Structures of sin, not exclusion


Opinions on exclusion as a tool

In Dostoevsky’s masterwork “The Brothers Karamazov,” as Father Zosima recounts his life’s history, he describes, in particular detail, the day of his conversion. On that day, in the moment of metanoia, he recalls the words which his brother, who had also undergone a profound conversion, spoke to his mother years before, “Mother, heart of my heart, truly each of us is guilty before everyone and for everyone, only people do not know it, and if they knew it, the world would at once become paradise.”

These words are neither scrupulous nor unrealistic. They reflect, rather, the fullness of conscience that can belong to a saint. If one commits oneself to the plenitude of goodness, one can never cease tearing down the stony growths of one’s heart, allowing God to re-fashion it with flesh. The words of Zosima’s brother focus on the good that one can do in every moment; they make no room for blaming exterior structures. Structures of sin are built from within, and we are the guilty ones.

These past months, in the context of the ongoing synod, the recently-appointed Cardinal McElroy has made statements that glaringly contradict the Pauline teaching on reception of the Eucharist — especially in favor of what he terms “L.G.B.T. persons.” While it is terribly problematic that McElroy views the personhood of individuals who struggle with same-sex attraction as particularly defined by their “orientation,” the real issue is more fundamental. 

Archbishop Chaput summed it up pithily in an interview: “Cardinal McElroy clearly and courageously wrote about his convictions. Unfortunately, many of his convictions are wrong and contrary to the teaching of the Church.”

And that is where the matter ought to stand with us. McElroy is wrong, and if we are troubled by his statements, or by the silence of many other bishops, or by the silence of magisterial Rome, we ought to be comforted in the fact that bishops like Chaput and Paprocki are responding back, and in no uncertain terms, and even more than this, that Christ Himself is with us, yes, to the end of the age (Mt 28:20).

Most importantly, however, we ought not to fall into the trap that McElroy himself has fallen into. In the controversial article published in America on Jan. 24 in which he outlines his position, the Cardinal laments “structures of exclusion.” McElroy dangerously views exclusion in itself as a fundamental problem — dangerously because exclusion, of course, is neutral on its own. 

The moral character of exclusion depends entirely on what is being excluded and why. In complaining about exclusion, one may fail to realize the opportunities for the good that might arise because of this very exclusion. And this is precisely the effect of abstaining from the Eucharist when one is not in a state of grace: one yearns for the Eucharist, and in that yearning, pauses at and ponders more deeply the mystery of Christ’s gift of self.

Thus, if we trust the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we ought in no way to view ourselves as the excluded faithful, as a kind of remnant, as the “real Church.” Any exclusion suffered ought to move us to a recognition of our own faults, of our responsibility “before everyone and for everyone,” and of our opportunity to reach more ardently for the absolute good. 

This means that even in Cardinal McElroy’s statements — setting aside the ones that smack of heresy — we can find an examination of conscience. In facing that examination, do we really think that we shall appear entirely clean? So let us face it.

Archbishop Chaput is again most articulate on this point. Asked about the “greatest areas of reform needed to renew the Church,” he responded: “Us; all of us. We’re the problem . . . if we want to reform the Church, we first need to reform ourselves.” This is a life’s work, for sure, but Christ is master at making all things new (Rev 21:5). 

And so, as we work to renew the Church, let us not be caught up in the so-called structures of exclusion, but let us busy ourselves in eradicating the structures of sin, structures built around and through us. If we tear down these structures of sin, recognizing our own guilt in them, what joy awaits us. In truth, “the world would at once become paradise.”


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