Rudy, Novak & taking Communion

Rudy, Novak & taking Communion April 29, 2008

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.

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