“He Himself bore our sins in His body upon the Cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By His wounds, you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
I feel compelled to speak to you with the clarity that flows from the Word of God and the Deposit of Faith entrusted to our beautiful Catholic Church.
Bp. Joseph Strickland
As your shepherd, my heart aches for all that is happening in the Church and in this world through which God’s people must journey. I know we face many confusions about the connections between sin, repentance, our Eucharistic Lord and what it means to be a faithful Catholic, but the words of 1 Peter remind us of the direct connection between the saving ministry of Jesus Christ and the sinful burden which the world carries. The reality that “He Himself bore our sins in His body upon the Cross” makes it abundantly clear that the coming of the Son of God into the world is a confrontation with sin which has dominated the human story since the fall of Adam and Eve. Even now, in the 21st century, we constantly confront the reality of sin and the death it brings.
Christ, through His sacraments, helps us confront the realities of sin so that we may, one day, enjoy everlasting life with Him in Heaven. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the real presence of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine in Communion, we are making a statement with our “amen” that we believe He has overcome sin and death. Our steadfast faith in the real presence of Christ highlights the reality that it is “His body” which has overcome sin. Receiving Communion at Holy Mass is one of the most profound ways we can say, “Lord, I love you.” To simultaneously ignore His commandments, whether it be “thou shall not have false gods before me,” “thou shall not kill,” “thou shall not steal” or any of His other commandments, is to place ourselves on a contradictory path of grave sin. The wonder of God’s loving call in each of our lives is that He leaves us free to choose to receive Him in the Eucharist, but it is incumbent on each of us to choose honestly, faithfully, prudently and with spiritual and moral consistency to do so.
We see many people on a contradictory path of choosing grave sin or ignoring grave sins which they have committed; even some who share with me the charge to guard the Deposit of Faith. Any attempt to promote following Jesus’ teachings while, at the same time, ignoring the sinful realities of our lives is simply unacceptable and is not of Jesus. Sometimes, public displays of contradiction and, in some instances, open defiance of Catholic teaching, seem to go unchallenged. Perhaps they are even encouraged. We must pray that such contradictions or open defiance is properly handled by all who have competent ecclesial authority. Action is required for both the soul of the person who demonstrates such public and open contradiction, as well as for the sake of the people scandalized and confused by the contradiction or by the failure of those with authority to properly respond to it.
However, I must caution you. Be careful. It is not our personal responsibility to judge whether someone who has chosen to approach Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has done so with unrepented sin. We will leave them in the hands of God as we pray for their conversion of their heart. I believe it is important to review the grave reality of scandal and the wounds it can inflict upon the Body of Christ, especially amid the current turmoil and confusion. A section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church titled “Respect for the Souls of Other: Scandal” (specifically paragraphs 2284, 2285, 2286 and 2287) provides us with sound guidance in these situations. I especially highlight this quote found in paragraph 2285:
Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted Our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or by office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and the Pharisees on this account: He likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.
As your shepherd, I must pay very close attention to this statement of our Faith because I am one of those, who by my very office, is “obliged to teach and educate others.” As we all seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, let us take to heart this important admonition regarding scandal and reform our lives accordingly.
The distribution of the Holy Eucharist
Let us rejoice in the abundant mercy that flows from the sacrificial altar of the Eucharist. Let us trust that, when we humbly acknowledge our sins in confession, the Lord always washes us anew in the original forgiveness of baptism. Let us develop the pious habit of asking, from the depths of our hearts, “Have I repented and confessed all my sins?” as we approach Holy Communion. If we find that we have not, the greatest reverence toward our Blessed Lord is to refrain from receiving Communion at that Mass and go to confession as soon as is reasonably possible. Then, washed once again in the fountain of mercy that flows from the side of Jesus on the Cross, we can return to the Communion line at the next Mass and honestly and joyfully receive the Lord. In this way, we not only humbly seek forgiveness, but we are thus more deeply in communion with the one who “bore our sins in His body upon the Cross.”
Finally, brothers and sisters, let us pray for each other and for our Church. May the controversies that whirl around us serve not to dishearten us nor weaken our faith. Instead, let them inspire us to live joyfully in the Lord with even greater fervor because we know He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Bp. Joseph E. Strickland
Diocese of Tyler
Nov. 12, 2021