President Biden on abortion and Pope Francis on pastors. Magisterium vs. Magistrate

Are you a facilitator of grace, or an arbiter of grace who charges tolls to enter the party?

Magistrates make judgments. The magisterium is involved in teachings.

Joe Biden disagrees with the Catholic magisterium which teaches that life begins at conception. Some Catholic bishops have cast the judgment that he should therefore be denied the sacrament of Eucharist.

The church he attends released a statement saying it “will not deny the Eucharist to persons presenting themselves to receive it… As Pope Francis recently reaffirmed, communion should be viewed ‘not as a prize for the perfect, but as a powerful medicine and nourishment…’ None of us, whether we stand in the pews or behind the altar, is worthy to receive it. The great gift of the Holy Eucharist is too sacred to be made a political issue.” [see endnote for more of the papal quote]

The relationship between the pope and bishops is sometimes misunderstood as more straightforward than it is. A bishop has a certain autonomy as an equal to the pope. It is very non-trivial for the pope to interfere in an individual bishop’s diocese. It is an interesting parallel to the relationship between federal and state autonomy in the US.

The papal quotation above appears in what is formally called an “exhortation” of the pope to bishops. It is not a “federal” ruling superceding a diocese. Any bishop may still refuse Biden communion. The words of the exhortation are careful not to trod on that autonomy. In a loose sense, regional church governance is of, by, and for more local people (bishops, anyway).

The exhortations of the pope as the “first among equals” have a certain air of greater universal perspective than the views of a local diocese, even if that authority is not necessarily binding.

Below, I share more words which surround the quotation, because, although a bishop may reject them as magistrate of his own diocese, they shed a seriously bright light on the gravity of such a rejection. I am making a point of this because pope Francis is urging the pastors of their flocks not to be misled by an egotistical God-complex by which they may forget their mission as ministers of Christ who – more clear than anything else in the Jesus accounts – railed against religious leaders who put their righteousness about God above the unconditional love God has for each of God’s children.

Nothing could be more damnably hypocritical than a minister of inclusion and nonjudgmental loving mercy to be… exclusive and judgmental.

Above all – ALL – they minister to God’s children, who are God’s children first and foremost. In any judgment of a pastor, that supreme reality must remain… supreme. God is NEVER served by disserving God’s children.

For a Christian magistrate or the magisterium to put the “law” above a single one of God’s children… Whoa, and woe… Such is PRECISELY what the bulk of the canonical gospel accounts have Jesus CONDEMNING! And as he did so, he routinely befriended and engaged and valued individual persons known to be unclean and unworthy under that law.

A *single* child of his Father is infinitely more worthy than any law/religion in its entirety. Christ is a “people person,” not a magistrate. And his teaching (rabbi, master) was consistently about the supremacy of his brothers and sisters – as children beloved unconditionally by their Father – above all else.

This principle of supremacy, however, is not problem-free for us human beings—however well-intentioned we be.

Occasionally, judgment is a necessary evil in the affairs of our state as human beings.

Judgment is a human enterprise which humans have pinned on “god” because we cannot conceive a universe without it.

Some bishops and Catholics may have wished Biden had kept his private beliefs private. That would have created no public conflict. A minister of communion would not have also to be a magistrate about the sanctity of human life beginning at conception. The supremacy of treating Biden as a child of God would thus not be messy.

Sorry to them. God forbid… God’s supremely unconditional love for each of God’s individual children can be a messy affair for those children!

In the Roe v. Wade decision, the justices acknowledged that this was a messy matter of conflict between a fundamental right of personal privacy (freedom and choice) and the interests of the state on behalf of the unborn child. Messy indeed.

They judged in favor of the first interest, but absolutely did NOT deny that unborn children have legal interests also.

Those who pretend that the supremacy of one of these two interests is a settled matter are unfaithful to the excruciation of the justices and everyone involved, and touched by this case – according to the very words of the justices themselves.

Being “pro choice” means being “for choice.” It does not mean that choice is supreme over life. There is no reason someone who is pro choice is not also pro life. Nor is one who is “for life” necessarily against the autonomy of a woman over her body. In fact, those are pretty incompatible dichotomies. Freedom is very much part of life’s beauty.

In the middle of this mess, the justices had to make a decision. They are the pastors in that ministry to their people. I have not examined the context of Biden’s disclosure, but he is a pastor in ministry to his people as well, and he cannot be a suitable minister if he is not honest. Dishonesty is the flaw most condemned about politics.

I cannot imagine anything less humble than believing we are adequate to stand as judges at the doorway into the house of an unconditionally loving God.

What a shock it will be if we are admitted to that house and find there, at the party, not only the children who served as teachers and magistrates, but also atheists, unborn children, the daughters who sent them there in excruciation, divorced and unfaithful spouses, bishops who denied them communion, vile clerics who violated youthful innocence and shattered the lives of God’s children, and convicted murderers who sent adults there. Will they be chatting and dancing with saints and Jesus himself? My, what a mess that will be, indeed. But I don’t see how you can envision anything else based on the story of Jesus’s warmly personal interactions recorded in the gospels! A mess!

Methinks this is the party house about which papa Francis speaks here:

[Chapter 2 of Evangelii Gaudium concludes (emphases added)]:
The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open [NOT sometimes, under certain conditions]… This is especially true of the.. Eucharist… not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.[51] These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone
49. …I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty…, rather than…unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own securitycaught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should…trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many…are living without…friendship with Jesus Christ… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges …while at our door people are starving… Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).

Excerpts from note [51] …Saint Ambrose…: “I must receive it always,…” …Saint Cyril of Alexandria…: “I examined myself and I found myself unworthy…”

Neil D. 9/11 2021

Published by Neil Durso

Just another mid-lifer sharing the journey...

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