Recently Archbishop Chaput asserted in a new set of “pastoral“ guidelines that “divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, as well as cohabitating unmarried couples, must ‘refrain from sexual intimacy’ to receive Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia”. I’m not sure what disturbs me more – the arrogance and pastoral insensitivity that he shows in these allegedly “pastoral” guidelines, or the lack of charity in so many of the arrogant and smugly self-satisfied comments on the various web pages about this issue. I wonder what it is like to know how everybody else should live their lives in order to remain in the state of grace, whatever that is.
Further on in the document he says that Catholics in same-sex partnerships, those remarried without a church annulment, and cohabitating persons may not serve on parish councils, instruct the faithful, serve as lectors, or dispense Communion. Sounds to me like kicking a guy when he is down.
The folks he is talking about have already been experiencing pain and suffering in their lives, and he is causing more pain for them, claiming, as so many church managers do, that he is acting in the name of Jesus. Hmm, how to deal with that chutzpah.
A great many of us already know folks who are suffering because of previous marriages that have failed. They do not need to be “abused” in the name of Jesus who never abused anyone, but welcomed all to his Father’s love and care. I don’t see much of Jesus’ example in this document.
Our faith is in Jesus, not a book or a code of conduct. Many of the rules and regulations have little to do with God, and a lot more to do with keeping order in the institution, keeping the folks in line, protecting the institutions rights and prerogatives — something Jesus did not seem to be worried about. When following the institution’s rules becomes more important than living the Gospel and being open to the Spirit as we perceive this in our own lives, there is something amiss. Of course, when we know all the rules and all the answers to questions we feel that we are qualified to judge any who disagree with us, because God Jesus would act as we do if he knew everything that we know.
Trying to imitate Jesus, to act as he wants us to in our very particular circumstances is not an intellectual or theoretical exercise. It is hard work. Contrary to what many catechism-thumpers seem to think we are not called to beat folks over the head with our rules and definitions, but simply to be there for them, walk with them, certainly not judge them.
Francis reminds us that the Spirit is not the property of the clergy or the bishops, but reaches out to everybody. The role of the clergy is to help folks come to be aware of the Spirit on their own life, not claim to control access to him — for many of us our own form of arrogance. This is disturbing to those who feel that they know all the answers, as I did 50 years ago before being an Army Chaplain in Viet Nam.
I think a number of priests, and I include myself, need to hear the Good News, and the Better News: the Good News is the Messiah has come; the Better News is that he isn’t any one of us. We are stumbling along just like everyone else, trying to make the best of life that is not always fair or easy. None of us has all the answers for our own journey, let alone for anybody else’s. Aside from our own family experience that we come from, we celibate males have limited awareness of what the families we serve are experiencing on their journey together. We can learn from each other as we journey together. When folks are suffering, cramming definitions or laws down their throat does no one any good. Perhaps we can just walk with each other, help to carry the load together, like soldiers plodding together through rice paddies or jungles — both of which life resembles from time to time.
Everybody in our life has the right and the need to be in our life. Each of us has the need to be open to the Spirit without any conditions whatever, and be willing to do whatever we sense the Spirit to be calling us to.
Just saying . . .