Archive for the ‘Catholic action’ Category

Uncivil-war2 copyI began blogging as a reaction against the venom spewed in com-boxes. Not the venom against the Church by those outside it – that, I can understand and even (in a prideful and totally inappropriate reaction) delight in. Generally, such venom is based on total misinformation and often on wilful misunderstanding. Even those who are informed betray a double-standard about morality that shows, deep down, the commenter expects the Church to be better. Which is a compliment, in a twisted, backhanded kind of a way.

My reaction was to the venom of Catholic commenters against anyone who didn’t agree with their views. It seemed to me that there was a scale to the nasty, insulting, cruel comments. Agnostics were treated with reasonable compassion; atheists got it with both barrels; Protestant Christians received both barrels plus grenades; but all out war was reserved for other Catholics whose views on what it was to be Catholic differed from those of the commenter.

This isn’t a nice way to behave, folks. It isn’t productive. It isn’t a good witness for Catholicism. All in all, it sucks big time.

Yesterday’s readings sum up the way we should be with everyone we meet: showing good judgement (of course), but not judgemental. The worst persecutor of the young Christian community doesn’t spend the rest of his life apologising for his misdeeds, but instead works himself to the bone to spread the Christian message. Jesus doesn’t condone the sin of the adulteress, but neither does he condemn her.

Please read a beautiful post by Calah Alexander on why we Catholics shouldn’t be tearing the Pope (and one another) apart in com boxes. It’s a powerful argument for a cease fire. Here’s a snippet:

We had Benedict because we needed him. We have Francis now, I think, because we also need him. We need beauty in the liturgy. We also need to help the poor. These two forces seem so ludicrously opposed to each other in American Catholicism. Either you’re a conservative, rad-trad, pro-Liturgy Catholic or you’re a liberal, social-justice, pro-guitars-and-holding-hands-during-the-Our-Father-Catholic. And anyone who takes the blogosphere as an example probably thinks we Catholics spend all our time hunkered down in our trenches, lobbing carefully-worded-blog-post-bombs at each other, waiting for the other side to go over the top so we can mow them down and cleanse the Church of that crap for once and for all.

We’re waging a pointless and counterproductive war on each other. Both sides are defending deposits of the faith. Good, beautiful, true things that we have learned through our mutual faith, things which our faith needs equally in order to flourish. Can you imagine what might happen if we stopped haunting each other’s comboxes, accusing each other of heresy, and instead spent that energy working together to make the Church better? Maybe we could even *deep breath* try and see what’s true, good, and beautiful about the other. Like, maybe I could go to a Tridentine Mass and viciously repress my inner Jan Hus and really, really try to see the beauty in that ancient liturgy that bequeathed to me the faith I hold so dear today. And maybe whoever runs Rorate Caeli could go to a Novus Ordo Mass in Spanish in Immokalee, the town down the street from me, and instead of being horrified at the abuses in the liturgy really, really try to see the beauty in these migrant workers shuffling into the pews after a day of back-breaking work in the Florida sun, sweaty and dirty and wearing jeans, but resisting the urge to go home and collapse until they’ve seen Jesus.

Our faith is so multi-faceted. That’s why we have a gazillion saints. They’re all doing something different, giving us different examples to follow. Not everyone can be Francis of Assisi, living in blissful poverty, fasting and praying. Someone had to be St. Thomas Aquinas, puzzling out the finest points of theology while remaining very very well-fed. And our Church would be infinitely poorer if Francis and Thomas Aquinas had spent all their time arguing over whose way was better instead of just doing the work God had set before them. We all have different work to do in the Church, and God wants all of us to help make his Church complete. But we can’t very well do that if we’re busy tearing each other to shreds.

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article-2291993-189ABE56000005DC-746_964x577God knows what Pope we need, so why do we bother to pray? The Holy Spirit will provide, right?

Jimmy Akin has a post on this topic. Among other things, he quotes Pope Benedict:

When asked whether the Holy Spirit is responsible for the election of a pope, he said:

I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. . . . I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.

He continued:

There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!

A while back, I commented on conversations with atheists about the purpose of prayer, comparing such conversations to a game in which one side is playing to the rules of cricket, and the other to the rules of tennis. I suggest atheists (and in retrospect, many theists) have an ‘Our Santa Claus which art in Heaven’ view of prayer.

This isn’t the Catholic view of prayer (it may be the view of some Catholics, but it isn’t the teaching of the Church). What we believe is far more scary. We believe that God works through us – not just through our actions, but also through our prayer. Could He work without us? For God, all things are possible. But He doesn’t. He waits to be asked.

This is an awesome privilege, and also a terrifying responsibility. If we don’t ask – sincerely, adamently, and insistently – we won’t get.

In my post on intercessory prayer, I said:

We pray in order to participate in the work of God. God has so ordered the world that his intercession needs to be asked for. Some suggest praying triggers the action of a natural law built into the structure of the universe, others that God himself ‘stands at the door and knocks, and behold, if any should open it I will enter’.

To take a parenting analogy, we are like the six year old that helps make dinner. Mum could have done it herself – perhaps faster and more efficiently. But she didn’t. It was Junior that peeled the carrots, stirred the gravy, and put a date and a spoon of brown sugar in the space left after coring the apples. Yes, Mum chose to make the delivery of important parts of the meal dependent on Junior’s help –but nonetheless, Junior helped to make dinner.

And, like the six-year old, there is a point to this. We are learning how to intercede. According to the Bible, according to Catholic teachings, intercession is an important part of the work of the Church in Heaven. This fact, by the way, lends weight to the idea that prayer and natural law are closely linked. We sometimes talk about the saints praying for us as if they were members of the court of a distant oriental potentate. But, of course, they are the beloved children of the Father, and we are their younger siblings. So if the saints intercede on our behalf, as we are taught they do, it isn’t to bend God’s ear until he gives in to the nagging and changes his mind. Rather, surely, it is because the prayer of a saint has an effective impact on the universe.

Dan Burke, in a post called ‘Are you insane?’ sums it up. ‘If we don’t pray, God’s grace will not be granted.’ He quotes Carmelite Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen:

“God wishes our collaboration. He wants it so much that he has made the granting of certain graces, necessary for our salvation, and that of others, dependent upon our prayers. In other words, by the merits of Jesus, grace – God’s infinite mercy – is ready to be poured out for us abundantly… but it will not be poured out unless there is someone who raises supplicating hands to heaven asking for it. If prayer does not ascend to the throne of the Most High, grace will not be granted.” (Divine Intimacy – Apostolic Prayer)

So let’s storm heaven with prayers for a holy, wise, competent pope. And let’s keep praying after the conclave, in case we’re too late and he isn’t in the room to be chosen.

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slavesThe Patheos book club has been discussing the book ‘Refuse to do nothing’, by  Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim. It’s about the scandal of modern slavery – with an estimated 27 million people enslaved worldwide, it’s a bigger problem than most of us realise. The book suggests that we each should do what we can to contribute to its end.

Joanne Brokaw, one of the book club members, gives some examples:

For example, would you eagerly reach for a chocolate bar if you knew that the cocoa beans used to make the candy were harvested by young children, forced into labor and held against their will?  Child labor is used in almost 70% of the world’s cocoa production. As the sweet, chocolatey goodness melts on your fingers, imagine a young child, taken from his family and smuggled across the border to another country, working long hours with little food or pay, away from his family and threatened with violence. He made your treat possible.

Pick up your cell phone, and as you text, talk and surf the web, imagine a 6-year-old child in Africa – let’s say in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which boasts more than $20 trillion in natural resources at its disposal but is ranked by the United Nations as last in the world in human rights. This child is abducted by a militia group and given a machine gun, forced to kill his own parents (and likely rape and then horribly mutilate his own mother) and then instructed to burn down his entire village. That child soldier is now a  pawn in ongoing conflict over the minerals used to make electronics. He made your LOLs possible.

Imagine a young girl of 13; she argues with her mother, decides to run away, and ends up at the house of a friend’s older brother. A man living there locks her in a room, beats her, drugs her and then forces her into prostitution. She is denied food, and threatened with more violence, against not only herself but also her family if she tries to leave. Now imagine that it’s your own daughter, right here in the U.S., because 83% of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens (based on confirmed cases of trafficking).

Imagine a man, born into a family with a debt owed to a sugar plantation owner. At birth, his life is already not his own. He, his children and his children’s children will toil under excrutiatingly horrible conditions, locked away from the outside world, bonded to a debt he didn’t incur but which continues to accrue – one step forward, ten steps back, forever working yet never getting closer to freedom…

… recognize that you have a responsibility to consider how everything you do affects everyone else. You don’t have to become a modern day abolitionist, hitting the lecture circuit or traveling to Cambodia to free young girls held in bondage. You can start by simply becoming an educated consumer. Read labels, look for “fair trade” symbols, ask questions about where your products were made. What we buy on the cheap often comes at the expense of someone else.

Joanne also gives some more ideas and some other reading – as does the first link at the top of this post.

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Fr Longenecker makes an interesting distinction between being good and doing good:

…these well-meaning Catholics (and of course this applies to a multitude of well-meaning Protestant Christians as well) who think they can “be good without going to church” are really in the same position as the polite atheists who also say they can “be good without God.”

By this, they mean they can start a charity, raise money for helpless people, run a soup kitchen and special Olympics, campaign for poor workers and ecological causes without starting their meetings with a prayer. True enough. All those things are possible.

They may go further in their definition of what it means to be good and suggest that this also means “reaching one’s full human potential” or “being self actualized” or “being fully mature and caring and loving.” This too is possible with a certain amount of determination, hard work, good manners, working out at the gym and reading the right self-help books.

Fr Longenecker says, though, that this is about doing good, not about being good.

Catholicism is about a supernatural transaction between an individual and God. God’s power, which we call “grace,” works on the person’s whole being to effect a transformation from the inside out. We call this “divinization.” The ancient church of the East calls it “theosis.” This transformation allows a human being to live in a new dimension of power and glory unimagined by most of us. The second century theologian Saint Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive” or as Jesus Christ himself said, “I have come to give you life—life more abundant!”

This “abundant life” means something greater than just doing good. It means being good. It means every cell and muscle, every sinew and particle of soul, every part of us being transformed with the radiant power and glory of God. It means the individual lives in a new, more dynamic dimension of reality. He or she begins to display even in this life a “god-like” quality.

You can read for yourself his answer to the inevitable comments about those whose Church attendance doesn’t have this effect – the hypocrites, the judgemental bullies, the predators who hide behind their church position in order to continue to do evil.

In this post, I’d rather focus on what he says about those who are transformed.

…in the saints we do not find what we expected to find.

We thought the saint’s story would be one of exclusive piety, sweet suffering and a sort of rose-scented limp through life. Instead, we find what the church calls “heroic sanctity”—amazing stories of ordinary individuals who achieve extraordinary things because they have become extraordinary people.

The life of the Polish priest Maximillian Kolbe is just one example: a physically sickly man living on one lung because of tuberculosis, in the 1930s he led thousands of young Polish men in a renewed Franciscan order. He started a printing press, a national newspaper with circulation in the millions, and pioneered radio broadcasting to spread the faith. Then he went to Japan as a missionary, learned the language and lived in extreme poverty, enduring persecution and misunderstanding. He built a monastery and started a seminary, wrote and printed a Japanese language paper, established a printing operation and radio station, before being summoned back to his country because of the outbreak of war.

Because of his passive resistance to the Nazi regime, he ended up in Auschwitz where, witnesses say, his wasted body was physically radiant with light. Giving up his own meager rations, he finally also gave up his life—stepping up to take the place of a man with a wife and children who had been sentenced to death. Even in the death cell he radiated a love and goodness beyond imagining—lasting far longer in his slow starvation than anyone thought possible until he was finally dispatched with a lethal injection.

Maximillian Kolbe is just one. Should anyone doubt that this power has been released into the lives of ordinary people, let him read the real stories of more saints, for each one (in a vast variety of people around the world and down through the ages) exhibits this same unimaginable heroism—this same supernatural transformation.

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Jennifer Feeney has an article in Crisis Magazine about how to treat people you passionately disagree with. She uses the example of relatives who are pro-choice, but, the principle applies more generally:

The Catechism states that it is, in fact, the human virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) that “govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith (CCC1804).”  And it is the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) that give grounding, insight, and infuse our actions with the grace of God.  The theological virtue of charity (love) is said to encompass all of the human virtues.  If you are acting in charity, you can in turn act with prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance…

So here is Christ’s challenge to us all:  Pray for those who persecute us.  Say I love you anyway and will be there if you need help.  Can we demonstrate the love of Christ in such a way that, in spite of opposition, our actions stop people in their tracks and make them wonder at our love?

I take her point that it is far easier to be charitable to those we don’t know or to whom we are not emotionally connected. It is hard to act with love towards those who have shredded our hearts by rejecting what we hold dear – which we inevitably take as a rejection of us. But hard or not, we are called to love. We are told that love is the greatest commandment.

Does this mean we shouldn’t tell the truth? Of course not. Telling the truth is a requirement of love. Does it mean that we should consider our words, our tone, our dellivery, and our actions to ensure that it is love that motivates us, and not hurt or indignation? Darned tooting!

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“God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him and love him.” [Pope Benedict, Christmas 2006]

The feast day of Sts Felicity and Perpetua was earlier this week; I was reading a translation of their passion – the two young mothers died for the faith in the arena in Carthage in the year 203. The record of their passion and death was written at the time – the first part by St Perpetua herself.

Their example should cause us to question how Catholic commentators should respond to vicious attacks on themselves, on God, and on the Church. One of the reasons I started blogging was that I saw so many Catholics let themselves and their Church down by being equally vicious. Even less edifying than the sight of a Catholic abusing an atheist in a combox is the sight of two Catholics at one another’s throats on points of Church liturgy, doctrine, or practice: The temptation to respond sharply to error, lies, and insults can be overwhelming; many a time I’ve written a stinging reply to a comment, and then deleted it without posting. Sometimes I’ve clicked post before taking time for that second thought – but I’ve never seen any good come from returning evil for evil – in blog posts or in real life.

How we should behave, of course, has been clear since the Crucifixion. We should respond as God responded to humankind on the Cross, and even before that, on that first Christmas – with a bottomless well of love.

Joanne from Egregious Twaddle has posted several times recently on this theme. In her latest post, she quotes St Augustine:

In an earlier time, St. Augustine captured the sense of what is required in civil discourse: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us.  For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”

And Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin:

For too long the Church appeared in a role of moralisation and people failed to transmit the real depth of the Christian message which is about Jesus as a person who in his life and teaching reveals to us who God is. God is a God of love with whom we can in Jesus enter into a personal relationship, which then brings richness to the way we live of our lives.

She also links to Lisa Mladininich’s post on loving our fellow Catholics.

All pridefulness, including mine, wounds the Body of Christ, His Church. Us. And I will always, with God’s help, stand against error, endeavoring to write and teach in faithful submission to the Holy Father and to the Magisterium.

But I’m not fit to cast stones or make assumptions about motivation, character, and most especially the state of another person’s soul. I have had it with this conceptual separation from members of my family who also love with zeal, but might not see things the way I do.

I am parched and yearning for the only drink that can satisfy, to follow Jesus deeper into love, with all my inadequacies, depending totally on His grace. I’ve got to keep struggling to love all of my Catholic family. To let their indelibly, authentically Christian souls and the presence of the Great, Triune God who literally dwells in them, outweigh whatever issues threaten to divide us.

Because love is the thing.

In a previous post, Joanne challenged us to think again about the idea that people being against us is proof of our virtue:

Do liberal Democrats hate us because they are morally bankrupt babykillers who care more about buying the votes of the poor with entitlement programs than actually addressing real injustice? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

Do people who don’t experience themselves as heterosexual hate us because they are moral lepers, unnatural and disordered, who can never participate in committed relationships or family life? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

Do women hate us because they are second-rate humans who are envious of the male power they will never be able to possess, in the Church or in the world, and because they are essentially incapable of being anything other than an occasion of sexual sin unless they are consecrated virgins or married mothers? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

Do people of other faith traditions–or of no faith tradition whatsoever–hate us because their beliefs or lack of them are so pitifully inferior to our Truth that they have nothing to say to us? Or do they hate us because that is how we see and treat and dismiss them?

And how’s this for a Lenten challenge:

Maybe that’s what this New Evangelization thing is all about, and why this is all happening now. What difference would it make if our love were as public, as political, as visible and tactile, as headline-making, as undeniable as our principles? What if, instead of tithing mint and rue, we lived God’s infinite providence? What if we lifted burdens instead of laying them? What if new generations were to say, “See how these Christians love us all!”

If God–who is Love–is for us, it will be because we love as he does. And as Paul says, who could be against us then?

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Shout for all you are worth,
  raise your voice like a trumpet.
Proclaim their faults to my people,
  their sins to the House of Jacob.
They seek me day after day,
  they long to know my ways,
like a nation that wants to act with integrity
  and not ignore the law of its God.
They ask me for laws that are just,
  they long for God to draw near:
‘Why should we fast if you never see it,
  why do penance if you never notice?’
Look, you do business on your fast-days,
  you oppress all your workmen;
look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast
  and strike the poor man with your fist.
Fasting like yours today
  will never make your voice heard on high.
Is that the sort of fast that pleases me,
  a truly penitential day for men?
Hanging your head like a reed,
  lying down on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call fasting,
  a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me
– it is the Lord who speaks –
to break unjust fetters and
  undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
  and break every yoke,
to share your bread with the hungry,
  and shelter the homeless poor,
to clothe the man you see to be naked
  and not turn from your own kin?
Then will your light shine like the dawn
  and your wound be quickly healed over.
Your integrity will go before you
  and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
  call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’
Today’s first Mass reading – a challenge for this penitential season

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This quote from one of the blogs I follow for my work seems pertinent to our discussion on poverty and population:

In her remarkable new book about life in a Mumbai slum, Katherine Boo, a New Yorker staffer, concludes that the world’s unequal societies don’t explode into violent insurrection because poor people pick on other poor people, not the rich. Just as the wealth flowing into India has yet to trickle down to its very poorest (though it has already lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty), the troubles of the poor leave the better off unaffected. Hundreds of Muslims died in riots in 2002 because poor Hindus expressed their frustrations at day-to-day life against equally poor Muslims. In 1992, when similar riots spread across India, it was the poorest towns and neighbourhoods that became war zones. The nice bits of town remained relatively peaceful.

The rich prey on the poor. Not every single individual rich person, of course; but many of them, and the system as a whole. To increase their personal wealth, some people, some companies – and some countries – prey on those who are poor.  But more than this, the poor prey on the poor. For example, the US Bureau of Justice has released statistics that show those at the bottom end of the household income scale are three times more likely to be burgled than those at the top end – those who have the least to lose are most likely to lose it. They’re also four to five times more likely to be assaulted. The same holds true from Mumbai to Durban to Sydney to Hong Kong. The poor prey on the poor (possibly because it saves the cost of a bus fare).

Of course, the rich are foolish if they think that the troubles of the poor will never affect them.

In 1959, Morris West wrote a book called ‘Children of the Sun’ about poverty in Naples. He predicted that, if the rich did not heed the dire state of the poor, they would need armed guards to accompany their children to school, and would in effect end up living in gilded prisons, terrified of their own countrymen. He was ignored.

Witness what has happened in the last forty years in Italy: kidnappings, murders, gang wars… not just of the criminal classes as is usually the case at the moment in New Zealand, but of those whose lives of privilege made them targets of envy.

Social justice for all is not just a ‘nice’ thing to strive for; not just a piece of Catholic rhetoric (and suspect liberal Catholic rhetoric at that). Social justice is not just obeying the Gospel command to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ – though we haven’t obeyed that command without social justice. Social justice is enlightened self-interest; by helping others to live in dignity, we help ourselves.

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Growing - or buying and eating - heritage crops helps retain genetic diversity as insurance against future environmental challenges.

From the article that led me to the Onion spoof I posted yesterday, a more serious look at how to bring about change:

How could distributism come about as an economic system?John Searle, philosophy professor at UC Berkeley since 1959, has witnessed a fair number of protests. I’m going to ineloquently paraphrase him on how you create your own social institutions:

“You just do it. If you want to start a new social institution you and enough other people just start living it, as though the old institution were no longer there, and your new institution is just how things are.”

In other words, if you don’t like oligarchic capitalism with its exploitative banks and other practices, just set up new, or support already-existing alternative social institutions and go with them. Divest from the old banks. Join a credit union.  Divest from the old business structures everywhere. Support or start your own small business. Anything you reject on moral grounds, really reject it!  To get it to work, all you need are enough people to accept the new reality.  (And a government willing to give you a fair playing-field… and that is another issue…)

Now this is easier for some things and harder for others. So start small: you can shop at the local small store or cooperative store. You can move your money to a credit union. You can support local agriculture.

These are tiny steps, but taken together they can change the economy. You may object that it costs more to shop at a small local store than the local big-box store. And you may be right and you may not be able to afford it.  Just do what you can.

The financial system which we are a part of is only a reality if we all choose to agree that it is. We can choose otherwise.


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Here’s a wee note for the headline writer at the Guardian who said: “Vatican says World Youth Day is chance to confess abortion and rejoin church,” for the writer of the article that followed (which included such bloopers as calling this a “special” concession – their quote marks), and for all the other people who’ve leapt in to comment without checking their facts.

People who are excommunicated are still part of the Church. And people are able, and have always been able, to confess abortion and receive absolution throughout the year, right in their own diocese.

I know I’ve said this before, but excommunication is a medicinal penalty, designed to bring people back into full communion. It isn’t a cancellation of membership. If the article and blog writers had take two minutes to research even at the shallow end of the pool (the relevant Wikipedia article), they’d have ‘got’ that:

In Roman Catholic canon law, excommunication is a censure and thus a “medicinal penalty” intended to invite the person to change behaviour or attitude, to repent and return to full communion. It is not an “expiatory penalty”, designed to make satisfaction for the wrong done, still less a merely “vindictive penalty”, designed solely to punish.

Excommunication can be either latae sententiae (automatic, incurred at the moment of committing the offence for which canon law imposes that penalty); or it can ferendae sententiae (incurred only when imposed by a legitimate superior or declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court).

Excommunicated Catholics are still Catholics and remain bound by obligations such as attending Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist and from taking an active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.). However, their communion with the Church is considered gravely impaired. In spite of that, they are urged to retain a relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.

Excommunicated persons are barred from participating in the liturgy in a ministerial capacity (for instance, as a reader if a lay person, or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) and from receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, but are not barred from attending these (for instance, an excommunicated person may not receive the Eucharist, but is not barred from attending Mass). They are also forbidden to exercise any ecclesiastical office or the like. If the excommunication has been imposed or declared, stricter effects follow, such as the obligation on others to prevent the excommunicated person from acting in a ministerial capacity in the liturgy or, if this proves impossible, to suspend the liturgical service, and the invalidity of acts of ecclesiastical governance by the excommunicated person.

In the Catholic Church, excommunication is normally resolved by a declaration of repentance, profession of the Creed (if the offence involved heresy), or a renewal of obedience (if that was a relevant part of the offending act) by the excommunicated person, and the lifting of the censure (absolution) by a priest or bishop empowered to do this. “The absolution can be in the internal (private) forum only, or also in the external (public) forum, depending on whether scandal would be given if a person were privately absolved and yet publicly considered unrepentant.” Since excommunication excludes from reception of the sacraments, absolution from excommunication is required before absolution can be given from the sin that led to the censure. In many cases, the whole process takes place on a single occasion in the privacy of the confessional. For some more serious wrong-doings, absolution from excommunication is reserved to a bishop or other ordinary or even to the Pope. These can delegate a priest to act on their behalf.

In the case of someone who participates in an abortion (as medical staff, as family members or counsellors offering this as the only reasonable option, or as the parents of the person to be aborted), the excommunication is latae sententiae – occuring automatically at the moment of the abortion.

As the Wikipedia article says, most people who have been excommunicated reenter full communion with the Church by confessing their sins and receiving absolution. We call this the Sacrament of Penance (or reconciliation, or confession). It’s not a way of getting free counselling. It’s a Sacrament of the Church – a channel for Christ’s grace which heals the soul of the penitent. It requires contrition, confession, and some form of penance. The priest doesn’t forgive sins as an individual; on behalf of the Church he exercises the power to forgive sins that belongs to Christ alone, but that has been delegated to him by his bishop, who inherits that delegation from the apostles, who had it from Christ himself.

In some diocese, every priest has been granted the right to provide absolution for someone confessing involvement in an abortion. In other diocese, only certain priests are able to do so. In that case, if a person goes to another priest, he will usually ask the person to come back in another couple of days, and contact the bishop for the right to provide absolution.

For those scarred by abortion, the Catholic Church offers hope and reconciliation; not just at World Youth Day, but every day of the year, all over the world. And not just in specific programmes like Project Rachel, but in everyday parishes and communities.

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