dialogues from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops points to an additional and distinct element of exclusion in the life of the church:
“Those who are marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the church.”
These include those who are divorced and remarried without a declaration of nullity from the church, members of the L.G.B.T. community and those who are civilly married but have not been married in the church.
These exclusions touch upon important teachings of the church about the Christian moral life, the commitments of marriage and the meaning of sexuality for the disciple. It is very likely that discussions of all of these doctrinal questions will take place at the synodal meetings this fall and next year in Rome.
But the exclusion of men and women because of their marital status or their sexual orientation/activity is pre-eminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one. Given our teachings on sexuality and marriage, how should we treat remarried or L.G.B.T. men and women in the life of the church, especially regarding questions of the Eucharist?
“Enlarge the Space of Your Tent” cites a contribution from the Catholic Church of England and Wales, which provides a guidepost for responding to this pastoral dilemma:
“The dream is of a church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment.”
In other words, the church is called to proclaim the fullness of its teaching while offering a witness of sustained inclusion in its pastoral practice.
As the synodal process begins to discern how to address the exclusion of divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. Catholics, particularly on the issue of participation in the Eucharist, three dimensions of Catholic faith support a movement toward inclusion and shared belonging.
The first is the image that Pope Francis has proposed to us of the church as a field hospital.
The primary pastoral imperative is to heal the wounded. And the powerful pastoral corollary is that we are all wounded. It is in this fundamental recognition of our faith that we find the imperative to make our church one of accompaniment and inclusion, of love and mercy. Pastoral practices that have the effect of excluding certain categories of people from full participation in the life of the church are at odds with this pivotal notion that we are all wounded and all equally in need of healing.
The effect of the tradition that all sexual acts outside of marriage constitute objectively grave sin has been to focus the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity.
The second element of Catholic teaching that points to a pastoral practice of comprehensive inclusion is the reverence for conscience in Catholic faith.
Men and women seeking to be disciples of Jesus Christ struggle with enormous challenges in living out their faith, often under excruciating pressures and circumstances. While Catholic teaching must play a critical role in the decision making of believers, it is conscience that has the privileged place. Categorical exclusions undermine that privilege precisely because they cannot encompass the inner conversation between women and men and their God.
The third element of Catholic teaching that supports a pastoral stance of inclusion and shared belonging in the church is the counterpoised realities of human brokenness and divine grace that form the backdrop for any discussion of worthiness to receive the Eucharist.
As Pope Francis stated in “Gaudete et Exultate,” “grace, precisely because it builds on nature, does not make us superhuman all at once.... Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively” (No. 50).
Here lies the foundation for Pope Francis’ exhortation “to see the Eucharist not as a prize for the perfect, but as a source of healing for us all.” The Eucharist is a central element of God’s grace- filled transformation of all the baptized. For this reason, the church must embrace a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord, rather than a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the eucharist.
Unworthiness cannot be the prism of accompaniment for disciples of the God of grace and mercy.
It will be objected that the church cannot accept such a notion of radical inclusion because the exclusion of divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. persons from the Eucharist flows from the moral tradition in the church that all sexual sins are grave matter. This means that all sexual actions outside of marriage are so gravely evil that they constitute objectively an action that can sever a believer’s relationship with God. This objection should be faced head on.
It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communities.
The effect of the tradition that all sexual acts outside of marriage constitute objectively grave sin has been to focus the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity. The heart of Christian discipleship is a relationship with God the Father, Son and Spirit rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church has a hierarchy of truths that flow from this fundamental kerygma. Sexual activity, while profound, does not lie at the heart of this hierarchy. Yet in pastoral practice we have placed it at the very center of our structures of exclusion from the Eucharist. This should change.
It is important to note that the synodal dialogues have given substantial attention to the exclusions of L.G.B.T. Catholics beyond the issue of the Eucharist. There were widespread calls for greater inclusion of L.G.B.T. women and men in the life of the church, and shame and outrage that heinous acts of exclusion still exist.
The church’s primary witness in the face of this bigotry must be one of embrace rather than distance or condemnation.
The distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus for such a pastoral embrace because it inevitably suggests dividing the L.G.B.T. community into those who refrain from sexual activity and those who do not. Rather, the dignity of every person as a child of God struggling in this world, and the loving outreach of God, must be the heart, soul, face and substance of the church’s stance and pastoral action.
The Italian synodal report stated “the church-home does not have doors that close, but a perimeter that continually widens.” We in the United States must seek a church whose doors do not close and a perimeter that continually widens if we are to have any hope of attracting the next generation to life in the church, or of being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must enlarge our tent. And we must do so now.