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Excommunication, That Gesture Of Love!

Piero della Francesca. Madonna of Mercy.
Mary, refuge of sinners (including heretics and schismatics!).
(Piero della Francesca. Madonna of Mercy. [Source])

1) Introduction

Many people think that all you need to be a Catholic is a Baptism Certificate. This is not true. You have to be baptized, but you also have to believe everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches, otherwise you are excommunicated.

2) What is excommunication, loosely speaking?

Loosely speaking, "excommunication" is a sociological concept, which necessarily appears as soon as institutions arise. Allow me to repeat. I'm not talking here about the beliefs of some "fundamentalist". I'm talking about one of the most basic laws of the science of sociology. This law is so basic and so pervasive, that you could call it: "The Law of Sociological Gravity". (See the article with the same name.)

3) What is excommunication, strictly speaking?

Strictly speaking, excommunication is an ecclesiastical punishment used in the Catholic Church. In a way, it is the official observation by the Catholic Church that a baptized person has kicked himself or herself out of the Church. Take a deep breath, imagine you're a world-famous lawyer, and read the following excerpts from the Church's "Rulebook", i.e. the Code of Canon Law:

Canon 750 of (our emphasis):

2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Canon 751:

Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of Baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith"

Note that to be a heretic, it is only necessary to reject one single truth of faith or morals proposed by the Magisterium as to be held definitively.

4) When and how does an excommunication happen?

Do we need to receive an e-mail from the Pope to know whether we are excommunicated? Once again, our common sense can help us out here. Imagine a Muslim who, for whatever reason, decided to firmly believe that Allah was an eggbeater and Mahomet was a hair dryer. You would concur in saying that this person would cease to be a Muslim, starting from the very moment when he or she would decide to embrace these beliefs incompatible with Islam.

It's the same thing in the Catholic Church:

Canon 1364:

an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication" (that is to say automatic excommunication)

Notice that excommunication is instantaneous, automatic. Also notice that the Church never kicks anybody out. All the Church does is to observe that someone has kicked himself or herself outside of the communion with Christ.

5) What tangible examples could we give?

You can consult the "Top Ten Heresies" chart, for a few examples of heresies that are common in the Province of Quebec these days.

6) How can excommunication be seen as a gesture of love?

Doesn't this whole thing about excommunication contradict the very words of Jesus?

"If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? [...] Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."
[Mt 18:14]

Yes and no. It depends how this tool is used (see also [He 12:11]).

You've surely at least once had to find a shop in the shopping mall. Perhaps you consulted the maps indicating the layout of the shops on each floor. A very important element of that map was the big red arrow saying: "You are here!"

Excommunication is like a big red arrow saying: "You are here!", right down in the sewers of the shopping mall! The Catholic Church wants everybody to find the Shop of Eternal Life, in the Great Mall of Beliefs. If someone is lost, we have to give that person a map that says "You are here!", so this person can find his or her way. As long as a lost sheep doesn't know it's lost, it can't make an effort to come back to the sheepfold!

7) Conclusion

Of course, I don't claim that the Pope should excommunicate everybody, or that a baptized person "should be considered as excommunicated, until he has proven his innocence"! On the other hand, I think that these days in Quebec we often fall into the opposite excess, which endangers the eternal life of heretics and faithful alike.

"[The Catholic Church, like the Virgin Mary,] understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother's love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and [has the burden of] recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life."
[Veritatis Splendor, No. #120]

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