What Do Joe DiMaggio, Sinead O'Connor & Napoleon Bonaparte Have In Common?

Answer: Excommunication. Joe DiMaggio for bigamy. Sinead O'Connor for being ordained a priest by an Independent Catholic bishop. Napoleon Bonaparte for seizing the Papal States. In a conversation yesterday, someone asked how readily people are excommunicated from the Church. Frankly, I learned a thing or two.

First, there are misconceptions about excommunication which stem from the complexity of the subject matter itself, and the lower level of catechesis that today's Catholics bring to the discussion. It is harder for people to understand the notion of excommunication if they have insufficient appreciation of the underlying concept of sin, or of what membership in the Church implies, or what kind of authority the Church has from Christ, and so on.

And the most common misperceptions are: First, there is the idea that excommunication kicks one out of the Church. That is not right. There are ways to cancel one's Church membership, but excommunication isn't one of them. Imagine a felon serving a long prison term; he's in prison, but he remains a citizen bound by the laws of his country. Say, he owns property upon which he incurs taxes while in prison, he still owns the property and is still liable for the tax from prison; if he commits a crime in prison, he can be prosecuted for it, and so on. A felon loses certain important rights, obviously, like freedom of movement and the right to vote, but he is still a citizen. Similarly, an excommunicated person is still a member of the Church, but he or she has lost certain key rights attached to Church membership and is cut off from many of the activities and benefits of the Church.

The second misconception is that people who die in a state of excommunication go to hell. Maybe they do, and maybe they don't, but we don't know with certainty either way. In any case, the Church does not claim to exercise jurisdiction over the dead, and one's final fate is determined by God based on the life one leads. Of course, appearing before God for judgment in the state of excommunication from His Church on earth is not a good thing.

The third misconception is this: many people think that, because a given Catholic committed an action for which automatic excommunication is the penalty (for example, heresy, schism, abortion), the penalty was actually incurred in that case. Canons 18, 1323, and 1324, contain a startling list of factors that mitigate or even remove liability for canonical crimes. Now taken individually, these exceptions to penal liability make sense, but when read as a whole, as we have to do, they make it much more difficult to determine whether an automatic excommunication was actually incurred in a specific case.

Excommunication is not about politics or ideology; at root, it's about sin. The mainstream media doesn't understand what sin is, so they surely aren't going to understand what's behind excommunication. Now, there are lots of examples of sinful behavior out there, but only some of them, in general the worst ones, are also crimes under canon law. Those are the kind of things to those wanting the immediate excommunication of pro-abortion politicians, I have to say that canon law simply does not read that way. To make a long story short, an excommunication for abortion has to be linked to a specific abortion and, given the structure of American government and medical institutions, one simply can't link a given legislator's vote with a specific abortion within the limits of causality recognized by canon law. Now, I like to think that the words of law generally mean what they say. If we distort the words of penal canon law to the degree necessary to make legislators fall within the present terms of the abortion canon, we would do violence to the text of the law, and that's always bad; distortions in law tend to come back and haunt us in other contexts that are the subject of excommunication.

Do Catholics have an obligation to know their rights and duties under canon law? Yes. Knowing the law, knowing one's rights and duties, is not sufficient for leading an honorable life, of course; but knowing the law makes leading the upright life easier. One knows what's expected. For too long, canon law, even though it is an incredibly important source for knowing one's rights and duties as a Catholic, was neglected. Today we are paying the price for that widespread disregard of Church law right and left. But things are slowly changing. The value of stability, the wisdom of experience, the basic commitment to dignity, all of these are waiting for us in canon law. The more people learn about it, the more they see how valuable it is, and the more they want to learn.


A Would-Be Saint?

This past year the Diocese of Allentown sent documentation to the Vatican concerning the cause for sainthood of Father Walter Ciszek. Born in 1904 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania this once ornery young kid and teen would have never been sus-pected of having a calling to serve the Catholic Church as a priest.

Once ordained in 1937, Father Ciszek pushed his superiors to send him to Russia, but worried about his safety they sent him to Rome to study. Volunteering to go to Poland, hopeful that would be his way into Russia, Father Ciszek was arrested as a Vatican spy, tortured and made to sign a confession of his conspiracy. In 1942, he was given 15 years of hard labor in a concentration camp. Freedom came in 1955, when he returned to the United States, residing at Fordam University.

During his later years, he wrote two books With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me. Crippled with arthritis and cardiac ailments, Father Ciszek fininshed his earthly days doing spiritual direction and entered eternal life in 1984.

Please pray the prayer for the Canonization of Father Walter Ciszek.

We adore You, Most Holy Trinity,
and we thank You
for the exemplary life of Your servant,
Father Walter Ciszek.
We pray that his strong faith
in Your loving providence,
his great love for You,
and his kindness to all people
will be recognized by the Church.
If it be Your Will, may he be given to us
as a saintly model of these virtues
so that we too may be better motivated
to dedicate our lives
to Your greater honor and glory.
We commend our petition
through the prayers of the holy Mother of God.
For to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
is due all glory, honor and worship,
now and forever.


Do You Know Someone Who Has Left The Church?

Most of us do not have to look very far to find “non-practicing Catholics”in our circle of family and friends. Many of us are concerned about these loved ones; however,we don’t know how to help them. Obviously, most of them are searching,but how can we help them find their way home?

As baptized, practicing Catholics, we have a precious gift of faith and love from the Lord that needs to be shared with our non-practicing brothers and sisters. First, we need to pray for them. Secondly, we need to extend a personal invitation to them to come home to the Catholic Church.

Most non-practicing Catholics are waiting for an invitation to return. Many mistakenly think they are excommunicated and not welcome to return for a variety of reasons. Many non-practicing Catholics carry a tremendous amount of guilt and misinformation about the Church, so they are afraid of approaching the Church for fear of being rejected.

You can make a tremendous difference in someone’s life simply by reaching out to them and telling them that we miss them and would like for them to come back home to our Church family.

If you are a Baptized Catholic and are not currently practicing your faith, please accept this as your personal invitation to come home. Seek out a priest you feel comfortable with and talk about your situation with him. You are missed, you are prayed for, you are loved.


A Moment Of Rest

The above painting is entitled "A Moment of Rest" by Ridgway Knight. On this Labor Day we are encouraged to take a break, a respite, from our daily routine in the workplace and reflect on the gift we have from the Creator to be stewards of the earth. Yes, I said "gift"!

I can not tell you how often people confess their unhappiness with their work situation. The stress, the money, the boss, the co-workers -- you name it, I've heard it. The sad part about the situation is that many fail to recall the true purpose of work. As stewards of creation, God has entrusted to us the care of the world and its resources. Decades of inappropriate use and neglect of the earth, have caused us to look urgently now at a grim future. Desperately we are taking our call seriously and the time to act rests on us. Working should not mean simply to put money in the pocket and food on the table. Each job has a purpose and each purpose should produce pride in our work.

When is the last time you were proud of the work you did? If it has been a while, then perhaps your work is not done for the right reason. Does Labor Day, a day that we have celebrated since 1882, mean another three-day weekend, a celebration of the end of summer, a good sale? Or does it mean a day to thank the Lord for the gift of being able to make the world a better place with what we produce, giving thanks to the Lord for the gift of having a job, pray that fair trade practices, wages and health care are benefited by all of God's people?

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical "Rerum Novarum" which started the Catholic Social Teaching movement. Since then there have been several key issues that have developed in terms of the movement. There include:

  • the dignity of the human person
  • the common good
  • solidarity
  • subsidiarity
  • the purpose of the social order
  • the purpose of government
  • the universal purpose of goods
  • the option for the poor
  • the care of creation

In fact, much of the developments in the workplace are a result of documents written by the Catholic Church.

So today is not simply another day off, it is a day of reflection upon the "gift" of work and just a moment of rest.