If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you will no have life within you. Jesus Christ
The Eucharist was a scandal. Many of Jesus’ followers left Him when He explicitly told them I am the bread of life.
It is popular today to cast Jesus as a Casper Milquetoast god thingy of our devising. According to popular cant, Jesus’ sole purpose in becoming human was to tell us that, hey, I’m ok and you’re ok. Do what feels good and so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else — unless of course it’s euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research or abortion, in which case, it’s a “human right” to kill somebody else — so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else that you’ve decided it is a denial of human rights not to kill, it’s fine by me.
Jesus’ living teaching about the mercy of God toward the weak and helpless, in particular women, when He said let him who is without sin cast the first stone has been transmuted to mean I can commit any sin I want and the Church is sinning if it says my sin is a sin.
The Eucharist was a hard teaching, a scandalizing teaching, on that day when Jesus first taught it. Many people left Him because of it.
But Jesus didn’t follow after them and try to smooth things over. He didn’t say C’mon back. I didn’t mean it that way.
His reaction — if you have deluded yourself into believing in the Casper Milquetoast Jesus of modern pop theology — was downright unChristlike.
Stop grumbling among yourselves. He said. It is written, They will all be taught by God.
Then, he doubled down on his teaching about the Eucharist: My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink … Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
Finally, He turned to His disciples and said, Are you going to leave me too?
Not, notice, please, please don’t leave me; I was only speaking metaphorically.
He looked at them and without equivocation acknowledged that they were as scandalized by this teaching as those in the crowd, but, again, without wavering one inch on that hard teaching, asked them the real question that He asks each of us: Are you going to leave me, too?
It was a line in the proverbial sand. Stay or go, He was saying, but the teaching will not change.
He asks us, all of us, including our cardinals and bishops, this same question today. Are you going to leave me, too?
Will the hard teachings of our Christ Jesus, Who was anything but a Casper Milquetoast, be too much for you?
Today’s Catholics wuss right by the hard teaching of the Eucharist. We’ve got that one down.
But the other hard teachings about the sanctity of marriage and human life, about the reality of hell and the fact that yes, Virginia, there is a satan, are too difficult, too embarrassing, too demanding of us in this post-Christian world.
We want to whittle Jesus down, to wear away His rough edges like a bar of soap, until we have a slippery little g god who won’t make things so tough on us. We want our silly addlepated little wimp of a self-made god who won’t trouble us in our desire to be accepted and loved by everybody, including those who are unknowingly following satan when they attack Him.
We want Christ without the cross, eternal life and salvation without redemption and conversion.
It hurts me! Sinners cry. It hurts to be “judged” a sinner just because I break these eternal rules. It rankles and angers me that anyone would think that the things I want to do are wrong. So, stop saying that. In fact, tell me that what I want — whatever I want — is good and virtuous.
If the Church obliges, it will condemn these people to hell.
It will also condemn itself to inconsequence.
It is one thing to teach that this Church of ours is the cornerstone, that it was built on Peter the rock and that Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against it. It is quite another to arrogantly assume that the Church may change the basic teachings of the faith and teach that which is contrary to what Christ taught and that it will be A-Ok because Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against us.
The first is faith. The second is presumption.
Jesus did not mean whatever this Church does is holy because the Church does it. His great Apostle, St Paul, said quite clearly, God is not mocked.
John the Baptist told the Pharisees, when they went into the wilderness to refute him for his preaching, that everyone — including them — was in need of redemption. He then smashed their self-justifying claims of exemption from following the laws of God. Do not say we are sons of Abraham, he told them. God can raise up sons of Abraham from these very stones.
Jesus said it best, of course, when He said, A servant is not greater than his master.
That applies to those who wear the mitre just as it does to the rest of us.
Perhaps the hardest teaching in that day of hard teachings when Christ the Lord made clear beyond misunderstanding what the Eucharist really meant, was the answer He gave to those who walked away. It is written, they will all be taught by God.
We have been taught by God made flesh. This is not some wimpy, politically correct little g god of our devising. This is a God who was reviled and attacked, mocked and betrayed and yet did not yield. This is a God who consented to be beaten, tortured, mocked, and horribly murdered; Who took on the bottomless alienation of all sin, Who became Sin, in order to buy us back from our perdition.
Are you going to leave me too?
That is the question.
It’s up to each one of us to decide what we will answer.
It’s a bitter pill for Catholics, watching the videos of Archbishop Carlson’s testimony.
I understand and share the emotions it raises.
But we do not serve ourselves or our Church by pretending that it ain’t so. We’ve got to face this because it is reality. It doesn’t change in any way the simple fact that Jesus said “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
What it changes is the blind notion that many Catholics have — that we all want to have — that our religious leaders are sinless Christ figures themselves.
They’re just people, just like us. They are conduits of the graces of the sacraments. God can and does reach through them and into us when we go to them for support and help in our troubles.
But the miracle in that is all on God, not on them. They don’t create the miracle, they don’t control the grace. I know from personal experience that God can reach out and touch anyone, anytime. I believe that all that’s needed on our parts is a willing heart. All we have to do to receive God’s healing grace is say yes to it.
Why, then, a priesthood? If God can reach directly into us Himself then why do we need priests who are conduits of grace?
Because the priesthood is God’s instrument for bestowing this grace in an understandable, predictable and accessible way. I think that the emotionalism that is sometimes exhibited in some churches is an attempt to re-create that first transforming moment of grace when they originally said yes. It is an attempt to touch God and feel it again by using our own emotions to elevate ourselves to that level.
The Eucharist gives us that healing moment of grace, that experience of touching God, of feeling Christ, without any effort on our part. All we have to do is say yes and partake. It is the same with confession. Confession bestows healing grace. So much so that there have been times, including long periods when I was feeling especially challenged, that I went to confession every week, even though my sins were not so grave, because I needed that encounter with Christ, that healing grace that confession gives.
Sacramental confession strengthens us in an almost unfelt way. The more often we go to confession, the stronger we are in resisting evil. In fact, my experience has been that if I confess something on a regular basis, I stop wanting to do it. It takes a bit of time, but that’s what happens.
These graces, as well as the graces of the other sacraments, flow through the priest in a way that is simple for those of us who receive it. We don’t have to understand theology. We don’t have to work ourselves into an emotional high. All we have to do is say yes and accept the grace that is freely given to us.
The crowning moment of grace is always the Eucharist, which is direct contact with Christ. So far as I’m concerned — and I’m not a theologian, so this applies only to me and my understanding — the Church is the Eucharist. And we are the eucharist. Because the Eucharist is Christ. The priesthood exists to bestow grace. Priests are conduits of grace, and it does not matter what kind of hooligan they are personally, the graces of the sacraments flow through them to us, regardless.
Which brings me back to Archbishop Carlson. I wouldn’t call him a hooligan. In fact, I’m not sure how to label him. I don’t want to label him and his faults. It is enough for me that this is the situation in which we find ourselves, him and us. Because at this point, that’s what it’s about: Him and us.
Not, Jesus and us, or even the Church and us. But poor, messed up Archbishop Carlson and us. We don’t have to decide what to do about Archbishop Carlson. What we are tasked with is determining how we are going to relate to our dear Church in the light of the obvious fact that our leaders are ordinary people.
They can be cowards. Just like us.
They can be craven. Just like us.
They can lie, cheat, steal and run away when they get in trouble. Just like us.
They can gossip and betray confidences, hold grudges and be spiteful. Just like us.
They are not Christ.
What they are is men who have consented to be the conduits of grace to Christ’s Church, which is us. There is a moment when heaven comes to earth and the Eucharist becomes His Body, His blood, in which the divine flows through them.
The fact that a few of them become callous about this and begin to devalue it and even start thinking that it is all about them and not Jesus, does not change the impact it has on us. The Eucharist is still real, even if the priest is a messed-up welter of confusion and sin.
Archbishop Carlson reveals himself to be a lawyered-up citizen who ducks and covers under oath in an act of self defense. I have no idea why he didn’t do the obvious thing and exercise his right to take the Fifth Amendment. It would have been far less damaging to his credibility than this performance.
You can find the full text of his deposition here. Many of the salient comments are highlighted to make them easy to find.
There really isn’t any point in trying to find an “out” for Archbishop Carlson in this. The deposition speaks for itself. Besides, it’s not our job to judge Archbishop Carlson. Our job is the much tougher one of working out how to be a faithful Catholic in a world of fallen leaders, including our leaders in the Church.
How do we follow these men when they are so nothing special as this deposition reveals them to be? Not, mind you, worse than us. Most of us would duck and cover in a deposition like this one, just like the Archbishop. Any of us who have brains would get the best legal counsel we could and do exactly what that attorney told us to do.
Archbishop Carlson doesn’t reveal himself to be a fiend in this deposition. He reveals himself to be no better than the rest of us.
Which brings us back to the task that faces us. We are fallen people, served by a priesthood that is composed entirely of fallen people, living in a fallen world.
Yet we serve a risen Savior, Who is God Incarnate. We are called to be “perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
But we can’t do it. We. Can. Not. Do. It. We don’t get through a single day without at least one and usually many sins of one sort or another.
We want heroes who will give us the illusion of the possibility of human perfection. But human perfection is always just that; an illusion.
To put it bluntly, we are all — priest and parishioner alike — down here in the pits together. As Jesus said, “There is none good except God.”
So how do we solve this conundrum of answering a call to be “perfect” while we are certain that there is “none good” among humankind?
We solve it by getting up every morning and giving our day to Jesus and His Mother. We solve it by availing ourselves of the certain graces of the sacraments. We solve it by forgiving each other and sustaining one another in our weakness.
How does this apply to the Archbishop Carlsons in our clerical leadership? More to the point, how does it apply to us and our response to the Archbishop Carlsons in our leadership?
My answer — and this is just me, talking about me — is that we need to cherish these men and help them as we can. At the same time, we need to stop pretending that they are anything other than fallen human beings. When they stand behind that altar and lift up the host, they are conduits of God’s grace. When they come down from behind the altar and scald us with a fit of rage or lie in a deposition, they are just people, wallowing around in the pit of failed good intentions along with the rest of us.
This is difficult for Catholics. It’s difficult for me. I am still working out how to deal with wounds inflicted by clergy. Some days I don’t do so well with it. Protestants can just dismiss their clergy as fallen people and be done with it. But Catholics are part of a hierarchical Church whose entire governance is built on the administration of these fallen men.
How do we, as Catholics, remain faithful when we see by their actions that we must be judicious about how and when we follow our clergy?
This is a tough one. It’s not always or even mostly about big public dilemmas like Archbishop Carlson’s dipping and dodging deposition. It is usually more personal, and because of that, far more damaging to us as Christians and Catholics.
How do we, say, disregard things a priest or spiritual director says to us in a fit of rage? How do we decide what to believe and what not to believe about the things they say to us? How do we overcome the sense of betrayal when a priest gossips about our deepest hurts? These are more the kinds of things that most Catholics must overcome in their walk of faith. The big public falls from grace seem easy to me compared to those much deeper personal dilemmas. How do we live together as Catholics in this fallen world?
These are hard questions with no easy answers. I’m going to leave it open for discussion and see what the rest of you think. In the meantime, take a look at Archbishop Carlson’s deposition. It’s clearly not a case of dementia or anything like it. He’s dipping and dodging and doing it quite well. Just like us.
So it turns out that those pesky Satanists who want to decorate my state capitol lawn with what is one ugly bit of Satanic statuary also have their eyes set on higher ed.
The Satanic Temple evidently plans to hold a black mass at the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club. That’s Harvard, as in the hugely expensive university where so many of the poobahs that run this country for their own benefit get their tickets to power punched.
I chose to ignore this story when it first surfaced because I had no idea if it was true, and I had zero time for tracking it down. But Elizabeth Scalia, aka, The Anchoress, who is easily as busy as I am, made the time to do just that.
It turns out that yes indeed, Harvard is playing host to the black mass folks, and at least one of them is claiming that they’ve managed to procure a consecrated host to use in their alternative culture extravaganza. Others of them aren’t so sure they have a host, and after thinking it over (and getting flak from The Anchoress) they’ve announced that, even though they have — or don’t have, depending on who’s doing the talking — a consecrated host, they won’t be using it (if they do have it) at their shindig.
Of course, Satan is the father of lies, and these are his disciples, so who knows if they have a consecrated host or not? Who knows if they’ll use it?
In an interview on Mobile Movement, the leader of this hardy band of the damned first says that they do, in fact, worship Satan. Then, he goes off on a riff about literary constructs, referencing Milton and Anatole France. Since, as I said earlier, Satan is the father of lies, I don’t think it matters all that much what this guy says. Believe it or don’t, as it suits you. But, if you’re smart, don’t bet anything valuable on it.
Deacon Greg Kandra reminds us that Harvard was once a Christian university, that it was, in fact, founded on Christian principles. But that, as they say, was then. This is now.
Academic pretensions aside, Harvard today is the premiere ticket-puncher for the power elite of this country. Go to Harvard, rule the unwashed masses. There’s nothing, but absolutely nothing, Christian about that.
So, it doesn’t surprise that in addition to worshipping power and mammon, they’re taking the mask off that deal and putting the guy behind the mask right out there in public where we can all see him.
Not to be limited to ugly art and profaning the mass, the followers of the dark lord are also getting into politics. According to their Facebook Page, The Satanic Temple is running an Adopt a Highway campaign, and plans to hold a tongue-in-cheek rally in support of Florida Governor Rick Scott, an honor which I doubt the good governor really wants.
What do I advocate in response to Harvard’s foray into cultural experimentation by way of satan worship and talk of maybe defiling what might be a consecrated host that is the Real Presence of Christ the Lord?
Just this: Don’t send your kids to Harvard. And write your senators and representatives about taking a good long look at all those government grants that get funneled into that one school.
We need to do this anyway, you know. Harvard and its little troupe of elite schools are not healthy for this country. They create a 1% that is disconnected from and hostile to the rest of us. They are, in many ways, predatory. It would be much better for this country if we offered some of those grants to other institutions, including non-academic organizations.
The only other thought I have is to pray for these satanists. Not only are they desperate for attention and more than a little crazy acting, they’ve got horrifically bad taste in art.
This is the ugly statue that the Satanic Temple wants to put on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds.
Like everybody my age, I’ve got a lot of past.
Not all of my past is good.
In fact, a portion of it is seriously miserable.
I try to forget.
And forgive myself for the things I’ve done.
I try to forget.
And forgive others for the things that have been done to me.
But there are days when that load of past can get heavy. Especially in church. My miserable past includes a couple of bad times with church. I’ve experienced the rejection of unforgiveness. Even though I forgive as best I can, the memory still comes back from time to time, like an ache in an old break in a bone when the weather changes.
The two greatest challenges this poses are a loss of trust and a deep feeling of unworthiness. The bad opinions of others can imprint on a person and leave their ugly image. Trust, once it’s cut away, doesn’t re-grow. It callouses over, but the nerves are dead.
I have periods of time in my life when the hardest thing I have to do is go to mass. Not because of any latent anger, but because of the deep sense of unworthiness. I have no right to be there in the presence of the Presence, and I know it.
I had an exceptionally rough bout with this recently. I actually left the church during mass, left my husband there, holding the hymnal and looking at me with uncomprehending eyes as I left, driven away by the unworthiness that is branded into me.
I used those moments away to gather myself to myself and then I went back in. But it wasn’t easy. I got through that mass by looking at the tabernacle and talking to Him.
Because it’s true, you know. I have no right to be there, in the presence of the Presence. I am unworthy, as John the Baptist said, to untie His sandal. Yet the reason, the only reason, that I am there is that He invited me.
In the final analysis, the Presence does not belong to any priest, or even to the Church itself. They are its guardians, and the conduit by which God graciously consents to dwell among us in the Eucharist. But the Presence is God Himself, and as such, that Presence belongs to no human being. It is It’s Own Self.
I came to the Catholic Church and asked to come into full communion because Christ in the Eucharist called me to Himself. It was a call that was so clear, persistent and patient, that, in the end, it worked its way past all the obstacles to what was at the time a rather bold step of faith.
Jesus called me to Himself in the Eucharist. That is why I am Catholic.
And on that day when my own unworthiness flared into a blistering flame inside me, when I wanted to run away, to paraphrase St Peter, because I am a sinful woman, He was there, not to call, but to strengthen me past my focus on me and bring me into a fresh focus on Him.
I kept looking at the tabernacle, at Jesus, present in our midst. I don’t know if it was a prayer, or a conversation, or a vow of a sort. I only know I spoke directly to Him and He heard me.
“You are my Lord,” I told Him. “You are the reason I am here. You are the One I trust. You and only You.”
There was more. But that’s the gist of it. Shattered trust is like an amputation. It can’t grow back. We can never undo the things we’ve done or forget the lessons of the things that are done to us. Forgive, yes. But forgetfulness would be to unlearn the life lessons and forego the spiritual depth these things give us.
If you live long enough and do enough hard things, you will lose your trust in people, in fate, in your own good luck. The illusions of personal invincibility die a hard death, but Christ can and will raise up a new trust and a new invincibility from the ashes on that pyre of self-sufficiency.
“You are my Lord,” I told Him, and it was as much vow as prayer; an open acknowledgement of the truth of things, bound up in a promise. “You — and You only — are my Lord.”
“You are the reason I am here.” I said, not because I enjoy the liturgy or find affirmation in the friendships, but “You — and You only — are the reason I am here.”
“You are the One I trust,” because You have proven Yourself trustworthy time and time again, because You loved me first and because You forgave me and walk with me and endure me and keep forgiving me over and over again.
“You and only You,” because people, even the most lovable and precious of people, will let you down. Because, I, you and everyone, will let ourselves down. We will betray one another and we will also betray ourselves. Only Christ will never fail us.
I was not the only wounded person in the church that day. I am never am. We are all wounded, in one way or another. We shatter our self-righteousness by the things we do, and we face the terrible isolation and aloneness of the things that are done to us.
The many cruelties people practice against one another — our gossip and slanders, violence, lies, betrayals and deliberate degradations — are all at base an isolation of the other person, a way of putting them outside while we remain inside.
We draw lines around ourselves and our group, whoever that group may be, and then we push everyone outside that line into a sub-class of one sort or another. This hurts and maims all of us.
So many times on this blog I see angry, harsh comments, coming from people who at base are just trying to express their sense of isolation and rejection. The truth is, no one of us, not a single person of us, has the right to stand before God.
But He is our Lord. And He has invited all of us — ALL of us — to His table. No one of us has a right to be there. But, by the miracle of His love, no one of us is too wounded, too sin-sick, too disreputable, too female, too gay, too poor, too fat, too ugly, stupid or lost to be refused a place at that table. We are all welcome.
He is always with us, even when others fail us or turn us away. He is always ready to accept us and forgive us. We don’t have to stop sinning and get perfect to come to Him. He accepts us just, as the old hymn says, as we are.
We may have to jump through more hoops that we can manage to find surcease and acceptance from other people. But all we ever have to be or will ever have to do with Him is put our hand in His and say “Yes.”
“You are my Lord,” I told him. It is as simple as that.
Gethsemane is far more than the physical garden where Jesus prayed the night He was taken.
Gethsemane is a place in the human heart, a destination we all reach. Some of us will go there many times in our lives.
Gethsemane is what I call The Alone. It is that stripped-bare moment when the pretenses and self lies that sustain us in our illusion of invincibility and significance are taken from us. Gethsemane is the realization that we are alone in a way that the glad-handing niceties of human interaction hide from us.
Emotions such as loneliness and even despair are trivialities when contrasted with the stark solitary helplessness of The Alone. It is a stunning thing to look into the eyes of another human being and see satan looking back at you. It is a soul-scouring reality to face the insignificance we really are to other people.
That is Gethsemane, and it is what Jesus faced for you. And for me.
Can you not wait with me one hour? He asked the disciples, and the question vibrates with the isolating aloneness that prompted it.
He had to face the awfulness of what was coming without human succor or understanding. When they came, when Judas struck Him to the heart with a kiss of betrayal, when He looked into the pitiless eyes of Satan, staring at him from another human face, He was alone.
That was Christ’s Gethsemane. Our Gethsemane, even though it will differ, is in some ways like it.
My friend Linda Caswell is director of All Things New, a ministry that shelters and redeems women who have been trafficked and prostituted. These women know The Alone, not as an event or passage, but as the whole of their lives. They have inhabited The Alone the way you and I inhabit our jobs, families and lives, because it has been their lives.
Most of these women have had very few positive contacts with people of faith. They avoid churches because the men who have bought them are also in the churches. Their only safety is in Jesus, but they do not understand that at first.
When Linda shows them the movie that Mel Gibson made, The Passion of the Christ, it inevitably breaks through the hard shell of their defenses. Women who do not understand the Gospels as anything but a lie told by lying liars who buy and sell them break down and sob uncontrollably when they see Jesus humiliated, beaten, tortured and disregarded.
This Jesus, the One who prayed “let this cup pass” in Gethsemane, they understand. And by the miracle of the grace of the cross, they believe that this Jesus understands them.
Their lives, which have been an unending Gethsemane, open to this Brother God who was beaten, tortured, humiliated and disregarded as they have been.
Because He understands. Because He does not disregard them. Because He is the only One who can go with them into The Alone of their personal Gethsemanes.
Jesus Christ suffered for us to redeem us from our sins, from the things we’ve done. He also suffered to redeem us from the things that have been done to us. In this cruel world, the things that are done to us can cut deeper and leave us less able to see the Divine than our sins.
We put people outside the bright circles of acceptability that we draw around ourselves and those we deem worthy. We cast them into the hell of unending Gethsemane where no one keeps vigil with them and no one cares that they are alone.
Only Jesus, Who has been there, can penetrate The Alone of our lives. He is the One, the only One, who can draw people back from the man-made abyss of life lived in The Alone where we cast so many of the people that He died to save.
It is important to remember this at all times, but especially today when we re-enact the Last Supper. Jesus was becoming Christ on this night when He gave us the Eucharist and the servant priesthood. He was teaching us how to love with a love that passes all human understanding and how to live the life of the Kingdom in this world. He was showing us that even in our Gethsemane, even in the deepest pit of The Alone, we are never alone, for He is always there.
And he will keep watch with us, not just for an hour, but for the whole of this life and into the one beyond.
Why do non-Catholics want so desperately for the Catholic Church to change its teachings?
It’s fascinating, the amount of emotion at least some non-Catholics seem to have about Catholic teaching. I can tell you that when I was in the anti-God period of my life, I did not give one whit what any church taught. I paid them the ultimate diss of not giving a care.
But from what I’ve seen on this blog, there are a large number of people who claim to be atheist or some what-not version of what I was in my anti-God period, who appear to think about Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular, 24/7. They appear to be, in a word, obsessed with the minutiae of Catholic teaching.
If you doubt this, go to some of the atheist blogs. All they ever talk about is God, Christian teaching, and the Bible.
There are a few issues in particulate that really rev their engines. They are:
- Who gets to take communion in Catholic Churches (which they insist, even while they debate this endlessly, is just a superstition and a wafer.)
- Why the Church won’t affirm gay marriage.
- Why the Church won’t say it’s ok for them kill people they want to kill (the unborn, the elderly, disabled, etc.)
When someone confronts them with the obvious inconsistency implied in their obsessive demands that a Church they claim is a stupid cult alter teachings that they claim are based on a myth, they start denouncing Catholics for using their rights as American citizens to vote and advocate according to their consciences.
It’s as if it offends them that Catholics have the same rights to vote, free assembly and to petition their government as other citizens. I suppose it’s true that it does offend them. Because one takeaway I get from reading the comments from most (not all, there are a couple of clear exceptions) of these people is that they are, at base, bullies.
I also think that the core reason they keep coming around here to drop off their load of insults (most of the truly insulting ones never see the light of day on this blog) is that they are either mental on some level, or, whether they will admit it or not, they are God haunted people who desperately want what the Church offers, which is peace with God, eternal life and a spiritual home. It’s just that they can’t bring themselves to go to God on God’s terms. They want Him — meaning His Church — to come to them on their terms.
These are people who refuse to be forgiven for their sins. What they want is to have the Almighty ratify their sins. They are obsessed with finding, not absolution, but vindication, from a Church they claim they believe is a fraud.
However, that’s just my reaction. Yours may be different. I’m going to throw this open for discussion.
Why do you think nonbelievers are so obsessed with the Catholic Church?