Rubrics Cubed

This week I read two articles that were thought-provoking and salient given the issues of today’s political climate.  First is the hullabaloo surrounding the mandated birth control, either contraception or abortion paid for by the Roman Catholic church, albeit now through an insurance company intermediary.  This mandate has sparked great debate about “rights” and religious “intolerance” in the public arena.  My thought is this, religion is voluntary.  Nobody makes you believe, nobody makes you wake up on Sundays to go worship.  It is an act of submission to a higher authority, the entry into a covenant relationship.  A covenant relationship is by definition an agreement between a party with the power to protect an inferior party who agrees to follow the rules of the superior party.  So, as the understanding of the rules has been honed by tradition in the Christian faith in Rome for the last two thousand years the “church” has the authority to interpret the covenant relationship it is there that today’s believers turn for clarity.  On the protestant side, for mainstream denominations mostly, if it feels good do it seems to be the theology.  So with that set up let’s look at the articles.

The first is from the arch-bishop of Philadelphia.  He was speaking at a convention for right to life of some kind.  Specifically he was addressing children with Down syndrome.  He was addressing the church’s position that all life is sacred, whether that life is a chromosomally challenged fetus in the womb or an aged parent rack by Alzheimer’s disease.  Here is a portion:

Here’s what that means.  Catholic public officials who take God  seriously cannot support laws that attack human dignity without lying to  themselves, misleading others and abusing the faith of their fellow  Catholics.  God will demand an accounting.   Catholic doctors who take God seriously cannot do procedures, prescribe  drugs or support health policies that attack the sanctity of unborn children or  the elderly; or that undermine the dignity of human sexuality and the  family.  God will demand an accounting.   And Catholic citizens who take God seriously cannot claim to love their  Church, and then ignore her counsel on vital public issues that shape our  nation’s life.  God will demand an accounting.   As individuals, we can claim to  believe whatever we want.  We can  posture, and rationalize our choices, and make alibis with each other all day  long — but no excuse for our lack of honesty and zeal will work with the God  who made us.  God knows our hearts better  than we do.  If we don’t conform our  hearts and actions to the faith we claim to believe, we’re only fooling  ourselves.

And he goes on to say,

My point is this:  Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s  weak.  When it gains the upper hand, its  vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because  the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it.  So it always has been.  So it always will be.  And America has no special immunity to  becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human  dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.”

God will demand an accounting.  That is the thesis statement of Jesus on earth, he tells us to repent of our sin.  Sin has been defined by God in several places in scripture so that isn’t all that confusing.  This bishop clearly and succinctly articulates the belief in the sanctity of life.  He goes on to describe a friend’s child:

” These children with disabilities  are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us.  They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our  humanity.  Whatever suffering we endure  to welcome, protect and ennoble these special children is worth it because  they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy.   Abortion kills a child; it wounds a precious part of a woman’s own  dignity and identity; and it steals hope.  That’s why it’s wrong.  That’s why it needs to end.  That’s why we march.”

And we should feel the same way about the aged and infirmed.  We don’t perform an actuarial equation to determine if their life is worth the money to extend.  But the point is this guy is standing up for what he believes, there is a right and there is a wrong and there is a God who will judge us at the end of days.

Now, here is another article about a woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral service by a Roman Catholic priest.  I haven’t figured out if the writer of the article was present or this is hearsay.  When the woman came up for communion the priest put his hand over the patton and said she cannot receive communion because she lives with another woman.  And our writer goes on to explain to us,


It is time for Christians of all stripes to stop and think about the teachings of the Jesus they proclaim to love so deeply and revere so much. I spent twelve years in Catholic school and the Jesus I was told about would never have turned away anyone for any reason and certainly not on the occasion of burying a parent. Fr. Guarnizo has a lot to learn about Christianity and the Catholic Church has a lot to learn about the teachings of Jesus if behavior of this sort is tolerated.

I am not about to paint all Christians with a broad brush. There are those out there who understand that the teachings of Jesus boil down to one thing. And that thing is Love. For if you love, you do not deny a person the solace of communion with the Creator, if that is their belief. You judge not, lest ye be judged. Only God knows the true heart of any person and in the end, if there is to be judgment, it will not come from some misguided, prejudiced priest who needs to go back to the seminary and learn the basics. And if he can’t find them there, then he needs to get down on his knees and pray to his Jesus to forgive him the terrible trespass he visited upon a grieving woman on the occasion of the death of her mother.”

Now I really doubt the woman spent twelve years in catholic school.  If she had she would full well understand the entire sequence of events.  There are rubrics in the service books clearly admonishing the priest, this is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer; If the priest knows that a person who is living a notoriously evil life intends to come to Communion, the priest shall speak to that person privately, and tell him that he may not come to the Holy Table until he has given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life.”   In this instance it was more public than that.

So, we have an outraged activist preaching to the priest in her article about the love of Jesus.  Let’s take both articles in conjunction and talk about love.  First, the priest may have shown a more profound love than our dear writer of the second article can understand.  The sacrament of communion is sacred and profound, especially in the Roman expression of faith.  The priest may have felt like he loved the woman enough to save her from a mortal sin.  Maybe he loved her enough to cause her to think about her lifestyle.  Maybe he loved the people in attendance enough to give them pause about their lifestyles.  Maybe somebody saw what happened and wondered if their sins will separate them from the body.  Sometimes love is hard, difficult, and arduous.   Raising a child with Down Syndrome must be exhausting, and that is love.  Caring for a parent who is dying is tough, I know from my own experience.

So which is it, tough love or sugar daddy love that we crave and desire?  Do we really want somebody calling out our carefully rationalized behaviors and embarrassing us or do we want somebody to “respect our dignity” however we might define if?  Do we want love that persists even with all of our “challenges” and infirmities of the heart and soul or do we want to be loved in a way that facilitates our own demise?  Like some puzzles it seems very difficult to solve and then with a few twists and turns it is clear.


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