Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adultery--Public Sin Needs Public Reconciliation

"Thou shalt not commit adultery." Old Testament commandments are always the least expectation. In other words, the least you can do is not commit adultery. Jesus Christ, while never doing away with what was least expected, called and is calling his followers to do the most for God and one another, not the least. This applies to all of the commandments and especially to forgiveness.

In the early Church, adultery was considered such a grievous sin against marriage that it symbolized also being unfaithful to God. Keep in mind, the Sacrament of Matrimony is meant to be a sign of the relationship that Christ the Bridegroom has with His bride which is the Church. Because adultery can have a public side to it, public repentance and reconciliation was demanded in the early Church.

Today when someone well known commits adultery, the outcry is normally not based upon the Christian abhorrence of sin, especially sin that symbolizes a breach in the relationship we have with God and thus idolatrous, but rather the public's need to know all the salacious details of what took place and why. This is voyeurism at its worst and certainly "unCatholic, unChristian."

Perhaps the Church should return to a time of public penance and reconciliation for public sinners, like politicians who are pro-choice, like celebrities who are unfaithful to their marriage vows, and others who are high profile in the parish. Public sin needs public forgiveness and reconciliation after a time of public penance. This obviously means the cooperation of the person who needs to repent and be reconciled. It also means that sometimes it must be publicly known that a public sinner is not to receive the Holy Eucharist for he has breached what it means to be in full communion with the Church.

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernadine was a great advocate for returning to the early Church's way of reconciling public sinners. Normally it occurred during the Lenten season. At the beginning of Lent, public sinners were marked with ashes and wore a gown similar looking to sack cloth to symbolize their sin and need for public forgiveness and reconciliation. Like the Cathechumens are dismissed after the Mass of the Cathecumens (Liturgy of the Word) because they are not members yet of the Faithful, public sinners too were dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word for their sin had publicly broken their full communion with Our Lord and His Church. They were no longer considered members of the Faithful and therefore not allowed to remain for the Mass of the Faithful (Liturgy of the Eucharist). We still have this practice in theory but extremely privatized. One should not receive Holy Communion while in a state of unforgiven Mortal Sin or any unforgiven sin. For most, this means remaining for the Liturgy of the Eucharist but not going forward to receive Holy Communion.

On Easter Sunday in the early Church, these public sinners would be reconciled by the bishop or the priest in a public way and readmitted to the Table of the Lord. There was great rejoicing that a sinner had been reconciled.

Today our media driven culture tends to relish the ability to humiliate public sinners by rubbing their face in their sin or worse yet gleefully cheering their downfall from grace. It cannot be this way for us who strive to be authentic Christians. We grieve for those who publicly sin, and we pray that they will be reconciled to God and their loved ones. We don't need any more details than that!

1 comment:

-Brian said...

Don't give up on this line of thought about any kind of pennance, Father. Its is very good to see it.