Despite what many news headlines have indicated, the teaching document of U.S. Catholic bishops to enhance understanding of the Eucharist, which our North Dakota bishops support, isn’t about President Biden.
It is, however, about the soul of a man named Joseph Biden, along with the billion-plus other Catholic souls worldwide.
Certainly, our president helped provide an opportunity for Catholic leaders to highlight this essential, bedrock teaching of the universal church by stepping up to receive the Eucharist while supporting the “right” to kill our youngest, most innocent citizens through abortion – a gravely evil act – along with other actions that defy Church teaching.
This illustrates what Catholics understand to constitute scandal. “Scandal: A publicized incident that brings about disgrace or offends the moral sensibilities of society.” That definition matches “scandal” in this sense precisely.
Because Catholics hold the Eucharist in such high regard – considering it not a symbol, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus himself, “God in the flesh” (see John 6) – it cannot be taken lightly. Receiving the Eucharist unworthily can bring condemnation onto one’s very soul.
Obviously, this is where things become murky, because, in the Eucharistic line at Mass, we cannot know the state of anyone’s soul. The sacrament of Reconciliation, if the person demonstrates true sorrow and contrition for his sins, can infuse a soul with sanctifying grace, preparing it for worthy reception of Christ.
Most people in the pews don’t know whether someone public who has laid his sins bare – as Biden has through some of his very visible actions and stances – has “made things right with God” through Reconciliation. But scandal can still exist, even in that space of questioning, and that brings us back to the importance of this forthcoming document.
Throughout the centuries, the Church has often needed to clarify its teachings when her people began to show need of further understanding. Though often accused of “adding” to its teachings, the Church, in reality, has added nothing essential since Christ himself instituted the sacraments. It’s just that we, her children, sometimes need reminders and clarifications.
Enter the teaching magisterium of the Church. I applaud the bishops for this action and look forward to the added depth of understanding to come. Ultimately, the Church is not here to condemn, no more than Christ was, but to bring people closer to God’s heart.
If, through this document, President Biden realizes how his actions have scandalized the flock, and he repents, its creation will have been worth more than all the power, riches and worldly accolades that have come with his attaining the nation’s highest office, and could even affect the eternal trajectory of his and many others’ souls.
No wonder such discord has erupted from this. The Evil One squirms at the thought of President Biden’s soul – or any of ours – being converted for the good.
It’s really not about our president, but in Jesus’ eyes, it’s about his son named Joe, me, and, yes, in one way or another, you, too.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on July 5, 2021.]