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Monday, May 17, 2004

Let’s Talk!

Many Catholic politicians say Jesus, though privately opposed to abortion, is not the kind of God-man who imposes his views on American public figures. After all, Jesus was really a very nice man; the episode with the whip in the Temple (John 2) or the numerous times He called the leaders of Jerusalem’s community “fools” and “hypocrites” just shows that even God can get a little stressed and inadvertently go “over the top.” He didn’t mean for anyone to change their life.

American bishops, of course, disagree. Several point out what Jesus inspired St. Paul to write down – anyone who eats and drinks Jesus’ body and blood without first discerning his own sins and being forgiven for them eats and drinks judgement on himself. “That is why many of you are sick, and some are dying,” says St. Paul.

Now, some American bishops want Catholic politicians who promote legal abortion to be protected from divine judgment. These bishops forbid the distribution of Eucharist to any Catholic who scandalously promotes abortion. After all, a politician who simultaneously promotes abortion and receives Eucharist might well be damning himself to hell. That’s not good.

For other bishops, the damnation of politicians is not the most serious issue. Rather, they are concerned about another problem. They realize that if Catholic politicians who support abortion are not permitted to risk eternal damnation, the Church might look partisan. It is better that one man be eternally damned than that the whole Church look politically partisan in an election year. Thus, they explicitly refuse to forbid the Eucharist to such politicians. “These people are adults,” the bishops point out. The subtext? If these people want to risk hell in exchange for a four-year term of office, that’s their lookout.

The whole argument is proving quite a poser. Some Catholic theologians offer a way out of the quandary. After all, some participants in ecumenical dialogue find the Eucharist to be equally off-putting to what they are trying to accomplish. Take the ecumenical dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics, for instance. While Martin Luther was himself an Augustinian priest and could validly consecrate Eucharist, the Lutheran Church does not have a valid priesthood. According to Jesus, that means no Lutheran can consecrate the Eucharist. This is an uncomfortable fact. There is a way around it.

A recent article in the Milwaukee diocesan newspaper quotes one Susan Woods, a faculty member at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, who said, “ever since Vatican II, task forces have acknowledged that the Lord’s Supper has the power to engender light and grace. The idea that [Eucharist] is not valid without (the benefit of) orders is not true. Our ecclesial communions are in real but imperfect communion. We share baptism, Scripture, the early church, pre-division."

That is, Dr. Woods recommends that we simply do one of two things: either we categorically deny the fact that Jesus really is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist or we deny that only a validly ordained priest acting in the person of Christ can accomplish such a thing. In short, we deny the sacrament of Eucharist or we deny the sacrament of Holy Orders or both. That solves the ecumenical problem. We can all sit down at tea and agree. It sounds wonderful

But there is one fly in the ointment. Miss Woods, who received her doctorate from Marquette University, is a little inaccurate in her statement. She indicates that Catholics and Lutherans “share baptism, Scripture, the early Church, pre-division.” Well…. yes… except we don’t.

Let’s examine Scripture, for instance. Lutheran Bibles are missing Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (aka, the Wisdom of Solomon), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, parts of Esther (chapters 10-16, or A-F), and parts of Daniel (3:24-90 and 13, 14. Worse, Missouri and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans consider the epistle of James to be “an epistle of straw.” We don’t share Scripture. Sorry.

Worse, since all of these books were accepted by the early Church as true and valid Scripture, and all were used to support various doctrines of the Church, we don’t share early Church history either. The three elements of Lutheran theology: (1) Salvation by Faith Alone (2) through Grace Alone (3) by the authority of Scripture Alone – all were condemned heresies in the pre-division Church. That was the reason for the division, after all – Luther desperately wanted these teachings to be true, even though they weren’t.

On the bright side, it is true that Christians share baptism, but only in the sense that every validly baptized person is Catholic, whether he knows it or not. Every child born, including my own three little darlings, were born unbaptized, that is, they were born pagans. My children needed baptism in order to be transformed from pagans into Christians. The Lutheran minister and the Lutheran parents who present their unbaptized child for the sacrament may believe the baptism renders the child Lutheran, but in reality, baptism transforms the child from an unbaptized pagan baby into a Catholic. That’s why the Catholic Church doesn’t re-baptize Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans or any other Christian who has received valid baptism.

There is “one Lord, one Faith, one baptism,” and that one baptism is Catholic. There isn’t any other kind.

When we consider things in this light, the solution is obvious. Politicians like Senator Kerry have quite a bit in common with theologians like Dr. Wood, and both have quite a lot in common with our separated brethren. Clearly, there is a need for ecumenical dialogue, a call to “come and reason together.” Perhaps the current ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans can be expanded to include Dr. Wood, Senator Kerry and people with their beliefs. Let's bring them all into the fullness of Catholic Faith.

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