December 5, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic Church has known times of great confusion before. And although looking back we regret these periods and the wayward people who made them possible, we also gain wisdom and courage from the realization that the Church’s shepherds will not always preserve the Faith intact or defend it as they should, and that the faithful have a fundamental obligation from their baptism to hold fast to the orthodox Faith, no matter what pressures are brought to bear against them. In order to reap insights today from difficult moments in the past, last week we imagined three hypothetical scenarios in which souls that came to judgment in the years 366, 638, and 1332 were sentenced to punishment because of their culpable negligence in following straying shepherds. Come to think of it, the same kind of scenario just might happen today…
A soul is brought by angelic ministers into the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. A blinding splendor shines upon His countenance, light pours from the caverns of His wounds.
The Judge: Wicked servant, now stripped of your signs of ecclesiastical dignity, how did you dare to sow confusion and ambiguity about the crime of divorce, the fiction of “remarriage,” and the sacrilege of admitting adulterers to the holy banquet of my sacrificial love?
Soul (quaking): I thought I was doing the right thing.
The Judge: Have you never read the words I spoke, reported by my trustworthy servant Matthew? “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” Could I have spoken more clearly?
Soul (bolder): But sometimes those who are supposed to be one flesh separate again into two individuals, and go their separate ways. Are we not supposed to provide for their needs, too, once they are split apart?
The Judge: Christians joined in marriage cannot be split apart in My eyes. They remain one until death separates them. What I have joined together, no man has power to divide. Man fancies himself powerful because he can split the atom, and in this way he could even destroy the earth with his weapons, were I to permit him; but he cannot separate those who have been made one flesh by my will. Have not my servants John the Baptist, Thomas More, John Fisher, Blessed Peter ToRot, and many others given their very lives in defense of the indissolubility of Christian marriage? Has any Doctor of My Church ever taught otherwise? Has not pope after pope upheld this truth in fidelity to My word, condemning every open or subtle deviation from it?
Soul: Truly, then, I have been deceived by those on earth who claimed to speak in your name!
The Judge: Why were you deceived? The truth is written in the Gospel—the very Gospel you were ordained to preach, in season and out of season, for the salvation of mankind. “Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.” This I said, and this I meant. Divorce was not God’s plan in the beginning. It was never God’s plan. When I came among you in the flesh, I revealed that it is hardness of hearts without grace, and only this, that drives a husband to reject a wife, or a wife a husband. I suffered and died on the Cross to obtain for every human being a heart of flesh like My own: a heart able and willing to suffer and to die for one’s friend, one’s brother or sister, one’s spouse, or parent, or child. I perpetually make this grace available to all who call upon Me. This is what you should have taught, rather than bending and twisting My words, trying to find ways to escape the severe mercy of my love, which gives all—and demands all.
Soul: Surely, Master, this teaching is too hard for men, weak as they are!
The Judge: It is too hard for men on their own. In the same Gospel, I said: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Although I was speaking of the evangelical counsels, the same thing is true of marriage: I and I alone make it possible by My grace for spouses to love one another faithfully all their lives; I make it possible for them to welcome as many children as I am prepared to give them; I make it possible for them to bear even the worst crosses in married life—barrenness, betrayal, abuse, abandonment—for love of Me and for eternal life. The reality of this invincible grace is shown to all the world in the host of martyrs who followed my bloodstained footsteps to heavenly glory.
Soul: What about people who, in spite of their irregular situation, desperately need the help of Your sacraments?
The Judge: You are all sinners—and every one of you desperately needs the help of the sacraments if you are to overcome sin and reach My kingdom at last. But as you know from the Apostle John and from the constant teaching of My Church, there is sin that does not reject My friendship, and there is sin that does. The Church rightly calls the one venial and the other mortal. Mortal sin, unrepented and persisted in, excludes a man from My sacraments and from eternal life. A married Christian who lives sexually with another person who is not his or her original and only spouse is guilty of adultery. No true Christian has ever thought otherwise. Indeed, even the pagan Aristotle thought one could never justify adultery, or make it virtuous by changing this or that circumstance of it. He had a lot more sense than most of you on earth nowadays, which is greatly to your shame.
Soul: I am confused. Is not all this a disciplinary matter in the hands of Your Church? Was it not left up to us to determine the conditions for receiving the sacraments?
The Judge: Your confusion is as deep as the netherworld. Incidental conditions are left up to the Church: how often one may or must receive a certain sacrament, or how long one must fast before receiving it, or similar things. Essential conditions for conferring or receiving the sacraments are intrinsic to their very symbolism and reality, which come from My institution of them. You speak as if you had never studied theology!
Soul: You know where I studied, at the—
The Judge: —alas, your formation in theology was deplorably bad: superficial, incomplete, distorted by subjectivism and sentimentalism, altogether vitiated by modern prejudices. This was only partly your own fault and had much to do with the decade in which you went to school and the teachers that were visited upon you. Your pains will be duly mitigated on that account.
Soul: But Lord, Lord, is it not more merciful to let sinners have the medicine of the Eucharist?
The Judge: We come at last to the core of your reprehensible error. Do not abuse the high and sovereign name of Mercy, nor the sweet and ineffable mystery of My Body and Blood! I have mercy on the most horrible sinner if only he repents and wills to abandon his sins. I wash away his guilt with my Precious Blood and make his soul as white as wool. I hold the contrite sinner to my Heart with a love far greater than that of a mother for her newborn child, or of a husband for his beautiful bride. I nourish him with manna from heaven and water from the rock. But My mercy cannot cleanse a sinner who loves his sin. He will have the destiny he chooses for himself. If he lives in sin, sin will be his life; and if he dies in sin, sin—that is, separation from me—will be his eternity. Giving the Eucharist to such a one only heaps the burning coals of further sins upon his head.
Soul (desperate to justify itself): But we were told that it is high time for a new Church, a compassionate, caring Church that welcomes everyone.
The Judge: There is one and only one Church. I am its Head, and my Law—obedience to which is salvation—never changes. All are welcome who wish to be subject to this Law. You, on the contrary, have made a mockery of My holy religion by lulling sinners to sleep, salving their consciences, when they needed rather to be awakened to their true condition and brought to repentence. Only those who acknowledge their mortal sickness will seek healing from the divine Physician. Otherwise, they will die in their sins.
Soul: We were told to show mercy to everyone!
The Judge: Many do not know what mercy actually means. There is only one true mercy: the severe mercy of My truth, which wounds and heals in love. The scars of My wounds, which I suffered for bearing witness to the truth and for love of sinners, remain with Me forever in glory. They are proof that there is no glory without truth, no happiness without suffering, no love of neighbor without the love of God above and before all else. Without this radical commitment to Me, “love” is only a four-letter word for selfishness.
Soul (increasingly agitated): Why—from whom—how was I to know?
The Judge: In my patience and love for mankind, I have provided countless witnesses to the truth—the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Scriptures, the consensus of the Fathers, the collective weight of the Doctors, the resounding unanimity of the Magisterium across the centuries, and, in your own lifetime, cardinals, bishops, priests, and laymen who tirelessly proclaimed the truth about marriage and the family. You have no excuse, not even the shadow of an excuse.
Soul (exhausted): Thou art just, O Lord, and Thy judgment is right.
The Judge: Archangels, lead this prince off to the place that befits him.