WHEN I was 5, I was scheduled to make my first Holy Communion at Holy Child church in Logan. To prepare my soul for the sacrament (which I had been promised would then be followed by a big party with presents,) the church needed to make sure that I was in a state of grace. That meant I needed to go to Confession.
However, being 5, I didn't have much to confess. So like generations of Catholic children before me, I made up some sins, which included being mean to my 1-year-old baby brother and sassing my parents. And, just like that, I received my pro forma penance, and was on my way to the party. But then, in a moment that I'm thinking was similar to St. Paul being thrown off of his horse by a thunderbolt, I realized that I had just lied to a priest during a sacrament. I had committed spiritual perjury. Imagine my horror.
The reason I've decided to reveal this early dereliction of spiritual duty is to demonstrate how even 5-year-olds have an innate sense of the rules. Yes, we break them. However, we do not break them and then say "you can't punish me because those rules stink." I did not say to myself, "This penance thing is ridiculous, so I'm just going to take Communion and no one will be the wiser for it." I went right back to the priest, admitted that I had lied, got a second penance and while I can't swear to it, some grudging respect from Father Rozic.
Sadly, I wouldn't get much respect from people like Jim Kenney or those who think that following the rules is "not Christian." Last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput issued guidelines on how to implement Amoris Laetitia, a major document on the family issued by Pope Francis earlier in the year arising out of the Synod of the Bishops in 2015. Chaput did not simply focus on sexual issues and marriage, but you would not know that from the reaction to his announcement. That is because news reports obsessed over the fact that gays, lesbians, noncelibate divorcees, and noncelibate unmarried couples were told that they could not receive Communion since they were not in a "state of grace."
Many Philadelphians, Catholic and not, did not appreciate that earth-shattering, completely unprecedented, and wholly unexpected observation that those who are engaging in sexual intimacy outside of valid marriages should not take Communion.
Yes, I know, it's shocking that the Catholic church is just now clarifying something that puzzled generations of the faithful. For example, I'm sure that my own grandparents were unaware that people who were living together without the benefit of marriage and having Biblical knowledge of each other were not in a state of grace. And I'm betting that my great-grandparents weren't clear about that whole divorce thing, where you can't take communion if you remarry without the benefit of an annulment. The church has been very ambiguous about those things over the years, leading to a lot of head scratching on the part of Catholics who scream out "Can you just give us a little guidance, for St. Pete's sake?"
If by this point you are not completely soaked by the sarcasm dripping from these last few sentences, I need to go back to Irony School. Contrary to what I have just written in a Jonathan Swiftian attempt to make my point, the Catholic church has long been unequivocal that the only accepted form of sexual intimacy is that which occurs between a man and a woman united by the sacrament of matrimony and open to the creation of life. You do not need the Rosetta Stone to decipher this particular principle. As noted by Kenneth Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese: "The notion that a person needs to be in a state of grace to receive Communion is nothing new. That goes back to St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. 'Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.' "
But Jim Kenney, whose tenure as a constitutional scholar ended the moment he trashed the First Amendment by suggesting that Chick-fil-A be banned from doing business in the city because its owner expressed his personal opposition to same-sex marriage, has decided to become a theologian. Drawing on his vast knowledge of canon law, he has decided that Archbishop Chaput is "not Christian" and formalized that pronouncement in, what else, a tweet. And many Philadelphians who couldn't distinguish a state of grace from the State of Alaska applauded him.
It is true that many Catholics disagree with the church's teachings on chastity. They are well within their right to protest with their feet. But they do not get to rewrite centuries of established doctrine simply because this doesn't fit their user-friendly view from the pew. It may be upsetting to unmarried, sexually active gays and lesbians (or gays united in a marriage not recognized by the church) to be told that they are not in a state of grace and that they are, in fact, sinning. But it can't be a shock.
So this whole controversy about Chaput's directives is a sham, created by people who get a kick out of trashing a church that, by its mere existence, makes them uncomfortable. Those who point fingers and talk about how the church is in no position to preach about morality are exactly the sort of people who preach about morality, the kind that says you should be able to do whatever makes you feel good.
That, I think, is the sin of pride, which keeps you from being in a state of grace. But don't worry, we have a sacrament that can clear that up. Trust me.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer