I was sitting listening to a really great homily today at Mass. Father chose to address the scriptures more peripherally than centrally, but he preached on a central tenet of our faith - the Eucharist. He spoke about the recurrent issue of those with celiac disease and the Church's uncompromising insistance that the host must be made of wheat. He turned it into a really great lesson on Transubstantiation, reading from (among other things) the documents of the Council of Trent that after Consecration, the full substance of Jesus, body, blood, soul, and divinity, are truly present in what was once simply bread and wine, and that a full communion is made by partaking of either of the species.
Other bloggers have pointed out the existence of the low-gluten hosts, and the wine-only option (which Father also mentioned) and that is not where I am going here.
Also in the news last week has been the dredging up of an old scandal involving Deal Hudson ( a man I personally admire greatly) and a college student of his - he sinned, he repented, he made restitution, I personally don't see what the big deal is?. And of course, there is the ongoing scandal of John Kerry continuing to present himself for Holy Communion despite his ongoing public dissent from vital church teachings.
As we were heading home after Mass, it struck me that there is a common thread in these news items. There is a common heretical frame of mind here that is so prevalent in our culture that we amost can't see it. My husband has alluded to it as the "you deserve the best" and "the culture of perfection", and I think he has a partial handle on it. But I think there is much, much more to be found here.
Earlier, I had read Karen Marie writing about Pope St Pius X. (John just pointed out O.O has a nice bit on Pius, too).
I think we are seeing part of the pendulum swing from a heresy on one side (Jansenism) to a heresy on the other side (Universalism). Jansenism emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination. The Jansenist idea of predestination, based on Augustine's writing and close to that of Calvinism, was that only a small number of human beings, the "elect", were destined to be saved. From what I have read, the central heresy in Jansenism (remembering always that heresies usually result from a misinterpretation of a truth) is a denial of God's salvific grace and of man's free will to choose to accept or decline that grace. So they saw going to Communion without knowing if one was among the elect to be tantamount to a desecration. (Please remember here that I am not a theologian and I will gladly accept correction if I have mis-spoken here).
As a practical matter, the customary practice of the church in much of Europe was strongly influenced by this heresy, such that the Holy See had to institute a requirement that the faithful receive Communion at least once a year, during the Easter season (aka the "Easter duty"). Otherwise, it would not have been uncommon for a faithful Catholic to have received Communion only twice - at First Holy Communion, and again as Viaticum at the hour of death. Penance was practiced quite frequently (weekly or more often) starting at "the age of reason" (generally held to be 7 years of age), but First Communion was delayed until after Confirmation, which was usually around the age of 13 or more, and was preceded by intense memorization of the Catechism. People were so paranoid about risking sacrilege through the unworthy reception of the Sacrament that many Masses featured only the priest's communion.
Today, we face an opposite heresy. Universalism is the denial of original sin, and a belief that everyone will end up in heaven because a loving God couldn't possibly send anyone (not even the most grievous sinner) to Hell. Most Universalists deny even the existence of Hell. Many Universalists are also moral relativists in their ethical background. Along with the loss of belief in original sin is a loss of belief in the very idea of sin.
We have come to believe that we are entitled to receive Holy Communion regardless of the state of our souls. Now, I do believe that God can forgive anything - after all, He is Lord and King of the universe. But he asks us to first repent of our sins and to try not to sin any more. When Jesus was asked to pass judgement on the woman caught in adultery (a truly huge sin to which we have become anesthetized by our culture), he famously said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". But he then also told her to, "Go, and sin no more". And in Matthew 7 we are admonished to judge not, lest we be judged, but then we are also told to, in effect, get our act together and clean our own house before chastising our brethren. We can rely on the Divine Mercy, but we can't take God for granted. There is a big difference between assurance and presumption.
So here we have a mother furious because her daughter's first communion is ruled invalid due to the use of a rice cracker. We have long lines for Communion at just about every Mass and very few regular penitents in the confessional. We have a culture where probably the vast majority of those going up for Communion are dissenting from one or more Church teachings (sexual teachings in particular) and who see nothing wrong with what they are doing. The big difference between John Kerry and Joe Parishioner is that Kerry's dissent is public and flagrant. So very many Clueless Catholics out there...
So what does all this have to do with Deal Hudson? G. K. Chesterton has been quoted saying "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." Think about it. Must we wait until we are perfect in an activity before we do it? Especially if the activity is 'a good thing'? Should an old sin paralyze one from taking necessary action? An old sin should be a motivator to avoid the near occasion of that sin (and others, too, but especially that particular sin). The sin should be confessed, penance done, restitution made to the maximum possible. But being a sinner should not silence one from speaking out against sin. If it did, we would not have most of our saints. Augustine was a libertine and followed a heretical sect. Peter was a coward, rash, impulsive. The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. Sacramental absolution is one of the most healing of graces available to us all. In this 'hospital', there may be some who are not able to partake of Communion for whatever reasons. In a medical hospital, there are those who are restricted from activities that are generally healing, for a variety of reasons. Some one with a bowel obstruction cannnot benefit from the benefits of food until the digestive channels are unblocked. A person in a state of sin is unable to benefit from the graces of Holy Communion until their channels are unblocked through sacramental absolution.
From what I have been able to determine, Mr. Hudson has made use of the graces of the sacraments, has done what is needful to make reparation, is aware of his sinfulness and so on. He is not perfect, and neither are you nor I.
addendum - I will add in links to other commentary on Mr Hudson's travails as I find them.
from a non-catholic "who knows a mugging when I see one"
Amy posted a list of links