SHOULD THE CHURCH PUNISH?

‘They are neither in the Church, nor out of it. Neither fish nor flesh. These are the modern curse of the Church, these a la carte Catholics. They tick the box. They pick and choose. They use us when they need us, and don’t bother with us the rest of the time. We need to tell them to shape up or ship out. They need to be told that Jesus said you are either for us or against us. It’s time to nail our colours to the mast and tell them there is no room for passengers. You cannot cherry pick the gospel. It’s a package deal. Time to accept it or get out!’

The above represents what I call a rant. Whilst it is true that it is unlikely that all these sentiments will be voiced as a unit, nevertheless this amalgam of statements may not be as unlikely as we might think. Each of the statements above represent a growing frustration and defensiveness on the part of many Catholics, particularly in the face of what they see as growing disrespect for what they hold sacred. This disrespect may range from people talking during Mass to people ‘using’ the Church for the ‘big day’ as at First Holy Communion, or the wedding day, and then off they go and we never see them again. Whilst I can understand this frustration I think we need to be careful how we respond to what we perceive as ‘disrespect.’

It is true that disrespect is disrespect. Having said that there is a big difference between wilful disrespect and disrespect born of ignorance. The young man who chews chewing gum during the words of consecration of the Mass and who has not got a clue of the sacredness of the Eucharistic action in front of him, is very different to the one who has a good sense of what is going on. Now of course it is unlikely that the latter will actually exist. After all who will wilfully, with firm intention, disrespect the Eucharist. Therefore I believe the area we must focus on is the ignorance, as in the lack of knowledge, that is now widespread around all matters liturgical and sacramental. I do not think it is possible to answer the question, should the Church punish without addressing the issue of disrespect.

There is a growing voice from a particular quarter in the Church, clamouring citations from Canon Law, and urging the imposition of penalties for a whole range of things, from voting yes in the referendum to welcoming Fr James Martin to World Meeting of the Families. In my view this group constitutes a great danger to the Church. Apart from lacking compassion they actually lack any real imagination. They shelter in absolutes. They take cover in the black and white. I think it was their inability or unwillingness to deal in nuance that first alerted me to the threat they represent. The more I see, and hear, of these the more I believe they do not know Jesus. Finger pointers, tut tutters, holier than thou they, like the Pharisees at the time of Jesus, seek to shut people down, or shut them up. They do not proclaim joy. They do not proclaim hope. They certainly do not proclaim liberation. This group aside, the question remains, should the Church punish?

My answer to the question is a qualified no. However in the ‘qualifying’ I wish to note two things. The truth is that people can, through an intentional pattern of behaviour, actually estrange themselves from God. Thence they punish themselves. This is never permanent in that the Lord is abundant in mercy and forgiveness. In addition I would like to challenge the notion of the Church imposing sanction or penalty within the present context in the Irish Church. It would seem high handed indeed to pour sanctions or penalties on the very people we have failed. Do people understand Eucharist? Do people understand why the Church has the particular stance it has on certain issues? Is not Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation redundant?

If people do not understand these things do we in the Church take any responsibility for this?

Is censure of those we have left spiritually hunger either right or just?

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