A generous, intelligent and compassionate young mom whom I love dearly texts in astonishment, “Please tell me this isn’t true!”
She’s just read reports of US bishops developing a teaching on Eucharist with a veiled purpose of denying President Biden Communion because of his pro-choice stance. Like many, she is shocked and confused. Fearing that no response is adequate, I nevertheless wade into the fray.
Many columnists have already pointed out that Biden’s efforts to restore jobs, cut child poverty in half, save the environment, distribute COVID vaccine nationally and globally, mourn those who died from the virus, make preschool/community college free and accessible, welcome refugees, and renew a flagging economy are the best of being Catholic.
Furthermore, at the recent global leaders’ summit, he began the process of returning the US to the world community, a cooperation vital to the future of the planet all nations share. He brought adult decency and civility back to the White House, replacing the tirades, bigotry and impulsive chaos of the previous administration. As Jesus said to his critics, “what’s wrong with that?” Who among the bishops’ company has done anywhere near as much? Maybe they should be discussing how to support such gospel-grounded initiatives…
With his sure instincts, Pope Francis has already told the bishops to back off, warning them of stark discord if they continue this course. With their reputation already tanked by their bungling of the pedophile tragedy, their silence on major issues like racism, their continued sexism, homophobia and bullying tactics to force people back to a Sunday obligation of worship, the ground on which they stand is shaky at best. Sixty Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have asked U.S. bishops to avoid “weaponizing” the Eucharist.
The decision to proceed with the document passed with 168 votes in favor, 55 against and six abstentions. The text should be proposed to the bishops in November and would need approval by two-thirds of the U.S. Conference. Within days, they were already tap dancing, maybe remembering the fiasco of their refusal to bless same-sex marriage, roundly rejected. A long-established principle is that a teaching must not only be issued, but received by the People of God. They encountered that disconnect with their birth control teaching, yet seem to chug along the same path, blissfully ignorant.
John D. Whitney, SJ echoes the finest Eucharistic theologians who have for centuries reminded us that “hunger is the only ticket”—it’s not a question of worthiness or politics:
“It is not your table (nor mine). Bishops, priests, etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (“all you who labor”); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast… We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane, please. The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.”
Holy Trinity, the Jesuit parish Biden usually attends at Georgetown, won’t deny Communion to anyone. The posting on their website read: “As Pope Francis recently reaffirmed, communion should be viewed ‘not as a prize for the perfect, but as a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ None of us, whether we stand in the pews or behind the altar, is worthy to receive it. The great gift of the Holy Eucharist is too sacred to be made a political issue.”
Fortunately, a few sane voices in the bishops’ conference protest. Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, pointing to a year of COVID deaths, racial strife and economic hardship said, “We need to be issuing a short statement that ‘the church is there for you and let’s continue to journey together so we can face these issues together.’” Otherwise, he warned, “I fear we’re going to sound tone-deaf.” Geeze—ya think?? Worse, they’ll be preaching to a dark and empty mausoleum.