A wedding toast

When Israel was longing for the messiah, the prophet Malachi warned them that he is like a refining fire. When our Lord Jesus Christ came at last, he said, “I have come to cast fire on the earth, and would it were already kindled!” But when he finally cast his fire, it found an answering fire: the love between husband and wife had anticipated, indeed had prophesied, his coming.

So he took the husband and wife as his coat of arms, if I can put it that way, and he cast his fire into their midst. They blazed out with a supernatural flame in this dark world: their children took refuge in its warmth, and their neighbors all around found the way to our Lord by following that beacon.

Of course, not all Christian couples stayed in the refining fire. All too many crept away to the cool and comfort of the shadows, proving themselves inferior to the pagan Scaevola, who held his hand in the fire.

But I stand here on this twenty-second of October, as the nights grow longer and the days colder, to tell you that the world is a brighter and warmer place because of this marriage. In Michel, Bernadette has found a man whose love is stronger than death; in Bernadette, Michel has found a woman whose heart is as clear as a mountain stream, as big as the Wyoming sky, and as steady as the everlasting hills.

So I propose a toast: to the newlyweds, and to our joyful God, our merry God, who would have us be merry—and would have them be married!

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Talking our way to love

On Valentine’s Day, we fed the kids early and sent them off to watch a movie while we shared a special dinner and talked. OK, so we got a few words in edgewise here and there around baby Matthew’s escalating demands for food, but it was still Valentine’s Day and we were only shouting over one small voice.

Talking our way to loveWe’ve always talked a lot. That’s how we got married: we would stand outside Jacinta’s dormitory until curfew, just talking and talking, and I remember thinking to myself one night as we stood by the fence, “Gee, I could just do this forever.” We got married so there would be no curfew and no reason to stop talking.

Sheldon Vanauken describes how a married couple can suffer “creeping separation” if they don’t share enough of life. It takes shared experience, and shared thoughts about shared experience, to knit two souls together: Continue reading “Talking our way to love”

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Marriage and Martyrdom

As you may have noticed, the blog is on the back burner these days.  We began the home school year here in the house, classes begin at WCC next Tuesday, and baby Matthew continues to be an intense little man.

Nonetheless, I want to toss up at least a quick thought on the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist.  Liturgically, he is celebrated as a martyr, as one who died for the faith, and traditional commentators explain that because he died for the truth he also died for the Truth, which is Christ.  One wonders how far the argument can stretch, and whether anyone at all who dies “for the truth” is a martyr.

But before we go too far in that direction, let’s recall the specific truth for which John died.  John, who called himself “the friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29), was beheaded because he said loudly and publically that Herod Antipas should not have divorced his wife and married another woman who herself had been in a previous marriage to his own half-brother.  He died for the truth about marriage.

The close connection between marriage and Christ is worth pondering in our day–as is the connection between a public stance and martyrdom.

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“Fulfilling and meaningful” is not the same as “good”

An intelligent philosopher recently commented that he had known some people who adopted lifestyle X and that they seemed to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.  As a consequence, the philosopher had decided that lifestyle X was not a bad or immoral lifestyle after all.  That phrase about a “fulfilling and meaningful life” caught my attention:  when did we begin to speak that way?  I do it myself.  And yet, on reflection, I think that a person living a bad lifestyle can have a fulfilling and meaningful life.

It often happens that a person living a bad life feels empty, like something is wrong.  It often happens that a bad life is a trivial one, disconnected from society and the world at large, focused on the selfish self.  So the lack of a fulfilling and meaningful life could well mean that the life in question needs moral reform.  What I am saying is that you can’t turn it around:  You can’t say that the possession of a fulfilling and meaningful life means for sure that the life in question needs no moral reform.

Let’s look at the meaning of the terms.  I take “fulfilling” to mean that a person feels no void or lack in his life, but is, so to speak, filled up.  He’s tanked, supplied, not missing anything.  And I take “meaningful” to be an expansion on the same idea, indicating that his life makes him feel connected to something bigger than himself.  This could be a mental connection, situating him in some larger vision of the scheme of things, or it could be a practical connection, meaning that he has a positive impact on lots of other people.

To figure out whether a morally bad life can be fulfilling and meaningful, I need an example of something that everyone will admit is morally bad—a tough thing to find these days, but not impossible.  Let’s take up the example of slavery.  I hope that everyone who comes across this blog believes that treating human beings as slaves is a morally bad thing to do, and not just bad but very bad.  So let’s look at slave owners in the American south.

Did slave owners in the American south generally sit up at night wrestling with a void in their lives?  Did they suffer continually from a sense of something missing?  Subjectively speaking, were they unfulfilled?  One does not get that impression.  In fact, they lived somewhat as aristocrats, enjoying culture, education, and a high social life.  They took part in charitable endeavors, played a key role in the governance of a nation, and had an abundance of material goods.  Their lives were full of good things.

To put a sharp point on that:  Their lives were full of good things because they owned slaves.  Slave labor financed their exalted lifestyle, paid for their education, and provided leisure to enjoy it all.

When we look at the term “meaningful,” we find the same thing.  If we take the term as referring to a sense of connectedness to a broader vision of reality, slave owners truly saw their slaves as lesser, as lower, and so they seem to have experienced slave owning as a way of fitting into their proper place in the universe.  They were below God, equal to their fellow plantation owners, and superior to their slaves; there was—according to their perception—a natural order to things, and they were in the correct slot.  If we take “meaningful” in a practical sense, as having a positive impact on others, we find that the wealth they derived from owning the plantations made it possible to do good for others, to help friends in need, to build colleges and churches.  They seem to have lived meaningful lives.

And again, notice that they did so because they owned slaves.  They didn’t lead fulfilling and meaningful lives despite their morally bad actions but because of them.

And yet, owning slaves is a morally bad thing to do.  If we met a slave owner and realized that he seemed to feel fulfilled and to have found meaning in life, our conviction would not be shaken.  He does not seem like a monster when you get to know him; what of it?  We know that what he does is exceedingly bad.  If we became convinced that he was invincibly ignorant of his own moral failing, we would pity him because his ignorance was causing him to be something inherently shameful.  Intuitively, we know that his feeling of fulfilment and of being situated in the cosmos does not make his bad deeds good.

One basic problem with the terms “fulfilling” and “meaningful” as commonly used is that they have to do with feeling rather than reality.  A small cup can be just as full as a big one and yet hold far less water; a small soul can be just as fulfilled as a great soul and yet remain a cramped instance of humanity.  If moral good and evil are not just feelings, then they cannot be fully captured by terms that describe feelings.

The more practical sense of “meaningful,” having a positive impact on others, seems more objective and measurable, and yet even this has its problems.  A slave owner might have a positive impact on far more people than he enslaves, and yet his chosen lifestyle is a morally bad one.  A business man who runs an important pharmaceutical company could abuse his wife and kids while making it possible for millions of people to have essential medicines.  He could be a morally bad man and yet lead a truly meaningful life.

If people who do bad things were always unhappy, dislocated, and unproductive, then the world would be a much simpler place.  I remember some time ago a picture of Nazi soldiers went around the Internet and upset a lot of people.  It showed the soldiers on break, sitting around and talking, enjoying a beer—looking like normal people instead of like the monsters we see in World War II movies.  We all know life is more complicated than the movies.

Of course, I haven’t even touched on whether you can really know that someone else feels fulfilled and connected to something greater.  Every year it seems I read another story about someone who seemed happy to all his co-workers and then suddenly committed suicide.  I know I have had dark pits inside that no one could possibly have known about unless I told them.  One of the reasons we love biographies of famous people is the contrast between their glittering appearance and their hidden struggles.  However, my point in this post is not that bad people can hide how miserable they are, but that people who do very bad things are not always miserable.

The punchline:  If you meet people who do things you thought were morally wrong, don’t be unsettled if you find that they seem to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.  “Fulfilling and meaningful” is not the same thing as “good”.

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Same-sex marriage denies the reality of traditional marriage

On more than one occasion, an advocate of same-sex marriage has asked how I can tell other people that their marriages are not real.  My response has been that that the street runs two ways:  his promotion of same-sex marriage tells me that my marriage is not real.  Every time, my conversation partner has been truly and sincerely mystified by my claim.  How on earth can his claiming his marriage take anything away from mine?

It’s hard to explain briefly.  It’s hard to explain even at length, because by the time we are having this conversation we have hugely different background assumptions at work and we hear very different things when we hear the word “marriage”.  Nonetheless, in recent posts I have tried to sketch out at least some of the background for my claim:

1. Only if there is such a thing as a human nature can masculinity and femininity be an expression of something deeper than mechanical structures.  (I have also meditated here on one way our imagination can hinder us from seeing that human nature is real.)

2. Only if masculinity and femininity are real can marriage be a body-and-spirit, organic union of persons.

3. Only if marriage is a one-flesh, organic union of persons can there be such a thing a natural (as opposed to conventional) marriage.

To someone who has really grasped what I was saying in those previous posts, I can explain why claims to same-sex marriage do in fact take something away from traditional marriages.  What follows is sheer fiction, a little parable I just made up to illustrate what I’m thinking.

Once there was a man named Victor who had three boys and raised them as a loving father.  Victor was wealthy and generous and became a benefactor and mentor to a lot of other young men, to such a degree that he became famous for his altruism.  He reached old age and passed away, leaving a great legacy behind him, a happy family and a host of grateful friends.

So legendary was Victor that it became a mark of honor for a young man to have been associated with such him.  People made a big deal out of having had him as a mentor, calling themselves “sons of Victor.”  Victor’s natural children began referring to themselves as the “natural sons of Victor,” and saying that others were not “real sons of Victor.”

The others became upset:  they did not like any appearance of one-ups-manship.  So they sued Victor’s natural children, saying that the three boys were taking away their right to sonship.  Eventually a court declared that everyone who had been helped by Victor was just as much his “son” as anyone else, and that these people had every right to that title and whatever it implied.  The whole country was moved by these proceedings, and soon it was considered a hateful and intolerant thing to claim that some people’s sonship was “real” and others’ not.

And they all lived litigiously ever after.  The end.

In my little story, some people’s claim to be children of Victor took something away from others’.  The three natural children were of course denying real “sonship” to others:  they claimed natural sonship and argued that everyone else only had “sonship” by stretching the word to include a nice but artificial arrangement.  The others could have objected, “We’re just trying to claim our own, not taking anything away from anyone else.  How does our claiming our sonship take anything away from yours?”

But when the others prevailed, the implication was that Victor’s original three boys were only his “sons” in the sense that anyone else could be.  Their natural and biological relationship was made equivalent to an artificial and conventional one.  In the end, Victor’s three natural children were told that their sonship was less than what it had really been.

That’s the point about same-sex marriage.  The body-and-spirit union of man and woman is a natural thing, and everything else called “marriage”—whether it be two men, two women, two men and a woman, or whatever—is an artificial arrangement.  When we insist that both are equally “marriage,” then we mean that there are no natural marriages, only artificial things based on our preferences.

[Some people who agree with me in principle may object that the “sons of Victor” story is not quite on target, because honorary sonship is “not natural” while same-sex marriage is “unnatural”.  I understand, but every analogy limps.]

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How I can drive a car AND oppose same-sex marriage

In following the same-sex marriage debate, I’ve come across this odd objection:  If you are opposed to what is “unnatural,” then don’t use cars or telephones.  It’s the kind of argument that makes you cringe, because you know the person so rushed as to say it will probably not have time for the slow work of thinking; not everyone advocating same-sex marriage would be so sloppy.  But let’s take just a moment to untie this thing.

Logicians—who are all about the hard work of thinking—distinguish between being “contrary” and being “contradictory”.  To be contrary to something is to be at the other end of the spectrum, against it, the antithesis:  white is contrary to black, light to darkness, good to bad, hard to soft, beautiful to ugly, and so on.  Contraries are always on the same spectrum but at opposite ends.

On the other hand, to be contradictory to something is simply to be not that thing, to be other.  A tree is not light, but neither is it the antithesis of light; it just isn’t light.  To be orange is not to be soft, but neither is it opposed; it just isn’t the same thing.  To be black is not the same as to be good, but neither is it the antithesis of good.  Contradictories are not always on the same spectrum as each other.  Often, they are not each other just because they are on different spectrums altogether.

When we talk about “natural” vs. “unnatural,” we’re talking about contraries, things that are actually opposed to one another, in competition with each other.  Natural relates to unnatural the way light relates to dark or good to bad.  A same-sex marriage tries to be what marriage is but fails in key respects:  it is on the same spectrum as natural marriage, so to speak, but stands away like black from white.

But when we talk about cars and telephones, we’re talking about the contradictory of “natural”:  they are not “unnatural” but simply “not natural”.  A car is not natural the way orange is not soft.  A car or a telephone is something more like “natural” than, say, a two-by-four nailed to an apple, because a car or a telephone is built to extend our natural abilities while a two-by-four nailed to an apple is neither here nor there in relation to nature.

So, the punchline:  I can be opposed to the “unnatural” while being fine with the “not natural”.  I can oppose same-sex marriage and blog at the same time.

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How marriage is a “one flesh” union

In my last post, I said that husband and wife are “one flesh, one organism, biologically related.”  This claim is at the heart of the Church’s opposition to governmental recognition of same-sex unions, but it is hard to understand.  How are the two “one flesh” when one of them goes to the office and the other to the grocery store at the same time?  How are the two biologically related when they are not even cousins?  How are they “one organism” when one can die without the other?

To break into the problem, we have to look at how humanity and biology are related in general.  Human beings are rational, that is, they have a spiritual dimension that allows them to see the true and choose good or evil.  And yet human beings are at the same time bodily and biological, sharing common ground with animals and even with plants and micro-organisms.  We tend to think of these two dimensions as glued together somewhat awkwardly, with the rational part being the “real me” who tries, sometimes with more success and sometime with less, to control and direct the biological part.

But in fact our rationality shoots all through our biology and vice versa.  We share eyeballs and the neurology of vision in common with higher animals, and yet we see in a rational way:  we enjoy the structure and beauty of art in a way that animals simply do not.  We hear music in a way that animals do not.  We have desires for food and sex like animals do, and yet the goal of growth in virtue is to have these desires shot through with rationality so that we desire in a rational way.  Going the other way, our reason is helpless without imagination based on the senses, and our immaterial will needs the prodding of animal desire to prompt it into action.  We are not rational over here and biological over there:  we are rational-biological.  That’s what we mean when we say we are rational animals.

Marriage is a wonderful instance of this general fact.  Biologically, a man and a woman are each incapable of reproduction without the other, each deficient in instincts for life without the other, and each in need of the kind of emotional stimulus and support the other provides.  When a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, they share a single biological function, namely reproduction, becoming in a way one organism.  This establishes an ongoing relationship in which their many other levels of complementarity come into play:  even after the child is conceived and born, the man and the woman continue to play complementary roles in a single action, both the action of completing what they have begun by getting the baby to adulthood and the simple action of living their everyday lives.

But the biological reality is shot through with rationality.  Masculinity is not just a way of begetting children but a way of being human; femininity is not just a way of performing a biological function but a way of being rational.  The joining of the two in a single biological function is at the same time a spiritual giving of each to the other expressed through the body.  The emotional needs each supplies actually tie in to the life of virtue and growth toward God.

Consequently, a union can fail to be “marriage” from either direction, by failing in rationality or failing in biology.  On the one hand, even sexual intercourse does not bring about a marriage if the man and the woman do not will that it should:  rape lacks the consent of one party entirely, and shacking up lacks the seriousness of consent demanded by the occasion.  To be entirely clear:  rape and fornication and adultery are all unnatural because the rational part is missing.  Human beings are both rational and biological by nature, and a union that lacks the rational side falls short of the natural even if the correct body parts do all the right things.

On the other hand, the most intense will to union does not bring about a human marriage without that sharing of a single biological function in the reproductive act.  Same-sex activities in bed, heterosexual activities that don’t involve actual union, and all that kind of thing are also unnatural because they lack one side of the human rational-biological unity.

All of this should, I hope, clarify the Church’s response to the standard objection about heterosexual couples who cannot conceive children.  Since their sexual activities are infertile, how are they different from a same-sex couple in bed?  Simply put, the infertile heterosexual couple does not separate the rational and the bodily.  They consent to their union as rational beings, and they share a single organic function as bodily beings; they are united in soul and body.  The fact that their shared organic function is defective does not hinder their sharing it and so becoming one body:  it just means that their one flesh is defective in some way that prevents offspring.

Here’s a far-out analogy.  Suppose men and women were made each with one leg, and suppose that in marriage they became “one flesh” in such a way that each supplied a leg for the other so they could walk.  Now suppose that one of them has a bad ankle, and he limps.  This doesn’t mean that they don’t walk together as one, but just that they limp when they do.

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Is there any such thing as “natural” marriage?

Catholic response to the recent SCOTUS decision has been varied.  Many who have been in the trenches for years were disheartened; some priests have come out in favor of it; one friend of mine suggested a “Jon Duns Scotus rehabilitation project,” because the man deserves to have his name used better.  One response has been to minimize the loss:  Hey, this Supreme Court thing just has to do with civil marriages, not the sacrament of marriage, so it doesn’t touch our Catholic thing.

That last response is understandable, but wrong.  It would be a lot easier if we could write off the direction of our country as “their problem,” but the Catholic Church has always taught that there is such a thing as “natural” marriage, and that sacramental marriage is based on it.  (Aside from the obvious go-to, the Catechism, I would recommend reading the first half of Pius XI’s Casti Conubii, a marvelously clear document that has been reaffirmed by subsequent popes.)

The basic challenge is to see that there is such a thing as “natural” marriage.  Consider this analogy:  Nobody seems to doubt that parents and children are naturally related to each other.  What I mean is that no one thinks the parent-child relationship is something we just made up to suit our preferences.  The government has to be involved in the relationship, of course, providing inheritance laws and protecting a parent’s special right over the child’s education and the child’s right to support from the parent and so forth and so on, but no one takes the government’s involvement to mean that the government just fabricates this relationship for convenience.  We all see that a natural, biological fact relates parent to child and child to parent.

The reason it is particularly clear in the case of parent and child is that the child would not even exist were it not for his special relationship to a parent.  If you have these two people, you have this relationship; and if you have this relationship, you have these two people.  They aren’t separable, and so everyone can see that the relationship is no more an artificial arrangement than are the people themselves.

The Church’s teaching is that marriage is also a natural relationship, every bit as natural as the parent-child relationship.  Once a man and a woman enter into marriage, they are, so to speak, blood relations; they are one flesh, one organism, biologically related.  The government has to be involved in the relationship, of course, in order to protect the couple’s ability to live as one, to own property as one, and to inherit should one of them die, and so on, and the government has to arbitrate in cases where a marriage fails so badly that disputes arise over children and property and so on.  But the government’s involvement does not mean that the marriage relationship is just fabricated by the government for the sake of preference or convenience.

The reason it is harder to see this relation as natural is that both man and woman exist before the relationship ever begins.  Consequently, marriage can seem to be an accidental add-on, like membership at the country club or joining the Girl Scouts of America.

But in the Church’s view, something does exist as soon as the man and the woman exist, something without which the man and the woman would not exist themselves.  Men are made in a way that obviously puts them in relation to women and women are made in a way that makes them obviously related to men.  Being a man means having a certain relationship to woman, generically, and being a woman means having a certain relationship to man, generically.  A man is made incomplete without woman, and a woman is made incomplete without man, each needing the other in a way to be a complete human unit.

What happens at marriage is not that something entirely new is created, but that this man’s generic relationship to woman is narrowed down to this woman, while this woman’s generic relationship to man is specified to this man.  General complementarity becomes specific complementarity.  This man could not be completed without woman, and now he is completed by this woman; this woman could not be completed without man, and now she is completed by this man.  The structure of the relationship is already there, in masculinity and femininity, and the couple enter into that pre-existing structure by making it concrete in themselves.

That pre-existing structure is what the SCOTUS decision has denied, and yet that pre-existing structure is what Jesus took as the basis of the sacrament of marriage.  It is precisely because marriage is a certain kind of natural thing that it was able to become a certain kind of supernatural thing.

There is a lot more one could say.  The fact that marriage is natural ties in to the fact that society itself is natural, so to deny that natural marriage exists is actually to make a statement about the nature of the United States of America itself.  Ultimately, if we push far enough this direction, we may even find ourselves saying that the parent-child relationship is a matter of preference.  But for now I just want to make clear the Church’s position:  even though a man and a woman enter marriage by willing to do so, their will does not create the nature of the thing they enter.

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The objective objection

My previous Kasper post was devoted to his argument based on spiritual communion.  Because the Church has said that the divorced and remarried can make a spiritual communion at Mass, Kasper said:

For the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.  How can he or she then be in contradiction to Christ’s commandment?  Why, then, can’t he or she also receive sacramental communion?

Last time I focused on the nature of a “spiritual communion”.  This time I want to look at the second half, where Kasper asks how, if these people are in union with Jesus, can they be in contradiction to Christ’s commandment?  Part of the answer is in my last post, where I pointed out that being allowed to make a spiritual communion does not imply that one is in a state of grace.  For the rest of the answer, let’s take a look at the language the Church has used on this issue.  I’ll put the key phrases in bold print.

In 1981, the bishops of the world had a synod at which they talked about the family and the question was raised:  can the divorced and remarried receive communion?  The bishops said no, they can’t, and John Paul reported on their conclusion in his post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio:

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that 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.

In 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Ratzinger, was compelled to answer proposals for allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion.  Just before quoting the Familiaris Consortio passage given above, the CDF’s letter says:  “If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.”

In 2007, a synod of bishops was held on the Eucharist, and again they discussed whether the divorced and remarried can receive communion, and they again said no.  Pope Benedict XVI reported their conclusion in his post-synodal exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis:

The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist.

There are two things to note about the Church’s choice of words.  First, the exclusion from communion is based on an objective condition, not on a subjective state of sin or grace.  The Church knows well that people who do what are objectively mortal sins are not always subjectively guilty of mortal sin.  People might not understand what they do, or they might act under some kind of partial coercion–lots of factors can affect a subjective state.  So when the Church excludes DivRem’s from communion, she is not making a blanket statement that everyone who has been divorced and remarried is in a subjective state of mortal sin.  The exclusion is based on the easily accessible and objective fact of being divorced and remarried.

Second, we have to notice that this is an objective condition, not a one-time event.  Someone could steal or murder or lie or commit some other objectively very bad deed, and yet they get up the next day and they are not stealing or murdering or lying or whatever.  It was a deed, not a condition.  But if someone went down to the parish and told them to erase his name from the registry because he had rejected the Church, that would be an ongoing condition:  he not only did something one day, but as a result he is now in a condition of exclusion from the Church and from communion.  He may not even be subjectively guilty for his actions–maybe he was badly catechized and badly treated by a priest and so on–but he still cannot receive communion because of his objective, ongoing condition.

To wrap up, we find two major holes in Kasper’s argument.  He says that spiritual communion implies being one with Jesus, which means one cannot be in opposition to his commandment.  But we find that spiritual communion does not imply being one with Jesus, and we find that being spiritually one with Jesus is compatible (in some cases) with being in a condition objectively opposed to his commandment.  Kasper has not actually addressed what the Church has said on this issue.

But he’s not done.  Stay tuned.

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Spiritual communion for the divorced and remarried

At long last, we get down to the “Kasper proposal,” which has increasingly stood out in my mind as the real gravitational center of this entire book.  Kasper opens by pointing to something the Church has already said:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided a guideline already in 1994 when it declared—and Benedict XVI reiterated it at the World Meeting of Families in Milan in 2012—that the divorced and remarried admittedly cannot receive sacramental communion, but can indeed receive spiritual communion.

The CDF document mentioned here was a letter addressing an earlier incarnation of the Kasper proposal and rejecting it.  We’ll return to that letter in the next post.  Kasper continues by arguing that this suggestion is not only insufficient but self-contradictory:

Many will be grateful for this statement.  But it also raises questions.  For the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.  How can he or she then be in contradiction to Christ’s commandment?  Why, then, can’t he or she also receive sacramental communion?

Within the same paragraph Kasper quickly runs on to new arguments, but let’s stop and consider this first salvo sentence by sentence.  His first claim is that “the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.”  Stated this way, without qualification, his claim is false.

The reason has to do with what “spiritual communion” means.  A “spiritual communion” is a serious and formal desire to receive the sacrament of communion when sacramental reception is unavailable or illicit.  If the one person making this act of desire is rightly disposed, God can grant the effects of the sacrament.  It is like a “baptism by desire,” only with the Eucharist.

If someone in mortal sin were to make a formal act of desire for the Eucharist, he would not receive the effects of the sacrament any more than someone in mortal sin receiving the sacrament itself would receive the effects of the sacrament.  It is simply not true that anyone who makes this act of “spiritual communion” is in union with Jesus Christ, any more than it is true that anyone who saunters through the communion line is in a spiritual union with Jesus Christ.

However, sacramental communion and spiritual communion are different in an important way:  in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus is an objective reality in the recipient, regardless of whether the one receiving the sacrament is well or badly disposed to receive it.  In spiritual communion Jesus is not present in the recipient unless the person is well disposed, and even then he is only present interiorly and invisibly.

Consequently, to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist in mortal sin is a bad thing, both because it treats Christ’s body and blood disrespectfully and because it falsely signifies to others that the believer is in spiritual union with Christ.  But making a spiritual communion while in mortal sin is a good thing:  not only is there no false outward sign of unity, but making an act of desire for the Eucharist is a good first step toward getting out of mortal sin and back into to union with Christ.  So reception of the sacrament in mortal sin makes for more sin, but spiritual communion while in mortal sin disposes one to less sin.

There we have one hole in Kasper’s argument.  Next time, we’ll look at the next sentence.

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