Greetings, SBT Readers!
When I saw the headline, I gasped -- an editorial in the NCR entitled, Why we support the bishops' plan to deny Communion to Biden. Once I got past the shock factor of the heading, I read on and discovered that the article was less about President Biden and more about those Catholic Bishops who have aligned themselves with MAGA values to the sacrifice of Christian principles of compassion and mercy. You can read the article HERE. Happily, 65+ bishops, led by Cardinal Wilton Gregory, are calling for a cancellation of the vote which is presently scheduled to take place at a virtual assembly, June 16-18, 2021.
The very idea of excluding the President from Communion distorts the whole meaning of the Eucharist and brings into question, Who among us is in good standing? My skins crawls at the thought of an Inquisition-like milieu in which each of us has to pass a test of conformity, not just in terms of our actions but also of our thinking. If someone is pro-immigration rights, pro-environment, and against the death penalty and yet believes that in certain cases such as rape and incest, abortion should be permissible, should that individual be denied Communion? Conversely, if someone is against all forms of abortion and yet espouses white supremacy, should that person be permitted to swagger up to the altar of righteousness? Who is to judge? What will the litmus test be that determines who should be included and who should be shunned?
If the vote goes through, then, logically speaking, we will need a new liturgical ministry of BIG BROTHER. This person's role will be to stand next to the Eucharistic minister and see who has sinned in thought, word, or deed. The checklist could go something like this:
- Do you believe in cohabiting before marriage or are you co-habiting with someone who is not your spouse?
- Do you believe in divorce or have you remarried without an annulment?
- Do you believe in gay marriage or are you yourself married to someone of the same sex?
- Do you believe in birth control or do you yourself practice birth control?
- Do you believe in transgender rights or are you yourself living in a gender-modified body?
- Do you believe in the ordination of women or (if you are female) do you yourself have aspirations towards being ordained?
- Do you believe in the death penalty or do you yourself work in an industry that supports the death penalty?
- Do you believe in nuclear weaponry and biological warfare or do you yourself work in an industry that supports these weapons; does your investment portfolio include weapons of mass destruction?
- Do you believe in the superiority of a particular gender, race, ethnicity, or religion, and does this belief cause you to discriminate against others?
- Do you cheat on your taxes, drink and drive, watch pornography, sleep during homilies, use racial slurs, tell ethnic jokes, overcharge your clients, tyrannize those with whom you live, bully your colleagues, manipulate your friends, play the system to your advantage, or do anything else that should ban you from receiving the Eucharist?
This checklist is incomplete, but you can get the point: if we are going to exclude someone on the basis of a single viewpoint, then we need to apply the same standard to all -- including the bishops!
PS Please note my new address at the bottom of this e-letter!
While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
"Take it; this is my body."
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
"This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
The image I selected for this week's issue of SBT is a mosaic from the Basilica of Our Lady of Ta'Pinu, Gozo, Malta. I have used many of the mosaics in previous issues of SBT, but I don't believe I have ever used the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. What strikes me about this image is that on the left, the bread and wine sit on the table while on the right, a face-less Judas, bent over in the shadows, has his back to Jesus and is clutching a money bag behind him. The central action is of Jesus with an apron around his waist, washing the feet of one of his disciples while another disciple awaits his turn.
When we think of the Eucharist, we tend to focus on the species of bread and wine-- elements of any ritual Jewish meal. However, Eucharist is not so much an object to be venerated as an experience of the in-dwelling Christ that invites us to become that which we have received. We receive the sacrament to become our best selves -- to die to selfishness so that we can grow in awareness and respond to the needs of the world. While our tradition teaches us that there is a place for private Eucharistic devotion, Jesus clearly links "Do this in memory of me" to service and self-giving. To remember him fully is to clothe ourselves in humility -- hence, the apron! When we "put on Christ" (Rom 13:14) we mediate his presence to others, so that "it is not I who live but he who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). Eucharist, then, is more of a verb than a noun, an action rather than an object, a process of becoming rather than a passive receptivity. We stretch out our hands so that we can be stretched; we open our hearts so that the heart of Christ can beat in us; we say "Amen" not only because we believe but because we acquiesce to all that Christ asks of us.
And what of Judas? He chooses money over service,
betrayal over devotion, limiting beliefs over cosmic mystery. He is so stunted spiritually that he is incapable of becoming anything other than what he is. For him, "Amen!" is a foreign concept while donning a servant's apron represents the end to his grandiose dreams of an earthly kingdom.