podcast episode 2: the meaning of communion

Screen Shot 2020-06-20 at 3.06.30 PMreceiving_communionOne of the hot-button issues of our time is: Should Holy Communion be given to political candidates who publicly favor abortion? Many Catholic Americans have a tendency to frame this question in a merely legal or disciplinary way. Very few seem to ask the sacramental and theological question: What does receiving the Eucharist express? Once I frame the question in this way, I can hardly say that the Bible is silent on the matter. Saint Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 11. And I think the tradition is clear that receiving Communion expresses a communion with Christ and with his Bodya union of heart and mind on essential matters.

When a Catholic serving in public office clearly opposes the Church’s teaching, he makes himself incapable of receiving the Eucharist for what it isa life-giving union with Christ’s body, a giving and a receiving that one participates in without reserve. For such a Catholic, receiving the Eucharist could be considered a kind of spiritual contraception. He engages in the act without intending to express the very meaning of the act. In effect, he uses Christ’s Body rather than receiving that Body for all that it is.

It’s common knowledge that those who reject the Church’s teaching authority often do so as a result of the Church’s teaching about artificial contraception. It seems to me that this is no accident. Contraception is an act by which we give ourselves permission not to respect the other, but instead to use the other in the service of our own interests. It might be a mutually agreed-upon use of each other, but it is use nonetheless. When we contracept in married life, holding back our fertility or rejecting the fertility of our spouse, it damages marital communion, because it interferes with our vocation to be a gift to our spouse and to receive our spouse as a gift in all the dimensions of their being. And when we engage in spiritual contraception by receiving Communion unworthily, holding back our assent to the deposit of faith preserved by the Church, it damages our communion with Christ’s body. We begin to relate to the Church simply in terms of how She might benefit us, and we cease to pay attention to how we might serve Her.

A public servant who is Catholic is just thata servant. It’s a noble calling and a beautiful witness when lived authentically. The more deeply I come to appreciate the faith, the more I recognize that the service of the common good is sustained and nourished by a vibrant Catholic faith. It is the Church who fosters the awareness that in every person we discover an image of Christ, that Christ gave His very life for every human being, and that we are called to revere every life even when it costs us dearly to do so. We must not cease to remind ourselves that our leader in the faith sacrificed His very life for the well-being and redemption of every human life.

Our true adherence to the Church does not make us partisan in our attitudes, as though we had joined some club which only respects its own members. Rather, our life in the heart of the Church opens our heart to every human person, regardless of creed, ethnicity or any other distinguishing characteristic.

To be Catholic is to love and to defend humanity as such: Children on either side of the birth canal are truly human. The lives of our African-American brothers and sisters are truly human. The lives of undocumented immigrants are truly human, as are the lives of displaced Uighur Muslims in China. The lives of forgotten elderly and the homeless in our own neighborhoods are truly human. The lives of those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are truly human. The disabled in mind and body are truly human. The lives of our enemies and those with whom we engage on Facebook are truly human. Rioters are truly human, as are police and politicians and drug lords and money launderers. And our own life also is truly human, in all of its beauty and its brokenness.

Failing to see the humanity and the dignity of other people diminishes our own humanity, because it robs us of the beauty both of being a gift to others and of receiving others as gift. A kind of blindness can set in.

The gift of the Eucharist can help restore our vision as it is a sacrament not only of communion with God, but also of communion with our neighbor. Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the interplay of the two dimensions of communion eloquently in his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est. Here’s an extended passage from that letter:

Love of neighbor… in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus… consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbor which the First Letter of John speaks of with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties,” then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper,” but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a “commandment” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

Part of the miracle of the Eucharist, when I consider it personally, is the astonishing fact that it reveals that even I have been invited into the embrace of the love that made the universe. Who am I to receive such a gift? And who am I to hesitate even a moment in desiring to share that unmerited gift with others?

C.S. Lewis says it succinctly in the final words of his essay The Weight of Glory:

…It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

Before this great mystery, let all mortal flesh keep silence.

the upset of Easter, and the last things

For your Easter meditation, here are a couple of excerpts from an RCIA Hollywood podcast on The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell/Purgatory

the Christian life: comfort by way of upset

It would be interesting to take a survey, asking people two questions:

“What is the most comforting religion in the world?”

“What is the most upsetting religion in the world?”

It would be interesting to know what people would say to these two questions.

I think that the most comforting religion in the world would be Christianity, without question. And as far as what would be the most upsetting religion in the world, I think it also would be Christianity. I think it’s both. It is the most upsetting, and the most comforting, because of original sin. There’s just no way back to the Garden except through the experience of death.

Our life, right now, as we live it, in all of its comfort — in its native form for us… I don’t think we always want to leave this comfort nest, even if there’s something better, because we don’t know that something better.

Our life has really been turned upside-down by the Fall, and to turn it upside-right, we had better be ready for an upset. Imagine a boat sitting in Paradise on the waters of creation. Then imagine the boat being capsized. That’s what original sin has done to our existence. We’ve gotten very used to being in that tipped-over boat. That’s become our native home, that’s what we understand, that’s what we know: the experience of sin and of fear. And so now Christ comes, and He wants to right the boat again, but how do we receive that? We’re afraid, we’re threatened, we’re challenged by that. How dare he turn this boat over? How dare he upset our life? In fact, he’s righting the boat, but we experience it as an upset.

So the idea of Christianity is really that comfort comes by way of upset. We just don’t know it yet. When it’s all upset in our life, I think we discover the truth that finally the boat is being righted, and what we had become so familiar with was in fact just the pilgrim state of this valley of tears, and now we are discovering our true home in the Father’s house….

Evaluating one’s life in the light of the Last Things

I think it’s good to make an annual self-evaluation during Holy Week.

Here’s a reflection on the last things, which I’ve based on Dr. Peter Kreeft’s discussion in his book Fundamentals of the Faith. He has a chapter on each of the Last Things. From those essays, I’ve constructed a self-interview of sorts. It’s an opportunity to make an evaluation of our lives in light of things ultimate.

The first question is about death:

What death am I facing — whether little or large — and how can I meet it with Christ? It might be worthwhile to re-visit that question in a year and see if there has been any resurrection in this area or not.

The second question has to do with judgment:

The experience of judgment is the experience of being laid bare… everything is revealed. So the question is: What most needs to be laid bare in me or seen through the eyes of justice… (That’s what justice does… it sees everything)… for the sake of living more justly now, and so that Christ can touch and heal it? Christ is the divine Physician, but unless we show Him our wounds…. It’s not that He doesn’t know the wounds are there, but He needs us to relax enough so that He can actually tend to them.

The third question has to do with heaven:

The question is: What are my false heavens? Or what is my counterfeit paradise? Maybe I have several: maybe it’s the weekend; maybe it’s my job; maybe it’s a relationship. What are those things in my life which are not Paradise but for which I am happy to stop along the way because I’ve found this counterfeit? What keeps me from remembering that this is not a place of rest? I mean, the sabbath is, but other than that? We’re on pilgrimage. What will I do to keep a sense of pilgrimage alive? What will I do to keep my heart alive to the true goal of my existence? So we’re moving from a kind of examination to a resolution: What are we going to do about this?

Then lastly, hell:

What are the areas of drift or complacency in my life? Because I think for those of us who have decided to become Christians… to be baptized and to follow Christ and so forth… we have sort of set out on pilgrimage. It isn’t a question of whether or not I have heaven as a goal for me, but what will keep me from that is if I drift, if I get lax, if I get complacent. Where am I kind of drifting? And what am I going to do about that?

So give yourself some time this week to ask yourself these questions. It has been interesting for me to complete this exercise each year since a Triduum retreat in 2007; it’s been a grace to go back over it each year and to notice that I need to revisit some of them, but with others there really has been grace active in my life.

Blessed Easter! May the Resurrection of Christ transfigure every corner of your existence. May your every tear be joy-stained; behind every upset, may you experience the joy of being discovered by the One who has upset it all, for love of you.

Judas and Holy Week

betrayalCertain elements of the Passion narrative push forward in relief for me as I mull over a story I’m writing (Saint Judas).

In listening to the Passion narrative from the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Palm Sunday, my ears tripped over the strangeness of the way Jesus addresses Judas at the time of the arrest in the garden:

Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” (Matthew 26:50)

I wondered why Jesus chose, at this moment, to address Judas as friend.

So I looked a bit deeper. In Saint Jerome’s Vulgate, the Latin word is indeed amice:

Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?”

Iesus autem dixit illi: “Amice, ad quod venisti!”

The footnotes in the Navarre Bible Commentary on this passage gave me ample material for meditation:

Jesus again demonstrates that he is giving himself up of his own free will. He could have asked his Father to send angels to defend him, but he does not do so. He knows why this is all happening and he wants to make it quite clear that in the last analysis it is not force which puts him to death but his own love and his desire to fulfil his Father’s will.

His opponents fail to grasp Jesus’ supernatural way of doing things; he had done his best to teach them but their hardness of heart came in the way and prevented them from accepting his teaching.

To effect his betrayal Judas uses a sign of friendship and trust. Although he knows what Judas is about, Jesus treats him with great gentleness: he gives him a chance to open his heart and repent. This is a lesson to show us that we should respect even people who harm us and should treat them with a refined charity.

I might have expected Jesus to be turned over to the authorities by one of the Pharisees or Saducees, rather than one of the Twelve. But from another point of view, it is fitting that one of the Twelve would be involved. The behavior of Judas brings into sharpest relief the drama taking place: not simply an arrest, but a betrayal. This is the pattern of all sin: The stubborn and cruel rejection of a Heart opened to us in trust and love. In Judas, we can discern our own refusals to accept God as He is and our own hypocrisies writ large: a cautionary tale, an anti-Annunciation.

Bishop Robert Barron put it well in one of his Holy Week meditations:

Those of us who regularly gather around the table of intimacy with Christ and yet engage consistently in the works of darkness are meant to see ourselves in the betrayer.

What sets us apart from Judas is not our worthiness but our capacity to hope.

May the meditation on the character of Judas this week lead us to emulate Peter, who, when confronted with his own weakness and betrayal, does not spiral into a paralyzing despair. When brought to the end of his own devices, Peter holds fast to hope and finds the grace to receive what is on offer.

Related posts:

https://doxaweb.blog/2005/08/02/for-everything-there-is-a-season/

https://doxaweb.blog/2019/04/23/requesting-prayers-for-writing-project/

https://doxaweb.blog/2019/04/30/saint-judas/

XIII: Jesus is laid in the arms of His Blessed Mother

At the foot of the Cross, Mary lovingly receives the lifeless body of her Son. She kisses Him, and then gazes out at us as she holds Him. Her eyes are filled with grief but no bitterness. “This is for you,” her eyes say to us. She is the gracious hostess of the divine meal, expressing a hospitality that has cost her everything.

Mary is… the Mother of Mercy because it is to her that Jesus entrusts his Church and all humanity. At the foot of the Cross, when she accepts John as her son, when she asks, together with Christ, forgiveness from the Father for those who do not know what they do, Mary experiences, in perfect docility to the Spirit, the richness and the
universality of God’s love, which opens her heart and enables it to embrace the entire human race. Thus Mary becomes, for each and every one of us, the Mother who obtains for us divine mercy.

Saint Pope John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth

XI: Jesus is nailed to the Cross

John the Beloved watches as the body of Christ is elevated on the Cross. He remembers the words of the Master as He elevated the unleavened bread: “This is my body… do this in memory of me.” The Supreme Teacher does not want us to forget that love is self-offering, and so the meal He asks us to share, again and again until the end of time, takes the very shape of His sacrifice.

Christ’s blood reveals to man that his greatness, and therefore his vocation, consists in the sincere gift of self. Precisely because it is poured out as the gift of life, the blood of Christ is no longer a sign of death, of definitive separation from the brethren, but the instrument of a communion which is richness of life for all. Whoever in the Sacrament of the Eucharist drinks this blood and abides in Jesus is drawn into the dynamism of his love and gift of life, in order to bring to its fullness the original vocation to love which belongs to everyone…. It is from the blood of Christ that all draw the strength to commit themselves to promoting life. It is precisely this blood that is the most powerful source of hope, indeed it is the foundation of the absolute certitude that in God’s plan life will be victorious.

Saint Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life