Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Communion with Christ
I have been pastor for just a bit more than a month now. It has been very exciting and, in some cases, rather frustrating. Sort of like life, huh? In my pastoral field I can already see that I will need to make a public statement (perhaps by letter to the parish or my pastor's column in the bulletin) about what it means to be in communion with Christ. No, I'm not dealing with pro-abort politicians here. This is much farther down the chain of subsidiarity. I have encountered serious misunderstandings about communion with Christ through a few fevered attempts to force my hand in approving certain persons for the role of godparent, when in fact the persons in question are not eligible for the role. In addition to some teaching about the godparent's role, I need to state some of the particulars of a Catholic's full communion with Christ.

(1) Ecclesial communion: Christ does not call followers in isolation. He calls disciples to be his followers, and not his "autocephalous" followers, but followers in a band of followers. From the very beginning of Christ's public ministry, we find him gathering followers in a group, including his most intimate band, the Apostles. He established his Church to continue this work of gathering the harvest. Especially for us who live so many ages after Christ, we do not and cannot hear the message and call of Christ if not for the preaching of his band, the Church. Scripture teaches us that this band of followers is indeed Christ's Body. Therefore communion with Christ is not an isolated, "Me and Jesus" affair. Communion with Christ is necessarily wrapped up with communion with his Church. One who rejects the Church is not in full communion with Christ.

(2) Doctrinal communion: There must be a communion of faith if one is truly in communion with Christ. Christ teaches us in Scripture, and the Church, guided by his Spirit of Truth, continues to teach and explain revealed Truth to disciples and to the whole world. Jesus says to his first followers, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (Lk. 10:16). This can be so because Jesus' Church is guided by his own Spirit Who takes from what is Christ's and hands it on to the Church (cf. Jn. 16:12-15). This guarantee of authenticity for the Church's teaching is not based on the human merits of those who occupy the office of teacher. Thus, communion with Christ is effected by communion with Christ's teaching as found in Scripture, but also by communion with Christ's teaching as found in his Church. One who does not profess Catholic Faith is not in full communion with Christ.

(3) Moral communion: Communion with Christ can also be seen, perhaps most visibly, by the style of one's life. There is a moral component to communion with Christ. One could be seen in the gathering of Christ's Church (say, at Holy Mass) and one could claim the same confession of Catholic Faith, but how one lives speaks volumes about the authenticity of the other hallmarks of communion. If one is not living in accord with Christian morality, one is not in full communion with Christ.

When there is a deficiency in any or all of these hallmarks, full communion with Christ does not exist. When such deficiency is a matter of public knowledge, one can also be publicly excluded from full communion, most especially the visible participation of reception of Holy Communion.

I have already encountered some surprise from someone who is cohabiting when I refuse to allow that person to serve as a godparent. I have even heard from that person's family. "But," the argument goes, "we have been members here for such-and-such number of years, we come to Mass, we are registered here, and have always been Catholic..." In other words, they have a mistaken notion that communion is based almost exclusively on whether a person is seen at Mass, or whether somewhere in their past the Church means something to them, or whether the Parish Office knows their mailing address. Mere attendance at Mass, as important as attendance at Mass is, is not the litmus test for full communion. In the case that prompted these thoughts, the moral aspect is missing. The person thinks that, despite the cohabitation, as long as a marriage hasn't taken place outside of the Church, it is all okay. I have to inform the person that a marriage contrary to the laws of the Church would indeed be a problem, but so is cohabiting outside of marriage. Both are public moral matters that demonstrate a person is not in full communion with Christ. Therefore, such a person is in no way eligible to serve as a godparent for another soul, taking on the responsibility of imparting the very spiritual life the person himself is not living.

To put in bluntly, and in natural or physical parental terms (as an analogy for a godparent), if you don't have certain functioning equipment, you can't impart physical life. Likewise, imparting spiritual life by service as a godparent requires the full package of communion with Christ, the giver of that spiritual life.

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