By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
The Lord is truly risen — Alleluia!
Much has been made of Pope Francis’ mission to bring the mercy of Jesus Christ to this broken and fallen world. What he is doing so effectively, however, is nothing new. It is the mission of the Church in every age to bring the forgiving presence of the Lord to everyone.
What is new is the idea on the part of some that this grace and this presence are somehow possible apart from or without the Church. The forgiveness of Jesus Christ in His Church is frustrated and can become inaccessible if His presence in the Church is hidden or silenced.
Sometimes in public life Catholics are expected to exercise a wrongheaded version of forgiveness and reconciliation in the form of accepting a back seat in matters pertaining to the accommodation of their religious needs. Of course the HHS mandate requiring the Church to buy contraceptives and enable abortions under the guise of “health care” comes to mind.
Another related issue that becomes a source of contention in a busy world involves the simple weekly exercise of religious worship on the Lord’s Day. In what is for many an increasingly materialistic and relativistic world, the list of essentials no longer includes worship on Sundays. Forgiveness and gentleness should never be confused with accepting the silencing of the voice and presence of Jesus Christ in His Church for the reason that these graces are not possible without Christ who always comes to us in and through His Body the Church.
For many years now, a majority of Catholics have ceased to simply ask at work if they can have time off to attend Sunday Mass, and this is one element of a general effect of the withdrawal of Catholic presence from the public square. Catholic business owners and military and civilian leaders who do not go to Sunday Mass also exercise a deadening influence when they relegate planning for Mass and religious accommodation of Catholics to an ignorable option as a reflexive projection of their own lack of religious practice.
There are always standout leaders whose practice of the faith can have a pronounced effect on others and encourage them to do the same. Meanwhile Catholic chaplains, priests, and others must be vigilant and consistent in insisting on a seat at the table and open acknowledgment of the Church and the rights of believers in simple matters like including the time for the Sunday or vigil Mass on the published common schedule. Being a Catholic means doing what Catholics do and for this the Commandments are not optional in the practice of the faith.
A recent story based on a Facebook post from Argentina claiming that the Pope called a divorced and remarried woman on Easter Monday and told her she could receive Communion is unbelievable for several reasons. Joachim Cardinal Meisner has already shared his conversation with Francis in which the Pope expressed surprise that his interviews and off-the-cuff remarks have been twisted to promote heterodoxy, repeated his self-description as a “son of the Church,” and repeated the Church’s teaching that divorced people can receive Communion but divorced and remarried persons cannot.
I also find it hard to believe that the Pope would in one of his famous phone calls intentionally interfere in the pastoral care of the local priest who knows the faith as a son of the Church as does the Holy Father and insists on its practice. Pope Francis’ style thus far seems to be akin to what we used to call “power down” in the Army or what is known as “subsidiarity” in the Church. He values the local role of bishops and wants them to take the front seat in teaching the faith and making corrections when needed.
There is a logical fallacy at the root of the idea that a man and woman who are together without the Sacrament of Matrimony can receive Communion; if this were true, then who any longer would need the Sacrament of Marriage? The sacramental practice of the Church is reasonable because grace builds on nature and faith on reason. As a senior pastor in the Church, surely Pope Francis knows this well.
Perhaps what we are witnessing here is the transmogrification of the rupturing so-called “spirit of Vatican II” being re-branded and peddled anew as the “spirit of Pope Francis.” New day, same tired agenda; as the Romans said, “Caveat emptor!” All of us must exercise a vigilant skepticism when we hear anyone claiming to quote Pope Francis contradicting Catholic doctrine.
This week we are seeing the canonizations of two Popes. The only thing now-saint Pope John Paul II ever said to me was “God bless you” as he gave me a rosary after I attended his morning Mass in the papal chapel as a seminarian, the summer of 1990. His benediction came in response to my telling him of our prayers for him in the context of the recitation of the rosary at the seminary. I certainly hope his words continue to be heard, from his lips to God’s ear.
As Pope John Paul II often repeated with Christ, “Be not afraid.”
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(Follow Fr. Cusick on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and on Twitter @MCITLFrAphorism. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)