Archbishop Aquila: Christ's challenging truthfulness needed regarding reception of Communion

Archbishop Samuel J Aquila of Denver CNA file photo 2 CNA Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver.

As the US bishops prepare to discuss a draft statement on the Eucharist, the Archbishop of Denver has recalled Christ’s direct, challenging approach to the sinners to whom he was close.

“His direct truthfulness was challenging, and to some it was so threatening that they plotted against Jesus and eventually killed him. With the world awash in competing voices and narratives about the truth, we could use more of this gift, especially when it comes to receiving the most important sacrament, the Holy Eucharist,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila wrote in his Oct. 21 column at the Denver Catholic.

The archbishop noted how Christ told the woman caught in adultery, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore”, and challenged the rich young man to “go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops will discuss The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, a draft statement, at its Nov. 15-18 general assembly in Baltimore. 

In June, after extensive debate, the USCCB had voted to begin drafting the document. The reception of Communion by pro-abortion politicians has come to the fore as both President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are Catholic and support legal abortion and taxpayer-funded abortion. 

The statement would explain Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, the importance of Sunday as a holy day, and the need for Catholics to live out the Church’s teaching in their lives after receiving Communion.

While the document does address worthiness to receive Communion, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chair of the US bishops’ doctrine committee, has said it is not meant to be about one individual or one particularly bad action, but rather a “heightened” awareness of the need for Catholics to be conformed to the Eucharist.

The debate, Archbishop Aquila said, “is centered around the questions: What is the best way to encourage greater belief in Jesus’ true presence in the Blessed Sacrament? And flowing from his true presence, how should bishops and pastors best work to win back the souls of Catholic public figures who have failed to act in accord with the Gospel?”

“A hands-off attitude with those who publicly defy the Church’s teachings causes scandal and weakens belief in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” he noted, adding that to cause scandal is to lead other into sin.

“Such an attitude could lead faithful Catholics to doubt about Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist and could even call into question how deeply their bishops believe in it. If Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist and we do nothing when Christ is received by those who publicly and willfully flaunt his teachings, all while professing to be devout Catholics, then doubts can emerge in the hearts of the faithful. Doubts like: Do we genuinely believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist? Is the Eucharist something we can approach while in a state of serious sin? Or, if the bishops do not teach about the proper disposition to receive the Eucharist, does how one receives Jesus really matter?”

Bishops are called to consider the salvation of their flocks, and “we recognize that all of us are sinners, yet we need to encourage repentance in all who have strayed from faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the Gospel and do our best to prevent more people from doing so,” he wrote.

“This duty requires clear and honest communication, integrity and love … it requires the approach that Jesus used throughout his ministry.

Pope Francis used this method himself recently, according to Archbishop Aquila. 

“Abortion is more than an issue. Abortion is murder. … Scientifically it’s a human life. The textbooks teach us that. But is it right to take it [a child] out to solve a problem? And this is why the Church is so strict on this issue because it is kind of like accepting this is accepting daily murder,” the pope said in response to a question “about giving Communion to Catholic public figures who vote or act in other ways to promote abortion.”

“The Holy Father also pointed out that those who promote abortion place themselves outside of the community of the Church and that this presents a dilemma for pastors. ‘What should the pastor do? Be a shepherd, do not go around condemning … but be a pastor. But is he also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is the pastor and … he must be a shepherd with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion, and tenderness.’ God is all these things, and he is truth itself,” the archbishop noted.

“The Pope summarized God’s approach by saying that Catholics who promote grave evil are outside of the Church community and cannot receive Communion, while also underscoring that they should not be abandoned but sought out. They must understand that one day they will stand before God alone and be judged as to their faithfulness to Jesus Christ and all that he has taught.”

Archbishop Aquila wrote: “While Jesus is indifferent as to what political party one belongs to, he is not indifferent to the message of the Gospel, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, or to whether one seeks only the will of the Father. Instead, he gives numerous warnings that hell is real and a possibility for those who are not faithful.”

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The archbishop concluded asking prayers for the bishops “that we seek to follow this path of truth and charity.”

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