The recent ‘Synod on the Family’ has the Catholic world buzzing.
The buzzing on the left seeks for ‘mercy’ in Sacramental Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. The buzzing on the right seeks for ‘justice’ in the defense of Jesus’ own words which teach us of the unchanging Truth of the indissolubility of marriage.
But the only buzz worthy of recognition is the buzz which serves both mercy and justice.
This buzz is found in the already present Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
Saint John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, preached, and taught, of the already present mercy and justice afforded Catholics who find themselves in this situation.
He taught: Pastors should treat each encounter with ‘careful discernment of situations.’ Not every situation should be assessed the same way. Pastors and parish communities, moreover, are to stand by these struggling Catholics with ‘attentive love.’ Yet, they cannot be admitted to the Eucharist because ‘their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.’ He also added, ‘if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.’ Furthermore, sacramental confession, which leads to worthy reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted to civilly remarried Catholics through personal repentance and absolute willingness to ‘bind themselves and live in complete continence’ with their civil marriage partner. Clergy are also forbidden to ‘perform ceremonies of any kind’ for divorced people who remarry civilly ‘while their first sacramentally valid marriage still exists.’
Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, confirmed ‘the Church’s practice based on Sacred Scripture (Mk 10:2-12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments,’ but encourages pastors to practice ‘special concern’ for these struggling Catholics. Pope Benedict XVI wished that Catholics in this situation would ‘live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving Communion, listening to the word of God, Eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.’ The holy Father also stressed the necessity of the divorced and remarried Catholic to take all issues of the ‘validity’ of their first (sacramentally valid) marriage to a competent diocesan marriage tribunal. For personal discernment of the validity of ones marriage must not rest on an individuals personal examination of conscience. This would not suffice for reception of the Eucharist.
In summary, our previous two Pope’s have demonstrated the justice of the Church in defending the indissolubility of marriage as spoken by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This would exclude the divorced and civilly remarried Catholic from the reception of the Eucharist. Both Holy Fathers, however, have made manifest, in multiform ways, the ‘mercy’ offered to those individual Catholics who are in this situation.
This ‘mercy’ is truly a suffering in participation with the Crucified Christ. For, in obedience, it is truly a sacrifice which makes manifest the truth of the indissolubility of marriage, albeit through abstaining from the Eucharist, and conjugal acts with their civil marriage partner, for the love of Christ and His Church–as witnessed to, through the Sacrament of Matrimony and the Perpetual Sacrifice of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist.
This coming ‘year of Mercy’ will be judged by Justice as much as Mercy. For, in mystery, God Almighty exercises both in Love. As the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis must see that both of them balance within the scales, of the orthodoxy, of Catholic Truth.