Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A brief break from our retreat: a Response to Larry Doyle

The following deals with the Eucharist, which we will experience in prayer in a few weeks. In this way, it is not completely outside the current flow of this blog.

Larry Doyle of the Huffington Post has written a recent satirical piece entitled “The Jesus-Eating Cult of Rick Santorum.” Yes, yes it is satire, but what is the point of satire? It is a literary device intended to “expose folly, vice or stupidity” (Webster’s). In Doyle’s case, no doubt, it was intended to also make headlines. I considered just letting the whole thing go, but the title of the piece strikes at the Eucharist--what is essential to my faith. The nature of the Eucharist is so misunderstood among Catholics and non-Catholics that I have to take the time to clarify a few things.

First, Catholics are not “Jesus-eaters.” The Eucharist is not cannibalistic. In the middle ages, the Catholic Church rejected the teachings of Paschasius Radbertus and endorsed the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas teaches that, during the consecration, transubstantiation occurs. There is a change that takes place, a substantial change, not a literal change. Radbertus had taught that the substantial change was a literal change and because of this, he thought that at the Eucharist, we literally chewed on the muscles, hair, sinews etc of Christ. The Church rejected what Radbertus taught. What the Church endorsed was, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, that at the Eucharist, we take into ourselves the substance of the risen Christ, the risen Christ, whose body has been glorified. We do not chew on the muscles and sinews of a body the way that Radbertus taught. Something’s substance is invisible to the senses and can only be perceived through an act of the intellect. That is, through the gift of faith, your mind understands that Christ is present. Thomas also wrote that the act of transubstantiation was a miracle brought about by the Holy Spirit.

There is even more insightful study of the Eucharist in our current day, but I do not have time to go into all of that that. It is important to write, in a non-satirical way, what is true. If I had more time, I would write a little about modern and post-modern applications and extensions of what Thomas Aquinas taught, but, as a Catholic father, my Church teaches me to take care of my children. I have one who is ill and I really need to get back to cleaning the kitchen and doing her laundry.
Nevertheless, I have two more things to write about Mr. Doyle’s satire of the Eucharist:

1) Mother Teresa believed that transubstantiation occurs during mass and she lived from this. Her nuns adored and still adore the Eucharist. This belief in the real presence of Christ has enabled them to care for people who have been left to die in the streets of this world, people with communicable diseases, people Mr. Doyle probably doesn’t spend a lot of time around. If our belief in the Eucharist is so bankrupt, then why are so many Catholics, especially the Missionaries of Charity, so faithful about caring for the world’s scapegoats and poor?

2) Rick Santorum and I belong to the same Church, but my political positions are very different from his. I am a progressive Catholic and my progressive politics flows from my belief in the real presence of Christ at the Mass. Why do I believe that Christ becomes present at the consecration? Simply because Jesus said it did. It is present in the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles. Using the criterion that historians call multiple attestation, we can conclude that these words really come from the historical Jesus. To add even more weight to my argument, there is a Eucharistic discourse in the Gospel of John.

I believe that in Jesus—the rejected one, the abandoned one, the impoverished one-- God has revealed that God is present in a reality transforming way in scapegoats—in the rejected and the hated. When I come before the Eucharistic minister, lay or priestly, the minister holds the host before me and tells me “the Body of Christ.” I say “Amen”—“Truly, it is so.” The Eucharistic ritual says “you are becoming one with the glorified body of the crucified and risen one. Now, live as if this is so. Care for the poor, feed the hungry, spread and strengthen democracy, accept the empowerment of women who resist exploitation, allow the empowerment of women to empower men, nurture children, educate the ignorant, stop crucifying the environment, heal the ill, embrace and transform a suffering world.”
Amen, may it be so.

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