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  • Reverend James Squire

Spirit of the Law Vs.Letter of the Law

I posted a blog on President Biden and whether he should receive the eucharist or not. Today in the Inquirer 6/25/2021 there was a debate for and against public figures being allowed to receive the Eucharist.

The article for sanctioning President Biden was written by Christopher Gallagher, a writer for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Gallagher’s article is representative of a literal translation of Canon Law which states Roman Catholic beliefs. Phrases that peppered his perspective were such as “abortion is a moral sin. Before receiving Eucharist you need to have gone to confession and received forgiveness for any mortal sins that you have committed to be in a state of grace. And sins are mortal if they are serious matters, you know that the church considers sinful, and you intended to commit the sin. While I support the bishops denying him Communion as long as he is committing manifest sins, it is on the president to have the integrity and respect for his faith to not go up to receive Communion in the first place.”

I have an advantage over most in responding to the above view. I grew up in one of the most Catholic working-class communities in the nation. We had very large Catholic churches in our town, one was for the Irish, one for the Italians, one for the Polish. They were packed. I lived across from the Italian church. Each year there was an Italian festival that was a weekend long. If you closed your eyes, you would think you were in Italy. There were parades with barefoot women carrying a statue of Christ that people would attach money two. One could hear a cacophony of spoken Italian. It was rowdy with crowds so thick that it was difficult to move through to get from location to another. Music blared throughout the day and night. It all occurred across from my home.

There was an Episcopal Church in town where I was a member, a Baptist Church, and a Lutheran Church as well. Many of my friends were Catholic. We played together in our neighborhood. Even though there was a new community center, The Fellowship House, we would more than likely play in our neighborhood where we put up a net on a telephone pole and played until dark. I am aware of the requirement to go to confession mentioned above. It occurred at 5 on a Saturday afternoon. The basketball game would have a temporary halt as my friends ran to church. When they returned, I did not notice that their elbows were less sharp or their body slams less bruising. Fouls were never called. The working-class world is a physical culture.

There was no religious bias with the exception when my Catholic friends called me a “second stringer” in jest. I lived in two different religious worlds. I had a large extended family, half were Episcopalian and a half Catholic.

The reason that I mention this is that Gallagher’s article would be seen graphically back in that day and age although one never heard a word such as “abortion” spoken. People forget that religion is a spiritual practice and a cultural attitude. Both are important. But we live in a very different Catholic culture today that doesn’t reflect the culture of Mr. Gallagher. It is night and day.

Quinn O’Callaghan’s response to the “against view” goes to the heart of the matter. He is a writer and teacher. “If anyone professing the faith who disagrees with specific church doctrine is ineligible for Communion, then tens of millions of Catholics would be removed from the faith. This is a hypothetical addendum to a problem that already exists, as now only 20% of Americans identify as Catholic, down 3 percentage points from 2009. As the church hemorrhages followers due to excessive scandalization and exclusionism, it’s followers will have to ask: ‘If Joe Biden, as a devout Catholic and has held high office in this country, can’t receive the Communion of his ancestors, who can? Certainly not me.”

Episcopal Academy was religiously diverse. My guideline was that no one could say anything in chapel that demeaned the religious perspective of any in our worshipping community. I made this clear to all who spoke. They could share the power of their faith in their lives, but could not put someone else’s different view down.

Catholicism back in the day was embodied in an exchange that Cardinal Kroll, Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese, had before he spoke in chapel. I had Roman Catholic students in our community. I wanted that view represented. We as a school hired our first woman clergyperson that year. Her last name was Kill-hour. When I introduced her to the Cardinal, he said, “That’s no way to kill time.” He laughed. I didn’t! I didn’t say anything to him, but my glare told him all that he needed to know. He was pompous and rude. His handlers who came with him didn’t know what to say. By the looks on their faces I think that they feared a verbal fight would break out.

Back to the present day and a different Catholic cultural view. We can look no further than Pope Francis who said in his rebuke of the rogue bishops of America condemning President Biden: “The Eucharist is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.”

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