San Francisco, Calif., Oct 30, 2021 / 10:50 am (CNA).
In just two weeks, the bishops of the United States will come together to debate and vote on a teaching document about “Eucharistic coherence.”
The term comes from the 2007 Aparecida document of the Latin American bishops, which used it to explain why public servants such as government officials and health care workers who act to encourage “abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and the family” cannot receive Holy Communion.
A chief architect of Aparecida was the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who now as Pope Francis rightly reminds us bishops to think and speak as pastors, not as politicians: It is souls that are at stake, not elections. Lost sheep are to be lovingly called to return to the fold, not angrily denounced in the way that would imitate so much of the animosity of our political culture.
As I approach these next few weeks, I am struck less with the conflicts the media likes to project than with the deeply reinforcing unity of Church teaching, grounded in the Catholic sacramental sense.
Some in the popular culture, who view life through a lens more political than sacramental, may think it is incongruous that on Nov. 6, for example, just days before the USCCB meeting begins, I will be celebrating a newly commissioned Requiem Mass for the Homeless. (To register or learn more visit BenedictInstitute.org.)
Frank La Rocca is the composer. Richard Sparks will lead the Benedict Sixteen Choir and Orchestra. It will be beautiful and it will be holy. We will gather together to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the eternal repose of those who died on the streets and to demonstrate our profound respect for the equal dignity of every human life.
As political issues, homelessness and abortion are treated as separate things. But with the Catholic sacramental sense we can see that whether we are speaking of the unhoused or the unborn, the underlying issue is the same: Can we see beyond the merely material to the deeper spiritual reality?
What we Catholic bishops and other leaders must seek is not just words on a page, but a profound Eucharistic revival, which requires a renaissance in the Catholic sacramental imagination.
Every Mass is a miracle: Do we see it? When we receive the Eucharist, do we see beyond the appearances of bread and wine to the reality of Jesus Christ offering Himself for us? Do we priests celebrate the sacred mysteries in a way that makes this supernatural reality visible to the flock we shepherd?
The child in the womb in the early stages doesn’t look exactly like the newborn baby, any more than the toddler exactly resembles the grown man or woman he or she will become. Can we see beyond the physical appearance to the reality that science now shows us: That each child in its mother’s womb is a unique, living human being? That each abortion kills a human life?
When politicians pontificate about abortion as a choice or even a human right, do we see beyond the rhetoric to the ugliness of what they propose: the deliberate snuffing out of innocent lives, each one of them unique, irreplaceable, and loved by God?
The two things are intimately connected: reverence for the sacred Eucharist and reverence for human life where it is most vulnerable and defenseless.
As the Apostle John tells us, God so loved the world – each one of us – that He sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die for us.
Pope Francis underscored the importance of this gift of solidarity after a Nigerian immigrant named Edwin froze to death on the streets last January not far from St. Peter’s Basilica: “Let us think about Edwin,” the pope asked. “Let us think of what this man, 46-years-old, felt in the cold, ignored by all, abandoned, even by us. Let us pray for him.”
Yes, let us remember to pray for Edwin, and for all of those who suffer as he suffered. Policy solutions to homelessness may not be simple, but one thing is clear: Merely warehousing the homeless in dysfunction is not respecting their human dignity.
Let us remember that their dignity, like our own, is not ultimately rooted in abilities, intelligence, usefulness, wealth, power, or physical attractiveness. Let us see beyond the accidents of birth, ability, position and the like to the reality of who we are, including the unhoused and the unborn: beloved children of the living God.
May the Eucharist set us on fire for Jesus Christ and unleash the rebuilding of a civilization of truth and love.
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