My friend Sherry Curp was up and roaming the internet early this morning and came up with this find. The Diocese of Joliet’s website features a challenging essay by Canadian pastor, Fr. James Mallon, on the very subject of pastoral approaches to sacramental practice and personal discipleship that Fr. Richard’s blog post below raised.
Fr. Mallon sketches out some of the history behind our nearly total current focus on the outward forms and validity of sacraments while almost always skipping the other half of the equation: ex opere operantis: the personal response of the recipient to the objective grace received, resulting in salvation, transformation, and fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God.
It is definitely worth reading in its entirety but here’s a money quote:
As Catholics our biggest pastoral struggle is also our greatest pastoral opportunity. Couples, parents, or families who have little or no connection to the Church who come knocking must be welcomed with open arms and love, no matter how limited their faith or understanding of what they are seeking. Our starting point must be that we never say “no” to any request for a sacrament. However, this begs the question of what it means to say “yes”. “Yes” cannot simply mean the fixing of a date, some paperwork and a quick class. Our “yes” must be a whole-hearted willingness to walk with them until they are ready to celebrate the sacraments and be accompanied with a clear definition of what readiness looks like, Our “yes” must be an invitation to a process, a journey with a resistance to pressure to simply provide the date. The journey must be one of authentic conversion and not be simply a complicated obstacle course that must be successfully navigated in order to get the prize at the end.
Tim Ferguson, canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Detroit, sent me this important speech by Pope Benedict to the Roman Rota:
Pope Benedict's allouction to the Roman Rota in 2011 introduced a very key point with regards to the right of the faithful to marriage. He said, in part:
"The right to contract marriage presupposes that the person can and intends to celebrate it truly, that is, in the truth of its essence as the Church teaches it. No one can claim the right to a nuptial ceremony. Indeed the ius connubii refers to the right to celebrate an authentic marriage. The ius connubii would not, therefore, be denied where it was evident that the fundamental requirements for its exercise were lacking, namely, if the required capacity for marriage were patently lacking or the person intended to choose something which was incompatible with the natural reality of marriage.”
I think the same could be said of the other sacraments, analogously – while the faithful do have a right to the sacraments, they do not have an unqualified right to the mere ceremony, but to an authentic and fruitful celebration of the sacrament, which presumes a certain amount of preparation and proper disposition. Parents who bring a child to be baptized, but who clearly have no intention of raising their child in the faith should not be turned away, but should be led into an understanding that this is not just a ceremony to please the grandparents, but this is initiating their child on the path of discipleship that should only be done if there is some solid assurance that the child will be given ample opportunity in his or her family to grow and progress along that path of faith.