Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Communion is not a reward for good behavior, and it certainly isn't a weapon

In the latest episode of American Bishops Saying Awful Things, the Archbishop of Detroit has apparently said that supporters of gay marriage should not be allowed to take communion.  He is far from the first bishop to say such an outrageous thing, just the most recent.

I am really, really sick of seeing bishops use communion as a weapon.  I don't care what social or political point you are trying to make, communion does not belong in the arsenal.  No adult who professes a belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist should be denied it.  Ever.  For any reason.

Because if you come right down to it, none of us deserve to receive the Eucharist.  I don't deserve it.  The congregation around me doesn't deserve it.  The priests who consecrate it don't deserve it.  None of us are worthy, because we are all sinners.  The Eucharist is a gift from God.  It is not something that we earn.  It cannot be earned.  Eucharist is divine, and we are human. 

Who are we, who is anyone, to go around saying who is deserving of Eucharist and who is not?  The entire point of communion is that we come together as a community of the unworthy and undeserving, and together we share in the greatest of gifts.  Without limitation, without regard for degree.  The democracy of communion within the Eucharist is the greatest I ever have or ever shall experience.

When priests or bishops use the Eucharist to exclude, is it still Eucharist?  It seems to me that when we place stipulations on who is worthy enough, when we use it to make distinctions, it stops being communion.  The Eucharist is one body, one bread, the unity of God, broken and shared for all.  If we use it to exclude, it stops being an instrument of unity--and that unity is at the heart of what it is.

In its saner moments, the Church remembers this.  We do not deny Eucharist to prisoners, not even murderers.  We do not deny Eucharist to the poor (indeed, St. Paul had some pretty strong words on that subject).  We should not deny Eucharist to anyone who believes in it.  We have no right to do so.  Jesus gave us his supper, his body and his blood, so that all who believed might partake of it.  If he did not see fit to place limitations upon it, who are we to do so?

Of course, I'm also troubled by the Archbishop's reasons why people ought to abstain from communion.  I am well aware of the Church's official teachings on gay marriage.  I also think they are completely wrong.   But that is a subject for another day.

I'd like to acknowledge the late Rev. Tom Jones, CSP, who first articulated to me the view of Eucharist expressed in this post.  Fr. Tom is one of the many priests who have helped preserve my faith in the Church, and his wisdom and humor continue to inspire me more than six years after his death.

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