Friday, April 24, 2015

A Response to my Anonymous Friend

“It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5, 31 & 32

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19, 8 & 9

It is pretty clear from scripture that Jesus said that under certain circumstances that divorce was ok. Why then won’t the Catholic Church allow me to divorce and still receive the Eucharist if Jesus allowed it? The answer may surprise you.

Can a divorced Catholic receive the Eucharist during Holy Communion? The answer is ‘yes’ as long as the divorce is biblical.

As Catholics we are encouraged to read our bibles and to gain inspiration from them. What we are not to do is to try to interpret scripture for ourselves. This is a prime example as to why. We moderns read scripture with a modern understanding and modern definitions of words. We see the stories through our modern cultural understanding. We are also reading a translation of scripture from its original language. Original intent and meaning is often lost in translation.

In Jesus day women were considered possessions. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t testify in court. They went from their father’s house to their husband’s rule. The word betrothed to us means “engaged”. In Jesus day betrothed meant that the man and woman were married but not yet living together. Once the woman moved into the man’s house she was his property and responsibility.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” Matthew 1, 18 & 19

In other words, Mary was married to Joseph, her husband, but had not yet moved in with him – betrothed. She was pregnant with a child that was not his – unchastity or immorality. According to the Law of Moses Joseph was going to issue her a certificate of divorce and send her away quietly so not to disgrace her. According to Jesus’ own words in the first passage Joseph had every right to do this.

The problem is that biblical divorce does not mean the same thing as modern divorce. Biblical divorce does not undo the Holy Sacrament of Marriage. That can be undone by no man.

“And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19, 4 – 6

Biblical divorce is akin to a legal separation. There are reasons when a man and woman can no longer live together. Infidelity, immorality, and abuse are examples of these. A man was responsible for his wife as long as they resided in the same house. A woman could not move out of her husband’s house unless he issued her a certificate of divorce. If a man and woman were legally “divorced” they were living apart but still considered married. Neither could marry again. If they did they were considered to be in an adulterous relationship.

Modern divorce effectively ends the contract of marriage and frees the two people up to marry again. For a Catholic, marriage is not a contract but a covenant. A contract is the exchange of goods or services for a set period of time. A covenant is the total giving of self for life. The Catholic understanding of divorce is in the biblical context that Jesus described it and not in the modern understanding we have today.

So, can a civilly divorced Catholic receive communion? Yes, if that Catholic has not moved on to another sexual relationship. If they have moved on into another sexual relationship, either pre-marital or through a second civil marriage, they are considered to be living an adulterous life, in mortal sin, and therefore cannot receive our Lord in the Eucharist. They have forfeit their life when they reneged on their oath to the death that being the Sacrament of Holy Marriage.

So what is an annulment? Isn’t that just a Catholic divorce?

No. It’s not.

An annulment in the Catholic Church is a very serious matter. The Church is basically ruling that a conferred sacrament was never really conferred in the first place. This is something they have to be absolutely sure about. If your first marriage was indeed a validly sacramental marriage and they allow you to remarry the sin is on the person who allowed it. I am sure there is no honest priest who wishes his soul be damned to hell just to let a couple he will likely never see again unknowingly commit adultery.


Because of this the Church has a very arduous, thorough and legalistic process that must be completed. Each spouse is appointed an advocate.  Something a kin to a deposition must be completed by the person seeking the annulment as well as at least four witnesses who knew the couple before and after the marriage. The other spouse is given a chance to give their side of the story and contest the annulment if they so desire. The couple must also be civilly divorced before starting this process.


Once all of the paperwork is complete the advocates go over it and it is brought before a tribunal for review. If the tribunal feels that there are grounds to proceed the petition for annulment is then sent to a judge for a ruling. If the judge finds just cause to issue the annulment it is automatically sent to the court of second chance. There everything is reviewed once again and a final decree is then issued. If both judges come to the same conclusion a decree of nullity is issued and both parties are free to marry again. The original marriage was never valid and therefore did not happen. 

Like I said, this is serious stuff. The Church has to make sure that it gets this right.

Anonymous rightly points out that the annulment process did not exist at the time of Jesus. At the same time the Sacraments as we understand them today didn’t exist at the time of Jesus either. If the annulment process is a sham because it was made up by man sometime after Jesus ascension to heaven doesn’t that make the Sacraments a sham as well? The concept of a sacrament was borrowed from the Roman army. It wasn’t a Jewish concept.

Jesus knew that as the Church progressed through time she would face new problems for which she had not received direct instruction on. Jesus gave His authority to the twelve, who passed on His teaching to their successors. He made the Church His authority on earth. We believe that the Pope is infallible when he teaches on faith and morals from the teaching chair of Peter when in union with his Bishops.

I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”  1 Timothy 3, 14 & 15

Anyone who teaches something in contrary to official Church teaching is either led astray or is not Catholic at best and a heretic at worst. We are called to believe 100% of Church teaching when it comes to the faith and morals. We have been assured by Jesus Himself that His Church will not err in this arena. If we do not agree with Church teaching we are to repent, a word with the Greek origin (metanoya) meaning to change one’s mind to that of God.

We are to believe first, then accept and finally seek to understand. We are never to put of own opinion before official Church teaching. Official Church teaching is the teaching handed down from God himself. To be opposed to it is to be opposed to God. This is nothing more than human arrogance and a tool the devil uses to separate us from God.

Born again in the water and Holy Spirit.

Baptism is the first of the Sacraments and the starting point to all Christian life. It is the gateway to life in the Spirit and the doorway that gives access to all of the other Sacraments. Without baptism you cannot receive any of the other Sacraments.

                Baptism is from the Greek word “baptizein” meaning to plunge or immerse. The “plunging” into water symbolizes our burial into Jesus’ death while rising up from the water symbolizes our rebirth through Jesus’ resurrection as a new creature and an adopted child of God. This is the Catholic understanding of being “born again in the water and the Spirit”.

                Baptism washes away the stain of original sin and restores us to the pure state Adam and Eve were created in. Because we come from fallen parents it does not remove our desire for sin, known as “concupiscence”. Baptism leaves an indelible mark on our souls and consecrates us or “sets us aside” for God. We become His adopted children.

                The Catholic practice of baptism differs greatly from many of the non-Catholic Christian denominations. Some of the things we believe about baptism they believe are wrong. Some of them are:

1: Infant baptism. Some believe that baptism has to be a conscious choice made by the person being baptized and therefore infant baptism is wrong. Catholics believe that baptism is a conduit for conferring grace from God and therefore should not be denied to an infant. There are several scriptural passages that show whole families being baptized together. One can assume that infants existed in those families and that they were also baptized at the same time.

2: Submersion, pouring or sprinkling of water. Some believe that the only valid baptism requires one to be completely submersed or plunged into the water. Catholics and many mainstream Protestants usually use pouring of water. Submersion is the ordinary means for baptism but isn’t always possible or practical. The pouring of water in the proper form is thereby acceptable. In the event of an emergency sometimes even pouring of water isn’t possible. Sprinkling of water during those times is then also acceptable. One shouldn’t get caught up in the method or amount of water used. The gift of God’s grace is what is important. We allow Him to work through us to deliver grace, even if that is only one drop at a time.

3: A one-time event. For a Catholic and most main stream Protestants baptism is a one-time event. Once baptized you cannot be baptized again. There are some Christian churches out there that believe in multiple baptisms. They use baptism in much the same way Catholics use the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

4: Other forms of Baptism. Catholics accept two other forms of Baptism that aren’t commonly accepted outside of Catholicism.  They are the Baptism of Desire and the Baptism of Blood.

Catholic adults entering the Church are usually baptized as part of the Easter vigil. If a catechumen, a Christian convert under instruction before baptism, expresses the desire for baptism but dies suddenly before they can receive baptism we believe that God, in His great mercy, accepts that person’s desire to be baptized in the same manner as if they were baptized. Scripture tells us of the good thief on the cross next to Jesus. He was not Jewish and therefore most likely not baptized either. His desire was enough to get him into paradise.
We also believe that unbaptized people who are martyred for their faith are then considered baptized by their own blood.

In both cases the baptism did not happen using water or the ordinary form for baptism but we believe that God, in His great mercy, accepts the person as baptized because they would have been had they been given the opportunity.

 So how is the Sacrament of Baptism an oath to the death?

 For an adult this is simple. They pledge to live their life for Jesus when they accept Him as their Lord and Savior as part of their baptism. They affirm that they believe ALL of the teachings of the Catholic Church during their baptism when they affirm the precepts of the Church listed out in the Apostles Creed. Baptism opens the door to a life in Christ that they freely walk through when they choose to be baptized. If one leaves baptism and lives their life in blatant opposition to Church teaching they perjure themselves at best or renege on their oath at worse. To renege on an oath in which you have pledged your life forfeits your life.

 But how about infant baptism? How can you hold an infant accountable for an oath they could not freely take? You can’t. But it isn’t the infant taking the oath. The parents and god-parents are one ones taking the oath. They are the ones taking the oath that they believe all that the Church teaches and that they will raise this infant with instruction on such. The true role of a god-parent is to insure that the child gets to Church and gets properly instructed on what the Church believes and teaches. They are not to be just another gift giver at Christmas and the kid’s birthday. How many god-parents take this responsibility seriously?

When a parent and a god-parent sponsor an infant being baptized and they do not raise that child with any instruction they have reneged on the oath that they have taken. The seriousness and sin is not put on the child but on the parent and god-parent who fail to live up to the conditions of their oath. Being a god-parent is a serious role and not just another opportunity for a title and photo opportunity.

Baptism is the first of the seven Sacraments. It opens the door and brings one into the Body of Jesus. From there all life begins.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sacramentum non amplius

No more oaths...

           Words have meanings. Actions have consequences. Ignorance of either does not automatically get you off the hook when you do something wrong. It is important to understand that what you say and do affects where you will spend all of eternity once you pass from this world into the next.

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king. “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” – Matthew 5, 33-37

Literalist interpret this passage to mean that they should not swear an oath under any circumstance, not to a country, not for military or public service, and not even in a court of law when they are called to testify. Catholic understanding is a bit different. Jesus did not come into this world to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. It is necessary to swear an oath to be able to enter into a covenant with God. In his sermon on the mount Jesus is telling people that words have meanings and actions have consequences and if they do not take that seriously they are better off not swearing oaths at all for they will lead to their eternal damnation.

As Catholics we swear oaths to God all of the time and most of us never realize we have done it. Then, we leave the Church and live lives contrary to the oaths we just took. At best, we perjure ourselves by living contrary to our oaths. At worst, we renege on our oaths and forfeit that which was pledged as collateral on the oath, kind of like defaulting on a mortgage. Instead of putting your house up as collateral you are putting up the eternal resting place for your soul. This is why Jesus advises us not to swear an oath at all. It is far easier not to swear an oath than to live up to one. So when exactly do we swear oaths as Catholics?

In ancient Rome a Roman soldier would take a sacramentum to Caesar. They would pledge their life in service to him. If they do so with honor they would be rewarded a farm upon their retirement. If they failed they would not only lose the farm but they would lose their life as well. The early Church borrowed from this concept when they instituted our sacraments (English translation of the Latin word sacramentum). The Catholic Church (Roman and Orthodox) has seven official Sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Healing. Most mainstream Protestant Christians recognize three of these – Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage.

Each of these Sacraments are an oath to the death and we are pledging our very lives when we freely enter into them. They are not simply a rite of passage or a ticket we need punched. They are the very fabric that defines our relationship with God. Most never get past the superficial action or understand the true meaning and significance of these sacraments. In short – they are not taken with the seriousness they deserve and therefore we try to redefine their meaning to suit our ever changing culture and desires.

The seven Catholic Sacraments fall into three categories – Sacraments of Initiation, Sacraments of Service, and Sacraments of Healing. Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist are the Sacraments of Initiation. They bring a person into the Body of Christ and joins them to His holy family. Marriage and Holy Orders are the Sacraments of Service for when one enters into these sacraments they are pledging their life in service to another. Reconciliation and Healing are the Sacraments of Healing and their purpose is to restore the relationship between us and God when we fall out of relationship with Him through sin.

Over the next several blog posts we will examine each of these sacraments to better understand how it is considered an “oath to the death” and what is expected of us when we freely enter into it. Stay tuned.

Next up – Baptism. On deck – Confirmation.