Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The thing I am most rebelling against these days is the reduction of God to a mere natural force. Many rules, and many rule-oriented Catholics, seem to me to do this. I am really unclear on how easy or possible it is in fact to commit a mortal sin, and on how much actual repentance affects it.

A couple of months ago, someone blogged about a lapsed Catholic friend who was to go to Mass. The writer advised the friend not to receive Communion, because she hadn't been to Confession in many years, and was in a state of "objective mortal sin." (I dislike the term, but am using it precisely, denotatively, not connotatively. I would prefer "apparent" or something, but I don't write the moral theology textbooks--praise be!) This sparked a long comment box discussion, into which I briefly interjected myself.

The thing that made me angry was at least one person who identified himself as a priest approved of the writer's advice. The approval didn't make angry actually, since I can see arguments in favor of speaking up as well as keeping silent, but the priest advocated a position (that I cannot substantiate within the Catechism, though that doesn't mean it can't be done) I object to. He made reference to her receiving of it (in the sacriligeous, unconfessed state) as certain to cause her worse "spiritual sickness." I cannot for the life of me wrap my mind around this idea, except as the fruit of someone who has drawn lines around God's power.

It would seem that a person, away from the Church for many years, who one day decides out of nowhere to attend Mass is receiving God's Grace. (And it may even be that selfsame Grace that directed the writer to counsel his friend.) Under those circumstances, it seems to me that God can much better determine who in the Communion line is or is not in a state of Grace. It seems equally probable that an appropriate but arbitrary set of rules about frequency of Confession will not form a barrier to Grace, but are meant as an aide, to be plucked like a troublesome eye when they impede. It seems as if the priest in the discussion had reduced God to something like a^2 + b^2 = c^2, whereby the output is predetermined always and automatically by the inputs.

Now, to be clear: I think God's grace was certainly active in the writer as well as the friend. (His actions had been a major factor in the friend's desire to attend Mass at all.) Equally, I think it best that the woman receive Communion in an "objective state of grace" rather than the opposite. But I also point out that it is at least as likely as not that she had never learned any of the rules about Confession and Communion (by the deficiencies of her teachers, rather than hardheartedness), and if so she would not have committed a mortal transgression of those rules. (As I understand it, ignorance of the law can sometimes be a defense in moral theology, with many caveats and provisos of course.)

But I rebel angrily at any notion that a baptized Catholic, long absent from the Sacraments, but moved by the Spirit to present herself for them, could create within herself a "spiritual sickness" by receiving our Lord.

There are many other such "conservative Catholic" or "Traditionalist conservative" (or whatever the hell other schismatic, remnant, True Catholic language people choose to identify themselves with) approaches to the rules that see God's Love not as power unbounded but as the algebra of life, a formula for Salvation. (This, I think, accounts for a large measure of Christian "self-help" writing, too.) Ignatius commanded his order always to construe a person's professions and actions as charitably as possible, to grant the broadest possible understanding, in order to start from a presumption that a person was acting in accord with the Faith wherever that action could be in some way reconciled to the faith. Would that modern Catholics would do the same.


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