How Far We Have Fallen

Editor’s Note: As we reach the end of 2014, I’d like to thank all of you for your continued interest and support this past year (it’s still not too late to make a donation if you were too occupied during Advent). We hope to bring you more and even better in 2015 – with your help. There are Synods to cover, encyclicals to analyze, issues to debate – and the Lord to be followed in freedom and in truth. Just a quick notice: I’ll be appearing on a special episode of EWTN’s “The World Over” the evening of January 1 along with my conclave colleagues Raymond Arroyo and Fr. Gerald Murray, as well as Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. We review the year just ending, addressing a slew of topics, some serious, others not so much. Check your local listings for times and rebroadcasts. And a Blessed New Year to all from all of us at The Catholic Thing. – Robert Royal 

The battle over admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion flourishes in part because each side focuses on something that the other does not so much deny as consider secondary or irrelevant. For those in Cardinal Kasper’s camp, for example, the key is compassion for people caught up in a culture of cohabitation, blended families, and people much married and remarried.

Those in the opposing camp focus on the need to proclaim and hand down the truth of the Gospel in its full, unwatered-down state, since truth telling is the true expression of charity and compassion. In addition, however, we may note among Kasperites, a reduced appreciation of the kind of awe and fear of the Lord that should naturally accompany the belief that, at the Eucharist, we are in touch with the physical presence of our God and Savior, consuming his Body and Blood.

One useful measure of how firmly we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is horror at sacrilege. St. Paul, scolding the Corinthians for approaching the Eucharist in an uncharitable or irreverent spirit, warned, “he is eating and drinking damnation to himself it he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord’s body for what it is. That is why many of your number want strength and health and not a few have died” (1 Cor 11: 29-30).

If we could currently count on that association between misuse and disease/death, today’s Communion issue would likely be dead as a doornail.

Twentieth-century Catholic literature brims over with presentations of the sacred counterpointed with sin and sacrilege. For instance, in Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, Scobie, the protagonist, receives Holy Communion to conceal his adultery. The scene in which he receives Communion in a state of mortal sin is an immensely powerful portrait of self-damnation.

Then there is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, which approaches our topic not in the context of Holy Communion but through portraying the conflicted conscience of a divorced, remarrying Catholic. Narrator Charles Ryder has left his wife for Julia, a fallen-away Catholic who has herself broken up with the man she married outside the Church. Charles and Julia are planning to marry when Julia’s brother matter-of-factly mentions that, of course, he cannot bring his Catholic betrothed to stay with them because they are living in sin.

Stunning her agnostic fiancé, Julia breaks into a passionate outpouring of grief that includes the following: “‘Living in sin’; not just doing wrong, as I did when I went to America; doing wrong, knowing it is wrong, stopping doing it, forgetting. That’s not what they mean. . . . Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out.”

Julia Flyte Mottram (Diana Quick) and Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) cannot marry (in the “Brideshead Revisited” miniseries, 1981)
Julia Flyte Mottram (Diana Quick) and Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) cannot marry (in the “Brideshead Revisited” miniseries, 1981)

All the wrong lessons are drawn if you read this as a denunciation of “bad people” by “good people,” the elder brothers of the Prodigal. It is the prodigal herself who sees her situation this way; at the end of the novel, following a further moment of clarity, she breaks with Charles, explaining:

I’ve always been bad. Probably I will be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from his mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without Him. . . .I saw today there was only one thing unforgivable. . .the bad thing I was on the point of doing that I’m not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God’s. . . .it may be a private bargain between me and God, that if I give up this one thing I want so much, however bad I am, He won’t despair of me in the end.

It may help the modern, non-judgmental part of us that flinches from thwarted love to know that Waugh, divorced about a year before his conversion, entered the Church believing that he likely would never be able to remarry. As it happened, some years later his first marriage was annulled – but those years taught him the emotions evoked by the moral universe his Brideshead characters inhabit.

Few of our contemporaries now react with the kind of horror at sacrilege and serious sin once commonplace even among serious sinners; however, this dwindling of the sense of the sacred does not by itself prove one side of the Synod on the Family right and the other wrong about opening Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. Those further steps in the argument – steps parsing relevant biblical passages and explicating Church history, casuistry, and theology – have been and are being made by many competent people.

On top of or beside such arguments, however, the Communion controversy marks how far we have traveled from a true understanding of God’s relationship with his creatures. It is true that he loves us even to the seeming madness of the Cross. He pursues us like Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven,” he gives up on no one, he appears to St. Faustina in the shadow of World War II to explicate the extent of his Mercy.

That mercy is accessed through conversion, however. Entry after entry in St. Faustina’s Diary presents the staggering distance between sinner and Savior, which the Savior traverses to seek us out. It is a distance not merely of power and wisdom but of holiness and goodness. If we do not understand that, we are not equipped to surrender to his salvation.

We only understand what we need to repent of and relinquish if we are half-terrified, half-mesmerized by the wholly awesome goodness and purity of God.

Ellen Wilson Fielding

Ellen Wilson Fielding

Ellen Wilson Fielding is Senior Editor of the Human Life Review and lives in Maryland.

  • ABBonnet

    @Mrs. Fielding
    Very circumspect, but very well put. Brava!

    But do we really need to be this circumspect? As Nicholas Frankovich blogged over at First Things (5-9-14): “Whether he [Cdl. Kasper] intends to or not, he implies that the real presence can be reduced to a purely spiritual reality and that its value is not unique.” If Cdl. Kasper — and perhaps by extension, the whole Team Bergoglio — believe that the Eucharistic Presence is purely spiritual, then they have become manifest heretics (whether they intend that or not).

    It is true that, as Mrs. Fielding writes, the “dwindling of the sense of the sacred does not by itself prove” anything other than that fact itself. However, many other words and deeds of Cdl. Kasper and his Team prove a clear disregard for the doctrinal teaching of the Roman Catholic Church across the millennia. His teaching on Communion for the divorced and remarried, has been shown to lead to heresy in more than one direction by many of the most prominent theologians and canonists of our time (including the Pope Emeritus).

    The fact that the present Pontifex and his Team have lost the doctrinal argument is made clear in the questionnaire for the 2015 Synod which instructs bishops’ conferences to “avoid, in their responses, a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine.” Since all Roman Catholic Bishops, especially including the Pontifex, must hold Roman Catholic doctrine as the absolutely true teaching of Jesus Christ, an attempt to “avoid … an application of doctrine” is an attempt to foil the truth of Christ.

    So do we really need to be circumspect? Or should we be loudly questioning, or even denouncing, Cdl Kasper and his Team Bergoglio, as they follow a direction toward heresy?

    • Christophe

      ABBonnet is correct – it’s not the “Kasper camp,” it’s the Francis camp. And there aren’t two “sides” of the “issue” – there is perennial Catholic teaching, and an attack on that teaching. Muddled thinking and muddled writing only make it more difficult for the truth to prevail.

      • GetSmarty

        You are so right. As Dennis Prager says, “Clarity is preferable to agreement. “

        • bwbw123

          Is there an honest right wing talk host?

      • susan d

        Didn’t Pope Francis make a speech at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod that put all these fears of a “Kasper” re-invention of doctrine to rest? Pope Francis is not out to change the unchangeable Doctrines of the Church, but to present those Doctrines in the merciful and loving way our Savior did. He is following the Holy Spirit to the best of his ability. Please pray for him, as he has asked, and do not help the devil foment rebellion against God’s duly elected pope!

        • Faustina11


  • C.Caruana

    ‘Surrender to His salvation’ – lovely way of putting it, and it is key. I appreciate Mrs. Fielding’s charitable effort to be fair to both sides of the controversy, but the truth claims on either side remain asymmetrical.
    The anti-doctrinal and subtly antinomial spirit that animates Kasper and the so called ‘Bergoglio team’ is palpable to any sensitive Catholic conscience, even though it is cleverly concealed by abstruse and sentimentalised appeals to mercy. What I suspect we are witnessing again is an even more insidious continuation of the Protestantisation of Catholic doctrine, liturgy and discipline that was attempted in the wake of Vatican II, by some of the same protagonists who inspired, pushed or imbibed the notorious ‘Spirit of the Council’ while disregarding its ‘sacramental’ letter.
    It is the same ancient ploy of our common anti-Christic enemy – attack the very heart and centre of the True Catholic faith by ‘spirtualising’, ‘symbolising’ the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. This time in a more sinister and dangerous way by appearing and insisting that it involves the merely ‘merciful’ updating of discipline while keeping intact the doctrine. Devalue, degrade, in the name of cheapened mercy, the awed reverence, the loving adoration owed to the living Godman in the Host, and you have comminicants who are willingly misled into forgetting that partaking of it unworthily is partaking in their own potential damnation.
    No less than the three sacraments of the Eucharist, Cofession and Holy Matrimony are being questioned and put in jeopardy, and it is this threat that I think is behind the unstated but real anti-dogmatic turn that seems to be trying to raise its head in Roman Catholicism of late. It is ultimately the eternal salvation of souls that is at stake in this recent, ‘merely pastoral’ controversy.
    Yes, God’s Mercy is always forthcoming, never fails to condescend to our human weakness, but it is impotent in front of our refusal to surrender to it, in our unmerciful habit of setting up a ‘rival good to God’s.’

  • Bruno

    Re: “For those in Cardinal Kasper’s camp, for example, the key is compassion for people caught up in a culture of cohabitation, blended families, and people much married and remarried.”

    And yet the Bishop Conference in Germany, with Cardinal Kasper in the lead, were very short of compassion when it came to the Church tax in Germany and issued a stern document condemning those who withdrew their support. Pope Emeritus Benedict cancelled it.

    B.< hermit.

  • C.Caruana

    BTW, I also like and appreciate your two literary examples. Just would like to add that Scobie is a perfect example of the rot and havoc that a false and self-deceptive sentiment of pity can wreak on souls. He incarnates the attitude of those at present in the Catholic Church who prefer not to focus on the painful but liberating truth in order not to upset people by making them unhappy. As I have tirelessly repeated elsewhere, the greatest Satanic deception nowadays is this: in a time of great Divine Mercy extended by Christ and Our Lady to us modern sinners epochally alienated from God,and revealed to many visionaries like St Faustina, the devil’s subtlest deception is to create a gigantic simulcrum of Mercy divorced from Truth in order to deceive many souls into perdition. I only ask this, why is it that Kasper’s book on mercy is invoked and publicly praised, while two of the greatest modern apostles of Mercy, Saints John Paul and Faustina are hardly if ever mentioned in connection with this doctrinal and pastoral subject? Why indeed?

  • Chris in Maryland

    Cardinal Kasper: “You have heard Jesus say: ‘I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ BUT I SAY: adultery is a harsh word…I will continue my world tour denouncing the unmerciful meanies who keep bringing up these words of Jesus…blah…blah…blah….”

    • DebraBrunsberg

      Actually, the translation is, “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. The Jewish audience would have known that unlawful was referring to something like incest. The marriage was outside of the “law.” There is no divorce unless the marriage was not lawful to begin with……………………………… Kasper knows this, he, like many other small c Catholics, but prefer to ignore the words of Christ.

  • Alicia

    ” people caught up in a culture of cohabitation ” caught up ? Did Cardinal Kasper forget Free Will. The Church teaches us that neither friends, culture, nor the devil can ” makes us do ” anything. Our conscience, even if it is for a fraction of a second, always red flags and we freely decide. We are taught that we are held responsible for our actions and decisions, and at Confession we say ” I did it, I’m guilty ” without excuses.
    This doctrine gives us dignity by telling us we are not puppets.
    Sometimes it is difficult, but we have prayer and grace, and can ask for help.
    If the synods’ decisions are not based on Doctrine to make everyone happy and be popular, we’ll become a go-with-the-flow Church. Very, very sad and confusing. Let’all pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the bishops.

  • GetSmarty

    Thank you for a thoughtful column.

    Only trouble is, it appears you are on both sides of the issues.

  • Rene

    Communion for the remarried after divorce was discussed by St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” see passage 84, following a previous Synod on the Family in 1980. This document is available in the Internet, and all Catholics interested on this issue should read this passage. What is the purpose of bringing this issue in the 2014 Synod on the Family one more time? Is passage 84 irrelevant ? Why did Pope Francis give Cardinal Kasper and his dissenting views such prominence during this Synod?

  • Roseanne Sullivan

    I have always loved the way that Brideshead Revisited describes the conversion of the main characters. This post, brilliantly I think, ties that part of the story in with the fallacy behind thinking that remarried Catholics in illicit marriages should be allowed Communion. Sin is sin. We have to sacrifice worldly happiness sometimes in order to save our immortal souls. You are right: We must recall that receiving Communion unworthily lead us to be guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ.

  • This article talks of the two sides but I am not sure it reveals God’s/the Church’s side. That’s the side that really matters, and there is such a side (see @Christophe’s comment). It is clear that Kasper’s camp is not God’s/the Church’s side. If, according to the article, the opposing camp does not do a good job in teaching with clarity what the Church ought to teach, then in our age, we have a failure on the part of those in the Church who ought to teach what the Church has always taught.

  • susan d

    Dear Lee2.0, thank you for making the effort to try annulment, and thank God it was successful for all, and brought such great joy!!

    The story out of Germany is that annulments are very hard to apply for and very expensive. Cardinal Kasper, according to at least one report, has declared that no marriage that has resulted in children can be declared annulled (so he has to give mercy in more ‘creative’ ways?).

    In fact, there is a misunderstanding among a lot of people that an annulment makes children illegitimate. This is the reason many do not seek an annulment.

    But be assured, the Church has not relaxed, and will never relax, her God-given stand for the Truth.