Homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15; Mark 5:21-43
27 June 2021
In today’s gospel, Jesus is asked to heal the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official. As soon as he agrees, Jesus is touched in the crowd by a woman who has been suffering a haemorrhage for 12 years. She thinks, “If I can touch even his clothes, I shall be well again.” Discharging blood, she is ritually unclean. Thus her desire furtively to touch the one who might heal her. She succeeds. She is cured: “the source of the bleeding dried up instantly”. Jesus calls her out: “Who touched my clothes?” Being surrounded by a crowd of people, the disciples think he is being a touch precious. But Jesus, “aware that power had gone out of him” maintains his inquiry. The woman comes forward “frightened and trembling”. She is not turned away. She is not castigated. Jesus tells her, “My daughter, your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.”
The word then comes through that the 12-year-old girl has died. There’s no point in Jesus going on to Jairus’s home. Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; only have faith.” He takes with him Peter, James and John – the same trio who witnessed the Transfiguration, the same trio who will be invited to accompany Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. They are the privileged ones who witness with Jairus and his wife the simple directive to the girl: “Talitha, kum! Little girl, I tell you to get up.” And she does.
The woman in the crowd and the girl at home each experience the healing touch of Jesus. He doesn’t judge them. He doesn’t castigate them. He heals them. All that was needed was for the girl’s parents and the woman herself to have faith.
During the week, we have been treated again by the US bishops to a messy, unedifying debate about the worthiness to receive communion. I say ‘again’, because we went through all this once before – in 2004. This time, the angst has been initiated by the election of the Catholic President Joe Biden. Back in 2004, it was caused by the Presidential contest between the non-Catholic George W Bush and the Catholic John Kerry. Each time, there has been a group of bishops wanting to deny communion to any Catholic Democrat candidate for the presidency. These candidates have been judged unworthy.
The now-disgraced and defrocked Cardinal Ted McCarrick was Archbishop of Washington DC back in the lead up to the 2004 presidential election. He suggested to his fellow bishops the establishment of a group who “would consider the relationship that we as bishops and teachers in the Church should have with Catholic politicians who are not always with us on the major issues that face the Church in our time in our country”. In 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger who was then President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) sent a letter to McCarrick. The letter was entitled ‘Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion’. At Ratzinger’s request, McCarrick refused to publish the letter. Some of the US bishops had been arguing that it would be up to individual bishops to make pastoral and prudent decisions about communion. Ratzinger counselled a uniform approach. He wrote:
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it”.
He stated earlier in the letter:
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.
Kerry did not commit abortions, nor did he commit acts of euthanasia. He simply said that these were not issues in relation to which the state should interfere with the choice made by the individual. Meanwhile, Bush himself had authorised the execution of 152 persons on death row, only once exercising clemency in his term as state governor. In his first term as President Bush had committed the US to the tragic Iraq war which was strongly opposed by Pope John Paul II.
Ratzinger wrote a follow-up letter to the US bishops. This second letter was published with the observation ‘that “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion” (was) sent as a fraternal service – to clarify the doctrine of the Church on this specific issue – in order to assist the American Bishops in their related discussion and determinations.’ The public perception was that Ratzinger and many of the bishops were not only minded to refuse Kerry communion; they were favouring the election of Bush over Kerry.
Seventeen years later, the US bishops are again debating the worthiness to receive communion. The President of US Bishops conference has asked Cardinal Ladaria, now President of the CDF if Ratzinger’s first letter of 2004 could be formally published. Cardinal Ladaria explained that the letter was written “in the form of a private letter to the bishops” and the future Pope had stipulated that “these principles were not intended for publication”. Cardinal Ladaria insisted that the CDF will continue to respect that desire.
The letter was leaked back in 2004. It is available on various websites including the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) website.
This sort of carry-on in relation to the Eucharist is very disedifying. Last week the US bishops voted by 168-55 to spend time on a new document which will be presented to their conference in November. The USCCB website states: ‘The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.’
This vote came after Cardinal Joe Tobin of Newark warned his fellow bishops: “Voting in the affirmative will produce a document, not unity. Voting against it will allow us to work together in dialogue to forge a broad agreement on the serious questions embedded in the issue of eucharistic worthiness.”
The disciples were not there in today’s gospel to judge the woman with the haemorrhage. The disciples were not there as gatekeepers to keep the ritually unclean woman away from Jesus. They were bystanders. Those disciples with eyes of faith were able to behold the frightened and trembling woman come forward, having received power from Jesus who knows nothing of her and who judges nothing about her other than to proclaim, “Your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.” Peter, James and John were invited into Jairus’s home – not to judge Jairus, his wife or his 12-year-old daughter. They were there to witness once again Jesus’ healing touch.
Many Catholics take heart that the leader of the free world has been a regular communicant all his life. I’m one of them. Thank God, Joe Biden’s own bishop Cardinal Wilton Gregory in Washington DC has said that he will not be policing the altar rails where Biden has presented for communion these past eight years as Vice-President.
It’s time for our bishops in Rome and in the USA to admit that we all know what’s in Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2004 letter, and it reads even more unhelpfully now than it did then. No politician is worthy to receive the eucharist. No bishop is worthy. None of us is worthy. That’s precisely what we pray at this Eucharist, “Lord I am not worthy…” If we could but touch him and be touched by him in this Eucharist, we might be well again, going in peace.
 T. McCarrick. “The Call to Serve in a Divided Society”, Canisius Lecture, Boston College, 3 March 2005, p. 6
 This letter was sent to Cardinal McCarrick in early June 2004 and was leaked in the Italian press on 3 July 2004. It is available at https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/worthiness-to-receive-holy-communion-general-principles-2153
 See H. Prejean, “Death in Texas”, New York Review of Books, Vol. 52, No. 1, p. 4, 13 January 2005. Sister Prejean writes: ‘When Bush left the governor’s office, he had denied clemency in all cases and refused to commute from death to life imprisonment a single death sentence but one—that of Henry Lee Lucas—and that because knowledge of Lucas’s innocence of the murder for which he was about to be killed had become the subject of such national scrutiny that Bush could not afford politically to ignore it. Besides, the Lucas case became public during the 2000 presidential campaign, when Bush had begun to portray himself as a “compassionate conservative”.’
 ‘Cardinal Ladaria to US Bishops: Debate on Communion and abortion should not lead to division’, available at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2021-05/vatican-letter-ladaria-bishops-us-communion-politics-abortion.html
 USCCB, ‘The Meaning of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church’, available at https://www.usccb.org/meaning-eucharist-life-church
 ‘Bishops at odds over document proposal’, The Tablet, 26 June 2021, p. 27
 ‘Washington’s soon-to-be cardinal says he won’t deny Joe Biden Communion’, America, 24 November 2020, available at
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).