Rudy, Novak & taking Communion

I wasn’t going to write about this because – while I know it gets a lot of Catholic blood running – I can’t get that excited about it.

SOME CLARIFICATION FOR THOSE WILLFULLY MISREADING ME: That does not mean I do not CARE about the issue. It simply means that I think we’ve all managed at times to insult and offend the Lord in various ways, and sometimes Eucharistically, and so I prefer to leave the scolding to the ones who seem most comfortable with it. While I’ve often been called a “self-righteous prig” on some issues (daring to disagree with some on solutions to the illegal immigration problem comes to mind) and I don’t mind wagging fingers politically, I’ve never been much of a spiritual scold. I know that’s true because I’m always getting scolded by other, better, Catholic and non-Catholic Christians for not scolding enough! Quite opposed to those charging me with “not caring,” I think I make abundantly clear that I do care, and I do both accept and support the church’s teaching here, and I agree that the complaints are valid. I simply respond to these things differently than others. If that’s wrong, well…Jesus knows there is no malice in my heart and will judge me as he will us all. END CLARIFICATION

But between some emails I’ve gotten from angry Catholic readers, confused (or smuppity) non-Catholic readers, and a few internet forum comments I’ve read that display both astounding anti-Catholic bigotry or a clear lack of understanding, I feel like I should. Here’s a can of worms I’d prefer not to open, but in doing so, I’ll stick to the Q&A style, since they reflect (or are directly taken from) my email.

For the uninitiated, there is a scandal of sorts brewing because former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani received Communion at the Yankee Stadium mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. Note that Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy all took communion at the mass at National’s Stadium without all this brouhaha. The reason we’re hearing about Rudy is because Robert Novak, took NY’s Cardinal Egan and DC’s Archbishop Wuerl to task, pubically scolding them for the fact that these grown-up Catholics, Pelosi, Kerry, Kennedy and Giuliani, communed.

Immediately after the column appeared, Cardinal Egan – who can’t retire soon enough for my money – released a statement criticizing Giuliani, most particularly for Rudy’s not abiding by what was apparently a private agreement between the two men, that he would not commune at the mass.

I know “conservative” Catholics tend to get scrappy on this issue, and more “liberal” Catholics tend to think it’s not much of a deal. Typically, I fall somewhere between the two, which is why I have no friends. So, here we go.

Q: What is the big deal, here? Isn’t Communion just a symbol and a way to “cleanse ourselves of sin?”

A: No and no. Catholics do not believe that the Eucharist is a “symbol” of anything, but rather the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, truly Present. And Communion is meant to draw us into deeper and more personal interaction with Jesus; by the grace of the sacrament, we are strengthened both physically and spiritually and that may help us in our sinfulness, but it is not the “means” by which we “get rid of” the sins we have already committed.

Q: Does that mean all the people receiving Communion are in a state-of-grace and free from sin?

A: Not by a long shot. None of us can know the state of anyone else’s soul…but can assume some are. Those who have recently been to confession for absolution of their most grievous sins and participated in the mass (where the lesser sins of our everyday humanity and brokenness are absolved within the Rite) are in a state of grace, but plenty of people taking communion do not fit that “ideal”. In 1 Corinthians 11:27, Paul writes of the seriousness of the issue:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord

For some Catholics, when a public figure receives “unworthily” this creates a public scandal; they fear that others in the church, seeing known proponents of abortion or divorced-and-remarried politicians take communion will both inspire others toward irreverence toward the Lord and weaken understanding of what the Eucharist truly is.

Q: And you think they’re wrong?

A: No, not at all. They certainly have a valid point, and intellectually I can go there. Emotionally, however, I always have a problem with Catholics pointing the finger at other Catholics and going, “ummmmmm…I’m telling!”

Q: Right, because in the end it’s between the politician and God!

A: Well…yes and no. It’s true that – ultimately – what Rudy did was “between him and God”, but – and it’s a big but – Rudy still publicly professes himself a Catholic, and so this is also between him and his Catholic community. This is the problem with community; it is something to answer to, in the same way that a Protestant pastor who leaves his wife for another must answer to his congregation, or a teenager who breaks the speed limit must answer to the judge. The rules are the rules, and Rudy, or Pelosi, or Kerry and Kennedy know full well that when they commune while the cameras are clicking, they’re deliberately riling that community up.

Q: So, you agree with the Novaks and the “conservative” Catholics, then?

A: Errrmrmrmrm…not really. As I said, I see their point, and it is a valid one, but there’s also that part about not knowing what is going on in one’s soul or in one’s heart – what sort of turmoil or even humility may be residing there. I know some would say that real humility would express itself in refraining from communing and, again, in the ideal that is precisely right.

But then there is Jesus, and there is this man or this woman. It seems to me that there is also a humility to be found in letting Jesus be Jesus and do what he does, in trusting that – whatever the condition of the soul of the receiver – Jesus is both larger and deeper than what we (or even the recipient) can know.

I keep remembering that Jesus said he “came for sinners; the well do not need a physician.” We must never be so protective of Jesus that we begin to think Him too small or fragile to be able to do the heavy lifting required to turn a heart. These pols know the score; they’ve had the doctrine explained. If they’re still receiving then we may assume two things – 1) that they are hard-hearted, do not care and wish only to score points with their constituents or 2) they are in dire need of a one-on-one encounter with the Living Christ – even if they do not consciously realize it or express it – and they will thus seek Him out, and take their lumps for it.

I think I will always err on the side of believing the best, rather than the worst of their motives, and give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re looking for the Encounter. And then we must remember, that Jesus had less patience for the Pharisee who stood at the front of the Temple and crowed about how he did everything just right, not “like that tax collector over there…” than for the sinner who kept his head bowed.

Q: So, then you agree with the “liberals!” You don’t think it’s a scandal.

A: Errrrrrrm….not really. There are lots of ways to scandalize a church or to desecrate the Holy Eucharist, and many people who are not public figures commune “unworthilly.” As near as I could tell Giuliani was the only one of the recipient pols caught on television cameras. I have to be honest, when I saw it, I thought, “he’s not supposed to be doing that…” but I also thought his mien and demeanor, his whole attitude was serious, thoughtful and yes, reverent – moreso than some of the others participating. I knew I was right smack dab in the middle of an abiding Mystery.

In the Apostles Creed, we’re told that Jesus “descended into hell” before he rose. In communion He descends into the hell of our own lives – all of our confusion, all of our sins those declared and those unfaced, all of our doubt, all of our love and our hate, all of our fear, our conscience, our deepest longings and our conscious and sub-conscious minds; our very souls – Jesus descends into it, and then we rise with Him. His very Blood courses through our veins.

This cannot leave us unchanged. Even if outwardly, we seem the same, inwardly, we have been penetrated. Some of us are very, very thick-walled; some of us have built astounding fortresses and battlements within us, and Jesus may very well want to go head-to-head, one-on-one so to speak, to tumble them. To descend into our personal “hells” in order to help us rise from them. He is, after all, the Divine Physician. Paul gave us an ideal and a basis for law. But Jesus has always been – ultimately – bigger than all of it.

And so, no…for all that I accept the validity of those crying “scandal,” I cannot cry it myself.

More to follow…here.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • pabarge


    Times like these remind me to be grateful I’m a Baptist. I can see the quandary though.

  • TheAnchoress

    Heh. I like it here in Catholicland. It’s always interesting, that’s for sure! :-)

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  • KIA

    I appreciate your insights Anchoress, but can only go so far with you. While I too loath the “finger pointers” and well know that God is God and can do anything, I can’t get past anyone who “invites Jesus into filth.” As much as I am a firm believer that the Catholic faith is a faith of “love not rules”, the “rules” are necessary exactly for reasons like this (when for whatever reasons, we want to find a “justification.”). As you wrote, none of us could possible know the heart of another, but without any doubt these politicians “knew/know the rules.”

    I back up my argument by the fact we have another beautiful sacrament that is open to EVERYONE willing to repent, or at least give it a go, and it’s called CONFESSION. If we sinners want to meet “Jesus the Lamb”, and need our “one on one” encounter, well, the confession lines are short and fast these days! IMO, I was as much or more “brought back” by the beautiful sacrament of confession as I was the Eucharist. After years of therapy, one of the biggest ahas of my Catholic life was how “consoling” and feeing the beautiful sacrament of confession really is. I try to go at least once a month. Otherwise, receiving the Eucharist is like putting on the prom dress not having had a shower for 4 weeks. I know there are ways outside of confession for the removal of venial sins; however, like you’ve written about, I need the “one on one.” I need “to hear” via Christ himself (via the priest), the most beautiful words on planet earth, “I absolve you of your sins.”

    For what it’s worth for anyone confused, I shamefully admit of the many times I DID receive unworthily. I can also tell you that not once did I not feel worse, and most of all, I never “encountered Jesus.” It wasn’t until I discovered the “awesomeness of confession” that I ever really “received” the Eucharist. From personal experience alone, I can tell you that receiving “unworthily” only took me into darker places. I only wish someone would have loved me enough (plenty knew my lifestyle), to “have had a personal chat” with me and my understanding of the Eucharist. Consequently, I began to feel so horrible I just left the church altogether. Lastly, “spiritual communions” can always be “worthily received.”

  • TheAnchoress

    KIA – that’s a very good post and important witness.

    Things being as they are, right now, though (and I love that John Paul II used to say “you have to deal with the world as it is”) I’m going to keep praying that Jesus, in these instances, is moving these folks – slowly but inexorably – toward a turning of the heart.

    I appreciate your remarks about how receiving unworthily took you to “darker places,” but I also bear in mind good Pope Benedict’s thought processes in God and the World, where he talks about how evil is parasitic and can only feed off of good, but never overcome it. So, in a sense, may we coalesce both your thinking and mine! :-)

  • The Curt Jester

    “finger at other Catholics and going, “ummmmmm…I’m telling!””

    Well actually the point of Canon 915 is that they are a public sinner so this is not an issue. This is not detraction.

    The number one concern is for the soul of the person receiving Communion. To “eat and drink judgement upon themselves” as St. Paul says need to be avoided and receiving unworthily is sacriligious. They are in fact commiting a sin by doing so, so the most charitiable thing is to deny public sinners Communion.

    Scandal is only a secondary point, bu it is important and I have seen countless dissident groups say that if they pro-abortion pols are given Communion then there position can’t be so bad in the first place. That abortion, ESCR, etc are just one issue among many. A rash of opinion stories after the Pope’s visit said just that and pretty much crowed about the fact the these politician recieved Communion.

    But the person’s soul is the most important thing and by pretending that they are not doing anything wrong they have no incentive to repent. If they can keep saying that they are a Catholic in good standing and their is zero consequences in this world they can go on pretending that what they are voting for is acceptable.

    This is not a political issue as so many opinion writers have said since the same people such as myself upset by John Kerry were also upset about Rudy Giuliani. This is not political but a love of Christ in the Eucharist and a concern for the souls of those receiving Communion when they are not objectively in a state of grace. Just as excommunication is a ecclesiatical dicipline aimed at repentent and not punishement, the same goes when it comes to denying Communion since this is the most charitable thing someone could do in this circumstance.

  • TheAnchoress

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we heard a few well-spoken bishops articulate what you’ve said in your post, Jester, and teach excommunication or withholding communion it that way – not as “condemnation” but as gentle correction. Of course even if they did, the press would (depend upon it) report it all as the meanie-church rendering punishment.

    No one is ever “entitled” to Communion. It is not a right. And as I said repeatedly in my piece, the teaching and doctrine is valid and sensible and even, yes, charitable. But the church has done such a lamentable job in teaching much of anything in the last 30-or-so years, that I think there is a need to address this whole issue is with something better than a hammer, and a hammer is what I see a lot of Catholics applying. We have a lot of people in the church who are outside of the ideal. We should not change what is true in order to accommodate them, but I do think we need to be really, really pastoral and loving in bringing ‘em home. Catholics narrowing their eyes and spouting “law” won’t be enough. Neither will Bishops either overdoing their correction or underplaying the need for it.

    I think the whole issue requires some delicacy.

  • jlshea

    The problem here is that it appears as if Rudy, Durbin, Kerry,etc. use the Eucharist as a prop for political purposes. If Rudy felt that he absolutely had to receive Communion (which is entirely possible) why would he do it so publicly?

    The only time God physically touches us here on earth is when we receive him in Holy Communion and we need to be prepared for this–and the Church provides the help we need. We still have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to secure sacramental forgiveness for mortal sins, and the Eucharist itself wipes away venial sins. Every Diocese has a Marriage Tribunal to deal with annulments. It is hard to see how someone who takes the Eucharist seriously would not avail himself of the help the Church offers.

  • TheAnchoress

    Can we know that, though. Pelosi and Kerry said beforehand that they planned on receiving. Kennedy stayed quiet, but had the communion brought to him – much less noticable. Giuliani has nothing going on politically right now – until Novak and then Egan brought it up, I don’t think many people knew it, so it seems unlikely he was looking for publicity. I don’t disagree with your thoughts but I don’t know what we can assign political motives to Giuliani’s reception…what I saw of it looked discreet, quiet and thoughtful. “It’s hard to see how someone who takes the Eucharist seriously would not avail himself of the help the Church offers,” yes. But as I said, we don’t know what was in Rudy’s heart. He may have intended to sit it out and then got swept up in the mass and desired Jesus greatly. In that case we have to, I think, be a little gentle and remember scripture, Zacchaeus who climbed the tree to get a better glimpse of Jesus, those sinners who – though reviled or “unclean” by law, could not stop themselves from going to Him – could not hold themselves back. Not all of them became apostles, but Jesus didn’t back away from them, either. Like I’ve said, this is a delicate thing. We can’t just shove law, law, law without heart. Because we do not know each other as God knows us.

  • jlshea

    I can certainly understand getting “swept up in the Mass” and in the end it really is between the communicant and Jesus. On the other hand, what happens with someone who continually and publicly flouts Church teachings or law? If nothing is done, it becomes the “Church of anything goes” and that is not what Catholicism is all about. We need to be sympathetic and forgiving, as God always is, but it appears that the abovementioned polticians ( especially Dick Durbin) feel that the laws of the Church do not apply to them.

  • TheAnchoress

    jlshea, you’re right. But I don’t know if Rudy “continually” flouts the teachings. I don’t recall seeing him at Communion before. Kerry and Kennedy on the other hand…they routinely receive in public.

  • rightwingprof

    What I don’t understand is why Rudy is getting heat for this, when Pelosi not only communed, but then made a big public statement about it and bragged about disobeying the Holy Father. What’s up with that?

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  • lsusportsfan

    Anchoress you bring up some interesting points.

    Rudy is a interesting situation First he is still a major advocate of “abortion rights” and still will have a major role in the election year. However when does a pro-choice politician fall to just a regualar citizen that has pro-choice views and holds them privtely

    My main issue with Rudy was he was taking communion while his previous marrigae has not been annuled and while he has been remarried. For some reason that issue is not touched.

    THe question should be asked, of the usual suspects, why they took communion in the first place. They knew this would come up and cause scandal and yese even detract from Pope Benedicts message. However, some (not you) are casting the people raising these questions as the people that want to divide.

    I am not at all feeling sorry for them. I went through a pretty painful divorce. I think there are good grounds for an annulement but if there is no declaration of nullity I shall remain single. As a only Child and someone that has no children that possibility frightens me as I think about old age. However I cannot cut myself off from the Sacrament. There are more us than people realize even though many friends and relatives tell us we are nuts and don’t worry about it. That Communion is our right. If I ignored the Church in this matter , got remarried, and just went on as usual would I not be creating scandal in my own way. Would I not be leading people astray by doing such a public act even in my own parish?

    I see a connection here between mine and countless other Catholics and the above controversy

    It appears that perhaps the Cardianal and Rudy had perhaps some inderstanding on this matter in the past. Again , besides the marriage thing, his situation gets more complicated for the reason you point out.

  • lsusportsfan

    One last thought for now. I do think needless to say there is precedent for these acts by the Bishops. A look at the early Fathers will show this happened all the time.

    Judge Perez down In Louisiana might have been a poor misguided soul doing the best he could have. However he still was the biggest most powerful racist in the state and doing by any means necessary to stop the integration of Catholic and public schools. When Archbishop Rummel basically put him under the ban it sent a message and the scho0ls got integrated fairly early for being in the deep south.

    I hate to say it but I wonder if we had the same attitudes as we do today if Catholic Polticians would have just ignored him using today’ standards

    This Christian Correction was at one time used more often. Whether it was polticians or Catholic Bishops denying Christian Burial to gangsters. Something I so wish many Pasotors would start foing in the inner city

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