Ever since American Catholic bishops announced their decision to release a teaching document on the reception of Holy Communion, news and social media sites have teemed with outrage.
The backlash is a product of the belief that church teachings must adapt to avoid being controversial in modern times.
The plethora of misinformed reactions is troubling, hinting at the larger issue of uninformed Catholics. When 69% of American Catholics don’t believe in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and 59% support abortion, it is unsurprising they are angered by centuries old church teachings on proper reception of the Son of God.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., made headlines with his tweet, “Instead of denying God to Catholic human beings who disagree with your political views, you should be inviting everyone to God’s table. God’s love is not a quid pro quo transaction. Remember Agape? It’s no wonder Catholic membership has been rapidly declining.”
Wajahat Ali, a columnist for the Daily Beast, similarly tweeted, “US Catholic Church doing everything it can to make people leave the Church. Interesting marketing strategy.”
The tweets demonstrate a misconception that the new teaching document was a vicious ploy to discriminate against political enemies in the Communion line, and that the Catholic church ought to market itself to the whims of the times. These ideas couldn’t be further from the truth.
Proper reception of the Son of God
The church’s clarification stems from a desire to prevent Communion recipients from endangering their immortal souls. President Joe Biden’s frequent references to his Catholicism have put a spotlight on his public performance of the faith, making him a central example of this issue.
Biden has scandalized and confused many faithful by continuing to receive Holy Communion while supporting abortion, which the church deems gravely sinful.
Recognizing the need for clarifying this issue, the bishops fulfilled their pastoral role by suggesting a teaching document on pre-existing doctrine regarding Holy Communion. The doctrine would remind Catholics that they must be in a state of grace to be spiritually prepared to meet our Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
According to church teachings, those who do not receive Communion in a state of grace commit a mortal sin, which is eternally damning if not confessed in the Sacrament of Penance before death.
Given this context, priests are doing Catholics like Biden a favor when they refuse to give them Communion, because they are ensuring these individuals do not commit the additional grave sin of sacrilege.
This shouldn’t be shocking or inflammatory. Yet the outrage following the bishops’ statement was deafening.
The bishops supporting the document were deemed ultra conservative liabilities, as if their political ideologies had something to do with their defense of church doctrine.
Phrases like “abortion litmus test” littered headlines, suggesting that political views on abortion drove the statement rather than the Catholic teaching that it constitutes grave sin.
The attacks on so-called “traditional” Catholicism are nothing new to the American political landscape, where Catholics who follow the teachings of their faith are increasingly viewed as incompatible with public life.
John F. Kennedy faced anti-Catholic bigotry during the 1960 presidential election. His famous speech at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association ultimately changed the course of his campaign when he emphasized his role as an American over his identity as a Catholic, and the importance of separating church and state.
Not all Catholics are quick to choose politics over the tenets of their faith, however, and many are persecuted for it.
Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination process exposed the anti-Catholic bias that permeates American society. Barrett was scrutinized and discriminated against based on the belief that her allegiance to the Catholic faith would be mutually exclusive with her duty as a justice. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., commented during Barrett’s confirmation hearing, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that is of concern.”
What’s more concerning than Barrett’s right to follow the promises of her baptism is the pernicious attempt to rebrand Catholicism according to the times.
Chameleon Catholics spurn tradition
Feinstein, Lieu and others reinforce this idea that to be Catholic in the modern world, we have to adapt. We have to make the church woke and attractive, so that it is a more comfortable organization to be part of.
“Dear @USCCB,” Lieu tweeted, “I’m Catholic and I support: -Contraception -A woman’s right to choose -Treatments for infertility -The right for people to get a divorce -The right of same sex marriage. Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion.”
As social issues such as these reign at the forefront of the culture wars, Catholics are demanded to get on board the train, or step out of the way completely.
Lieu’s tweet leaves no doubt where his allegiance lies, and raises the question of why he remains in a faith with which he fundamentally disagrees on almost every issue. Yet Lieu not only retains the title of Catholic, but like many others, he seeks to change the church to match his lifestyle and the ideas of the times.
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Forgotten by Lieu and others are the Catholics of centuries past. The early Christian martyrs suffered barbaric deaths rather than bow to false Gods or false religions.
Do modern Catholics remember Saint Thomas More, who gave up the chancellorship of England because of his refusal to condone King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage? Do they remember when More, a hero of conscience, went to his death because he refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the Catholic church in England?
Where would the church be today without individuals who were brave enough to stand up for their faith despite the rejection of their times?
They understood Christ’s words: “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. …because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. ”
They recognized the selflessness and suffering required of all Catholics who strive for perfection in Christ. Even if they failed due to human weakness, the power of the Sacraments would heal their sin and set them back on track.
More important, they knew enough to see above the caprices of their generations, and that worshipping a golden calf may please the multitudes for days, but God’s justice is eternal.
They knew not to mold the faith to the unstable times. Why don’t we?
Theresa Olohan is an Opinion fellow on the USA Today editorial board. Follow her on Twitter: @olohan_theresa