Free Will, Fulfillment and Excommunication

Recently, Bishop Paprocki releaseddecree on “same-sex ‘marriage’ and related pastoral issues.” Some Catholics interpreted it as an unjust singling-out (and rejection) of a specific group of persons. In terms of sin itself they do have a point—we are all sinners. However, some went as far as to interpret it as a form of excommunication. What seemed absent in the grievances I encountered was an understanding of a person’s specific choice to continually reject God. That’s significant because that’s where we enter the realm of excommunication, which is a serious matter worth exploring.

What does it mean to reject God?
We reject God anytime we willfully reject the Order of Creation, as revealed in nature.

This includes:

  1. Elevating finite creation above infinite Creator.
  2. Assuming that our Creator God isn’t capable of forgiving the sins of persons he created.
  3. Elevating temporal human experience to be of greater importance/value than objective truth itself.

When we choose to reject God (via our rejection of the Order of Creation), we are guilty of a sin of commission. However, if sin is perceived as being merely philosophical in nature (possibly invented by the Church), it can easily be (errantly) ignored. Thus, we might do well to re-introduce sin in terms of a concrete standard. In the eyes of the Church, that standard is the Order of Creation, as revealed in nature. This is the art of the Divine Artist, which encompasses both visible and invisible realms, and both intra-universal and extra-universal domains. It’s what the Church refers to as natural law, or what is revealed to be of nature, or natural (which is commonly misinterpreted to mean what “feels natural” or what comes easily).

A Matter of Approach
To better understand, it may be valuable for us to consider the following questions.

Do we see the Church as:

  1. The inventor of truth, or the upholder of truth?
  2. Merely “rules” to follow, or a mystery to pursue?
  3. A means of establishing social order and behavioral norms, or a means to draw persons into the most holy, virtuous, and intimate encounter with the Creator of our universe through the Sacraments instituted by Christ?

If the latter (of each) are not wholeheartedly embraced, then we are at greater risk of inaccurately perceiving excommunication as a “punishment” from the Church for “stepping out of line” behaviorally. However, it is the latter (of each) that draws us to shift our focus from behavior to holiness and virtue. Since excommunication is a matter of a person being unrepentantly attached to their chosen sin in their heart (which may drive certain behavioral choices), it follows that we ought to approach excommunication though the lens of holiness and virtue, for those are matters of the heart. Further, in addressing the attachments of our hearts (and the disposition of our hearts overall) above any notion of behavior, we not only elevate the conversation to be about one’s openness to growing in the fullness of virtue, but we also introduce an approach that discriminates against no one, for we all have been gifted with the fullness of free will over our hearts.

This approach also illuminates the joyful witness to the vocation of “Yes” (to holiness and virtue), which lifts us past the fixation on the (false) vocation of “No” (to behavior management based on having to deny our deepest desires “in order to be a good Catholic”). It’s virtue and holiness that challenge us to transform our hearts to desire something greater; a more complete unity with God, further aligned with his will. Virtue thus challenges us to die to ourselves and to our own attachments so that we may be more profoundly aligned with the truths of the Order of Creation, as revealed in nature.

The Influence of Experience
Many Catholics choose to endorse homosexual relationships because they see persons involved as happy, or even complementary (in terms of masculine/feminine interests/activities/tendencies, emotional state, and or even personality). They may also see a number of redeeming human qualities within such relationships—which of course may be present. However, these circumstances don’t undo the existence of the Order of Creation itself, or a person’s choice to reject it. Unfortunately, however, sentimentalism seems to be influencing people to ignore the Order of Creation in its fullness, in favor of personal experience.

Despite any positive reflection of humanity that may be present within a homosexual relationship, what remains is the commitment to utilize sexual faculties in a way that counters their purpose as structurally created. Further, this rejection of the Order of Creation is chosen with foreknowledge, and it continues in perpetuity for the length of the homosexual relationship itself. Thus, a person in such a relationship may be, dependent on degree of knowledge, in a state of excommunication in perpetuity, such as long as they choose to remain in that relationship.

Bound to a Journey?
Given that neuroscience, educational psychology, and even many contemporary gender ideology activists (never mind the Catechism itself) agree that it’s inaccurate to claim a person is “created that way by God,” and given that attractions experienced are not specifically chosen while our embraced identities are specifically chosen, it follows that no one is bound to any particular life trajectory along any orientation, and no one is bound to any particular identity or way of seeing themselves. Thus, no one is bound to any particular journey towards fulfillment.

This is relevant because many people in homosexual relationships believe that God created them that way and that it’s against their “nature” to deny themselves a homosexual relationship as a means of fulfillment. However, given that self-concept influences what we perceive to be fulfilling, we might do well to look at the bigger question of identity formation, alongside addressing one’s openness to growing in the fullness of virtue.

Perhaps it would be valuable for people to prayerfully consider how:

  1. Our brains are formed in the ways we use them.
  2. Our future desires are influenced by the desires we pursue today.
  3. We are subject to unintended after-effects of our choices, which subconsciously condition our brains to desire certain things more or less intensely.
  4. Continuously tasting the joy of holiness and virtue draws us to increasingly desire that which is holy and virtuous.
  5. The Church calls all people (regardless of attractions experienced) to holy, virtuous sexuality.

The fact is, by our own free will, we “become” an identity in as much as we choose that to be the case. As we wholeheartedly embrace identities (not just to describe but to define ourselves), we become more firmly entrenched within an idea of how we ought to pursue fulfillment. This greatly influences the types of behavioral choices we will make going forward, and those choices will reflect our decisions to reject or not reject the Order of Creation in its fullness. However, because of our free will, we can always choose to reject the rejecting of the Order of Creation, and return to a more complete union with God. Thus, with regard to excommunication, it means that no person is bound to stay excommunicated, unless they choose that to be the case by their continued choice to reject God with full knowledge of their circumstance.

For as long as we are in that state of awareness but are unwilling to turn away from this commitment (which indeed may involve great personal sacrifice), we are choosing to maintain our rejection of the Order of Creation, rejection of God as Divine Artist, and our state of self-imposed excommunication.

In some cases, excommunication could be remedied via a sincere confession with a truly contrite heart, paired with a firm, authentic resolve to “go and sin no more,” or rather, “go and uphold nature and restore the Order of Creation.” Where an official excommunication decree has been issued (on account of a person’s refusal to repent of their rejection of the Order of Creation), there may be further action required before the decree is lifted.

Conclusion
The Church desires we all find joy and fulfillment, but the Church also knows that our Infinite Creator will provide joy and fulfillment to the greatest degree, especially through the Sacraments. Thus, it’s with a grieving heart that the Church is forced to deny persons certain sacraments, and or acknowledge excommunication, because she knows those Sacraments are able to draw us to that joy and fulfillment that we were created to enter. The Church longs for our return to God regardless of our journeys thus far, so that our hearts may become fully open to the graces that he is waiting to pour out onto us. These are the graces that allow us to live joyfully (even amid suffering) whilst being fed by the Creator of the Order of Creation, whose love and mercy is truly limitless.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is Bishop Paprocki of Springfield delivering a sermon in 2013.

Hudson Byblow

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Hudson Byblow lives in the Midwest where he has a career in education. He has presented at several conferences for the Courage Apostolate and is often invited to share his testimony to clergy, schools and parishes. He consults for various Catholic agencies, speakers, and educators, in the United States and in Canada. His website is www.hudsonbyblow.com.

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