The Catholic Church and our bishops in particular have been making headlines around the nation. Of course if the Nation is interested in Catholic business it can only mean that there is a controversy in the air.
If you have somehow not heard the news I will give it to you in brief. The US Catholic Bishop’s conference has been holding meetings to discuss the possibility of recommending the withholding of Holy Communion (which Catholics believe is the real presence of Christ) from politicians who do not take a pro life stance in public.
This has caused quite a stir among all stripes of Catholic persons, pitting, once again, liberals against conservatives. When the Catholic discussion begins to mirror American Politics, all sorts of red flags go off for me.
Maybe it is time to step out of the discussion and use the brains God has given us to discern this issue for ourselves. I think we can start with the words of Jesus himself.
In the eighth chapter of John’s gospel, a scandalous event is retold for us. You may be familiar with this story or it may be new to you, but it is quite interesting to note the parallels between Bible times and ours.
Jesus was a person not unfamiliar to controversy. He was quite adept at causing a stir by his radical ideas. Jesus had been arguing back and forth with the Jewish leaders. They were so angry with him that they wanted to try to trap him in some transgression of the law so they could have him arrested.
The Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. In the law of Moses it was commanded that this woman be stoned. They asked Jesus what his opinion on the matter was.
Jesus bent over and began to write on the ground with his finger. The leaders persisted in asking what he thought so he stood up and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. “
And in response, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders.
I don’t think it is a stretch to compare the American Catholic bishops with the Scribes and Pharisees in the story. Our bishops are angry that Joe Biden both attends mass regularly (and receives Communion) and supports policies that make it easier for women to obtain an abortion. For them, pro-life means one thing, protecting babies in the womb. They cannot conceive of such disastrous duplicity.
There stands the president in the middle.
I believe our Bishops should be the first to walk away. What about their very public sins of backing politicians and policies that are not pro life? Why are they not clamoring in support of the immigrants both in our country and at its borders? Why are they not indignant about the treatment of African Americans and other minority people? Why are they not demanding fair treatment of these, our sisters and brothers? And how can they speak publicly about being pro life when for years they looked the other way and covered up the sexual abuse of children in our church?
In the gospel story the confrontation between the elders and Jesus draws a crowd, just as we pull up our proverbial chairs and point fingers and whisper (or scream!) among ourselves about the merits of judging others worthy of receiving Holy Communion. Here we Catholics stand, the next ring of spectators launching our diatribes at the other side, hoping to make a direct hit.
We Catholic brethren who are pointing our fingers at the president and wagging our heads are dragging a ponderous chain of sins around with us. As a group we are insular and very much in the habit of judging wether individuals are “Catholic enough.” We pride ourselves on being pro life but like the bishops prefer to leave our sisters and brothers of color and those at the margins of society right where they should be, underneath us. All of us good Catholics squirm in our seats when we consider the broader meaning of being pro life and the social justice teachings in our church.
Finally, what about those of us who can see the wisdom of embracing a full pro-life stance, defending life, no matter the origin of that life, from the moment of conception to a natural death? Are we running free above the fray? Are we the real chosen few who are winning the communion wars?
Of course we are not and as I count myself among these members I will speak freely here.
What my problem is, and I know that others are struggling with this as well, is being able to rectify my feelings of anger over the behavior of my fellow Catholics over the past year and a half with the notion of being a good and faithful Catholic. I am tired of the adjective, “Good Catholic,” I am having a most difficult time giving that moniker to any of us.
I am angry that many of my former friends and acquaintances were not careful of others’ health during the pandemic. I am mystified that many will not receive the vaccine and thus put all of the children and anyone with a compromised immune system at risk merely by their unmasked presence. How is this pro life?
I am confused how a person can go to daily mass and yet be an outright racist in word, thought and deed. These same holy people malign the immigrant or LGBTQ communities so adamantly that these groups are literally gasping for air at the gates. How is this pro life?
This unresolved anger with my fellow Catholics causes me to lash out, to wag my head. I am guilty of this sin and worst of all, right now my heart is hardened to unity between the two sides in our church. I, too, am having great difficulty loving my neighbor. How is this pro life?
At the end of the Bible story Jesus straightened up from his bent position and asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Jesus says to her, “Neither do I…go and sin no more.”
We should then be asking Joe Biden the same question. Where are all of the good people who would condemn you? Hmmm, all gone, all of us sinners have convicted ourselves by our thoughts and words and actions. There is no sinless person left to cast the first stone.
Maybe we should all try and seek forgiveness for our own shortcomings and stand in the communion line together. All of us not so good Catholics, we are in desperate need of the real presence of Jesus. It is the only thing that will save us from ourselves.