by Fr. Dave Matz, C.PP.S., Interim Director of Companions
“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house to the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (Evangelii Gaudium, p. 40-41).
In early January, I received a call from Carol, a companion candidate from Liberty, that her mother had died. After receiving my condolences, she moved on to the purpose of her call. Shortly after the death of her mother on December 26, her pastor called to tell her that she and her partner of 21 years, another woman, could not receive communion at her mother’s funeral. He had learned of their relationship in her mother’s obituary published in the paper. Eventually, the priest also told her that she could come to Mass but that as long as she persisted in her illicit relationship with her partner she could never receive communion at their parish. He told her he gave the same message to heterosexual cohabiting couples also. She asked if I could in any way help reconcile her to her parish community and to her pastor.
At first I reacted angrily to what had happened, and wanted justice for Carol and Josie. But as I calmed down, I decided to write a letter inviting the pastor to dialogue with the hope of reconciling Carol and Josie with their pastor and with their parish community.
The Pope exhorts us not to use the Eucharist to coerce people but to celebrate the powerful nourishment it is for us who are weak. Pastors must be pastorally prudent and bold—knowing that we don’t arbitrate who receives grace, but are rather facilitators of a great gift given freely to us all. Church is not a tollhouse; we don’t pay to get in. There is a place for everyone at God’s table. Catholics today find themselves in a moral quandary regarding the sexual debate involving sexual orientation, inclination and sexual acts, and the human person created by God with the desire to love and to be loved. We have an inherent desire for relationship with God and with others, and sometimes those relationships do not mirror the heterosexual norm. As people of the Precious Blood, how are we supposed to respond if couples like Carol and Josie are unwelcome at the Eucharistic table?
Precious Blood people strive not to be obstacles in the path to dialogue and reconciliation; we are to be facilitators of them. We strive to work with God and with each other to be facilitators of God’s grace, not closing off graceful encounters but creating graceful encounters with Jesus for all our brothers and sisters, especially at the Eucharistic table.
So far there has been no response from Carol’s pastor. My hope is that when the door opens we can foster relationships, facilitate grace, and move on to building the reign of God where all God’s children have a place. As for now, Carol and Josie have not felt welcomed in their home parish. However, she and her partner have found a religious community and another parish, including a pastor that welcomes them. It is an inconvenient hour-long drive from their home, but at least there they have found a place to celebrate and encounter grace in God’s house and at God’s table.