The part of the mass I loved the most as a child was where the priest consecrated the host and blessed the wine and prepared to distribute communion. We were taught a transformation was underway that was crucial in your spiritual life, a chance to actually receive the body and blood of Christ. That left a tremendous impression on me as a boy, one I carried into adulthood and still reflect on today. When I entered a missionary seminary, I had visions of performing that sacred duty in God only knows what corner of the world, because the Columban Fathers I was joining went everywhere, no matter the circumstances. They were delivering Christ to the people. I felt that was blessed, noble and a high calling for anyone.
All that has evaporated as my life moved onward. I did not become a priest. I became a witness to all kinds of things, a husband and a father and as confused a Christian as has ever existed. I miss the certainties of my youth, a big one being the feeling that confession and communion went hand in hand, a body cleansed for a time of its sins and a brief touch of heaven that would melt on your tongue and leave behind a mysterious feeling of goodness. I know that was conditioning, the kind of thing the nuns drilled into us every day at school.
Or was it?
So now we have a president who goes to mass every day and takes communion and thinks, I have no doubt, of the comfort the sacrament brings. He has lost a wife and children and I am certain he reflects on those losses during Mass. I suspect he looks for quiet guidance, too, that sense of right and wrong that is as certain as it is rare. I am not the Catholic I was years ago, but I still believe as best I can, and I still respect people who approach the sacraments seriously, with goodness in their hearts and their heads.
This is why the American bishops are on the verge of making a huge mistake.
The gist of it is an action that will recommend, somehow, that priests forbid communion to people who support abortion rights, as though that were the worst of the sins of modern times. (Of course, that is not. There is Genocide, homicide, a whole array of sins that might give pause to anyone passing out hosts. There are plenty of sins to choose from before you reach the position on abortion.) In my own family I have beloved aunts and sisters who have divorced, another one of those “sins” that can keep you from communion.
Racial hatred, that should keep you from Communion. Hatred of people who are differently abled, or who have gay lifestyles. Those things, those hatreds, should keep you from Communion, too.
But they don’t. You can hate all you want and still get a host on Sunday, because who knows what is in your heart?
I have left only a general thought about religion. I don’t know what God looks like or where that might exist, but I do know that one of the purposes of belief is to keep open the doorway to that mystery so that, perhaps, someday you will know. For a believer, the look down that long, mysterious hallway is crucial. There is light there, and maybe God. Sometimes, Communion opens that door a bit.
It is deceitful to use it as a political weapon, no matter the cause. It will drive even more people away from the church and reenforce all the dark thoughts many of us have held for decades about the hierarchy and how it has behaved in the face of scandal, abuse and sin.