After reading a recent syndicated column in my Diocesan newspaper, I could not remain silent. The columnist, Father Ron Rolheiser, a well-known Catholic priest and theologian, criticized a brother priest who had had the courage to preach the Truth.
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For decades, observers have decried the absence of quality catechesis within the Catholic Church – this despite the universal recognition that many Catholics do not know or fully understand their Faith.
Several respected polls have concluded that as many as seventy-five per cent of those professing to be Catholic do not attend Sunday Mass on any regular basis, if at all. The number of non-attendees may be even greater than this reported percentage.
The salvation of its members’ souls is the Church’s primary mission. Yet rarely is the necessity of attending and participating in Sunday Mass ever addressed. When was the last time you heard a homily on the eternal consequences to those who intentionally ignore this obligation? Not too frequently I would suspect.
When priests have the courage to do so, they are often criticized. Such was the reaction of Father Rolheiser to the homily he heard.
Given the absence of so many Catholics from Sunday Mass, no reasonable person would question the need to encourage our brothers and sisters to return to Mass, to make that day holy, and to give to God the adoration and worship He deserves.
How best to do that? Not, I would suggest, by publishing Father Rolheiser’s recent column on Orthodoxy, Sin and Heresy.
“Recently, while on the road giving a workshop I [Father Rolheiser] took the opportunity to go to the Cathedral in that city for a Sunday Eucharist. I was taken aback by the homily. The priest used the Gospel text in which Jesus says, I am the vine and you are the branches, to tell the congregation that what Jesus is teaching here is the Roman Catholic Church constitutes what is referred to as the branches and the way we link to those branches is through the Mass and if we miss Mass on a Sunday we are committing a mortal sin and should we die in that state we will go to hell.
Then aware of what he was saying would be unpopular, he protested that the truth is often unpopular, but that what he just said is the orthodox Catholic teaching and anyone denying this is in heresy. It’s sad that this kind of thing is still being said in our churches” [my emphasis].
Father continued [again with my emphasis]: “Does the Catholic Church really teach that missing Mass is a mortal sin and that if you die in that state you will go to hell? No, that’s not Catholic orthodoxy, though popular preaching and catechesis often supposes that it is, even as neither accept the full consequences.”
With all due respect to Father, may this simple man ask a few questions?
Does not Section 2181 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) state that “those who deliberately fail in this obligation [participation in the Eucharist on days of obligation] commit a grave sin”? Does not the same document at Section 1472 tells us that "… Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the ‘eternal punishment’ of sin”?
Are not the phrases “grave sin” and mortal sin” interchangeable? Are we to also ignore Section 1861 of the CCC which teaches, in pertinent part, that “mortal sin…results in…the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell”?
I fully agree with Father Rolheiser that it is not for us to judge the condition of another’s soul at the time of death or whether or not that individual had responded to God’s invitation to repent of his sins. That authority and judgment rests solely with Almighty God. Thankfully.
But we are not judging anyone during their lifetime when we proclaim God’s objective and unchanging Truth - that deliberately and intentionally missing Mass on a day of obligation is a mortal sin and that if one dies in that state unrepentantly, hell is their eternal destination.
We have a duty, in justice and charity, to preach and share that Truth, to help save souls. We have an equal obligation to question anyone attempting to render ambiguous a Church teaching that is crystal clear, even if we are only simple laypersons.
Father Rolheiser and the priest he criticized cannot both be correct. One is accurately setting forth Church doctrine; the other is tickling ears and misleading souls. I side with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the homilist.
Please correct me if I have reached the wrong conclusion. The eternal stakes are too high to leave this conflict unresolved.
If, however, my conclusion is correct, why would any Catholic newspaper publish this column?