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You're Cut Off!
Written July 8, 2016

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us, “Every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”  (Matthew 5:28-29 RSV)

If thou canst not repress thy lust, thou art obligated to blind thyself.

Or, perhaps, castrate thyself.

Well, not necessarily.  Although Jesus did recommend radical self-denial — for example, selling all your possessions — this particular teaching might not require cutting off your “member” to avoid illicit sex.  Maybe it's a metaphor!  Maybe it refers not to one's physical body but to one's community of believers.

The apostle Paul told the believers at Corinth, “You are together the body of Christ, and individually you are members of him.”  (I Corinthians 12:27) 

If one member of the church leads others astray, the heretic should be cut off from the congregation.  “The man who has done such a thing should certainly be expelled from your fellowship.  (I Corinthians 5:2)  Don't you know how a little yeast can permeate the whole lump?  (Galatians 5:9)  Clear out every bit of the old yeast that you may be new unleavened bread!

“I tell you not to associate with any professing Christian who is known to be an impure man or a swindler, an idolater, a man with a foul tongue, a drunkard or a thief.  My instruction is: ‘Don't even eat with such a man.’”  (I Corinthians 5:2-11, Phillips translation) 

Members who don't obey Church rules should be expelled from Church activities.  I'm not a Catholic, but I've always assumed this is what is meant by “excommunicating” someone:  excluding them from the community of believers.  Famous Catholics who have been excommunicated in recent centuries include Joan of Arc, Savonarola, Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer, Queen Elizabeth I, Erasmus, Talleyrand, Napoleon, Juan Perón, Josip Broz Tito, the Mafia, and allegedly Fidel Castro.

If you're banished from the Church, that ought to mean you're no longer required to go to Mass (weekly) or to Confession (typically once a month) or to other somber, tedious ceremonies.  You can sleep in on Sunday mornings.  You are free from religion!

By the way, only a priest can administer the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession.  If he can hear six confessions in an hour, in a month of 40-hour weeks he can handle a thousand confessions.  In 1972, there were about 851 Catholics per priest, so he could have heard each of his parishioners monthly.

But now, according to Georgetown University researchers, the number is 2,500 Catholics per priest in the United States and 8,000 in Brazil.  The Church obviously needs more clergy.

However, it still refuses to consider ordaining women, ignoring scriptural precedents such as Romans chapter 16 in which Phoebe is a minister in the church at Cenchreae and Junia is “foremost among the apostles.”

So you're exempt from going to church because you've been banished?  Not so fast.  Even with a shrunken priesthood, the Church can't afford to lose more members.  Further research tells us that “excommunicates lose rights, such as the right to the sacraments, but they are still bound to the obligations of the law.  Their rights are restored when they are reconciled through the remission of the penalty.  They are urged to retain a relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.”

In particular, they are denied Holy Communion but still have to attend Mass.  While everyone else goes forward to receive the sacrament, they must sit there in the pew, contrite and alone, serving their penalty.

“You do that, you go to the box.  Two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame.”

(Denis Lemieux explaining hockey penalties in Slap Shot)

Recently Cardinal Walter Kasper has advocated that divorced-and-remarried people no longer be barred from the Eucharist.  Pope Francis agreed that such people should at least be brought back into the church, but does that mean they can receive Communion?  No.  As the Pope explained, they're still in “a state of mortal sin.”

As I said, I'm not a Catholic, so all this seems slightly strange to me.  I was brought up as a Methodist.

That denomination celebrates the sacrament only a few times a year.  Each time the pastor explains that there are no restrictions. 

“The United Methodist Church practices open communion.  We welcome all people.  Our official statement is ‘Open hearts, open minds, open doors.’  All are welcome to share in the sacrament.”

Come on down!  You don't even have to be a Methodist.  “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors ... draw near!”



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