Letters from Providence

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Interior of Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Providence, RI

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Interior of Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Providence, RI

Interior of Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Providence, RI

Interior of Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Providence, RI

Last night I received the following email from a friend of mine, responding to my post yesterday on why the Synod of Bishops on the Family is unlikely to support opening the door to Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. He recently moved to Rhode Island after spending most of the past decade working as an educator in Turkey. I have done a little light editing, mostly to remove personal references.

It is so hard to be Catholic.

My cousin was widowed tragically when she was in her 30’s left with two kids. She was and is a “devout Catholic.”  After several years she met a wonderful guy, he is Catholic, divorced. She goes to Mass every Sunday, and at communion time goes up to the priest, arms folded across her chest and is “blessed” by the priest.  I saw this at her mother’s funeral and I confronted her with it. (I will add she is one of the wisest, caring and “Christian” people I know. ) She said she just can’t “break the law”.  My feeling that she is bigger than the law did not hold water — or wine in this case, for her.

It is so hard to be Catholic.

I went to Mass today, somehow feeling I had to do something for these poor souls sacrificed in Ankara. (I worked there for 2 years, and was surprised, after the news, that I knew so many — was on email and FB most of the day yesterday.  All I know and their friends and family are OK.  But they are not.

I “trained” so many young teachers there, who are now teaching in Ankara schools.  I sent them all a msg to be prepared for the aftermath–statistically some of the kids and teachers have had to be touched personally.  That this is, sadly, a “teaching opportunity,” that violence is never the answer, and all that.

I digress; back to church.

I had never been in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul here in Providence.  It was like stepping back into the ’60’s. Gregorian chant in Latin, and much hype in the literature spread about of its importance as a way of worship.  I thought it would just be musical fun. The “cantor” was dead serious. The priest was of the old school, sonorous preachy and not a word of relevance. I did learn that October is devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary and was extolled to take the saying of which to heart. (The church is also forming a human rosary — with balloons as beads — at the end of the month.)  We even sang “Immaculate Mary our hearts are on fire…” which I haven’t heard since grade 4. (If you were REAL Catholic you would get how bizarre this was and hark back to May Crownings in the schoolyard. 

Worst of all, there was no mention of the bombing and the loss, but we did pray for the murdered unborn.

As happens many times, I end up just getting angry, rather than finding that hour of peace I needed.

It is so hard being Catholic.

While it seems almost sacrilegious to add anything to this, I feel obliged to make clear that Thomas J. Tobin, the conservative bishop who presides over the pre-Vatican II-style Catholicism on offer at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, is no foe of Communion for the divorced and remarried. Last year, before the first meeting of the Synod, he wrote a letter to his diocese urging that something be done to provide access to the Eucharist for people like my friend’s cousin.

I understand completely the arguments against taking a more “pastoral approach” to this topic, primarily that to do so would betray the sacred teaching of Christ we are obliged to uphold. I know that even within the current discipline, divorced and remarried Catholics, though barred from Holy Communion, are still valued members of the Church and that there are many ways for them to participate in ecclesial life. And I believe in the value of “spiritual communion” as a truly worthwhile devotional practice for those unable to receive the sacrament.

But at the same time, the Church has taught the pre-eminent value of receiving the Holy Eucharist, and I keep hearing the words of Jesus about the Eucharist, words that are just as valid and important as His words about marriage: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (Jn 6:53)

I often think about, and truly agonize over, the many divorced Catholics who have “dropped-out” of the Church completely, as well as those who attend Mass faithfully every Sunday, sometimes for years, without receiving the consolation and joy of the Holy Eucharist. And I know that I would much rather give Holy Communion to these long-suffering souls than to pseudo-Catholic politicians who parade up the aisle every Sunday for Holy Communion and then return to their legislative chambers to defy the teachings of the Church by championing same-sex marriage and abortion.

By way of first steps, Tobin recommended exactly the changes in annulment procedures that Pope Francis instituted last month. Beyond that, however, he pretty much threw up his hands, specifically rejecting what is currently being contemplated as a way forward:

Whatever the outcome of the deliberations, it is important that any “pastoral approach” to divorced and remarried Catholics be adopted by the Universal Church and not attempted at the level of national, diocesan or parish churches. To impose local solutions to this widespread problem would be completely dishonest and misleading, causing only confusion and division.

Roman Catholicism has found ways to accommodate divergent ecclesiastical practices for many centuries. On the other hand, Tobin has a point.