One of my spiritual disciplines for 2018 is reading from “A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living” by Mike Aquilina. I find the excerpts challenging and edifying. Such was the case as I read from Day 264, an article that Aquilina titled, “We are all equal in God’s sight.” I was challenged to consider what should be expected of our political leaders and us who profess faith in Christ, and especially those who are Catholic.
In the introduction Aquilina writes: “When riots broke out in Thessalonica, the emperor Theodosius (347–395) furiously ordered that the city should be punished. Thousands died when soldiers were let loose on their own fellow citizens. When Theodosius came home, the bishop, St. Ambrose, refused to let him into church until he had gone through months of public penance.”
Theodoret, a church historian, wrote about this in Ecclesiastical History, 5.17:
When the emperor arrived in Milan, he as usual went to enter the church. But Ambrose met him outside the outer porch and refused to let him cross the threshold.
“Sir, you don’t seem to understand what a bloody crime you have committed,” said Ambrose. “Your rage has settled down, but you still don’t understand what you’ve done.
“You rule, sir, over people whose nature is the same as yours. In fact, they are your fellow servants—for there is one Lord and Ruler of all humanity, the Creator of the universe.
“How will you look on the temple of our common Lord? How will you walk across that holy threshold? How will you hold up your hands, still dripping with the blood of unjust slaughter? How can those hands receive the all-holy body of the Lord? How will you lift the precious blood to your lips, when you in your fury poured out so much blood?
“Go. Do not try to add another crime to the one you have already committed. Submit to the restriction to which you are sentenced with the agreement of God, the Lord of all. He will be your physician. He will give you health.”
Theodosius was well learned in Scripture; he knew what belonged to priests and what belonged to emperors. So he bowed to Ambrose’s rebuke and went back to his palace, sighing and weeping.
Theodosius was excommunicated by the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, for the massacre. He was told to imitate the famous royal penitent David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt; Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance.
What would it look like if those in governmental leadership today were held to the same standard? The position taken by many Catholic prelates such as in the case of abortion and euthanasia is toothless and actually puts them and their sheep: Catholic political figures and Catholic voters in mortal sin and in danger of losing their souls. Tough language, but true!
Go back to 2004, when then Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, conveyed in a letter to then Cardinal McCarrick (Washington) and Cardinal Gregory (Atlanta) that denial of Communion is obligatory “regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia.” And further that a priest should warn “the person in question” of the consequences, including the denial of Communion. Ratzinger further said that if “the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,” And then the final paragraph of the letter addresses those who knowingly vote for a pro-choice candidate: “If he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia,” that Catholic too “would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion.” (Quotes from The Washington Times, July 7, 2004).
Unfortunately ex-Cardinal McCarrick took it upon himself to misrepresent the direct order from Rome and told the USCCB that the decision was up to them. What happened next is “their bad” for voting 183-6 on a compromise statement allowing each bishop to decide whether to give Communion to pro-choice politicians or not. Fourteen years later we have to wonder what would have happened if the truth had been told, and even if not, if our bishops would have had the spirit of St. Ambrose.
We have an election on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. It behooves us to find out where the candidates for every office stand on the issues as they relate to our faith. I live in New Jersey where in the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Bob Menendez (D) is running against Bob Hugin (R). They are both pro-choice. I will not be voting for either one, and I have let them know that. I do appeal to Joseph Cardinal Tobin of Newark to take seriously his role of shepherd of Mr. Menendez, who is Catholic, regarding the grave position he places his soul to support abortion. I live in congressional district 1 where incumbent Daniel Norcross (D) is running against Paul Dilks (R). Mr. Norcross is pro-abortion and I have already informed him that I will be voting for his opponent, Mr. Dilks, who is pro-life.
I appeal to all Christians, but especially to my Catholic brothers and sisters to do the right thing. This is not something we dare take lightly.
St. Ambrose, pray for us!