Monday, February 18, 2008

Extraordinary Measures

God is a just judge
slow to anger;
but he threatens the wicked every day,
men who will not repent. (Ps. 7)

I've always been moved by the Church's teachings on Confession and Baptism in extraordinary circumstances. It is a common misconception among non and misinformed-Catholics that one can only receive the grace of God's forgiveness through the sacramental authority of the Church or the priests she confers it upon. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:

In an emergency, the person who baptizes can be anyone-man, woman or child, Catholic or non-Catholic, atheist or unbeliever-as long as he or she administers the sacrament properly and does it with the intention of "doing what the Church does." Emergency Baptism is given by pouring ordinary water three times on the forehead of the person to be baptized, saying while pouring it: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The words must be said at the same time the water is poured. When properly given, Baptism administered by a lay person is as valid as Baptism given by a priest (1256, 1284).

Article 1484, on the necessity of sacramental confession, states:

Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church.

There are two important point worth noting in this section, mostly because their misreading has lead to erroneous beliefs and attitudes towards the Sacrament, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The first is that that the word 'ordinary' in this section is often overlooked. Its omission (Individual confession...remains the only way for the faithful to reconcile...) leads to the belief that the Church has exclusive rights to mete out God's forgiveness. It is good, then, that our God is not an 'ordinary' God! While sacramental confession is a good and valid way to approach reconciliation, I still hold to my belief that God is bigger than the church that tries to hold Him. In this sense, an extraordinary God does not limit the bestowal of his full forgiveness to simply 'ordinary' methods of confession.

The second point worth noting is that the sacramental Confession is "the most expressive form of reconciliation." But it is not the only form! The advantage of participation in the Sacrament is that it not only accounts for those offenses against God; it also recognizes that "the spiritual well-being of the church, of which every member is a living stone" (1487) is dependent on the responsibility assumed by each of its members. Sin is a three-fold offense: it offends God; it offends one's neighbor and community, the church; and it offends the individual. Just as we are called to take civic responsibility as Americans through voting and paying taxes, baptized members of the Church are called to account for and take responsibility for their actions, which may have directly or inadvertently, positively or negatively, affected the well-being of others. If you are a baptized Catholic, you are a member of a family...for better or for worse.

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