Enter the narrow gate to receive the Eucharist

Jesus counseled the disciples to enter “through the narrow gate,” since the road that leads to destruction is broad and “those who enter through it are many,” but the road that leads to life is narrow and “those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14).

Those of us who have followed the news in the last week or so know that the press has declared that the U.S. Bishops are planning to ban President Biden from Communion, allegedly ignoring the Vatican’s guidance. Of course, that is not true when one looks at the details of what we discussed at our June meeting and what Cardinal Ladaria said in his letter to the bishops.

The bishops were asked by Cardinal Ladaria, who heads the Vatican’s doctrine office, to build consensus about how to respond to Catholics who hold public positions and who insist on receiving Holy Communion after publicly committing grave sins. After hours of discussion, the bishops voted 168 to 55 to draft a document that addresses both this issue and the broader question of what places any person in a state of not being able to receive Communion. The document, which will be drafted and then discussed regionally in the coming months, will strive to make the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist and worthily receiving the Lord more widely known.

Despite the efforts made to clearly communicate that the document is “not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons,” 60 Catholic lawmakers released a letter one hour after our vote justifying their support for legalized abortion and arguing that the bishops have “weaponized the Eucharist.”

This is deflecting the blame for the situation. Instead of accepting their own responsibility to understand and follow Church teaching, these politicians are the ones who are “weaponizing the Eucharist” by insisting that they remain in good standing despite publicly committing grave sins and continuing to receive Communion. Everyone with common sense understands that their claim of being in communion with the Church is false. One cannot say one believes something, do the complete opposite and then credibly say that they are in communion with a Church that believes what they did is evil.

To add another layer to this, many bishops – including myself – have been privately dialoguing with Catholic politicians on abortion and other issues for years, urging them to refrain from Communion if they won’t change their immoral political positions. Unfortunately, many – but not all – of these public figures have chosen political expediency over the Gospel. They value their political party and their power more than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They do not serve as a leaven of the Gospel in society, but rather build a culture of death. They cite the importance of following their consciences but fail to explain how their conscience is a properly formed conscience. Instead, they adopt a form of relativism that says, “truth is different for every person.”

As Jesus said to the disciples, the road that leads to eternal life is narrow and those who attempt to take the wide road are headed for destruction. We see this in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he warns that some people had received the Eucharist in a state of grave sin and became sick or died. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

Drawing on St. Paul, the Church’s teaching for every Catholic about worthily receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus is that one “must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance” (Catechism 1415). Yes, we are all sinners, including myself, and we need the medicine of the Eucharist for our hearts to become more conformed to the heart of Jesus Christ and to seek the will of the Father first in our lives.

I have two motivations in speaking out on this subject: first, to protect and faithfully hand on the teachings Christ has given us, and second, to warn those who are endangering their souls by receiving Communion in a state of grave sin, whatever that grave sin is. We do not decide the gravity of sin, God does. Those who decide to disregard this teaching aren’t just hurting themselves, they wound the unity of the Body of Christ and scandalize her members.

The people who I hear from the most about these issues feel betrayed by the Catholic lawmakers and other public figures who claim that they are Catholic but then vote and act against the faith. What do these people have to say to the young children, moms and dads and grandparents who are fighting for the lives of the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics or caring for young moms in need before and after they’ve had their baby? What do they have to say to the children and young adults who are taught and encouraged by laws to embrace a view of the human person that is a distortion of how God created them to be?

Every Catholic, regardless of their prominence, must choose who they will follow – Jesus Christ and his Church, or the false gods of power, influence and the world’s acclaim. May we all respond to this choice as Jesus did when Satan tempted him, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (Mt. 4:10).


Featured image by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”