If the World Loves You
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Thursday, May 13, 2004
There is a saying that has its roots in the 10th chapter of St. John's Gospel. It reminds us that we should not look for the love of the world, but strive only to find God's will and do it with all our hearts. There is a good chance that if we are never criticized by others, we have missed the mark of being faithful to the teachings of the Gospel. If the world loves you, you are probably always saying what the world wants to hear.
In light of that simple but very profound truth, I hope you were not upset at the criticism of your archbishop in an advertisement that has appeared in some places lately. I appreciate the zeal of those folks who are critical, but I do not agree with them, and during my recent Ad Limina visit to Rome, it was clear that so many of the highest authorities in the Church are in agreement with my position.
As you probably know, I have had a consistent position on the obligations of every member of our Catholic family to follow the teaching of the Church on the gravely important issues of our time. Certainly, the defense of life from the moment of conception to the moment that God calls us home is the primary of these issues, since without life no other human rights are possible. I have also been consistent in teaching, as our Holy Father does, that the care of the poor, the weak and the stranger, as well as the protection of peace and justice must be an essential part of our commitment as Catholics.
The disagreement that I have with the folks who are annoyed at me is that I disagree that in this instance we should use denial of the Eucharist as a public sanction. As a priest and bishop, I do not favor a confrontation at the altar rail with the Sacred Body of the Lord Jesus in my hand. There are apparently those who would welcome such a conflict, for good reasons, I am sure, or for political ones, but I would not.
At the same time, I feel it is important for each of us to understand our own personal responsibility when it comes to receiving the Eucharist. I realize that in modern times, perhaps even more since the '60's, some Catholics have fallen into a new and false understanding of the Blessed Sacrament, one that does not recognize the awesome nature of the Eucharist and our need for great respect in the way we approach it. In the days when we had to fast from all food and drink from the previous midnight in order to receive Holy Communion, our sense of the wonder of the Eucharist was enhanced. When the Church, in order to encourage us to partake of the sacrament, relaxed those rules, some people may have incorrectly concluded that the rule about being in the state of grace was relaxed as well. Maybe the presence of this controversy is itself a special grace to give us a chance to clarify what our personal dispositions must be in order to receive the Eucharist worthily.
In this light it may be good to recall Pope John Paul II's words to the bishops of the United States during his second visit to our country in 1987. The Holy Father spoke very clearly as follows: "It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the Church's clear position on abortion. It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a 'good Catholic' and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the bishops of the United States and elsewhere. I wish to encourage you in the love of Christ to address this situation courageously in your pastoral ministry."
I am asking the Catholic Standard to reprint the statement about the worthy reception of the Eucharist which appears in the missalettes and which was authorized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Basically, it places on the individual Catholic the need to make a judgment as to whether he or she can properly come to receive Communion. One must not be conscious of any serious sin that has not been absolved in the sacrament of Penance. One must be striving to live as a good Catholic, keeping the commandments of God and of the Church, especially those two great commandments to love God and neighbor. This would exclude from Communion anyone who would hate his neighbor or harm his neighbor, in particular when that neighbor is a little unborn baby in its mother's womb. This doctrine by which the Church places a particular personal responsibility concerning the decision to approach the altar on each individual, protects the holiness of the Eucharist and challenges its children to holiness as well. It places the decision to approach the altar on the informed conscience of the individual Catholic — informed by the truth of our teachings — and, therefore, each one of us must not presume to approach Holy Communion if we are not, in our informed conscience, already with the Lord and in communion with the teachings of His Church.
This is what the Church teaches and, as your bishop and your servant and your friend, this is what I teach, too. Thinking of you, as I come back home to Washington, I pray that each one of us will never approach this most holy sacrament of the Eucharist without the necessary disposition to receive its awesome grace.
Reprinted with permission of the Catholic Standard
Catholic Standard © 2004
13 May 2004