Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: Fr. Guarnizo's Obligation to Defend Our Lord

Writing in response to an article by Jerry Filteau at National Catholic Reporter noting the recent suspension of Father Marcel Guarnizo from ministry, AMDG explains it all to us--why sinners absolutely must be barred from communion in Catholic churches:

I believe this is one of the most controversial subjects today within the Church because of all the people who claim to be Catholic desiring to receive the Eucharist. 
I was not at the Church and don’t know if Fr. Guarnizo was charitable in denying communion, but think he had an obligation not only to our Lord to deny Ms. Johnson communion, but to her soul. When someone who publicly opposes Church teaching expresses that they are in communion with the Church by receiving our Lord, it professes to everyone that there is nothing wrong with living in mortal sin and acts as a sign of acceptance by the Church. As the body of Christ, we must accept each person, but not their behavior. It is a privilege to receive the Lord in communion and the Church has to guard against any form of desecration of the Most Holy Body of our Lord.

First of all, "all the people who claim to be Catholic desiring to receive the Eucharist": who knew?  Who knew that Catholic churches are now being overrun by hordes of people claiming to be Catholic, who are clamoring for the eucharist?  

Heaven forfend.  Things seem to have gotten mighty theatrical in Catholic churches these days, in comparison to the humdrum years in which I was a regular Massgoer, when nary a faux Catholic about which I ever heard marched her brazen self to the altar and demanded the eucharist.

Almost makes me want to go back, so I can add a bit of dramatic tension to my otherwise rather bland religious and secular life these days.  Tussles over the ciborium!  Battles for the paten!  Wars about the wafers!  All this and more, free for the viewing, at every parish church in the land these days: such amazing guerrilla theater we deconverted Catholics appear to be missing Sunday by Sunday.

And then there's the "obligation . . . to our Lord": though we don't know whether Father Guarnizo denied the eucharist to Barbara Johnson at her mother's funeral charitably (a point to which I'll return in a moment), it appears our Lord and His Most Holy Body have to be defended--against desecration, AMDG helpfully explains.  Priests sign on, via ordination, to a sacred obligation to defend our Lord and His Most Holy Body against desecration.

"Desecration" is a word that means, etymologically, "removing the sacred," or "profaning the holy."  The word envisages the separation of the world into two camps: the sacred and the profane, the holy and pure and the unholy and impure.

Our Lord and His Most Holy Body are the holy, pure, and sacred.  But then there's the rub that arises in Catholic churches from the fact that our Lord offered His Most Holy Body to everyone at the last supper and on the cross.

And somehow from that fact--that biblically established fact--those sassy faux Catholics and brazen sinners and opponents of church teaching have gotten the bizarre idea that they may freely sashay their sassy, brazen, faux, oppositional selves right up to the altar and demand the Most Holy Body of the Lord whenever they choose to do so.  Thus desecrating and profaning the Most Holy Body of the Lord.

Which has to be defended, don't you see, from such desecration and profanation--defended by the priest, who is committed by ordination to this obligation.  

This argument about why priests absolutely must reserve the right to refuse communion to sassy sinners, which is a favorite argument of the Catholic right of late, has always puzzled me, because of how it implicitly imagines the Jesus who freely offers himself to all at his last supper, and who freely gives his life for all--sinners included, I seem to recall--on the cross.

This argument is a sub-species of another argument the Catholic right loves to trot out when it talks about how the profane are entering our sacred Catholic fanes in droves, besmirching the holiness of our churches and threatening by their very presence, by their existence, to desecrate the Most Holy Body of our Lord.  The primary argument here is the poor-helpless-Jesus-imprisoned-in-the-tabernacle trope.

The imagination that lies behind and props up the obligation-to-defend-our-Lord argument is an imagination that sees Jesus in the Host as somehow trapped in the tabernacle in which his sacred body is reserved for adoration, and the priest as his primary guardian-defender, given that poor Jesus imprisoned in the tabernacle (and the Host itself) is helpless and unable to defend himself.

Something strikes me as . . . may I say odd? . . . about the chain of presuppositions that lead to these conclusions.  To be specific: something strikes me as somewhat at odds here with the gospel portrait of a Jesus who freely chooses to sit with, eat with, and touch the profane and impure.  Something about the imagination of a lonely, petulant, imprisoned Jesus demanding to be defended from desecration (and to be visited constantly in his lonely tabernacle) strikes me as at a rather significant remove from the Jesus of the gospels who tells his followers (which is to say, anyone who hears his words), "Come to me, you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

And then there's the thing about charity.  How have we arrived at the notion, I wonder, that there are charitable and uncharitable ways to deny communion to a daughter at her mother's funeral?  How and when have we come to the conclusion that we can ever be enacting charity--a word that means love--when we use the most sacred moment of the liturgical celebration, the moment at which sinners receive the body and blood of the Lord into themselves, as a moment of didactic theater to demonstrate to the world who's holy and who's profane?

And call this public shaming of sinners a loving act?!

Who gives anyone the right, I have to ask myself, to put his hand over the ciborium or paten and inform someone else that she has no right to the "privilege" (another word AMDG stresses here) of receiving communion?  Since when did the eucharist become a token of good behavior, a reward for being docile and obedient to church teaching, a gold star to demonstrate to the rest of the world that I've pleased Teacher more than you've pleased Teacher today?  

When and how did the Catholic church become a place of premature eschatological sorting in which mere human beings, ordained or otherwise, claim the right to identify who's the sheep and who's the goat, when the gospels are so absolutely crystal clear about the fact that this right belongs to God alone?  And that this eschatological sorting will not occur until God chooses to judge all of us?

The theatrical imagination that lies behind AMDG's analysis and that of the Catholic right whom AMDG well represents intrigue me.  But the kind of holy drama that liturgy is meant to be all about?  I'm not convinced that's what's taking place in churches that act according to the imagination AMDG outlines here.  Not in the least.

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